Last weekend I rolled up to Ada, Ohio (think cornfields… lots of cornfields…), for the Run 4 Your Life (R4YL) ride. That event took me from Ada, over to Coshocton County (OH) and then on to Fayetteville, West Virginia. I knew from the get-go that the trip home from West Virginia was going to be a long one, and there was no way I was going to punish myself with a lengthy trip up US-35 so I laid out a series of nice rural Appalachian roads from Fayetteville, on to Morehead, Kentucky, and on home.
Sunday morning I rolled up my single-man tent and stuffed it along with my sleeping bag into the tail bag and got loaded up for the long trip home. I topped off the tank at the local Sheetz on the south end of Fayetteville, and after a couple breakfast burritos it was nine hours of backroad touring; all by my lonesome.
I was immediately treated by steep elevation changes, switchbacks, and blind curves along West Virginia Highway 16 and even parts of US-60 before settling into wide sweepers and scenic views through the mountain valleys along the Kanawha River. I had just said that I was looking forward to getting back to West Virginia, and this was unquestionably why. The pavement around the New River Gorge area has been all but immaculate in my experience, and the curves rival those I have encountered around Deal’s Gap.
From the more docile river bends of US-60 I moved on to a spirited section of West Virginia Highway 3 before moving on to US-119. Highway 3 was another splendid taste of bendy West Virginia two-lane, unfortunately short lived as I soon found myself on the four-lane stretch of US-119 for many miles. 119 is very reminiscent of US-25E through Tennessee, also posted with a 65 mph speed limit but lined with wall to wall Smoky Mountains for as far as the eye can see. What it doesn’t have in technicality, it makes up for with a majestic vista.
Zipping down US-119, Snapping a few photos with my GoPro and watching the mountains pass by in the distance I was hit with the thought, if there was such a thing as a perfect ride… what would it be?
That thought stuck with me for quite a while. After a gas stop in Chapmanville (WV), I soon found myself on US-52. I’m obviously familiar with 52 as it runs along the Ohio River near Cincinnati; while not as challenging as I’d like, 52 in the Mountaineer State is head and shoulders above the gentle bends south of the Queen City. Leaving West Virginia behind, I crossed the Big Sandy River into Louisa, Kentucky. While I was excited to revisit the luscious curves of the West Virginia mountain roads, I admit that I was equally excited about leaving civilization behind and exploring some of the most rural Kentucky two-lane I’ve seen on the map to date.
Back in “The Motherland”, Kentucky Highway 3 twisted along Appalachian foothills as it delivered me to Kentucky Highway 1. While not the most remote Kentucky backroad I’ve traversed, I did find the highway numbering scheme a bit dubious considering how deep in the backwoods the “1st” highway seemed to feel. From the 1 it was a series of three digit highways (KY-486 & KY-409) and even a named road before I found myself at the junction of KY-32 in Newfoundland (KY). 32 seemed familiar to me, but I couldn’t quite place where I had seen that road sign before. Headed west toward Morehead (KY), 32 obviously received routine maintenance as the pavement was in (nearly) spotless condition. Splitting two creek valleys, and heavily reminiscent of KY-77 in Red River Gorge, KY-32 followed the crooked foothill ridgelines for thirteen miles as it wound like a vintage wooden rollercoaster into downtown Morehead.
After another gas stop I found myself headed northwest toward Flemingsburg, Kentucky. That’s when the light bulb went off, two fold. One, I finally recalled that KY-32 breaks off from KY-11 in Flemingsburg, meaning that the “adventure” was unfortunately drawing to a close. Two, noticing the unmistakable scratches on the asphalt from Amish horse and buggies, the “perfect ride” started to form in my mind.
KY-32 east of Morehead is one of the best roads I’ve ever ridden in Kentucky, I might go as far as to say I would rate it above KY-77 (aside from getting stuck behind that pickup truck…). WV-16 and 60 along the New River was also some of the best riding I’ve done since the Dragon Raid last year. Alas, I still don’t think this ride was the perfect ride.
Nailing down perfection is tough business. Some folks prefer serene mountain vistas along the byways, while others enjoy desert highways with nothing but spectating cactus. I’m sure I’ve said it before, I find the best roads are those loaded with mile after mile of unsuspecting curves, with no cars anywhere in sight. Obviously this is the “real world”, but such roads aren’t completely out of the question; I’ve gone miles without seeing another soul before, it can happen again. If I had it my way, the perfect ride would, in all likelihood, find itself hidden under the Appalachian canopy somewhere. Mountainous, unquestionably, but not developed so much that the view overrides the technical contours of the road. That’s the key right there, technicality; I like the finest blend of asphalt, erratic curves, and irregular changes in elevation. I’ll also admit that while I enjoy speed, I find my preference for well-maintained asphalt fading in favor of remoteness; I’ll gladly endure more cracks in the pavement if that means the experience is more isolated.
Needless to say, there are as many flavors of preference and “perfection” as there are motorcyclists. So, what does your “perfect ride” look like?