Great Falls National Park is located on the Potomac River in Virginia, just 15 miles from our Nation’s Capitol. The Potomac drops roughly 76 feet in elevation as it carves through the Mather Gorge creating magnificent waterfalls.
This is also the site of the Patowmack Canal which was partially funded by George Washington and began operation in 1785. The canal was built to allow commerce a way to navigate around the falls.
I was happy that the sky was overcast during my visit. This allowed me to capture the falls using two lens filters, setting the aperture to f/22 to get as much detail as possible, and adjusting the shutter speed to around one second in order to capture the softness of the moving water.
At times, the sun tried to peak through the clouds and the mist.
A small waterfall on the Maryland side of the river.
Looking south as the Potomac runs through the Mather Gorge.
The sun trying to make it’s presence again.
Looking south again with a bit more sun.
Remnants of the Patowmack Canal still exist in the park.
You can view the entire Great Falls National Park photo set on Flickr including two panoramas taken with the iPhone 5.
I didn’t realize at the time that this was only going to be a two day trip. I woke up Sunday morning and still wasn’t sure where to go from Roanoke. Watching the Weather Channel has been a normal occurrence in the days leading up to the trip. And Sunday showed some nasty weather coming in from the west and possible snow showers at night.
After checking in to the F650.com forums and my contacts over on ADVRider.com, I had a few options. I could take the Blue Ridge Parkway south instead of I81. This would keep my speed down and be more scenic. But the weather in the mountains would certainly be worse and I would have no place to go for shelter if needed. Ike from F650.com offered me camping space at his place on the border of Georgia and Alabama. He said I could hold out there before heading to the Thumper Thaw in Robbinsville, NC. The thought of camping for 3 days just waiting for the Thumper Thaw event didn’t really appeal to me. Although the event sounds like a lot of fun.
I chose to try to head back home. Riding constantly every day, all day, and trying to meet certain destinations was just too tiring. And I wasn’t enjoying it. But I also did not want to go back north on I81. So I pull out the Rand McNally Atlas and take a look at the state of Virginia. Since the storm was coming in from the west, I thought I would try to head east, then north towards home. About 70 miles east of Roanoke is Appomattox. I’m a bit of a history buff too so I thought this sounded like a good first destination for Sunday. And route 24 leads from Roanoke to Appomattox. That sounded simple enough. Also, not much further east from Appomattox is route 15 which I know goes the entire way to Camp Hill, PA.
So I grab some breakfast at the hotel before checking out and loading up the bike. The lady at the front desk got me pointed in the right direction to hook up with route 24 out of Roanoke. It was a cold morning. I had the Gerbing heated jacket cranking and the heated grips on high. As I head east on route 24 I cross under the Blue Ridge Parkway and imagine how scenic it must be once there are more leaves on the trees. The road winds its way through rural Virginia where any gas stations seemed to be closed due to it being early on a Sunday morning. Regardless, I stop a few times just to take the wind-chill off.
The sky is dark and cloudy. The road takes a sharp right and to the left is a nice opening in the trees which offered me with this view of the Virginia country side. The mountains of Virginia are quite beautiful! But those clouds don’t look so friendly. I look down at my GPS and count down the miles to Appomattox so I can find a place to take shelter from the bitter cold and wind.
As I come into Appomattox I spot a Wendy’s. Good enough for me. I need to warm up. I head in and lay my gear down on a chair and order some food. After I finish eating I start to think of where to head next. Just about that time I look out the window and spot a Harley Davidson parked across from my BMW F650. Cool! Another rider! Up to this point I only passed three other motorcyclists on route 24 which just happened to be BMW riders as well, and they were all riding together.
I look around for someone who fit the Harley description and spot him standing in line. Once he had his food he headed over towards me where I sparked up a conversation. He seemed very knowledgeable about the area and I explain that I would be happy with getting to Frederick, Maryland if possible. And I ask him what route 15 is like this far south. He said that 15 didn’t have anything on it and probably would not be a good choice. Then my phone rings. It’s Lee from the BMW Dutch Country Riders which I belong to. The group has breakfast every Sunday and I called him before I left the hotel and left him a message. I told him where I was and he responded with a route suggestion. He said to hook up with route 29 north towards Manassas where I can pick up route 15 north and follow that the rest of the way home. I relay this info to the Harley rider and he agrees and points out that I can pick up 60 right there which will take me to 29 and on my way.
We both head out of Wendy’s together and head our separate ways. He was heading to Lynchburg and I was heading north. I plugged Manassas into the GPS and am on my way. As I was heading down route 60 my GPS points to the right onto Tye River Road. But I also see a sign for 29 that tells me to keep going straight. So I continue straight but as I glance down at the GPS I don’t see 29 anywhere on the map. I pull off the road and zoom out to get a better picture. The connection with 29 is about 8 miles down the road, but Tye River Road is a shortcut between the two roads. So I turn around and hop on Tye River Road. This was a great decision because Tye River Road wound it’s way through the forest with no driveways, no houses, just beautiful countryside. It was a spectacular ride.
Route 29 was another beautiful route. The road rolls along the countryside and around the beautiful mountains with trees budding and blooming the entire way. There was no truck traffic and speeds were a relaxing 60 miles an hour. Still no rain.
