Thursday, January 8, 2009

Reflection Road

Over the last couple of weeks, I've been replaying a highlight reel in my head, filled with rides I've enjoyed over the last riding season. It's a coping mechanism that keeps me sane in chilly weather. I had a number of good rides this year and, consequently, a lot of good clips to choose from. Even so, there's one evening of one particular ride that I keep coming back to again and again.

I was nearing the end of day three in a ride spanning the Memorial Day weekend. In a rare piece of luck, I was able to make it a four-day run. It had been a flawless ride in every respect. On this particular day, Sunday, I'd just rolled in to Marlinton, West Virginia after a run of a few hundred miles through the heart of the Mountain State. I've always enjoyed West Virginia's roads, but this day was the sweetest in recent memory. I'd revisited many of my favorite roads, finding them clean, deserted, and begging to be ridden.

The day's run ended with a sprint down WV 39 to US 219 which brought me to Marlinton. I stopped in at a restaurant situated along the Greenbrier River for a bite and found they offered rooms for rent above the cafe. I snagged a room and some grub. For a while I sat on the porch and watched a game of horse shoes playing out in the park across the street. I could have called it a day, but I still felt the call to ride, so I suited up once more and pointed the bike north. I think the bike knew as well as I where we were headed--the Highland Scenic Highway.

The Highland isn't a road to be ridden for sport, it's a road to be savored. Its long straights and longer sight lines tempt the rider to wick it up, but that's harldy the point. The Highland traverses a remote, undeveloped corner of the state overlooking the Cranberry Glades Recreation Area, forever preserved as part of the Monongahela National Forest . It's a great road for reflection riding; that special time in the saddle when your usual stream of thoughts are overwhelmed by the sheer perfection of the elements; the amber cast of late afternoon light, a gentle rush of warm air, the steady trill of the bike, views ranging to the horizon. This was one of those times.

A few miles along the Highland, the need to ride began to wane as I reached one of the higher vantage points. I just pulled over and sat to enjoy the quiet and the view. Occasionally, I lifted the camera to snap a few pics of other riders buzzing by, but for the most part I just stared ahead, absorbing the silence. I might've been there ten minutes or it could have been two hours, I don't know. Time was passing though. An instant dip in temperature told me without turning around that the sun had slipped behind a nearby hill. Daylight began dissolving to dusk and the return ride was at hand. The perfect day was fading into the perfect night.

Whether by accident or design, I'd come across just the right place bring this journey to its close. The restaurant was dark by the time I returned and I found the whole building deserted. As the only room-taker for the evening, I had the entire run of the place. My bike, alone in the parking lot, looked vulnerable. I moved it closer to the entrance to keep an eye on it though I knew nothing would happen. TV in the room? Nope. Cell phone coverage? Fuhgetaboutit. In fact, the closest phone was a five minute walk across the bridge to a pay phone at the gas station. You know, the one with the handset that had been ripped out of the phone box. Perfect.

I walked out on the now-empty restaurant deck and took a seat at the rail. Nothing moved but the water. No sound, but for the occasional click of the town's only traffic light. Nothing to do but prop my feet to watch the river and contemplate the meaning of an empty Main Street.

For everything that went right on that trip and that last evening on the road, it's a highlight that'll be hard to top. I can't wait to get back out there to try.