Inspiration for a motorcycle trip can come from many avenues – perhaps by word of mouth about legendary riding destinations like the Tail of the Dragon or seeing iconic locations like national parks on television or in movies. Inspiration for this West Virginia motorcycle trip – including riding part of the Midland Trail – was internal; I wanted to challenge myself and get out of my comfort zone. But before I departed, I felt anxious.
Why the Hesitation to Take a West Virginia Motorcycle Trip?
I had been on previous solo moto camping trips, but a trip to central West Virginia from my home in northern Kentucky would be my longest trip, the farthest from home, and in a state I had never ridden. Doubts and insecurities were plaguing me, as I was still relatively new to motorcycle camping and riding long distances. I had also been raised in a town where women didn’t travel alone, and certainly not on a motorcycle. I couldn’t help but wonder if I was getting myself in over my head with a trip this ambitious.
While I yearned to travel to the New River Gorge area and ride the Midland Trail along U.S. Route 60, fear was holding me back. That is, until my husband encouragingly asked me, “You really want to go, don’t you?” When my answer was a sincere and wholehearted “Yes,” it was clear to both of us what I needed to do.
I decided to go the next weekend – I practically had the whole route planned already anyway – and began packing.
An Unlikely Guide in Maysville, Kentucky
After heading out from my house in northern Kentucky with a full pack on my Kawasaki Versys-X 300, my first stop was Maysville, Kentucky. I wasn’t expecting the quaint, darling downtown with perfectly painted old brick buildings and well-maintained streets. Nor was I expecting the restaurant I chose online to be temporarily closed. Struggling to balance my helmet and gear while I looked for another restaurant on my phone, a man approached me with his small dog and asked if I needed help.
After telling him of my plight, he eagerly offered to show me to “the best restaurant in Maysville” and escorted me down the street a couple of blocks, sharing history about the town as the three of us strolled. Delite’s Downtown had an antique sign befitting the diner’s ’60s-era interior decor, and you could tell it was all original. I ordered biscuits and gravy – a road trip favorite of mine – and while I couldn’t judge if it was indeed the best restaurant in town, I left satisfied.
A Sign from Strangers
After a few hours of riding with only a stop for gas, I was relieved to arrive at a German restaurant in Huntington, West Virginia, called Bahnhof WVrsthaus & Biergarten. Stretching my legs as I walked into the restaurant, I was enthralled with the indoor/outdoor multiple-story dining area and the atmosphere of the place. I ordered the currywurst topped with a sweet raisin chutney and a side of buttery herbed spaetzle.
The food was delicious, but the real star of the experience was a rowdy group of men and a woman sitting at the bar. Their lively exchanges were impossible not to overhear, and they soon struck up a conversation with me.
They asked the usual questions – “Where are you from?” and “Where are you going?” – and when they heard I was headed to New River Gorge, they yelled out in unison, “Fayetteville!” All three began talking at the same time, gushing over the food, drinks, views, and roads in that area. I was able to make out “Kanawha Falls” and “Gauley Bridge,” two places I planned on visiting, as well as “hairpin turns” – that’s all I needed to hear. I felt a rush of encouragement, having received a clear sign that I was headed in the right direction for a great trip.
Riding the Midland Trail
As I left Charleston, I was right where I wanted to be – at the mouth of U.S. Route 60, also known as the Midland Trail National Scenic Byway. Route 60 runs from Kenova, near the Kentucky border, clear across West Virginia and east to the Virginia border. Offering a mix of mountain terrain, low-speed cruising through small towns, and rolling countryside, it’s a favorite motorcycle ride in West Virginia.
The route started out with easy, flowing curves, but once in the mountains, it was exhilarating hairpin after thrilling switchback for miles on end. After scraping my peg on a decreasing-radius right turn, I put more care into my body positioning and slowed it down a little. The turns rivaled some of my favorite curvy roads in the Great Smoky Mountains of Tennessee.
Pulling up to my campground at Babcock State Park, I was welcomed with a clean, pretty campsite not far from the bathhouse and some perfect trees from which to hang my hammock. I was exhausted after a full day of riding – the most miles I had ever ridden in one day – and it showed. I struggled to set up camp and prepare some dehydrated food for dinner. Fatigue is a serious concern on motorcycle trips, and I was relieved that I was safely at my home away from home.
An Ethereal Glow and a Famous Bridge
Waking up to a lovely view of my bike from my open tent, I was looking forward to eating some real food. I made my first stop at the Cathedral Cafe & Book Store in Fayetteville. A converted old church, it still has the gorgeous stained-glass windows intact, which glowed ethereal colors on the inside with the sunlight shining through. A breakfast of croissant French toast and locally made chorizo hit the spot, and I was ready to hit the hiking trails.
I hadn’t done much planning in terms of the trails I wanted to hike, so I stopped at the New River Gorge National Park & Preserve Welcome Center. It has an overlook of the New River Gorge Bridge, so I unexpectedly caught my first glimpse of its expansive form. Once inside the building, the friendly state park ranger suggested I head to Long Point Trail for the best view of the bridge, so I set out with their map, kindly marked up with my route.
