Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Singing the Praises of Ohio Roads

OHIO? Yes, these are some of my favorite driving/riding roads in the country. What makes Ohio backroads special?

First of all, there are generally fairly few people on the roads. That contrasts to W. Va., for example, where you always seem to be behind a truck of some sort. Of course, you have to take care for what is out of sight. You could find anything from an Amish buggy to coal truck.

Next, the road reading challenge is excellent. These are not easy, predictable winding roads. They duck and bob like a lightweight boxer. Actually, they would be fun to drive in a lightweight Boxster.

Finally, they follow the land, they do not cut through it. These are old roads where people went around or over the hill, whatever was easiest. Certainly, there are other old roads in the country, but many of those have been overrun by civilization and straightened to civilization's expectations. Not these Ohio roads. They are still wild at heart.

Its hard to photograph roads. The most interesting part of the road is that which is hidden ahead over a crest or around a bend. For example, the road in the picture above turns right. Before the barn.

I would like to dedicate this post to Steve Baumbach, who would love this drive, but for various very good reasons has never ventured into south eastern Ohio. There are lots of excellent roads to try. This is just one idea that minimizes navigation requirements and includes some of my favorite roads. Think of it as driving Hwy 26 down and returning by either Hwy 555 or 83. Hwy 555 is a real challenge, so its probably best kept for a dry day.

Hwy 83 is a long time favorite. Especially the section from Beverly to Cumberland. That section has few houses because it was once coal mining country. These days, the land has been reclaimed and is now a recreation area and quite empty on a weekday. The other reason I love Hwy 83 is that it stays curvy further north than any other road.

View Ohio Twisty Road Tour in a larger map
Naturally, I marked up a map. This is the standard Google map deal, zoomable, terrain and satellite, just with a route and comments posted on the map. This makes a long, but enjoyable 2 day run from the Detroit area. I recommend the Historic Lafayette Hotel in Marietta, Ohio as a interesting place to stop. It a great old hotel that has been beautifully restored, is right on the river, and has reasonable room prices.

Of course, sometimes you get rain, but the country is beautiful anyway. It doesn't hurt that the leaves were changing, which looks good in the rain or sunshine.

Saturday, September 26, 2009

West Virgina Continental Breakfast

I shouldn't make fun of local custom, but sometimes, you just have to laugh. On my recent visit to West Virginia, I had continental breakfast at two different hotels, both of them nice hotels. And what is the definition of the West Virginia Continental Breakfast? Froot Loops and Pop Tarts.

Sunday, September 13, 2009

A Small Project

Just a small post about a small project. Last weekend, I rode the motorcycle to visit family and when I got home, I found that the latch bolt on my trunk was broken.That's the part of the lock that looks like a tooth and engages the strike plate.

In the past, I would have just ordered up a new trunk, but I thought I could probably make a replacement out of aluminum. Notice the partial broken off latch bolt in the picture.

Now none of this is particularly amazing but it is satisfying. I was able to make it stronger, a solid latch bolt rather than hollow, and because of the material change I was able to make it 46% lighter. Cool.

Wednesday, September 2, 2009

3 Ferries

I have a bit of vacation coming up and when I get itch to travel, my mind wanders to maps, places, and trips of the past. Sometimes, when I try to pack too much into a single day, it becomes more tiring than fun. On a rare occasion, it turns into a beautiful day of challenge, adventure, and surprise as I discover what's around each new corner.

One of those rare days happened a couple of years ago. After a 3 week work trip to northern England, I decided to rent a car and take a quick blast around Scotland to see what it was like. Actually, being the hermit that I am, I had always fantasized about retiring to the Hebrides where life was quiet and peaceful. It turns out that I was probably thinking about the Outer Hebrides. The Inner Hebrides, the subject of my day in question, have some quiet corners, but are too connected to modern life.
Norman Church

The day before, I had arrived on the Isle of Skye, early enough to do some exploring. I spent the afternoon and evening hiking around the ruins of a Norman church, a currently occupied castle, and windswept headlands standing proud against the ocean. Oh yeah. And dodging sheep dung.

