West Virginia, July 3–14—In the September issue of THUNDER PRESS, where I described the first segment of our 12-day West Virginia tour, my riding partner and THUNDER PRESS contributor Thundercloud and I had stopped in Ronceverte for the night. After a restful sleep at the Edgarton Inn Bed & Breakfast, we rode the few miles back north to pick up US-60 west at Lewisburg where the 116-mile Midland Trail, a National Scenic Byway, begins.
About 60 scenic and somewhat curvy miles later, signs appeared for Hawks Nest State Park in Ansted. After parking our bikes, my riding partner Thundercloud and I walked a short way to an overlook that revealed panoramic views of the New River Gorge National River and the mountains that rise beyond. This area is the heart of West Virginia’s whitewater rafting country, and from our view, it was easy to see why.
We continued along US-60 west where we encountered some twisties that prompted us to gear down and take it easy. The road eventually reached the Gauley Bridge where New River joins the Gauley River to form the Kanawha River, and where we continued to follow the picturesque Kanawha as it sliced its way through the mountains on either side.
In mid-afternoon we arrived at Charleston, the capital of West Virginia, where we easily found the Four Points Sheraton, a showcase hotel with endless amenities and a lovely view of the Kanawha. There we met up with Jane Bostic, marketing specialist with the West Virginia Division of Tourism which has its office in there. Jane, who, with several Convention & Visitors Bureaus across the state, actually set up our entire West Virginia tour, took us on a personal tour of the city, starting with a delicious lunch at Black Sheep Burrito and Brews, a café/microbrewery a short walk from our hotel. After our meal, we went to the Capitol Market, an indoor-outdoor fresh produce and food market that in 1997 was constructed at an old rail yard and freight station. After sating our collective sweet tooth with some gourmet goodies, we proceeded to the capitol building. The Capitol, a stunning example of classical style architecture, is made of Indiana limestone with its dome gilded in 23 ½-karat gold. The ornate dome is actually five feet higher than that of the U.S. Capitol. The building’s interior is no less striking, with its liberal use of three types of marble across its 535,000 square feet of space.
For you pizza snobs that live in the Northeast U.S. (and Chicago), there actually is good pizza in the South. Jane took us to Pies & Pints for a dinner of the most unique—and tasty—pizza we’ve ever eaten. Along with the usual toppings, you could order black bean with jalapenos, salsa and cilantro, grapes and gorgonzola, coconut and curry shrimp, and many more taste-tempting combinations. And there were over 70 exotic beers available on tap or in bottles and cans. After we filled up on a sampling of cheesy concoctions, we went to the Empty Glass for some country tunes performed by local musicians and then back to the Sheraton for a good night’s sleep.
Charleston residents and visitors have benefited from a downtown revitalization that began in the 1980s, with a nice mix of shops, cafes and entertainment venues. We wanted to spend more time in this lovely city, but the West Virginia Heritage H.O.G. Rally was taking place 50 miles away in Huntington and we wanted to participate in the festivities. So we bid adieu and continued our journey west.
Along the way we took a few detours off US-60 West to visit a few places of interest that Jane recommended. First was the town of Milton where we visited Blenko Glass Company, which has been family owned and operated since 1893 and located in Milton for 94 years. The visitors center has a walkway leading into the glassmaking area where we watched skilled artisans create delicate and intricate hand-blown works of art and where we learned a little about the roles of each craftsman involved in the process: gatherer, blower, stick-up boy, finisher, bit boy and carry-in boy. Next was the retail store which doubles as a museum where some very special one-of-a-kind pieces are on display, such as the vases that Blenko produces for West Virginia Day every year. Particularly striking were the stained-glass windows painstakingly created to commemorate various historical places, people and events.
Continuing another 20 miles on US-60 into Huntington we dropped south onto WV-527 and saw the city fade away and, as we turned onto Harvey Road and continued south past I-64, we found ourselves in a rural area, eventually arriving at the Heritage Farm Museum and Village. The Heritage Farm offers tours of its Museum of Progress, Museum of Transportation and Country Store Museum, all laid out in a reproduction of an old-time Appalachian town where we could see what life was like from the 1800s through the mid-20th century. We lunched in the café and then, white-knuckling it up the gravel-road hill from the farm to the main road, headed to the Hampton Inn near Marshall University in Huntington.
