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1953 Volkswagen,

Saanichton Fairgrounds Swap Meet,

Saanichton, B.C.

My automotive Photostream:

www.flickr.com/photos/organized_chrome/

Every 2 weeks at work they swap out the plants in the reception area... I sometimes get some of them... I brought this home last night... was taking macro shots (yeah shocker).. and lo and behold!!! I had this on the floor of my Jeep sideways... heat on it a little too and this little guy latched on the whoole way!!! HAPPY FRIDAY!

Friday

Entry One

 

Flew out of work, the fleet flight of Friday before a holiday weekend. Everyone cracks a smile upon stepping out of the concrete and glass coffin of the corporate work week. The motorcycle is quickly gassed and loaded, I leave Washington DC at three-thirty, vowing not to check the time for the rest of the adventure. Adventure, the American adventure of the open road is what I seek. The road, my cameras, and escape.

 

Right turn off of 15th St. NW and I’m motoring past the Washington Monument and the White House. Harleys and clones are already lining the Mall for the annual Memorial remembrance that is Rolling Thunder. I’m soon over the bridge and on I-66 west. I plan on avoiding major highways when at all possible. Preferring scenic byways to drab highways. 66 is a necessary evil to flee the DC metro area as quickly as possible. At the start, 66 is a good quick run, for awhile anyway. Loads of Rolling Thunder riders are heading in 66 eastbound.

 

I keep the ubiquitous two fingers down to the side salute to fellow bikers out for extended stretches of time. In my experience, HD guys return the acknowledgement about 30-40% of the time. No big deal, some animosity exist though between different bike cultures. Motor-ism two-wheel stereotypes. However with the Rolling Thunder guys there is a noticeable increase in response, perhaps due to no longer just one biker acknowledging another, but a patriotic sharing of support and remembrance for those left behind, POW-MIA.

 

Traffic worsens further out 66 and I come up on a full HD dresser. Screaming Eagle back patch worked in with POW-MIA covers his vest and is topped by a “Run for the Wall” patch. I keep back a pace and we adopt the natural offset positioning of multiple riders.

 

After some 66 backup, stop-and-go, we strike up a staccato conversation in the pauses of the traffic flow. Where you been, where you going, see the rain coming? I tell him I’m headed out to the mountains, Skyline Drive and West Virginia. He says he’s just in from there recently, was in DC for Rolling Thunder for the day and will be coming back in on Sunday again. His license plate is obscured by luggage, so I’m unsure of his port of origin.

 

Later on we part ways and my thoughts turn. Of my parents friends only my step-dad was drafted for Vietnam. Luckily, for us, he only went as far as Ft. Hood, TX, and came back with some good stories about army life and venturing into Mexico (at least the ones he’s shared with me). I think about all the life he’s lived since then, all his experiences and joys. Thinking about what all those who didn’t return gave up, lost, when they didn’t come home. The loss felt by those who loved them, families that have a name on the Wall.

 

Rain is sprinkling before Manassas. Enough to cool you off but not enough to get you worried yet, at least for a bit. Whooooo. Then come the big drops. I head off the ramp to gear up with the rain paraphernalia under the gas station pavilion. Finally get it all on and get strapped back up and out pops the sun and the rain stops. Too funny. Now I have wet clothes on under the raingear. Rain gear now keeping the wind out that would dry me. I motor on as more rain is promised on the horizon.

 

This brings up a point about rain. People always ask, “What do you do when it rains and your on the motorcycle”. I reply simply, “I get wet”. Duh. Rain riding has never bothered me. On the straight highways it’s no big deal. Just give more cushion to the cars in front of you. Drive like grandma on the exit ramps.

 

My turning point is finally reached. Off of 66 west and onto 647, Crest Hill Rd. at The Plains, VA. Crest Hill Road is my first slice of motorcycle heaven to be had this weekend. I’m delighted to find that the squiggly line I traced out on the map when planning this trip has translated so well in reality. The road is still wet from the passing rain clouds, and I give a small rabbit and then a chipmunk a near death experience. My first of many animal crossings this weekend. The road is fantastic. A mixture of hilltop road and tree lined canopies that create forest tunnels. Speed limit is 45mph, 55-60 feels comfortable on most parts. Keeping an eye out for a hilltop barn to photograph that I’ve seen in my minds eye, lit by the sun breaking through the clouds and backed by the mountain vista. No luck on any of the barns actual placement to fit the mental picture I have framed.

 

Crest Hill Road and Fodderstack Rd is a long stretch. I take shots of a church and other buildings along Zachary Taylor Highway. Fodderstack gives more of the same as Crest Hill, just a narrower road. The asphalt is of my favorite variety, freshly laid. Washington, VA is a tiny town of historic bed and breakfasts. Local wineries appear to be an attraction here too. Right after Washington the rain returns while I’m in route to Sperryville. Then it really starts to come down, a full on summer thunderstorm. Visibility is down. Road and parking lots soon resemble rivers. Rain drops of the monster variety explode on the pavement, and you know it hurts when they hit you.

 

I quick soaking circuit of Sperryville confirms there are no local hotels. I duck into a barn shaped restaurant to wait it out. My drenched gear takes on bar stool and I occupy another. There’s a few flying pigs about. The bartender get me a hefeweizen, and recommends the angus burger. Locally raised and grass fed, we exchange jokes about my passing the burgers relatives on the way in.

 

Don’t freak about the beer. I have a one only rule when riding. It was followed by a meal (best burger of the weekend!), several coffees, and this bar top journal entry.

 

Somewhere along Crest Hill road I decided to keep the cell off for the weekend. In addition no tv, newspapers, internet, or e-mail sound like a good idea. Of course I now am studiously avoid eye contact with the two beautiful plasma’s above the bar.

 

Entry Two

 

Hazel River Inn, Culpepper, VA, has the coolest street side seating in town.

 

The downpour let up at the Shady Farms bar in Sperryville and due to the deficiency in local lodging I quiz the bartender for options. Over the other side of the mountain, the opposite side of Skyline Dr via 211 is Luray with lots of motels, but I want to save the mountain for the morning. The waitress suggest Culpepper, there being a Holiday Inn etc.

 

Stepping outside the sun has broke through the clouds again. Enough for some shots of Shady Farms Restaurant and a bridge. Heading down 522, the Sperryville Pike, I keep an eye out for photo ops to catch the next morning as I’ll be rerouting back through. Following the mantra of Dale Borgeson about tour riding in the US, I aim to avoid large chain establishments, whether they are restaurants or hotels, and explore the mom-and-pop local variety businesses. I have a dive-ish roadside motel in mind, Culpepper comes through with the Sleepy Hollow Hotel.

 

Before check in I ride through downtown historic Culpepper. It’s a cool place. The Shady Farm bartender had recommended the Culpepper Thai restaurant. I see it but don’t visit, still full from the meal earlier. Cameron Street Coffee looks like a great place, located in an old warehouse. Unfortunately their closed for the night.

 

Shower and changed, room 102 at the Sleepy Hollow Hotel. I hop back on the bike, refreshed and dry and ride through the warm night air back downtown. The coffee at the Hazel River Inn comes with a sweet fudge confection on the side. The peach and blackberry cobbler with vanilla sauce is divine.

 

The reconfigured plan for this getaway is to shed. Shed worries about the job, career, housing, and relationships. My motorcycle is therapeutic. It’s 600cc’s of Zoloft on two wheels. The road lifts my spirits. This wasn’t supposed to be a solo run, and there are stretches of road where I feel the emptiness behind me.

 

The cobbler is finished and I can hear the sound of a band doing their sound check. The banging of the drum requires investigation.

 

Entry Three

 

I found Brown Bag Special in the cellar pub of the same restaurant I was in. On my way to the door the noise of the sound check floated up the stairs and directed my feet downward. Brown Bag Special opened the set, appropriately enough, with “I drink alone”. The ol’ man, Big Money, would have loved it. Drink alone started off a Big Money Blues trifecta to include “The Breeze” and “Mustang Sally”. Then they made the mistake a lot of bands make that have a great lead guitar player. They let him sing. The lead guitarist karaoke sucked his way through a Tom Petty hit. He was so off key in his singing it made you appreciate the guitar solo’s all the more for the relief they provided. Thankfully the regular singer soon resumed his duties and the night went on. More good stuff from the band.

 

Freebird

Folsom Prison Blues

Cheap Sun Glasses

 

“can’t you see, can’t you see, what that woman, what she’s done to me”

 

Off to bed now at the Sleepy Hollow Hotel with the ghost and shades of dead hookers and overdoses past.

 

150 miles today.

  

Saturday

 

Entry Four

 

Morning breaks on the Sleepy Hollow Hotel, a hot shower and I’m back on the bike. A quick stop downtown to shoot the Hazel Inn, then it’s back on the Sperryville Pike. More stops to capture some sights seen yesterday. Mr. & Mrs. Pump. The open mouth caricatures are an accurate representation of the current gas cost and the pumps eating your wallet.

 

I keep telling my daughter that her first car, college car, will be a hybrid. She thinks they are ugly. The bike isn’t so bad, averaging around 40mpg. At about 180 miles on the tripometer I start to look for a refill, although I’ve pushed it to 211 miles before.

 

A quick left in Sperryville on 211 and up into the mountain, Blue Ridge Mountains and Skyline Drive. Heading up the mountain I get the first bite of the twisties I’ve been craving. The $10 fee at the gate to Skyline Drive is well worth the price. Great scenery and fantastic views. The only drawback is the 35mph speed limit that is well enforced by the park rangers.

 

I shoot some self-portraits at Pollock Knob overlook. They’re funny in that with all the scrambling and hurrying to be the camera timer, then trying to effect a relaxed pose. I’ve also broke out my old friend this trip, the Lubitel 166, a medium format, 120mm film, twin lens camera. I’m like Jay-Z with this camera, I have to get it in one take. There is no digital review after the click for instant gratification. As a fellow photographer it’s “Point, Push, and Pray”. I’ll be interested to see the results. Not that I’ve left digital behind. Carrying both cameras, I’m an analog/digital double threat.

 

After the self-portraits and some dead tree shots I’m about to pack back on the bike and leave when I meet the preacher and his wife. He offers to shoot me with my camera and I return the favor with theirs. Conversation flows and in a ‘small world’ moment it turns out that he works for same Hazel family that owns the restaurant I was at last night for his Monday thru Friday job. I get a friendly “God bless” and I’m heading south on Skyline Drive. I make several more stops and break out the cameras again at Big Meadow.

 

There is a gnarly dead tree in the middle of the meadow. It has burn damage at the base, either the result of some wild fire or perhaps a controlled burn done to maintain the field. I spot and shoot a few deer, they probably won’t turn out as they’re to far away for my lens on the D100. I shoot a bunch of shots of the tree with the D100 and then totally switch processes with the Lubitel. The picture setup with the Lubitel takes about a minute-and-a-half. Manual zoom, i.e., walking back and forth to get the framing I want. Light meter reading. Then dealing with the reversed optics of the look-down box camera. It is fun though, to switch it up, change the pace and the dynamics. Just one click though, hope I caught it.

 

It’s a long but enjoyable ride to the south end of Skyline Drive. Unless you really like slow cruising I would suggest picking which third of Skyline Drive you’d like include in your trip and leave the rest. I drop off the mountain and into Waynesboro. Finding Mad Anthony’s coffee shop for a late breakfast. I overhear that it’s around noon. The Italian Roast coffee is good, in fact, it would prove to be the best coffee of the trip.

 

One of the pleasures of traveling by motorcycle is that it’s an easy conversation starter. People ask you where your coming from, where you’re heading, ask about your bike, tell you’re about their bike or the one they wish they had. One of the peculiarities of these conversations is that if the person even remotely knows of anyone that has died on a motorcycle, they will be sure to share this fact along with details. These stories usually involve a deer, a car pulling out, or someone taking a corner to fast. The conversation goes something like this:

 

Stranger“nice bike”

You“thanks”

Stranger“my cousin Bob had a friend that hit a deer and died on his bike”

 

Short silence.

 

You“yeah, deer are dangerous, got to be careful”

 

I’m not exaggerating when I say I’ve held variations on this conversation many times. Luckily this isn’t the conversation I have with the owner of Mad Anthony’s. He’s a former sailboat instructor who now finds the same release and head clearing on his motorcycle that he used to get from his sailboat.

 

This brings to mind the same wave – don’t way dynamic that occurs between sail boaters and power boaters, very similar to the sportbike & HD crowd.

 

The proprietor is a coffee guru, we discuss roasting (my Italian roast was just roasted Wednesday this week). We talk about the good and the evil of Starbucks. We’re both in agreement that they over roast their regular coffee, but I think their foo foo drinks are tasty. He has in his shop both the Bodum press and the Bodum vacuum coffee pot that I got my mom for x-mas. A shameless plug here, the Bodum vacuum coffee pot makes the best home coffee ever. It’s also an entertaining crowd pleaser, no joke.

 

Leaving Waynesboro the plan was 340 northward to 33, then into Harrisonburg, VA (home of the Valley Mall and JMU). 340 proved to be boring so I jumped on 256, Port Republic Road, for a better ride to Harrisonburg. I don’t know if the coffee wore off or if I was just worn out. I pull over at Westover Park, pick out a spot of grass, and take a good nap in the sun.

 

I had my motorcycle bug handed down to me by my step-dad. My kindergarten year of school we moved right at the end of the school year. Rather than switch schools at this inopportune time my Dad stuck me on the back of his Honda and rode me to school and back again for the last month or two. Even earlier than that I have a great photo of me in 1973-4 sitting on his chopper with him. Me in a diaper and him with his long hippy hair. The wild side of the Reverend indeed.

 

Refreshed from my nap it’s back on 33 westbound. Heading out of the Shenandoah Valley and Rockingham County is more glorious twisty roads and the George Washington National Forest. GW is a beautiful tree canopy lined road with a river off to one side. Franklin, WV is the destination, a return to the Star Hotel.

 

I stayed at the Star a few years prior when they first re-opened the historic Star Hotel. The owner, Steve Miller, is a great guy, friendly and conversational. I told him I’d be back again, but it’s been a few more years than I thought. Late lunch at the Star is pesto grilled chicken on ciabatta bread with roasted red peppers. Not the type of fare one might associate with West Virginia, but people have misperceptions about everywhere. Steve promises a prime rib later at dinner tonight to die for.

 

So that there is no misunderstanding, in as much as the Sleepy Hollow Hotel was a dive, the Star Hotel is a dream.

 

Dump the gear in the room back on the bike for some roaming around. I head back to explore a river road I passed on the way in, Rock Gap. It’s a gravel affair and I follow it back a little ways. Photo some river shots. Down further there is a large cliff face with some college aged kids de-gearing after a day of climbing. I’ll try to stop back in tomorrow and shoot some climbing action, as well as some fly fishing.

 

I pick up a bottle of Barefoot Wine, Cabernet Sauvignon, and drop it off with Steve at the Star to keep for later. I’ll enjoy that bottle later tonight from the 3rd floor front porch. South out of town I head, into some very secondary roads. I shoot an old decrepit cabin that would be right up Bobby Sargent’s alley. I put it in the metal folder for a possible future model shoot location, along with the river spots I’ve seen.

 

There are a couple more stops on this little ride. Once for what appears to be a feral chicken, and then for middle of the road stare down with a young doe. She’s camera shy though and is off before I can get a shot. Sportbike probably isn’t the best conveyance for nature photography. The pavement stops and gravel begins, I motor on. Rick & I once spent a full day just about on gravel roads, crisscrossing the back country around Cumberland, MD. So I’m comfortable with the less than ideal riding surface. A few miles on the road dead ends at a pair of chicken houses (source of the feral chicken’s ancestors perhaps?) and I turn around and survey the valley I’ve just ridden through. I have to stop the bike and soak in the scene. A picturesque farm is nestled in the corner of the valley, up against the hills. I meet some inquisitive cows, along with the farmer and his wife.

 

It seems that when you are in WV and you pass a sign that says “snow removal ends here” that the already suspect road conditions are going to quickly deteriorate and will soon resemble somewhat more of a logging road. I motor on through some back country, no houses, no farms, just mountains, steep roadside cliffs, and wicked gravel switchback curves. The part that gives you the willies are the downhill corners where the road grade is slanted to the outside of the curve and to the drop below. Yikes!

 

I creep along where a four wheeler would be much more functional. Although I still hit it a bit in the straights. Pavement arrives again and I’m unsure of my exact location. I follow the chicken farmers directions and soon discover myself back in Brandywine, intersecting the same stretch of 33 I rode on my way into Franklin.

 

Back at the Star Hotel it’s a shower and fresh clothes before heading down for dinner. Downstairs I find the prime rib to be as good as promised.

 

Entry Five

 

How beautifully staged is this. Barefoot on the 3rd floor patio, wine to ease the back and the ache in the knee.

 

205 miles today, the last 30 after check in, just to explore.

  

Sunday

 

Entry Six

 

Out early in the morning. I find no climbers at Rock Gap, unsure of the hours they keep. Out of Franklin on 33 west, looking for another squiggly line I had seen on a map. Bland Hill Road name is a misnomer. A single lane country road winding through German Valley. I got a few shots of German Valley from the 33 overlook before turning on Bland Hill. Now I find myself in the same location I had shot from above.

 

The road cuts through some open pasture land and I meet some cows standing in the road after rounding one bend. They’re pleasant enough, if in no particular hurry to cross, and don’t mind posing for a shot or two before meandering on. People talk about the danger of hitting a deer, a cow would really ruin your day! Off of Bland Hill and on down into the valley. I come up on the rock formation I had seen from the overlook previously. It’s not Seneca Rocks, but a formation of the same ilk. I get some more photos, then onto German Valley Road. I’m still staying at the Star, there is no real destination today. It’s relaxing to stop as much as I like.

 

German Valley Road puts me back on 33 west and not long after I’m ordering breakfast at the Valley View Restaurant. Dale Borgeson warns of places that advertise home cooking, but that’s about all you see in these parts. There are a fair number of cars here and that’s usually a good since the food will be alright. Hell, even the Army could make a good breakfast. It all works out and it’s a hell of a deal, $4 for toast, two eggs, hash browns, bacon, and coffee.

 

From 33 I hit 28 and turn off on Smoke Hole Road, just because it’s there and looks interesting. Boy, what a find it is. Combining the curvy one lane country road with nice wide smooth pavement (gravel free in the corners). It’s great. Smoke Hole Road turns out to run from 28 across the Seneca Rocks National Forest to 220 on the other side. Going west-to-east it starts out all curves and hills, then ends by winding along the south branch of the Potomac. There are lots of fly fishermen here enjoying the catch-and-release section of the river.

 

Up 220 to Petersburg, I run into some Ducati guys at the gas station. We swap riding info and I’m soon on 42 north towards Mayville. Hanging a left when I see a sign for Dolly Sods. I’m back on secondary roads and I soon pass another prophetic ‘no snow removal’ signs. It’s gravel the rest of the way up the mountain til it breaks out on top at Dolly Sod.

 

I’m real happy with today’s roads, as both Smoke Hole Road and Dolly Sods were unplanned ‘discovered adventures’. I do some rock scrabbling at Dolly Sod and enjoy the cliff top views. A fellow tourist snaps a shot for me an I hike out well past the distance that the casual tourist and families go. Shot some more shots of the rock formations with both the digital and film camera. Do some more self-portraits. I then sit down to relax in the sun with the cliff side breeze steadily blowing and update this journal.

  

Entry Seven

 

Well, fellow traveler, if you’ve made it this far I am duly impressed. I thank you for your perseverance. The rest of the day was spent riding without incident. Just more fantastic roads. You don’t have to be an explore on par with Lewis & Clark to find great rides in West Virginia. Just be curious in nature and unafraid to leave the beaten path. Drop off the numbered roads and take the route less traveled. Soon you’ll be in your own undiscovered country. Blah blah blah.

 

Out of Dolly Sod and I find myself on 32. Rough calculations put the dirt road travel around 25 miles for the day. While we are on stats, here’s today’s animal road count:

 

1 rooster

1 dead fox

2 cows

8 chipmunks

7 alive

1 dead

3 dead possums

1 squirrel

1 dead blob (undistinguishable)

No fearsome deer

1 dog

 

I guided myself today by a rather non-descript map put out by mountainhighlands.com

 

Leaving Dolly Sod on 32 puts me in Dry Fork and back on familiar 33 west to Elkins. I cruise around Elkins on the off chance I’ll run into a guy I know named Dallas. Now all you need to know about Dallas is the following:

 

I don’t know his last name

I once gave him a hair cut with dog grooming clippers

I know he works at a bike shop making choppers

 

You figure the odds of me finding him, near zero.

 

If your curious it wasn’t the first time I cut hair, albeit the first time using dog shears. In Korea I cut in the latrine for $2 a cut or for a 6 pack. Everything was barter in the Army. We had a cook that would make you a great custom birthday cake for a case of beer or feed you food out of the back of the chow hall at 3am when you staggered in drunk from the ville for the promise of a future round to be bought. Korea stories could fill another journal.

 

Anyway, out of Elkins and south to Beverly. Scott, if your reading this you were on my mind as I went through town, never forgive, never forget.

 

So far I’ve only tried to write about the positive food experiences of the trip without throwing anyplace under the bus. C&J in Beverly however, served only barely functional burgers and the vanilla shake was of the worst chemical prefab variety. There are some things that I am stuck on, good vanilla ice cream is one. The others that I’m picky about are beer, whiskey, steak, cheese-steak, and coffee. It’s just so disappointing when something you usually enjoy turns out to be sub par.

 

After C&J it’s 250 east to 28, which heads back towards Seneca Rocks and Franklin. It’s a good haul through the Monongahela National Forest. A road of the scenic variety, with good twisties up the mountain and through the scenery. These type road have become quite a common occurrence here in WV. Back in Seneca Rocks and 33 east into Franklin. I never shoot Seneca Rocks, the light is never right, number one can tell you how I get about my light.

 

The Star’s restaurant is closed on Sunday, dagger, so I shower and head into Franklin by foot. About Franklin, WV. It’s a nice little town, quiet and sleepy. No bars other than the VFW that I could see. Everybody I’ve met and spoken too has be pleasant, friendly and conversational, both here in Franklin and elsewhere in WV. I’m sure there are a variety of characters much as anywhere, this is just my observation from the tourist level.

 

Following last night precedent I grab another vino from the Shell station. The Star being closed is a dilemma; I’m in need of a cork screw (having borrowed the restaurants the night before). I wander back down to the hotel, wine in hand, and past the hotel just a bit til I meet an old man sitting out front. I explain my situation, wine without access, and he says he’ll sell me a corkscrew. He goes in the house, shortly to return with the necessary implement in hand. I figure I have it for $3-4 or maybe rent it for a one time use for $1. That proves unnecessary however, he says just to take it, and keep it for any future need.

 

The sole booking for the hotel tonight, I’m like a wraith as I glide through the halls. On the front porch with my bottle of vino in hand. I have some cheap cigars I also picked up and there’s nothing to do but kick back and watch the sunset.

 

It’s been a great trip. Somewhat lonesome at times. The lack of someone to talk to surely let to the length of this journal. It was a trip to getaway, to reflect. There was no great revelation or anything, just time to get to know yourself. The road gives you time to think. I know who I am and I like being me. I know what’s missing.

 

I’m resolved to take more bike trips in the future. It’s definitely my preferred way to travel and vacation. Motorcycling is the way to go.

 

Tomorrow I have my route generally planned out, more scenic byways for a winding route home.

 

Miles today, 240.

 

Monday

 

Entry Seven

 

Just a short postscript. 20 miles east of Washington DC, on 66, the chain popped off the bike. It’s never easy.

           

i hope these sing to ya!! now to pick the surrounding hexie color??? thoughts???

 

blogged

alamodefabric.blogspot.com/

Friday

Entry One

 

Flew out of work, the fleet flight of Friday before a holiday weekend. Everyone cracks a smile upon stepping out of the concrete and glass coffin of the corporate work week. The motorcycle is quickly gassed and loaded, I leave Washington DC at three-thirty, vowing not to check the time for the rest of the adventure. Adventure, the American adventure of the open road is what I seek. The road, my cameras, and escape.

 

Right turn off of 15th St. NW and I’m motoring past the Washington Monument and the White House. Harleys and clones are already lining the Mall for the annual Memorial remembrance that is Rolling Thunder. I’m soon over the bridge and on I-66 west. I plan on avoiding major highways when at all possible. Preferring scenic byways to drab highways. 66 is a necessary evil to flee the DC metro area as quickly as possible. At the start, 66 is a good quick run, for awhile anyway. Loads of Rolling Thunder riders are heading in 66 eastbound.

 

I keep the ubiquitous two fingers down to the side salute to fellow bikers out for extended stretches of time. In my experience, HD guys return the acknowledgement about 30-40% of the time. No big deal, some animosity exist though between different bike cultures. Motor-ism two-wheel stereotypes. However with the Rolling Thunder guys there is a noticeable increase in response, perhaps due to no longer just one biker acknowledging another, but a patriotic sharing of support and remembrance for those left behind, POW-MIA.

 

Traffic worsens further out 66 and I come up on a full HD dresser. Screaming Eagle back patch worked in with POW-MIA covers his vest and is topped by a “Run for the Wall” patch. I keep back a pace and we adopt the natural offset positioning of multiple riders.

 

After some 66 backup, stop-and-go, we strike up a staccato conversation in the pauses of the traffic flow. Where you been, where you going, see the rain coming? I tell him I’m headed out to the mountains, Skyline Drive and West Virginia. He says he’s just in from there recently, was in DC for Rolling Thunder for the day and will be coming back in on Sunday again. His license plate is obscured by luggage, so I’m unsure of his port of origin.

 

Later on we part ways and my thoughts turn. Of my parents friends only my step-dad was drafted for Vietnam. Luckily, for us, he only went as far as Ft. Hood, TX, and came back with some good stories about army life and venturing into Mexico (at least the ones he’s shared with me). I think about all the life he’s lived since then, all his experiences and joys. Thinking about what all those who didn’t return gave up, lost, when they didn’t come home. The loss felt by those who loved them, families that have a name on the Wall.

 

Rain is sprinkling before Manassas. Enough to cool you off but not enough to get you worried yet, at least for a bit. Whooooo. Then come the big drops. I head off the ramp to gear up with the rain paraphernalia under the gas station pavilion. Finally get it all on and get strapped back up and out pops the sun and the rain stops. Too funny. Now I have wet clothes on under the raingear. Rain gear now keeping the wind out that would dry me. I motor on as more rain is promised on the horizon.

 

This brings up a point about rain. People always ask, “What do you do when it rains and your on the motorcycle”. I reply simply, “I get wet”. Duh. Rain riding has never bothered me. On the straight highways it’s no big deal. Just give more cushion to the cars in front of you. Drive like grandma on the exit ramps.

 

My turning point is finally reached. Off of 66 west and onto 647, Crest Hill Rd. at The Plains, VA. Crest Hill Road is my first slice of motorcycle heaven to be had this weekend. I’m delighted to find that the squiggly line I traced out on the map when planning this trip has translated so well in reality. The road is still wet from the passing rain clouds, and I give a small rabbit and then a chipmunk a near death experience. My first of many animal crossings this weekend. The road is fantastic. A mixture of hilltop road and tree lined canopies that create forest tunnels. Speed limit is 45mph, 55-60 feels comfortable on most parts. Keeping an eye out for a hilltop barn to photograph that I’ve seen in my minds eye, lit by the sun breaking through the clouds and backed by the mountain vista. No luck on any of the barns actual placement to fit the mental picture I have framed.

 

Crest Hill Road and Fodderstack Rd is a long stretch. I take shots of a church and other buildings along Zachary Taylor Highway. Fodderstack gives more of the same as Crest Hill, just a narrower road. The asphalt is of my favorite variety, freshly laid. Washington, VA is a tiny town of historic bed and breakfasts. Local wineries appear to be an attraction here too. Right after Washington the rain returns while I’m in route to Sperryville. Then it really starts to come down, a full on summer thunderstorm. Visibility is down. Road and parking lots soon resemble rivers. Rain drops of the monster variety explode on the pavement, and you know it hurts when they hit you.

 

I quick soaking circuit of Sperryville confirms there are no local hotels. I duck into a barn shaped restaurant to wait it out. My drenched gear takes on bar stool and I occupy another. There’s a few flying pigs about. The bartender get me a hefeweizen, and recommends the angus burger. Locally raised and grass fed, we exchange jokes about my passing the burgers relatives on the way in.

 

Don’t freak about the beer. I have a one only rule when riding. It was followed by a meal (best burger of the weekend!), several coffees, and this bar top journal entry.

 

Somewhere along Crest Hill road I decided to keep the cell off for the weekend. In addition no tv, newspapers, internet, or e-mail sound like a good idea. Of course I now am studiously avoid eye contact with the two beautiful plasma’s above the bar.

 

Entry Two

 

Hazel River Inn, Culpepper, VA, has the coolest street side seating in town.

 

The downpour let up at the Shady Farms bar in Sperryville and due to the deficiency in local lodging I quiz the bartender for options. Over the other side of the mountain, the opposite side of Skyline Dr via 211 is Luray with lots of motels, but I want to save the mountain for the morning. The waitress suggest Culpepper, there being a Holiday Inn etc.

 

Stepping outside the sun has broke through the clouds again. Enough for some shots of Shady Farms Restaurant and a bridge. Heading down 522, the Sperryville Pike, I keep an eye out for photo ops to catch the next morning as I’ll be rerouting back through. Following the mantra of Dale Borgeson about tour riding in the US, I aim to avoid large chain establishments, whether they are restaurants or hotels, and explore the mom-and-pop local variety businesses. I have a dive-ish roadside motel in mind, Culpepper comes through with the Sleepy Hollow Hotel.

 

Before check in I ride through downtown historic Culpepper. It’s a cool place. The Shady Farm bartender had recommended the Culpepper Thai restaurant. I see it but don’t visit, still full from the meal earlier. Cameron Street Coffee looks like a great place, located in an old warehouse. Unfortunately their closed for the night.

 

Shower and changed, room 102 at the Sleepy Hollow Hotel. I hop back on the bike, refreshed and dry and ride through the warm night air back downtown. The coffee at the Hazel River Inn comes with a sweet fudge confection on the side. The peach and blackberry cobbler with vanilla sauce is divine.

 

The reconfigured plan for this getaway is to shed. Shed worries about the job, career, housing, and relationships. My motorcycle is therapeutic. It’s 600cc’s of Zoloft on two wheels. The road lifts my spirits. This wasn’t supposed to be a solo run, and there are stretches of road where I feel the emptiness behind me.

 

The cobbler is finished and I can hear the sound of a band doing their sound check. The banging of the drum requires investigation.

 

Entry Three

 

I found Brown Bag Special in the cellar pub of the same restaurant I was in. On my way to the door the noise of the sound check floated up the stairs and directed my feet downward. Brown Bag Special opened the set, appropriately enough, with “I drink alone”. The ol’ man, Big Money, would have loved it. Drink alone started off a Big Money Blues trifecta to include “The Breeze” and “Mustang Sally”. Then they made the mistake a lot of bands make that have a great lead guitar player. They let him sing. The lead guitarist karaoke sucked his way through a Tom Petty hit. He was so off key in his singing it made you appreciate the guitar solo’s all the more for the relief they provided. Thankfully the regular singer soon resumed his duties and the night went on. More good stuff from the band.

 

Freebird

Folsom Prison Blues

Cheap Sun Glasses

 

“can’t you see, can’t you see, what that woman, what she’s done to me”

 

Off to bed now at the Sleepy Hollow Hotel with the ghost and shades of dead hookers and overdoses past.

 

150 miles today.

  

Saturday

 

Entry Four

 

Morning breaks on the Sleepy Hollow Hotel, a hot shower and I’m back on the bike. A quick stop downtown to shoot the Hazel Inn, then it’s back on the Sperryville Pike. More stops to capture some sights seen yesterday. Mr. & Mrs. Pump. The open mouth caricatures are an accurate representation of the current gas cost and the pumps eating your wallet.

 

I keep telling my daughter that her first car, college car, will be a hybrid. She thinks they are ugly. The bike isn’t so bad, averaging around 40mpg. At about 180 miles on the tripometer I start to look for a refill, although I’ve pushed it to 211 miles before.

 

A quick left in Sperryville on 211 and up into the mountain, Blue Ridge Mountains and Skyline Drive. Heading up the mountain I get the first bite of the twisties I’ve been craving. The $10 fee at the gate to Skyline Drive is well worth the price. Great scenery and fantastic views. The only drawback is the 35mph speed limit that is well enforced by the park rangers.

 

I shoot some self-portraits at Pollock Knob overlook. They’re funny in that with all the scrambling and hurrying to be the camera timer, then trying to effect a relaxed pose. I’ve also broke out my old friend this trip, the Lubitel 166, a medium format, 120mm film, twin lens camera. I’m like Jay-Z with this camera, I have to get it in one take. There is no digital review after the click for instant gratification. As a fellow photographer it’s “Point, Push, and Pray”. I’ll be interested to see the results. Not that I’ve left digital behind. Carrying both cameras, I’m an analog/digital double threat.

 

After the self-portraits and some dead tree shots I’m about to pack back on the bike and leave when I meet the preacher and his wife. He offers to shoot me with my camera and I return the favor with theirs. Conversation flows and in a ‘small world’ moment it turns out that he works for same Hazel family that owns the restaurant I was at last night for his Monday thru Friday job. I get a friendly “God bless” and I’m heading south on Skyline Drive. I make several more stops and break out the cameras again at Big Meadow.

 

There is a gnarly dead tree in the middle of the meadow. It has burn damage at the base, either the result of some wild fire or perhaps a controlled burn done to maintain the field. I spot and shoot a few deer, they probably won’t turn out as they’re to far away for my lens on the D100. I shoot a bunch of shots of the tree with the D100 and then totally switch processes with the Lubitel. The picture setup with the Lubitel takes about a minute-and-a-half. Manual zoom, i.e., walking back and forth to get the framing I want. Light meter reading. Then dealing with the reversed optics of the look-down box camera. It is fun though, to switch it up, change the pace and the dynamics. Just one click though, hope I caught it.

 

It’s a long but enjoyable ride to the south end of Skyline Drive. Unless you really like slow cruising I would suggest picking which third of Skyline Drive you’d like include in your trip and leave the rest. I drop off the mountain and into Waynesboro. Finding Mad Anthony’s coffee shop for a late breakfast. I overhear that it’s around noon. The Italian Roast coffee is good, in fact, it would prove to be the best coffee of the trip.

 

One of the pleasures of traveling by motorcycle is that it’s an easy conversation starter. People ask you where your coming from, where you’re heading, ask about your bike, tell you’re about their bike or the one they wish they had. One of the peculiarities of these conversations is that if the person even remotely knows of anyone that has died on a motorcycle, they will be sure to share this fact along with details. These stories usually involve a deer, a car pulling out, or someone taking a corner to fast. The conversation goes something like this:

 

Stranger“nice bike”

You“thanks”

Stranger“my cousin Bob had a friend that hit a deer and died on his bike”

 

Short silence.

 

You“yeah, deer are dangerous, got to be careful”

 

I’m not exaggerating when I say I’ve held variations on this conversation many times. Luckily this isn’t the conversation I have with the owner of Mad Anthony’s. He’s a former sailboat instructor who now finds the same release and head clearing on his motorcycle that he used to get from his sailboat.

 

This brings to mind the same wave – don’t way dynamic that occurs between sail boaters and power boaters, very similar to the sportbike & HD crowd.

 

The proprietor is a coffee guru, we discuss roasting (my Italian roast was just roasted Wednesday this week). We talk about the good and the evil of Starbucks. We’re both in agreement that they over roast their regular coffee, but I think their foo foo drinks are tasty. He has in his shop both the Bodum press and the Bodum vacuum coffee pot that I got my mom for x-mas. A shameless plug here, the Bodum vacuum coffee pot makes the best home coffee ever. It’s also an entertaining crowd pleaser, no joke.

 

Leaving Waynesboro the plan was 340 northward to 33, then into Harrisonburg, VA (home of the Valley Mall and JMU). 340 proved to be boring so I jumped on 256, Port Republic Road, for a better ride to Harrisonburg. I don’t know if the coffee wore off or if I was just worn out. I pull over at Westover Park, pick out a spot of grass, and take a good nap in the sun.

 

I had my motorcycle bug handed down to me by my step-dad. My kindergarten year of school we moved right at the end of the school year. Rather than switch schools at this inopportune time my Dad stuck me on the back of his Honda and rode me to school and back again for the last month or two. Even earlier than that I have a great photo of me in 1973-4 sitting on his chopper with him. Me in a diaper and him with his long hippy hair. The wild side of the Reverend indeed.

