Boxer Day Ride


Jeff Hughes


Dawn is beautiful. A red slash rising in the East, illuminating a suddenly clear sky. The kitchen window is cold to the touch as I review options. I've been up for awhile already, drinking coffee and trying to recover data from my PC's failing hard disk. I really ought to keep working on that. Or, then again, I could go for a ride. It's cold outside now, but the forecast is for sunshine and a high in the low fifties. It should be a really nice day. And Steve has dusted off a tradition from his days out in California. He has scheduled a Boxer's day ride - whatever that is. This morning, on the day after Christmas. In Charlottesville.

I continue working on the hard disk and don't really decide to go on the ride until, really, it's too late. Once decided, there's a mad scramble to get dressed and packed. Then there's a false start down the driveway only to realize I have left my wallet on the desk. Geez. Stop. Sidestand down. Unplug the gloves. Unplug the vest. Walk back to retrieve the wallet. Walk back down to the bike. And I'm getting really warm in these clothes. Sigh. Finally, after much ado, I'm moving. OK, let's see now. The clock in my cockpit shows 9:21 as I exit my driveway. The guys will be leaving The Tavern, the Charlottesville restaurant where they are enjoying, I'm sure, a nice relaxing breakfast, at 10:00. A normal ride from here to Charlottesville takes an hour and a quarter. And, once I get there, I'm not even sure where The Tavern is. Uh, something tells me there's something very wrong with this picture.

Route 29, southbound. My head tells me to give up this thing. There's just no chance I can catch the guys in Charlottesville. Why not go west, instead - take 211 over the mountain, like on yesterday's Christmas Day ride; and just ride down in the Shenandoah Valley for awhile? But my heart says Charlottesville, and so the turnoff to Warrenton, and westbound 211, passes behind me. OK. So I'm committed.

The arithmetic is simple. I'm running thirty five minutes behind. IF the guys are a few minutes late in suiting up to leave the restaurant. And IF, on getting to Charlottesville, I can find the place in no more than, say, two minutes. And IF I can shave twenty minutes or so off the normal travel time. Then I might get to go on this ride.


The K1100RS is running smoothly. As it's coolant temperature approaches normal I give it a little more throttle. Five thousand RPM gives me better than 8o mph. Spin just a little more and I get an even 90. OK. So that's my baseline.

Traffic is sparse. The sky is clear blue and I squint against the brightness of the sun. I have Ray Ban Aviator's in the tank bag, but dare not slow the couple minutes it would take to put them on. That would cost precious seconds.

The risks are not lost on me. This stretch of 29 between Warrenton and Charlottesville is heavily patrolled. Known for both it's stationary and rolling radar enforcement. And being nailed while doing as much as thirty five miles over the 55 limit would be, well, a problem. I try to think of some excuse that might sound even remotely reasonable. Nothing comes to mind.

The route is one I normally eschew. Partly because of the traffic enforcement. But also because it's mostly flat and, for the most part, straight. About as exciting as watching winter grass grow. Today is different, though. The necessity to get there now has transformed the road. I ride with a focused intensity normally reserved for fast work in the mountains. There is a projected sixth sense. And an intent peering for telltales in the flow of traffic - an unexpected brakelight; or flashed headlamp in the oncoming lanes.

Be smooth, I tell myself. Be inconspicuous. My movement around traffic is a swift, soft, steady flow. That's cool. Only I'm wearing a flaming red Aerostich Roadcrafter suit and riding a Mystic Red BMW sportbike. Inconspicuous in my dreams.


Traffic stacks up as I enter Charlottesville. It's 10:15. Working through the lights, I watch the oncoming lanes for riders. Nothing. There is no urgency now. I'm just rolling with the flow of traffic. I figure the boys must be long gone by now.

At 10:20, just after passing under the 250 bridge, I see the large sign on the left announcing The Tavern. And, wonder of wonders, there are several riders - just pulling on helmets. Steve, riding his K100RS; Boyd Anderson, on his R100RS, Last Edition; and Alex Dudley, on "GNOO", his nearly-new R1100GS, are the contingent. Another ninety seconds and I would have missed them. I must be living right!

I stop only long enough for shouted greetings, and to finally put on my sunglasses. Then we're off.


Heading out of Charlottesville, we turn northwest, taking Barracks, then Garth roads. I am amazed at how quickly any sense of urban environment is lost to us. Almost immediately we are riding through a pleasantly rural landscape. After several miles, Steve turns north on route 601, leading us towards the little crossroads junction of Free Union.

These roads are all new to me. Steve had noted this would be a ride around the area, mostly in Albemarle County. I've always associated Albemarle County with horse farms and the gently rolling countryside of the Virginia Piedmont, home of the landed gentry. More home to Bimmers than to Beemers. But these roads are good stuff. And they continue to get better - windier, narrower, and more lonely, as we proceed.

