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One Extreme to Another
We’ve traveled backroads and highways, wet roads and dry roads, paved roads, gravel roads, hilly roads, flat roads, winding roads and straight roads. We’ve hit the roads alone and with friends. We’ve ridden in the heat of summer and on the coldest winter days. We’ve tasted pollen, dirt, exhaust, a few bugs, and rain. We’ve smelled campfire smoke, honeysuckle, freshly cut grass, and rain. We’ve jumped on the bike before the sun was up, ridden all day, and watched the sun set from the backroads; and, by default, we have ridden at night.
We’ve been from one extreme to another, and I wouldn’t trade one minute of it for anything in the world. The extremes get your blood pumping while you’re in the moment, and leave memories that last long after you’ve parked the bike safely at home.
Finally, a Dry Day
We left Prestonsburg, KY on a Thursday morning near the end of our 10-day, 10-state ride. The last few miles the night before had been in the rain. Interestingly, while we had enjoyed nice weather for most of the previous 8 days, we had ridden through some rain every single day. This particular morning, our riding gear included jackets, gloves and chaps. It was 50° with a forecasted high of 67°; NO RAIN expected. We were looking forward to a nice ride along some beautiful hidden backroads through Kentucky, West Virginia and Western Maryland. A home-cooked meal at Louise’s mother’s house in Frostburg, MD awaited us.
The Country Music Highway
Google maps offered up a seven-and-a-half hour riding day covering about 350 miles, a portion of that along the Country Music Highway (US Route 23), a National Scenic Byway stretching 144 miles north and south through eastern Kentucky. Well, this road certainly lives up to it’s title as a highway – four divided lanes of wide-open road with reasonable speed limits. If you don’t mind riding highways, or if you want to spend a day exploring Kentucky’s rich heritage, this route might be worth checking out. We found it to be somewhat boring – since we didn’t plan to stop and visit any of the parks, music venues, historic sites or museums. It was also a little tedious, since many of the cars and trucks seemed to be traveling way too fast or way too slow.
What a relief to finally bail off the highway and pick up some winding, hilly backroads as we bid farewell to the Bluegrass State and entered Wild and Wonderful West Virginia. If you ever have an opportunity to ride in this state, give yourself plenty of time to explore. I’d recommend a day or two.
We followed railroad tracks meandering around mountains, taking the paths of least resistance, like the rivers they follow. Some of our chosen routes took us through tiny unincorporated villages, which hard-working coal miners call home. We felt the temperatures rise and fall as we passed in and out of the shadows of tree canopies and mountains. We knew we were fortunate to have this chance to be in a very real and beautiful part of America.
Bring on the Night
This was a good day. This was a long day. This day came to an end and became night while we were still making our way to the northeast towards Frostburg and that home-cooked meal (and cocktails by the fire). With the setting sun came the dropping temperatures. Remember, 40° F at 50 MPH feels like 10°. When we stopped for fuel, we bundled up a little more. We both added face masks to our ensembles, and we put our rain gear on over our leather. This helped to tame the sting, but not enough. Cold is an extreme that is best taken in small doses. The longer we rode on this cold dark night, the more difficult it became.
Deer in the Headlights
As we rounded a corner, I saw a deer standing not far from the side of the road. So, now I had to contend with the thought of riding right through a designated deer crossing in the dark while freezing to death. I turned on the high beam, only to have to drop it to low every time I saw the headlights of an oncoming vehicle. This went on for what felt like hours, while my body’s core temperature seemed to drop to Mount Everest Camp IV levels. Okay, maybe I’m exaggerating a bit. But, when you combine multiple stressors (cold, dark, oncoming cars, unpredictable wildlife), everything is open to hyperbole.
I Can’t Move
It all came to a head when we were so close to Mom’s house we could smell the food. We paused at a STOP sign in familiar territory – we were finally in Frostburg. I put my feet down to steady the bike and immediately realized that rigor mortis had set in on my legs. I could not lift them back up – I was really that cold. We only had about three miles to go to feel the warmth of that wood stove in the library. This thought was the talisman that broke the spell. I drew upon every bit of strength I could muster and was able to slowly bend my legs and reach the foot controls.
Home Sweet Home
As we rode down National Pike through the heart of this historic town, I prayed for green lights and my prayers were answered. The new garage attached to the old Victorian was open and vacant. My mother-in-law’s car was parked along the street. “Come on in and sit a spell,” said the warm lights. And, so we did. I can’t say I’ve ever felt more at home in somebody else’s home.
The dinner, the fire, the Jack and Coke, the company… all so warm. So very warm.