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- June 2009
The Windy 9
Written By: Chad Gillen
This winter I heard of some great motorcycling roads in southeastern Ohio – roads centered around Athens, Ohio called the Windy 9. After researching the windy9.com website and learning that the OH-STOC (Ohio Honda ST owners club) rally fit into our schedule, Heidi and I planned our ride (out in 2 days, spend 3 days there, and ride back in 3 days). It was very ambitious to say the least, for about 1,100 miles one way.
The first day, we were to leave Sioux Falls and end up in Freeport, IL so I could reconnect with some cousins that I hadn’t seen in a while. The bonus was taking Route 20 from Dubuque, IA to Freeport, IL; it’s very hilly and curvy from my childhood memories, as my sister would usually get car sick on this route. We hoped to spend some time in Galena, IL and walk the historic downtown district along the river. Alas, due to some road construction, and a nitwit flagger crew, traffic was bottlenecked for about 30 minutes. We only had a chance to stop in the nearest winery shop, use the restroom, and get back on the road. We got to our motel in time enough to shower before Tom and Darcy picked us up to eat. We ate at the Route 20 Bar & Grill and devoured their $1.99 cheeseburger special. It is such a popular spot on Tuesday nights that more cousins happened to be eating there as well. Heidi and I thoroughly enjoyed the loving razzing, jibs and jabs, tit for tat that came during dinner, and made me wish we didn’t live so far away.
Wednesday we got up early so Heidi could see the “Zombie” Harry Caray statue that was carved with a chainsaw. It’s actually a normal statue but someone on Roadside America thinks it looks like a member of the walking dead. If you’re a Cubs fan, you should stop and see Freeport’s Little Cubs Field as the replica scoreboard, dugout, bleachers and ivy-covered wall do pay tribute nicely to Wrigley Field. We spent the rest of the day riding south and east trying to get through Indianapolis at a decent time and ahead of the storms. But a semi vs. semi crash on I-70 slowed us down. I thought about splitting lanes and possibly taking the shoulder, but just at that time an IN DOT response truck blew a tire driving the shoulder as he hit debris they never clean up. It started to lightning just as we cleared the accident scene and then the heavy rain hit us. We didn’t have time to liner up our riding gear and we got soaked. Finally, we stuck a fork in it as we were done for the day. I pulled up a Days Inn on my GPS, but when we got to New Castle, the hotel wasn’t there. You could see where the building used to be but it had vanished for some reason. We rolled east again to find a roadside motel in Centerville, IN that looked like the type that Agents Scully and Mulder would stay at. (Possibly while they are investigating an X-File of vanishing buildings.) The motel was supposedly a Super 8, but the only thing really super was the new bed and a hot shower.
Thursday morning we took down all the gear we had strung up in every possible way in the room. The only thing still moist was the inside of Heidi’s, ahem, waterproof boots. We had a 3-hour ride left before we were to reach the campsite. Halfway there we passed through Dayton and saw firsthand the saddening tornado damage from the week before. After passing Chillicothe, OH you are no longer in western farming Ohio. You are now in hilly, wooded Ohio, which means curvy roads! And they get better and better as you go east. At Lake Hope State Park, we found the park road up the hill to be very narrow, steep, and twisty. I thought to myself that my dad would have a heart attack if he had to drive his 40-foot RV up this. We set up camp, but I was torqued that the site I reserved is not the one in the picture. The one I wanted with a level area for a tent was across from us. We made do by setting up the tent on the parking pad.
We then found the OH-STOC gathering; the host Pat was very much like me. He’s a riding instructor, works for the government, and he just got a new-to-him 2002 Honda ST1100 Police. We enjoyed supper provided by Pat’s wife Annette at the gathering with tons of homemade pie. Everybody was in awe of Heidi riding her bike 1,100 miles to come there. And we met tons of new riders, with one Canadian character, Lyle “Woodchuck” who might be a long lost Clark family cousin who also enjoys Yuengling beer. OH-STOC is “good friends, good food, good roads, good times” and “like a family reunion, without the dysfunction!”
Friday we headed out with the group on the Drop and Sweep ride. We got a lot of advice before heading out and it was much needed and heeded advice. Much of it was that you will crest over a blind hill or knoll and find yourself immediately in a turn. Speed limits are 55 MPH and you’ll be hard pressed to do that sometimes. And any curve with a suggested speed 25 MPH or less – take it as the gospel truth. Also, if you find yourself behind Pat, you’ll wonder why he has no brake lights. He does, but uses engine braking and being in the right gear is more useful.