 

Refreshed from my nap it’s back on 33 westbound. Heading out of the Shenandoah Valley and Rockingham County is more glorious twisty roads and the George Washington National Forest. GW is a beautiful tree canopy lined road with a river off to one side. Franklin, WV is the destination, a return to the Star Hotel.

 

I stayed at the Star a few years prior when they first re-opened the historic Star Hotel. The owner, Steve Miller, is a great guy, friendly and conversational. I told him I’d be back again, but it’s been a few more years than I thought. Late lunch at the Star is pesto grilled chicken on ciabatta bread with roasted red peppers. Not the type of fare one might associate with West Virginia, but people have misperceptions about everywhere. Steve promises a prime rib later at dinner tonight to die for.

 

So that there is no misunderstanding, in as much as the Sleepy Hollow Hotel was a dive, the Star Hotel is a dream.

 

Dump the gear in the room back on the bike for some roaming around. I head back to explore a river road I passed on the way in, Rock Gap. It’s a gravel affair and I follow it back a little ways. Photo some river shots. Down further there is a large cliff face with some college aged kids de-gearing after a day of climbing. I’ll try to stop back in tomorrow and shoot some climbing action, as well as some fly fishing.

 

I pick up a bottle of Barefoot Wine, Cabernet Sauvignon, and drop it off with Steve at the Star to keep for later. I’ll enjoy that bottle later tonight from the 3rd floor front porch. South out of town I head, into some very secondary roads. I shoot an old decrepit cabin that would be right up Bobby Sargent’s alley. I put it in the metal folder for a possible future model shoot location, along with the river spots I’ve seen.

 

There are a couple more stops on this little ride. Once for what appears to be a feral chicken, and then for middle of the road stare down with a young doe. She’s camera shy though and is off before I can get a shot. Sportbike probably isn’t the best conveyance for nature photography. The pavement stops and gravel begins, I motor on. Rick & I once spent a full day just about on gravel roads, crisscrossing the back country around Cumberland, MD. So I’m comfortable with the less than ideal riding surface. A few miles on the road dead ends at a pair of chicken houses (source of the feral chicken’s ancestors perhaps?) and I turn around and survey the valley I’ve just ridden through. I have to stop the bike and soak in the scene. A picturesque farm is nestled in the corner of the valley, up against the hills. I meet some inquisitive cows, along with the farmer and his wife.

 

It seems that when you are in WV and you pass a sign that says “snow removal ends here” that the already suspect road conditions are going to quickly deteriorate and will soon resemble somewhat more of a logging road. I motor on through some back country, no houses, no farms, just mountains, steep roadside cliffs, and wicked gravel switchback curves. The part that gives you the willies are the downhill corners where the road grade is slanted to the outside of the curve and to the drop below. Yikes!

 

I creep along where a four wheeler would be much more functional. Although I still hit it a bit in the straights. Pavement arrives again and I’m unsure of my exact location. I follow the chicken farmers directions and soon discover myself back in Brandywine, intersecting the same stretch of 33 I rode on my way into Franklin.

 

Back at the Star Hotel it’s a shower and fresh clothes before heading down for dinner. Downstairs I find the prime rib to be as good as promised.

 

Entry Five

 

How beautifully staged is this. Barefoot on the 3rd floor patio, wine to ease the back and the ache in the knee.

 

205 miles today, the last 30 after check in, just to explore.

  

Sunday

 

Entry Six

 

Out early in the morning. I find no climbers at Rock Gap, unsure of the hours they keep. Out of Franklin on 33 west, looking for another squiggly line I had seen on a map. Bland Hill Road name is a misnomer. A single lane country road winding through German Valley. I got a few shots of German Valley from the 33 overlook before turning on Bland Hill. Now I find myself in the same location I had shot from above.

 

The road cuts through some open pasture land and I meet some cows standing in the road after rounding one bend. They’re pleasant enough, if in no particular hurry to cross, and don’t mind posing for a shot or two before meandering on. People talk about the danger of hitting a deer, a cow would really ruin your day! Off of Bland Hill and on down into the valley. I come up on the rock formation I had seen from the overlook previously. It’s not Seneca Rocks, but a formation of the same ilk. I get some more photos, then onto German Valley Road. I’m still staying at the Star, there is no real destination today. It’s relaxing to stop as much as I like.

 

German Valley Road puts me back on 33 west and not long after I’m ordering breakfast at the Valley View Restaurant. Dale Borgeson warns of places that advertise home cooking, but that’s about all you see in these parts. There are a fair number of cars here and that’s usually a good since the food will be alright. Hell, even the Army could make a good breakfast. It all works out and it’s a hell of a deal, $4 for toast, two eggs, hash browns, bacon, and coffee.

 

From 33 I hit 28 and turn off on Smoke Hole Road, just because it’s there and looks interesting. Boy, what a find it is. Combining the curvy one lane country road with nice wide smooth pavement (gravel free in the corners). It’s great. Smoke Hole Road turns out to run from 28 across the Seneca Rocks National Forest to 220 on the other side. Going west-to-east it starts out all curves and hills, then ends by winding along the south branch of the Potomac. There are lots of fly fishermen here enjoying the catch-and-release section of the river.

 

Up 220 to Petersburg, I run into some Ducati guys at the gas station. We swap riding info and I’m soon on 42 north towards Mayville. Hanging a left when I see a sign for Dolly Sods. I’m back on secondary roads and I soon pass another prophetic ‘no snow removal’ signs. It’s gravel the rest of the way up the mountain til it breaks out on top at Dolly Sod.

 

I’m real happy with today’s roads, as both Smoke Hole Road and Dolly Sods were unplanned ‘discovered adventures’. I do some rock scrabbling at Dolly Sod and enjoy the cliff top views. A fellow tourist snaps a shot for me an I hike out well past the distance that the casual tourist and families go. Shot some more shots of the rock formations with both the digital and film camera. Do some more self-portraits. I then sit down to relax in the sun with the cliff side breeze steadily blowing and update this journal.

  

Entry Seven

 

Well, fellow traveler, if you’ve made it this far I am duly impressed. I thank you for your perseverance. The rest of the day was spent riding without incident. Just more fantastic roads. You don’t have to be an explore on par with Lewis & Clark to find great rides in West Virginia. Just be curious in nature and unafraid to leave the beaten path. Drop off the numbered roads and take the route less traveled. Soon you’ll be in your own undiscovered country. Blah blah blah.

 

Out of Dolly Sod and I find myself on 32. Rough calculations put the dirt road travel around 25 miles for the day. While we are on stats, here’s today’s animal road count:

 

1 rooster

1 dead fox

2 cows

8 chipmunks

7 alive

1 dead

3 dead possums

1 squirrel

1 dead blob (undistinguishable)

No fearsome deer

1 dog

 

I guided myself today by a rather non-descript map put out by mountainhighlands.com

 

Leaving Dolly Sod on 32 puts me in Dry Fork and back on familiar 33 west to Elkins. I cruise around Elkins on the off chance I’ll run into a guy I know named Dallas. Now all you need to know about Dallas is the following:

 

I don’t know his last name

I once gave him a hair cut with dog grooming clippers

I know he works at a bike shop making choppers

 

You figure the odds of me finding him, near zero.

 

If your curious it wasn’t the first time I cut hair, albeit the first time using dog shears. In Korea I cut in the latrine for $2 a cut or for a 6 pack. Everything was barter in the Army. We had a cook that would make you a great custom birthday cake for a case of beer or feed you food out of the back of the chow hall at 3am when you staggered in drunk from the ville for the promise of a future round to be bought. Korea stories could fill another journal.

 

Anyway, out of Elkins and south to Beverly. Scott, if your reading this you were on my mind as I went through town, never forgive, never forget.

 

So far I’ve only tried to write about the positive food experiences of the trip without throwing anyplace under the bus. C&J in Beverly however, served only barely functional burgers and the vanilla shake was of the worst chemical prefab variety. There are some things that I am stuck on, good vanilla ice cream is one. The others that I’m picky about are beer, whiskey, steak, cheese-steak, and coffee. It’s just so disappointing when something you usually enjoy turns out to be sub par.

 

After C&J it’s 250 east to 28, which heads back towards Seneca Rocks and Franklin. It’s a good haul through the Monongahela National Forest. A road of the scenic variety, with good twisties up the mountain and through the scenery. These type road have become quite a common occurrence here in WV. Back in Seneca Rocks and 33 east into Franklin. I never shoot Seneca Rocks, the light is never right, number one can tell you how I get about my light.

 

The Star’s restaurant is closed on Sunday, dagger, so I shower and head into Franklin by foot. About Franklin, WV. It’s a nice little town, quiet and sleepy. No bars other than the VFW that I could see. Everybody I’ve met and spoken too has be pleasant, friendly and conversational, both here in Franklin and elsewhere in WV. I’m sure there are a variety of characters much as anywhere, this is just my observation from the tourist level.

 

Following last night precedent I grab another vino from the Shell station. The Star being closed is a dilemma; I’m in need of a cork screw (having borrowed the restaurants the night before). I wander back down to the hotel, wine in hand, and past the hotel just a bit til I meet an old man sitting out front. I explain my situation, wine without access, and he says he’ll sell me a corkscrew. He goes in the house, shortly to return with the necessary implement in hand. I figure I have it for $3-4 or maybe rent it for a one time use for $1. That proves unnecessary however, he says just to take it, and keep it for any future need.

 

The sole booking for the hotel tonight, I’m like a wraith as I glide through the halls. On the front porch with my bottle of vino in hand. I have some cheap cigars I also picked up and there’s nothing to do but kick back and watch the sunset.

 

It’s been a great trip. Somewhat lonesome at times. The lack of someone to talk to surely let to the length of this journal. It was a trip to getaway, to reflect. There was no great revelation or anything, just time to get to know yourself. The road gives you time to think. I know who I am and I like being me. I know what’s missing.

 

I’m resolved to take more bike trips in the future. It’s definitely my preferred way to travel and vacation. Motorcycling is the way to go.

 

Tomorrow I have my route generally planned out, more scenic byways for a winding route home.

 

Miles today, 240.

 

Monday

 

Entry Seven

 

Just a short postscript. 20 miles east of Washington DC, on 66, the chain popped off the bike. It’s never easy.

           

close-up of the little bug from meg :)

my dewy-eyed disney bride, what has tried

swapping your blood with formaldehyde

monsters

 

whiskey-plied voices cried fratricide

jesus don't you know that you could've died, you should've died

with the monsters that talk, monsters who walk the earth

[andrew bird]

  

welllll hm, I've never taken any pictures like this before.....

 

I've been crazy under-inspired these past couple days. and it's all rainy and not summer-like outside. I just haven't been feeling any pictures. I don't like it.

 

details

 

Today I went to the airport to pick up my friend who's visiting from Italy. She can't understand why I take a picture every day. haha

  

This image now available via Getty Images

 

www.gettyimages.com/Search/Search.aspx?assettype=image&am... Clow Photography - Annapolis, MD

   

Friday

Entry One

 

Flew out of work, the fleet flight of Friday before a holiday weekend. Everyone cracks a smile upon stepping out of the concrete and glass coffin of the corporate work week. The motorcycle is quickly gassed and loaded, I leave Washington DC at three-thirty, vowing not to check the time for the rest of the adventure. Adventure, the American adventure of the open road is what I seek. The road, my cameras, and escape.

 

Right turn off of 15th St. NW and I’m motoring past the Washington Monument and the White House. Harleys and clones are already lining the Mall for the annual Memorial remembrance that is Rolling Thunder. I’m soon over the bridge and on I-66 west. I plan on avoiding major highways when at all possible. Preferring scenic byways to drab highways. 66 is a necessary evil to flee the DC metro area as quickly as possible. At the start, 66 is a good quick run, for awhile anyway. Loads of Rolling Thunder riders are heading in 66 eastbound.

 

I keep the ubiquitous two fingers down to the side salute to fellow bikers out for extended stretches of time. In my experience, HD guys return the acknowledgement about 30-40% of the time. No big deal, some animosity exist though between different bike cultures. Motor-ism two-wheel stereotypes. However with the Rolling Thunder guys there is a noticeable increase in response, perhaps due to no longer just one biker acknowledging another, but a patriotic sharing of support and remembrance for those left behind, POW-MIA.

 

Traffic worsens further out 66 and I come up on a full HD dresser. Screaming Eagle back patch worked in with POW-MIA covers his vest and is topped by a “Run for the Wall” patch. I keep back a pace and we adopt the natural offset positioning of multiple riders.

 

After some 66 backup, stop-and-go, we strike up a staccato conversation in the pauses of the traffic flow. Where you been, where you going, see the rain coming? I tell him I’m headed out to the mountains, Skyline Drive and West Virginia. He says he’s just in from there recently, was in DC for Rolling Thunder for the day and will be coming back in on Sunday again. His license plate is obscured by luggage, so I’m unsure of his port of origin.

 

Later on we part ways and my thoughts turn. Of my parents friends only my step-dad was drafted for Vietnam. Luckily, for us, he only went as far as Ft. Hood, TX, and came back with some good stories about army life and venturing into Mexico (at least the ones he’s shared with me). I think about all the life he’s lived since then, all his experiences and joys. Thinking about what all those who didn’t return gave up, lost, when they didn’t come home. The loss felt by those who loved them, families that have a name on the Wall.

 

Rain is sprinkling before Manassas. Enough to cool you off but not enough to get you worried yet, at least for a bit. Whooooo. Then come the big drops. I head off the ramp to gear up with the rain paraphernalia under the gas station pavilion. Finally get it all on and get strapped back up and out pops the sun and the rain stops. Too funny. Now I have wet clothes on under the raingear. Rain gear now keeping the wind out that would dry me. I motor on as more rain is promised on the horizon.

 

This brings up a point about rain. People always ask, “What do you do when it rains and your on the motorcycle”. I reply simply, “I get wet”. Duh. Rain riding has never bothered me. On the straight highways it’s no big deal. Just give more cushion to the cars in front of you. Drive like grandma on the exit ramps.

 

My turning point is finally reached. Off of 66 west and onto 647, Crest Hill Rd. at The Plains, VA. Crest Hill Road is my first slice of motorcycle heaven to be had this weekend. I’m delighted to find that the squiggly line I traced out on the map when planning this trip has translated so well in reality. The road is still wet from the passing rain clouds, and I give a small rabbit and then a chipmunk a near death experience. My first of many animal crossings this weekend. The road is fantastic. A mixture of hilltop road and tree lined canopies that create forest tunnels. Speed limit is 45mph, 55-60 feels comfortable on most parts. Keeping an eye out for a hilltop barn to photograph that I’ve seen in my minds eye, lit by the sun breaking through the clouds and backed by the mountain vista. No luck on any of the barns actual placement to fit the mental picture I have framed.

 

Crest Hill Road and Fodderstack Rd is a long stretch. I take shots of a church and other buildings along Zachary Taylor Highway. Fodderstack gives more of the same as Crest Hill, just a narrower road. The asphalt is of my favorite variety, freshly laid. Washington, VA is a tiny town of historic bed and breakfasts. Local wineries appear to be an attraction here too. Right after Washington the rain returns while I’m in route to Sperryville. Then it really starts to come down, a full on summer thunderstorm. Visibility is down. Road and parking lots soon resemble rivers. Rain drops of the monster variety explode on the pavement, and you know it hurts when they hit you.

 

I quick soaking circuit of Sperryville confirms there are no local hotels. I duck into a barn shaped restaurant to wait it out. My drenched gear takes on bar stool and I occupy another. There’s a few flying pigs about. The bartender get me a hefeweizen, and recommends the angus burger. Locally raised and grass fed, we exchange jokes about my passing the burgers relatives on the way in.

 

Don’t freak about the beer. I have a one only rule when riding. It was followed by a meal (best burger of the weekend!), several coffees, and this bar top journal entry.

 

Somewhere along Crest Hill road I decided to keep the cell off for the weekend. In addition no tv, newspapers, internet, or e-mail sound like a good idea. Of course I now am studiously avoid eye contact with the two beautiful plasma’s above the bar.

 

Entry Two

 

Hazel River Inn, Culpepper, VA, has the coolest street side seating in town.

 

The downpour let up at the Shady Farms bar in Sperryville and due to the deficiency in local lodging I quiz the bartender for options. Over the other side of the mountain, the opposite side of Skyline Dr via 211 is Luray with lots of motels, but I want to save the mountain for the morning. The waitress suggest Culpepper, there being a Holiday Inn etc.

 

Stepping outside the sun has broke through the clouds again. Enough for some shots of Shady Farms Restaurant and a bridge. Heading down 522, the Sperryville Pike, I keep an eye out for photo ops to catch the next morning as I’ll be rerouting back through. Following the mantra of Dale Borgeson about tour riding in the US, I aim to avoid large chain establishments, whether they are restaurants or hotels, and explore the mom-and-pop local variety businesses. I have a dive-ish roadside motel in mind, Culpepper comes through with the Sleepy Hollow Hotel.

 

Before check in I ride through downtown historic Culpepper. It’s a cool place. The Shady Farm bartender had recommended the Culpepper Thai restaurant. I see it but don’t visit, still full from the meal earlier. Cameron Street Coffee looks like a great place, located in an old warehouse. Unfortunately their closed for the night.

 

Shower and changed, room 102 at the Sleepy Hollow Hotel. I hop back on the bike, refreshed and dry and ride through the warm night air back downtown. The coffee at the Hazel River Inn comes with a sweet fudge confection on the side. The peach and blackberry cobbler with vanilla sauce is divine.

 

The reconfigured plan for this getaway is to shed. Shed worries about the job, career, housing, and relationships. My motorcycle is therapeutic. It’s 600cc’s of Zoloft on two wheels. The road lifts my spirits. This wasn’t supposed to be a solo run, and there are stretches of road where I feel the emptiness behind me.

 

The cobbler is finished and I can hear the sound of a band doing their sound check. The banging of the drum requires investigation.

 

Entry Three

 

I found Brown Bag Special in the cellar pub of the same restaurant I was in. On my way to the door the noise of the sound check floated up the stairs and directed my feet downward. Brown Bag Special opened the set, appropriately enough, with “I drink alone”. The ol’ man, Big Money, would have loved it. Drink alone started off a Big Money Blues trifecta to include “The Breeze” and “Mustang Sally”. Then they made the mistake a lot of bands make that have a great lead guitar player. They let him sing. The lead guitarist karaoke sucked his way through a Tom Petty hit. He was so off key in his singing it made you appreciate the guitar solo’s all the more for the relief they provided. Thankfully the regular singer soon resumed his duties and the night went on. More good stuff from the band.

 

Freebird

Folsom Prison Blues

Cheap Sun Glasses

 

“can’t you see, can’t you see, what that woman, what she’s done to me”

 

Off to bed now at the Sleepy Hollow Hotel with the ghost and shades of dead hookers and overdoses past.

 

150 miles today.

  

Saturday

 

Entry Four

 

Morning breaks on the Sleepy Hollow Hotel, a hot shower and I’m back on the bike. A quick stop downtown to shoot the Hazel Inn, then it’s back on the Sperryville Pike. More stops to capture some sights seen yesterday. Mr. & Mrs. Pump. The open mouth caricatures are an accurate representation of the current gas cost and the pumps eating your wallet.

 

I keep telling my daughter that her first car, college car, will be a hybrid. She thinks they are ugly. The bike isn’t so bad, averaging around 40mpg. At about 180 miles on the tripometer I start to look for a refill, although I’ve pushed it to 211 miles before.

 

A quick left in Sperryville on 211 and up into the mountain, Blue Ridge Mountains and Skyline Drive. Heading up the mountain I get the first bite of the twisties I’ve been craving. The $10 fee at the gate to Skyline Drive is well worth the price. Great scenery and fantastic views. The only drawback is the 35mph speed limit that is well enforced by the park rangers.

 

I shoot some self-portraits at Pollock Knob overlook. They’re funny in that with all the scrambling and hurrying to be the camera timer, then trying to effect a relaxed pose. I’ve also broke out my old friend this trip, the Lubitel 166, a medium format, 120mm film, twin lens camera. I’m like Jay-Z with this camera, I have to get it in one take. There is no digital review after the click for instant gratification. As a fellow photographer it’s “Point, Push, and Pray”. I’ll be interested to see the results. Not that I’ve left digital behind. Carrying both cameras, I’m an analog/digital double threat.

 

After the self-portraits and some dead tree shots I’m about to pack back on the bike and leave when I meet the preacher and his wife. He offers to shoot me with my camera and I return the favor with theirs. Conversation flows and in a ‘small world’ moment it turns out that he works for same Hazel family that owns the restaurant I was at last night for his Monday thru Friday job. I get a friendly “God bless” and I’m heading south on Skyline Drive. I make several more stops and break out the cameras again at Big Meadow.

 

There is a gnarly dead tree in the middle of the meadow. It has burn damage at the base, either the result of some wild fire or perhaps a controlled burn done to maintain the field. I spot and shoot a few deer, they probably won’t turn out as they’re to far away for my lens on the D100. I shoot a bunch of shots of the tree with the D100 and then totally switch processes with the Lubitel. The picture setup with the Lubitel takes about a minute-and-a-half. Manual zoom, i.e., walking back and forth to get the framing I want. Light meter reading. Then dealing with the reversed optics of the look-down box camera. It is fun though, to switch it up, change the pace and the dynamics. Just one click though, hope I caught it.

 

It’s a long but enjoyable ride to the south end of Skyline Drive. Unless you really like slow cruising I would suggest picking which third of Skyline Drive you’d like include in your trip and leave the rest. I drop off the mountain and into Waynesboro. Finding Mad Anthony’s coffee shop for a late breakfast. I overhear that it’s around noon. The Italian Roast coffee is good, in fact, it would prove to be the best coffee of the trip.

 

One of the pleasures of traveling by motorcycle is that it’s an easy conversation starter. People ask you where your coming from, where you’re heading, ask about your bike, tell you’re about their bike or the one they wish they had. One of the peculiarities of these conversations is that if the person even remotely knows of anyone that has died on a motorcycle, they will be sure to share this fact along with details. These stories usually involve a deer, a car pulling out, or someone taking a corner to fast. The conversation goes something like this:

 

Stranger“nice bike”

You“thanks”

Stranger“my cousin Bob had a friend that hit a deer and died on his bike”

 

Short silence.

 

You“yeah, deer are dangerous, got to be careful”

 

I’m not exaggerating when I say I’ve held variations on this conversation many times. Luckily this isn’t the conversation I have with the owner of Mad Anthony’s. He’s a former sailboat instructor who now finds the same release and head clearing on his motorcycle that he used to get from his sailboat.

 

This brings to mind the same wave – don’t way dynamic that occurs between sail boaters and power boaters, very similar to the sportbike & HD crowd.

 

The proprietor is a coffee guru, we discuss roasting (my Italian roast was just roasted Wednesday this week). We talk about the good and the evil of Starbucks. We’re both in agreement that they over roast their regular coffee, but I think their foo foo drinks are tasty. He has in his shop both the Bodum press and the Bodum vacuum coffee pot that I got my mom for x-mas. A shameless plug here, the Bodum vacuum coffee pot makes the best home coffee ever. It’s also an entertaining crowd pleaser, no joke.

 

Leaving Waynesboro the plan was 340 northward to 33, then into Harrisonburg, VA (home of the Valley Mall and JMU). 340 proved to be boring so I jumped on 256, Port Republic Road, for a better ride to Harrisonburg. I don’t know if the coffee wore off or if I was just worn out. I pull over at Westover Park, pick out a spot of grass, and take a good nap in the sun.

 

I had my motorcycle bug handed down to me by my step-dad. My kindergarten year of school we moved right at the end of the school year. Rather than switch schools at this inopportune time my Dad stuck me on the back of his Honda and rode me to school and back again for the last month or two. Even earlier than that I have a great photo of me in 1973-4 sitting on his chopper with him. Me in a diaper and him with his long hippy hair. The wild side of the Reverend indeed.

 

Refreshed from my nap it’s back on 33 westbound. Heading out of the Shenandoah Valley and Rockingham County is more glorious twisty roads and the George Washington National Forest. GW is a beautiful tree canopy lined road with a river off to one side. Franklin, WV is the destination, a return to the Star Hotel.

 

I stayed at the Star a few years prior when they first re-opened the historic Star Hotel. The owner, Steve Miller, is a great guy, friendly and conversational. I told him I’d be back again, but it’s been a few more years than I thought. Late lunch at the Star is pesto grilled chicken on ciabatta bread with roasted red peppers. Not the type of fare one might associate with West Virginia, but people have misperceptions about everywhere. Steve promises a prime rib later at dinner tonight to die for.

 

So that there is no misunderstanding, in as much as the Sleepy Hollow Hotel was a dive, the Star Hotel is a dream.

 

Dump the gear in the room back on the bike for some roaming around. I head back to explore a river road I passed on the way in, Rock Gap. It’s a gravel affair and I follow it back a little ways. Photo some river shots. Down further there is a large cliff face with some college aged kids de-gearing after a day of climbing. I’ll try to stop back in tomorrow and shoot some climbing action, as well as some fly fishing.

 

I pick up a bottle of Barefoot Wine, Cabernet Sauvignon, and drop it off with Steve at the Star to keep for later. I’ll enjoy that bottle later tonight from the 3rd floor front porch. South out of town I head, into some very secondary roads. I shoot an old decrepit cabin that would be right up Bobby Sargent’s alley. I put it in the metal folder for a possible future model shoot location, along with the river spots I’ve seen.

 

There are a couple more stops on this little ride. Once for what appears to be a feral chicken, and then for middle of the road stare down with a young doe. She’s camera shy though and is off before I can get a shot. Sportbike probably isn’t the best conveyance for nature photography. The pavement stops and gravel begins, I motor on. Rick & I once spent a full day just about on gravel roads, crisscrossing the back country around Cumberland, MD. So I’m comfortable with the less than ideal riding surface. A few miles on the road dead ends at a pair of chicken houses (source of the feral chicken’s ancestors perhaps?) and I turn around and survey the valley I’ve just ridden through. I have to stop the bike and soak in the scene. A picturesque farm is nestled in the corner of the valley, up against the hills. I meet some inquisitive cows, along with the farmer and his wife.

 

It seems that when you are in WV and you pass a sign that says “snow removal ends here” that the already suspect road conditions are going to quickly deteriorate and will soon resemble somewhat more of a logging road. I motor on through some back country, no houses, no farms, just mountains, steep roadside cliffs, and wicked gravel switchback curves. The part that gives you the willies are the downhill corners where the road grade is slanted to the outside of the curve and to the drop below. Yikes!

 

I creep along where a four wheeler would be much more functional. Although I still hit it a bit in the straights. Pavement arrives again and I’m unsure of my exact location. I follow the chicken farmers directions and soon discover myself back in Brandywine, intersecting the same stretch of 33 I rode on my way into Franklin.

 

Back at the Star Hotel it’s a shower and fresh clothes before heading down for dinner. Downstairs I find the prime rib to be as good as promised.

 

Entry Five

 

How beautifully staged is this. Barefoot on the 3rd floor patio, wine to ease the back and the ache in the knee.

 

205 miles today, the last 30 after check in, just to explore.

  

Sunday

 

Entry Six

 

Out early in the morning. I find no climbers at Rock Gap, unsure of the hours they keep. Out of Franklin on 33 west, looking for another squiggly line I had seen on a map. Bland Hill Road name is a misnomer. A single lane country road winding through German Valley. I got a few shots of German Valley from the 33 overlook before turning on Bland Hill. Now I find myself in the same location I had shot from above.

 

The road cuts through some open pasture land and I meet some cows standing in the road after rounding one bend. They’re pleasant enough, if in no particular hurry to cross, and don’t mind posing for a shot or two before meandering on. People talk about the danger of hitting a deer, a cow would really ruin your day! Off of Bland Hill and on down into the valley. I come up on the rock formation I had seen from the overlook previously. It’s not Seneca Rocks, but a formation of the same ilk. I get some more photos, then onto German Valley Road. I’m still staying at the Star, there is no real destination today. It’s relaxing to stop as much as I like.

 

German Valley Road puts me back on 33 west and not long after I’m ordering breakfast at the Valley View Restaurant. Dale Borgeson warns of places that advertise home cooking, but that’s about all you see in these parts. There are a fair number of cars here and that’s usually a good since the food will be alright. Hell, even the Army could make a good breakfast. It all works out and it’s a hell of a deal, $4 for toast, two eggs, hash browns, bacon, and coffee.

 

From 33 I hit 28 and turn off on Smoke Hole Road, just because it’s there and looks interesting. Boy, what a find it is. Combining the curvy one lane country road with nice wide smooth pavement (gravel free in the corners). It’s great. Smoke Hole Road turns out to run from 28 across the Seneca Rocks National Forest to 220 on the other side. Going west-to-east it starts out all curves and hills, then ends by winding along the south branch of the Potomac. There are lots of fly fishermen here enjoying the catch-and-release section of the river.

 

Up 220 to Petersburg, I run into some Ducati guys at the gas station. We swap riding info and I’m soon on 42 north towards Mayville. Hanging a left when I see a sign for Dolly Sods. I’m back on secondary roads and I soon pass another prophetic ‘no snow removal’ signs. It’s gravel the rest of the way up the mountain til it breaks out on top at Dolly Sod.

 

I’m real happy with today’s roads, as both Smoke Hole Road and Dolly Sods were unplanned ‘discovered adventures’. I do some rock scrabbling at Dolly Sod and enjoy the cliff top views. A fellow tourist snaps a shot for me an I hike out well past the distance that the casual tourist and families go. Shot some more shots of the rock formations with both the digital and film camera. Do some more self-portraits. I then sit down to relax in the sun with the cliff side breeze steadily blowing and update this journal.

  

Entry Seven

 

Well, fellow traveler, if you’ve made it this far I am duly impressed. I thank you for your perseverance. The rest of the day was spent riding without incident. Just more fantastic roads. You don’t have to be an explore on par with Lewis & Clark to find great rides in West Virginia. Just be curious in nature and unafraid to leave the beaten path. Drop off the numbered roads and take the route less traveled. Soon you’ll be in your own undiscovered country. Blah blah blah.

 

Out of Dolly Sod and I find myself on 32. Rough calculations put the dirt road travel around 25 miles for the day. While we are on stats, here’s today’s animal road count:

 

1 rooster

1 dead fox

2 cows

8 chipmunks

7 alive

1 dead

3 dead possums

1 squirrel

1 dead blob (undistinguishable)

No fearsome deer

1 dog

 

I guided myself today by a rather non-descript map put out by mountainhighlands.com

 

Leaving Dolly Sod on 32 puts me in Dry Fork and back on familiar 33 west to Elkins. I cruise around Elkins on the off chance I’ll run into a guy I know named Dallas. Now all you need to know about Dallas is the following:

 

I don’t know his last name

I once gave him a hair cut with dog grooming clippers

I know he works at a bike shop making choppers

 

You figure the odds of me finding him, near zero.

 

If your curious it wasn’t the first time I cut hair, albeit the first time using dog shears. In Korea I cut in the latrine for $2 a cut or for a 6 pack. Everything was barter in the Army. We had a cook that would make you a great custom birthday cake for a case of beer or feed you food out of the back of the chow hall at 3am when you staggered in drunk from the ville for the promise of a future round to be bought. Korea stories could fill another journal.

 

Anyway, out of Elkins and south to Beverly. Scott, if your reading this you were on my mind as I went through town, never forgive, never forget.

 

So far I’ve only tried to write about the positive food experiences of the trip without throwing anyplace under the bus. C&J in Beverly however, served only barely functional burgers and the vanilla shake was of the worst chemical prefab variety. There are some things that I am stuck on, good vanilla ice cream is one. The others that I’m picky about are beer, whiskey, steak, cheese-steak, and coffee. It’s just so disappointing when something you usually enjoy turns out to be sub par.

 

After C&J it’s 250 east to 28, which heads back towards Seneca Rocks and Franklin. It’s a good haul through the Monongahela National Forest. A road of the scenic variety, with good twisties up the mountain and through the scenery. These type road have become quite a common occurrence here in WV. Back in Seneca Rocks and 33 east into Franklin. I never shoot Seneca Rocks, the light is never right, number one can tell you how I get about my light.

 

The Star’s restaurant is closed on Sunday, dagger, so I shower and head into Franklin by foot. About Franklin, WV. It’s a nice little town, quiet and sleepy. No bars other than the VFW that I could see. Everybody I’ve met and spoken too has be pleasant, friendly and conversational, both here in Franklin and elsewhere in WV. I’m sure there are a variety of characters much as anywhere, this is just my observation from the tourist level.

 

Following last night precedent I grab another vino from the Shell station. The Star being closed is a dilemma; I’m in need of a cork screw (having borrowed the restaurants the night before). I wander back down to the hotel, wine in hand, and past the hotel just a bit til I meet an old man sitting out front. I explain my situation, wine without access, and he says he’ll sell me a corkscrew. He goes in the house, shortly to return with the necessary implement in hand. I figure I have it for $3-4 or maybe rent it for a one time use for $1. That proves unnecessary however, he says just to take it, and keep it for any future need.

 

The sole booking for the hotel tonight, I’m like a wraith as I glide through the halls. On the front porch with my bottle of vino in hand. I have some cheap cigars I also picked up and there’s nothing to do but kick back and watch the sunset.

 

It’s been a great trip. Somewhat lonesome at times. The lack of someone to talk to surely let to the length of this journal. It was a trip to getaway, to reflect. There was no great revelation or anything, just time to get to know yourself. The road gives you time to think. I know who I am and I like being me. I know what’s missing.

 

I’m resolved to take more bike trips in the future. It’s definitely my preferred way to travel and vacation. Motorcycling is the way to go.

 

Tomorrow I have my route generally planned out, more scenic byways for a winding route home.

 

Miles today, 240.

 

Monday

 

Entry Seven

 

Just a short postscript. 20 miles east of Washington DC, on 66, the chain popped off the bike. It’s never easy.

           

I hope you like it partner! Otherwise it would be pretty sweet on my craft room wall!

Friday

Entry One

 

Flew out of work, the fleet flight of Friday before a holiday weekend. Everyone cracks a smile upon stepping out of the concrete and glass coffin of the corporate work week. The motorcycle is quickly gassed and loaded, I leave Washington DC at three-thirty, vowing not to check the time for the rest of the adventure. Adventure, the American adventure of the open road is what I seek. The road, my cameras, and escape.

 

Right turn off of 15th St. NW and I’m motoring past the Washington Monument and the White House. Harleys and clones are already lining the Mall for the annual Memorial remembrance that is Rolling Thunder. I’m soon over the bridge and on I-66 west. I plan on avoiding major highways when at all possible. Preferring scenic byways to drab highways. 66 is a necessary evil to flee the DC metro area as quickly as possible. At the start, 66 is a good quick run, for awhile anyway. Loads of Rolling Thunder riders are heading in 66 eastbound.

 

I keep the ubiquitous two fingers down to the side salute to fellow bikers out for extended stretches of time. In my experience, HD guys return the acknowledgement about 30-40% of the time. No big deal, some animosity exist though between different bike cultures. Motor-ism two-wheel stereotypes. However with the Rolling Thunder guys there is a noticeable increase in response, perhaps due to no longer just one biker acknowledging another, but a patriotic sharing of support and remembrance for those left behind, POW-MIA.

 

Traffic worsens further out 66 and I come up on a full HD dresser. Screaming Eagle back patch worked in with POW-MIA covers his vest and is topped by a “Run for the Wall” patch. I keep back a pace and we adopt the natural offset positioning of multiple riders.

 

After some 66 backup, stop-and-go, we strike up a staccato conversation in the pauses of the traffic flow. Where you been, where you going, see the rain coming? I tell him I’m headed out to the mountains, Skyline Drive and West Virginia. He says he’s just in from there recently, was in DC for Rolling Thunder for the day and will be coming back in on Sunday again. His license plate is obscured by luggage, so I’m unsure of his port of origin.

 

Later on we part ways and my thoughts turn. Of my parents friends only my step-dad was drafted for Vietnam. Luckily, for us, he only went as far as Ft. Hood, TX, and came back with some good stories about army life and venturing into Mexico (at least the ones he’s shared with me). I think about all the life he’s lived since then, all his experiences and joys. Thinking about what all those who didn’t return gave up, lost, when they didn’t come home. The loss felt by those who loved them, families that have a name on the Wall.

 

Rain is sprinkling before Manassas. Enough to cool you off but not enough to get you worried yet, at least for a bit. Whooooo. Then come the big drops. I head off the ramp to gear up with the rain paraphernalia under the gas station pavilion. Finally get it all on and get strapped back up and out pops the sun and the rain stops. Too funny. Now I have wet clothes on under the raingear. Rain gear now keeping the wind out that would dry me. I motor on as more rain is promised on the horizon.

