Ralph Couey

Ralph Couey
Photo by Darryl Cannon, Powerhead Productions

About Me

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Husband, father, grandfather, friend...a few of the roles acquired in 62 years of living.  I keep an upbeat attitude, loving humor and the singular freedom of a perfect laugh.  I don't let curmudgeons ruin my day; that only gives them power over me.  Having experienced death once, I no longer fear it, although I am still frightened by the process of dying.  I love to write because it allows me the freedom to vent those complex feelings that bounce restlessly off the walls of my mind; and express the beauty that can only be found within the human heart.

Tuesday, December 11, 2012

Stealing a Day of Riding from December


Copyright © 2012 by Ralph Couey
 
Tuesday is one of my regular days off, one I try to reserve for chores, appointments, and riding, weather permitting.  Today was chilly (mid-40s), but sunny so I decided to take the bike out for a spin.  I plotted an 80-mile course on some roads I hadn’t been on yet, which according to Google Maps should take about three hours.  Yes, it is the second week of December, but as long as it was above freezing and not snowing, that’s a reasonably good motorcycle day.
 
In deference to the chill, I dressed carefully, starting with a base layer then jeans and sweatshirt, a pair of heavy sweatpants over the jeans, then my jacket with all the liners in and chaps.  Under the helmet I donned a balaclava.  The final addition was a pair of heavy lined leather gloves.
 
Even with all those layers, it didn’t take long for the cold to penetrate.  Still, the sun felt warm.  I went west on US50 to Aldie, VA where I picked up the Snickersville Turnpike. 
 
This historic route was the first toll road in the United States, opening in 1786.  It was part of a longer route that connected Alexandria, VA with Winchester.  The section between Aldie and Bluemont (originally Snickersville) is 15 miles of narrow, windy blacktop that passes through both rural farms (all carrying sophisticated names) and dense Virginia forest.  At one point it crosses Hibbs Bridge, a short 180-year-old arched span of stone and mortar that roofs Beaverdam Creek.  The road terminates at Virginia Route 7, which continues on to Winchester.
 
I took my time, as I always do on new roads.  Traffic was pretty much nonexistent, which was good because the scenery was eye-catching.  This is part of what is called “Hunt Country, home to large farm estates owned by wealthy families, some of whom have been on the land for two centuries.  It is here in the fall when fox hunts are organized and attended by those on magnificent horses, wearing the traditional red coats, cream pants, and tall boots.  Tradition is a vital part of this part of Virginia, and the road is lined by those incredible stone fences, the design of which date back to the very beginnings of settlements.
 
I got steadily colder the further I rode, my fingers beginning that familiar ache.  I stopped once or twice and put my bare digits into the engine space where the heat restored some feeling to them.  Still, it was a pleasant ride, very calming.
 
Then, just before reaching the northern terminus at Virginia Route 7, the road, without a single warning sign, snapped into a 180-degree switchback.  Approaching the turn, I became puzzled.  The turn was masked by the dense trees, and ahead of me looked like a cul-de-sac of some kind.  At the last moment, I saw the turn and leaned into it.  Unfortunately, my slow speed combined with a sizeable dip right at the curve’s apex sprang a trap.  It happened quickly.  One moment I was on the bike, the next moment I was sprawled in the mud.  I quickly yanked my leg out from under the now-supine motorcycle and stood up.  My heart was pounding and I took a deep breath and took the most important inventory.  To my relief, the only damage I seem to have suffered was an ankle that had been slightly wrenched when the right side foot board folded up under the falling bike.
 
A lady was nearby, walking her dog and asked if I was okay.  She then told me that this was a common sight on that particular bend.  Many motorcycles made the same mistake I had and ended up on the ground.  
 
I stood there, feeling a bit stupid.  My motorcycle looked decidedly odd lying there on its side.  Fortunately, the ignition cutout designed to do its thing when the bike lean angle exceeded 90 degrees, had cut off the engine.  I tried to lift it up, but I was pushing against the hillside and couldn’t quite stand it up.  The lady tied her dog to a tree and came over to help.  With me pushing and her pulling on the crash bar, the bike went up easily.  I thanked her profusely and she went on her way.  
 
I got the bike out of the pit of the turn and rode it to the opposite side, where the asphalt was a bit more level.  I listened carefully to the engine as it idled.  It seemed alright.  I took a careful walk-around.  There were small scrapes on the port crash bar and the very tips of the exhaust, but nothing else seemed to be wrong.  I mounted up and continued on.  
 
Turning on to Route 7, I was still listening with great care to the engine, so I missed my turn onto Blue Ridge Mountain Road.  A quick U-Turn remedied the error, and I proceeded south.
 
This 11-mile road, also new to me, connects Route 7 with US 50 as it passes through Ashby Gap.  It climbs steadily up the side of a mountain, called Mt. Weather, and then back down the other side. At the mid-point, I passed the Mt. Weather Emergency Operations Center, run by FEMA.  At least that’s what the sign says.  There are a load of conspiracy theories about exactly who owns the place and what goes on there, but as far as I was concerned, it was just another set of buildings in the middle of the woods.
 
The route is almost entirely forested, which if you’re like me, makes for a beautiful ride, even in early December.  With the leaves down, I could see several huge homes hunkered down among the trees.  This had to be spectacular during the fall.
 
By the time I got to US50, I was fairly chilled and my ankle was starting to ache.  My original intent was to head south from Middleburg to The Plains and explore some back roads between there and Manassas.  But, all things considered, I had been out 90 minutes my that time, so I stayed on 50 and headed home.  Pulling into the garage was a relief, but before heading inside, I did another close inspection of the motorcycle.  Other than the scrapes previously noted, there didn’t seem to be any other damage.
 
I’m going to do this route again, but not until I get a warmer day.
 
And this time, I’ll be ready for the Snickersville Hairpin.

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