Everyone has a favorite day trip: This one has giraffes and a house-size bucket

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Epic rides are great, but we can't thunder off to Tierra del Fuego or turn hot laps at Imola on a regular basis. That's why every rider needs a go-to day trip to provide a shot of motorcycle satisfaction close to home. I'm going to share one of mine with you. It's a ride set apart not just by some charming and challenging roads you've never heard of, but also by the odd giraffe or cheetah and a bucket the size of a small house.

Just because we have to start somewhere, I’m going to pull off Interstate 77 in eastern Ohio at exit 25, by the small town of Caldwell. You might want to top off the gas tank here. No worries, I’ll wait.

From here, we roll east on two-lane Ohio Route 78 (below), the closest thing to a “major” road we’ll see for the next 200 or so miles. Southeastern Ohio is known to residents of flatland areas of the Midwest, such as Michigan or northern Indiana and Illinois, as the place to find curves a day’s ride from home. The Appalachian foothills and sparse population make the riding good just about anywhere in the southeastern quadrant of the state, but inside the triangle formed by the Ohio River and Interstates 77 and 70, you absolutely can’t go wrong.

Past the village of Woodsfield, we peel off 78 onto one of those roads only the locals know, Ohio Route 536, and follow its non-stop curves to the Ohio River. A few miles south, we reverse course on Ohio Route 255 (right). These are two great riding roads, connecting Nowhere with Nowhere-by-the-River, and with hardly a flat spot or straight stretch to be found. On 255, you’ll pass more dead people (two cemeteries) than alive.

Outside of Woodsfield again, we follow Ohio Route 26 south toward the old river city of Marietta, the first permanent European settlement west of the Ohio River, established in 1788. Where 536 and 255 looped over the hills, 26 slithers down the valley through the Wayne National Forest. One year, following a particularly nasty spring flood, I rode 26 and saw debris hanging 10 feet high in the tree branches.

On the west side of Marietta, we pick up another locals-only road, Ohio Route 676. This road saves the best for last, throwing a tight series of turns at us in the last few miles as we cross a wooded ridge. Route 676 drops us onto the one road in this area that does have a bit of a reputation, at least regionally.

That would be Ohio Route 555 (above), also known as “the triple nickel” and occasionally cursed by riders who come to try the road their friends were talking about and end up with their bikes stuck in a muddy cornfield or skidding down a wooded ravine. If you’re looking for smoothly arcing sweepers that let you settle into a comfortable rhythm, look elsewhere. Route 555 is a diabolical asphalt viper, full of blind rises that are often followed by 90-degree turns that make no sense whatsoever, except to follow the ancient property line of some farmer’s field. There may be gravel or mud in the corners, tracked onto the pavement by farm machinery, or you may lean into a curve to find a horse-drawn Amish buggy moving along at 10 mph and blocking your apex.

In other words, you’d best be on top of your game.

You can stay on 555 all the way into Zanesville for an entertaining ride, but I’m going to veer off on Route 78 once again to show you what’s left of Big Muskie. Most touring riders I know are suckers for oddball roadside attractions and a bucket the size of a small house surely qualifies.

Big Muskie was a machine built to strip mine coal from these eastern Ohio hills. It’s hard to imagine its size. Big Muskie measured 487 feet long from the back of its housing to the end of its boom and it moved 39 million pounds of material an hour. When the mining was done in 1991, Big Muskie was dismantled. The only thing saved was the bucket, which is now on display at the Miners' Memorial Park near the intersection of Routes 78 and 83.

Historical photo of Big Muskie (above) and the bucket, today (below).

By law, all that strip-mined land had to be reclaimed, and the restored grasslands and woods are now called ReCreation Land. If you’re on a budget and coming to enjoy the southeastern Ohio riding from out of state, you can camp there free by getting a permit from American Electric Power. The company also donated 10,000 acres for the creation of a conservation area called The Wilds. It’s home to threatened and endangered species and well worth a visit.

So while we could continue on 78 and be back at our starting point, after a loop of just over 200 miles of great riding, another option is to ride north on Ohio Route 284 and take one of the tours at The Wilds. You ride through the grounds on buses, past everything from white rhinoceros to giraffes to cheetahs and wild dogs. The tours allow plenty of time for you to get out and walk and see the animals fairly close up.

It’s been a great day ride, and it will hold me over until I get the time and funds for that South Africa trip. Meanwhile, I enjoyed a couple thousand curves, got a souvenir photo of Big Muskie and communed with the wildlife. And I was still home in time for dinner.

What’s your favorite day trip?

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