 

This brings up a point about rain. People always ask, “What do you do when it rains and your on the motorcycle”. I reply simply, “I get wet”. Duh. Rain riding has never bothered me. On the straight highways it’s no big deal. Just give more cushion to the cars in front of you. Drive like grandma on the exit ramps.

 

My turning point is finally reached. Off of 66 west and onto 647, Crest Hill Rd. at The Plains, VA. Crest Hill Road is my first slice of motorcycle heaven to be had this weekend. I’m delighted to find that the squiggly line I traced out on the map when planning this trip has translated so well in reality. The road is still wet from the passing rain clouds, and I give a small rabbit and then a chipmunk a near death experience. My first of many animal crossings this weekend. The road is fantastic. A mixture of hilltop road and tree lined canopies that create forest tunnels. Speed limit is 45mph, 55-60 feels comfortable on most parts. Keeping an eye out for a hilltop barn to photograph that I’ve seen in my minds eye, lit by the sun breaking through the clouds and backed by the mountain vista. No luck on any of the barns actual placement to fit the mental picture I have framed.

 

Crest Hill Road and Fodderstack Rd is a long stretch. I take shots of a church and other buildings along Zachary Taylor Highway. Fodderstack gives more of the same as Crest Hill, just a narrower road. The asphalt is of my favorite variety, freshly laid. Washington, VA is a tiny town of historic bed and breakfasts. Local wineries appear to be an attraction here too. Right after Washington the rain returns while I’m in route to Sperryville. Then it really starts to come down, a full on summer thunderstorm. Visibility is down. Road and parking lots soon resemble rivers. Rain drops of the monster variety explode on the pavement, and you know it hurts when they hit you.

 

I quick soaking circuit of Sperryville confirms there are no local hotels. I duck into a barn shaped restaurant to wait it out. My drenched gear takes on bar stool and I occupy another. There’s a few flying pigs about. The bartender get me a hefeweizen, and recommends the angus burger. Locally raised and grass fed, we exchange jokes about my passing the burgers relatives on the way in.

 

Don’t freak about the beer. I have a one only rule when riding. It was followed by a meal (best burger of the weekend!), several coffees, and this bar top journal entry.

 

Somewhere along Crest Hill road I decided to keep the cell off for the weekend. In addition no tv, newspapers, internet, or e-mail sound like a good idea. Of course I now am studiously avoid eye contact with the two beautiful plasma’s above the bar.

 

Entry Two

 

Hazel River Inn, Culpepper, VA, has the coolest street side seating in town.

 

The downpour let up at the Shady Farms bar in Sperryville and due to the deficiency in local lodging I quiz the bartender for options. Over the other side of the mountain, the opposite side of Skyline Dr via 211 is Luray with lots of motels, but I want to save the mountain for the morning. The waitress suggest Culpepper, there being a Holiday Inn etc.

 

Stepping outside the sun has broke through the clouds again. Enough for some shots of Shady Farms Restaurant and a bridge. Heading down 522, the Sperryville Pike, I keep an eye out for photo ops to catch the next morning as I’ll be rerouting back through. Following the mantra of Dale Borgeson about tour riding in the US, I aim to avoid large chain establishments, whether they are restaurants or hotels, and explore the mom-and-pop local variety businesses. I have a dive-ish roadside motel in mind, Culpepper comes through with the Sleepy Hollow Hotel.

 

Before check in I ride through downtown historic Culpepper. It’s a cool place. The Shady Farm bartender had recommended the Culpepper Thai restaurant. I see it but don’t visit, still full from the meal earlier. Cameron Street Coffee looks like a great place, located in an old warehouse. Unfortunately their closed for the night.

 

Shower and changed, room 102 at the Sleepy Hollow Hotel. I hop back on the bike, refreshed and dry and ride through the warm night air back downtown. The coffee at the Hazel River Inn comes with a sweet fudge confection on the side. The peach and blackberry cobbler with vanilla sauce is divine.

 

The reconfigured plan for this getaway is to shed. Shed worries about the job, career, housing, and relationships. My motorcycle is therapeutic. It’s 600cc’s of Zoloft on two wheels. The road lifts my spirits. This wasn’t supposed to be a solo run, and there are stretches of road where I feel the emptiness behind me.

 

The cobbler is finished and I can hear the sound of a band doing their sound check. The banging of the drum requires investigation.

 

Entry Three

 

I found Brown Bag Special in the cellar pub of the same restaurant I was in. On my way to the door the noise of the sound check floated up the stairs and directed my feet downward. Brown Bag Special opened the set, appropriately enough, with “I drink alone”. The ol’ man, Big Money, would have loved it. Drink alone started off a Big Money Blues trifecta to include “The Breeze” and “Mustang Sally”. Then they made the mistake a lot of bands make that have a great lead guitar player. They let him sing. The lead guitarist karaoke sucked his way through a Tom Petty hit. He was so off key in his singing it made you appreciate the guitar solo’s all the more for the relief they provided. Thankfully the regular singer soon resumed his duties and the night went on. More good stuff from the band.

 

Freebird

Folsom Prison Blues

Cheap Sun Glasses

 

“can’t you see, can’t you see, what that woman, what she’s done to me”

 

Off to bed now at the Sleepy Hollow Hotel with the ghost and shades of dead hookers and overdoses past.

 

150 miles today.

  

Saturday

 

Entry Four

 

Morning breaks on the Sleepy Hollow Hotel, a hot shower and I’m back on the bike. A quick stop downtown to shoot the Hazel Inn, then it’s back on the Sperryville Pike. More stops to capture some sights seen yesterday. Mr. & Mrs. Pump. The open mouth caricatures are an accurate representation of the current gas cost and the pumps eating your wallet.

 

I keep telling my daughter that her first car, college car, will be a hybrid. She thinks they are ugly. The bike isn’t so bad, averaging around 40mpg. At about 180 miles on the tripometer I start to look for a refill, although I’ve pushed it to 211 miles before.

 

A quick left in Sperryville on 211 and up into the mountain, Blue Ridge Mountains and Skyline Drive. Heading up the mountain I get the first bite of the twisties I’ve been craving. The $10 fee at the gate to Skyline Drive is well worth the price. Great scenery and fantastic views. The only drawback is the 35mph speed limit that is well enforced by the park rangers.

 

I shoot some self-portraits at Pollock Knob overlook. They’re funny in that with all the scrambling and hurrying to be the camera timer, then trying to effect a relaxed pose. I’ve also broke out my old friend this trip, the Lubitel 166, a medium format, 120mm film, twin lens camera. I’m like Jay-Z with this camera, I have to get it in one take. There is no digital review after the click for instant gratification. As a fellow photographer it’s “Point, Push, and Pray”. I’ll be interested to see the results. Not that I’ve left digital behind. Carrying both cameras, I’m an analog/digital double threat.

 

After the self-portraits and some dead tree shots I’m about to pack back on the bike and leave when I meet the preacher and his wife. He offers to shoot me with my camera and I return the favor with theirs. Conversation flows and in a ‘small world’ moment it turns out that he works for same Hazel family that owns the restaurant I was at last night for his Monday thru Friday job. I get a friendly “God bless” and I’m heading south on Skyline Drive. I make several more stops and break out the cameras again at Big Meadow.

 

There is a gnarly dead tree in the middle of the meadow. It has burn damage at the base, either the result of some wild fire or perhaps a controlled burn done to maintain the field. I spot and shoot a few deer, they probably won’t turn out as they’re to far away for my lens on the D100. I shoot a bunch of shots of the tree with the D100 and then totally switch processes with the Lubitel. The picture setup with the Lubitel takes about a minute-and-a-half. Manual zoom, i.e., walking back and forth to get the framing I want. Light meter reading. Then dealing with the reversed optics of the look-down box camera. It is fun though, to switch it up, change the pace and the dynamics. Just one click though, hope I caught it.

 

It’s a long but enjoyable ride to the south end of Skyline Drive. Unless you really like slow cruising I would suggest picking which third of Skyline Drive you’d like include in your trip and leave the rest. I drop off the mountain and into Waynesboro. Finding Mad Anthony’s coffee shop for a late breakfast. I overhear that it’s around noon. The Italian Roast coffee is good, in fact, it would prove to be the best coffee of the trip.

 

One of the pleasures of traveling by motorcycle is that it’s an easy conversation starter. People ask you where your coming from, where you’re heading, ask about your bike, tell you’re about their bike or the one they wish they had. One of the peculiarities of these conversations is that if the person even remotely knows of anyone that has died on a motorcycle, they will be sure to share this fact along with details. These stories usually involve a deer, a car pulling out, or someone taking a corner to fast. The conversation goes something like this:

 

Stranger“nice bike”

You“thanks”

Stranger“my cousin Bob had a friend that hit a deer and died on his bike”

 

Short silence.

 

You“yeah, deer are dangerous, got to be careful”

 

I’m not exaggerating when I say I’ve held variations on this conversation many times. Luckily this isn’t the conversation I have with the owner of Mad Anthony’s. He’s a former sailboat instructor who now finds the same release and head clearing on his motorcycle that he used to get from his sailboat.

 

This brings to mind the same wave – don’t way dynamic that occurs between sail boaters and power boaters, very similar to the sportbike & HD crowd.

 

The proprietor is a coffee guru, we discuss roasting (my Italian roast was just roasted Wednesday this week). We talk about the good and the evil of Starbucks. We’re both in agreement that they over roast their regular coffee, but I think their foo foo drinks are tasty. He has in his shop both the Bodum press and the Bodum vacuum coffee pot that I got my mom for x-mas. A shameless plug here, the Bodum vacuum coffee pot makes the best home coffee ever. It’s also an entertaining crowd pleaser, no joke.

 

Leaving Waynesboro the plan was 340 northward to 33, then into Harrisonburg, VA (home of the Valley Mall and JMU). 340 proved to be boring so I jumped on 256, Port Republic Road, for a better ride to Harrisonburg. I don’t know if the coffee wore off or if I was just worn out. I pull over at Westover Park, pick out a spot of grass, and take a good nap in the sun.

 

I had my motorcycle bug handed down to me by my step-dad. My kindergarten year of school we moved right at the end of the school year. Rather than switch schools at this inopportune time my Dad stuck me on the back of his Honda and rode me to school and back again for the last month or two. Even earlier than that I have a great photo of me in 1973-4 sitting on his chopper with him. Me in a diaper and him with his long hippy hair. The wild side of the Reverend indeed.

 

Refreshed from my nap it’s back on 33 westbound. Heading out of the Shenandoah Valley and Rockingham County is more glorious twisty roads and the George Washington National Forest. GW is a beautiful tree canopy lined road with a river off to one side. Franklin, WV is the destination, a return to the Star Hotel.

 

I stayed at the Star a few years prior when they first re-opened the historic Star Hotel. The owner, Steve Miller, is a great guy, friendly and conversational. I told him I’d be back again, but it’s been a few more years than I thought. Late lunch at the Star is pesto grilled chicken on ciabatta bread with roasted red peppers. Not the type of fare one might associate with West Virginia, but people have misperceptions about everywhere. Steve promises a prime rib later at dinner tonight to die for.

 

So that there is no misunderstanding, in as much as the Sleepy Hollow Hotel was a dive, the Star Hotel is a dream.

 

Dump the gear in the room back on the bike for some roaming around. I head back to explore a river road I passed on the way in, Rock Gap. It’s a gravel affair and I follow it back a little ways. Photo some river shots. Down further there is a large cliff face with some college aged kids de-gearing after a day of climbing. I’ll try to stop back in tomorrow and shoot some climbing action, as well as some fly fishing.

 

I pick up a bottle of Barefoot Wine, Cabernet Sauvignon, and drop it off with Steve at the Star to keep for later. I’ll enjoy that bottle later tonight from the 3rd floor front porch. South out of town I head, into some very secondary roads. I shoot an old decrepit cabin that would be right up Bobby Sargent’s alley. I put it in the metal folder for a possible future model shoot location, along with the river spots I’ve seen.

 

There are a couple more stops on this little ride. Once for what appears to be a feral chicken, and then for middle of the road stare down with a young doe. She’s camera shy though and is off before I can get a shot. Sportbike probably isn’t the best conveyance for nature photography. The pavement stops and gravel begins, I motor on. Rick & I once spent a full day just about on gravel roads, crisscrossing the back country around Cumberland, MD. So I’m comfortable with the less than ideal riding surface. A few miles on the road dead ends at a pair of chicken houses (source of the feral chicken’s ancestors perhaps?) and I turn around and survey the valley I’ve just ridden through. I have to stop the bike and soak in the scene. A picturesque farm is nestled in the corner of the valley, up against the hills. I meet some inquisitive cows, along with the farmer and his wife.

 

It seems that when you are in WV and you pass a sign that says “snow removal ends here” that the already suspect road conditions are going to quickly deteriorate and will soon resemble somewhat more of a logging road. I motor on through some back country, no houses, no farms, just mountains, steep roadside cliffs, and wicked gravel switchback curves. The part that gives you the willies are the downhill corners where the road grade is slanted to the outside of the curve and to the drop below. Yikes!

 

I creep along where a four wheeler would be much more functional. Although I still hit it a bit in the straights. Pavement arrives again and I’m unsure of my exact location. I follow the chicken farmers directions and soon discover myself back in Brandywine, intersecting the same stretch of 33 I rode on my way into Franklin.

 

Back at the Star Hotel it’s a shower and fresh clothes before heading down for dinner. Downstairs I find the prime rib to be as good as promised.

 

Entry Five

 

How beautifully staged is this. Barefoot on the 3rd floor patio, wine to ease the back and the ache in the knee.

 

205 miles today, the last 30 after check in, just to explore.

  

Sunday

 

Entry Six

 

Out early in the morning. I find no climbers at Rock Gap, unsure of the hours they keep. Out of Franklin on 33 west, looking for another squiggly line I had seen on a map. Bland Hill Road name is a misnomer. A single lane country road winding through German Valley. I got a few shots of German Valley from the 33 overlook before turning on Bland Hill. Now I find myself in the same location I had shot from above.

 

The road cuts through some open pasture land and I meet some cows standing in the road after rounding one bend. They’re pleasant enough, if in no particular hurry to cross, and don’t mind posing for a shot or two before meandering on. People talk about the danger of hitting a deer, a cow would really ruin your day! Off of Bland Hill and on down into the valley. I come up on the rock formation I had seen from the overlook previously. It’s not Seneca Rocks, but a formation of the same ilk. I get some more photos, then onto German Valley Road. I’m still staying at the Star, there is no real destination today. It’s relaxing to stop as much as I like.

 

German Valley Road puts me back on 33 west and not long after I’m ordering breakfast at the Valley View Restaurant. Dale Borgeson warns of places that advertise home cooking, but that’s about all you see in these parts. There are a fair number of cars here and that’s usually a good since the food will be alright. Hell, even the Army could make a good breakfast. It all works out and it’s a hell of a deal, $4 for toast, two eggs, hash browns, bacon, and coffee.

 

From 33 I hit 28 and turn off on Smoke Hole Road, just because it’s there and looks interesting. Boy, what a find it is. Combining the curvy one lane country road with nice wide smooth pavement (gravel free in the corners). It’s great. Smoke Hole Road turns out to run from 28 across the Seneca Rocks National Forest to 220 on the other side. Going west-to-east it starts out all curves and hills, then ends by winding along the south branch of the Potomac. There are lots of fly fishermen here enjoying the catch-and-release section of the river.

 

Up 220 to Petersburg, I run into some Ducati guys at the gas station. We swap riding info and I’m soon on 42 north towards Mayville. Hanging a left when I see a sign for Dolly Sods. I’m back on secondary roads and I soon pass another prophetic ‘no snow removal’ signs. It’s gravel the rest of the way up the mountain til it breaks out on top at Dolly Sod.

 

I’m real happy with today’s roads, as both Smoke Hole Road and Dolly Sods were unplanned ‘discovered adventures’. I do some rock scrabbling at Dolly Sod and enjoy the cliff top views. A fellow tourist snaps a shot for me an I hike out well past the distance that the casual tourist and families go. Shot some more shots of the rock formations with both the digital and film camera. Do some more self-portraits. I then sit down to relax in the sun with the cliff side breeze steadily blowing and update this journal.

  

Entry Seven

 

Well, fellow traveler, if you’ve made it this far I am duly impressed. I thank you for your perseverance. The rest of the day was spent riding without incident. Just more fantastic roads. You don’t have to be an explore on par with Lewis & Clark to find great rides in West Virginia. Just be curious in nature and unafraid to leave the beaten path. Drop off the numbered roads and take the route less traveled. Soon you’ll be in your own undiscovered country. Blah blah blah.

 

Out of Dolly Sod and I find myself on 32. Rough calculations put the dirt road travel around 25 miles for the day. While we are on stats, here’s today’s animal road count:

 

1 rooster

1 dead fox

2 cows

8 chipmunks

7 alive

1 dead

3 dead possums

1 squirrel

1 dead blob (undistinguishable)

No fearsome deer

1 dog

 

I guided myself today by a rather non-descript map put out by mountainhighlands.com

 

Leaving Dolly Sod on 32 puts me in Dry Fork and back on familiar 33 west to Elkins. I cruise around Elkins on the off chance I’ll run into a guy I know named Dallas. Now all you need to know about Dallas is the following:

 

I don’t know his last name

I once gave him a hair cut with dog grooming clippers

I know he works at a bike shop making choppers

 

You figure the odds of me finding him, near zero.

 

If your curious it wasn’t the first time I cut hair, albeit the first time using dog shears. In Korea I cut in the latrine for $2 a cut or for a 6 pack. Everything was barter in the Army. We had a cook that would make you a great custom birthday cake for a case of beer or feed you food out of the back of the chow hall at 3am when you staggered in drunk from the ville for the promise of a future round to be bought. Korea stories could fill another journal.

 

Anyway, out of Elkins and south to Beverly. Scott, if your reading this you were on my mind as I went through town, never forgive, never forget.

 

So far I’ve only tried to write about the positive food experiences of the trip without throwing anyplace under the bus. C&J in Beverly however, served only barely functional burgers and the vanilla shake was of the worst chemical prefab variety. There are some things that I am stuck on, good vanilla ice cream is one. The others that I’m picky about are beer, whiskey, steak, cheese-steak, and coffee. It’s just so disappointing when something you usually enjoy turns out to be sub par.

 

After C&J it’s 250 east to 28, which heads back towards Seneca Rocks and Franklin. It’s a good haul through the Monongahela National Forest. A road of the scenic variety, with good twisties up the mountain and through the scenery. These type road have become quite a common occurrence here in WV. Back in Seneca Rocks and 33 east into Franklin. I never shoot Seneca Rocks, the light is never right, number one can tell you how I get about my light.

 

The Star’s restaurant is closed on Sunday, dagger, so I shower and head into Franklin by foot. About Franklin, WV. It’s a nice little town, quiet and sleepy. No bars other than the VFW that I could see. Everybody I’ve met and spoken too has be pleasant, friendly and conversational, both here in Franklin and elsewhere in WV. I’m sure there are a variety of characters much as anywhere, this is just my observation from the tourist level.

 

Following last night precedent I grab another vino from the Shell station. The Star being closed is a dilemma; I’m in need of a cork screw (having borrowed the restaurants the night before). I wander back down to the hotel, wine in hand, and past the hotel just a bit til I meet an old man sitting out front. I explain my situation, wine without access, and he says he’ll sell me a corkscrew. He goes in the house, shortly to return with the necessary implement in hand. I figure I have it for $3-4 or maybe rent it for a one time use for $1. That proves unnecessary however, he says just to take it, and keep it for any future need.

 

The sole booking for the hotel tonight, I’m like a wraith as I glide through the halls. On the front porch with my bottle of vino in hand. I have some cheap cigars I also picked up and there’s nothing to do but kick back and watch the sunset.

 

It’s been a great trip. Somewhat lonesome at times. The lack of someone to talk to surely let to the length of this journal. It was a trip to getaway, to reflect. There was no great revelation or anything, just time to get to know yourself. The road gives you time to think. I know who I am and I like being me. I know what’s missing.

 

I’m resolved to take more bike trips in the future. It’s definitely my preferred way to travel and vacation. Motorcycling is the way to go.

 

Tomorrow I have my route generally planned out, more scenic byways for a winding route home.

 

Miles today, 240.

 

Monday

 

Entry Seven

 

Just a short postscript. 20 miles east of Washington DC, on 66, the chain popped off the bike. It’s never easy.

           

(PLEASE WATCH THE ELIMINATION VIDEO FOR THEME 2 'WINTER WEAR' FIRST: www.youtube.com/watch?v=DFVTvBFAjcw)

 

Hello girls! Congratulations on making it into another week of the competition.

 

Because there is now only 10 of you, the competition is going to start getting more harder and much more challenging. It will really start to test your skills as a model. Remember, being a model isn't just about standing there looking pretty, you need to make a fashion something of its own!

 

Now, are you ready for your third theme?!

 

Well, its time to get down to the ugly bug ball as you girls will be posing as high-fashion creepy crawlies! This theme is to test you on how will you interpret a insect into a fashion style.

 

Each of you will be given a chosen insect in which you have to change into a fashion style. Remember, you don't have to be the insect yourself, you can make the fashion you pose in into the chosen insect.

 

~ Esmée xoxo

 

REQUIREMENTS:

~ MUST be a full body shot. I need to be able to see the full fashion you come up with!

~ MUST have the style of the insect you are given. Do not swap or change your insect. If you are really struggling, FM me.

~ REMEMBER, this is a FASHION shot. Not a fancy dress costume advertisement.

~ You can shoot your photo inside or outside. Its your choice!

 

HINTS:

~ If you like, you can put insects into your photo. For example, if you have Spider, you may want to but plastic spiders onto your outfit or background.

~ Don't go over-board. Remember to keep it HIGH FASHION.

 

Examples;

- 3.bp.blogspot.com/_PN9GixX-nfE/R78felhzwmI/AAAAAAAAADc/49...

- www.thefashionables.com/wp-content/uploads/2010/06/fashio...

- 4.bp.blogspot.com/_c1hhRYj9kUQ/TFFJN9rdWNI/AAAAAAAAAGo/HP...

- www.corridor40.com/wp-content/uploads/2011/02/ir1-535x400...

  

The Insect Models:

 

1. Sharidan - Beetle ~ www.flickr.com/photos/punkbratz/6609228815/in/contacts/

2. Maya - Spider ~ www.flickr.com/photos/48160182@N07/6650230541/in/contacts/

3. Emma - Dragonfly ~ www.flickr.com/photos/btyler96/6556516637/in/contacts/

4. Payton - Ladybird ~ www.flickr.com/photos/bntm/6562345029/in/photostream/

5. Kiki - Moth ~ www.flickr.com/photos/my_eddited_photos/6560425779/in/con...

6. Jenny - Caterpillar ~ www.flickr.com/photos/39167011@N05/6642063315/in/contacts/

7. Ariianna - Wasp & Bee ~ www.flickr.com/photos/47127787@N07/6554469311/in/photostr...

www.flickr.com/photos/47127787@N07/6554468913/in/photostr...

8. Piper - Butterfly ~ www.flickr.com/photos/59617170@N06/6642205573/in/photostr...

9. Tylula - Fly ~ www.flickr.com/photos/66850425@N04/6553891269/

10. Marium - Worm ~ www.flickr.com/photos/39922688@N04/6644779777/

 

Photo's are due: 5th January 2012 (Its a hard theme so I'll give you a longer amount of time)

 

If facing problems with the theme please FM me! c:

 

Danger - Cows in the road, hit the brakes quick on this one!!

   

Friday

Entry One

 

Flew out of work, the fleet flight of Friday before a holiday weekend. Everyone cracks a smile upon stepping out of the concrete and glass coffin of the corporate work week. The motorcycle is quickly gassed and loaded, I leave Washington DC at three-thirty, vowing not to check the time for the rest of the adventure. Adventure, the American adventure of the open road is what I seek. The road, my cameras, and escape.

 

Right turn off of 15th St. NW and I’m motoring past the Washington Monument and the White House. Harleys and clones are already lining the Mall for the annual Memorial remembrance that is Rolling Thunder. I’m soon over the bridge and on I-66 west. I plan on avoiding major highways when at all possible. Preferring scenic byways to drab highways. 66 is a necessary evil to flee the DC metro area as quickly as possible. At the start, 66 is a good quick run, for awhile anyway. Loads of Rolling Thunder riders are heading in 66 eastbound.

 

I keep the ubiquitous two fingers down to the side salute to fellow bikers out for extended stretches of time. In my experience, HD guys return the acknowledgement about 30-40% of the time. No big deal, some animosity exist though between different bike cultures. Motor-ism two-wheel stereotypes. However with the Rolling Thunder guys there is a noticeable increase in response, perhaps due to no longer just one biker acknowledging another, but a patriotic sharing of support and remembrance for those left behind, POW-MIA.

 

Traffic worsens further out 66 and I come up on a full HD dresser. Screaming Eagle back patch worked in with POW-MIA covers his vest and is topped by a “Run for the Wall” patch. I keep back a pace and we adopt the natural offset positioning of multiple riders.

 

After some 66 backup, stop-and-go, we strike up a staccato conversation in the pauses of the traffic flow. Where you been, where you going, see the rain coming? I tell him I’m headed out to the mountains, Skyline Drive and West Virginia. He says he’s just in from there recently, was in DC for Rolling Thunder for the day and will be coming back in on Sunday again. His license plate is obscured by luggage, so I’m unsure of his port of origin.

 

Later on we part ways and my thoughts turn. Of my parents friends only my step-dad was drafted for Vietnam. Luckily, for us, he only went as far as Ft. Hood, TX, and came back with some good stories about army life and venturing into Mexico (at least the ones he’s shared with me). I think about all the life he’s lived since then, all his experiences and joys. Thinking about what all those who didn’t return gave up, lost, when they didn’t come home. The loss felt by those who loved them, families that have a name on the Wall.

 

Rain is sprinkling before Manassas. Enough to cool you off but not enough to get you worried yet, at least for a bit. Whooooo. Then come the big drops. I head off the ramp to gear up with the rain paraphernalia under the gas station pavilion. Finally get it all on and get strapped back up and out pops the sun and the rain stops. Too funny. Now I have wet clothes on under the raingear. Rain gear now keeping the wind out that would dry me. I motor on as more rain is promised on the horizon.

 

This brings up a point about rain. People always ask, “What do you do when it rains and your on the motorcycle”. I reply simply, “I get wet”. Duh. Rain riding has never bothered me. On the straight highways it’s no big deal. Just give more cushion to the cars in front of you. Drive like grandma on the exit ramps.

 

My turning point is finally reached. Off of 66 west and onto 647, Crest Hill Rd. at The Plains, VA. Crest Hill Road is my first slice of motorcycle heaven to be had this weekend. I’m delighted to find that the squiggly line I traced out on the map when planning this trip has translated so well in reality. The road is still wet from the passing rain clouds, and I give a small rabbit and then a chipmunk a near death experience. My first of many animal crossings this weekend. The road is fantastic. A mixture of hilltop road and tree lined canopies that create forest tunnels. Speed limit is 45mph, 55-60 feels comfortable on most parts. Keeping an eye out for a hilltop barn to photograph that I’ve seen in my minds eye, lit by the sun breaking through the clouds and backed by the mountain vista. No luck on any of the barns actual placement to fit the mental picture I have framed.

 

Crest Hill Road and Fodderstack Rd is a long stretch. I take shots of a church and other buildings along Zachary Taylor Highway. Fodderstack gives more of the same as Crest Hill, just a narrower road. The asphalt is of my favorite variety, freshly laid. Washington, VA is a tiny town of historic bed and breakfasts. Local wineries appear to be an attraction here too. Right after Washington the rain returns while I’m in route to Sperryville. Then it really starts to come down, a full on summer thunderstorm. Visibility is down. Road and parking lots soon resemble rivers. Rain drops of the monster variety explode on the pavement, and you know it hurts when they hit you.

 

I quick soaking circuit of Sperryville confirms there are no local hotels. I duck into a barn shaped restaurant to wait it out. My drenched gear takes on bar stool and I occupy another. There’s a few flying pigs about. The bartender get me a hefeweizen, and recommends the angus burger. Locally raised and grass fed, we exchange jokes about my passing the burgers relatives on the way in.

 

Don’t freak about the beer. I have a one only rule when riding. It was followed by a meal (best burger of the weekend!), several coffees, and this bar top journal entry.

 

Somewhere along Crest Hill road I decided to keep the cell off for the weekend. In addition no tv, newspapers, internet, or e-mail sound like a good idea. Of course I now am studiously avoid eye contact with the two beautiful plasma’s above the bar.

 

Entry Two

 

Hazel River Inn, Culpepper, VA, has the coolest street side seating in town.

 

The downpour let up at the Shady Farms bar in Sperryville and due to the deficiency in local lodging I quiz the bartender for options. Over the other side of the mountain, the opposite side of Skyline Dr via 211 is Luray with lots of motels, but I want to save the mountain for the morning. The waitress suggest Culpepper, there being a Holiday Inn etc.

 

Stepping outside the sun has broke through the clouds again. Enough for some shots of Shady Farms Restaurant and a bridge. Heading down 522, the Sperryville Pike, I keep an eye out for photo ops to catch the next morning as I’ll be rerouting back through. Following the mantra of Dale Borgeson about tour riding in the US, I aim to avoid large chain establishments, whether they are restaurants or hotels, and explore the mom-and-pop local variety businesses. I have a dive-ish roadside motel in mind, Culpepper comes through with the Sleepy Hollow Hotel.

 

Before check in I ride through downtown historic Culpepper. It’s a cool place. The Shady Farm bartender had recommended the Culpepper Thai restaurant. I see it but don’t visit, still full from the meal earlier. Cameron Street Coffee looks like a great place, located in an old warehouse. Unfortunately their closed for the night.

 

Shower and changed, room 102 at the Sleepy Hollow Hotel. I hop back on the bike, refreshed and dry and ride through the warm night air back downtown. The coffee at the Hazel River Inn comes with a sweet fudge confection on the side. The peach and blackberry cobbler with vanilla sauce is divine.

 

The reconfigured plan for this getaway is to shed. Shed worries about the job, career, housing, and relationships. My motorcycle is therapeutic. It’s 600cc’s of Zoloft on two wheels. The road lifts my spirits. This wasn’t supposed to be a solo run, and there are stretches of road where I feel the emptiness behind me.

 

The cobbler is finished and I can hear the sound of a band doing their sound check. The banging of the drum requires investigation.

 

Entry Three

 

I found Brown Bag Special in the cellar pub of the same restaurant I was in. On my way to the door the noise of the sound check floated up the stairs and directed my feet downward. Brown Bag Special opened the set, appropriately enough, with “I drink alone”. The ol’ man, Big Money, would have loved it. Drink alone started off a Big Money Blues trifecta to include “The Breeze” and “Mustang Sally”. Then they made the mistake a lot of bands make that have a great lead guitar player. They let him sing. The lead guitarist karaoke sucked his way through a Tom Petty hit. He was so off key in his singing it made you appreciate the guitar solo’s all the more for the relief they provided. Thankfully the regular singer soon resumed his duties and the night went on. More good stuff from the band.

 

Freebird

Folsom Prison Blues

Cheap Sun Glasses

 

“can’t you see, can’t you see, what that woman, what she’s done to me”

 

Off to bed now at the Sleepy Hollow Hotel with the ghost and shades of dead hookers and overdoses past.

 

150 miles today.

  

Saturday

 

Entry Four

 

Morning breaks on the Sleepy Hollow Hotel, a hot shower and I’m back on the bike. A quick stop downtown to shoot the Hazel Inn, then it’s back on the Sperryville Pike. More stops to capture some sights seen yesterday. Mr. & Mrs. Pump. The open mouth caricatures are an accurate representation of the current gas cost and the pumps eating your wallet.

 

I keep telling my daughter that her first car, college car, will be a hybrid. She thinks they are ugly. The bike isn’t so bad, averaging around 40mpg. At about 180 miles on the tripometer I start to look for a refill, although I’ve pushed it to 211 miles before.

 

A quick left in Sperryville on 211 and up into the mountain, Blue Ridge Mountains and Skyline Drive. Heading up the mountain I get the first bite of the twisties I’ve been craving. The $10 fee at the gate to Skyline Drive is well worth the price. Great scenery and fantastic views. The only drawback is the 35mph speed limit that is well enforced by the park rangers.

 

I shoot some self-portraits at Pollock Knob overlook. They’re funny in that with all the scrambling and hurrying to be the camera timer, then trying to effect a relaxed pose. I’ve also broke out my old friend this trip, the Lubitel 166, a medium format, 120mm film, twin lens camera. I’m like Jay-Z with this camera, I have to get it in one take. There is no digital review after the click for instant gratification. As a fellow photographer it’s “Point, Push, and Pray”. I’ll be interested to see the results. Not that I’ve left digital behind. Carrying both cameras, I’m an analog/digital double threat.

 

After the self-portraits and some dead tree shots I’m about to pack back on the bike and leave when I meet the preacher and his wife. He offers to shoot me with my camera and I return the favor with theirs. Conversation flows and in a ‘small world’ moment it turns out that he works for same Hazel family that owns the restaurant I was at last night for his Monday thru Friday job. I get a friendly “God bless” and I’m heading south on Skyline Drive. I make several more stops and break out the cameras again at Big Meadow.

 

There is a gnarly dead tree in the middle of the meadow. It has burn damage at the base, either the result of some wild fire or perhaps a controlled burn done to maintain the field. I spot and shoot a few deer, they probably won’t turn out as they’re to far away for my lens on the D100. I shoot a bunch of shots of the tree with the D100 and then totally switch processes with the Lubitel. The picture setup with the Lubitel takes about a minute-and-a-half. Manual zoom, i.e., walking back and forth to get the framing I want. Light meter reading. Then dealing with the reversed optics of the look-down box camera. It is fun though, to switch it up, change the pace and the dynamics. Just one click though, hope I caught it.

 

It’s a long but enjoyable ride to the south end of Skyline Drive. Unless you really like slow cruising I would suggest picking which third of Skyline Drive you’d like include in your trip and leave the rest. I drop off the mountain and into Waynesboro. Finding Mad Anthony’s coffee shop for a late breakfast. I overhear that it’s around noon. The Italian Roast coffee is good, in fact, it would prove to be the best coffee of the trip.

 

One of the pleasures of traveling by motorcycle is that it’s an easy conversation starter. People ask you where your coming from, where you’re heading, ask about your bike, tell you’re about their bike or the one they wish they had. One of the peculiarities of these conversations is that if the person even remotely knows of anyone that has died on a motorcycle, they will be sure to share this fact along with details. These stories usually involve a deer, a car pulling out, or someone taking a corner to fast. The conversation goes something like this:

 

Stranger“nice bike”

You“thanks”

Stranger“my cousin Bob had a friend that hit a deer and died on his bike”

 

Short silence.

 

You“yeah, deer are dangerous, got to be careful”

 

I’m not exaggerating when I say I’ve held variations on this conversation many times. Luckily this isn’t the conversation I have with the owner of Mad Anthony’s. He’s a former sailboat instructor who now finds the same release and head clearing on his motorcycle that he used to get from his sailboat.

 

This brings to mind the same wave – don’t way dynamic that occurs between sail boaters and power boaters, very similar to the sportbike & HD crowd.

 

The proprietor is a coffee guru, we discuss roasting (my Italian roast was just roasted Wednesday this week). We talk about the good and the evil of Starbucks. We’re both in agreement that they over roast their regular coffee, but I think their foo foo drinks are tasty. He has in his shop both the Bodum press and the Bodum vacuum coffee pot that I got my mom for x-mas. A shameless plug here, the Bodum vacuum coffee pot makes the best home coffee ever. It’s also an entertaining crowd pleaser, no joke.

 

Leaving Waynesboro the plan was 340 northward to 33, then into Harrisonburg, VA (home of the Valley Mall and JMU). 340 proved to be boring so I jumped on 256, Port Republic Road, for a better ride to Harrisonburg. I don’t know if the coffee wore off or if I was just worn out. I pull over at Westover Park, pick out a spot of grass, and take a good nap in the sun.

 

I had my motorcycle bug handed down to me by my step-dad. My kindergarten year of school we moved right at the end of the school year. Rather than switch schools at this inopportune time my Dad stuck me on the back of his Honda and rode me to school and back again for the last month or two. Even earlier than that I have a great photo of me in 1973-4 sitting on his chopper with him. Me in a diaper and him with his long hippy hair. The wild side of the Reverend indeed.

