A view from somewhere along Skyline Drive in Virginia.

Texas Express – Days 1-3

I’m riding to Texas for a hopelessly geeky reason, and I have no idea how I want to get there. (Covers the first few days.)


Sometimes trips sneak up on you.

I knew that I was going to attend the National Model Railroad Association (NMRA) national convention in Grapevine, Texas (suburb of the Dallas/Fort Worth Metromess). This year’s version is called: Texas Express. Being me, I saw this as an opportunity to ride cross-country from Michigan to Texas and back. Also being me, I scheduled a full week for the trip down and another (almost) full week for the trip back to Michigan. I made reservations for my stay in Grapevine. I got the full three-week span off of work. Everything was set months in advance.

Then life happens.

No, I don’t mean anything nasty. I’m fine; the family is fine. Things just got busy, as they often do. Then the string of consecutive long-weekend trips started in mid-July:

  • Karen and I on a four day weekend on Mackinac Island.
  • Karen and I ride down to Kentucky for this year’s edition of the MISFIT run.
  • Karen and I ride out to New York State for Traci’s edition of the EKIII run.

We rode the Nightowl for the two rides and, unfortunately, it decided to eat it’s front right wheel bearing on the way home from Traci’s (EKIII). We nursed the Bike to Scranton, PA on Sunday and attempted to find parts and a repair venue on Monday, but no dice. We ended up packing the Nightowl into a UHaul and driving home. This is only the second time I’ve had to haul a bike home on a long trip. I hate it.

So, we arrive home with a wounded bike on Monday night, knowing full well that I wanted to ride into work on both Tuesday and Thursday before leaving for Texas Friday night. As it happens, I did have the replacement wheel bearings waiting at home, but I needed to shop for hardware to make a proper bearing installer. (I pounded them in last time and they only lasted 33k miles; crap!)

I do, however, have two other bikes… both with dead batteries from long years of neglect. Knowing I wanted to ride on Tuesday, I decided to try and pull the Vector (my name for my VRod) out of mothballs. During our joyous UHaul drive home from Scranton, we found a Harley dealer that was actually open on Mondays (most are open on Saturday and use Sunday/Monday as their weekend) and secured a replacement battery for the Vector.

Consequently, I was up until 2am Monday night getting the Vector ready for a ride. For the record, it ran a bit rough for the first 10 miles or so and was fine for the 48-mile (one-way) commute to the office on both Tuesday and Thursday.

In the meantime…

On the evenings when I wasn’t feverishly working to clean my plate for a three-week departure, I was getting the Nightowl ready for the ride down to Texas. In full, the Nightowl got:

  • A replacement set of wheel bearings.
  • A new spacer for the inside of the front hub. This was necessary because the failing bearing was ejecting balls while it failed and it mangled the spacer. I found (probably) the only one in the entire United States sitting on a shelf in Denver, Colorado. Next-day shipping to the rescue.
  • A 6k-mile service, which is primarily an oil change and a bunch of other checks.
  • A 12k-mile service, which is the 6k-mile service above with the addition of a final drive lube change and an air cleaner check/replace.

I decided mid-week that there was no way in hell that I was going to have my ducks in a row in time to leave Friday night. I decided to finish the bike on Friday and leave on Saturday.

So, there I am, eating a late breakfast with Karen early Saturday afternoon, Nightowl waiting in the garage packed and ready to go… and I have no idea how I want to get to Texas!

A Route?

The only mere wisp of a plan for the ride to Texas was that a fellow Netscum at MISFIT (two weeks ago) casually said that I should drop by for a visit (he’s in northern Alabama). That’s kind of on the way to Texas, so plan made. Karen also suggested that I pay her folks a visit (our daughter is there for the summer, too) in southern Missouri. No exactly on the way, but I’ve taken weirder detours.

So I initially decide to head south towards Kentucky, but that idea gets thrown under the bus due to a long line of tornado watches along that route. I adjust the route eastward to head towards West Virginia instead and off I go.

Day 1 – Cliff Notes (that means short summary)

I rode south on the Slab and then cut my way on backroads southeast through the heartland of Ohio until I get to Marietta on the northern bank of the Ohio River. This is a nice route that I’ve taken several times because it’s more interesting than slab-blasting on I75/US23/I70.

The approaching weather front (with the aforementioned tornado watches) caught me just as I was about to turn east (away from the weather) near Findlay, Ohio. It was about two miles of a pretty healthy soaking. Knowing that I still had a few hours of riding after the rain, I didn’t both to stop to don rain gear.

With the weather front chasing me across Ohio, there was always cloud cover to the west. As the sun fell low in the sky, it illuminated the hills and farms of south-central Ohio in the standard orange sunset glow. With the contrast of the dark clouds overhead and thunderheads to my southeast, it was an impressive site. I didn’t stop for a photo, but I did catch a few moments of it on the dash cam (more about that later).

That thunderhead to the southeast was huge, stretching high in the sky. Consequently, it was illuminated by the sun long after the sun had set; a single pink/orange light in a darkening sky. When the night deepened and the suns rays no longer shone on the thunderhead, the lightning in that cell took over and provided a non-stop fireworks show for the rest of the night’s ride. As I rode along the Muskingum River between Zanesville and Marietta, it seemed like I was getting closer to the lightning. I kept checking my radar app on my phone, but the radar image clearly showed the storm was just past Marietta.

I arrived in Marietta, checked in to a NAS hotel, got a personal pan pizza from the Pizza it across the parking lot, and called it a night.

Here’s the route for the day. Click the map to link to an interactive route recording.