I stopped in Charlottesville, VA for fuel. As I head towards the bike after paying for my fuel I look up at the sky and it looks threatening of rain. A guy looks at me, looks up at the sky, then looks back at me and explains he knows exactly what I’m thinking. Please let that rain stay to the west!
Finally I pick up route 15 north towards home. After hours of riding with my balaclava over my head I realize that I’m not drinking much and staying hydrated. And with the Gerbing jacket cranking I’m feeling fatigued. I stop a few times to drink more but it’s just not helping much. I consume a powerbar with a mixture of Gatorade and water and push on. It’s hard to explain the feeling of fatigue on a motorcycle. It’s not a good feeling. It’s not like being in a car at all where you can just sit and be out of the elements. You’re in the wind, the heat, the cold, the rain, you’re balancing a bike, being extremely alert of everything around you, it’s strenuous.
I keep pushing on and find myself in Frederick, Maryland. Have I said I like Maryland? I know my next destination. It would be Thurmont, Maryland. I’m familiar with that area a bit and I know I’m getting close to home. This section was difficult for me. I don’t know if it was the fatigue, or the cold, or maybe I didn’t have my balaclava on very well. But my face was feeling uncomfortably cold. I would pull off the highway at almost every side road just to stop for a minute. I finally made it to Thurmont and pulled into a McDonald’s to warm up. I think to myself, is it safe to keep going? I’m almost home. But is it safe? Should I just stay here tonight? I decided to continue. I felt a bit better after leaving McDonald’s. My face wasn’t as cold so I must have had my balaclava on better.
Just past Gettysburg I see some sprinkles land on my shield. Oh boy, here comes the rain. Then a few more rain drops. By the time I reached Dillsburg I was riding in the rain. I continued the rest of the way home in the rain. Riding in the rain is a mental challenge. At first I get a feeling of fear. But when I recognize that my gear is keeping me dry I relax a bit. The thought of getting wet and the wind-chill factor in cold weather is still always present though. Those two factors are a big danger when riding.
I arrived home a little after 8PM on Sunday night. I didn’t make it to Texas. But my trip was an experience. It was an adventure. It let me see things I’ve never seen before. And I met several people along the way. It was worth it.
Now that I am home and have had a chance to edit my photos I’ll post them.
Saturday was a beautiful sunny day. Good thing I had a change of riding jackets to deal with the change in temperature from morning to afternoon. Here is the Pennsylvania/Maryland state line. I absolutely love Maryland. It’s a beautiful state with beautiful roads.
I wanted to stop and take a photo of every state I entered but the sign for West Virginia was on a bridge and I had traffic behind me. And the sign for Virginia? Well, to be honest I don’t even remember seeing one. I stopped for a break from the wind and asked the lady in the gas station what state I was in and she told me I was in Virginia. People sure have accents in Virginia.
After another stop in Virginia I met up with this crew. They are brothers and live just down the road from this gas station. They asked where I as heading and suggested a road just over the hill that runs parallel with I81. I took that road for a while. It was a nice country back road. Not unlike 944 which runs through Cumberland County back towards home in PA. But after a while I came across a “Bridge Closed” sign and I started to lose sight of I81. So I headed back to the highway and decided to deal with the crazy cross-winds.
Yet another rest stop along I81. The cross-winds were really wearing me out physically. There really wasn’t a lot of big truck traffic and when there was, it didn’t really bother me. I think the constant riding with no idea where I would actually stop for the night and the cross-winds were the cause of my exhaustion.
All along I81 are signs for Roanoke, Virginia. At first it was about 190 miles. And I knew from looking at my Atlas earlier in my trip planning that Roanoke was in southern Virginia. For some reason it just struck me as a good place to call it a day. After finally getting to Roanoke, Virginia I pulled into a gas station and brought up hotels on my GPS. I also had a list of hotels that offered discounts to AMA (American Motorcycle Association) members. A Comfort Inn came up and was only a few miles away. Off I went towards the hotel. I pulled in front of the door and asked if they had a room. The answer was yes. Did they offer the AMA discount? No. I didn’t care, I was exhausted, not thinking clearly, and extremely hungry for something besides a power bar.
As I was unloading the bike the guy from the front desk came out for a smoke break and to talk to me. It was a cool moment because if I were traveling by car there would have been no more interaction besides getting my room. But the fact that I was on a motorcycle sparks interest and conversation.
I asked him where I could get a good meal and he said the steak house just down the street was the best in the area. So after my bike was unpacked, I got a shower and headed over.
Bread for starters. But like anyone who is starving, this was the best bread I have ever had! I ate it all before my meal arrived.
Then my meal arrived. Crab cakes, baked potato, and rice. Ok, ok… my mom and probably even my co-worker Barrie will say “Why did you order a baked potato and rice?”… hey, I didn’t really care, I was just hungry! Notice the sweetener packets on the table. I think I had about 5 glasses of iced tea. It tasted so refreshing after drinking a mix of Gatorade and water out of my hydration pack all day. Oh yeah, Jason, if you’re reading this… that was my fix for iced tea for the weekend ok!
After a big meal like that I headed back to the hotel to do some serious thinking about this trip.