I feel like we’ve only arrived when we get off Interstate 81, run some gear on American Highway 48 and catch the breath of the dew-covered fields. Craig, a college friend who lives in the suburbs of Philadelphia, has a weekend pass, so he came with me to ride the Seneca Rocks through “Wild and Wonderful” West Virginia. It’s on its 2000 Harley Road King, and I’m on my 2011 Triumph Sprint GT.
Our starting point is Manassas, in northern Virginia, and the fastest route west to the Appalachians is Interstate 66, followed by a three-mile jump on I-81 before we exit and turn onto US 48.
After exiting the interstate, everything changes. Time – and our speed – are slowing down, giving us the opportunity to notice our surroundings. Simple houses have cinder blocks and separate garages. People here do not go for insignificant electric mowers and do not put mown grass in bags. Here they proudly ride on large gas mowers, with clippings scattered far and wide across wide yards. We smell this unmistakable smell of freshly cut grass – it smells like summer.
US 48 is a two-lane road with farmland on both sides for about five miles before ascending through the woods and up the ridge that serves as the border between Virginia and West Virginia. It’s a quick descent on a 9% hotel to Wardensville, where 48 gets a major makeover and becomes a four-lane highway. Before the superhighway begins, we will take a detour to the old Highway 55 (McCauley Road) and make our way through the shaded Lost River Valley.
We return at 48 just before Baker and head to Moorefield, where we head south on Main Street (US Route 220). The road is leveling through more farmland, but mountains on all sides are fueling our anticipation of future coups. In St. Petersburg we continue west on State Route 28 and follow the North Fork-South Brunch Potamac River, which cut through one of the many gaps through the mountains.
Heading south, we will see the Champagne cliffs, a pair of vertical cliffs emerging from the Champagne-Knobs in the Allegheny Mountains. About 230 million years ago, a rock that was once at the bottom of the sea was pushed up until it became vertical. The softer rock eventually eroded, but the quartzite that forms the fin outlets is much harder and has survived to this day. The cliffs are located within the Spruce Knob-Seneca Rocks National Recreation Area in the Manongahela National Forest. Advertisements for cabin rentals along the road speak of great fishing, canoeing, hiking and camping that can be found nearby.
Soon the formation of the Seneca Rock – a well-known scenic spot in the mountainous state – emerges from the dense forest of the Nobs River ridge. The rocky walls are popular with climbers, but after our morning 150-mile trip, Craig and I are more interested in food. We drive our booths to Yokum’s Vacationland, at the junction of Route 28 and US Route 33. In Yokum’s since 1923 there is a shop, deli, motel, cabins and campsites.
The grill for short orders is at the back of the store, so Craig and I walk past a variety of local goods (catches my eye) and order lunch. Being from Philadelphia, Craig surprised me by ordering a Philly cheesecake, but the result looks even better than my cheeseburger getting to the point. After eating we ride a couple hundred yards down the road, park our bikes on a stretch along Roy Gap Road and walk to the river, our eyes focused on the climbers standing high on the cliffs. We agree that Yokum’s will be a great hub for skiing on some of the more adventurous routes through the eastern part of the state.
A 35-mile drive west through the Alleghenies on US 33 will take us to Elkins, a classic American city with restaurants, bars, hotels and shops. In the heart of the city is the West Virginia Railroad Museum and the historic railroad depot, which is one of the stops on the Durbin and Greenbrier Valley railroads, a tourist train that travels through harsh mountain landscapes.
After returning to Seneca Rock, we continue south on US 33, which makes a sharp turn east on Judy Gap. On the uphill turns I am tempted to open the throttle, but I restrain the urge not to miss the view of the German valley – a beautiful view of the valley and the ridge of the Nobs River just in front of the crest of Mount North Fork. Thirty miles later we ascend to the top of the High Knob and return to Virginia. On the descent, where a straight road and ancient growth creates a canopy a hundred feet higher, you feel like you are driving through a cathedral.
We withstand the traffic lights and traffic of Harrisonburg before climbing again to Swift Run Gap, where Shenandoah National Park Skyline Drive intersects with US 33. Two monuments give a bit of history to the pass, where in 1716 Lieutenant Governor Spotswood and a group of Rangers, Native Americans and government officials decided to prove that there was an easy way through the Blue Mountains.
In Stanardsville we follow Business Route 33 through the historic district. We turn north on State Route 230, which ends in US Route 29, where we turn north again. In less than half a mile we stop at the brightly colored Tastee-Freez to avoid the summer heat and snack on hot fondant. A local informs us that this is the oldest private company Tastee-Freez, which operates permanently in America.
The mountains disappear from our mirrors as we walk northeast to our starting point. We’ve just scratched the surface of what we can find in West Virginia, and really want to get back.