8th Annual Ohio Plain and Casual Moto Guzzi Rally, Sept 4-7, 1998

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The Ohio Plain and Casual Rally was held Sept. 4-7 at the Whispering Hills Campground, just south of Shreve, OH, under perfectly sunny skies and starry nights (at least until Sunday morning, when we departed for home and points east).

We (Barbara Nowell, Mark Tenney and I) left Knoxville, TN, on Wednesday morning in HOT weather and picked our way through traffic, taking almost an hour just to get out of town. We followed Route 33 North to New Tazewell, where 33 changes character and actually got interesting. We stopped in Sneedville, TN, for lunch, forgoing the Hardees for the diner just behind it on the recommendation of the clerk at the gas station, who even knew the daily lunch special. The diner is on Jail Street, next to, you guessed it, the jail. The okra and cornbread were worth the visit.

We left Sneedville, still on 33, and passed into Virginia, where the road became 600. We didn't notice the change, which was good, because 600 was a nice piece of pavement too. We left 600 for Highway 421, a busy but fast four-lane, heading east towards Bristol, just north of the state line. Just outside Bristol we turned onto VA Route 700, although our stalwart road captain, Mr. Tenney, whizzed right by the sign and quickly disappeared in the distance. Barbara and I waited at the intersection, not a scrap of shade in sight, and perspired.

Mark finally returned to find us waiting patiently in the sun, and we continued on 700. This is another fine road, twisty and smooth, narrow 2nd, 3rd and 4th gear curves with only a few center reflector divots to upset our brisk progress. One small patch of construction (why oh why do they always use the BIG gravel?) but otherwise beautiful countryside, with green valleys and yellow tobacco fields.

Route 700 ended at 91 North, which took us to Route 42 and then to 16, where our first stop for the evening was Hungry Mother State Park, near Marion, VA. After only 235 miles, we were ready to rest, hungry_mother_1_small.jpg (6656 bytes)mostly from the heat. We tented at Hungry Mother, but walked to "The Restaurant" in the park, which was one of two culinary highlights of my trip. Hungry Mother is a CCC-built park, first opened in 1935, and the restaurant contains photos and other mementos of the men and time when the park was built. The restaurant held a varied clientele, of which we were the scruffiest, and excellent food, and Virginia-produced beer and wines. We all had the pasta with Virginia country ham, and although it may sound a bit strange, it was fantastic. The restaurant had the best iced tea of my trip too, and that alone is enough to get my recommendation. I don't know how crowded the park is during summer, but if you ever want a great meal and you're in the area, stop by. Also, as we learned the next day, Hungry Mother is on one of the nicest motorcycle roads around.

Thursday we woke in time to have a nice camp breakfast (the restaurant only does lunch and dinner) and got an early start. We returned to Route 16, our home for the entire day. Route 16 runs all the way to the Ohio River at St. Mary's, WV, and except for a small congested area around Beckley, follows old rail beds and rivers across the entire state. An Ohio native we met at Deal's Gap recommended the route.


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On Hwy 16

Near the southern end of the state, we passed through some of the most economically depressed areas I have ever seen. Huge, rusted coal tipples, silent for decades, stood by the road. I wanted to stop and take some photos, but I was playing tail-end Charlie and would have been left behind by Mark on his 1100 Sport and Barbara on her Centauro. Later that evening I mentioned how lucky we are and how we often don't even realize it. We passed through War, either named for or giving its name to the now defunct? Warrior Coal Mine.

But the road was nice and curvy, and the scenery was nice, and for the most part traffic was light. And Mark was hauling ass. We did lunch at a forgettable Chinese buffet outside Beckley, and took the rest of the day to reach Marietta, OH. I watched the odometer on my SP turn 34,000 in downtown Harrisville, WV. Barbara and I convinced Mark to motel it, seeing it was their 10th wedding anniversary, and we had a nice BBQ rib dinner at our motel on the banks of the Ohio River. We couldn't actually SEE the river, mind you, because in Ohio, unlike in Tennessee, they realize that flood plains actually flood sometimes, and wisely do not build tacky stuff there.