 

Refreshed from my nap it’s back on 33 westbound. Heading out of the Shenandoah Valley and Rockingham County is more glorious twisty roads and the George Washington National Forest. GW is a beautiful tree canopy lined road with a river off to one side. Franklin, WV is the destination, a return to the Star Hotel.

 

I stayed at the Star a few years prior when they first re-opened the historic Star Hotel. The owner, Steve Miller, is a great guy, friendly and conversational. I told him I’d be back again, but it’s been a few more years than I thought. Late lunch at the Star is pesto grilled chicken on ciabatta bread with roasted red peppers. Not the type of fare one might associate with West Virginia, but people have misperceptions about everywhere. Steve promises a prime rib later at dinner tonight to die for.

 

So that there is no misunderstanding, in as much as the Sleepy Hollow Hotel was a dive, the Star Hotel is a dream.

 

Dump the gear in the room back on the bike for some roaming around. I head back to explore a river road I passed on the way in, Rock Gap. It’s a gravel affair and I follow it back a little ways. Photo some river shots. Down further there is a large cliff face with some college aged kids de-gearing after a day of climbing. I’ll try to stop back in tomorrow and shoot some climbing action, as well as some fly fishing.

 

I pick up a bottle of Barefoot Wine, Cabernet Sauvignon, and drop it off with Steve at the Star to keep for later. I’ll enjoy that bottle later tonight from the 3rd floor front porch. South out of town I head, into some very secondary roads. I shoot an old decrepit cabin that would be right up Bobby Sargent’s alley. I put it in the metal folder for a possible future model shoot location, along with the river spots I’ve seen.

 

There are a couple more stops on this little ride. Once for what appears to be a feral chicken, and then for middle of the road stare down with a young doe. She’s camera shy though and is off before I can get a shot. Sportbike probably isn’t the best conveyance for nature photography. The pavement stops and gravel begins, I motor on. Rick & I once spent a full day just about on gravel roads, crisscrossing the back country around Cumberland, MD. So I’m comfortable with the less than ideal riding surface. A few miles on the road dead ends at a pair of chicken houses (source of the feral chicken’s ancestors perhaps?) and I turn around and survey the valley I’ve just ridden through. I have to stop the bike and soak in the scene. A picturesque farm is nestled in the corner of the valley, up against the hills. I meet some inquisitive cows, along with the farmer and his wife.

 

It seems that when you are in WV and you pass a sign that says “snow removal ends here” that the already suspect road conditions are going to quickly deteriorate and will soon resemble somewhat more of a logging road. I motor on through some back country, no houses, no farms, just mountains, steep roadside cliffs, and wicked gravel switchback curves. The part that gives you the willies are the downhill corners where the road grade is slanted to the outside of the curve and to the drop below. Yikes!

 

I creep along where a four wheeler would be much more functional. Although I still hit it a bit in the straights. Pavement arrives again and I’m unsure of my exact location. I follow the chicken farmers directions and soon discover myself back in Brandywine, intersecting the same stretch of 33 I rode on my way into Franklin.

 

Back at the Star Hotel it’s a shower and fresh clothes before heading down for dinner. Downstairs I find the prime rib to be as good as promised.

 

Entry Five

 

How beautifully staged is this. Barefoot on the 3rd floor patio, wine to ease the back and the ache in the knee.

 

205 miles today, the last 30 after check in, just to explore.

  

Sunday

 

Entry Six

 

Out early in the morning. I find no climbers at Rock Gap, unsure of the hours they keep. Out of Franklin on 33 west, looking for another squiggly line I had seen on a map. Bland Hill Road name is a misnomer. A single lane country road winding through German Valley. I got a few shots of German Valley from the 33 overlook before turning on Bland Hill. Now I find myself in the same location I had shot from above.

 

The road cuts through some open pasture land and I meet some cows standing in the road after rounding one bend. They’re pleasant enough, if in no particular hurry to cross, and don’t mind posing for a shot or two before meandering on. People talk about the danger of hitting a deer, a cow would really ruin your day! Off of Bland Hill and on down into the valley. I come up on the rock formation I had seen from the overlook previously. It’s not Seneca Rocks, but a formation of the same ilk. I get some more photos, then onto German Valley Road. I’m still staying at the Star, there is no real destination today. It’s relaxing to stop as much as I like.

 

German Valley Road puts me back on 33 west and not long after I’m ordering breakfast at the Valley View Restaurant. Dale Borgeson warns of places that advertise home cooking, but that’s about all you see in these parts. There are a fair number of cars here and that’s usually a good since the food will be alright. Hell, even the Army could make a good breakfast. It all works out and it’s a hell of a deal, $4 for toast, two eggs, hash browns, bacon, and coffee.

 

From 33 I hit 28 and turn off on Smoke Hole Road, just because it’s there and looks interesting. Boy, what a find it is. Combining the curvy one lane country road with nice wide smooth pavement (gravel free in the corners). It’s great. Smoke Hole Road turns out to run from 28 across the Seneca Rocks National Forest to 220 on the other side. Going west-to-east it starts out all curves and hills, then ends by winding along the south branch of the Potomac. There are lots of fly fishermen here enjoying the catch-and-release section of the river.

 

Up 220 to Petersburg, I run into some Ducati guys at the gas station. We swap riding info and I’m soon on 42 north towards Mayville. Hanging a left when I see a sign for Dolly Sods. I’m back on secondary roads and I soon pass another prophetic ‘no snow removal’ signs. It’s gravel the rest of the way up the mountain til it breaks out on top at Dolly Sod.

 

I’m real happy with today’s roads, as both Smoke Hole Road and Dolly Sods were unplanned ‘discovered adventures’. I do some rock scrabbling at Dolly Sod and enjoy the cliff top views. A fellow tourist snaps a shot for me an I hike out well past the distance that the casual tourist and families go. Shot some more shots of the rock formations with both the digital and film camera. Do some more self-portraits. I then sit down to relax in the sun with the cliff side breeze steadily blowing and update this journal.

  

Entry Seven

 

Well, fellow traveler, if you’ve made it this far I am duly impressed. I thank you for your perseverance. The rest of the day was spent riding without incident. Just more fantastic roads. You don’t have to be an explore on par with Lewis & Clark to find great rides in West Virginia. Just be curious in nature and unafraid to leave the beaten path. Drop off the numbered roads and take the route less traveled. Soon you’ll be in your own undiscovered country. Blah blah blah.

 

Out of Dolly Sod and I find myself on 32. Rough calculations put the dirt road travel around 25 miles for the day. While we are on stats, here’s today’s animal road count:

 

1 rooster

1 dead fox

2 cows

8 chipmunks

7 alive

1 dead

3 dead possums

1 squirrel

1 dead blob (undistinguishable)

No fearsome deer

1 dog

 

I guided myself today by a rather non-descript map put out by mountainhighlands.com

 

Leaving Dolly Sod on 32 puts me in Dry Fork and back on familiar 33 west to Elkins. I cruise around Elkins on the off chance I’ll run into a guy I know named Dallas. Now all you need to know about Dallas is the following:

 

I don’t know his last name

I once gave him a hair cut with dog grooming clippers

I know he works at a bike shop making choppers

 

You figure the odds of me finding him, near zero.

 

If your curious it wasn’t the first time I cut hair, albeit the first time using dog shears. In Korea I cut in the latrine for $2 a cut or for a 6 pack. Everything was barter in the Army. We had a cook that would make you a great custom birthday cake for a case of beer or feed you food out of the back of the chow hall at 3am when you staggered in drunk from the ville for the promise of a future round to be bought. Korea stories could fill another journal.

 

Anyway, out of Elkins and south to Beverly. Scott, if your reading this you were on my mind as I went through town, never forgive, never forget.

 

So far I’ve only tried to write about the positive food experiences of the trip without throwing anyplace under the bus. C&J in Beverly however, served only barely functional burgers and the vanilla shake was of the worst chemical prefab variety. There are some things that I am stuck on, good vanilla ice cream is one. The others that I’m picky about are beer, whiskey, steak, cheese-steak, and coffee. It’s just so disappointing when something you usually enjoy turns out to be sub par.

 

After C&J it’s 250 east to 28, which heads back towards Seneca Rocks and Franklin. It’s a good haul through the Monongahela National Forest. A road of the scenic variety, with good twisties up the mountain and through the scenery. These type road have become quite a common occurrence here in WV. Back in Seneca Rocks and 33 east into Franklin. I never shoot Seneca Rocks, the light is never right, number one can tell you how I get about my light.

 

The Star’s restaurant is closed on Sunday, dagger, so I shower and head into Franklin by foot. About Franklin, WV. It’s a nice little town, quiet and sleepy. No bars other than the VFW that I could see. Everybody I’ve met and spoken too has be pleasant, friendly and conversational, both here in Franklin and elsewhere in WV. I’m sure there are a variety of characters much as anywhere, this is just my observation from the tourist level.

 

Following last night precedent I grab another vino from the Shell station. The Star being closed is a dilemma; I’m in need of a cork screw (having borrowed the restaurants the night before). I wander back down to the hotel, wine in hand, and past the hotel just a bit til I meet an old man sitting out front. I explain my situation, wine without access, and he says he’ll sell me a corkscrew. He goes in the house, shortly to return with the necessary implement in hand. I figure I have it for $3-4 or maybe rent it for a one time use for $1. That proves unnecessary however, he says just to take it, and keep it for any future need.

 

The sole booking for the hotel tonight, I’m like a wraith as I glide through the halls. On the front porch with my bottle of vino in hand. I have some cheap cigars I also picked up and there’s nothing to do but kick back and watch the sunset.

 

It’s been a great trip. Somewhat lonesome at times. The lack of someone to talk to surely let to the length of this journal. It was a trip to getaway, to reflect. There was no great revelation or anything, just time to get to know yourself. The road gives you time to think. I know who I am and I like being me. I know what’s missing.

 

I’m resolved to take more bike trips in the future. It’s definitely my preferred way to travel and vacation. Motorcycling is the way to go.

 

Tomorrow I have my route generally planned out, more scenic byways for a winding route home.

 

Miles today, 240.

 

Monday

 

Entry Seven

 

Just a short postscript. 20 miles east of Washington DC, on 66, the chain popped off the bike. It’s never easy.

           

Friday

Entry One

 

Flew out of work, the fleet flight of Friday before a holiday weekend. Everyone cracks a smile upon stepping out of the concrete and glass coffin of the corporate work week. The motorcycle is quickly gassed and loaded, I leave Washington DC at three-thirty, vowing not to check the time for the rest of the adventure. Adventure, the American adventure of the open road is what I seek. The road, my cameras, and escape.

 

Right turn off of 15th St. NW and I’m motoring past the Washington Monument and the White House. Harleys and clones are already lining the Mall for the annual Memorial remembrance that is Rolling Thunder. I’m soon over the bridge and on I-66 west. I plan on avoiding major highways when at all possible. Preferring scenic byways to drab highways. 66 is a necessary evil to flee the DC metro area as quickly as possible. At the start, 66 is a good quick run, for awhile anyway. Loads of Rolling Thunder riders are heading in 66 eastbound.

 

I keep the ubiquitous two fingers down to the side salute to fellow bikers out for extended stretches of time. In my experience, HD guys return the acknowledgement about 30-40% of the time. No big deal, some animosity exist though between different bike cultures. Motor-ism two-wheel stereotypes. However with the Rolling Thunder guys there is a noticeable increase in response, perhaps due to no longer just one biker acknowledging another, but a patriotic sharing of support and remembrance for those left behind, POW-MIA.

 

Traffic worsens further out 66 and I come up on a full HD dresser. Screaming Eagle back patch worked in with POW-MIA covers his vest and is topped by a “Run for the Wall” patch. I keep back a pace and we adopt the natural offset positioning of multiple riders.

 

After some 66 backup, stop-and-go, we strike up a staccato conversation in the pauses of the traffic flow. Where you been, where you going, see the rain coming? I tell him I’m headed out to the mountains, Skyline Drive and West Virginia. He says he’s just in from there recently, was in DC for Rolling Thunder for the day and will be coming back in on Sunday again. His license plate is obscured by luggage, so I’m unsure of his port of origin.

 

Later on we part ways and my thoughts turn. Of my parents friends only my step-dad was drafted for Vietnam. Luckily, for us, he only went as far as Ft. Hood, TX, and came back with some good stories about army life and venturing into Mexico (at least the ones he’s shared with me). I think about all the life he’s lived since then, all his experiences and joys. Thinking about what all those who didn’t return gave up, lost, when they didn’t come home. The loss felt by those who loved them, families that have a name on the Wall.

 

Rain is sprinkling before Manassas. Enough to cool you off but not enough to get you worried yet, at least for a bit. Whooooo. Then come the big drops. I head off the ramp to gear up with the rain paraphernalia under the gas station pavilion. Finally get it all on and get strapped back up and out pops the sun and the rain stops. Too funny. Now I have wet clothes on under the raingear. Rain gear now keeping the wind out that would dry me. I motor on as more rain is promised on the horizon.

 

This brings up a point about rain. People always ask, “What do you do when it rains and your on the motorcycle”. I reply simply, “I get wet”. Duh. Rain riding has never bothered me. On the straight highways it’s no big deal. Just give more cushion to the cars in front of you. Drive like grandma on the exit ramps.

 

My turning point is finally reached. Off of 66 west and onto 647, Crest Hill Rd. at The Plains, VA. Crest Hill Road is my first slice of motorcycle heaven to be had this weekend. I’m delighted to find that the squiggly line I traced out on the map when planning this trip has translated so well in reality. The road is still wet from the passing rain clouds, and I give a small rabbit and then a chipmunk a near death experience. My first of many animal crossings this weekend. The road is fantastic. A mixture of hilltop road and tree lined canopies that create forest tunnels. Speed limit is 45mph, 55-60 feels comfortable on most parts. Keeping an eye out for a hilltop barn to photograph that I’ve seen in my minds eye, lit by the sun breaking through the clouds and backed by the mountain vista. No luck on any of the barns actual placement to fit the mental picture I have framed.

 

Crest Hill Road and Fodderstack Rd is a long stretch. I take shots of a church and other buildings along Zachary Taylor Highway. Fodderstack gives more of the same as Crest Hill, just a narrower road. The asphalt is of my favorite variety, freshly laid. Washington, VA is a tiny town of historic bed and breakfasts. Local wineries appear to be an attraction here too. Right after Washington the rain returns while I’m in route to Sperryville. Then it really starts to come down, a full on summer thunderstorm. Visibility is down. Road and parking lots soon resemble rivers. Rain drops of the monster variety explode on the pavement, and you know it hurts when they hit you.

 

I quick soaking circuit of Sperryville confirms there are no local hotels. I duck into a barn shaped restaurant to wait it out. My drenched gear takes on bar stool and I occupy another. There’s a few flying pigs about. The bartender get me a hefeweizen, and recommends the angus burger. Locally raised and grass fed, we exchange jokes about my passing the burgers relatives on the way in.

 

Don’t freak about the beer. I have a one only rule when riding. It was followed by a meal (best burger of the weekend!), several coffees, and this bar top journal entry.

 

Somewhere along Crest Hill road I decided to keep the cell off for the weekend. In addition no tv, newspapers, internet, or e-mail sound like a good idea. Of course I now am studiously avoid eye contact with the two beautiful plasma’s above the bar.

 

Entry Two

 

Hazel River Inn, Culpepper, VA, has the coolest street side seating in town.

 

The downpour let up at the Shady Farms bar in Sperryville and due to the deficiency in local lodging I quiz the bartender for options. Over the other side of the mountain, the opposite side of Skyline Dr via 211 is Luray with lots of motels, but I want to save the mountain for the morning. The waitress suggest Culpepper, there being a Holiday Inn etc.

 

Stepping outside the sun has broke through the clouds again. Enough for some shots of Shady Farms Restaurant and a bridge. Heading down 522, the Sperryville Pike, I keep an eye out for photo ops to catch the next morning as I’ll be rerouting back through. Following the mantra of Dale Borgeson about tour riding in the US, I aim to avoid large chain establishments, whether they are restaurants or hotels, and explore the mom-and-pop local variety businesses. I have a dive-ish roadside motel in mind, Culpepper comes through with the Sleepy Hollow Hotel.

 

Before check in I ride through downtown historic Culpepper. It’s a cool place. The Shady Farm bartender had recommended the Culpepper Thai restaurant. I see it but don’t visit, still full from the meal earlier. Cameron Street Coffee looks like a great place, located in an old warehouse. Unfortunately their closed for the night.

 

Shower and changed, room 102 at the Sleepy Hollow Hotel. I hop back on the bike, refreshed and dry and ride through the warm night air back downtown. The coffee at the Hazel River Inn comes with a sweet fudge confection on the side. The peach and blackberry cobbler with vanilla sauce is divine.

 

The reconfigured plan for this getaway is to shed. Shed worries about the job, career, housing, and relationships. My motorcycle is therapeutic. It’s 600cc’s of Zoloft on two wheels. The road lifts my spirits. This wasn’t supposed to be a solo run, and there are stretches of road where I feel the emptiness behind me.

 

The cobbler is finished and I can hear the sound of a band doing their sound check. The banging of the drum requires investigation.

 

Entry Three

 

I found Brown Bag Special in the cellar pub of the same restaurant I was in. On my way to the door the noise of the sound check floated up the stairs and directed my feet downward. Brown Bag Special opened the set, appropriately enough, with “I drink alone”. The ol’ man, Big Money, would have loved it. Drink alone started off a Big Money Blues trifecta to include “The Breeze” and “Mustang Sally”. Then they made the mistake a lot of bands make that have a great lead guitar player. They let him sing. The lead guitarist karaoke sucked his way through a Tom Petty hit. He was so off key in his singing it made you appreciate the guitar solo’s all the more for the relief they provided. Thankfully the regular singer soon resumed his duties and the night went on. More good stuff from the band.

 

Freebird

Folsom Prison Blues

Cheap Sun Glasses

 

“can’t you see, can’t you see, what that woman, what she’s done to me”

 

Off to bed now at the Sleepy Hollow Hotel with the ghost and shades of dead hookers and overdoses past.

 

150 miles today.

  

Saturday

 

Entry Four

 

Morning breaks on the Sleepy Hollow Hotel, a hot shower and I’m back on the bike. A quick stop downtown to shoot the Hazel Inn, then it’s back on the Sperryville Pike. More stops to capture some sights seen yesterday. Mr. & Mrs. Pump. The open mouth caricatures are an accurate representation of the current gas cost and the pumps eating your wallet.

 

I keep telling my daughter that her first car, college car, will be a hybrid. She thinks they are ugly. The bike isn’t so bad, averaging around 40mpg. At about 180 miles on the tripometer I start to look for a refill, although I’ve pushed it to 211 miles before.

 

A quick left in Sperryville on 211 and up into the mountain, Blue Ridge Mountains and Skyline Drive. Heading up the mountain I get the first bite of the twisties I’ve been craving. The $10 fee at the gate to Skyline Drive is well worth the price. Great scenery and fantastic views. The only drawback is the 35mph speed limit that is well enforced by the park rangers.

 

I shoot some self-portraits at Pollock Knob overlook. They’re funny in that with all the scrambling and hurrying to be the camera timer, then trying to effect a relaxed pose. I’ve also broke out my old friend this trip, the Lubitel 166, a medium format, 120mm film, twin lens camera. I’m like Jay-Z with this camera, I have to get it in one take. There is no digital review after the click for instant gratification. As a fellow photographer it’s “Point, Push, and Pray”. I’ll be interested to see the results. Not that I’ve left digital behind. Carrying both cameras, I’m an analog/digital double threat.

 

After the self-portraits and some dead tree shots I’m about to pack back on the bike and leave when I meet the preacher and his wife. He offers to shoot me with my camera and I return the favor with theirs. Conversation flows and in a ‘small world’ moment it turns out that he works for same Hazel family that owns the restaurant I was at last night for his Monday thru Friday job. I get a friendly “God bless” and I’m heading south on Skyline Drive. I make several more stops and break out the cameras again at Big Meadow.

 

There is a gnarly dead tree in the middle of the meadow. It has burn damage at the base, either the result of some wild fire or perhaps a controlled burn done to maintain the field. I spot and shoot a few deer, they probably won’t turn out as they’re to far away for my lens on the D100. I shoot a bunch of shots of the tree with the D100 and then totally switch processes with the Lubitel. The picture setup with the Lubitel takes about a minute-and-a-half. Manual zoom, i.e., walking back and forth to get the framing I want. Light meter reading. Then dealing with the reversed optics of the look-down box camera. It is fun though, to switch it up, change the pace and the dynamics. Just one click though, hope I caught it.

 

It’s a long but enjoyable ride to the south end of Skyline Drive. Unless you really like slow cruising I would suggest picking which third of Skyline Drive you’d like include in your trip and leave the rest. I drop off the mountain and into Waynesboro. Finding Mad Anthony’s coffee shop for a late breakfast. I overhear that it’s around noon. The Italian Roast coffee is good, in fact, it would prove to be the best coffee of the trip.

 

One of the pleasures of traveling by motorcycle is that it’s an easy conversation starter. People ask you where your coming from, where you’re heading, ask about your bike, tell you’re about their bike or the one they wish they had. One of the peculiarities of these conversations is that if the person even remotely knows of anyone that has died on a motorcycle, they will be sure to share this fact along with details. These stories usually involve a deer, a car pulling out, or someone taking a corner to fast. The conversation goes something like this:

 

Stranger“nice bike”

You“thanks”

Stranger“my cousin Bob had a friend that hit a deer and died on his bike”

 

Short silence.

 

You“yeah, deer are dangerous, got to be careful”

 

I’m not exaggerating when I say I’ve held variations on this conversation many times. Luckily this isn’t the conversation I have with the owner of Mad Anthony’s. He’s a former sailboat instructor who now finds the same release and head clearing on his motorcycle that he used to get from his sailboat.

 

This brings to mind the same wave – don’t way dynamic that occurs between sail boaters and power boaters, very similar to the sportbike & HD crowd.

 

The proprietor is a coffee guru, we discuss roasting (my Italian roast was just roasted Wednesday this week). We talk about the good and the evil of Starbucks. We’re both in agreement that they over roast their regular coffee, but I think their foo foo drinks are tasty. He has in his shop both the Bodum press and the Bodum vacuum coffee pot that I got my mom for x-mas. A shameless plug here, the Bodum vacuum coffee pot makes the best home coffee ever. It’s also an entertaining crowd pleaser, no joke.

 

Leaving Waynesboro the plan was 340 northward to 33, then into Harrisonburg, VA (home of the Valley Mall and JMU). 340 proved to be boring so I jumped on 256, Port Republic Road, for a better ride to Harrisonburg. I don’t know if the coffee wore off or if I was just worn out. I pull over at Westover Park, pick out a spot of grass, and take a good nap in the sun.

 

I had my motorcycle bug handed down to me by my step-dad. My kindergarten year of school we moved right at the end of the school year. Rather than switch schools at this inopportune time my Dad stuck me on the back of his Honda and rode me to school and back again for the last month or two. Even earlier than that I have a great photo of me in 1973-4 sitting on his chopper with him. Me in a diaper and him with his long hippy hair. The wild side of the Reverend indeed.

 

Refreshed from my nap it’s back on 33 westbound. Heading out of the Shenandoah Valley and Rockingham County is more glorious twisty roads and the George Washington National Forest. GW is a beautiful tree canopy lined road with a river off to one side. Franklin, WV is the destination, a return to the Star Hotel.

 

I stayed at the Star a few years prior when they first re-opened the historic Star Hotel. The owner, Steve Miller, is a great guy, friendly and conversational. I told him I’d be back again, but it’s been a few more years than I thought. Late lunch at the Star is pesto grilled chicken on ciabatta bread with roasted red peppers. Not the type of fare one might associate with West Virginia, but people have misperceptions about everywhere. Steve promises a prime rib later at dinner tonight to die for.

 

So that there is no misunderstanding, in as much as the Sleepy Hollow Hotel was a dive, the Star Hotel is a dream.

 

Dump the gear in the room back on the bike for some roaming around. I head back to explore a river road I passed on the way in, Rock Gap. It’s a gravel affair and I follow it back a little ways. Photo some river shots. Down further there is a large cliff face with some college aged kids de-gearing after a day of climbing. I’ll try to stop back in tomorrow and shoot some climbing action, as well as some fly fishing.

 

I pick up a bottle of Barefoot Wine, Cabernet Sauvignon, and drop it off with Steve at the Star to keep for later. I’ll enjoy that bottle later tonight from the 3rd floor front porch. South out of town I head, into some very secondary roads. I shoot an old decrepit cabin that would be right up Bobby Sargent’s alley. I put it in the metal folder for a possible future model shoot location, along with the river spots I’ve seen.

 

There are a couple more stops on this little ride. Once for what appears to be a feral chicken, and then for middle of the road stare down with a young doe. She’s camera shy though and is off before I can get a shot. Sportbike probably isn’t the best conveyance for nature photography. The pavement stops and gravel begins, I motor on. Rick & I once spent a full day just about on gravel roads, crisscrossing the back country around Cumberland, MD. So I’m comfortable with the less than ideal riding surface. A few miles on the road dead ends at a pair of chicken houses (source of the feral chicken’s ancestors perhaps?) and I turn around and survey the valley I’ve just ridden through. I have to stop the bike and soak in the scene. A picturesque farm is nestled in the corner of the valley, up against the hills. I meet some inquisitive cows, along with the farmer and his wife.

 

It seems that when you are in WV and you pass a sign that says “snow removal ends here” that the already suspect road conditions are going to quickly deteriorate and will soon resemble somewhat more of a logging road. I motor on through some back country, no houses, no farms, just mountains, steep roadside cliffs, and wicked gravel switchback curves. The part that gives you the willies are the downhill corners where the road grade is slanted to the outside of the curve and to the drop below. Yikes!

 

I creep along where a four wheeler would be much more functional. Although I still hit it a bit in the straights. Pavement arrives again and I’m unsure of my exact location. I follow the chicken farmers directions and soon discover myself back in Brandywine, intersecting the same stretch of 33 I rode on my way into Franklin.

 

Back at the Star Hotel it’s a shower and fresh clothes before heading down for dinner. Downstairs I find the prime rib to be as good as promised.

 

Entry Five

 

How beautifully staged is this. Barefoot on the 3rd floor patio, wine to ease the back and the ache in the knee.

 

205 miles today, the last 30 after check in, just to explore.

  

Sunday

 

Entry Six

 

Out early in the morning. I find no climbers at Rock Gap, unsure of the hours they keep. Out of Franklin on 33 west, looking for another squiggly line I had seen on a map. Bland Hill Road name is a misnomer. A single lane country road winding through German Valley. I got a few shots of German Valley from the 33 overlook before turning on Bland Hill. Now I find myself in the same location I had shot from above.

 

The road cuts through some open pasture land and I meet some cows standing in the road after rounding one bend. They’re pleasant enough, if in no particular hurry to cross, and don’t mind posing for a shot or two before meandering on. People talk about the danger of hitting a deer, a cow would really ruin your day! Off of Bland Hill and on down into the valley. I come up on the rock formation I had seen from the overlook previously. It’s not Seneca Rocks, but a formation of the same ilk. I get some more photos, then onto German Valley Road. I’m still staying at the Star, there is no real destination today. It’s relaxing to stop as much as I like.

 

German Valley Road puts me back on 33 west and not long after I’m ordering breakfast at the Valley View Restaurant. Dale Borgeson warns of places that advertise home cooking, but that’s about all you see in these parts. There are a fair number of cars here and that’s usually a good since the food will be alright. Hell, even the Army could make a good breakfast. It all works out and it’s a hell of a deal, $4 for toast, two eggs, hash browns, bacon, and coffee.

 

From 33 I hit 28 and turn off on Smoke Hole Road, just because it’s there and looks interesting. Boy, what a find it is. Combining the curvy one lane country road with nice wide smooth pavement (gravel free in the corners). It’s great. Smoke Hole Road turns out to run from 28 across the Seneca Rocks National Forest to 220 on the other side. Going west-to-east it starts out all curves and hills, then ends by winding along the south branch of the Potomac. There are lots of fly fishermen here enjoying the catch-and-release section of the river.

 

Up 220 to Petersburg, I run into some Ducati guys at the gas station. We swap riding info and I’m soon on 42 north towards Mayville. Hanging a left when I see a sign for Dolly Sods. I’m back on secondary roads and I soon pass another prophetic ‘no snow removal’ signs. It’s gravel the rest of the way up the mountain til it breaks out on top at Dolly Sod.

 

I’m real happy with today’s roads, as both Smoke Hole Road and Dolly Sods were unplanned ‘discovered adventures’. I do some rock scrabbling at Dolly Sod and enjoy the cliff top views. A fellow tourist snaps a shot for me an I hike out well past the distance that the casual tourist and families go. Shot some more shots of the rock formations with both the digital and film camera. Do some more self-portraits. I then sit down to relax in the sun with the cliff side breeze steadily blowing and update this journal.

  

Entry Seven

 

Well, fellow traveler, if you’ve made it this far I am duly impressed. I thank you for your perseverance. The rest of the day was spent riding without incident. Just more fantastic roads. You don’t have to be an explore on par with Lewis & Clark to find great rides in West Virginia. Just be curious in nature and unafraid to leave the beaten path. Drop off the numbered roads and take the route less traveled. Soon you’ll be in your own undiscovered country. Blah blah blah.

 

Out of Dolly Sod and I find myself on 32. Rough calculations put the dirt road travel around 25 miles for the day. While we are on stats, here’s today’s animal road count:

 

1 rooster

1 dead fox

2 cows

8 chipmunks

7 alive

1 dead

3 dead possums

1 squirrel

1 dead blob (undistinguishable)

No fearsome deer

1 dog

 

I guided myself today by a rather non-descript map put out by mountainhighlands.com

 

Leaving Dolly Sod on 32 puts me in Dry Fork and back on familiar 33 west to Elkins. I cruise around Elkins on the off chance I’ll run into a guy I know named Dallas. Now all you need to know about Dallas is the following:

 

I don’t know his last name

I once gave him a hair cut with dog grooming clippers

I know he works at a bike shop making choppers

 

You figure the odds of me finding him, near zero.

 

If your curious it wasn’t the first time I cut hair, albeit the first time using dog shears. In Korea I cut in the latrine for $2 a cut or for a 6 pack. Everything was barter in the Army. We had a cook that would make you a great custom birthday cake for a case of beer or feed you food out of the back of the chow hall at 3am when you staggered in drunk from the ville for the promise of a future round to be bought. Korea stories could fill another journal.

 

Anyway, out of Elkins and south to Beverly. Scott, if your reading this you were on my mind as I went through town, never forgive, never forget.

 

So far I’ve only tried to write about the positive food experiences of the trip without throwing anyplace under the bus. C&J in Beverly however, served only barely functional burgers and the vanilla shake was of the worst chemical prefab variety. There are some things that I am stuck on, good vanilla ice cream is one. The others that I’m picky about are beer, whiskey, steak, cheese-steak, and coffee. It’s just so disappointing when something you usually enjoy turns out to be sub par.

 

After C&J it’s 250 east to 28, which heads back towards Seneca Rocks and Franklin. It’s a good haul through the Monongahela National Forest. A road of the scenic variety, with good twisties up the mountain and through the scenery. These type road have become quite a common occurrence here in WV. Back in Seneca Rocks and 33 east into Franklin. I never shoot Seneca Rocks, the light is never right, number one can tell you how I get about my light.

 

The Star’s restaurant is closed on Sunday, dagger, so I shower and head into Franklin by foot. About Franklin, WV. It’s a nice little town, quiet and sleepy. No bars other than the VFW that I could see. Everybody I’ve met and spoken too has be pleasant, friendly and conversational, both here in Franklin and elsewhere in WV. I’m sure there are a variety of characters much as anywhere, this is just my observation from the tourist level.

 

Following last night precedent I grab another vino from the Shell station. The Star being closed is a dilemma; I’m in need of a cork screw (having borrowed the restaurants the night before). I wander back down to the hotel, wine in hand, and past the hotel just a bit til I meet an old man sitting out front. I explain my situation, wine without access, and he says he’ll sell me a corkscrew. He goes in the house, shortly to return with the necessary implement in hand. I figure I have it for $3-4 or maybe rent it for a one time use for $1. That proves unnecessary however, he says just to take it, and keep it for any future need.

 

The sole booking for the hotel tonight, I’m like a wraith as I glide through the halls. On the front porch with my bottle of vino in hand. I have some cheap cigars I also picked up and there’s nothing to do but kick back and watch the sunset.

 

It’s been a great trip. Somewhat lonesome at times. The lack of someone to talk to surely let to the length of this journal. It was a trip to getaway, to reflect. There was no great revelation or anything, just time to get to know yourself. The road gives you time to think. I know who I am and I like being me. I know what’s missing.

 

I’m resolved to take more bike trips in the future. It’s definitely my preferred way to travel and vacation. Motorcycling is the way to go.

 

Tomorrow I have my route generally planned out, more scenic byways for a winding route home.

 

Miles today, 240.

 

Monday

 

Entry Seven

 

Just a short postscript. 20 miles east of Washington DC, on 66, the chain popped off the bike. It’s never easy.

           

This is my pouch for the dumpling pouch swap organized by Rockislander.

Let me tell you how this shot works.

 

This image would not exist without my friend Scott being a faithful and willing assistant. We go for these shots and we think them of in our heads.

But getting that shot is usually much harder than we saw in our minds eye. Anyone reading this who works at the HDR craft knows what I'm talking about. This one is a special place.

 

There's this fantastic semi submerged cave in Black Canyon below the Hoover Dam known as The Emerald Cave. It's very pretty and you can see it from the river,

Google it. .

There are many pictures of it online, all of them shot from Kayak's or Canoes floating inside of it. All of them single frame images as well.

 

About a year ago after the Cabo insanity I began thinking about this cave and how to shoot proper multi frame HDR inside of it.

More of my 'Extreme Amphibious Landscape' "EAL"series.

 

But how to get this shot?

EAL.

 

The emerald water was calling to me...

Here's what I came up with in my head:

1. First I'd paddle into the cave in a Canoe or Kayak and set the tripod and camera up somehow affixed to the cave wall. I intended to use climbing gear for this purpose or find a ledge, but it had to be secure.

2. Next I'd leave the gear, paddle back out of the cave, secure the boat around the corner, and wearing a wetsuit and fins, jump into the cold water and swim back around the corner into the cave and catch the shot, with no boats or people in the foreground. (brilliant huh? yeah, I know, he he he).

3. Then I'd swim back out, get the boat, go back inside the cave and retrieve my gear..

Hey, it could work, dunno?

 

Several friends who know what I do (crazy stuff) have been bugging me for a couple years now to go see this location.

 

Finally my buddy Scott took me into Black Canyon the other day in his little 'Jet Mate' boat which barely seats two people and some gear but goes like a bat our of hell.

We saw the cave early in the day and it was full of kayaks and people, it can hold about 5 double kayaks, it's a big space and now with the river running high it's also about 10 feet deep, so there's nowhere to stand in the water and catch sets. Later we came back by and gently pulled the Jet Mate inside the cave for a closer look.

 

Turns out there's a tiny little grotto/ledge right in the back of the cave, big enough for one person to barely fit onto it..So, once I got out of the boat onto this tiny ledge, I had Scott hand me the Carbon Fiber Tripod which I spent a minute or two splaying out and finding good purchase. Scott very gently handed my my Camera and L Glass Prime lens.

 

Then he left me there, alone..

 

As he gently backed the boat out and pulled away I had a brief moment of "The Creep": the feeling that I really didn't belong here but it quickly faded and I set to work. Hey I think I'm getting better at this..I was alone again and it got very quiet.

 

The only sound being the mighty Colorado River flowing softly past against the rocks just outside of the cave's entrance.

 

I had the wrong lens for the job on the body, "s**t" whoops, so when Scott came back 15 minutes later to check up on me we swapped out for the 14mm prime. He left me again on my tiny ledge and that's when I captured this image..I need to go back in here when the light is better but I just wanted to post this little test shot to show you guys what I've been up to, chasing the light.

 

Many of us take Landscapes from the side of the road, or even up on the ridge as do I.

This my friends is the "Next Level of S**t:" the NLS combined with EAL.

No one's getting this, not like I did. And if you try then getting it requires a willing assistant ready to do whatever it takes, even if THEY don't really understand what it is we're doing.

 

THANK YOU SCOTT. This image would not exist with your help.

Wait till you see this with the light 'just right'!

It WILL make your eyes bleed.

Hope you like it, love to all, C....

I'm willing to swap at least a fat quarter...

