Wednesday, July 4, 2007

Camp Night in Paradise: Part 1

I can think of a handful of experiences when I felt like I was in exactly the right place at the right time. The mind is at rest, light heart. Feeling plugged in to the universe. Is there a term for that? Is that an “existential moment?” Whatever it is, I’m sure you’ve had them, too.

Not surprisingly, most of mine have been motorcycle related. Dinner with my pal Dave on the last day of a ride through Montana and Idaho is near the top of the list. Another time, the moment struck somewhere on a road in upstate New York, part of a moto-camping trip with my wife Sandy that will always be special. Hey Jeff? Remember that time we rode Skyline after dark (very slowly) and parked at an overlook? That's a keeper.

Those moments are scarce, but recently, I added another one to the list.

If you haven’t been through Highland County, Virginia, you’d be doing yourself a favor to put it on your lifetime travel itinerary. You owe it to yourself to ride the high and narrow byways of this lost province at least once. With the highest average elevation and lowest population density of any county east of the Mississippi, Highland contains the perfect balance of scenic vistas and twisty tarmac anywhere in the East or West. Oh yeah, and the people are nice, too.

Every year, around the summer solstice, riders converge on Blue Grass, Virginia, gathering at the pre-Civil War farm of Brian Richardson. Brian, an avid rider and antique motorcycle aficionado began organizing a Polar Bear Run with friends in the late 90’s. Somewhere around the turn of the century, the event morphed into a motorcycle campout at Brian’s farm. Proceeds from the rally benefit the Blue Grass Book Bank, a children’s library. It’s always sounded like a good idea to me, but each year commitments or excuses seemed to get in the way. This year, I just decided to close up the shop, fix a camper on the bike, and head for the hills.

West Bound

I did little but point the bike in the direction of Monterey. It took a course familiar to us both and I hardly gave it a thought. Following VA 55 out of the metro area, we turned south on US 340 in Front Royal, then west on US 211 at Luray. It was a foregone conclusion that we’d stop for lunch at the Southern Kitchen in New Market. Back on the trail, we followed VA 42 south to near Harrisonburg when we cut the corner through Singers Glen and put ourselves on US 33 west.

This proved to be a good choice. It’s been a little while since I’ve trailered a camper over the mountains, and this section of US 33 was a good refresher. Following a three mile ascent over Shenandoah Mountain, it’s an equal distance to the bottom on the West Virginia side with well-banked curves and smooth pavement. By keeping the Wing in one gear lower than normal and sticking to the speed advisories on the curves, I never felt like the camper was significantly influencing the bike’s handling.

In Franklin, West Virginia, the bike turned without prompting south on US 220. If I’ve said this before, forgive me, but US 220 through West Virginia and Virginia is second only to the Blue Ridge Parkway as the premiere north-south route through the eastern mountains. It isn’t as challenging as east-west routes like 33 or 250, but it’s built with more than enough twists and turns to keep your interest while traversing spectacular country.

Too soon we arrived at the turn-off for Blue Grass and the bike found its way to Brian’s farm. No doubt it picked up on the scent of an old oil trail laid down by Brian’s ’71 Norton Commando. At four p.m., I was one of the last to arrive, but still found a spot near the back side of the pasture where I thought I’d bother the fewest number of folks. Sandy says that I snore, loudly, and I know this is true since I regularly wake myself, so I try to camp on the outside perimeter.

I hadn’t seen anyone I knew on pulling in, but as I put up the camper, a fellow approached me, introducing himself as Chuck Davis, one of our dozen or so loyal newsletter readers (Hey to Chuck!). Steve Anderson from Mortons BMW (gracious Camp Night sponsors) soon surfaced as did one of Highland’s chief instigators and rally co-conspirators, Rich Holman.

As much fun as it was to meet up with friends, I felt the urge to get out onto Highland’s back roads. In the clear, dry air and amber light of early evening, it was the perfect time to snap some pics. I also wanted to toss the Wing into a few curves without having to remember what was behind me. Yes, I said “toss.” Despite it’s size, the current GL can be ridden about as assertively as some sport-touring machines.

Shortly after the traditional hot dog and bean supper, I ducked out for a ride along the prettiest routes on the East Coast. Routes that, until now, I’ve only hinted of in print. Get out a pencil because I know you’ll want to take some notes.

Next time: Stick around for the next installment and I promise to share some routes around Highland County that are worth seeking out.