If you've read through my web site over the years, you've no doubt noticed that me and my good buddy Luke have always had a penchant for exploring good scenery and winding tarmac with a tight, nimble chassis. Witness our two grand trips to the west coast of North America; browse through our yearly trips to nearby racetracks. And, in the fall of 2008, it had been over four years since the last of 'grand road trip'. Luke and I did not have the time to spend on a multi-week out west adventure, so we turned our thoughts to more local locales.
Example of an excellent Appalachian twisty
Twisty roads and mountains usually go together. One might think that the Adirondack and Appalachian Northeastern states, then, as the best and nearest choice for a short driving trip. What I've discovered, though, over the years, is that while scenic, the northeast generally does not have the very best types of twisties: ones that hug and follow the land, rather than cutting through it, with turns that can't be taken at more than 60 km/hr, and which go on for a long time, and which have decent speed limits.
In North American sport biking lore, there is a place which has earned special prominence: it is called the Tail of the Dragon, and is a winding, twisting adventure consisting of over 300 turns in less than 20 kilometres. This is the kind of twisty we were hankering for. Many stories, legends even, have emerged from this stretch of road, also known as NC/TN highway 129 through Deal's Gap. Our thoughts were therefore drawn to this eastern beauty. It was still fairly far from us -- about 1,500 kilometres away, but it was a good amount shorter than the 10,000 km+ out-west adventures.
Unfortunately, research also indicated that the Dragon's popularity had also attracted it's share of law enforcement. Over the years, the speed limit on highway 129 through Deal's Gap was lowered, from 55 mph, to 45, and now to 35 mph. And we've heard stories of excessively picky and authoritarian highway patrol officers, ready to stop anyone looking sporty who so much as touches the yellow line in a turn. Didn't sound like much fun.
Ready for Adventure
I cast my net a little wider, and started to research the entire area of the Appalachian southeast. It turns out that there's a wealth of excellent twisty backroads in this region, much more so than in the mountains of the northeast. In fact, the descriptions of some of these roads would lead one to believe that they rivaled the Dragon in terms of fun-factor. And many of these roads were a good 500 to 700 kilometres closer to us than the Dragon. Less traffic, decent speed limits and a less tedious approach. A win-win-win situation!
Luke and I planned our trip around 4 and 1/2 days on the Canadian Thanksgiving holiday weekend. It would just be the two of us, each in our red Honda S2000s (an excellent tool for knifing through primo twisty roads!). Our plan was to leave on a Friday after work, and return back home on Tuesday evening. That gave us plenty of 'in-situ' driving time.
Warning! The trip report you are about to read has got a heckuva lot of Honda S2000s-driving-on-roads pictures. If you get tired of such pictures, you may find yourself asleep at your keyboard. You have been warned.....
The specially-coded Map
As I said earlier, I spent a lot of time scouring the 'net, comparing and contrasting different user accounts of the various roads in the southeast. I focused mainly on the states of West Virginia and Virginia, which apparently had many excellent routes, but did note other routes in neighboring states. I compiled ratings for the roads (on a scale of 0-10 in terms of 'fun-factor'), and then plotted them with color-coding on a highway map of the region. A criss-crossing pattern of different colored routes emerged: a networked nirvana of twisty road goodness! The trick was now to plot a route that maximized our coverage over the few days that we had.
South on the 416
As luck would have it, the forecast for our designated weekend turned out to be the best imaginable: warm, clear fall weather -- for each and every day of our journey! That, combined with the beautiful fall colors that we would surely encounter, meant that our trip was likely to be as scenically beautiful as it would be twistily beautiful.
Heading out south from Ottawa on the 416 as the mid-autumn set, our hopes were high: what highway gems would we discover? would the roads match the hype that had been spread about them on the 'net?
Nighttime drive to Syracuse
Night falls early in the fall, and although we drove along the scenic Thousand Islands Parkway to get to the US border crossing at Hill Island, we didn't see very much. Continuing on, we got as far as Syracuse, NY before we called it a night. We had covered three or so hours of the journey south, and that would allow us to leisurely complete our approach the next day, choosing a few mild warm-up twisties in Pennsylvania along the way.
Interactive Trackmap & Photo Points - Day 1 - Click link below to expand
Route Data - Day 1 - Ottawa to Syracuse
* : +/- 75 feet
Total Elevation Gain:
Total Elevation Loss:
* : +/- 75 feet