 

My Wish List:

 

Alexander Henry - Robots

Japanese prints

Munki Munki

HR Pink flowers

 

Friday

Entry One

 

Flew out of work, the fleet flight of Friday before a holiday weekend. Everyone cracks a smile upon stepping out of the concrete and glass coffin of the corporate work week. The motorcycle is quickly gassed and loaded, I leave Washington DC at three-thirty, vowing not to check the time for the rest of the adventure. Adventure, the American adventure of the open road is what I seek. The road, my cameras, and escape.

 

Right turn off of 15th St. NW and I’m motoring past the Washington Monument and the White House. Harleys and clones are already lining the Mall for the annual Memorial remembrance that is Rolling Thunder. I’m soon over the bridge and on I-66 west. I plan on avoiding major highways when at all possible. Preferring scenic byways to drab highways. 66 is a necessary evil to flee the DC metro area as quickly as possible. At the start, 66 is a good quick run, for awhile anyway. Loads of Rolling Thunder riders are heading in 66 eastbound.

 

I keep the ubiquitous two fingers down to the side salute to fellow bikers out for extended stretches of time. In my experience, HD guys return the acknowledgement about 30-40% of the time. No big deal, some animosity exist though between different bike cultures. Motor-ism two-wheel stereotypes. However with the Rolling Thunder guys there is a noticeable increase in response, perhaps due to no longer just one biker acknowledging another, but a patriotic sharing of support and remembrance for those left behind, POW-MIA.

 

Traffic worsens further out 66 and I come up on a full HD dresser. Screaming Eagle back patch worked in with POW-MIA covers his vest and is topped by a “Run for the Wall” patch. I keep back a pace and we adopt the natural offset positioning of multiple riders.

 

After some 66 backup, stop-and-go, we strike up a staccato conversation in the pauses of the traffic flow. Where you been, where you going, see the rain coming? I tell him I’m headed out to the mountains, Skyline Drive and West Virginia. He says he’s just in from there recently, was in DC for Rolling Thunder for the day and will be coming back in on Sunday again. His license plate is obscured by luggage, so I’m unsure of his port of origin.

 

Later on we part ways and my thoughts turn. Of my parents friends only my step-dad was drafted for Vietnam. Luckily, for us, he only went as far as Ft. Hood, TX, and came back with some good stories about army life and venturing into Mexico (at least the ones he’s shared with me). I think about all the life he’s lived since then, all his experiences and joys. Thinking about what all those who didn’t return gave up, lost, when they didn’t come home. The loss felt by those who loved them, families that have a name on the Wall.

 

Rain is sprinkling before Manassas. Enough to cool you off but not enough to get you worried yet, at least for a bit. Whooooo. Then come the big drops. I head off the ramp to gear up with the rain paraphernalia under the gas station pavilion. Finally get it all on and get strapped back up and out pops the sun and the rain stops. Too funny. Now I have wet clothes on under the raingear. Rain gear now keeping the wind out that would dry me. I motor on as more rain is promised on the horizon.

 

This brings up a point about rain. People always ask, “What do you do when it rains and your on the motorcycle”. I reply simply, “I get wet”. Duh. Rain riding has never bothered me. On the straight highways it’s no big deal. Just give more cushion to the cars in front of you. Drive like grandma on the exit ramps.

 

My turning point is finally reached. Off of 66 west and onto 647, Crest Hill Rd. at The Plains, VA. Crest Hill Road is my first slice of motorcycle heaven to be had this weekend. I’m delighted to find that the squiggly line I traced out on the map when planning this trip has translated so well in reality. The road is still wet from the passing rain clouds, and I give a small rabbit and then a chipmunk a near death experience. My first of many animal crossings this weekend. The road is fantastic. A mixture of hilltop road and tree lined canopies that create forest tunnels. Speed limit is 45mph, 55-60 feels comfortable on most parts. Keeping an eye out for a hilltop barn to photograph that I’ve seen in my minds eye, lit by the sun breaking through the clouds and backed by the mountain vista. No luck on any of the barns actual placement to fit the mental picture I have framed.

 

Crest Hill Road and Fodderstack Rd is a long stretch. I take shots of a church and other buildings along Zachary Taylor Highway. Fodderstack gives more of the same as Crest Hill, just a narrower road. The asphalt is of my favorite variety, freshly laid. Washington, VA is a tiny town of historic bed and breakfasts. Local wineries appear to be an attraction here too. Right after Washington the rain returns while I’m in route to Sperryville. Then it really starts to come down, a full on summer thunderstorm. Visibility is down. Road and parking lots soon resemble rivers. Rain drops of the monster variety explode on the pavement, and you know it hurts when they hit you.

 

I quick soaking circuit of Sperryville confirms there are no local hotels. I duck into a barn shaped restaurant to wait it out. My drenched gear takes on bar stool and I occupy another. There’s a few flying pigs about. The bartender get me a hefeweizen, and recommends the angus burger. Locally raised and grass fed, we exchange jokes about my passing the burgers relatives on the way in.

 

Don’t freak about the beer. I have a one only rule when riding. It was followed by a meal (best burger of the weekend!), several coffees, and this bar top journal entry.

 

Somewhere along Crest Hill road I decided to keep the cell off for the weekend. In addition no tv, newspapers, internet, or e-mail sound like a good idea. Of course I now am studiously avoid eye contact with the two beautiful plasma’s above the bar.

 

Entry Two

 

Hazel River Inn, Culpepper, VA, has the coolest street side seating in town.

 

The downpour let up at the Shady Farms bar in Sperryville and due to the deficiency in local lodging I quiz the bartender for options. Over the other side of the mountain, the opposite side of Skyline Dr via 211 is Luray with lots of motels, but I want to save the mountain for the morning. The waitress suggest Culpepper, there being a Holiday Inn etc.

 

Stepping outside the sun has broke through the clouds again. Enough for some shots of Shady Farms Restaurant and a bridge. Heading down 522, the Sperryville Pike, I keep an eye out for photo ops to catch the next morning as I’ll be rerouting back through. Following the mantra of Dale Borgeson about tour riding in the US, I aim to avoid large chain establishments, whether they are restaurants or hotels, and explore the mom-and-pop local variety businesses. I have a dive-ish roadside motel in mind, Culpepper comes through with the Sleepy Hollow Hotel.

 

Before check in I ride through downtown historic Culpepper. It’s a cool place. The Shady Farm bartender had recommended the Culpepper Thai restaurant. I see it but don’t visit, still full from the meal earlier. Cameron Street Coffee looks like a great place, located in an old warehouse. Unfortunately their closed for the night.

 

Shower and changed, room 102 at the Sleepy Hollow Hotel. I hop back on the bike, refreshed and dry and ride through the warm night air back downtown. The coffee at the Hazel River Inn comes with a sweet fudge confection on the side. The peach and blackberry cobbler with vanilla sauce is divine.

 

The reconfigured plan for this getaway is to shed. Shed worries about the job, career, housing, and relationships. My motorcycle is therapeutic. It’s 600cc’s of Zoloft on two wheels. The road lifts my spirits. This wasn’t supposed to be a solo run, and there are stretches of road where I feel the emptiness behind me.

 

The cobbler is finished and I can hear the sound of a band doing their sound check. The banging of the drum requires investigation.

 

Entry Three

 

I found Brown Bag Special in the cellar pub of the same restaurant I was in. On my way to the door the noise of the sound check floated up the stairs and directed my feet downward. Brown Bag Special opened the set, appropriately enough, with “I drink alone”. The ol’ man, Big Money, would have loved it. Drink alone started off a Big Money Blues trifecta to include “The Breeze” and “Mustang Sally”. Then they made the mistake a lot of bands make that have a great lead guitar player. They let him sing. The lead guitarist karaoke sucked his way through a Tom Petty hit. He was so off key in his singing it made you appreciate the guitar solo’s all the more for the relief they provided. Thankfully the regular singer soon resumed his duties and the night went on. More good stuff from the band.

 

Freebird

Folsom Prison Blues

Cheap Sun Glasses

 

“can’t you see, can’t you see, what that woman, what she’s done to me”

 

Off to bed now at the Sleepy Hollow Hotel with the ghost and shades of dead hookers and overdoses past.

 

150 miles today.

  

Saturday

 

Entry Four

 

Morning breaks on the Sleepy Hollow Hotel, a hot shower and I’m back on the bike. A quick stop downtown to shoot the Hazel Inn, then it’s back on the Sperryville Pike. More stops to capture some sights seen yesterday. Mr. & Mrs. Pump. The open mouth caricatures are an accurate representation of the current gas cost and the pumps eating your wallet.

 

I keep telling my daughter that her first car, college car, will be a hybrid. She thinks they are ugly. The bike isn’t so bad, averaging around 40mpg. At about 180 miles on the tripometer I start to look for a refill, although I’ve pushed it to 211 miles before.

 

A quick left in Sperryville on 211 and up into the mountain, Blue Ridge Mountains and Skyline Drive. Heading up the mountain I get the first bite of the twisties I’ve been craving. The $10 fee at the gate to Skyline Drive is well worth the price. Great scenery and fantastic views. The only drawback is the 35mph speed limit that is well enforced by the park rangers.

 

I shoot some self-portraits at Pollock Knob overlook. They’re funny in that with all the scrambling and hurrying to be the camera timer, then trying to effect a relaxed pose. I’ve also broke out my old friend this trip, the Lubitel 166, a medium format, 120mm film, twin lens camera. I’m like Jay-Z with this camera, I have to get it in one take. There is no digital review after the click for instant gratification. As a fellow photographer it’s “Point, Push, and Pray”. I’ll be interested to see the results. Not that I’ve left digital behind. Carrying both cameras, I’m an analog/digital double threat.

 

After the self-portraits and some dead tree shots I’m about to pack back on the bike and leave when I meet the preacher and his wife. He offers to shoot me with my camera and I return the favor with theirs. Conversation flows and in a ‘small world’ moment it turns out that he works for same Hazel family that owns the restaurant I was at last night for his Monday thru Friday job. I get a friendly “God bless” and I’m heading south on Skyline Drive. I make several more stops and break out the cameras again at Big Meadow.

 

There is a gnarly dead tree in the middle of the meadow. It has burn damage at the base, either the result of some wild fire or perhaps a controlled burn done to maintain the field. I spot and shoot a few deer, they probably won’t turn out as they’re to far away for my lens on the D100. I shoot a bunch of shots of the tree with the D100 and then totally switch processes with the Lubitel. The picture setup with the Lubitel takes about a minute-and-a-half. Manual zoom, i.e., walking back and forth to get the framing I want. Light meter reading. Then dealing with the reversed optics of the look-down box camera. It is fun though, to switch it up, change the pace and the dynamics. Just one click though, hope I caught it.

 

It’s a long but enjoyable ride to the south end of Skyline Drive. Unless you really like slow cruising I would suggest picking which third of Skyline Drive you’d like include in your trip and leave the rest. I drop off the mountain and into Waynesboro. Finding Mad Anthony’s coffee shop for a late breakfast. I overhear that it’s around noon. The Italian Roast coffee is good, in fact, it would prove to be the best coffee of the trip.

 

One of the pleasures of traveling by motorcycle is that it’s an easy conversation starter. People ask you where your coming from, where you’re heading, ask about your bike, tell you’re about their bike or the one they wish they had. One of the peculiarities of these conversations is that if the person even remotely knows of anyone that has died on a motorcycle, they will be sure to share this fact along with details. These stories usually involve a deer, a car pulling out, or someone taking a corner to fast. The conversation goes something like this:

 

Stranger“nice bike”

You“thanks”

Stranger“my cousin Bob had a friend that hit a deer and died on his bike”

 

Short silence.

 

You“yeah, deer are dangerous, got to be careful”

 

I’m not exaggerating when I say I’ve held variations on this conversation many times. Luckily this isn’t the conversation I have with the owner of Mad Anthony’s. He’s a former sailboat instructor who now finds the same release and head clearing on his motorcycle that he used to get from his sailboat.

 

This brings to mind the same wave – don’t way dynamic that occurs between sail boaters and power boaters, very similar to the sportbike & HD crowd.

 

The proprietor is a coffee guru, we discuss roasting (my Italian roast was just roasted Wednesday this week). We talk about the good and the evil of Starbucks. We’re both in agreement that they over roast their regular coffee, but I think their foo foo drinks are tasty. He has in his shop both the Bodum press and the Bodum vacuum coffee pot that I got my mom for x-mas. A shameless plug here, the Bodum vacuum coffee pot makes the best home coffee ever. It’s also an entertaining crowd pleaser, no joke.

 

Leaving Waynesboro the plan was 340 northward to 33, then into Harrisonburg, VA (home of the Valley Mall and JMU). 340 proved to be boring so I jumped on 256, Port Republic Road, for a better ride to Harrisonburg. I don’t know if the coffee wore off or if I was just worn out. I pull over at Westover Park, pick out a spot of grass, and take a good nap in the sun.

 

I had my motorcycle bug handed down to me by my step-dad. My kindergarten year of school we moved right at the end of the school year. Rather than switch schools at this inopportune time my Dad stuck me on the back of his Honda and rode me to school and back again for the last month or two. Even earlier than that I have a great photo of me in 1973-4 sitting on his chopper with him. Me in a diaper and him with his long hippy hair. The wild side of the Reverend indeed.

 

Refreshed from my nap it’s back on 33 westbound. Heading out of the Shenandoah Valley and Rockingham County is more glorious twisty roads and the George Washington National Forest. GW is a beautiful tree canopy lined road with a river off to one side. Franklin, WV is the destination, a return to the Star Hotel.

 

I stayed at the Star a few years prior when they first re-opened the historic Star Hotel. The owner, Steve Miller, is a great guy, friendly and conversational. I told him I’d be back again, but it’s been a few more years than I thought. Late lunch at the Star is pesto grilled chicken on ciabatta bread with roasted red peppers. Not the type of fare one might associate with West Virginia, but people have misperceptions about everywhere. Steve promises a prime rib later at dinner tonight to die for.

 

So that there is no misunderstanding, in as much as the Sleepy Hollow Hotel was a dive, the Star Hotel is a dream.

 

Dump the gear in the room back on the bike for some roaming around. I head back to explore a river road I passed on the way in, Rock Gap. It’s a gravel affair and I follow it back a little ways. Photo some river shots. Down further there is a large cliff face with some college aged kids de-gearing after a day of climbing. I’ll try to stop back in tomorrow and shoot some climbing action, as well as some fly fishing.

 

I pick up a bottle of Barefoot Wine, Cabernet Sauvignon, and drop it off with Steve at the Star to keep for later. I’ll enjoy that bottle later tonight from the 3rd floor front porch. South out of town I head, into some very secondary roads. I shoot an old decrepit cabin that would be right up Bobby Sargent’s alley. I put it in the metal folder for a possible future model shoot location, along with the river spots I’ve seen.

 

There are a couple more stops on this little ride. Once for what appears to be a feral chicken, and then for middle of the road stare down with a young doe. She’s camera shy though and is off before I can get a shot. Sportbike probably isn’t the best conveyance for nature photography. The pavement stops and gravel begins, I motor on. Rick & I once spent a full day just about on gravel roads, crisscrossing the back country around Cumberland, MD. So I’m comfortable with the less than ideal riding surface. A few miles on the road dead ends at a pair of chicken houses (source of the feral chicken’s ancestors perhaps?) and I turn around and survey the valley I’ve just ridden through. I have to stop the bike and soak in the scene. A picturesque farm is nestled in the corner of the valley, up against the hills. I meet some inquisitive cows, along with the farmer and his wife.

 

It seems that when you are in WV and you pass a sign that says “snow removal ends here” that the already suspect road conditions are going to quickly deteriorate and will soon resemble somewhat more of a logging road. I motor on through some back country, no houses, no farms, just mountains, steep roadside cliffs, and wicked gravel switchback curves. The part that gives you the willies are the downhill corners where the road grade is slanted to the outside of the curve and to the drop below. Yikes!

 

I creep along where a four wheeler would be much more functional. Although I still hit it a bit in the straights. Pavement arrives again and I’m unsure of my exact location. I follow the chicken farmers directions and soon discover myself back in Brandywine, intersecting the same stretch of 33 I rode on my way into Franklin.

 

Back at the Star Hotel it’s a shower and fresh clothes before heading down for dinner. Downstairs I find the prime rib to be as good as promised.

 

Entry Five

 

How beautifully staged is this. Barefoot on the 3rd floor patio, wine to ease the back and the ache in the knee.

 

205 miles today, the last 30 after check in, just to explore.

  

Sunday

 

Entry Six

 

Out early in the morning. I find no climbers at Rock Gap, unsure of the hours they keep. Out of Franklin on 33 west, looking for another squiggly line I had seen on a map. Bland Hill Road name is a misnomer. A single lane country road winding through German Valley. I got a few shots of German Valley from the 33 overlook before turning on Bland Hill. Now I find myself in the same location I had shot from above.

 

The road cuts through some open pasture land and I meet some cows standing in the road after rounding one bend. They’re pleasant enough, if in no particular hurry to cross, and don’t mind posing for a shot or two before meandering on. People talk about the danger of hitting a deer, a cow would really ruin your day! Off of Bland Hill and on down into the valley. I come up on the rock formation I had seen from the overlook previously. It’s not Seneca Rocks, but a formation of the same ilk. I get some more photos, then onto German Valley Road. I’m still staying at the Star, there is no real destination today. It’s relaxing to stop as much as I like.

 

German Valley Road puts me back on 33 west and not long after I’m ordering breakfast at the Valley View Restaurant. Dale Borgeson warns of places that advertise home cooking, but that’s about all you see in these parts. There are a fair number of cars here and that’s usually a good since the food will be alright. Hell, even the Army could make a good breakfast. It all works out and it’s a hell of a deal, $4 for toast, two eggs, hash browns, bacon, and coffee.

 

From 33 I hit 28 and turn off on Smoke Hole Road, just because it’s there and looks interesting. Boy, what a find it is. Combining the curvy one lane country road with nice wide smooth pavement (gravel free in the corners). It’s great. Smoke Hole Road turns out to run from 28 across the Seneca Rocks National Forest to 220 on the other side. Going west-to-east it starts out all curves and hills, then ends by winding along the south branch of the Potomac. There are lots of fly fishermen here enjoying the catch-and-release section of the river.

 

Up 220 to Petersburg, I run into some Ducati guys at the gas station. We swap riding info and I’m soon on 42 north towards Mayville. Hanging a left when I see a sign for Dolly Sods. I’m back on secondary roads and I soon pass another prophetic ‘no snow removal’ signs. It’s gravel the rest of the way up the mountain til it breaks out on top at Dolly Sod.

 

I’m real happy with today’s roads, as both Smoke Hole Road and Dolly Sods were unplanned ‘discovered adventures’. I do some rock scrabbling at Dolly Sod and enjoy the cliff top views. A fellow tourist snaps a shot for me an I hike out well past the distance that the casual tourist and families go. Shot some more shots of the rock formations with both the digital and film camera. Do some more self-portraits. I then sit down to relax in the sun with the cliff side breeze steadily blowing and update this journal.

  

Entry Seven

 

Well, fellow traveler, if you’ve made it this far I am duly impressed. I thank you for your perseverance. The rest of the day was spent riding without incident. Just more fantastic roads. You don’t have to be an explore on par with Lewis & Clark to find great rides in West Virginia. Just be curious in nature and unafraid to leave the beaten path. Drop off the numbered roads and take the route less traveled. Soon you’ll be in your own undiscovered country. Blah blah blah.

 

Out of Dolly Sod and I find myself on 32. Rough calculations put the dirt road travel around 25 miles for the day. While we are on stats, here’s today’s animal road count:

 

1 rooster

1 dead fox

2 cows

8 chipmunks

7 alive

1 dead

3 dead possums

1 squirrel

1 dead blob (undistinguishable)

No fearsome deer

1 dog

 

I guided myself today by a rather non-descript map put out by mountainhighlands.com

 

Leaving Dolly Sod on 32 puts me in Dry Fork and back on familiar 33 west to Elkins. I cruise around Elkins on the off chance I’ll run into a guy I know named Dallas. Now all you need to know about Dallas is the following:

 

I don’t know his last name

I once gave him a hair cut with dog grooming clippers

I know he works at a bike shop making choppers

 

You figure the odds of me finding him, near zero.

 

If your curious it wasn’t the first time I cut hair, albeit the first time using dog shears. In Korea I cut in the latrine for $2 a cut or for a 6 pack. Everything was barter in the Army. We had a cook that would make you a great custom birthday cake for a case of beer or feed you food out of the back of the chow hall at 3am when you staggered in drunk from the ville for the promise of a future round to be bought. Korea stories could fill another journal.

 

Anyway, out of Elkins and south to Beverly. Scott, if your reading this you were on my mind as I went through town, never forgive, never forget.

 

So far I’ve only tried to write about the positive food experiences of the trip without throwing anyplace under the bus. C&J in Beverly however, served only barely functional burgers and the vanilla shake was of the worst chemical prefab variety. There are some things that I am stuck on, good vanilla ice cream is one. The others that I’m picky about are beer, whiskey, steak, cheese-steak, and coffee. It’s just so disappointing when something you usually enjoy turns out to be sub par.

 

After C&J it’s 250 east to 28, which heads back towards Seneca Rocks and Franklin. It’s a good haul through the Monongahela National Forest. A road of the scenic variety, with good twisties up the mountain and through the scenery. These type road have become quite a common occurrence here in WV. Back in Seneca Rocks and 33 east into Franklin. I never shoot Seneca Rocks, the light is never right, number one can tell you how I get about my light.

 

The Star’s restaurant is closed on Sunday, dagger, so I shower and head into Franklin by foot. About Franklin, WV. It’s a nice little town, quiet and sleepy. No bars other than the VFW that I could see. Everybody I’ve met and spoken too has be pleasant, friendly and conversational, both here in Franklin and elsewhere in WV. I’m sure there are a variety of characters much as anywhere, this is just my observation from the tourist level.

 

Following last night precedent I grab another vino from the Shell station. The Star being closed is a dilemma; I’m in need of a cork screw (having borrowed the restaurants the night before). I wander back down to the hotel, wine in hand, and past the hotel just a bit til I meet an old man sitting out front. I explain my situation, wine without access, and he says he’ll sell me a corkscrew. He goes in the house, shortly to return with the necessary implement in hand. I figure I have it for $3-4 or maybe rent it for a one time use for $1. That proves unnecessary however, he says just to take it, and keep it for any future need.

 

The sole booking for the hotel tonight, I’m like a wraith as I glide through the halls. On the front porch with my bottle of vino in hand. I have some cheap cigars I also picked up and there’s nothing to do but kick back and watch the sunset.

 

It’s been a great trip. Somewhat lonesome at times. The lack of someone to talk to surely let to the length of this journal. It was a trip to getaway, to reflect. There was no great revelation or anything, just time to get to know yourself. The road gives you time to think. I know who I am and I like being me. I know what’s missing.

 

I’m resolved to take more bike trips in the future. It’s definitely my preferred way to travel and vacation. Motorcycling is the way to go.

 

Tomorrow I have my route generally planned out, more scenic byways for a winding route home.

 

Miles today, 240.

 

Monday

 

Entry Seven

 

Just a short postscript. 20 miles east of Washington DC, on 66, the chain popped off the bike. It’s never easy.

           

I'm willing to swap at least a fat quarter...

 

My Wish List:

 

Alexander Henry - Robots

Japanese prints

Munki Munki

HR Pink flowers

AB turquoise/ orange prints

A cute outfit I made a few months ago for KiraKira/JustLikeWasabi's Moe. The theme had been choosen by herself for the "Choose Your Own Theme Swap" on Dal House forum. The odd accessories and the stuffed Q-bee were intended to match Moe's odd eyes.

 

The full outfit included:

_handmade dress representing sky with clouds and flying bee, ladybug and butterfly, and grass with daisies and walking ants;

_handmade petticoat;

_handmade odd colored hairclips with butterflies: blue right, green left;

_handmade socks with odd colored lace: green on right, blue on left;

_plastic shoes customized with odd colored buttons: blue on right, green on left;

_handmade stuffed queen bee with odd colored eye buttons: green right and blue left, just like Moe's eyes.

All the odd colored accessories were intended to match Moe's odd eyes alternating the positions of blue and green.

My Heather Ross mini quilt for Suzanne (foofanagle) is done!

I used a rainbow assortment of my favorite HR fabrics and stipple quilted it. The binding is cake rock beach dots in lime.

This is a contest entry I made for a worth1000 fxb contest I ended up in first place. The image of the carrots was supplied and the rules were to manipulate it however I like. I decided to do a carrot mosaic that formed a bunny rabbit. I wasn't 100% happy with my overall image. I originally made something reminiscent of a studio background for the mosaic and had a light placed at the lower left of the image and a scary shadow coming out behind him, due to the large amount of ringing on the gradients I decided to swap the background out at the last minute which made the lighting impossible to fix in the mount of time I had left. From now on I'm sketching everything before I start my image. :)

    

Sources used:

www.flickr.com/photos/bc_az/8403618199/

www.flickr.com/photos/teakwood/1413531619/

www.flickr.com/photos/imagelink/3053777778/

rookery9.aviary.com.s3.amazonaws.com/20014000/20014455_ab...

 

Fire damaged tree in Big Meadow.

     

Friday

Entry One

 

Flew out of work, the fleet flight of Friday before a holiday weekend. Everyone cracks a smile upon stepping out of the concrete and glass coffin of the corporate work week. The motorcycle is quickly gassed and loaded, I leave Washington DC at three-thirty, vowing not to check the time for the rest of the adventure. Adventure, the American adventure of the open road is what I seek. The road, my cameras, and escape.

 

Right turn off of 15th St. NW and I’m motoring past the Washington Monument and the White House. Harleys and clones are already lining the Mall for the annual Memorial remembrance that is Rolling Thunder. I’m soon over the bridge and on I-66 west. I plan on avoiding major highways when at all possible. Preferring scenic byways to drab highways. 66 is a necessary evil to flee the DC metro area as quickly as possible. At the start, 66 is a good quick run, for awhile anyway. Loads of Rolling Thunder riders are heading in 66 eastbound.

 

I keep the ubiquitous two fingers down to the side salute to fellow bikers out for extended stretches of time. In my experience, HD guys return the acknowledgement about 30-40% of the time. No big deal, some animosity exist though between different bike cultures. Motor-ism two-wheel stereotypes. However with the Rolling Thunder guys there is a noticeable increase in response, perhaps due to no longer just one biker acknowledging another, but a patriotic sharing of support and remembrance for those left behind, POW-MIA.

 

Traffic worsens further out 66 and I come up on a full HD dresser. Screaming Eagle back patch worked in with POW-MIA covers his vest and is topped by a “Run for the Wall” patch. I keep back a pace and we adopt the natural offset positioning of multiple riders.

 

After some 66 backup, stop-and-go, we strike up a staccato conversation in the pauses of the traffic flow. Where you been, where you going, see the rain coming? I tell him I’m headed out to the mountains, Skyline Drive and West Virginia. He says he’s just in from there recently, was in DC for Rolling Thunder for the day and will be coming back in on Sunday again. His license plate is obscured by luggage, so I’m unsure of his port of origin.

 

Later on we part ways and my thoughts turn. Of my parents friends only my step-dad was drafted for Vietnam. Luckily, for us, he only went as far as Ft. Hood, TX, and came back with some good stories about army life and venturing into Mexico (at least the ones he’s shared with me). I think about all the life he’s lived since then, all his experiences and joys. Thinking about what all those who didn’t return gave up, lost, when they didn’t come home. The loss felt by those who loved them, families that have a name on the Wall.

 

Rain is sprinkling before Manassas. Enough to cool you off but not enough to get you worried yet, at least for a bit. Whooooo. Then come the big drops. I head off the ramp to gear up with the rain paraphernalia under the gas station pavilion. Finally get it all on and get strapped back up and out pops the sun and the rain stops. Too funny. Now I have wet clothes on under the raingear. Rain gear now keeping the wind out that would dry me. I motor on as more rain is promised on the horizon.

 

This brings up a point about rain. People always ask, “What do you do when it rains and your on the motorcycle”. I reply simply, “I get wet”. Duh. Rain riding has never bothered me. On the straight highways it’s no big deal. Just give more cushion to the cars in front of you. Drive like grandma on the exit ramps.

 

My turning point is finally reached. Off of 66 west and onto 647, Crest Hill Rd. at The Plains, VA. Crest Hill Road is my first slice of motorcycle heaven to be had this weekend. I’m delighted to find that the squiggly line I traced out on the map when planning this trip has translated so well in reality. The road is still wet from the passing rain clouds, and I give a small rabbit and then a chipmunk a near death experience. My first of many animal crossings this weekend. The road is fantastic. A mixture of hilltop road and tree lined canopies that create forest tunnels. Speed limit is 45mph, 55-60 feels comfortable on most parts. Keeping an eye out for a hilltop barn to photograph that I’ve seen in my minds eye, lit by the sun breaking through the clouds and backed by the mountain vista. No luck on any of the barns actual placement to fit the mental picture I have framed.

 

Crest Hill Road and Fodderstack Rd is a long stretch. I take shots of a church and other buildings along Zachary Taylor Highway. Fodderstack gives more of the same as Crest Hill, just a narrower road. The asphalt is of my favorite variety, freshly laid. Washington, VA is a tiny town of historic bed and breakfasts. Local wineries appear to be an attraction here too. Right after Washington the rain returns while I’m in route to Sperryville. Then it really starts to come down, a full on summer thunderstorm. Visibility is down. Road and parking lots soon resemble rivers. Rain drops of the monster variety explode on the pavement, and you know it hurts when they hit you.

 

I quick soaking circuit of Sperryville confirms there are no local hotels. I duck into a barn shaped restaurant to wait it out. My drenched gear takes on bar stool and I occupy another. There’s a few flying pigs about. The bartender get me a hefeweizen, and recommends the angus burger. Locally raised and grass fed, we exchange jokes about my passing the burgers relatives on the way in.

 

Don’t freak about the beer. I have a one only rule when riding. It was followed by a meal (best burger of the weekend!), several coffees, and this bar top journal entry.

 

Somewhere along Crest Hill road I decided to keep the cell off for the weekend. In addition no tv, newspapers, internet, or e-mail sound like a good idea. Of course I now am studiously avoid eye contact with the two beautiful plasma’s above the bar.

 

Entry Two

 

Hazel River Inn, Culpepper, VA, has the coolest street side seating in town.

 

The downpour let up at the Shady Farms bar in Sperryville and due to the deficiency in local lodging I quiz the bartender for options. Over the other side of the mountain, the opposite side of Skyline Dr via 211 is Luray with lots of motels, but I want to save the mountain for the morning. The waitress suggest Culpepper, there being a Holiday Inn etc.

 

Stepping outside the sun has broke through the clouds again. Enough for some shots of Shady Farms Restaurant and a bridge. Heading down 522, the Sperryville Pike, I keep an eye out for photo ops to catch the next morning as I’ll be rerouting back through. Following the mantra of Dale Borgeson about tour riding in the US, I aim to avoid large chain establishments, whether they are restaurants or hotels, and explore the mom-and-pop local variety businesses. I have a dive-ish roadside motel in mind, Culpepper comes through with the Sleepy Hollow Hotel.

 

Before check in I ride through downtown historic Culpepper. It’s a cool place. The Shady Farm bartender had recommended the Culpepper Thai restaurant. I see it but don’t visit, still full from the meal earlier. Cameron Street Coffee looks like a great place, located in an old warehouse. Unfortunately their closed for the night.

 

Shower and changed, room 102 at the Sleepy Hollow Hotel. I hop back on the bike, refreshed and dry and ride through the warm night air back downtown. The coffee at the Hazel River Inn comes with a sweet fudge confection on the side. The peach and blackberry cobbler with vanilla sauce is divine.

 

The reconfigured plan for this getaway is to shed. Shed worries about the job, career, housing, and relationships. My motorcycle is therapeutic. It’s 600cc’s of Zoloft on two wheels. The road lifts my spirits. This wasn’t supposed to be a solo run, and there are stretches of road where I feel the emptiness behind me.

 

The cobbler is finished and I can hear the sound of a band doing their sound check. The banging of the drum requires investigation.

 

Entry Three

 

I found Brown Bag Special in the cellar pub of the same restaurant I was in. On my way to the door the noise of the sound check floated up the stairs and directed my feet downward. Brown Bag Special opened the set, appropriately enough, with “I drink alone”. The ol’ man, Big Money, would have loved it. Drink alone started off a Big Money Blues trifecta to include “The Breeze” and “Mustang Sally”. Then they made the mistake a lot of bands make that have a great lead guitar player. They let him sing. The lead guitarist karaoke sucked his way through a Tom Petty hit. He was so off key in his singing it made you appreciate the guitar solo’s all the more for the relief they provided. Thankfully the regular singer soon resumed his duties and the night went on. More good stuff from the band.

 

Freebird

Folsom Prison Blues

Cheap Sun Glasses

 

“can’t you see, can’t you see, what that woman, what she’s done to me”

 

Off to bed now at the Sleepy Hollow Hotel with the ghost and shades of dead hookers and overdoses past.

 

150 miles today.

  

Saturday

 

Entry Four

 

Morning breaks on the Sleepy Hollow Hotel, a hot shower and I’m back on the bike. A quick stop downtown to shoot the Hazel Inn, then it’s back on the Sperryville Pike. More stops to capture some sights seen yesterday. Mr. & Mrs. Pump. The open mouth caricatures are an accurate representation of the current gas cost and the pumps eating your wallet.

 

I keep telling my daughter that her first car, college car, will be a hybrid. She thinks they are ugly. The bike isn’t so bad, averaging around 40mpg. At about 180 miles on the tripometer I start to look for a refill, although I’ve pushed it to 211 miles before.

 

A quick left in Sperryville on 211 and up into the mountain, Blue Ridge Mountains and Skyline Drive. Heading up the mountain I get the first bite of the twisties I’ve been craving. The $10 fee at the gate to Skyline Drive is well worth the price. Great scenery and fantastic views. The only drawback is the 35mph speed limit that is well enforced by the park rangers.

 

I shoot some self-portraits at Pollock Knob overlook. They’re funny in that with all the scrambling and hurrying to be the camera timer, then trying to effect a relaxed pose. I’ve also broke out my old friend this trip, the Lubitel 166, a medium format, 120mm film, twin lens camera. I’m like Jay-Z with this camera, I have to get it in one take. There is no digital review after the click for instant gratification. As a fellow photographer it’s “Point, Push, and Pray”. I’ll be interested to see the results. Not that I’ve left digital behind. Carrying both cameras, I’m an analog/digital double threat.

 

After the self-portraits and some dead tree shots I’m about to pack back on the bike and leave when I meet the preacher and his wife. He offers to shoot me with my camera and I return the favor with theirs. Conversation flows and in a ‘small world’ moment it turns out that he works for same Hazel family that owns the restaurant I was at last night for his Monday thru Friday job. I get a friendly “God bless” and I’m heading south on Skyline Drive. I make several more stops and break out the cameras again at Big Meadow.

 

There is a gnarly dead tree in the middle of the meadow. It has burn damage at the base, either the result of some wild fire or perhaps a controlled burn done to maintain the field. I spot and shoot a few deer, they probably won’t turn out as they’re to far away for my lens on the D100. I shoot a bunch of shots of the tree with the D100 and then totally switch processes with the Lubitel. The picture setup with the Lubitel takes about a minute-and-a-half. Manual zoom, i.e., walking back and forth to get the framing I want. Light meter reading. Then dealing with the reversed optics of the look-down box camera. It is fun though, to switch it up, change the pace and the dynamics. Just one click though, hope I caught it.

 

It’s a long but enjoyable ride to the south end of Skyline Drive. Unless you really like slow cruising I would suggest picking which third of Skyline Drive you’d like include in your trip and leave the rest. I drop off the mountain and into Waynesboro. Finding Mad Anthony’s coffee shop for a late breakfast. I overhear that it’s around noon. The Italian Roast coffee is good, in fact, it would prove to be the best coffee of the trip.

 

One of the pleasures of traveling by motorcycle is that it’s an easy conversation starter. People ask you where your coming from, where you’re heading, ask about your bike, tell you’re about their bike or the one they wish they had. One of the peculiarities of these conversations is that if the person even remotely knows of anyone that has died on a motorcycle, they will be sure to share this fact along with details. These stories usually involve a deer, a car pulling out, or someone taking a corner to fast. The conversation goes something like this:

 

Stranger“nice bike”

You“thanks”

Stranger“my cousin Bob had a friend that hit a deer and died on his bike”

 

Short silence.

