When it comes to taking long distant trips, usually there is a lot of planning involved, money saved up for the trip, vehicle inspections, and exact plans to follow; this wasn’t the case for my overnight trip into Virginia on my 2016 Honda Africa Twin.
August 24th I woke up and decided to head out for the night. I’ve been out of work for the last 3 months due to an elbow injury and I have not been able to ride my Africa Twin at all this summer. My elbow was feeling well enough for a ride and I told myself “that’s it, I’m going away somewhere”.
I left my house at 10:20am and headed down to REI in Marlton, NJ to grab some freeze dried Mountain House meals for dinner and breakfast. At about 10:40am I filled up the bike at Wawa on Route 70 in Cherry Hill, NJ and then proceeded to head south on I-295 out of New Jersey. I made it down to Baltimore, MD when I got the notification that I-66 in VA was closed due to an accident.
Google maps rerouted me to I-70 and out to I-81. I ignored the GPS and took highway 340 once I reached Fredrick, MD. About 4-5 minutes after getting onto 340, my gas light came on. I got off at the first exit I saw. When I pulled in and I noticed another guy on a motorcycle at the gas pump in front of me. He walked inside as I was pulling in, I didn’t see his face, all I saw was his back and his bike.
As I’m pumping my gas I hear “DUDE! What are you doing out here?” I look up to see my old friend Will! Will use to live in Jersey but then moved to Florida and shortly after he moved to Washington D.C. and then he apparently moved out to western Maryland. It was awesome randomly meeting him there!
Once we left Dinosaur Land, we made our way south on 340 to Luray, Virginia where we stopped again at Cooter’s! I know, the first thoughts when you hear a place named Cooter’s are those that question the family friendliness of the place; needless to say that’s not the case here.
Most of us have seen the famous TV show The Dukes of Hazzard and those who have seen the show know that Cooter owned the Hazzard Garage. Cooter’s was the fictional place where the Duke boys had their famous race car (and moonshining car) , a 1969 Dodge Charger name the General Lee, built. Cooter’s in Luray, VA is a museum of The Dukes of Hazzard memorabilia and they have a couple replica cars from the show. During certain times of the year Cooter’s will host a live stunt show replicating the TV show. Will and I toured their gift shop and hung out for a few having a soda before splitting off.
Cooter’s was as far south that Will wanted to travel but I had quite a few more miles to travel before I could call it done for the night. We said our goodbyes and I headed towards Harrisonburg, VA.
Along the way, going up and over one of the mountains, I dragged my footpeg in a turn. While it doesn’t sound that thrilling, it was my first time finally doing that and I felt proud in that moment! Leaning that far, on a fully packed Africa Twin with knobbies is asking for trouble, but the Shinko 804/805 tires handled it just fine.
Right before leaving Harrisonburg, I topped off my tank, filled up the rotopax with gas, and bought myself a Pabst Blue Ribbon (beer) to enjoy around the campfire. My GPS told me to go further south and then back track to the campsite. I thought this was dumb but in hindsight, I should have listened. Sometimes the shorter distance isn’t always the best route. I made my way into George Washington National Forest and then proceeded down the trail which I thought would be the fastest to camp. I wanted to arrive and set up camp before night fall.
As I’m making my way down the gravel trail, I come up on a Toyota 4Runner going in the same direction as I was going. He pulled over to let me pass and I stopped to talk to him for a second about where I was going. I asked if the trail I was on would get me to my camp at Flagpole Knob. He said a while back they gated off the area and restricted people from going up there. I said to him that’s weird since I’ve seen people posting about camping up there all the time. He told me to give it a try and that the trail will in fact get me to the top. He told me to be careful and to have fun cause it’s gonna be a challenging trail. I thought to myself, maybe I should turn back and go the way the GPS was originally telling me. “Nawww I’ll be fiiinnneeee” I thought to reassure myself.
The trail turns from gravel to bigger sized rocks. Then there was a couple creek crossings but in my luck, the creeks were dried up. I get about halfway to the top of the mountain and that’s when the fun began.
The trail was now starting to get worse with bigger rocks, slick mud, and now going up steeper inclines. I was chugging along in 2nd gear, keeping RPMs low so I don’t slide off the side of the mountain or better yet whiskey throttle off the mountain’s cliff. I get to a point where the incline got steep (hard to tell from the photo) and the rocks were more loose than before. Before I knew it, the rear wheel locked up, the bike came to a sudden stop. Then I found myself laying the bike down on its left side. Apparently the RPMs got too low and I stalled the bike. I wasn’t fast enough on the clutch and I wasn’t quick enough to put my feet down either.
I tried again, this time getting it 1/2 way up when the rocks under my feet slid out and we both hit the ground again. At this point I was wore out, sweating, panicking and worried that I could not pick it up by myself. I was in the middle of this forest, alone. No cell service or anything. I did have my Spot Emergency GPS if it came down to it but I did not want to give up so soon.
I took off my helmet, jacket, and gloves. Upon doing so, I thought to myself “why does it smell like beer?”. I guess I was so worked up over trying to get the bike up that I failed to notice the smell of beer. It was at that point I remembered that I put the 16oz can of beer in the left soft pannier, the same side the bike was laying on. No use in crying over spilt beer even though I did let out a loud F-bomb!
It was at that moment that I decided that unpacking the bike would help tremendously with picking it up. I took off the duffel bag, tent, and rotopax. I gave it another try and it went up with ease; I guess all the gear made it a bit too top heavy and a bit too much to lift for one person on the type of terrain I was on.
