Ride to Wild Pennsylvania

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“Only a motorcyclist knows why a dog sticks his head out of a car window.” That is one of many anonymous quotes thrown about in biker and motorcyclist circles. That one popped into my head as I raised my face shield to inhale a bouquet of aromas emanating from West Virginia’s mountain landscape. It had rained less than an hour before. The roads were still wet, but shafts of sunlight were penetrating the early morning fog on which molecules of nature’s perfume were clinging. I recognized honeysuckle, corn pollen, fresh cut hay, and damp earth, but there were others. For a minute I wished I were a dog with a super sensitive olfactory. But only for a minute, because on this lovely morning cruising at 55 mph on this winding, empty road, there couldn’t be anything better than being a motorcyclist. “The ride causes my soul to dance inside my body.”Anonymous

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Beautiful landscapes throughout our ride from Virginia to Pennsylvania.

But I wasn’t alone. My riding buddies Richard and Don on their BMW K and R bikes, respectively, were behind me enjoying the ride as well. — “A friend should always have your back, no matter where the road may lead you.”Anonymous.  On this day the road was leading us to Tioga, Pennsylvania, near the New York boundary for a national BMW rally. I’ve traveled solo across the country a number of times; traveling solo has its advantages, but traveling with good buddies is best. We communicate with helmet intercoms along the way and shared that fact with a solo motorcyclist at the TipTop Coffee Shop in Thomas, WV, who asked about our intercoms. His response: “Jeezzz that must be annoying!” I suppose it could be, but for us, it allows warnings of deer and other hazards, and communicating along the way can be entertaining—especially when Richard regales us with all the limericks and poems he has written—he can recite them all! “The perfect man? A poet on a motorcycle.”Lucinda Williams, an American folk, blues, and country music singer.

Canaan Valley Resort is tucked into a high plateau in the Allegheny Mountains in northern WV. It has a full-service lodge, cabins, and campgrounds. It was named one of America’s Best Parks by Frommer’s magazine and has been listed among the 50 Great Places to Stay by Washingtonian Magazine. White-tailed deer were browsing in the meadows near the lodge as we pulled up for our first night’s stay.

“Chasing the wild deer, and following the roe, my heart’s in the Highlands, wherever I go.”–Robert Burns.

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This was the view across my handlebars on two occasions. One morning we counted over 25 deer during a two-hour ride.

Motorcyclists have a love-hate relationship with deer; they are a pretty element of the landscape, but they can be lethal on the road. A window table in the Hickory Dining Room of the lodge afforded a valley panorama including more of the critters. Venison was not a dinner entree so we settled with Grilled Portabella and Cabin Mt. Meatloaf.

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View from the dining room of the Canaan Valley Lodge in northeastern West Virginia.

“A common field one day. A field of honor forever.” This was a fitting aphorism for the Flight 93 National Memorial. On September 11, 2001, the U.S. came under attack when four commercial airliners were hijacked and used to strike the World Trade Center Towers and Pentagon. Nearly 3,000 people lost their lives. Because of the actions of the 40 passengers and crew aboard one of the planes, Flight 93, it crashed in a “common field”. An attack on the U.S. Capitol was thwarted, and the common field became a “field of honor.”

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Jim, Don, and Richard at the entrance of the Flight 93 National Memorial.

The Memorial was one of our planned stops. We rode up to the new Visitor’s Center, an imposing structure built on the flight path of the doomed aircraft. Contained within is the story of Flight 93, a story of hope, courage, and unity by passengers and crew who acted heroically and made the ultimate sacrifice for their country. The focal point of the Memorial, in my opinion, are forty marble pillars, along the flight path just before the crash site, each bearing the name of one of the deceased.  As I did on two previous visits, I walked by each, reading their names. And I wondered why these innocents were “chosen” for this final heroic task, and why it took me so long to pay them my respects.

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The Flight 93 National Memorial Visitor’s Center on the flight line of the doomed aircraft.

There is a lot to see, digest, and reflect upon at the Flight 93 Memorial which is why we lingered longer than planned. We had a couple of hours to ride to our rendezvous with Jeff who was coming east from Indiana on his BMW R1200GS. I’ve linked up with Jeff in different parts of the country for four previous rallies and our timing has always been spot on. But this time we were running late. We made Richard’s K-bike whine as we cranked our throttles and made up some time.-“Never ride faster than your guardian angel can fly.”Anonymous. Our Guardian angels kept up; we rendezvoused with Jeff; and then proceeded to the Summit Fireside Lodge and Grill for a great meal but a noisy night’s sleep on the edge of route 219 near Ridgeway, PA.

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Ridgeway, PA, in front of Joey’s Coffee Shop on one beautiful morning.

An early morning departure from Joey’s Bakery in Ridgeway on a beautiful clear day took us across a region of north-central Pennsylvania referred to as the Wilds and billed as one of the best outdoor recreation destinations in North America. It is largely rural and forested with a rich timbering and lumbering history and culture. We got a bird’s eye view of the forest from the Kinzua Bridge, named “one of the world’s top 10 most beautiful skywalks.” The original Kinzua Viaduct, completed in 1882, was once the highest and longest railroad viaduct in the world. Rail traffic ceased in 1959, and before it could be reinvented as a rail-trail, it was struck by a tornado in 2002. Today, this engineering marvel has now been reinvented as a pedestrian walkway offering stunning views of the Kinzua Gorge.

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Kinzua Bridge, now a skyway to the middle of the Kinzua Gorge, offering a panoramic view of the Pennslyvania landscape.

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Inside the Lumber Museum, a beautiful timber-frame structure.