We left Marietta and headed north on Highway 60, following the Muskingam River to Beverly, where we took Route 83, which, we hoped, would take us almost all the way to Shreve. Wayne Orwig recommended 83, which went "through the woods" most of the way. And it was a fun road, twisty with rolling hills. Especially fun were the rolling hills with a sharp turn at the crest! Mark whizzed by a "Road Closed Ahead" sign on 83, and I wondered if he saw it. We continued on for 15 miles or so, passing another sign. I figured he had to have seen the second one, so I followed, as did Barbara. The road cuts through what I think are reclaimed coal mine areas, just wastelands with scrub woods and smooth, almost manicured hills. We found the road closure, but, because we were on bikes, it was just a short stop for us as we trail-rode around one barricade and over a small dirt hump. Closed to cars, maybe.

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Road closed (to cars maybe)

We followed 83 to Millersburg, and then took 39 and then 60 to Nashville (Yee Haw) and finally 514 to the campground, just below Shreve. The campground is set on beautiful rolling hills, some wooded, and thankfully, the traditional location for the Moto Guzzi folks was at the back, away from the sea of tightly packed RVs in the front section. I guess when you need an electrical hookup that bad, you don't mind being closer to your campground neighbor than you are to your subdivision neighbor. The Guzzisti were clustered along the ring road, which separated the woods from more manicured areas.

The campground has a menagerie of animals for the kids to play with and gawk at, including a llama, goats, a sheep, peacocks, horses, guinea hens, chickens, ducks, and some rather strange duck-like birds. They also maintain a barn full of old tractors, all of which were started up and driven around the campground. Nothing sounds quite like a single-cylinder diesel tractor motor. They used the tractors to tow around wagonloads of campers, who rolled by from time to time, looking at us like WE were part of the menagerie placed there for their entertainment too.

There were two general community campfires, one regular and one with "magic flames". We didn't find out until Saturday what the "magic flames" were, but we wondered all Friday night what the loud "Ooooh" and "Aaaahh" were that we heard in unison from the campfire area. I won't give away the secret here.

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Fred and Mark do the manly wood thing.

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Fred's bladder-induced view of dawn.

I got to meet some friends from the Moto Guzzi email mailing list, like Eric and Suzann, Mitch and Carol Freshour, and Ed Milich, from whom I had purchased some parts over the net. It is nice to be able to put faces with email addresses. I also got to meet Simon, a fellow LeMansV owner, and saw Jack and Joan Arnold (Ohio Reps and our hosts), Buck Bush, and Joe Eish. There is a restaurant at the campground, so we didn't have to ride for breakfast or dinner, and there were coffee and delicious cookies at the check-in tent. R.J. Kaltenburg and Dave Jackson were there, as was Cheesehead, but I think R.J. and Dave slunk off before I got a chance to talk with them.

We met a couple of guys on BMWs, Dave and Jeff, both from the Columbus area, I think. At least one of them is ripe for Guzzi conversion after seeing (and listening to) some nice Guzzis at the rally. They told us about the BMW dealer in Wooster, where we eventually visited. A very well-stocked shop, even if a lot of the stuff is for that other brand.

We took a nice lunch ride on Saturday, hitting Routes 62, 36, 3, and 39. We passed through Mt. Vernon, Ohio, a very pretty town with some beautiful old homes. We found out later from Mitch that there is a Guzzi dealer in Mt. Vernon. These roads again consisted of rolling hills and corn fields, and the occasional sharp turn at the crest of the hill. Fun. This is Amish country, and we passed several families in their buggies traveling the shoulders. Thankfully, the horses managed to leave their land mines on the shoulder too. Saturday evening we attended the awards ceremony and door prizes, and of course I didn't write down the names of the winners. Barbara won long distance female, and a nice guy from Alberta nailed the long distance male award. There were door prizes galore, and I won a great Appalachian motorcycle tour book, donated by Whitehorse Press. Thanks.

We stayed up late on Saturday night, sitting around our campfire and visiting the others, yacking with old and new friends. The moon was full, and the hills around the campground were softly illuminated. Only in the woods was it dark, as Mark discovered as he stepped into an unseen ditch and disappeared from sight. No harm was done, though, and not even his beverage was spilled. We awoke on Sunday to a warm, dry breeze, and the local forecast called for thickening clouds and rain by evening. Mark and Barbara planned to be home by Monday, so we packed up quickly and said our good-byes. I had a few extra days, and wanted to travel into southern Pennsylvania to see FallingWater and Gettysburg, so I followed my companions into West Virginia on 250 and then split off on 7 west. It was very hot, and as we passed a bank the flashing sign read 97 degrees. Ugh!

