|This article describes my (Kel) second "shakedown cruise" on my Nighthawk 750.|
Shakedown Cruise 2 -- Over the Top and Back!
75 degrees in January in Northern Virginia? Unbelievable as that sounds, that's exactly what weather forecasters were calling for as I woke up on 29 January 2002! It was impossible to pass up such a wonderful opportunity to explore some of Virginia's back roads with my Nighthawk, Der Falke (The Hawk in German), so late in the morning I packed a camera into my tankbag and headed out. Temperatures were already in the mid-50s with mostly clear skies when I departed, a wonderful day for riding.
After gassing up, I headed out in a Southwesterly direction with my goal being to ride over to the other (Western) side of Skyline Drive before heading South for a bit, then crossing back over to the Eastern side of Skyline Drive, before finally returning to my home in Woodbridge. I didn't intend to actually ride on any of Skyline Drive this trip, but rather ride up one side of the Blue Ridge Mountains and down the other side (in two different locations) as a continuation of my efforts to familiarize myself with my bike as a touring machine. My trip planning software indicated a ride of about 207 miles--a nice little jaunt!
The first part of my trip followed the path of my previous Shakedown Cruise, except in the opposite direction. I travelled Northwest along the Prince William County Parkway to Rt. 28 Southwest, followed this until Rt. 234 North, took this until reaching I-66 West, which took me to Rt. 29 South. All of these roads, including this part of U.S. 29 South, flow through very developed areas of Northern Virginia and weren't of much interest to me other than to get me to U.S. 211 West in Warrenton, where my fun was to begin. (I did discover a Tractor Supply store, though, along U.S. 29 near Warrenton. Tractor Supply stores are cool!)
Once reaching U.S. 211, I settled into a nice pace and headed West. This road is a four lane highway (not limited access, though) with decent pavement and, at least on this particular morning, had very little traffic. I decided to cruise along at a relaxed 60-65 m.p.h., figuring that I would make good time while not raising red flags with any LEOs who happened to be lurking about. Initially, Rt. 211 is fairly flat and straight, but as I drew closer and closer to where it was to intersect with the Skyline Drive, the road started to throw some nice sweeping corners and elevation changes at me. It was a thrill to see the Blue Ridge Mountains rise out of the Western horizon!
About 5 miles from the Skyline Drive crossover point, U.S. 211 narrowed to two lanes and started its climb up the side of the mountain. Unfortunately for me, I found myself stuck behind a slow-moving (and gradually slowing) tractor-trailer. Not good! After about a 1/2 mile of this, I pulled over into a roadside pull-off, shut off the engine, and decided to let the truck go uphill for a few minutes to put some distance between us. After waiting 3 or 4 minutes (it seemed like much longer!), I restarted the motor and proceeded up the mountain. Not more than two minutes later I once again found myself stuck behind the truck! I'd really underestimated how much the big rig would slow as the roadway became steeper and, therefore, how quickly I would catch back up to it. However, all was not lost! As I caught him, I noticed signs indicating that the roadway was broadening to three lanes wide, with two uphill lanes to permit slow traffic to be passed. Oops! As I prepared to zoom around him, I saw that the other uphill lane was closed for repair. Of all the bad luck! So, for the next mile or so, I followed the truck up the mountain slowly enough that I stayed in first gear. I nearly resigned myself to having no fun going up the side of this mountain when suddenly the construction cleared and I was able to get past him. Within 10 seconds I could no longer see the truck in my mirrors as I quickly carved my way upwards. Now don't get me wrong, I wasn't doing any footpeg scraping. However, my 35-45 m.p.h. quickly left his 5 m.p.h. This part of Rt. 211 is outstanding, with switchbacks and banked, sweeping curves, one right after another. After a few miles of this, I suddenly found myself traversing a short, straight segment where it crosses over the Skyline Drive. Then it was back to the twisty stuff as I went down the other side of the mountain, with curves coming so fast and furious that I occasionally found it tough to transition quickly enough from turning in one direction to turning in the other! All-in-all, it was a great 8 or 9 mile stretch (once I had passed the semi, that is)!
Once beyond the mountain I continued on to Luray, VA, home to Luray Caverns. I'll have to stop and tour the caverns on some future trip, as they appear to be interesting. After a quick stop for a burger at Burger King, I continued West on U.S. 211. Even though I was on the "other side" of Skyline Drive, I still found myself in the midst of the Blue Ridge mountains. Nearly every direction I turned, there were ridges and mountains. Now of course these aren't mountains like the Rocky Mountains, but for a midwestern guy like me, the Blue Ridge mountains are MOUNTAINS! At any rate, I marveled at all of the vistas as I continued down U.S. 211 and then as I travelled South on U.S. 340. U.S. 340 winds its way among the ridges and hills South towards Elkton, VA, the "halfway" point of my trip. Despite being amidst the hills of the Blue Ridge, 340 was relatively straight and had very few big elevation changes. It was a nice road for sedately cruising along while ogling the mountain scenes on either side.
Upon reaching Elkton, I turned East onto U.S. 33 to cross back over the Skyline Drive. Like U.S. 211, U.S. 33 is a four lane highway until it nears the climb up to Skyline Drive, at which point it shrinks to two lanes up the mountain and one lane downhill on either side. Not slowed by a semi this time, I rode up towards the summit with gusto, though not nearly pushing the limits of the bike (or myself). The climb up U.S. 33 was chock full of low speed corners, switchbacks, and elevation changes! Fun stuff! After crossing over the Skyline Drive, I enjoyed the curvy ride down until near the bottom, where I got stuck in a line of traffic stacked up behind a semi. There were multiple warnings for trucks to gear down, and there even was a "truck emergency runoff" for those whose brakes had failed. The brakes on this semi were cooking, as I could smell that distinct odor despite being 10 or so vehicles behind. At one point, the roadway was steep enough that the bike would pickup speed in second gear without me twisting the throttle! Eventually, U.S. 33 became a four lane highway again, and we all quickly dispatched of the truck.
Several miles up the road I turned to the Northeast on Rt. 230 and started to pull away from the Blue Ridge mountains. This is my parting view as I headed back towards the relatively flat land of the part of Virginia where I live. Rt. 230 wound through rural Virginia and served as a connection between U.S. 33 East and U.S. 29 North. Not possessing any corners or other features that stand out in memory, riding on Rt. 230 was, nonetheless, a relaxing and pleasant experience on this warm January day.
The rest of the way back to Woodbridge, Rt. 29 North to Rt. 28 North(east) to the Prince William County Parkway, were, for the most part, simply roads passed over in the afterglow of my mountain riding. It was along Rt. 28 near Catlett, VA that I filled up with gas after getting over 51 m.p.g. on the "mountain riding" tank! This was much better gas mileage than I was expecting, though much of the tank was spent at a subdued 55-65 m.p.h. as I rode to and from the Blue Ridge mountains. Mostly, as I rode this final leg of the trip, I simply enjoyed motoring through the Virginia countryside at a relaxed pace, soaking up the January sunshine! I pulled into my driveway 208 miles after leaving that morning, smiling at having beaten the typical January blues.
Copyright 2002 by Kelvin U.