We enjoyed a 310-mile ride of very challenging hills, curves, knolls, switchbacks, and occasional sweeper. Pat’s route took us through many of the Windy 9 routes and some even lesser known roads. We hit parts of the Zaleski Zipper, the Pioneer Pass, and the Hocking Hills Nipper to name a few. Using the Slow, Look, Press, Roll technique and keeping focused kept me on my side of the road. The one time I did accidentally cross the double yellow was because I was in 5th instead of 4th gear and I really could have used the extra engine braking. As the day progressed, I actually used trail braking technique to negotiate the roads. This is where you maintain a little front brake pressure through the turn. This is not for the amateur and brake squeeze is slight and smooth. This shouldn’t be tried until you are trained and understand the concept. One benefit of trail braking is that you have brakes already applied if you need more.
Lunch was at Vanco’s BBQ in Gallipolis, along the Ohio river valley that borders West Virginia. Heidi had the HillBilly Sundae which is a large bowl of pulled pork, BBQ sauce, smoked baked beans, more pulled pork and topped with creamy coleslaw. I elected to eat lighter and not to spike my cholesterol levels and get overstuffed which would make me sleepy for the rest of the ride. Over lunch we talked about our lack of sleep the night before. Our cots, which had worked perfectly the weekend before, decided to surrender to the call of gravity all night. The legs would creak about three times and then collapse. Fix, collapse, repeat, repeat, repeat, and then sleep on the ground. Pat refused to let us leave the group ride to go buy an air mattress (he said he has three different air mattresses back at camp we could borrow). Supper was back at the Lodge in Lake Hope State Park, where the meals are 5-star with 3-star prices. Heidi had the smoked brisket and blue cheese salad while I had fish and chips. Drinks were on Pat as he was impressed with Heidi’s riding with the boys as she and Lizz “Traveler” were the only women riders.
The next day, we slept in and missed breakfast and the group ride due to the comfy air mattress. We ventured on our own to ride the Rim of the World, the Triple Nickel and the Southern Dip. Some of OH 555 was tough and some of it in rough shape; one switchback actually goes around a farmhouse. You could actually stop on the curve and watch TV through their front window. Lunch was at the Triple Nickel Diner where we met a lone FJR rider who has a friend that lives in Abercrombie, SD (which he is positive is not Aberdeen, SD). We also met a group of Full Armour riders who prayed for our safe travels back to South Dakota. We dipped into West Virginia to knock off another state traveled by motorcycle. Part of the ride back was on Interstate 77, which had fast sweepers and was opposite of all Interstate riding we had done.
Supper that night was provided by Pat and Annette again. Dessert was fireside Dutch oven cobbler made by the Cobbler twins. Woodchuck carries the Dutch oven in his top case. He says that when he is asked at the border what’s in there, he replies, “Just my pot.” Annette was treated to an early surprise 50th birthday cake, and then we took a group photo.
Sunday we broke camp, returned Pat’s air mattress and said goodbye to all our new friends. We headed for my aunt and uncle’s near Terre Haute, IN. They treated us to juicy ribeye steaks for supper, and we spent the evening on their patio watching a hummingbird purposely avoid getting caught on camera by Heidi and watching deer just a few feet into the tree line.
The next morning we stopped at Boot City, because we succumbed to their “Wall Drug” type billboard saturation advertising. Boot City was a bust for finding any deals, but we were entertained by the salesman that reminded us of Tim Conway’s Old Man character on The Carol Burnett Show, with the extremely slow shuffling walk included. We arrived at our next overnight stop in North Liberty, IA to stay with some old friends whose kids went to school with ours. Planning your routes to visit and stay with old friends and family is a great way to do a memorable motorcycle trip.
Tuesday we cut diagonally across Iowa from North Liberty to Sioux City. We found that our communication system really made our trip enjoyable. We listened to music from our phone, listened to FM radio, listened to directions from our phones or GPS, plus talked to each other at highway speed. And best of all we cracked jokes back and forth. It kind of becomes a competition to see who can make who laugh, especially while referencing a famous movie or TV show based on what we see along the way. For example, if we need to pass traffic, the preparatory command is “Shake and Bake time!” and the execution command is “Slingshot Engaged.” Our last stop before home was the Kum N Go in Elk Point. Heidi went to put her kickstand down and couldn’t find it. I reply sarcastically “Yeah, right,” only to walk around to her bike and find that the lower half of her adjustable kickstand is actually missing. The bolts either sheared or worked loose somewhere in Iowa. Hopefully, no one ran over it and damaged their tires. And luckily it didn’t happen earlier in the trip. She didn’t get off to take a break, and we finished our 2,722-mile trip back home in Sioux Falls by putting her bike directly into the motorcycle maintenance stand.