Heading east on Route 6 that bisects the Wilds is the Pennsylvania Lumber Museum that documents the history and technology of the timber industry, which was a vital part of the economy and culture of the region. It has been estimated that up to 90% of Pennsylvania was covered with some of the most beautiful timber found in the country. The lumber industry became a massive enterprise, but by 1920 all the trees were gone. Left behind was a barren landscape that was devastated by erosion and wildfires. The second- growth forest that now covers 60% of Pennsylvania is a testament to the dedication of a few conservationists and the resilience of this magnificent ecosystem.

Two of us are foresters so this museum, housed in a beautiful timeframe building, was a must-see. The other two of us may have initially been uncertain about the value of this stop, but in the end, I think we all enjoyed it. After all, the museum was not just about the timbering industry; it was about the people who settled here and still remain. When one understands a peoples’ culture and “sense of place”, a short visit to a new place takes on a new meaning.

“A good friend knows all your best stories; a motorcycling friend has lived them all with you.”Anonymous. We rolled into the rally site at the Tioga County Fairgrounds near Wellsboro, PA, just after noon. There were already over a thousand motorcyclists registered; this number would increase by half again by the end of the next day. This was a rally sponsored by a national BMW organization, therefore, BMW machines predominated along with a smattering of Moto Guzzis, Hondas, and other brands.

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Vendors at the BMW Rally site at the Tioga County Fairgrounds near Wellsboro, PA.

There is a cultural sameness among this crowd whereby all riders wear helmets and protective riding gear no matter the state laws or ambient temperature; their bikes have a pleasant, but muffled exhaust note; they are mostly professional folks or tradesmen (doctors, lawyers, industrialists, analysts, military, educators, etc.); and their endless conversations and storytelling revolve around long-distance travel, their machines, and the guys and gals they ride with. The camaraderie engendered by this sport is probably no different than others such as skiing or sailing, but it may be less well understood. —“To some people motorcycle rallies are not normal, to a motorcyclist, this is heaven.”Anonymous.  I’ve blogged about other rallies here and here.

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Jeff, Richard, Jim, and Don, four amigos waiting for the beer tent to open.

“So many roads, so little time,” I thought as I climbed out of my tent into a beautiful morning. Rally organizers try to locate in areas with twisting roads, great pavement, and beautiful landscapes; they did not disappoint this time. After a delightful breakfast at the Conspiracy Coffee Shop in Mansfield, PA, and a 50-mile ride through Amish farm country, we arrived at the National Soaring Museum on a high hill above Elmira, NY.

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Richard at the National Soaring Museum wondering if he could make his K-bike soar-“Never twist the throttle with your ego.” Anonymous

This is an aviation museum whose aim is to preserve the history of motorless flight. It is the Soaring Society of America’s official repository and it houses the Soaring Hall of Fame. It features a large collection of vintage and modern gliders along with the history of soaring. The museum is on the edge of a glider field managed by Harris Hill Soaring Corporation where one can go for a ride or learn to soar. For a long time, we stood at the edge of the airstrip and watched these beautiful man-made “birds” soar in complete silence— “If flying were the language of man, soaring would be its poetry.”Anonymous

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Touchdown.

Even among us old guys who struggle to keep up with computer-based technologies, virtually all have smartphones. Perhaps the best peripheral App for a motorcyclist is the weather forecast. The forecast for the next two days was ominous! Not just rain, but lots and lots of rain. The prospect of torrential rain on my tent all night, then packing up in the rain, and then leaving in the rain was not a happy thought.

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Departing the rally site a day early saved us from torrential rain and flooding. The blue dot shows our location as we rode along the west side of the system.

“Hey guys,” I said, “what say we leave the rally a day early and skirt west of this system coming up through the mid-Atlantic?” I could see doubt in Don’s facial expression as I proposed an early departure. This would mean forfeiting a chance at the grand prize to be given away the next evening; Don always thinks he has the winning ticket and is all the surer of it if he forfeits. Eventually, the radar showing the storm coming our way became convincing (as it turned out, there was major flooding in many parts of central Pennsylvania).

The next morning we packed our dry tents under a cloudy sky. However, we couldn’t leave the area without a visit to the Grand Canyon of Pennsylvania, a 50-mile gorge carved into the Allegheny Plateau by Pine Creek. After breakfast at the Native Bagel in Wellsboro, it was a short ride to Leonard Harrison State Park which offered spectacular views of the gorge. Designation of the gorge as a National Natural Landmark by the National Park Service notes that it contains superlative scenery, geological and ecological value, and is one of the finest examples of a deep gorge in the eastern United States. Yes, we can vouch for that; it was a great stop on our way out of the area.

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The Grand Canyon of Pennsylvania, part of “Wild Pennsylvania.”

As planned, we skirted west of the developing storm toward western Maryland. Just after noon we gassed up near Bedford, PA, had a quick lunch, and bode farewell to Jeff who headed east for home to Virginia Beach. The radar showed he would ride for hours through the worst of it. We worried about him a little, but hey, he is a Navy Seal—“Life is not about waiting for the storms to pass; It’s about learning how to ride in the rain!”Anonymous

The three of us continued south along the western edge of this multi-state storm. We hit a few patches of rain, but none that lasted more than 10 minutes. The roads dried quickly as did our rain gear. An overnight in a sketchy motel in Franklin, WV, and a great breakfast at High’s Restaurant in Monterey, VA, the next morning put us a few hours from home. During the last hour of the ride, I reflected on this trip and thought about the next one. “There are seven days in the week; Someday is not one of them.” —Anonymous

I waved to my buddies as they peeled off for their respective homes. I pulled into my Man Cave that houses my motorcycles and removed my helmet–“ I look my best when I take my helmet off after a long motorcycle ride. I have a glow and a bit of helmet hair.”Eric Bana

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