Day 2 – Cliff Notes

With all of last night’s weather out of the way, the day was gorgeous. My rudimentary plan was to weave my way to Front Royal, Virginia and pick up the northern end of Skyline Drive. With luck, I’d have enough time to ride to Waynesboro, Virginia, which is where the Skyline Drive ends and the Blue Ridge Parkway begins.

My route to Front Royal included US50 from Parkersburg, West Virginia east to Clarksburg, West Virginia. This is a four-lane, divided highway, but it is not limited access. It weaves in and out of the hills and hollows with no real towns in between. I basically set my cruise at about 70-75 MPH and rail around the sweeping 50MPH curves. There are worse ways to spend a morning.

From Clarksburg, I took back roads southeast until I was at US33, where I turned east. I eventually stopped for lunch in the thriving metropolis of Parsons, West Virginia. I got gas and parked at B and J’s Family Diner for lunch. The waitress recommended the Cinnamon Swirl Pancakes and they were excellent.

The waitress at B and J’s Family Diner recommended the Cinnamon Swirl Pancakes. They were fantastic!
The waitress at B and J’s Family Diner recommended the Cinnamon Swirl Pancakes. They were fantastic!

I used a combination of US219 and US48 to get the rest of the way to Virginia and on to Front Royal, where I found the north end of Skyline Drive.

Skyline Drive and I have a history; the last time I rode it was in 2006 on the Cruiser… and I hit a yearling black bear. I hadn’t been avoiding it. It’s just that Skyline Drive (and the Blue Ridge Parkway) requires a certain amount of patience; you can’t ride these roads in a hurry. They provide few opportunities to pass and the posted speed limit is usually between 35-45 MPH. This year, I figured I had the time, so off I went.

It was nice to ride the ridges again. The views are always good, but on crisp clear days where the haze was beaten down by last night’s rain, it’s bloody spectacular.

Unfortunately, as the afternoon wore on, I because more impatient with the pace. The curves make this a fun road to ride, but not at 25 MPH. Yuck! The final challenge was a trio of Harleys in front of me. They maintained a decent pace, but not quite as fast as I wanted. The lead Harley had a Bushtec trailer (painted to match his bike, of course). Along the rear of the trailer was a road Sweeper; a bit like a fringed mud flap that actually touched the ground. At the top of the road sweeper was a LED light array programmed to cycle through four different light patterns. It was like following a Cylon warrior (look up Battlestar Galactica, the 1980s version). I eventually passed them a few miles before the southern terminus of Skyline Drive.

I had secured a cheap room at a Super 8 in Waynesboro, Virginia. The hotel and room were fine; the other clientele were sketchy at best. Depending on your point of view, I was either slumming or I fit right in.

Dinner was at a Waffle House two doors down from the hotel.

Here’s the route for the day. Click the map to link to an interactive route recording.

Day 3 – Cliff Notes

I didn’t really have a plan for today. All I had was an overnight destination at a friend’s home in South Carolina… two days out. Starting from Waynesboro, VA, my friends weren’t that far away, so I was just going to bide my time on the Blue Ridge Parkway (the rider’s equivalent of a very scenic slow boat from China) and then cut off of it on Tuesday for a purposeful ride to South Carolina.

Then I looked at the weather.

There was a major weather system swinging up along the Appalachian Mountains from North Carolina to Maryland. If I rode the Blue Ridge Parkway, I’d be sure to spend half the day with my rain gear on, easing my way along a curvy road, dodging cars going unnecessarily slow for the conditions (you know: “Oh my GOD! Rain! We’re doomed!)

Fortunately, there are other ways to waste your time heading south.

I quickly sketched out a route (I’m using Scenic) that went directly south until I reached North Carolina and then headed west for the mountains. With any luck, I’d miss the bulk of the rain and be in perfect position to ride two of my favorite roads (tail of The Dragon and the Cherohala Skyway) the next day. Admittedly, neither of these are on the way to South Carolina, but I can make it work.

With this day basically being a speed run to get to the good stuff tomorrow, the route was less scenic and more purposeful.

Here’s the route for the day. Click the map to link to an interactive route recording.

I did get caught in a cloudburst outside of Lynchburg, Virginia and again along I40 near Hickory, North Carolina, but neither lasted long enough, or were heavy enough, to warrant rain gear.

I stopped for lunch at a Cracker Barrel outside of Winston-Salem. Biscuits and gravy for a late lunch.

I’d made reservations at the Lodge at Fontana Village, which is a large resort in the North Carolina mountains. There’s a main lodge, a bar/grill, lots of cabins, bungalows, fire pits, and so on. It’s a bit of a throwback. Remember the resort in the Dirty Dancing movie? It’s a lot like that.

Well, at least on weekends.

I arrived a little before 7pm on a Monday evening and it was dead. The parking lot had (maybe) a dozen vehicles in it. There’s usually tons of bike; this evening I was one of two. The good news was that I had the pool to myself, no waiting at the grill for dinner, and no noisy neighbors like last night.

Perhaps I’ll use the quiet to write up a report… which leads me to…

Old Age and Laziness

Like it or not, writing post on the Ghost Cruises site is work. By the time I write something, post photos, and describe them, it can kill an entire evening. That doesn’t sound too bad, but I also have to look at a route for the next day, call Karen to let her know I’m still alive, and so on. Add to that the fact that now I have a dash cam where I can download five-minute chunks of videos, edit them, title them, post them, and embed them in my posts… it’s just getting a bit tedious. Last night I downloaded the video from the Nightowl’s dash cam and then sat there wondering if it was worth the effort.

For the last three days, I’ve simply updated the Ghost Cruises page on Facebook; it’s quick and dirty, but not quite as polished as a formal posting on the blog. Today I finally caught up.


Easy steps:

  • Ride the Dragon.
  • Ride the Cherohala Skyway.
  • Head back east to my friend’s place in South Carolina.

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