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what rock?
I found out later that after we parted ways, Barbara hit a big rock and holed her front tire and bent the rim. They managed to plug it and limp to their stop that night, but in that heat I am sure it was not fun. I followed 7 west to Morgantown, which is a college town, and from the looks of the student ghetto I cruised through, it's a party school. The place looked like New Orleans after Mardi Gras. I think that West Virginia played Ohio State the night before. Being from the home of the Vols, I understand some folks take their college football pretty seriously.

I took 119 north into Pennsylvania, heading first to Uniontown to find a map, and then took 711 East at Connellsville to 381 South, which runs through Ohiopyle, a river rafting town on the Youghiogheny River, and then further on down to FallingWater, near Mill Run. The house was wonderful, but crowded, and the grounds showed the signs of excessive foot traffic. I took some pictures, sweated some more, and went to look for food and lodging. I took 40 East to Makleysburg and got a room (due to an earlier cancellation) at the National Trail Motel. No cable, but for $30 and within walking distance of great food, it was a bargain. It even had a vibrating bed and the owner let me (he suggested it) park on the sidewalk in front of the room.

The restaurant next door was open 24 hours, and the dinner special that night was fantastic: Stuffed pork chop, giant roll, salad, two vegetables and decent iced tea for $6.00. The place had been there for 48 years, and still had the little personal jukeboxes at the booths. I crashed and burned early, and when I woke up the next morning the sky to the west was black. I packed up and jumped on the bike, speeding away to try and beat the weather. I made it past Cumberland, MD, before the sky let loose, the wind blowing leaves and small sticks into the air as the storm began. I stopped under a bridge to put on my raingear, and continued on. There's nothing like riding through a thunderstorm to make you feel alive!

By the time I got to Gettysburg, the rain had stopped, and the air had begun to cool off a bit. I toured the downtown area, and then did the "Auto Tour" of the battlefields, checking out the various monuments, snapping photos, and generally being a touron. A motorcycle is the way to go if you want to get an idea of the lay of the land. I spent about half a day there, and then figured out a way to get out of town, watching the odometer on the SP turn 35,000. I dropped back into Maryland, getting lost briefly in Hagerstown, and then did the first miles of the trip on an interstate, my old friend I-81. Yuck!

I stopped at the rest stop at the Virginia state line for another map, and talked briefly to a pair of BMW riders. After passing Winchester, the interstate was really getting boring, so I got off at Strasburg and took 678 south through the center of the Shenandoah Valley. This was a road recommended by the book I won at the rally. What a nice piece of asphalt, and I didn't come up on a single car to slow me down. Route 678 dumped me into Luray, VA, home of the famous (and touristy) Luray Caverns. The motels in Luray looked a bit suspect, so I headed back towards I-81 on 211 to find a place to stay. Route 211 is a fourlane most of the way, with nice sharp 2nd and 3rd gear curves as well as faster stuff, and lots of elevation change. Traffic was light, and except for an occasional truck, my progress was unimpeded.

Crashed at a Comfort Inn in New Market (cable, YES!) and had a decent dinner at the Johnny Appleseed Restaurant next door. After I got the bike covered and the gear put away, it began thunderstorming and continued all night. The next day was cloudy and cool at first, with 15-25 mph winds. I got up late, had coffee in the room, and booked home on I-81. I have friends who never travel by interstate, but sometimes, I just want to get home. I did stop in Harrisonburg at Shenk Honda/Triumph/blah blah blah to see if they still carried Moto Guzzi. They brought some bikes to the Virginia rally a couple of years ago. They said they were still a dealer, but had no Guzzi signs outside, and just one Centauro (red and silver) on the floor. I bought a couple of oil filters (after correcting the parts guy who tried to sell me the longer 1100 filters) and went home. The cool air felt great, and I did the final 380 or so miles like I was standing on my head.

Fred Sahms motophyl@mindspring.com

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Fred and the award winning 850 T-3 he restored.
(picture courtesy Ed Doer, taken at Guzzis in the Blue Ridge where the bike won People's Choice award)