 

You“yeah, deer are dangerous, got to be careful”

 

I’m not exaggerating when I say I’ve held variations on this conversation many times. Luckily this isn’t the conversation I have with the owner of Mad Anthony’s. He’s a former sailboat instructor who now finds the same release and head clearing on his motorcycle that he used to get from his sailboat.

 

This brings to mind the same wave – don’t way dynamic that occurs between sail boaters and power boaters, very similar to the sportbike & HD crowd.

 

The proprietor is a coffee guru, we discuss roasting (my Italian roast was just roasted Wednesday this week). We talk about the good and the evil of Starbucks. We’re both in agreement that they over roast their regular coffee, but I think their foo foo drinks are tasty. He has in his shop both the Bodum press and the Bodum vacuum coffee pot that I got my mom for x-mas. A shameless plug here, the Bodum vacuum coffee pot makes the best home coffee ever. It’s also an entertaining crowd pleaser, no joke.

 

Leaving Waynesboro the plan was 340 northward to 33, then into Harrisonburg, VA (home of the Valley Mall and JMU). 340 proved to be boring so I jumped on 256, Port Republic Road, for a better ride to Harrisonburg. I don’t know if the coffee wore off or if I was just worn out. I pull over at Westover Park, pick out a spot of grass, and take a good nap in the sun.

 

I had my motorcycle bug handed down to me by my step-dad. My kindergarten year of school we moved right at the end of the school year. Rather than switch schools at this inopportune time my Dad stuck me on the back of his Honda and rode me to school and back again for the last month or two. Even earlier than that I have a great photo of me in 1973-4 sitting on his chopper with him. Me in a diaper and him with his long hippy hair. The wild side of the Reverend indeed.

 

Refreshed from my nap it’s back on 33 westbound. Heading out of the Shenandoah Valley and Rockingham County is more glorious twisty roads and the George Washington National Forest. GW is a beautiful tree canopy lined road with a river off to one side. Franklin, WV is the destination, a return to the Star Hotel.

 

I stayed at the Star a few years prior when they first re-opened the historic Star Hotel. The owner, Steve Miller, is a great guy, friendly and conversational. I told him I’d be back again, but it’s been a few more years than I thought. Late lunch at the Star is pesto grilled chicken on ciabatta bread with roasted red peppers. Not the type of fare one might associate with West Virginia, but people have misperceptions about everywhere. Steve promises a prime rib later at dinner tonight to die for.

 

So that there is no misunderstanding, in as much as the Sleepy Hollow Hotel was a dive, the Star Hotel is a dream.

 

Dump the gear in the room back on the bike for some roaming around. I head back to explore a river road I passed on the way in, Rock Gap. It’s a gravel affair and I follow it back a little ways. Photo some river shots. Down further there is a large cliff face with some college aged kids de-gearing after a day of climbing. I’ll try to stop back in tomorrow and shoot some climbing action, as well as some fly fishing.

 

I pick up a bottle of Barefoot Wine, Cabernet Sauvignon, and drop it off with Steve at the Star to keep for later. I’ll enjoy that bottle later tonight from the 3rd floor front porch. South out of town I head, into some very secondary roads. I shoot an old decrepit cabin that would be right up Bobby Sargent’s alley. I put it in the metal folder for a possible future model shoot location, along with the river spots I’ve seen.

 

There are a couple more stops on this little ride. Once for what appears to be a feral chicken, and then for middle of the road stare down with a young doe. She’s camera shy though and is off before I can get a shot. Sportbike probably isn’t the best conveyance for nature photography. The pavement stops and gravel begins, I motor on. Rick & I once spent a full day just about on gravel roads, crisscrossing the back country around Cumberland, MD. So I’m comfortable with the less than ideal riding surface. A few miles on the road dead ends at a pair of chicken houses (source of the feral chicken’s ancestors perhaps?) and I turn around and survey the valley I’ve just ridden through. I have to stop the bike and soak in the scene. A picturesque farm is nestled in the corner of the valley, up against the hills. I meet some inquisitive cows, along with the farmer and his wife.

 

It seems that when you are in WV and you pass a sign that says “snow removal ends here” that the already suspect road conditions are going to quickly deteriorate and will soon resemble somewhat more of a logging road. I motor on through some back country, no houses, no farms, just mountains, steep roadside cliffs, and wicked gravel switchback curves. The part that gives you the willies are the downhill corners where the road grade is slanted to the outside of the curve and to the drop below. Yikes!

 

I creep along where a four wheeler would be much more functional. Although I still hit it a bit in the straights. Pavement arrives again and I’m unsure of my exact location. I follow the chicken farmers directions and soon discover myself back in Brandywine, intersecting the same stretch of 33 I rode on my way into Franklin.

 

Back at the Star Hotel it’s a shower and fresh clothes before heading down for dinner. Downstairs I find the prime rib to be as good as promised.

 

Entry Five

 

How beautifully staged is this. Barefoot on the 3rd floor patio, wine to ease the back and the ache in the knee.

 

205 miles today, the last 30 after check in, just to explore.

  

Sunday

 

Entry Six

 

Out early in the morning. I find no climbers at Rock Gap, unsure of the hours they keep. Out of Franklin on 33 west, looking for another squiggly line I had seen on a map. Bland Hill Road name is a misnomer. A single lane country road winding through German Valley. I got a few shots of German Valley from the 33 overlook before turning on Bland Hill. Now I find myself in the same location I had shot from above.

 

The road cuts through some open pasture land and I meet some cows standing in the road after rounding one bend. They’re pleasant enough, if in no particular hurry to cross, and don’t mind posing for a shot or two before meandering on. People talk about the danger of hitting a deer, a cow would really ruin your day! Off of Bland Hill and on down into the valley. I come up on the rock formation I had seen from the overlook previously. It’s not Seneca Rocks, but a formation of the same ilk. I get some more photos, then onto German Valley Road. I’m still staying at the Star, there is no real destination today. It’s relaxing to stop as much as I like.

 

German Valley Road puts me back on 33 west and not long after I’m ordering breakfast at the Valley View Restaurant. Dale Borgeson warns of places that advertise home cooking, but that’s about all you see in these parts. There are a fair number of cars here and that’s usually a good since the food will be alright. Hell, even the Army could make a good breakfast. It all works out and it’s a hell of a deal, $4 for toast, two eggs, hash browns, bacon, and coffee.

 

From 33 I hit 28 and turn off on Smoke Hole Road, just because it’s there and looks interesting. Boy, what a find it is. Combining the curvy one lane country road with nice wide smooth pavement (gravel free in the corners). It’s great. Smoke Hole Road turns out to run from 28 across the Seneca Rocks National Forest to 220 on the other side. Going west-to-east it starts out all curves and hills, then ends by winding along the south branch of the Potomac. There are lots of fly fishermen here enjoying the catch-and-release section of the river.

 

Up 220 to Petersburg, I run into some Ducati guys at the gas station. We swap riding info and I’m soon on 42 north towards Mayville. Hanging a left when I see a sign for Dolly Sods. I’m back on secondary roads and I soon pass another prophetic ‘no snow removal’ signs. It’s gravel the rest of the way up the mountain til it breaks out on top at Dolly Sod.

 

I’m real happy with today’s roads, as both Smoke Hole Road and Dolly Sods were unplanned ‘discovered adventures’. I do some rock scrabbling at Dolly Sod and enjoy the cliff top views. A fellow tourist snaps a shot for me an I hike out well past the distance that the casual tourist and families go. Shot some more shots of the rock formations with both the digital and film camera. Do some more self-portraits. I then sit down to relax in the sun with the cliff side breeze steadily blowing and update this journal.

  

Entry Seven

 

Well, fellow traveler, if you’ve made it this far I am duly impressed. I thank you for your perseverance. The rest of the day was spent riding without incident. Just more fantastic roads. You don’t have to be an explore on par with Lewis & Clark to find great rides in West Virginia. Just be curious in nature and unafraid to leave the beaten path. Drop off the numbered roads and take the route less traveled. Soon you’ll be in your own undiscovered country. Blah blah blah.

 

Out of Dolly Sod and I find myself on 32. Rough calculations put the dirt road travel around 25 miles for the day. While we are on stats, here’s today’s animal road count:

 

1 rooster

1 dead fox

2 cows

8 chipmunks

7 alive

1 dead

3 dead possums

1 squirrel

1 dead blob (undistinguishable)

No fearsome deer

1 dog

 

I guided myself today by a rather non-descript map put out by mountainhighlands.com

 

Leaving Dolly Sod on 32 puts me in Dry Fork and back on familiar 33 west to Elkins. I cruise around Elkins on the off chance I’ll run into a guy I know named Dallas. Now all you need to know about Dallas is the following:

 

I don’t know his last name

I once gave him a hair cut with dog grooming clippers

I know he works at a bike shop making choppers

 

You figure the odds of me finding him, near zero.

 

If your curious it wasn’t the first time I cut hair, albeit the first time using dog shears. In Korea I cut in the latrine for $2 a cut or for a 6 pack. Everything was barter in the Army. We had a cook that would make you a great custom birthday cake for a case of beer or feed you food out of the back of the chow hall at 3am when you staggered in drunk from the ville for the promise of a future round to be bought. Korea stories could fill another journal.

 

Anyway, out of Elkins and south to Beverly. Scott, if your reading this you were on my mind as I went through town, never forgive, never forget.

 

So far I’ve only tried to write about the positive food experiences of the trip without throwing anyplace under the bus. C&J in Beverly however, served only barely functional burgers and the vanilla shake was of the worst chemical prefab variety. There are some things that I am stuck on, good vanilla ice cream is one. The others that I’m picky about are beer, whiskey, steak, cheese-steak, and coffee. It’s just so disappointing when something you usually enjoy turns out to be sub par.

 

After C&J it’s 250 east to 28, which heads back towards Seneca Rocks and Franklin. It’s a good haul through the Monongahela National Forest. A road of the scenic variety, with good twisties up the mountain and through the scenery. These type road have become quite a common occurrence here in WV. Back in Seneca Rocks and 33 east into Franklin. I never shoot Seneca Rocks, the light is never right, number one can tell you how I get about my light.

 

The Star’s restaurant is closed on Sunday, dagger, so I shower and head into Franklin by foot. About Franklin, WV. It’s a nice little town, quiet and sleepy. No bars other than the VFW that I could see. Everybody I’ve met and spoken too has be pleasant, friendly and conversational, both here in Franklin and elsewhere in WV. I’m sure there are a variety of characters much as anywhere, this is just my observation from the tourist level.

 

Following last night precedent I grab another vino from the Shell station. The Star being closed is a dilemma; I’m in need of a cork screw (having borrowed the restaurants the night before). I wander back down to the hotel, wine in hand, and past the hotel just a bit til I meet an old man sitting out front. I explain my situation, wine without access, and he says he’ll sell me a corkscrew. He goes in the house, shortly to return with the necessary implement in hand. I figure I have it for $3-4 or maybe rent it for a one time use for $1. That proves unnecessary however, he says just to take it, and keep it for any future need.

 

The sole booking for the hotel tonight, I’m like a wraith as I glide through the halls. On the front porch with my bottle of vino in hand. I have some cheap cigars I also picked up and there’s nothing to do but kick back and watch the sunset.

 

It’s been a great trip. Somewhat lonesome at times. The lack of someone to talk to surely let to the length of this journal. It was a trip to getaway, to reflect. There was no great revelation or anything, just time to get to know yourself. The road gives you time to think. I know who I am and I like being me. I know what’s missing.

 

I’m resolved to take more bike trips in the future. It’s definitely my preferred way to travel and vacation. Motorcycling is the way to go.

 

Tomorrow I have my route generally planned out, more scenic byways for a winding route home.

 

Miles today, 240.

 

Monday

 

Entry Seven

 

Just a short postscript. 20 miles east of Washington DC, on 66, the chain popped off the bike. It’s never easy.

           

My mini-quilt for Liz (ollie.kate). I had so much fun using my Ross stash for this project. It feels good to USE fabric instead of just hoarding it. :) I hope Liz like this one.

 

18"x16.5" (kind of a weird shape, I know.) And I did simple straight horizontal lines of quilting to accent the lines of the patchwork. But to add a little something different, each colored row uses a coordinating colored thread for the quilting. So the yellow row has yellow thread, the purple row uses purple thread etc.

 

The quilt Liz made for me (which I adore) is here: www.flickr.com/photos/30303848@N06/3920224945/in/pool-118...

 

I love how both of our quilts seem like they could have been planned together!

Friday

Entry One

 

Flew out of work, the fleet flight of Friday before a holiday weekend. Everyone cracks a smile upon stepping out of the concrete and glass coffin of the corporate work week. The motorcycle is quickly gassed and loaded, I leave Washington DC at three-thirty, vowing not to check the time for the rest of the adventure. Adventure, the American adventure of the open road is what I seek. The road, my cameras, and escape.

 

Right turn off of 15th St. NW and I’m motoring past the Washington Monument and the White House. Harleys and clones are already lining the Mall for the annual Memorial remembrance that is Rolling Thunder. I’m soon over the bridge and on I-66 west. I plan on avoiding major highways when at all possible. Preferring scenic byways to drab highways. 66 is a necessary evil to flee the DC metro area as quickly as possible. At the start, 66 is a good quick run, for awhile anyway. Loads of Rolling Thunder riders are heading in 66 eastbound.

 

I keep the ubiquitous two fingers down to the side salute to fellow bikers out for extended stretches of time. In my experience, HD guys return the acknowledgement about 30-40% of the time. No big deal, some animosity exist though between different bike cultures. Motor-ism two-wheel stereotypes. However with the Rolling Thunder guys there is a noticeable increase in response, perhaps due to no longer just one biker acknowledging another, but a patriotic sharing of support and remembrance for those left behind, POW-MIA.

 

Traffic worsens further out 66 and I come up on a full HD dresser. Screaming Eagle back patch worked in with POW-MIA covers his vest and is topped by a “Run for the Wall” patch. I keep back a pace and we adopt the natural offset positioning of multiple riders.

 

After some 66 backup, stop-and-go, we strike up a staccato conversation in the pauses of the traffic flow. Where you been, where you going, see the rain coming? I tell him I’m headed out to the mountains, Skyline Drive and West Virginia. He says he’s just in from there recently, was in DC for Rolling Thunder for the day and will be coming back in on Sunday again. His license plate is obscured by luggage, so I’m unsure of his port of origin.

 

Later on we part ways and my thoughts turn. Of my parents friends only my step-dad was drafted for Vietnam. Luckily, for us, he only went as far as Ft. Hood, TX, and came back with some good stories about army life and venturing into Mexico (at least the ones he’s shared with me). I think about all the life he’s lived since then, all his experiences and joys. Thinking about what all those who didn’t return gave up, lost, when they didn’t come home. The loss felt by those who loved them, families that have a name on the Wall.

 

Rain is sprinkling before Manassas. Enough to cool you off but not enough to get you worried yet, at least for a bit. Whooooo. Then come the big drops. I head off the ramp to gear up with the rain paraphernalia under the gas station pavilion. Finally get it all on and get strapped back up and out pops the sun and the rain stops. Too funny. Now I have wet clothes on under the raingear. Rain gear now keeping the wind out that would dry me. I motor on as more rain is promised on the horizon.

 

This brings up a point about rain. People always ask, “What do you do when it rains and your on the motorcycle”. I reply simply, “I get wet”. Duh. Rain riding has never bothered me. On the straight highways it’s no big deal. Just give more cushion to the cars in front of you. Drive like grandma on the exit ramps.

 

My turning point is finally reached. Off of 66 west and onto 647, Crest Hill Rd. at The Plains, VA. Crest Hill Road is my first slice of motorcycle heaven to be had this weekend. I’m delighted to find that the squiggly line I traced out on the map when planning this trip has translated so well in reality. The road is still wet from the passing rain clouds, and I give a small rabbit and then a chipmunk a near death experience. My first of many animal crossings this weekend. The road is fantastic. A mixture of hilltop road and tree lined canopies that create forest tunnels. Speed limit is 45mph, 55-60 feels comfortable on most parts. Keeping an eye out for a hilltop barn to photograph that I’ve seen in my minds eye, lit by the sun breaking through the clouds and backed by the mountain vista. No luck on any of the barns actual placement to fit the mental picture I have framed.

 

Crest Hill Road and Fodderstack Rd is a long stretch. I take shots of a church and other buildings along Zachary Taylor Highway. Fodderstack gives more of the same as Crest Hill, just a narrower road. The asphalt is of my favorite variety, freshly laid. Washington, VA is a tiny town of historic bed and breakfasts. Local wineries appear to be an attraction here too. Right after Washington the rain returns while I’m in route to Sperryville. Then it really starts to come down, a full on summer thunderstorm. Visibility is down. Road and parking lots soon resemble rivers. Rain drops of the monster variety explode on the pavement, and you know it hurts when they hit you.

 

I quick soaking circuit of Sperryville confirms there are no local hotels. I duck into a barn shaped restaurant to wait it out. My drenched gear takes on bar stool and I occupy another. There’s a few flying pigs about. The bartender get me a hefeweizen, and recommends the angus burger. Locally raised and grass fed, we exchange jokes about my passing the burgers relatives on the way in.

 

Don’t freak about the beer. I have a one only rule when riding. It was followed by a meal (best burger of the weekend!), several coffees, and this bar top journal entry.

 

Somewhere along Crest Hill road I decided to keep the cell off for the weekend. In addition no tv, newspapers, internet, or e-mail sound like a good idea. Of course I now am studiously avoid eye contact with the two beautiful plasma’s above the bar.

 

Entry Two

 

Hazel River Inn, Culpepper, VA, has the coolest street side seating in town.

 

The downpour let up at the Shady Farms bar in Sperryville and due to the deficiency in local lodging I quiz the bartender for options. Over the other side of the mountain, the opposite side of Skyline Dr via 211 is Luray with lots of motels, but I want to save the mountain for the morning. The waitress suggest Culpepper, there being a Holiday Inn etc.

 

Stepping outside the sun has broke through the clouds again. Enough for some shots of Shady Farms Restaurant and a bridge. Heading down 522, the Sperryville Pike, I keep an eye out for photo ops to catch the next morning as I’ll be rerouting back through. Following the mantra of Dale Borgeson about tour riding in the US, I aim to avoid large chain establishments, whether they are restaurants or hotels, and explore the mom-and-pop local variety businesses. I have a dive-ish roadside motel in mind, Culpepper comes through with the Sleepy Hollow Hotel.

 

Before check in I ride through downtown historic Culpepper. It’s a cool place. The Shady Farm bartender had recommended the Culpepper Thai restaurant. I see it but don’t visit, still full from the meal earlier. Cameron Street Coffee looks like a great place, located in an old warehouse. Unfortunately their closed for the night.

 

Shower and changed, room 102 at the Sleepy Hollow Hotel. I hop back on the bike, refreshed and dry and ride through the warm night air back downtown. The coffee at the Hazel River Inn comes with a sweet fudge confection on the side. The peach and blackberry cobbler with vanilla sauce is divine.

 

The reconfigured plan for this getaway is to shed. Shed worries about the job, career, housing, and relationships. My motorcycle is therapeutic. It’s 600cc’s of Zoloft on two wheels. The road lifts my spirits. This wasn’t supposed to be a solo run, and there are stretches of road where I feel the emptiness behind me.

 

The cobbler is finished and I can hear the sound of a band doing their sound check. The banging of the drum requires investigation.

 

Entry Three

 

I found Brown Bag Special in the cellar pub of the same restaurant I was in. On my way to the door the noise of the sound check floated up the stairs and directed my feet downward. Brown Bag Special opened the set, appropriately enough, with “I drink alone”. The ol’ man, Big Money, would have loved it. Drink alone started off a Big Money Blues trifecta to include “The Breeze” and “Mustang Sally”. Then they made the mistake a lot of bands make that have a great lead guitar player. They let him sing. The lead guitarist karaoke sucked his way through a Tom Petty hit. He was so off key in his singing it made you appreciate the guitar solo’s all the more for the relief they provided. Thankfully the regular singer soon resumed his duties and the night went on. More good stuff from the band.

 

Freebird

Folsom Prison Blues

Cheap Sun Glasses

 

“can’t you see, can’t you see, what that woman, what she’s done to me”

 

Off to bed now at the Sleepy Hollow Hotel with the ghost and shades of dead hookers and overdoses past.

 

150 miles today.

  

Saturday

 

Entry Four

 

Morning breaks on the Sleepy Hollow Hotel, a hot shower and I’m back on the bike. A quick stop downtown to shoot the Hazel Inn, then it’s back on the Sperryville Pike. More stops to capture some sights seen yesterday. Mr. & Mrs. Pump. The open mouth caricatures are an accurate representation of the current gas cost and the pumps eating your wallet.

 

I keep telling my daughter that her first car, college car, will be a hybrid. She thinks they are ugly. The bike isn’t so bad, averaging around 40mpg. At about 180 miles on the tripometer I start to look for a refill, although I’ve pushed it to 211 miles before.

 

A quick left in Sperryville on 211 and up into the mountain, Blue Ridge Mountains and Skyline Drive. Heading up the mountain I get the first bite of the twisties I’ve been craving. The $10 fee at the gate to Skyline Drive is well worth the price. Great scenery and fantastic views. The only drawback is the 35mph speed limit that is well enforced by the park rangers.

 

I shoot some self-portraits at Pollock Knob overlook. They’re funny in that with all the scrambling and hurrying to be the camera timer, then trying to effect a relaxed pose. I’ve also broke out my old friend this trip, the Lubitel 166, a medium format, 120mm film, twin lens camera. I’m like Jay-Z with this camera, I have to get it in one take. There is no digital review after the click for instant gratification. As a fellow photographer it’s “Point, Push, and Pray”. I’ll be interested to see the results. Not that I’ve left digital behind. Carrying both cameras, I’m an analog/digital double threat.

 

After the self-portraits and some dead tree shots I’m about to pack back on the bike and leave when I meet the preacher and his wife. He offers to shoot me with my camera and I return the favor with theirs. Conversation flows and in a ‘small world’ moment it turns out that he works for same Hazel family that owns the restaurant I was at last night for his Monday thru Friday job. I get a friendly “God bless” and I’m heading south on Skyline Drive. I make several more stops and break out the cameras again at Big Meadow.

 

There is a gnarly dead tree in the middle of the meadow. It has burn damage at the base, either the result of some wild fire or perhaps a controlled burn done to maintain the field. I spot and shoot a few deer, they probably won’t turn out as they’re to far away for my lens on the D100. I shoot a bunch of shots of the tree with the D100 and then totally switch processes with the Lubitel. The picture setup with the Lubitel takes about a minute-and-a-half. Manual zoom, i.e., walking back and forth to get the framing I want. Light meter reading. Then dealing with the reversed optics of the look-down box camera. It is fun though, to switch it up, change the pace and the dynamics. Just one click though, hope I caught it.

 

It’s a long but enjoyable ride to the south end of Skyline Drive. Unless you really like slow cruising I would suggest picking which third of Skyline Drive you’d like include in your trip and leave the rest. I drop off the mountain and into Waynesboro. Finding Mad Anthony’s coffee shop for a late breakfast. I overhear that it’s around noon. The Italian Roast coffee is good, in fact, it would prove to be the best coffee of the trip.

 

One of the pleasures of traveling by motorcycle is that it’s an easy conversation starter. People ask you where your coming from, where you’re heading, ask about your bike, tell you’re about their bike or the one they wish they had. One of the peculiarities of these conversations is that if the person even remotely knows of anyone that has died on a motorcycle, they will be sure to share this fact along with details. These stories usually involve a deer, a car pulling out, or someone taking a corner to fast. The conversation goes something like this:

 

Stranger“nice bike”

You“thanks”

Stranger“my cousin Bob had a friend that hit a deer and died on his bike”

 

Short silence.

 

You“yeah, deer are dangerous, got to be careful”

 

I’m not exaggerating when I say I’ve held variations on this conversation many times. Luckily this isn’t the conversation I have with the owner of Mad Anthony’s. He’s a former sailboat instructor who now finds the same release and head clearing on his motorcycle that he used to get from his sailboat.

 

This brings to mind the same wave – don’t way dynamic that occurs between sail boaters and power boaters, very similar to the sportbike & HD crowd.

 

The proprietor is a coffee guru, we discuss roasting (my Italian roast was just roasted Wednesday this week). We talk about the good and the evil of Starbucks. We’re both in agreement that they over roast their regular coffee, but I think their foo foo drinks are tasty. He has in his shop both the Bodum press and the Bodum vacuum coffee pot that I got my mom for x-mas. A shameless plug here, the Bodum vacuum coffee pot makes the best home coffee ever. It’s also an entertaining crowd pleaser, no joke.

 

Leaving Waynesboro the plan was 340 northward to 33, then into Harrisonburg, VA (home of the Valley Mall and JMU). 340 proved to be boring so I jumped on 256, Port Republic Road, for a better ride to Harrisonburg. I don’t know if the coffee wore off or if I was just worn out. I pull over at Westover Park, pick out a spot of grass, and take a good nap in the sun.

 

I had my motorcycle bug handed down to me by my step-dad. My kindergarten year of school we moved right at the end of the school year. Rather than switch schools at this inopportune time my Dad stuck me on the back of his Honda and rode me to school and back again for the last month or two. Even earlier than that I have a great photo of me in 1973-4 sitting on his chopper with him. Me in a diaper and him with his long hippy hair. The wild side of the Reverend indeed.

 

Refreshed from my nap it’s back on 33 westbound. Heading out of the Shenandoah Valley and Rockingham County is more glorious twisty roads and the George Washington National Forest. GW is a beautiful tree canopy lined road with a river off to one side. Franklin, WV is the destination, a return to the Star Hotel.

 

I stayed at the Star a few years prior when they first re-opened the historic Star Hotel. The owner, Steve Miller, is a great guy, friendly and conversational. I told him I’d be back again, but it’s been a few more years than I thought. Late lunch at the Star is pesto grilled chicken on ciabatta bread with roasted red peppers. Not the type of fare one might associate with West Virginia, but people have misperceptions about everywhere. Steve promises a prime rib later at dinner tonight to die for.

 

So that there is no misunderstanding, in as much as the Sleepy Hollow Hotel was a dive, the Star Hotel is a dream.

 

Dump the gear in the room back on the bike for some roaming around. I head back to explore a river road I passed on the way in, Rock Gap. It’s a gravel affair and I follow it back a little ways. Photo some river shots. Down further there is a large cliff face with some college aged kids de-gearing after a day of climbing. I’ll try to stop back in tomorrow and shoot some climbing action, as well as some fly fishing.

 

I pick up a bottle of Barefoot Wine, Cabernet Sauvignon, and drop it off with Steve at the Star to keep for later. I’ll enjoy that bottle later tonight from the 3rd floor front porch. South out of town I head, into some very secondary roads. I shoot an old decrepit cabin that would be right up Bobby Sargent’s alley. I put it in the metal folder for a possible future model shoot location, along with the river spots I’ve seen.

 

There are a couple more stops on this little ride. Once for what appears to be a feral chicken, and then for middle of the road stare down with a young doe. She’s camera shy though and is off before I can get a shot. Sportbike probably isn’t the best conveyance for nature photography. The pavement stops and gravel begins, I motor on. Rick & I once spent a full day just about on gravel roads, crisscrossing the back country around Cumberland, MD. So I’m comfortable with the less than ideal riding surface. A few miles on the road dead ends at a pair of chicken houses (source of the feral chicken’s ancestors perhaps?) and I turn around and survey the valley I’ve just ridden through. I have to stop the bike and soak in the scene. A picturesque farm is nestled in the corner of the valley, up against the hills. I meet some inquisitive cows, along with the farmer and his wife.

 

It seems that when you are in WV and you pass a sign that says “snow removal ends here” that the already suspect road conditions are going to quickly deteriorate and will soon resemble somewhat more of a logging road. I motor on through some back country, no houses, no farms, just mountains, steep roadside cliffs, and wicked gravel switchback curves. The part that gives you the willies are the downhill corners where the road grade is slanted to the outside of the curve and to the drop below. Yikes!

 

I creep along where a four wheeler would be much more functional. Although I still hit it a bit in the straights. Pavement arrives again and I’m unsure of my exact location. I follow the chicken farmers directions and soon discover myself back in Brandywine, intersecting the same stretch of 33 I rode on my way into Franklin.

 

Back at the Star Hotel it’s a shower and fresh clothes before heading down for dinner. Downstairs I find the prime rib to be as good as promised.

 

Entry Five

 

How beautifully staged is this. Barefoot on the 3rd floor patio, wine to ease the back and the ache in the knee.

 

205 miles today, the last 30 after check in, just to explore.

  

Sunday

 

Entry Six

 

Out early in the morning. I find no climbers at Rock Gap, unsure of the hours they keep. Out of Franklin on 33 west, looking for another squiggly line I had seen on a map. Bland Hill Road name is a misnomer. A single lane country road winding through German Valley. I got a few shots of German Valley from the 33 overlook before turning on Bland Hill. Now I find myself in the same location I had shot from above.

 

The road cuts through some open pasture land and I meet some cows standing in the road after rounding one bend. They’re pleasant enough, if in no particular hurry to cross, and don’t mind posing for a shot or two before meandering on. People talk about the danger of hitting a deer, a cow would really ruin your day! Off of Bland Hill and on down into the valley. I come up on the rock formation I had seen from the overlook previously. It’s not Seneca Rocks, but a formation of the same ilk. I get some more photos, then onto German Valley Road. I’m still staying at the Star, there is no real destination today. It’s relaxing to stop as much as I like.

 

German Valley Road puts me back on 33 west and not long after I’m ordering breakfast at the Valley View Restaurant. Dale Borgeson warns of places that advertise home cooking, but that’s about all you see in these parts. There are a fair number of cars here and that’s usually a good since the food will be alright. Hell, even the Army could make a good breakfast. It all works out and it’s a hell of a deal, $4 for toast, two eggs, hash browns, bacon, and coffee.

 

From 33 I hit 28 and turn off on Smoke Hole Road, just because it’s there and looks interesting. Boy, what a find it is. Combining the curvy one lane country road with nice wide smooth pavement (gravel free in the corners). It’s great. Smoke Hole Road turns out to run from 28 across the Seneca Rocks National Forest to 220 on the other side. Going west-to-east it starts out all curves and hills, then ends by winding along the south branch of the Potomac. There are lots of fly fishermen here enjoying the catch-and-release section of the river.

 

Up 220 to Petersburg, I run into some Ducati guys at the gas station. We swap riding info and I’m soon on 42 north towards Mayville. Hanging a left when I see a sign for Dolly Sods. I’m back on secondary roads and I soon pass another prophetic ‘no snow removal’ signs. It’s gravel the rest of the way up the mountain til it breaks out on top at Dolly Sod.

 

I’m real happy with today’s roads, as both Smoke Hole Road and Dolly Sods were unplanned ‘discovered adventures’. I do some rock scrabbling at Dolly Sod and enjoy the cliff top views. A fellow tourist snaps a shot for me an I hike out well past the distance that the casual tourist and families go. Shot some more shots of the rock formations with both the digital and film camera. Do some more self-portraits. I then sit down to relax in the sun with the cliff side breeze steadily blowing and update this journal.

  

Entry Seven

 

Well, fellow traveler, if you’ve made it this far I am duly impressed. I thank you for your perseverance. The rest of the day was spent riding without incident. Just more fantastic roads. You don’t have to be an explore on par with Lewis & Clark to find great rides in West Virginia. Just be curious in nature and unafraid to leave the beaten path. Drop off the numbered roads and take the route less traveled. Soon you’ll be in your own undiscovered country. Blah blah blah.

 

Out of Dolly Sod and I find myself on 32. Rough calculations put the dirt road travel around 25 miles for the day. While we are on stats, here’s today’s animal road count:

 

1 rooster

1 dead fox

2 cows

8 chipmunks

7 alive

1 dead

3 dead possums

1 squirrel

1 dead blob (undistinguishable)

No fearsome deer

1 dog

 

I guided myself today by a rather non-descript map put out by mountainhighlands.com

 

Leaving Dolly Sod on 32 puts me in Dry Fork and back on familiar 33 west to Elkins. I cruise around Elkins on the off chance I’ll run into a guy I know named Dallas. Now all you need to know about Dallas is the following:

 

I don’t know his last name

I once gave him a hair cut with dog grooming clippers

I know he works at a bike shop making choppers

 

You figure the odds of me finding him, near zero.

 

If your curious it wasn’t the first time I cut hair, albeit the first time using dog shears. In Korea I cut in the latrine for $2 a cut or for a 6 pack. Everything was barter in the Army. We had a cook that would make you a great custom birthday cake for a case of beer or feed you food out of the back of the chow hall at 3am when you staggered in drunk from the ville for the promise of a future round to be bought. Korea stories could fill another journal.

 

Anyway, out of Elkins and south to Beverly. Scott, if your reading this you were on my mind as I went through town, never forgive, never forget.

 

So far I’ve only tried to write about the positive food experiences of the trip without throwing anyplace under the bus. C&J in Beverly however, served only barely functional burgers and the vanilla shake was of the worst chemical prefab variety. There are some things that I am stuck on, good vanilla ice cream is one. The others that I’m picky about are beer, whiskey, steak, cheese-steak, and coffee. It’s just so disappointing when something you usually enjoy turns out to be sub par.

 

After C&J it’s 250 east to 28, which heads back towards Seneca Rocks and Franklin. It’s a good haul through the Monongahela National Forest. A road of the scenic variety, with good twisties up the mountain and through the scenery. These type road have become quite a common occurrence here in WV. Back in Seneca Rocks and 33 east into Franklin. I never shoot Seneca Rocks, the light is never right, number one can tell you how I get about my light.

 

The Star’s restaurant is closed on Sunday, dagger, so I shower and head into Franklin by foot. About Franklin, WV. It’s a nice little town, quiet and sleepy. No bars other than the VFW that I could see. Everybody I’ve met and spoken too has be pleasant, friendly and conversational, both here in Franklin and elsewhere in WV. I’m sure there are a variety of characters much as anywhere, this is just my observation from the tourist level.

 

Following last night precedent I grab another vino from the Shell station. The Star being closed is a dilemma; I’m in need of a cork screw (having borrowed the restaurants the night before). I wander back down to the hotel, wine in hand, and past the hotel just a bit til I meet an old man sitting out front. I explain my situation, wine without access, and he says he’ll sell me a corkscrew. He goes in the house, shortly to return with the necessary implement in hand. I figure I have it for $3-4 or maybe rent it for a one time use for $1. That proves unnecessary however, he says just to take it, and keep it for any future need.

 

The sole booking for the hotel tonight, I’m like a wraith as I glide through the halls. On the front porch with my bottle of vino in hand. I have some cheap cigars I also picked up and there’s nothing to do but kick back and watch the sunset.

 

It’s been a great trip. Somewhat lonesome at times. The lack of someone to talk to surely let to the length of this journal. It was a trip to getaway, to reflect. There was no great revelation or anything, just time to get to know yourself. The road gives you time to think. I know who I am and I like being me. I know what’s missing.

 

I’m resolved to take more bike trips in the future. It’s definitely my preferred way to travel and vacation. Motorcycling is the way to go.

 

Tomorrow I have my route generally planned out, more scenic byways for a winding route home.

 

Miles today, 240.

 

Monday

 

Entry Seven

 

Just a short postscript. 20 miles east of Washington DC, on 66, the chain popped off the bike. It’s never easy.

           

Look at this perfect Bumble Bee Dumpling I received from Julia B. It is the most perfect dumpling, the bee is hand embrodiered and it is awesome! I feel so spoiled!

 

We bailed on our first attempt of Crescent spire due to rain, but we had a great learning experience and it was a very photogenic day in the mountains. We had planned our outing in accordance with the weather; at no point were we in any danger. I never expected I would learn that much through trial and error in a single day without facing an actual disaster. Taking our lessons from the previous days mistakes we were off again for a second more efficient attempt of Crescent spire. This time we crossed the moraines and glacier quicker, put on our harnesses and crampons before the snow got steep, and our rock shoes before we got on the rock.

 

Yay! We made it up the col, and this was the view of Applebee dome and surrounding area we got from the top. If you look closely (or have a big enough screen) you can see all the little tents way down at camp.

 

The Bugaboos - August 12-18, 2012

 

Living in Squamish I am very lucky to be surrounded by excellent rock to train my technical climbing skills as well as many great peaks for scrambling. But, until last week I had never had the opportunity to combine the two skills I've been developing for years. That all changed when a friend invited me to be her partner on the yearly trip my friend group takes. Two months after the invitiation, a partner swap, and a week of careful packing and preparation I actually found myself driving east about to embark on what would be the greatest adventure of my life to date.