The hotel had all the perks you’d expect from a Hampton, including freshly-baked chocolate cookies every afternoon—a nice treat after a long day of motorcycle touring. The staff even allowed us to park under the overhang in front of the hotel; a real boon because rain was forecast over the next few days. But tonight no rain was on the horizon, only a wonderful dinner invitation from Tyson Compton and Anna Adkins, respectively president and sales manager of the Cabell-Huntington Convention & Visitors Bureau. Tyson and Anna took us to one of their favorite dining spots, La Famiglia, which was voted one of the 101 most unique places to eat in West Virginia. The restaurant’s name is apropos of not only the family-owned and -operated business, but of the way that owner Ralph Hagy treats all his customers like family. Everything on the menu is home-cooked from family recipes handed down through the generations, and most of the herbs and spices are grown in their own garden. Our dinners were molto delizioso and if we could, we would have eaten every meal there during our stay in Huntington.
After dinner we went to Buddy’s Barbeque for the Thursday night Buddy’s Bike Bash, one of the many activities included in the H.O.G. Rally. A band entertained the bikers crowding the parking lot, but we didn’t stay long because we wanted to get to the H.O.G. registration tables bright and early the next day.
We awoke to an overcast sky, donned our rain gear and rode over to the Big Sandy Arena where registration for the rally was taking place and where we picked up a handful of rally maps detailing several motorcycle rides in the area. While waiting for that day’s H.O.G. Parade, we wandered over to Pullman Square, another fine example of downtown revitalization. In 2004, the city took a parcel of land that had been vacant since the 1970’s and created an inviting community park bordered by shops and restaurants.
The sky darkened as the kickstands-up time for the H.O.G. motorcycle parade neared; in fact, the parade actually began early in the hopes that riders would arrive at the end spot, Charlie’s Harley-Davidson, before the rain began. No such luck—as soon as the taillights of the last bike disappeared the skies opened up and let loose with a deluge. We hid underneath an awning until the rain eased up a bit and then scooted over to Charlie’s for the big block party at 4:00 p.m.
Charlie’s H-D covers half a city block, and has several buildings that connect with the main showroom. An inviting buffet was offered in the dealership’s clubhouse, while outside local musicians played as we waited for the weather to clear up. The IllConduct stunt team, however, decided to forge ahead, and their show began while it was still misting. The stunters seemed to love performing in the rain and the crowd showed their appreciation with oohs, aahs and applause. It was very cool meeting members of River Cities H.O.G. as well as other H.O.G. chapters, but Thundercloud and I decided to ride back to the hotel before it got too late, which was a wise choice because not more than five minutes after we parked, the drizzle turned into a downpour that didn’t stop until the next morning.
The next leg of our journey took us to Morgantown by way of OH-7, the Ohio River Scenic Byway, which took us north along the west bank of the Ohio River for 150 mostly rural, leisurely miles until we crossed back into West Virginia. We continued on WV-7 east, which looked like a fun road on paper. It was, in fact, a most interesting and curvy route with scenery that weaved between small towns and forests, of which more than three-quarters of the state is comprised, to farmlands, which make up pretty much the rest of West Virginia’s topography. But the road surface itself was certainly not up to the standards of all the other excellent West Virginia roads we traversed. The 70-mile stretch of WV-7 between New Martinsville and Morgantown was, in many places, so rutted and potholed and poorly patched that I was sure my shocks would spring a leak, and it really took some of the enjoyment out of what was otherwise a delightful route.
Our place of lodging, the Fairfield Inn & Suites, was high on the hill of the University Town Center area of Morgantown, with shopping and dining nearby. From our room we could see Triple S Harley-Davidson and the Greene Turtle sports bar on the other side of I-79, probably less than a mile away as the crow flies. Shortly after we checked in, Ben Huffman from the Greater Morgantown Convention and Visitors Bureau took us for a quick tour of the hilly city of Morgantown followed by dinner at Sabraton Station, a sports bar popular with bikers. Ben is not only an avid motorcyclist, he handles all the motorcycle tour requests for the CVB, and welcomes all motorcyclists to check in with him at the CVB upon their arrival in Morgantown so that he can provide any assistance a rider might require in this extremely biker-friendly city. Morgantown also offers scenic motorcycle ride brochures and the CVB’s website has a section devoted to motorcycle touring.
The next morning, Ben escorted us on another riding tour through the city and past Cheat Lake to Ruby and Ketchy’s, a family eatery on the eastern outskirts of Morgantown. We enjoyed a bountiful breakfast; Ruby & Ketchy’s served the best buckwheat pancakes I’ve ever tasted. Turns out that at one time West Virginia was a major producer of buckwheat, and buckwheat festivals still continue to this day.