Dunvegan Castle

Skye Headland

Having worn myself out hiking around, I was ready for an early dinner and an early bed at my B&B. The Lodge at Edinbane is one of the oldest coach houses on the Isle and was built in 1543.

The Lodge at Edinbane

My room was directly above the pub, which put an end to my plans of an early night as a bunch of rowdies kept the place rocking until after midnight.

The next morning, I needed an early start because I needed to get to my hotel in Oban, far south on the Scottish mainland. That trip included 3 ferries, one from Skye to the mainland, one from the mainland to the northern end of Mull, and one from the southern end of Mull to Oban. If I was going to drive 200 miles on the one lane Scottish country roads and manage to meet the ferry schedules, I had to hustle.

View 3 Ferries in a larger map

If I had to use a single word to describe Scotland, it would be changeable. One minute in a tourist area with tour buses, English business owners, and Polish workers, a few minutes later and you are by yourself in nature, far from another human being. One minute the sun is shining and you can see across 30 miles of ocean to the islands of the Outer Hebrides, then next its raining and the clouds have dropped to the ground.
Sgurr nan Gillian
When the sun shines, the world is very green.
Skye Green

On the ferry to Mallaig, the mainland seems magical. I can see giants living in those mountains.
Ferry to Mallaig
The road from Mallaig was challenging as it keep changing from one lane with turnouts to two lanes and back again. It followed the the ocean shore through a forest of gnarled old trees. Just when I thought that I was as far away from civilization as you can get, my borrowed company cell phone rang. There, in the middle of nowhere, I had the strongest signal and the clearest call you can imagine. This, on a phone that constantly dropped calls when I was at home. It only goes to show that modern technology is inescapable.
Ockle Cottage
I used this picture in a previous post about the simple life. This little cottage on the road to Ockle is definitely on my fantasy list. I wish that I had more time to explore this area, but I was hustling to meet the ferry to Tobermory and the road down the peninsula was one of the most extreme I had seen yet. The road followed the land with twists and turns and yumps and sinks. All on a one lane road about 10 feet wide. When another car came from the other direction both cars had to slam on the brakes and come to a stop in the road, then figure out who is going to back up to the nearest turn out. All this while getting the tires off of the ground at 30 mph on the yumps.
Kilchoan Castle
I made the ferry with a few minutes to spare. I like this ferry the most of my entire trip. Of course, it was beautiful country with castles and lighthouses along the way. The ferry was quite small and at least half of the people on the ferry were clearly locals. I had finally gotten beyond the tourist traps and into the land where the real people live. Of course, landing in Tobermory through me back into the world of tour buses.
Tobermory Harbor
I like the idea of visiting Tobermory because I had previously visited its namesake in Canada. Of course, Canadian Tobermory doesn't look anything like this. The local cow is called the Highland Cow. It has long shagy hair that falls down in its eyes. I looks more like dog than a cow, so I was surprised to see this butcher's shop advertising meat from the Highland cow.

Mull Butchers

Leaving Tobermory, I was surrounded by buses on a very busy road, but soon was able to turn off and leave the humans behind. Along the west coast of Mull and Loch Na Keal is one of the wildest places I've been. This little road along the cliff is the only sign of human occupation, but in the meantime you are surrounded by birds and fish and rock. This was the narrowest road I found it was 6 feet wide from edge of pavement to edge of pavement. The way the road clung to cliff pulled part of me to drive aggressively down the path, but the other part of me was awestruck at the beauty of the land and I ended up taking my time and stopping along the way.
Loch Na Keal

Finally, I my adventure came to an end and I lined up with the rest of the cars for the ferry to Oban. I found the west coast of Scotland fascinating and would like to spend more time poking around in the back corners and I'll always remember my day of the 3 ferries.
Last Ferry to Oban