 

The moment I arrived at basecamp my lofty climbing aspiration were downgraded to starting with a 4th class route and going from there. I received tons of advice from friends that had been going for several years, but still nothing could have prepared me for the reality of being there. The ascent to Applebee basecamp, the scale of the spires, the difficulty of the glaciers, and the exposure did not translate well to maps and photos I found myself in awe and terror. Every single obstacle I encountered was more physically and mentally demanding that I could have expected.

 

Even though we were with a large group of friends, we were on our own when we headed out for the day and often learning as we went. As a result we learned many lessons the hard way, including when to put crampons on, when to switch into rock shoes, how hard preventing rockfall can be, and all the ways rappelling can go wrong.

 

It was both the single most terrifying and rewarding experience of my life. Never did I expect to learn so much in a week, or do so little actual climbing. Instead it was a wild ride of alpine obstacles, and a truly life changing experience shared with great friends old and new.

 

A brief summary of my adventure:

 

Aug 12 - Hike into Applebee base camp with 80+lbs pack full of climbing, camping, and glacier gear as well as 7 days of food, and clothes for everything from -10 to +30 degrees celcius rain and shine.

Aug 13 - Eastpost spire, combination of Northeast and Northwest ridges.

Aug 14 - Crescent Spire, W ridge. - Rained off first attempt, after self arresting and improv. anchor construction.

Aug 15 - Crescent Spire, W ridge - Successful ascent followed by rappelling disaster involving ditching a rope that was later recovered

Aug 16 - Pigeon Spire, W ridge - Got 30m up route then turned back to save terror management skills for descent back down the Bugaboo-Snowpatch col

Aug 17 - Eastpost spire again and bathing in the tarn

Aug 18 - Hike out and long drive home

 

Please feel free to contact me with any questions regarding my experience.

 

Photos from this trip were taken with a combination of my Nikon D7000, Olympus uT8000 & GoPro HD2

it was snowing but not much, I was walking around with my A7R , A6500, and A7M2 around this area, I always carry 2 or 3 E mount cameras to eliminate any sort of lens swapping in the filed. I put my Sony 16-35mm f4 zoom on my A7R, Voiklander 10mm f5.6 on my A7M2, 85mm Batis on my A6500 this time.

in fact, I also had my 6 year old NEX5n in my coat pocket with E30mm f3.5 macro mounted.

 

Why haven't these so-called mirrroless companies made any money yet.

Many camera forum experts suggesting Nikon should go FX mirrorles soon, or they must fail........many of them say something like below all the time.

"The writing is on the wall. Cost-cutting is a mantra with camera makers today and a big, complex prism and mirror assembly cost more than an EVF. They will all disappear. I'd be curious to see the relative costs of manufacturing of say a Nikon D810 and a Sony A7R2. The CEO of Sigma won't want to completely ruffle the feathers of Nikon or Canon who stubbornly resist the move to at least a credible line of mirrorless cameras so he's not going to come out and say, "reflex is dead" but it is going to be, as dead as plate film cameras became when 35mm roll film arrived."

 

Yeah the mirrorless fanatics are always aggressive and some times stupidly bellicose to any one does not share the same extremely positive view on their beloved so called Mirrorless that they believe to be some kind of real disruptive innovation of camera..........but really?

 

We always hear this kind of extreme mirrorless fanatic arguments in every camera related forum these days, but now I have to ask them how long have you been saying the same BS already? I think I was one of the very first of this kind to have said about it in 2011 as I got my first NEX5n, but has anything changed since then?

 

And why if it is so much cheaper to build a decent all around mirrorless camera like the A7R2 or the XT2 than a similarly performing D-SLR of their respective sensor class, then why these mirrorless at least decent ones are so much more expensive than the same class similarly specified D-SLRs?

The Nikon D810 costs only about 2100 US, the Sony A7R2 costs 3200 US or so still, if the EVF is so much cheaper than the decent quality OVF in the D810 class of cameras , then why is the Sony so much more expensive?

 

Are those Sony/ Olympus/Fuji fanatics do not feel cheated or shafted by those mirrorless makers they defend to death if, as they say, the EVF bodies are so much cheaper to build than the similar performing OVF bodies?

I used to think it is really cheap to build the so-called mirrorless when I was on my second NEX7, but the average price of the decent mirrorless cameras with a great EVF have never come down, actually it seems going up not down.

The NEX7, which was obviously designed for higher end APS-C market than the A6XXX bodies was much cheaper than the A6300 or the A6500, let alone the Fuji XT2 or the X-Pro2.

The Olympus EM1 was much cheaper than the EM1MK2, the Panasonic GH4 was much cheaper than its successor the GH5, and all of those m43 tiny sensor cameras are much more expensive than the Nikon D7200 , see my point?

At every level, the average price for a decent mirrroless body is increasing........every year and much less cost effective than a decent D-SLR like the D7200 is now.

Maybe it is the economy of scale but the mirrorless price seems never come down, and the average build quality of the so-called mirrorless cameras seem to be deteriorating rapidly, the NEX7 was the best built mirrorless besides the super expensive Panasonic GH5 and the oversized Samsung NX1 and it was really cheap back in 2012.

Since the NEX7 era, those mirrorless fanatics claiming the same coming total extinction of D-SLRs every month(if not every day), but the market share of the mirrorless is just not increasing at all, in fact, decreasing.

The market share of the mirrorless cameras peaked in late 2013 with about 28.4 percent(of the entire ILC market) after the first A7 launch, but after that it has been gradually decreasing, and strangely enough no big media talks about it.

I am not a D-SLR fan at all, in fact far from it. I have been a mirrorless shooter since the first NEX5 and always believed the current form of so-called mirrorless would take over up to almost 90 percent of the entire ILC camera market and having written about that more than 90 times since April, 2012, but in reality it has never happened(yet).

If any of those mirrrorless fanatics were right, by now every D-SLR should have been all dead, or at least should have become an irrelevant player(super nitche products like Leica M). But in reality, they still own about 74.2 percent of the entire ILC market.........this means the so called mirrorless makers have only 25.8 percent of the market share.

It is really deplorable.....pity!

 

So why are mirrorless cameras not selling well?

Well there are many reasons but I think the main reason is the price- most of mirrorless cameras do not seem to be a good value, they are way too expensive for what they can do especially as a whole system, and thay really do not look innovative or different enough to make those long time Canon or Nikon shooters with lots of CN glass / accessories to move to any of those so-called mirrorless systems......

 

Since Canon has owned about 55 percent of the entire ILC market since about 2015,until these mirrorless makers takes some of Canon's market they will never gain anything or even not make any money..

 

Now the sad reality is that none of these mirrorless makers are breaking even but reporting some big loss every year, even Sony is not profitable at all(the entire company seems to be profitable, though).

Contrary to the forum consensus Sony has lost about 5 percent of their market share since they fully moved to E mount main, when they reported their all time peak market share in the year end of 2012, they had about 14.1 percent of the market share. Now they have only about 11.2 percent of it. Fuji is about 6 percent or so. It is really pathetic.

Honestly, Sony has been a big loser in terms of sheer sells. They have invested more R& D money than any other player in this game, but they haven't got any profitable return from it yet.

Canon, on the other hand, has invested so little money and gained about 14 percent of the market share in just last year alone.

I think until Canon seriously decides to disrupt their own EF mount D-SLRs with their version of the Sony A7R or Fuji X-T2, the mirrorless market share always stays very small-kind of irrelevant. In 2012 when I had my second copy of Sony NEX7, I thought by now Sony would've already become no1 in this business, but it never happened...........

As we look at all the major mirrorless camera makers financial results, we must wonder why they are not doing really well, not gaining anything over Canon and Nikon.

Nikon hasn't done anything right in the last 4 years or so, and almost all their recent products have had an issue or two, or even recalled,but in terms of sheer market share and sells they are doing much better than any of these over-hyped mirrorless makers. Nikon's finanical issue at least their camera division is greatly exaggerated and at least still much more robust than any of the mirrorless players.

 

Now many people ask us why so many people actually GOING BACK to Nikon or Canon recently despite of the incessant silly claims from the mirrorless fanatic camera sites that mirrorless have gained much sells and almost completely killing the lazy two asleep camera giants- that is never happening..........

 

Well it is easy because the so-called mirrorless systems are all flawed and overpriced at best. They all have a few serious issues as a whole system and that is why many of those real working event pros going back to their old systems after having evaluated one or two so-called mirrorless systems for a month or so........many of them are not very rich to keep many camera systems for their work, and for work Nikon or Canon system is much more reliable with better support.

It is really as simple as that.

Anyway I tried to write about the current state of each of the 5 major mirrorless players below:

 

1>Sony: As many of our customers rightly pointed out, it is the most interesting one besides Panasonic right now. Honestly as a long time Sony system user(I've owned both A and E but mostly FF E mount stuffs now) with lots of E mount only lenses, I want to Sony to become the no1 dominant player in this business(other wise, I will lose too much money in transition). They have a lot of good things going for their system now. Sony has done many things actually right or at least interesting; trading their already established market share in D-SLRs for a similar MILC market share.

Since they thought the new MILC market would definitely be the future and quick to take over most part of the D-SLR market, but that never happened yet, and in the process Sony has lost some big money on their stills camera business, however, their big and powerful enough motion camera division and sensor division have made more than enough money to make up for it. So the entire Sony DI (digital imaging) group is reporting some profit but the stills business is not doing very well.

I think the so-called mirrroless would eventually eat the big part of the ILC market but not so soon because Sony and other mirrorless makers trying to shift themselves to only high-end market with an unreasonably steep price hike thrown in every iteration.

So they have a lot of issues in the short run, but in the longer run I am quite sure they are doing it right. The way Sony has integrated their excellent video and stills products really change the way low budget productions shoot their films. Also Sony is the only one FF camera manufacture to give us the choice of 3 different sensors in the same type of boring but solid A7X2 type body. While the A7X2 bodies are still not perfect, not as durable as the most powerful Panasonic or Samsung crop sensor bodies such as the GH5, the NX1, the A7R2 and A7M2 are both arguably already great cameras and in case of the A7R2 probably we can safely say it is a great camera, or at least the best all around FF camera ever made in this price range. The lens line is also becoming quite solid with high quality but compact Zeiss Batis line primes and Sony GM series zooms, they are quickly filling out the gap in their lens line and I would say maybe they do not have as many lenses as Canon or Nikon legacy mounts, but the average lens quality is much higher in Sony system since all Sony FE and E mount lenses are new designs without silly film-era-lens design stipulations.

So they might be the best positioned for the future, especially in the long run, however, they still have to execute on that future by carefully listening to their long time customers like us.

They must improve the A7X2 body quality further in the upcoming A7X3 series, or need to add a new more rugged pro grade system that can withstand freezing cold weather in a series of harsh winter mountain shooting sessions. They need to improve tethering capability with Capture One, but I am sure this one will be rectified very soon since Sony has been closely working with Phase One for this, and this is why we can get the C1 for Sony so cheap. Thanks for the Phase One-Sony deal, and I think this is the biggest pro of the Sony E and A system over Canon Nikon Fuji. After all, Capture One Pro is the best RAW developer.....

Another so-called Sony specific issue was that they just exhausted users by updating 3k bodies every 8 months or so, but this one also already fixed. The clear sign for it is the long life span the A7M2 has had and the A7R2 seems to have had. They will not be replaced by the end of this spring...So in case of the A7M2, it has had 3 years of life and it is a long time for any tech product.

As I said the second generation A7 series bodies are already very good, so unlike the first original series , they would not update these in a rush, and I think it is a good thing.

Sony haters always pan them for their terrible customer support especially repair quality and unreasonably expensive charges for that, but it is really improving and I must say it is now one of the best at least in Asia. They have the thoroughest most complete distribution channels in camera business, and they have the most service stations throughout Asia.

Nikon used to have the best service at least in Japan, but now both Sony and Canon have surpassed them in this department.

So Sony is getting better and quickly fixing all known bugs and issues at faster pace than any one else in this game.

However, in the even longer run,their extreme focus on expensive high end market will eventually force them to go the same path they went in the HiFi audio market..

 

2>Fuji: They also have reliability issue and more seriously they have RAW converter issue , it is really hard for any Windows user to find a decent quality RAWC for the X-T2 or X-T20. On top of that, the silly design over functionality kind of retro UI and ergonomics aren't every one's cup of tea..........

I always want to love a Fuji X something when it comes out and try it every time new X body comes out, but every time I end up hating the silly retro user interface and lack of DXO support.

Also, most of Fuji X bodies I tired had terribly bad battery life, actually they were all much worse than my A7X cameras in this regard. So I really want to love the X system, but I must admit it is an overpriced style over functionality kind of system and I do not like their cameras at least until they give us non-retoro body with normal Bayer or organic sensor choice.....I do not like the X-Trans at all, and I consider it worse than the latest generation m43 sensors used in the GH5, the EM1MK2, or the Pen F.

Their Kaizen policy may have led their poorly designed X system this far.

But like many of Ex-Xsystem users pointed out, they can no longer gain from just listening to their customer requests, as customers just think in terms of existing things, not possible new things. If they want to get more new users coming into their odd obscure X system, then they must become better at internal innovation that solves real user problems that their users do not even know how to solve, or they cannot even imagine having those problems in their existing Fuji cameras.

Personally, I think, if Fuji continues the silly retro-style over actual usability concept, they will eventually fail it miserably.

 

3>Canon EOS M mount: well what I can say? honestly the EOS M5 is a great body in real life, but its spec sheet is way behind the time for the suggested price, especially for Video market. It has no 4k, no 120p, no 422-10bit, no proper microphone jack, etc. And the sensor is , while it is a bit better than the poor Xtrans 24mp sensor, still way behind the current Sony 24mp chip in the latest Sony APS-C such as the A6500. But other than that, at least in real life practical use for stills, it is really surprisingly a good camera with very cheap, compact but sharp lenses.

The EF-M22mm f2 is a stellar lens really sharp for the price and even in absolute sense.

It beats the oversized Fuji XF23mm f1.4 hands down without the super annoying X-trans artifacts. The EF-M11-22 and 55-200 are both quite decent zooms too. The EF-M11-22 actually beats the expensive Fuji XF 10-24/4 in resolution and distortion control, and the Canon lens is about 4 times cheaper than the Fuji.

So while the EOS M5 is not on par with the very latest mirrorless APS-C cameras over 1k range in spec sheet comparison, it is actually a very cheap and decent performing system, especially if you already have some of good Canon EF or EF-S mount lenses. The adapter is cheap and it is made by Canon-not by any obscure lens maker or mount adapter maker unlike the Sigma EF-E adapter or the SpeedBooster crap, and therefore all native Canon EF , EF-S and EF-M lenses are 100 percent compatible with the EOS-M5.

That is why despite of many very negative views on this system from self-proclaimed armchair forum experts , the EOS M system is rapidly gaining its market share, it is just super economical and actually a very practical system. I personally like its very organized menu and highly sophisticated intuitive touch interface.

 

But I think for pro level FF mirrrorless system, Canon will definitely use the EF mount since going a totally new mount does not make the FF lenses much smaller or better.....so why should Canon give up the already completely electronic EF mount with the biggest lens catalog to date.

 

4>Olympus: As Thom says it is already a very matured system , maybe almost as matured as the Canon Nikon D-SLR duo...........and I think almost all bugs and quirks of the systems are already ironed out effectively, and almost all their products are now excellent.

But this clear sign of the system maturity means that they've already done almost everything they could conceive of for the system and nearing to the point where there they have no way to make significant improvement in every future iteration.

Or at least it is extremely difficult to get any extra out of the m43 sensor from now on, they are already getting very close to that point that they have once reached to in their Original 43 era in 2010 or so. Unless there is a big new sensor tech breakthrough they will eventually reach the point and will suffer from the hell of the small sensor IQ limit that they have set up for themselves.

 

Even if there is a big sensor tech breakthrough in the next 2 years time, that will also benefit the bigger sensor groups, too, and therefore the big IQ gap between the m43 vs the 35mm format will not become smaller.

Actually the excellent set of m43 primes can mitigate or even defy the m43 sensor limits........but that actually makes the m43 system much more expensive than a basic FF system with a set of moderately fast primes or f4 type of zooms.

And the faster you want to go with the system the bigger it gets and this basic optical logic also applies to m43 system. At this point m43 loses almost all its meaning and becomes as heavy and big as the bigger sensor rivals.

But if you can accept the obvious sensor size related IQ limits , then it is an excellent system.

It is the most well balanced system in many ways; it is very fast in both operation and AF speed, it is very practical with the super effective dust buster system, it is very tough and well sealed, and it can be very small with a set of light lenses(if you give up a couple of stops of light gathering power).

So IMHO, I really think Olympus should focus on developing moderately fast super sharp primes and zooms, not repeating the same mistake they made in their 43 era with the huge set of f2 zooms and f1.2 primes. They shouldn't try competing with so-called FF for DOF to DOF , but design more balanced system based around a set of super sharp f1.8 primes and f2.8-4 zooms for those who do not want or need the super shallow DOF or the extra light gathering power of the 35mm system at the big cost of huge back breaking size and weight.

Still even the sensor IQ limitations the m43 is a very interesting and very well balanced system for many many people who do not need the ultimate speed or thinnest DOF that the so-called 35mm FF plus a set of fast primes and f2.8 zooms provide...... For me if they can solve the sensor size related IQ issues, it's the best system for me. In other words, if they could make the sensor shift high resolution mode works for handheld work, I would definitely choose m43 over so-called FF or APS-C.

So to me it seems like a race between Sony makes the FE system fully functional without the many known FE system related quirks and bugs(with better more intuitive UI), vs m43 makes the high resolution mode works handheld or some amazing sensor tech breakthrough like the complete utilization of the Organic sensor for consumer market actually occurs.

 

IMHO, the point of sufficiency issue is really overlooked by many FF fans, but at some point a smaller sensor system- the APS-C or the m43 gets there for many of us and at that point many of us will ditch the so-called FF system, or at least some of us will find the smaller sensor format better balanced..

Personally I really really hate the term FF and I think we should use "35mm format" instead of FF. The FF sounds too arrogant and stupid....The sensor size is always relative to the other formats and the 35mm is not the biggest sensor format. So why do we have to call it FULL FRAME?

 

5>Panasonic: In my honest opinion, Panasonic has been the true tech innovation leader in ILC market after Samsung gave it up completely in 2015. It is really interesting how they've taken a shifty calculating tactic and made it really work for them: the most complete form of hybrid-ability. They have made over three dozen mirrorless cameras in eight years and they were the very first company to have actually materialized the current mirrorless concept, but almost no one talks about them for their stills aspects at all but solely for their incredible video integration in their stills cameras. So they basically succeeded in their tactful game-changing mission.

Now after the incredible GH3, GH4 and everything after that, the game has been changed successfully for them and now it is played by their set rules not by others.

So many hats off to Panasonic. But do not forget although most of people see the Panasonic flagship camera series the GH as the pure video flagship and if you do not care much about video, it is not for you, it is actually even as a pure stills camera probably the best m43 ever, and in terms of sheer functionality and speed it beats everything else in the market regardless of sensor format or body class.

I think Panasonic is unfairly underrated. Even the cheap G85 is incredibly good for the modest price and size, and also in absolute sense. It is blazingly fast, the AF is incredibly accurate, it can even beat the best D-SLR like the D500, the D5, the 1DX and the a99MK2 in lowlight AF department, it is really incredible. The GH5 is really extremely good, competing only with itself.

I really believe that Panasonic would actually dominate the mirrorless market if they were to design a GH5 FF for around 3000 USD price market. Even a FF version of the G85 may make them the no1 in this catergoy and only second to Canon in the entire ILC business. The GH is and the latest G are extremely reliable and extremely tough, built like a real tank to withstand heavy use out in the field, even in an extreme cold mountain or a frozen lake or even in the North Pole.

It is splash/dust/ freeze proof, freeze-proof down to -15-degrees in addition to splash / dust-proof construction. Like Panasonic themselves say this camera can go everywhere you can.

I think Panasonic should make a larger sensor version of the GH5 and the G85, with a high resolution square format 32 by 32 or at least 24.6 by 24.6 sensor, then I am sure they will be able to completely change the way this game will be played, and really reignite the sluggish stills camera industry.

So I guess I really want Panasonic to succeed in this game that may help them to design a second larger sensor version of their already excellent 43 system.

I mean if they come up with FF GH5 or G85 tomorrow with at aleast 5 lenses, I would sell all my Sony and Nikon so-called FF cameras......

 

As I write above there is no-even one- flawless camera system from any of mirrorless manufactures, however, if you pick up two or three of these above with two different sets of strengths, then it may be at least for you good enough systems even if you do have to own two different sets of lenses. I personally concluded although I really want to go only one brand kit for practicality reason, for now I at least need 2 brand kits and for me that seems like Panasonic or Olympus and Sony or maybe Canon.

The m43 and the Sony FE make a great combo and that can cover almost everything I do with my cameras........I find m43 the best suited for video, macro and light travel stuffs and probably for street, I think I use my Sony for more tripod based stuffs or high resolution required stuffs or when I need a good manual focus lens such as the new Voiklander 12mm f5.6 or 15mm f4.

Now, I just tried the new Voiklander 40mm f1.2 and it is incredibly good, I will definitely get this one for my A7R and A7R2, and this lens will instantly make my A7X system an indispensable camera system to me.

 

Just a couple of years ago, Sony E mount haters always made fun of the E mount system for its(then) very poor lens lineup. But now ironically enough, with some serious help from Coshina and Zeiss, Sony seems to have developed arguably one of the best lens line in the FF class in just a matter of a year or so and I think we have to give some serious credit to Sony for keeping it an open mount system unlike Canon and Nikon are trying very hard to shut all thirdparties out of their respective FF system at any cost. Nikon has sued Sigma for a several times already and they have lost a lot of money and customers over that.

Sony E mount has the widest range of digital optimized MF(manual focus) lenses and those people who find precise MF-ability more important to them than super fast C-AF will always choose the Sony FE system. I mean it is almost impossible to really precisely MF on your Nikon with their poor soft LV image quality..no focus peaking,etc. The Canon D-SLRs at least have very good LV and LV exposure simulation mode, but the Nikons including the latest D5600, the D500, the D5 do not have that. The LV speed of the latest Nikon is basically the same as the 7year old D7000, in fact, Nikon has made no progress in this area since the D600.

It is really pity and the Nikon D-SLRs-even the best ones are not comparable to any of the Sony A7X series cameras in this regard, let alone to the fastest mirrorless cameras like the XT2 or the GH5.

  

Having said all above points though, I must admit it's all about short term view of the business, and I must also admit my gut feeling tells me the final winner of the future camera market won't be any of these traditional camera companies, they have no vision for the future, and that is the real problem.

I think the final winner is something like the Light L16 with a bit better sensor tech and much more powerful internal processor. The future is computational camera not the so called mirrorless, we camera fanatics always see it from a traditional camera user's view point, and so we tend to overlook what is actually important to many of normal camera buyers.

 

The real biggest problem of the Japanese camera companies is that they do not listen to the young people: there are many young people who I know are actually interested in photography but find it too expensive for their meager income.....but the entire industry is trying to up the average camera price every iteration, so how they can get the young interested? Bieng young means usually not rich, many times poor.

And even before discussing about the price issue, we must realize that no current major camera companies have actually tried inventing new 21st century U.I. for the smartphone generation boys and girls, they've never made it always connected or programmable, so how can the smartphone generation people get interested in any of the old 20 century minded camera systems that forces them to buy many many lenses and accessories to do anything well.

 

The camera companies've just listened to the forum fanatics too much too long, and remember the fanatics are mostly old men in his 60s or 70s. Plus, the Japanese camera companies are all run by almost 70y/o men in expensive grey suits that does not understand the real needs of the young people........so they do not see why their products are unappealing to the young.

 

I am sure there are very extremely talented young engineers, and managers in these camera companies, but the old bosses do not let them do anything really interesting, the old bosses just force the young managers to share their dated 1990's idea of how cameras should be like.

I also know as a camera dealer, many young boys still interested in a serious camera, but not the system idea. I've found this out by interviewing 120 boys(younger than 25) who bought one of the major mirrorless or D-SLR mount system cameras from us and returned it. The top reason why they decided to return it was that they felt the system burden was just too much to keep on their shoulder.

They told us when they realized how many lenses they'd actually need to do all what they wanted to do with their camera, they decided to give it up. It was too expensive and too annoyingly space-taking, and that'd be a big burden on them as they were still very young and therefore they need more money for many things.

 

So the current trend of upping the prices of all cameras to make up for the lost unit sales will not work, actually it will kill the industry. Like Thom Hogan's latest article says it very well, I think the companies may not be dying but the old fashioned photography industry, especially the accessory makers, publishers, LCD protector makers, etc, are all dying with the idea of the 90s style of print based photography that always discussed at sites like Luminous Landscapes and DPR. So the only one real solution to the industry is to ignore the old fanatics and listen to the smartphone generation people.

 

UPDATE:The last two weeks or so, I have been testing my Batis 85mm f1.8 (I have 2 copies of it and I have access to 6 extra copies of it at my shop) vs the new Sony FE85mm f1.8.

And surprisingly enough I found the Sony cheap lens actually quite a bit sharper at f1.8 and probably throughout all f stops.

The bokeh or out of focus area rendition of the Batis seems to be a bit smoother, it has a bit less lateral CA, but it seems to be softer, actually obviously so. It is not a copy issue since I have also tested 6 extra Batis we have at our store.

Another big con of the Batis vs the Sony FE 85mm f1.8 is that the Batis has noticeably more pincushion distortion , if you turn off the in camera lens correction, you will see it in the EVF of any Sony A7X camera.

The color tone is also different, the Batis produces a bit warmer color than the Sony and many say they prefer the look of Zeiss, but honestly if you objectively blind test it you will soon realize the Sony renders everything more naturally with a bit more neutral tone. Many Zeiss fanboys just say it is a Zeiss, so it is a special lens, well really? Not all Zeiss lenses are great, only a very few Zeiss are actually great, and these days everything is designed with computer with using the same software, so every lens in the same size range is actually identically sharp, no dramatic difference there, really..

The Tamron 85mm f1.8VC, the Batis 85mm f1.8E, the Sony FE85mm f1.8, are all similarly sharp wide open, and from f2.8 the Sony is noticeably better than the Batis and the Tamron.

I also prefer the cooler out of the camera color of the Sony lens over the Tamron and the Zeiss Batis.

Now, we all know that Zeiss is not a better lens designer than Sony or Tamron , or any one..........maybe this fact is really hard for the fanboys to admit, but it is the reality.

IMHO, the only one minor drawback of the new Sony FE85mm f1.8 is the a bit harsh out of focus area rendition in strong back lit scene, and I think almost all Sony FE lenses share this issue.

The AF of the FE85mm f1.8 is much faster than the AF of the Batis 85mm f1.8E, so for shooting my cats indoor, I think the Sony is a much better lens. For weddings, I think the Batis may be a bit better since it renders our of focus area a bit smoother in extreme back lit scene. However, I do not like the warmer color signature of the Batis and many Japanese Zeiss lenses. I suspect the actual lens designer for the Batis series is Tamron, and therefore they share very similar look to the Tamron 85mm f1.8VC. I may be wrong here but I think I am right since the look Batis series lenses share is quite different from my MF Zeiss lenses including my Loxia lenses and ZF ZE lenses.

It is sad but I have to admit that almost all Zeiss Batis and Loxia lenses are just ok , nothing really special about these, except the 25mm, which is my favorite lens, and Loxia 21mm f2.8 and may be also the 50mm f2 Loxia.

The 18mm f3.5 Batis is a poorly designed lens, really should not carry the Zeiss blue badge. The Batis 85mm f1.8E was a great lens, at least I thought so until I compared it to the new cheap Sony 85mm f1.8, but now it is the softest 85mm in the current Sony E mount lens line up. The FE85mm f1.8, the Tamorn 85mm f1.8VC, the Sigma 85mm f1.4 Art, the Sony 85mm f1.4GM are all sharper than the overpriced plastic coated bulky Batis 85m f1.8.

I am selling the Batis and get the Sony FE50mm f1.4 soon to replace my Loxia 50mm f2 and Sony Zeiss 55mm f1.8.

 

But the most important change that this very humble Sony FE85mm f1.8 has induced in this industry is that it has kind of killed all charms of them43 system and the Fuji X.

The Fuji 56 f1.2 and the m43 fake Leica 42.5 mm f1.2 lens are great optically, but as a whole system, they are a much less capable system than a cheap Sony lens on a FF body.

  

UPDATE: Now the rumored A9 is announced and I was wrong on the name, I said it Alpha One, but everything else I predicted about it was right.

It was, after all, a very highspeed FF camera that designed to kill the D5 and 1DX2. It is incredibly fast and very good hybrid shooter and for 4500USD, it is a big bargain.

However, it was kind of a big disappointment to me since I do prefer the 42.4mp sensor or the 36.7 mp sensor and I am too used to it.........the 24.3mp resolution feels like old now, and being 24mp means it cannot be updated to shoot 8k when it finally gets available for consumer cameras.

So while it is an incredibly versatile FF camera, I prefer my A7R2 any day to this highend A9 camera even if it is cheaper than my 2 year old A7R2.

 

But one thing we are very sure about now is DSLR is finally dead , and Nikon's future is very bleak........

 

It's a last minute dash partner. Hence the absense of binding. I hope these will suit your dining area. I don't machine quilt very often, so I hope that my wavy lines don't let you down too much....

I'm ready for the next step: choosing the filling. I won't add Swiss chocolate, despite the fact that Switzerland is famous for it. The real stuff isn't made for traveling during the summer months. Sorry, partner. Maybe you¨ll come to Switzerland one day. I would arrange a chocolate degustation for you and I would even let you play with my stash. In the meantime I'll fill the dumpling with as many scraps as possible … or as many as the Swiss postal services allow me.

Hello Partner, so sorry that it took me so long to make a mosaic! I'm sure I will love what you create for me! Thank you!

it was snowing but not much, I was walking around with my A7R , A6500, and A7M2 around this area, I always carry 2 or 3 E mount cameras to eliminate any sort of lens swapping in the filed. I put my Sony 16-35mm f4 zoom on my A7R, Voiklander 10mm f5.6 on my A7M2, 85mm Batis on my A6500 this time.

in fact, I also had my 6 year old NEX5n in my coat pocket with E30mm f3.5 macro mounted.

 

Why haven't these so-called mirrroless companies made any money yet.

Many camera forum experts suggesting Nikon should go FX mirrorles soon, or they must fail........many of them say something like below all the time.

"The writing is on the wall. Cost-cutting is a mantra with camera makers today and a big, complex prism and mirror assembly cost more than an EVF. They will all disappear. I'd be curious to see the relative costs of manufacturing of say a Nikon D810 and a Sony A7R2. The CEO of Sigma won't want to completely ruffle the feathers of Nikon or Canon who stubbornly resist the move to at least a credible line of mirrorless cameras so he's not going to come out and say, "reflex is dead" but it is going to be, as dead as plate film cameras became when 35mm roll film arrived."

 

Yeah the mirrorless fanatics are always aggressive and some times stupidly bellicose to any one does not share the same extremely positive view on their beloved so called Mirrorless that they believe to be some kind of real disruptive innovation of camera..........but really?

 

We always hear this kind of extreme mirrorless fanatic arguments in every camera related forum these days, but now I have to ask them how long have you been saying the same BS already? I think I was one of the very first of this kind to have said about it in 2011 as I got my first NEX5n, but has anything changed since then?

 

And why if it is so much cheaper to build a decent all around mirrorless camera like the A7R2 or the XT2 than a similarly performing D-SLR of their respective sensor class, then why these mirrorless at least decent ones are so much more expensive than the same class similarly specified D-SLRs?

The Nikon D810 costs only about 2100 US, the Sony A7R2 costs 3200 US or so still, if the EVF is so much cheaper than the decent quality OVF in the D810 class of cameras , then why is the Sony so much more expensive?

 

Are those Sony/ Olympus/Fuji fanatics do not feel cheated or shafted by those mirrorless makers they defend to death if, as they say, the EVF bodies are so much cheaper to build than the similar performing OVF bodies?

I used to think it is really cheap to build the so-called mirrorless when I was on my second NEX7, but the average price of the decent mirrorless cameras with a great EVF have never come down, actually it seems going up not down.

The NEX7, which was obviously designed for higher end APS-C market than the A6XXX bodies was much cheaper than the A6300 or the A6500, let alone the Fuji XT2 or the X-Pro2.

The Olympus EM1 was much cheaper than the EM1MK2, the Panasonic GH4 was much cheaper than its successor the GH5, and all of those m43 tiny sensor cameras are much more expensive than the Nikon D7200 , see my point?

At every level, the average price for a decent mirrroless body is increasing........every year and much less cost effective than a decent D-SLR like the D7200 is now.

Maybe it is the economy of scale but the mirrorless price seems never come down, and the average build quality of the so-called mirrorless cameras seem to be deteriorating rapidly, the NEX7 was the best built mirrorless besides the super expensive Panasonic GH5 and the oversized Samsung NX1 and it was really cheap back in 2012.

Since the NEX7 era, those mirrorless fanatics claiming the same coming total extinction of D-SLRs every month(if not every day), but the market share of the mirrorless is just not increasing at all, in fact, decreasing.

The market share of the mirrorless cameras peaked in late 2013 with about 28.4 percent(of the entire ILC market) after the first A7 launch, but after that it has been gradually decreasing, and strangely enough no big media talks about it.

I am not a D-SLR fan at all, in fact far from it. I have been a mirrorless shooter since the first NEX5 and always believed the current form of so-called mirrorless would take over up to almost 90 percent of the entire ILC camera market and having written about that more than 90 times since April, 2012, but in reality it has never happened(yet).

If any of those mirrrorless fanatics were right, by now every D-SLR should have been all dead, or at least should have become an irrelevant player(super nitche products like Leica M). But in reality, they still own about 74.2 percent of the entire ILC market.........this means the so called mirrorless makers have only 25.8 percent of the market share.

It is really deplorable.....pity!

 

So why are mirrorless cameras not selling well?

Well there are many reasons but I think the main reason is the price- most of mirrorless cameras do not seem to be a good value, they are way too expensive for what they can do especially as a whole system, and thay really do not look innovative or different enough to make those long time Canon or Nikon shooters with lots of CN glass / accessories to move to any of those so-called mirrorless systems......

 

Since Canon has owned about 55 percent of the entire ILC market since about 2015,until these mirrorless makers takes some of Canon's market they will never gain anything or even not make any money..

 

Now the sad reality is that none of these mirrorless makers are breaking even but reporting some big loss every year, even Sony is not profitable at all(the entire company seems to be profitable, though).

Contrary to the forum consensus Sony has lost about 5 percent of their market share since they fully moved to E mount main, when they reported their all time peak market share in the year end of 2012, they had about 14.1 percent of the market share. Now they have only about 11.2 percent of it. Fuji is about 6 percent or so. It is really pathetic.

Honestly, Sony has been a big loser in terms of sheer sells. They have invested more R& D money than any other player in this game, but they haven't got any profitable return from it yet.

Canon, on the other hand, has invested so little money and gained about 14 percent of the market share in just last year alone.

I think until Canon seriously decides to disrupt their own EF mount D-SLRs with their version of the Sony A7R or Fuji X-T2, the mirrorless market share always stays very small-kind of irrelevant. In 2012 when I had my second copy of Sony NEX7, I thought by now Sony would've already become no1 in this business, but it never happened...........

As we look at all the major mirrorless camera makers financial results, we must wonder why they are not doing really well, not gaining anything over Canon and Nikon.

Nikon hasn't done anything right in the last 4 years or so, and almost all their recent products have had an issue or two, or even recalled,but in terms of sheer market share and sells they are doing much better than any of these over-hyped mirrorless makers. Nikon's finanical issue at least their camera division is greatly exaggerated and at least still much more robust than any of the mirrorless players.

 

Now many people ask us why so many people actually GOING BACK to Nikon or Canon recently despite of the incessant silly claims from the mirrorless fanatic camera sites that mirrorless have gained much sells and almost completely killing the lazy two asleep camera giants- that is never happening..........

 

Well it is easy because the so-called mirrorless systems are all flawed and overpriced at best. They all have a few serious issues as a whole system and that is why many of those real working event pros going back to their old systems after having evaluated one or two so-called mirrorless systems for a month or so........many of them are not very rich to keep many camera systems for their work, and for work Nikon or Canon system is much more reliable with better support.

It is really as simple as that.

Anyway I tried to write about the current state of each of the 5 major mirrorless players below:

 

1>Sony: As many of our customers rightly pointed out, it is the most interesting one besides Panasonic right now. Honestly as a long time Sony system user(I've owned both A and E but mostly FF E mount stuffs now) with lots of E mount only lenses, I want to Sony to become the no1 dominant player in this business(other wise, I will lose too much money in transition). They have a lot of good things going for their system now. Sony has done many things actually right or at least interesting; trading their already established market share in D-SLRs for a similar MILC market share.