I opened the side pannier to see the can of beer had exploded all inside, covering my food, hat, and my best friend Tim McGarvey’s book, “The Longest Thirty Miles” by Timothy Collins, which I was borrowing from him. The food was fine, hat was soaked along with the book pretty much being ruined. As the beer dripped out of the pannier, I reloaded the bike and tried to start it.
After 3 minutes of trying to start the bike, it finally fired up. I guess with it being on its side so long it lost its fuel prime? Once it fired up, I put it in first gear and walked it up to a spot that was easier for me to get back on it. Walking it up was a struggle all in its own since the bike kept wanting to roll backwards and just spin the rear tire on the soft dirt and loose rocks. It did not help that my rear tire was nearing the end of its life and did not have the same kind of grip it would have when it was new.
After what seemed like forever, I was back on the bike and heading up the mountain. The rest of the trip to the top was fairly simple but still big rocks and mud plagued the trail. I was so exhausted and sore at this point. I made it to the top, and found that it was a decent gravel road at the top. I was happy to see that.
Caught up in the pleasure of the gravel road, I passed where I was suppose to turn to get to camp. In the middle of turning around, a truck was coming up the road and stopped to allow me to turn around. In my mind I told myself to rush so I’m not blocking the trail and so I’m not making the guy mad. Wouldn’t you know my foot slips and down the bike goes again. I looked at the truck and did the “come here” motion with my index finger. The guy got out and gave me a hand lifting the bike. I explained why I needed his help and told him about what had happened earlier. He laughed and said no problem. We got the bike up and on I went to camp.
Pulling up to the free camping site at Flagpole Knob, 4100 feet above sea level, I see someone else had already set up camp there for the night; a mountain biker. I pulled up and kindly asked if I could pitch my tent on the other side from him and he said sure. Upon first impressions, the guy seemed cool, boy was that an understatement. I introduced myself to him and he introduced himself as Steve.
I pitched my Kelty Salida 2 and unpacked the bike. I got my Jetboil out and began to heat up some water for my Mountain House Chicken Teriyaki dinner. Steve was warming up his dinner as well, using a portable titanium stove that uses kindling as its heat source. We began to get to know one another over dinner and we had a great conversation about the solo adventures we were on.
After dinner, I fired up a cigar I brought with me and I offered my spare cigar to Steve. He kindly accepted and we enjoyed a nice smoke by the campfire. We started to run out of wood and Steve offered to go and grab us some more.
As he was out grabbing firewood, a truck pulled into camp and made the loop around our tents and then stopped. The three guys got out and began talking amongst themselves. I walked over, assuming they were locals, and said to them “Now where I come from, locals usually ride around the forest with beers in their trucks; do you have any? They responded with “We’re not locals but yeah we got some beer”. I asked if they wouldn’t mind sparing two and then proceeded to tell them about my Pabst exploding. They all laughed and handed me two Bud Lights.
I walked back up to camp just at the same time as Steve was coming out of the woods with the firewood. I told Steve about my beer incident earlier as we had dinner. When he sat down the wood I passed him a beer I scored and he was all like “DUDE!! You scored beer!!! Awesome!” We said cheers and enjoyed our beers together around the campfire.
I finished up my beer and cigar at about the same time the fire was starting to die out again. Now with the wind blowing harder and the temps dropping, Steve said he was turning in for the night and agreed to do the same.
The temps had to of gotten down into the high 30s or low 40s that night. It was COLD but I stayed cozy inside my Big Agnes 15 degree bag and slept great on my Nemo 20R insulated sleeping pad. That next morning, I didn’t want to leave my sleeping bag or my tent since it was so warm.
I had to head south to get to the southern entrance to Skyline Drive, so I went the way that my GPS originally told me to go to get up to camp. Here the route was 2-3 miles of gravel road and the rest was asphalt. “Well damn” I thought to myself. I should have listened to the GPS the day before. Oh well, at least it was an easy descent off the mountain.
With it being cold and coming up to the on ramp for I-81, I spotted a coffee house and decided to stop to warm up a bit. After a nice hazelnut latte, I got back on the road and headed 25 miles to the southern entrance of Skyline Drive.
Once I got to the entrance, I put the 1 gallon of gas from the rotopax into the tank of the bike and proceeded to the park’s entrance. Upon arriving at the gate, the park ranger said that it was no fee to get into the park today. I was surprised and questioned him on the special occasion. He stated it was free weekend due to the celebration and anniversary of the U.S. National Park System. I told him “That just made my weekend even better!” and I rode off into the park.
It was a pleasant ride along Skyline Drive, starting at 10:30am and ending at 1:50pm. Once I made it to the north entrance, I set my bearings toward home. Making it home by 7pm with a logged mileage of 779.8 miles in just 33 hours.
It was one heck of an overnight adventure but I loved every second of it! It was everything I hoped and wanted it to be. My only regrets was having the beer in my soft pannier and not getting Steve’s contact info. Steve was cooler than cool and definitely someone I would gladly call my friend. It’s in these types of trips where I meet strangers and find out that the world is more loving than what we see within our scrolling of Facebook, or watching of the five o’clock local news. It’s these types of bonding and experiences that has me addicted to adventure and travel. I cannot wait for the next one!
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Guest Author: Lee Jones
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Baker and Ashlie are the owners of Bourn Adventure and together they author the majority of the articles and content found here.