After breakfast, Ben escorted us to Coopers Rock State Forest where we enjoyed a spectacular view of the Cheat River Gorge. We bid adieu to Ben and continued on to our final tour destination, the town of Berkeley Springs. After having been on the road for 10 days, we wanted to get to Berkeley Springs early in the afternoon, so we jumped on I-68 to save some time. But that didn’t stop us from visiting two more attractions as we rode through the Maryland portion of the Interstate: Casselman River Bridge State Park that showcases the Casselman Bridge built in the early 1800’s, and the adjoining Spruce Forest Artisan Village, whose mission is to preserve heritage of the Allegheny region and where artists create old-time crafts inside their studios.
Berkeley Springs is a small town of just over 600 residents located on West Virginia’s Eastern Panhandle. True to its official name, the Town of Bath, it is the location of the country’s first spa—George Washington was known to “take the waters” here—and continues the tradition to this day. We had selected The Country Inn of Berkeley Springs to spend our last two nights on the road, and it turned out to be an excellent choice. The inn was built in 1932, and after the Omps family acquired it several years ago, has undergone extensive renovations and upgrades. Entering the inn, we felt like we’d stepped back to an earlier era and could imagine gentlemen and ladies gliding through the lobby and heading toward the inn’s Morgan Tavern, where, the next evening, we enjoyed servings of more modern-day tapas. Our corner room was large and comfortable and, with the inn situated in the heart of the town, we enjoyed lovely views of historic Berkeley Springs State Park, which was right next-door, as well as a wide expanse of South Washington Street, the main thoroughfare.
Housed in a newer wing behind the main portion of the inn is the Renaissance Spa where I made an appointment for a facial—after 10 days on the road my skin was starting feel like sandpaper. My technician was quite skilled and the entire experience was incredibly relaxing. Meanwhile, Thundercloud enjoyed the swimming pool at Berkeley Springs State Park, which cost her only $3 to stay as long as she desired, until closing. The spring-fed pool is open every day from noon to 5:00 p.m. Memorial Day through Labor. The park also features a museum, spa and two bathhouses. I made an appointment at the Old Roman Bathhouse, which has been in continuous use since 1815. The private Roman bath features spring-fed mineral water heated to 102 degrees, and studies have shown these types of baths are extremely beneficial: the hot mineral water allows your body to release toxins and increase blood flow. All I know is that I felt relaxed yet energized after my 30-minute session, after which I went to Atasi Spa a few blocks away for a delightful massage. Hedonism at its finest.
Dinner at Tari’s Café, with large portions of fresh, delectable fare, was another treat as were our breakfasts at Earthdog Café, a funky little place with a hippie vibe, and Betty Lou’s Ole Garage Café which is inside Roy’s Service Center. And in between our swims, spa visits and snacks, we explored the town itself. Berkeley Springs has evolved into an artistic and cultured community, and during our stay, the Ice House Gallery was showing some special art exhibits. There are gallery tours, festivals and other special events throughout the year, along with interesting museums, shops and eateries. The Travel Berkeley Springs welcome center offers brochures on every aspect of the town, including “tankbag” road trip maps for motorcyclists. And one fascinating attraction in town is the Star Theatre, which Jeanne Mozier, founder and current vice president of Travel Berkeley Springs, her husband Jack Soronen and another partner restored in 1977. Jeanne still dishes out popcorn during the nights the theatre is open using a 1949 Manley popcorn machine. The aroma attracts people to come off the street into the theatre just to buy popcorn and some don’t even stay for the movie. The town of Berkeley Springs captured our hearts as well as our imaginations.
In fact, we thoroughly enjoyed our entire journey, which really opened our eyes to the depth and diversity of the state. Our 1,700-mile tour didn’t even make up five percent of West Virginia’s 38,759 miles of public roads, and we traversed only a small fraction of its state parks and forests. Our ramblings took us to the five most populated cities in the state where we experienced the same kind of down home friendliness and charm as we found in the rural areas. We stayed in hotels with enough perks and frills to make Thundercloud very happy, as well as family-run inns that satisfied my affinity for quirky and historic milieus. We’re already planning our next visit.
West Virginia Division of Tourism
Charleston Convention & Visitors Bureau
Blenko Glass Company
Heritage Farm Museum & Village
Cabell-Huntington Convention & Visitors Bureau
Greater Morgantown Convention & Visitors Bureau
Discover Morgantown Scenic Rides
Coopers Rock State Forest
Travel Berkeley Springs
The Country Inn of Berkeley Springs
Berkeley Springs State Park
Ice House Gallery