Ohio’s Windy 9
Story and photos by Tania Meek
The rolling hills of Southeast Ohio are where I call home, not by birth, but by choice. So it is no surprise that I savor the opportunity to step outside my front door and explore the beauty that daily surrounds me. It would seem that every twist and turn in the road leads to somewhere new. It is a journey that often points me to a captivating story, a scenic snapshot, a mouthwatering treat and sometimes even a charming new friend.
Anyone can choose to step outside and discover this beautiful region. There are a variety of exciting ways to do so. But my option of choice to explore the area is via the Windy 9 motorcycle trails. There is undeniably nothing quite like strapping on my helmet, hopping behind my husband on our Harley Davidson Road King Classic, and hitting the open highway.
It is often assumed that the Windy 9 motorcycle trails are meant to be enjoyed solely on a bike. Sure, they are perfect for your favorite ride, but in all honesty; the scenery is equally enjoyable via car.
One lazy summer day, we decided to try the Windy 9 route dubbed the “Southern Dip”, taking us down from Athens to Rio Grande and back up along the Ohio River through Gallipolis and Pomeroy.
We set out from Athens mid-morning along State Route 50/32 for a brief period of time before turning off on an enjoyable country road called 689. We immediately found ourselves immersed in the Ohio countryside, filled with fruit orchards, cornfields and woodlands. We continued to wind our way over rolling hills and around lazy curves, past old farmsteads, quaint country churches and through Amish country. We even spotted a few unexpected sites along the route, such as a zebra grazing in a fenced farm pasture and a large power generating station situated next to cornfields, both catching our eye and adding more memories to our Windy 9 adventures.
We arrived at the midway point in Rio Grande, the Bob Evans Farm and Homestead, in less than an hour. The Farm, situated on 588, is well worth the stop. It features a restaurant (Bob Evans, of course), the original homestead turned museum, the Adamsville Log Cabin Village, and much more. The museum contains a surprising amount of information and exhibits not only about the history of the Bob Evans’ family and restaurant but area history as well.
Soon though, my husband was itching to get back on the bike so we ventured out from the Farm on Route 35 and joined up with Route 850 towards Bidwell. The next stop on our tour was the Merry Family Winery. This family-owned winery is Gallia County’s first winery and craft brewery and offers tastings of a large variety of hand crafted Ohio wines and beers. One of our personal favorites is the Autumn Black, a red grape blackberry blend, yet the options abound from sweet to dry to satisfy your personal tastes.
After a relaxing pause at the winery, we made our way down Ohio’s River Scenic Byway – Highway 7, which runs alongside the Ohio River, making our way through Gallipolis. Founded by French settlers 1790, it has a rich historical background and a picturesque downtown overlooking the river. As you ride along Route 7, it guides you through commercial areas of Gallipolis, perfect for filling up the tank, and past riverside homes, through tiny river towns, and past the Kyger Creek Power Plant in Cheshire.
We chose to stop one last time in the river town of Pomeroy, founded in 1804, to enjoy an early supper at The Wild Horse Café. A frequent stop for both tourists and locals, we saw several other bikers with the same idea – a great meal overlooking the Ohio River and the Pomeroy-Mason Bridge. Open seven days a week, The Wild Horse Café is the perfect spot for appetizers, lunch, dinner, or drinks – as well as a story or two shared. We took pleasure in sitting outside on the covered terrace relishing the gorgeous afternoon and watching coal barges float their way south down the Ohio River. One can almost envision another point in time when these picturesque small towns were the place to be, full of the hustle and bustle of a booming river trade.
We have traveled the Zaleski Zipper several times now and have enjoyed each and every ride. The route is beautiful every season of the year, so you won’t be disappointed no matter when you decide to explore. Starting on Route 56, we wound gently through the countryside, with only the occasional road-going tractor or tight curve to slow our progress. We motored past farmland and woodlands and an unexpected blooming lily pond along the way. We breezed past Carbondale, where once-abundant coal resources were mined in the hills and valleys in the late 1800’s.
Taking a left turn on Route 278 you find yourself entering the Zaleski State Forest. As we entered the tree lined roadway, I was reminded of my childhood car rides through the Tennessee Mountains and was transported to another time and place. Shortly thereafter, we arrived at the Lake Hope State Park, which served as the perfect halfway point on the route and an opportunity to stretch our legs.
The 2,983-acre Lake Hope State Park offers all of the outdoor activities you might expect, from hiking and biking trails, to fishing and other water sports. Remnants of mining days are now park attractions, and camping sites and lodging are available. We always make sure to time our stop when we are hungry and visit the Lake Hope Dining Lodge. During our first time on the Zaleski Zipper, we were fortunate to eat lunch seated at one of the few tables located on the lodge balcony. The view overlooking the lake below is breathtaking. The restaurant offers a variety of fare from wood fired pizzas to BBQ and craft beers, all topped off with delectable desserts, wrapping up the meal in a sweet way.
Once our bellies were full and our hearts restored, we rode South on Route 278 through the small town of Zaleski, passing swamplands before turning back towards Athens on Route 50. We cruised homeward, opening the throttle to highway speeds. The Zaleski Zipper gave us exactly what we were looking for – a quick, beautiful ride on the Harley and the opportunity to make yet another wonderful memory together on the Windy 9.
On a warm, July afternoon we struck out on highway 550 out of Athens and headed northeast. It truly was the perfect July afternoon for a ride. Patriotic bunting and flags waved from farmhouse porches in the summer breeze. Fluffy white clouds drifted over rolling hillsides. As we slowly rounded bends in the road, captivating scenes unfolded before us. Beautiful barns, both old and new, speckled the landscape. Country churches with flowerboxes overflowing with petunias sat adjacent the roadside. As a passenger, I had the luxury of catching sights along the way, such as a Volkswagen Bug half buried in the middle of a farmer’s field. I would have missed that serendipity had I had my eyes securely on the road ahead.
We rode for approximately 45 minutes, switching from Route 550 to Route 377, before entering the town of Chesterhill. It is here that we found the perfect spot to pause – the Triple Nickle Diner. If you are not careful, you might just blink and ride right past, though you would miss out if you did. We dined on delicious locally raised bison burgers and fresh cut fries. For dessert, we delighted in mouthwatering peanut butter pie.
One of the appealing features of the Windy 9 routes is flexibility. Follow their exact suggested itineraries or venture off course and take the roads of your choosing. We did this exact thing along the Pioneer Pass, experiencing portions as planned. We traveled 550 on to the striking historic river city of Marietta, Ohio, and then ventured off course along highway 7 back towards home. Marietta, the first permanent settlement in the Northwest Territory, is a riverboat town that presents a revitalized main street community and many opportunities to relax and enjoy the sights. A few of our personal favorites are perusing the eclectic downtown shops, coffeehouses and walkable oak lined streets; drifting down the river on the Valley Gem Sternwheeler; touring The Castle and its museum; and stepping back in time over lunch at the historic Lafayette Hotel. Marietta is a point on the route well worth the stop. Linger as long as you’d like – your memory making opportunities abound here.
In life, we often need an excuse to hit the pause button on our crazy, busy days and savor the irreplaceable little moments. This is one of the many delightful traits of the Windy 9 – the ability to breathe in the beauty of the scenic countryside as well as relish the priceless memories to be made along the way. Personally, I know we will get back on two wheels again soon, taking in yet another one of the Windy 9 routes. And we will cherish every memorable moment made together … because life is too short and too valuable to do otherwise.