The Trip that started it all….. (Part 1 – Pittsburgh to Richmond – 375 miles)

A couple quick thoughts before I begin.  First, this map is close to our actual ride, but not exact.  I removed the destinations to protect the privacy of those we visited.  Second, this ride (and blog) was broken up over three days – Pittsburgh to Richmond, Richmond to DC, and DC back to Pittsburgh.  Third, as with Fern Hollow, I don’t have any pictures really representative of the scenery on this trip, which is utterly breathtaking at times.  I do have quite a few pictures from our experience at Rolling Thunder, the genesis for the trip, which I will post about separately.  Fourth, as you can see, this trip is about 40 times as long as Fern Hollow, so I’m going to have to split it up!

As you can see, the first 60 miles or so are the antithesis of this website – a quick blast down Interstate 79 to save us some time.  I’ll skip over that part.

After that, the trip got good.  Or, at least, it should have.  Unfortunately for us, we dealt with rather unseasonably cold & wet weather for the first 225 miles of the trip.  While the trip across West Virginia and into Virginia on 250 provided some unique sights, I don’t remember many of them because I was too busy trying not to freeze my arse off.

250 is an exciting road – it cuts across some of the most mountainous parts of WV.  It has switchbacks and curves galore, and of course you are constantly sweeping up or down the side of a large hill or small mountain.  You pass through several adorable small towns and villages (all of which included coffee breaks to try to warm our chilled bones).  Phillipi in particular looks like it’s straight out of an old Sears or Montgomery Wards catalogue – 250 swoops down a big hill into town, affording you a great view of the old-fashioned brick buildings and homes, as well as the Tygart Valley River, which cuts right through the heart of town.

After that, there are some enjoyable but not entirely noteworthy miles to pass over until you reach one of the real center points of the trip – the Monongahela and George Washington National Forests.  While the weather did dampen our spirits, the stunning beauty of the natural forests, combined with the challenging pitch and yaw of the winding roads overcame the chilly morning air.  Towering trees and twisting turns abound.  Mountaintop vistas provide fantastic views of the rolling and lush valleys below.

Just over the Virginia border, the now more aptly named “Mountain Turnpike” drunkenly weaves its way into the sleepy village of Monterey.  Just across the street from the monument-esque Highland Inn sits the homey and welcoming Highs Restaurant – cozy wooden booths with patrons’ names and dates carved into the interior wall invite you to “come on in and take a load off.”  The menu is full of unpretentious and appetizing home-style meals, and that’s exactly what we got.  Hot cups of soup, hot drinks, and hearty entrees warmed our bones and filled our bellies.  Plus, we bought jugs of homemade Virginia Maple syrup for my parents.

Best part – by the time we made our way back outside, the weather had warmed up considerably!  Bellies full and spirits lifted, we started out to traverse, as our waitress stated matter-of-factly, “three more mountaintops.”  She wasn’t kidding – severe switchbacks with precipitous drop-offs wind their way up to the sweeping panoramas at the top, then back down to start all over again.  I was in love.

Passing through Staunton, VA, we took in a larger slice of Americana than the previous villages along the Mountain Turnpike offered.  Its verdant and airy parks were alive with the laughter of children playing games and the cheers of their parents encouraging them.  Tidy green lawns filled with blooms of pink, yellow, red & white introduce the elegant beauty of the colonial brick homes that dot the landscape.  Overall, it was comforting and enjoyable to see that some of the characteristics that made the 1950s America’s decade can still be found.

We attempted to take 64E to get past Charlottesville in an efficient manner, but quickly discovered that the gusts of wind nearly blasted us off the road – an unpleasant experience on a crowded interstate.  We hunkered down, then jumped back onto 250 at our first opportunity and continued on our merry way.  By now, the sun started to set and the road unwound itself significantly.  A few soft bends and gentle rolling hills eased us into Richmond.

The remainder of the trip was lush with vegetation and provided a spectacular moonrise dead ahead – the moon itself looked larger than life.  Far from being boring, the now-substantially straighter final stretch of 250 was like climbing under a cozy comforter into a warm and familiar bed after a long day of hard labor.  We cruised peacefully to our destination, grateful for clear skies overhead and dry roads under foot, the aroma of fresh honeysuckle sweetening the warm evening air in our faces.  It turned out to be a pretty pleasant experience after all.


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