The day remains brightly clear and is now beginning to become pleasantly warm. I reach down and switch off my electric vest and gloves. A few more miles, and we stop for a ten minute break at a tiny general store.

Past Free Union we continue north, carving our way towards the intersection of route 810, at Boonesville. There we turn west, twisting through Blackwells Hollow, and then south, following the Browns Gap road back down to White Hall. Route 810 continues south and we follow it's path, passing near Crozet. By now we have scribed a large, cone-shaped loop, and have passed through some of the prettiest countryside in central Virginia. I make a mental note to come back in the Spring and do some more exploring around here.

At our rest stop, Steve had mentioned perhaps heading up on the Blue Ridge Parkway for a while. "Anyone cold?" he asked.

"Nah," we replied. This crew's in good shape.

So I'm not surprised now when we turn west towards Afton, and the beginning of the BRP. I am a little taken aback, however, when we turn south off of 250 shortly before climbing the mountain to Afton. Not to worry, though. Steve leads us up and around this winding, narrow road. Cool scenery. We pass a tiny little stone house set hard by the roadside that could have been lifted from the Swiss Alps. I grab hurried glances at the landscape. They're brief, though. This is tight, slow, second-gear terrain that demands attention.

A hard, curling right-hander and, lo, we pop back out on 250. Now up the mountain, and to the Parkway.


It's noticeably cooler up on the Parkway. I reach down and flip my electrics back on. We roll south, and pass only a couple of cars. We have the place almost to ourselves. The road, as always, is wonderful. We slice casually back and forth through the turns. "What a treat," I think, "to be riding the Blue Ridge Parkway on the day after Christmas!"

Along one section, in deep shade, we pass heavy ice floes where water has frozen as it has run down the rock face. "It'll be a long time before that melts," I think, my chin aching from the cold. The road itself remains, thankfully, clear.

At the 20-Minute Cliff overlook we pull in for another rest. Amid the easy banter about BMW's, VFR's, and GS's, Alex relates his satisfaction with his new ride. He apparently has no-little experience in riding where the pavement ends.

In the valley down below a light ribbon marks a small dirt road that wends it's way along the forest floor. Alex seems to know where it goes; and from whence it came. He and Steve discuss plans for an off-road adventure. Peering down, I shake my head. Surely there are no fast sweepers down there. Then again, a GS costs, um, how much?

Leaving, we continue south on the Parkway. A few more miles and we exit at route 56. We head east, into Nelson County. This road is a favorite of mine, with memories stretching back into early childhood. The route is a motorcycle classic, slicing it's way back and forth down the mountain in a spastic dance. Every October it is crowded with city folk, out to see the leaves. Today, they're all at home and we have the road to ourselves. We take advantage of it.

Back and forth, down and around we fly, a smoothly flowing Beemer train. In a tight left-hander, the ground comes up and gently bumps my foot, like it was a friendly game of tag. Whoosh, and a right-hander sticks me good, the ground lifting my foot off the peg. Past the store and the pond at Montebello, down, ever down, we roll. A quick sweep takes us around Crabtree Falls, the highest waterfall east of the Mississippi. On our right, the trout waters of the Tye River flash bright sunlight. On our left is just the rugged mountain fastness. On through Tyro, and then on to Massie's Mill, where things finally straighten out. A big grin road.

Massie's Mill. Looking around as we pass through, I think to myself how little remains of the scars from twenty-five years ago. If you didn't know better, it would be hard to believe that here, on a humid August night in 1969, hurricane Camille unloaded thirty-one inches of rain - a years worth - in just six hours. A hundred and thirty people died in Nelson County that night. And Massie's Mill mostly just disappeared, swept away by a raging Tye River. But it's back, and today so are we.

From Massie's Mill we take route 666 over to 151, coming out at Jonesboro Baptist Church. Then north on 151, through Bryant, snaking over Horseshoe Mountain, and through another set of switchbacks, at Brent's Gap. Past Wintergreen, rolling into Nellysford, we stop at the Blue Ridge Pig for lunch. The place is kind of nondescript. Just two rooms and a small kitchen attached to an adjoining general store. Hard, unyielding wicker furniture unlike anything I've ever seen. The place certainly has character. And the barbecue is delicious. This is one of those secret little places. It's always nice to travel with people who know where to eat!

Leaving, we continue north on 151, Alex now in the lead. We're only a couple of miles from Boyd's place and he peels off as we roll past his driveway. Oh, to live as close to the mountains as Boyd!

A few miles further and Alex takes a road to the right. We're heading back towards Charlottesville, and the end of the ride. But the fun is not over. Alex has chosen for us a twisting, circuitous, meandering set of roads that are the perfect capstone for this ride. By the time we get back to Charlottesville, and The Tavern, I know that this ride has been worth all the risk in getting here. And that riding was most definitely the right thing for me to be doing today.


© 1995 Jeff Hughes