Since they thought the new MILC market would definitely be the future and quick to take over most part of the D-SLR market, but that never happened yet, and in the process Sony has lost some big money on their stills camera business, however, their big and powerful enough motion camera division and sensor division have made more than enough money to make up for it. So the entire Sony DI (digital imaging) group is reporting some profit but the stills business is not doing very well.

I think the so-called mirrroless would eventually eat the big part of the ILC market but not so soon because Sony and other mirrorless makers trying to shift themselves to only high-end market with an unreasonably steep price hike thrown in every iteration.

So they have a lot of issues in the short run, but in the longer run I am quite sure they are doing it right. The way Sony has integrated their excellent video and stills products really change the way low budget productions shoot their films. Also Sony is the only one FF camera manufacture to give us the choice of 3 different sensors in the same type of boring but solid A7X2 type body. While the A7X2 bodies are still not perfect, not as durable as the most powerful Panasonic or Samsung crop sensor bodies such as the GH5, the NX1, the A7R2 and A7M2 are both arguably already great cameras and in case of the A7R2 probably we can safely say it is a great camera, or at least the best all around FF camera ever made in this price range. The lens line is also becoming quite solid with high quality but compact Zeiss Batis line primes and Sony GM series zooms, they are quickly filling out the gap in their lens line and I would say maybe they do not have as many lenses as Canon or Nikon legacy mounts, but the average lens quality is much higher in Sony system since all Sony FE and E mount lenses are new designs without silly film-era-lens design stipulations.

So they might be the best positioned for the future, especially in the long run, however, they still have to execute on that future by carefully listening to their long time customers like us.

They must improve the A7X2 body quality further in the upcoming A7X3 series, or need to add a new more rugged pro grade system that can withstand freezing cold weather in a series of harsh winter mountain shooting sessions. They need to improve tethering capability with Capture One, but I am sure this one will be rectified very soon since Sony has been closely working with Phase One for this, and this is why we can get the C1 for Sony so cheap. Thanks for the Phase One-Sony deal, and I think this is the biggest pro of the Sony E and A system over Canon Nikon Fuji. After all, Capture One Pro is the best RAW developer.....

Another so-called Sony specific issue was that they just exhausted users by updating 3k bodies every 8 months or so, but this one also already fixed. The clear sign for it is the long life span the A7M2 has had and the A7R2 seems to have had. They will not be replaced by the end of this spring...So in case of the A7M2, it has had 3 years of life and it is a long time for any tech product.

As I said the second generation A7 series bodies are already very good, so unlike the first original series , they would not update these in a rush, and I think it is a good thing.

Sony haters always pan them for their terrible customer support especially repair quality and unreasonably expensive charges for that, but it is really improving and I must say it is now one of the best at least in Asia. They have the thoroughest most complete distribution channels in camera business, and they have the most service stations throughout Asia.

Nikon used to have the best service at least in Japan, but now both Sony and Canon have surpassed them in this department.

So Sony is getting better and quickly fixing all known bugs and issues at faster pace than any one else in this game.

However, in the even longer run,their extreme focus on expensive high end market will eventually force them to go the same path they went in the HiFi audio market..

 

2>Fuji: They also have reliability issue and more seriously they have RAW converter issue , it is really hard for any Windows user to find a decent quality RAWC for the X-T2 or X-T20. On top of that, the silly design over functionality kind of retro UI and ergonomics aren't every one's cup of tea..........

I always want to love a Fuji X something when it comes out and try it every time new X body comes out, but every time I end up hating the silly retro user interface and lack of DXO support.

Also, most of Fuji X bodies I tired had terribly bad battery life, actually they were all much worse than my A7X cameras in this regard. So I really want to love the X system, but I must admit it is an overpriced style over functionality kind of system and I do not like their cameras at least until they give us non-retoro body with normal Bayer or organic sensor choice.....I do not like the X-Trans at all, and I consider it worse than the latest generation m43 sensors used in the GH5, the EM1MK2, or the Pen F.

Their Kaizen policy may have led their poorly designed X system this far.

But like many of Ex-Xsystem users pointed out, they can no longer gain from just listening to their customer requests, as customers just think in terms of existing things, not possible new things. If they want to get more new users coming into their odd obscure X system, then they must become better at internal innovation that solves real user problems that their users do not even know how to solve, or they cannot even imagine having those problems in their existing Fuji cameras.

Personally, I think, if Fuji continues the silly retro-style over actual usability concept, they will eventually fail it miserably.

 

3>Canon EOS M mount: well what I can say? honestly the EOS M5 is a great body in real life, but its spec sheet is way behind the time for the suggested price, especially for Video market. It has no 4k, no 120p, no 422-10bit, no proper microphone jack, etc. And the sensor is , while it is a bit better than the poor Xtrans 24mp sensor, still way behind the current Sony 24mp chip in the latest Sony APS-C such as the A6500. But other than that, at least in real life practical use for stills, it is really surprisingly a good camera with very cheap, compact but sharp lenses.

The EF-M22mm f2 is a stellar lens really sharp for the price and even in absolute sense.

It beats the oversized Fuji XF23mm f1.4 hands down without the super annoying X-trans artifacts. The EF-M11-22 and 55-200 are both quite decent zooms too. The EF-M11-22 actually beats the expensive Fuji XF 10-24/4 in resolution and distortion control, and the Canon lens is about 4 times cheaper than the Fuji.

So while the EOS M5 is not on par with the very latest mirrorless APS-C cameras over 1k range in spec sheet comparison, it is actually a very cheap and decent performing system, especially if you already have some of good Canon EF or EF-S mount lenses. The adapter is cheap and it is made by Canon-not by any obscure lens maker or mount adapter maker unlike the Sigma EF-E adapter or the SpeedBooster crap, and therefore all native Canon EF , EF-S and EF-M lenses are 100 percent compatible with the EOS-M5.

That is why despite of many very negative views on this system from self-proclaimed armchair forum experts , the EOS M system is rapidly gaining its market share, it is just super economical and actually a very practical system. I personally like its very organized menu and highly sophisticated intuitive touch interface.

 

But I think for pro level FF mirrrorless system, Canon will definitely use the EF mount since going a totally new mount does not make the FF lenses much smaller or better.....so why should Canon give up the already completely electronic EF mount with the biggest lens catalog to date.

 

4>Olympus: As Thom says it is already a very matured system , maybe almost as matured as the Canon Nikon D-SLR duo...........and I think almost all bugs and quirks of the systems are already ironed out effectively, and almost all their products are now excellent.

But this clear sign of the system maturity means that they've already done almost everything they could conceive of for the system and nearing to the point where there they have no way to make significant improvement in every future iteration.

Or at least it is extremely difficult to get any extra out of the m43 sensor from now on, they are already getting very close to that point that they have once reached to in their Original 43 era in 2010 or so. Unless there is a big new sensor tech breakthrough they will eventually reach the point and will suffer from the hell of the small sensor IQ limit that they have set up for themselves.

 

Even if there is a big sensor tech breakthrough in the next 2 years time, that will also benefit the bigger sensor groups, too, and therefore the big IQ gap between the m43 vs the 35mm format will not become smaller.

Actually the excellent set of m43 primes can mitigate or even defy the m43 sensor limits........but that actually makes the m43 system much more expensive than a basic FF system with a set of moderately fast primes or f4 type of zooms.

And the faster you want to go with the system the bigger it gets and this basic optical logic also applies to m43 system. At this point m43 loses almost all its meaning and becomes as heavy and big as the bigger sensor rivals.

But if you can accept the obvious sensor size related IQ limits , then it is an excellent system.

It is the most well balanced system in many ways; it is very fast in both operation and AF speed, it is very practical with the super effective dust buster system, it is very tough and well sealed, and it can be very small with a set of light lenses(if you give up a couple of stops of light gathering power).

So IMHO, I really think Olympus should focus on developing moderately fast super sharp primes and zooms, not repeating the same mistake they made in their 43 era with the huge set of f2 zooms and f1.2 primes. They shouldn't try competing with so-called FF for DOF to DOF , but design more balanced system based around a set of super sharp f1.8 primes and f2.8-4 zooms for those who do not want or need the super shallow DOF or the extra light gathering power of the 35mm system at the big cost of huge back breaking size and weight.

Still even the sensor IQ limitations the m43 is a very interesting and very well balanced system for many many people who do not need the ultimate speed or thinnest DOF that the so-called 35mm FF plus a set of fast primes and f2.8 zooms provide...... For me if they can solve the sensor size related IQ issues, it's the best system for me. In other words, if they could make the sensor shift high resolution mode works for handheld work, I would definitely choose m43 over so-called FF or APS-C.

So to me it seems like a race between Sony makes the FE system fully functional without the many known FE system related quirks and bugs(with better more intuitive UI), vs m43 makes the high resolution mode works handheld or some amazing sensor tech breakthrough like the complete utilization of the Organic sensor for consumer market actually occurs.

 

IMHO, the point of sufficiency issue is really overlooked by many FF fans, but at some point a smaller sensor system- the APS-C or the m43 gets there for many of us and at that point many of us will ditch the so-called FF system, or at least some of us will find the smaller sensor format better balanced..

Personally I really really hate the term FF and I think we should use "35mm format" instead of FF. The FF sounds too arrogant and stupid....The sensor size is always relative to the other formats and the 35mm is not the biggest sensor format. So why do we have to call it FULL FRAME?

 

5>Panasonic: In my honest opinion, Panasonic has been the true tech innovation leader in ILC market after Samsung gave it up completely in 2015. It is really interesting how they've taken a shifty calculating tactic and made it really work for them: the most complete form of hybrid-ability. They have made over three dozen mirrorless cameras in eight years and they were the very first company to have actually materialized the current mirrorless concept, but almost no one talks about them for their stills aspects at all but solely for their incredible video integration in their stills cameras. So they basically succeeded in their tactful game-changing mission.

Now after the incredible GH3, GH4 and everything after that, the game has been changed successfully for them and now it is played by their set rules not by others.

So many hats off to Panasonic. But do not forget although most of people see the Panasonic flagship camera series the GH as the pure video flagship and if you do not care much about video, it is not for you, it is actually even as a pure stills camera probably the best m43 ever, and in terms of sheer functionality and speed it beats everything else in the market regardless of sensor format or body class.

I think Panasonic is unfairly underrated. Even the cheap G85 is incredibly good for the modest price and size, and also in absolute sense. It is blazingly fast, the AF is incredibly accurate, it can even beat the best D-SLR like the D500, the D5, the 1DX and the a99MK2 in lowlight AF department, it is really incredible. The GH5 is really extremely good, competing only with itself.

I really believe that Panasonic would actually dominate the mirrorless market if they were to design a GH5 FF for around 3000 USD price market. Even a FF version of the G85 may make them the no1 in this catergoy and only second to Canon in the entire ILC business. The GH is and the latest G are extremely reliable and extremely tough, built like a real tank to withstand heavy use out in the field, even in an extreme cold mountain or a frozen lake or even in the North Pole.

It is splash/dust/ freeze proof, freeze-proof down to -15-degrees in addition to splash / dust-proof construction. Like Panasonic themselves say this camera can go everywhere you can.

I think Panasonic should make a larger sensor version of the GH5 and the G85, with a high resolution square format 32 by 32 or at least 24.6 by 24.6 sensor, then I am sure they will be able to completely change the way this game will be played, and really reignite the sluggish stills camera industry.

So I guess I really want Panasonic to succeed in this game that may help them to design a second larger sensor version of their already excellent 43 system.

I mean if they come up with FF GH5 or G85 tomorrow with at aleast 5 lenses, I would sell all my Sony and Nikon so-called FF cameras......

 

As I write above there is no-even one- flawless camera system from any of mirrorless manufactures, however, if you pick up two or three of these above with two different sets of strengths, then it may be at least for you good enough systems even if you do have to own two different sets of lenses. I personally concluded although I really want to go only one brand kit for practicality reason, for now I at least need 2 brand kits and for me that seems like Panasonic or Olympus and Sony or maybe Canon.

The m43 and the Sony FE make a great combo and that can cover almost everything I do with my cameras........I find m43 the best suited for video, macro and light travel stuffs and probably for street, I think I use my Sony for more tripod based stuffs or high resolution required stuffs or when I need a good manual focus lens such as the new Voiklander 12mm f5.6 or 15mm f4.

Now, I just tried the new Voiklander 40mm f1.2 and it is incredibly good, I will definitely get this one for my A7R and A7R2, and this lens will instantly make my A7X system an indispensable camera system to me.

 

Just a couple of years ago, Sony E mount haters always made fun of the E mount system for its(then) very poor lens lineup. But now ironically enough, with some serious help from Coshina and Zeiss, Sony seems to have developed arguably one of the best lens line in the FF class in just a matter of a year or so and I think we have to give some serious credit to Sony for keeping it an open mount system unlike Canon and Nikon are trying very hard to shut all thirdparties out of their respective FF system at any cost. Nikon has sued Sigma for a several times already and they have lost a lot of money and customers over that.

Sony E mount has the widest range of digital optimized MF(manual focus) lenses and those people who find precise MF-ability more important to them than super fast C-AF will always choose the Sony FE system. I mean it is almost impossible to really precisely MF on your Nikon with their poor soft LV image quality..no focus peaking,etc. The Canon D-SLRs at least have very good LV and LV exposure simulation mode, but the Nikons including the latest D5600, the D500, the D5 do not have that. The LV speed of the latest Nikon is basically the same as the 7year old D7000, in fact, Nikon has made no progress in this area since the D600.

It is really pity and the Nikon D-SLRs-even the best ones are not comparable to any of the Sony A7X series cameras in this regard, let alone to the fastest mirrorless cameras like the XT2 or the GH5.

  

Having said all above points though, I must admit it's all about short term view of the business, and I must also admit my gut feeling tells me the final winner of the future camera market won't be any of these traditional camera companies, they have no vision for the future, and that is the real problem.

I think the final winner is something like the Light L16 with a bit better sensor tech and much more powerful internal processor. The future is computational camera not the so called mirrorless, we camera fanatics always see it from a traditional camera user's view point, and so we tend to overlook what is actually important to many of normal camera buyers.

 

The real biggest problem of the Japanese camera companies is that they do not listen to the young people: there are many young people who I know are actually interested in photography but find it too expensive for their meager income.....but the entire industry is trying to up the average camera price every iteration, so how they can get the young interested? Bieng young means usually not rich, many times poor.

And even before discussing about the price issue, we must realize that no current major camera companies have actually tried inventing new 21st century U.I. for the smartphone generation boys and girls, they've never made it always connected or programmable, so how can the smartphone generation people get interested in any of the old 20 century minded camera systems that forces them to buy many many lenses and accessories to do anything well.

 

The camera companies've just listened to the forum fanatics too much too long, and remember the fanatics are mostly old men in his 60s or 70s. Plus, the Japanese camera companies are all run by almost 70y/o men in expensive grey suits that does not understand the real needs of the young people........so they do not see why their products are unappealing to the young.

 

I am sure there are very extremely talented young engineers, and managers in these camera companies, but the old bosses do not let them do anything really interesting, the old bosses just force the young managers to share their dated 1990's idea of how cameras should be like.

I also know as a camera dealer, many young boys still interested in a serious camera, but not the system idea. I've found this out by interviewing 120 boys(younger than 25) who bought one of the major mirrorless or D-SLR mount system cameras from us and returned it. The top reason why they decided to return it was that they felt the system burden was just too much to keep on their shoulder.

They told us when they realized how many lenses they'd actually need to do all what they wanted to do with their camera, they decided to give it up. It was too expensive and too annoyingly space-taking, and that'd be a big burden on them as they were still very young and therefore they need more money for many things.

 

So the current trend of upping the prices of all cameras to make up for the lost unit sales will not work, actually it will kill the industry. Like Thom Hogan's latest article says it very well, I think the companies may not be dying but the old fashioned photography industry, especially the accessory makers, publishers, LCD protector makers, etc, are all dying with the idea of the 90s style of print based photography that always discussed at sites like Luminous Landscapes and DPR. So the only one real solution to the industry is to ignore the old fanatics and listen to the smartphone generation people.

 

UPDATE:The last two weeks or so, I have been testing my Batis 85mm f1.8 (I have 2 copies of it and I have access to 6 extra copies of it at my shop) vs the new Sony FE85mm f1.8.

And surprisingly enough I found the Sony cheap lens actually quite a bit sharper at f1.8 and probably throughout all f stops.

The bokeh or out of focus area rendition of the Batis seems to be a bit smoother, it has a bit less lateral CA, but it seems to be softer, actually obviously so. It is not a copy issue since I have also tested 6 extra Batis we have at our store.

Another big con of the Batis vs the Sony FE 85mm f1.8 is that the Batis has noticeably more pincushion distortion , if you turn off the in camera lens correction, you will see it in the EVF of any Sony A7X camera.

The color tone is also different, the Batis produces a bit warmer color than the Sony and many say they prefer the look of Zeiss, but honestly if you objectively blind test it you will soon realize the Sony renders everything more naturally with a bit more neutral tone. Many Zeiss fanboys just say it is a Zeiss, so it is a special lens, well really? Not all Zeiss lenses are great, only a very few Zeiss are actually great, and these days everything is designed with computer with using the same software, so every lens in the same size range is actually identically sharp, no dramatic difference there, really..

The Tamron 85mm f1.8VC, the Batis 85mm f1.8E, the Sony FE85mm f1.8, are all similarly sharp wide open, and from f2.8 the Sony is noticeably better than the Batis and the Tamron.

I also prefer the cooler out of the camera color of the Sony lens over the Tamron and the Zeiss Batis.

Now, we all know that Zeiss is not a better lens designer than Sony or Tamron , or any one..........maybe this fact is really hard for the fanboys to admit, but it is the reality.

IMHO, the only one minor drawback of the new Sony FE85mm f1.8 is the a bit harsh out of focus area rendition in strong back lit scene, and I think almost all Sony FE lenses share this issue.

The AF of the FE85mm f1.8 is much faster than the AF of the Batis 85mm f1.8E, so for shooting my cats indoor, I think the Sony is a much better lens. For weddings, I think the Batis may be a bit better since it renders our of focus area a bit smoother in extreme back lit scene. However, I do not like the warmer color signature of the Batis and many Japanese Zeiss lenses. I suspect the actual lens designer for the Batis series is Tamron, and therefore they share very similar look to the Tamron 85mm f1.8VC. I may be wrong here but I think I am right since the look Batis series lenses share is quite different from my MF Zeiss lenses including my Loxia lenses and ZF ZE lenses.

It is sad but I have to admit that almost all Zeiss Batis and Loxia lenses are just ok , nothing really special about these, except the 25mm, which is my favorite lens, and Loxia 21mm f2.8 and may be also the 50mm f2 Loxia.

The 18mm f3.5 Batis is a poorly designed lens, really should not carry the Zeiss blue badge. The Batis 85mm f1.8E was a great lens, at least I thought so until I compared it to the new cheap Sony 85mm f1.8, but now it is the softest 85mm in the current Sony E mount lens line up. The FE85mm f1.8, the Tamorn 85mm f1.8VC, the Sigma 85mm f1.4 Art, the Sony 85mm f1.4GM are all sharper than the overpriced plastic coated bulky Batis 85m f1.8.

I am selling the Batis and get the Sony FE50mm f1.4 soon to replace my Loxia 50mm f2 and Sony Zeiss 55mm f1.8.

 

But the most important change that this very humble Sony FE85mm f1.8 has induced in this industry is that it has kind of killed all charms of them43 system and the Fuji X.

The Fuji 56 f1.2 and the m43 fake Leica 42.5 mm f1.2 lens are great optically, but as a whole system, they are a much less capable system than a cheap Sony lens on a FF body.

  

UPDATE: Now the rumored A9 is announced and I was wrong on the name, I said it Alpha One, but everything else I predicted about it was right.

It was, after all, a very highspeed FF camera that designed to kill the D5 and 1DX2. It is incredibly fast and very good hybrid shooter and for 4500USD, it is a big bargain.

However, it was kind of a big disappointment to me since I do prefer the 42.4mp sensor or the 36.7 mp sensor and I am too used to it.........the 24.3mp resolution feels like old now, and being 24mp means it cannot be updated to shoot 8k when it finally gets available for consumer cameras.

So while it is an incredibly versatile FF camera, I prefer my A7R2 any day to this highend A9 camera even if it is cheaper than my 2 year old A7R2.

 

But one thing we are very sure about now is DSLR is finally dead , and Nikon's future is very bleak........

 

This is an attempt at a comparison shot of my new Mini Dal "Onyx" and an older doll: Disney's "VIP" Sharpay (sp?)

 

The original listing on Disne'y web store said Shar was 7 inches tall – WRONG!!! She's actually the same size as a Monster High, or Ever After High doll, with a similar body sculpt. I think that the VIP dolls may have been released before the MH dolls. The Head says "Disney" while the body is stamped "Mattel". Maybe the VIP dolls were Mattel prototypes for the later EAH and MH dolls? Maybe it was a new design they came up with for the Disney collaboration, and Mattel managed to retain the rights to use the body design again later? The VIP hands are sculpted slightly differently from the EAH line, and of course the MH dolls all have those bony, claw-hands. It is really starting to bug me that the VIP dolls don't have jointed wrists.

 

Anyway: I was disappointed with the size of the Sharpay doll, and have been wondering what to do with her/it ever since. I thought I'd swap the head for Onyx's when she arrived, but now I see that the neck is too wide and tall for a Mini Dal head.

 

…The Search Continues…

I decided to swap out the locomotive shot for this one. I'm not too happy with the focus and lighting, but *man*, were these wasps ever pissed.

From what I can guess, these are soldier wasps defending themselves against an invasion. [Turns out, these are the basic *worker* size European Paper Wasp!]

Anyway, they sure seemed aggressive to each other, pretty much left us humans and our picnic alone.

There was a *much* larger specimen that I didn't capture on camera, apparently it was besieged by quite a few of these not-so-little wonders and fell behind the woodpile. [This was an invading soldier, I'm guessing.]

At the very least, they gave me a somewhat decent photo. I become so fearless behind a camera lens, can't believe I didn't get tagged on this one.

Trying out some new armor on Rae... I'm not entirely sure how I feel about it, yet. I nabbed the Ashland Apparel retexture mod for the Dragonborn DLC armor and clothing and are enjoying it so far, but I'm still a little dubious on the Chitin Armor. I actually do like it from the bust up, as shown here - it actually looks a little like Raena's previous mashup, in a way, with the red scarf and strap across the shoulder - but from the waist down it's a little... blah. I'd like to add maybe the Misfit Mage skirt to the mix and see how that looks, but unfortunately, my version has bugged itself and for whatever reason now considers the skirt to take up the chest slot - meaning it can't be used with any regular armor, including the bodice it came along with. In fact, that's the main reason I'm even considering swapping out from my previous mashup - I haven't been able to use the skirt along with the bodice I retextured, and as a result there's this big piece of negative space around her hips and lower back which I don't think really suits her. It's also kinda nice to see Raena in some actual armor again, especially one that looks warm and covered enough to make reasonable sense in the ash deserts and frozen tundra of Solstheim. At the same time, though, Chitin has never been my favorite thing - although it's certainly better than its Morrowind equivalent, I'll give it that! - and I really miss using that retextured bodice, since I'd made it with Raena in mind.

 

In short, "sleepy ramblings regarding the playing of dress-up in Skyrim." :p

 

Also, got Kountervibe Extensive working again! Must've just missed a file when I saved it or accidentally left one in from a previous ENB.

Seems like such a fitting time of year to shoot a car like this right? I meet up with my friends at Mac's Hot Rod Shop to shoot this awesome car they have been playing with. This wasn't an easy picture to take. Between being attacked by an army of bugs out in that swap area, rain coming down progressively harder as I was setting up and shooting and it killing half the smoke.

 

Still, I think this turned out kinda cool and this car is awesome!

 

view LARGE!!

 

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www.GarrettWadePhoto.com

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for a build up of this image check out the post over on v2LAB:

v2lab.com/theory/?p=4982

Friday

Entry One

 

Flew out of work, the fleet flight of Friday before a holiday weekend. Everyone cracks a smile upon stepping out of the concrete and glass coffin of the corporate work week. The motorcycle is quickly gassed and loaded, I leave Washington DC at three-thirty, vowing not to check the time for the rest of the adventure. Adventure, the American adventure of the open road is what I seek. The road, my cameras, and escape.

 

Right turn off of 15th St. NW and I’m motoring past the Washington Monument and the White House. Harleys and clones are already lining the Mall for the annual Memorial remembrance that is Rolling Thunder. I’m soon over the bridge and on I-66 west. I plan on avoiding major highways when at all possible. Preferring scenic byways to drab highways. 66 is a necessary evil to flee the DC metro area as quickly as possible. At the start, 66 is a good quick run, for awhile anyway. Loads of Rolling Thunder riders are heading in 66 eastbound.

 

I keep the ubiquitous two fingers down to the side salute to fellow bikers out for extended stretches of time. In my experience, HD guys return the acknowledgement about 30-40% of the time. No big deal, some animosity exist though between different bike cultures. Motor-ism two-wheel stereotypes. However with the Rolling Thunder guys there is a noticeable increase in response, perhaps due to no longer just one biker acknowledging another, but a patriotic sharing of support and remembrance for those left behind, POW-MIA.

 

Traffic worsens further out 66 and I come up on a full HD dresser. Screaming Eagle back patch worked in with POW-MIA covers his vest and is topped by a “Run for the Wall” patch. I keep back a pace and we adopt the natural offset positioning of multiple riders.

 

After some 66 backup, stop-and-go, we strike up a staccato conversation in the pauses of the traffic flow. Where you been, where you going, see the rain coming? I tell him I’m headed out to the mountains, Skyline Drive and West Virginia. He says he’s just in from there recently, was in DC for Rolling Thunder for the day and will be coming back in on Sunday again. His license plate is obscured by luggage, so I’m unsure of his port of origin.

 

Later on we part ways and my thoughts turn. Of my parents friends only my step-dad was drafted for Vietnam. Luckily, for us, he only went as far as Ft. Hood, TX, and came back with some good stories about army life and venturing into Mexico (at least the ones he’s shared with me). I think about all the life he’s lived since then, all his experiences and joys. Thinking about what all those who didn’t return gave up, lost, when they didn’t come home. The loss felt by those who loved them, families that have a name on the Wall.

 

Rain is sprinkling before Manassas. Enough to cool you off but not enough to get you worried yet, at least for a bit. Whooooo. Then come the big drops. I head off the ramp to gear up with the rain paraphernalia under the gas station pavilion. Finally get it all on and get strapped back up and out pops the sun and the rain stops. Too funny. Now I have wet clothes on under the raingear. Rain gear now keeping the wind out that would dry me. I motor on as more rain is promised on the horizon.

 

This brings up a point about rain. People always ask, “What do you do when it rains and your on the motorcycle”. I reply simply, “I get wet”. Duh. Rain riding has never bothered me. On the straight highways it’s no big deal. Just give more cushion to the cars in front of you. Drive like grandma on the exit ramps.

 

My turning point is finally reached. Off of 66 west and onto 647, Crest Hill Rd. at The Plains, VA. Crest Hill Road is my first slice of motorcycle heaven to be had this weekend. I’m delighted to find that the squiggly line I traced out on the map when planning this trip has translated so well in reality. The road is still wet from the passing rain clouds, and I give a small rabbit and then a chipmunk a near death experience. My first of many animal crossings this weekend. The road is fantastic. A mixture of hilltop road and tree lined canopies that create forest tunnels. Speed limit is 45mph, 55-60 feels comfortable on most parts. Keeping an eye out for a hilltop barn to photograph that I’ve seen in my minds eye, lit by the sun breaking through the clouds and backed by the mountain vista. No luck on any of the barns actual placement to fit the mental picture I have framed.

 

Crest Hill Road and Fodderstack Rd is a long stretch. I take shots of a church and other buildings along Zachary Taylor Highway. Fodderstack gives more of the same as Crest Hill, just a narrower road. The asphalt is of my favorite variety, freshly laid. Washington, VA is a tiny town of historic bed and breakfasts. Local wineries appear to be an attraction here too. Right after Washington the rain returns while I’m in route to Sperryville. Then it really starts to come down, a full on summer thunderstorm. Visibility is down. Road and parking lots soon resemble rivers. Rain drops of the monster variety explode on the pavement, and you know it hurts when they hit you.

 

I quick soaking circuit of Sperryville confirms there are no local hotels. I duck into a barn shaped restaurant to wait it out. My drenched gear takes on bar stool and I occupy another. There’s a few flying pigs about. The bartender get me a hefeweizen, and recommends the angus burger. Locally raised and grass fed, we exchange jokes about my passing the burgers relatives on the way in.

 

Don’t freak about the beer. I have a one only rule when riding. It was followed by a meal (best burger of the weekend!), several coffees, and this bar top journal entry.

 

Somewhere along Crest Hill road I decided to keep the cell off for the weekend. In addition no tv, newspapers, internet, or e-mail sound like a good idea. Of course I now am studiously avoid eye contact with the two beautiful plasma’s above the bar.

 

Entry Two

 

Hazel River Inn, Culpepper, VA, has the coolest street side seating in town.

 

The downpour let up at the Shady Farms bar in Sperryville and due to the deficiency in local lodging I quiz the bartender for options. Over the other side of the mountain, the opposite side of Skyline Dr via 211 is Luray with lots of motels, but I want to save the mountain for the morning. The waitress suggest Culpepper, there being a Holiday Inn etc.

 

Stepping outside the sun has broke through the clouds again. Enough for some shots of Shady Farms Restaurant and a bridge. Heading down 522, the Sperryville Pike, I keep an eye out for photo ops to catch the next morning as I’ll be rerouting back through. Following the mantra of Dale Borgeson about tour riding in the US, I aim to avoid large chain establishments, whether they are restaurants or hotels, and explore the mom-and-pop local variety businesses. I have a dive-ish roadside motel in mind, Culpepper comes through with the Sleepy Hollow Hotel.

 

Before check in I ride through downtown historic Culpepper. It’s a cool place. The Shady Farm bartender had recommended the Culpepper Thai restaurant. I see it but don’t visit, still full from the meal earlier. Cameron Street Coffee looks like a great place, located in an old warehouse. Unfortunately their closed for the night.

 

Shower and changed, room 102 at the Sleepy Hollow Hotel. I hop back on the bike, refreshed and dry and ride through the warm night air back downtown. The coffee at the Hazel River Inn comes with a sweet fudge confection on the side. The peach and blackberry cobbler with vanilla sauce is divine.

 

The reconfigured plan for this getaway is to shed. Shed worries about the job, career, housing, and relationships. My motorcycle is therapeutic. It’s 600cc’s of Zoloft on two wheels. The road lifts my spirits. This wasn’t supposed to be a solo run, and there are stretches of road where I feel the emptiness behind me.

 

The cobbler is finished and I can hear the sound of a band doing their sound check. The banging of the drum requires investigation.

 

Entry Three

 

I found Brown Bag Special in the cellar pub of the same restaurant I was in. On my way to the door the noise of the sound check floated up the stairs and directed my feet downward. Brown Bag Special opened the set, appropriately enough, with “I drink alone”. The ol’ man, Big Money, would have loved it. Drink alone started off a Big Money Blues trifecta to include “The Breeze” and “Mustang Sally”. Then they made the mistake a lot of bands make that have a great lead guitar player. They let him sing. The lead guitarist karaoke sucked his way through a Tom Petty hit. He was so off key in his singing it made you appreciate the guitar solo’s all the more for the relief they provided. Thankfully the regular singer soon resumed his duties and the night went on. More good stuff from the band.

 

Freebird

Folsom Prison Blues

Cheap Sun Glasses

 

“can’t you see, can’t you see, what that woman, what she’s done to me”

 

Off to bed now at the Sleepy Hollow Hotel with the ghost and shades of dead hookers and overdoses past.

 

150 miles today.

  

Saturday

 

Entry Four

 

Morning breaks on the Sleepy Hollow Hotel, a hot shower and I’m back on the bike. A quick stop downtown to shoot the Hazel Inn, then it’s back on the Sperryville Pike. More stops to capture some sights seen yesterday. Mr. & Mrs. Pump. The open mouth caricatures are an accurate representation of the current gas cost and the pumps eating your wallet.

 

I keep telling my daughter that her first car, college car, will be a hybrid. She thinks they are ugly. The bike isn’t so bad, averaging around 40mpg. At about 180 miles on the tripometer I start to look for a refill, although I’ve pushed it to 211 miles before.

 

A quick left in Sperryville on 211 and up into the mountain, Blue Ridge Mountains and Skyline Drive. Heading up the mountain I get the first bite of the twisties I’ve been craving. The $10 fee at the gate to Skyline Drive is well worth the price. Great scenery and fantastic views. The only drawback is the 35mph speed limit that is well enforced by the park rangers.

 

I shoot some self-portraits at Pollock Knob overlook. They’re funny in that with all the scrambling and hurrying to be the camera timer, then trying to effect a relaxed pose. I’ve also broke out my old friend this trip, the Lubitel 166, a medium format, 120mm film, twin lens camera. I’m like Jay-Z with this camera, I have to get it in one take. There is no digital review after the click for instant gratification. As a fellow photographer it’s “Point, Push, and Pray”. I’ll be interested to see the results. Not that I’ve left digital behind. Carrying both cameras, I’m an analog/digital double threat.

 

After the self-portraits and some dead tree shots I’m about to pack back on the bike and leave when I meet the preacher and his wife. He offers to shoot me with my camera and I return the favor with theirs. Conversation flows and in a ‘small world’ moment it turns out that he works for same Hazel family that owns the restaurant I was at last night for his Monday thru Friday job. I get a friendly “God bless” and I’m heading south on Skyline Drive. I make several more stops and break out the cameras again at Big Meadow.

 

There is a gnarly dead tree in the middle of the meadow. It has burn damage at the base, either the result of some wild fire or perhaps a controlled burn done to maintain the field. I spot and shoot a few deer, they probably won’t turn out as they’re to far away for my lens on the D100. I shoot a bunch of shots of the tree with the D100 and then totally switch processes with the Lubitel. The picture setup with the Lubitel takes about a minute-and-a-half. Manual zoom, i.e., walking back and forth to get the framing I want. Light meter reading. Then dealing with the reversed optics of the look-down box camera. It is fun though, to switch it up, change the pace and the dynamics. Just one click though, hope I caught it.

 

It’s a long but enjoyable ride to the south end of Skyline Drive. Unless you really like slow cruising I would suggest picking which third of Skyline Drive you’d like include in your trip and leave the rest. I drop off the mountain and into Waynesboro. Finding Mad Anthony’s coffee shop for a late breakfast. I overhear that it’s around noon. The Italian Roast coffee is good, in fact, it would prove to be the best coffee of the trip.

 

One of the pleasures of traveling by motorcycle is that it’s an easy conversation starter. People ask you where your coming from, where you’re heading, ask about your bike, tell you’re about their bike or the one they wish they had. One of the peculiarities of these conversations is that if the person even remotely knows of anyone that has died on a motorcycle, they will be sure to share this fact along with details. These stories usually involve a deer, a car pulling out, or someone taking a corner to fast. The conversation goes something like this:

 

Stranger“nice bike”

You“thanks”

Stranger“my cousin Bob had a friend that hit a deer and died on his bike”

 

Short silence.

 

You“yeah, deer are dangerous, got to be careful”

 

I’m not exaggerating when I say I’ve held variations on this conversation many times. Luckily this isn’t the conversation I have with the owner of Mad Anthony’s. He’s a former sailboat instructor who now finds the same release and head clearing on his motorcycle that he used to get from his sailboat.

 

This brings to mind the same wave – don’t way dynamic that occurs between sail boaters and power boaters, very similar to the sportbike & HD crowd.

 

The proprietor is a coffee guru, we discuss roasting (my Italian roast was just roasted Wednesday this week). We talk about the good and the evil of Starbucks. We’re both in agreement that they over roast their regular coffee, but I think their foo foo drinks are tasty. He has in his shop both the Bodum press and the Bodum vacuum coffee pot that I got my mom for x-mas. A shameless plug here, the Bodum vacuum coffee pot makes the best home coffee ever. It’s also an entertaining crowd pleaser, no joke.

 

Leaving Waynesboro the plan was 340 northward to 33, then into Harrisonburg, VA (home of the Valley Mall and JMU). 340 proved to be boring so I jumped on 256, Port Republic Road, for a better ride to Harrisonburg. I don