Yet another warm and sunny day dawned over the American southeast -- and, this was the last day of our driving adventure. We were both working the next day, and so we had to be back north by the end of the day.
We had positioned ourselves so that we could drive one last twisty highway in the Virginias before hitting Interstate 81, and the start of our long drive home.
US-33 is well-known in sport-bike circles for some excellent twisty bits along it's length. We were in Elkins, WV, right in the middle of US-33's path across West Virginia. We started off early, before sunrise, and headed east, hoping to take in some of these good bits.
The stretch of US-33 from Elkins through to Seneca rocks was pleasant enough, but not all that twisty (in the grand scheme of things, it was still twisty -- don't get me wrong -- just not as twisty as some of the stuff we'd driven recently). I quite enjoyed the section where US-33 crosses the Allegheny front, switching from the Appalachian Plateau into the Valley and Ridge region. The high pass is flanked by open, grassy hills, and we stopped for a bit of picture taking. Nice countryside.
Crossing the Allegheny Front
Entering Pendleton County
Looking towards WVA's highpoint
Passing the climbing mecca of Seneca rocks, we continued on US-33, heading east and starting the first of several west-east ridge crossings. The road was definitely more interesting as it climbed and descended these ridges. We stopped at one particular lookout on the slopes of North Fork Mountain above the Germany valley, waiting for some traffic to move on ahead of us, and had a delightful chat with some local sightsee-ers, who lived just over on the other side of the ridge.
S2000 above Germany Valley
After North Fork Mountain, I knew that the next major ridge would be that of Shenandoah Mountain. I had seen on Google maps that the stretch of US-33 over this ridge was quite crooked. As the last major ridge to be crossed before US-33 hit I-81 (and the beginning of our superslab home), I felt that going out with a 'bang' of some excellent twisties was quite appropriate.
And, twisty it was! The west side ascent was beautifully-paved, with double-lane passing zones for the entire uphill stretch. The turns were about as tight as you could make a road that had one side doubled-up, and it was very confidence-inspiring to power up around a tight corner with a whole extra lane of pavement beside you. Fabulous bit of road!
Luke on US-33
At the sharp crest of Shenandoah's ridge, where West Virginia gives way to Virginia, I stopped for a few photographs. To the west, where we had just driven from, was colorfully-forested ridge after ridge of landscape. To the east, under the rising sun, were the broad flats of the Shenandoah Valley, and the end of our most excellent twisty road driving. I noticed a bit of scraped sportbike fairing, a testament to riders who sometimes push a little too hard on them.
The eastern slope of US-33 at Shenandoah Ridge was tighter and narrower, and in fact I think I liked it a bit better than the western side. US-33 on Shenandoah Mountain is definitely the best part of US-33 from I-81 to I-79.
Luke on US-33
Almost as soon as we got down off of Shenandoah Mountain, the road straightened right out, and, with the exception of a few minor stretches, remained that way all the way to Interstate-81. It was time to gas up, switch the cruise control on, and settle down for the long ride home.
Twisty Road Info:
If you'd like ratings, ranking, and more detailed information about US-33, click here
All was going uneventfully, until about halfway through our drive back (in Pennsylvania), when I noticed that one of the roads I'd marked on my special map actually connected to this section of I-81. I was feeling a bit of twisty-road withdrawal, so I radioed back to Luke... should we give this one a try? break up the monotony a little?
Central PA farm country
And so it was that we came to explore a little stretch of PA-125 in south-central Pennsylvania. The road is a tamer echo of the ridge-crossing greats we encountered over the last few days -- we were still in the land of long ridges and valleys, albeit more gentle here in Pennsylvania. PA-125 cut across these ridges in a northwest-southeast manner.
The road was a nice break from the boring droning on I-81. It had excellent pavement, and, when crossing the ridges, some decently twisty bits. But, there was a fair bit of traffic, and the posted limit was quite low anytime there was the least bit of good twisties. Not at all like the Virginias in that respect. The sections of road that ran through the bottom of the valleys were especially scenic, with beautiful fun little elevation changes and very pretty farmland. According to my investigations, the good stuff ended at the north end in the neatly-named town of Shamokin, and it was there that we turned off and headed east to rejoin I-81. A nice final 'cooldown' chapter to our list of roads.
Twisty Road Info:
If you'd like ratings, ranking, and more detailed information about PA-125, click here
Finally back on Interstate-81, we continued north. Almost symbolically, the weather started to salute the completion of our journey. After having had over 100 solid hours of completely clear, calm weather, it changed. As we were driving north through New York state, we encountered clouds, then some drizzle, then outright rain. All I can say is... thanks for the great driving weather!
We arrived back at the Canadian border after dark. I split off from Luke to go and visit Jenn in Gananoque for a couple of hours, and he headed straight home. In total, we covered over 3,600 kilometres (over 2,200 miles) on our driving weekend.
One thing is for sure: you don't find this amount and caliber of twisty road in the northeastern U.S. or in northeastern Canada. So, you might ask, what makes the roads farther south so much better than the roads in the northeast, in terms of the twistiness factor? My theory on this is that roads in the south were developed further back in time, back before the era of modern road engineering and all that entailed: bigger, more capable construction equipment, road cuts, and newer regulations. Roads before this time were more likely to simply follow the nooks and curves of the earth, rather than be bulldozed straight through it. And, once these roads had been built and 'crystallized' into well-established, paved routes, with communities and houses and such built alongside them, they tended to stay the way they were. One more contributing factor, I believe, is the local geography: very uneven and hilly over a very wide region. Straightening every road out in such an area may have simply been too expensive an undertaking.
In the end, I guess it doesn't matter much... I'm just thankful they exist.
Our driving trips are not something that we do often, and so they are to be savored to their fullest. We definitely managed to make the most of our 4.5 days, and for that I am grateful. I think Luke would agree that it's four enthusiastic thumbs up for twisty road driving in the Virginias!
(If you'd like to see a sorted, ranked list of what I thought of the roads we encountered on our trip, click here
Interactive Trackmap & Photo Points - Day 5 - Click link below to expand
Route Data - Day 5 - Elkins to Ottawa
* : +/- 75 feet
Total Elevation Gain:
Total Elevation Loss:
* : +/- 75 feet