West Virginia quenches thirst for cool temps, curvy roads

Jim Beckett, Mike Jones and I set out last week on a motorcycle quest for curvy, mountain roads and cool temperatures. We found both in West Virginia.

The highlight of the trip was the ride down the narrow, one-lane trail to the bottom of the New River Gorge basin, near Fayetteville, West Virginia.

The New River Gorge Bridge is the largest steel span bridge in the country. It used to be the largest in the world before China topped it a few years ago.

If you’ve ever seen a postcard or promotional material from West Virginia, odds are it included a picture of this bridge. But you couldn’t truly appreciate its beauty until you saw it looking up from the river bottom nearly 1,000 feet below.

The steep grade of the ride down forced us to keep our Harleys in low gear as we corkscrewed to the bottom with the thick forest and steep, rocky cliffs creating a tunnel effect.

At the end of the trail you exit the foliage, cross some railroad tracks and pull up on an equally scenic 1898 trestle bridge. The view in both directions was breath-taking. White water rafters bounced down the river underneath us as we took a few moments to take it all in.

The exit meant crossing the bridge and riding up a similar trail of S-curves, although going up allowed us to use more throttle and maximize the fun in every hairpin curve.

While weaving through the mountains of West Virginia on any small, rural road we could find, temperatures remained in the low 70s. Riding along a winding river, occasionally passing through a tiny village, I began noticing chill bumps popping up on my arms. The deeper into the valleys we rode the temperatures plummeted.

Suddenly I began feeling legitimately cold. It was as exhilirating as I remembered.

I hung on for the next few miles enjoying the sensation of shivering. Finally, the 100-degree temperatures of Mississippi seemed far away.
I eventually succumbed to digging out a jacket so I could comfortably enjoy this most refreshing ride.

The entire trip was about nothing but enjoying our motorcycles. We awakened each day with no plan, no place to be, only looking for the curviest roads with the best scenery. When we grew tired of riding, typically after 9-10 hours, we pulled out a map and looked for a city with a warm bed and good meal.

Our trip took us through Alabama, Tennessee, Kentucky, Virginia, West Virginia and Ohio.

We spent our first night in Cookeville, Tenn. Our goal on the first day, which was only a half day of riding, was just to get east of Nashville where the best riding would start.

From there we called it a night in Beckley, West Virginia; Lexington, Kentucky; and Murfreesboro, Tenn. on the last night before returning home.

I’ll never forget the ride along the Ohio River; the picturesque views of Charleston, WV; the architecture of the many bridges in Huntington, WV; the beauty of horse country as we approached Lexington, KY; and standing on the trestle bridge at the bottom of the New River Gorge Basin.

The old Harley-Davidson theme is “Live to Ride. Ride to Live.” That’s exactly what we did last week.

You may email Joel McNeece at joelmcneece@gmail.com