The Long Point Trail was a fine, moderately difficult hike, but the magic was at the top of the overlook. Sheer cliffs dropped off dramatically on all sides, while miles of forest extended out into the distance. The woods were only interrupted by the 3,030-foot-long, 876-foot-high New River Gorge Bridge, at one time the highest bridge in the country and still the highest east of the Mississippi. I once stood on the top of the 75-foot-tall Natural Bridge at the Red River Gorge in Kentucky, but this was even more magnificent.
There were two unspoken rules at the top: First, you take a picture for the next person in line on the edge of the cliff in front of the bridge, and second, no one puts anyone else in danger. When visiting treacherous natural wonders, I’m always amazed that people have so much trust in everyone around them – and themselves – to not fall off. After the photo exchange, I sat down on a rock near one side of the cliff and enjoyed a leisurely bagged lunch.
More Exploration on My West Virginia Motorcycle Trip
Before heading to the attractions recommended to me the day before, I crossed the New River Gorge Bridge. I was able to steal some glances over the guardrail of the four-lane highway and was rewarded with views of the forest stretching as far as I could see and the winding New River hundreds of feet below me.
Back on Route 60, I saw the sign for Kanawha Falls and pulled off. It is an impressively wide waterfall, as it spans the entire width of the Kanawha River. The viewing area is a bit far from the falls, so I felt disconnected from the powerful water. Cathedral Falls, just down the road, is much closer to the viewing area and is staggeringly tall, but the parking lot was so busy that I couldn’t pull over to get a closer look; I only caught glimpses as I rode past. Gauley Bridge also ran right alongside the road but was a little lackluster after viewing the New River Gorge Bridge.
An Unlikely Riding Partner
It was getting late in the day, and I still wanted to visit Lewisburg. I left Gauley Bridge and headed out, feeling some anxiety about making it back to my campsite before nightfall. I was not looking forward to traversing mountainous roadways after dark, but I pressed on nonetheless.
Another rider on a large adventure bike, loaded down with hard cases, turned onto Route 60 behind me. It was fun to ride “together” for the rest of the way to Lewisburg. I zipped around curves through gorgeous scenery with this unknown motorcycle tourer. When I pulled into a parking spot just inside Lewisburg’s downtown strip, he gave me a wave over his shoulder as he passed. There’s nothing like the camaraderie of a fellow rider, especially when they’re also clearly on their own unique adventure.
The Unexpected Gift
After eating an overpriced (but still delicious) plate of lasagna at The Humble Tomato, an upscale-but-casual Italian restaurant right on the strip, I decided to walk downtown for a bit before heading back. I stopped in the Lewisburg Welcome Center to see if they had any worthy souvenirs and was greeted by a friendly older man. He was shocked, as many people are, to find a young woman on a solo motorcycle trip, and he had plenty of questions. After I purchased a few stickers, he began fumbling around the cash register and counter, mumbling that he had something special for me.
After a few awkward minutes, he finally found what he was looking for – a Route 39 pin and coin – and handed them over proudly. “I give these to all the Harley guys,” he said with a chuckle. I pocketed the trinkets, a little embarrassed as I hadn’t actually ridden Route 39 on my trip but thanked him nevertheless. Then I saddled up and headed back to my campsite at Babcock State Park.
A Unique Blend of Scenery
Having been distracted earlier by my adventure rider buddy on the way to Lewisburg, I had zipped past the beauty of the countryside along that section of the Midland Trail. On my return ride, it was the magical “golden hour,” and the scenery was lit with a warm glow. It was like a charming blend of scenery back home – the green rolling hills of eastern Kentucky rural farmland punctuated with the mountainous terrain and sharp corners of the Great Smoky Mountains of Tennessee.
Riding on the gentle slopes and curves of hills as green as a jewel, I could see Appalachian ridges seemingly on all sides. Peaks would loom straight ahead in the distance, growing closer and closer until I was on them, climbing switchbacks, only to descend minutes later and then do it again. It was a dream ride.
Returning Home from My West Virginia Motorcycle Trip
After a pleasant night at my campsite sitting by a roaring fire, I woke up and began grudgingly preparing for my return home. There was so much I didn’t get a chance to see.
I hopped on the highway for a quicker return trip, and while I wasn’t planning on stopping in Charleston, the view of the 23-karat gold-leaf gilded top of the Capitol, with a dome 5 feet higher than the U.S. Capitol, lured me in.
My last stop was the Griffith & Feil Drug and Soda Fountain in Kenova, West Virginia, literally the last exit before the Kentucky border. I enjoyed the bright and colorful neon lights inside and ordered a root beer float – the absolute best I’ve ever had, with unbelievably creamy vanilla ice cream and fizzy, sweet-and-spicy soda.
Plans for the Future
While returning my wallet to my motorcycle jacket after paying for my treat, my fingers brushed against a metal object – the Route 39 coin the kind man in Lewisburg had given me the day before. Not only had I survived the trip I had been nervous about taking in the first place, I had also proven myself to be a capable motorcycle camper and tourer. Proud of my accomplishments, I pocketed the metal coin, thinking to myself, “I’ll come back to ride this mysterious Route 39.”
I gathered up my things, excited at the prospect of arriving home after a successful solo journey. I was also looking forward to planning my next trip to West Virginia, inspired by a simple gift from a stranger – something I wouldn’t have received had I not taken that leap and just rode.