It was time to get on the BMW and stretch out the old girl’s legs (the bike’s, not mine). My sister and niece would be at my parents’ place in Erie, as well as my two uncles, and it was a great time to wrap up a visit and see them all. Dan was involved in some big projects at work, so he wasn’t able to take the Friday off and would stay home for this trip. It was just going to be me, the bike and the road.
June 22-24, 2012
Verona, NJ to Erie, PA
The week preceding this ride was brutally hot. Northern New Jersey hit almost 100 degrees with complementary humidity. I wasn’t a happy camper commuting to work in that heat and really wasn’t looking forward to riding it in all day on Friday, even with my mesh jacket. At least the weather was due to break that weekend, so I knew that I’d eventually have some comfortable temperatures. But I was given a reprieve: the temps dropped noticeably after only 30 minutes on the highway. The high that I saw for the rest of the day was 84, and was even chilly at some points when going through forested valleys.
Scenic view turnout near the Delaware Water Gap
I had all day to go 8 hours and had prepped for this trip by asking some of my riding friends if there were any roads or sights I shouldn’t miss along the way. A few good suggestions made their way onto my GPS, the first one being Route 87 just past Tunkhannock. This would allow me to miss the usual congestion of Towanda, a cute but always busy town on the Susquehanna River, as well as see some roads I’ve never been on before. I took special note of Mehoopany, a really neat old town with some great architecture, but I can’t seem to find any history on the area. I do recall Mehoopany because shortly after that, I caught up to a pick up truck loaded with construction materials. I was in no hurry and he had a decent pace, so I just settled in behind him. However, we reached a point where road construction signs warned of “dips” and “bumps” and his speed dropped considerably. He pulled to the side and waved me past, where I merrily went by him, picked up the speed and stood up on the pegs to absorb all of the bumps and dips that the road had in store for me. This went well until the next sign read “BIG BUMP – SLOW DOWN NOW!”. The previous bumps hadn’t been anything special, so I maintained my speed of about 45 and hit it – and promptly left the pavement. Both wheels caught air, I have no doubt, and I would have given anything to see the look on my face. “Surprised” is putting it lightly. I landed well enough and continued on my way, wondering what the car in the oncoming lane thought when they saw me.
The road dipped south a bit more before meeting up with 154 and heading west again. I meandered through mostly wooded hills and rolling farmlands. The temperature was generally very pleasant and the roads were entertaining and empty. Well, mostly empty. There was one particular corner that sticks vividly in my mind, as it was truly an exercise in “situational awareness”. The road was two lanes and descending slightly, with a concrete bridge crossing a small river on the left. At first I wasn’t sure if the road ahead of me was the dirt continuation of the road I was on, or a junction with another road. As I determined that the dirt road was a secondary road and that my route would take me over the bridge, I saw that there was a pick up truck coming down the dirt road toward me. My first thought was “will he stop?” followed quickly by my noticing that a lot of loose dirt and gravel was on the pavement where the two roads met. Now sure that the pick up was going to wait for me and that my speed was low enough to not low side on the dirt, I could focus on the oil truck that was coming across the concrete bridge (noted earlier in my survey of the scene but put onto the back burner). Much to my surprise, the oil truck was just about to start his exit off the bridge and had swung wide to make the turn, thereby taking up MY side of the bridge as well. I did the only thing I could, which was to tuck myself up against the bridge rail and sit there while the big truck completed his move.
I eventually returned to Route 6 and found myself riding through Wellsboro at lunch time – perfect! I parked the bike in the shade and took at seat in the famous Wellsboro Diner. I watched the cook shave five fresh slices of ham in preparation of my grilled ham and cheese sandwich. Everything was fresh here.
After lunch I continued west on Route 6 before dropping down Rt 872 for my first planned detour: the Austin Dam site. I read briefly about it online before I’d left and it looked intriguing. Apparently the dam broke in 1911 and killed 78 people in the town below, making it the second worse flooding event in Pennsylvania history (the first being the Johnstown flood of 1889, which killed over 2,200 people). The entrance to the Austin park was quite unassuming and I wasn’t entirely sure if it would be worth checking out, but I’m quite glad that I did. First was a mile long rough dirt road let me to a place to look over the dam from a nearby hill top, and then the road dropped down to below the dam’s remains, where there was a dirt parking area and picnic tables.
The road that I had chosen took me to the far side of the dam and then down around to the front. The park had a really nice pavilion and grassy space, and I could see that it was a well-taken care of place. No one else was there when I parked the bike, although an older couple had shown up with their dog by the time I was leaving. I should have asked them to take a picture, so that you could get a sense of scale of the standing walls.
View from above
Once I left Austin I let the GPS guide me towards my next stop, the Kinzua Bridge State Park. It sent me on some odd little secondary roads, but the choices were good. Once again, very little traffic got in my way. Somehow I missed a rain squall that had passed by very recently, wetting the roads but not me. This was good news for me, as I had only my mesh jacket on and would have gotten soaked instantly.
Kinzua was a place that I’d heard about from my childhood but for whatever reason, I’d never visited. Now would be my chance. It was a few miles down a freshly paved road before I came to the entrance of the park, where a dozen or so cars were parked. I pulled the BMW under a tree, next to a sport bike and a cruiser, and made my way to the bridge.
In 2003, a tornado came through the area and destroyed part of the viaduct. The park service had since come in and reinforced the remaining structure and installed a planked walking surface on it. The even put in some clear glass plates so that you could look straight down to the valley, 300′ below.
From Kinzua Bridge I naturally progressed on to Kinzua Dam. There wasn’t a lot to see from the road and not much more from the parking lot at the top. I’m afraid that unless its been broken, a dam is a dam to my eyes.
Riding from Kinzua Dam to Erie, PA wasn’t that spectacular. I passed by many towns who’s names I knew, but had never been to. Traffic was surprisingly heavy, but eventually I arrived at my parents’ house just in time for dinner. I had been on the road since 8am and now it was 6:30; I was ready to get off the bike for the day.
On Sunday morning I said good bye to my family and headed…north. I had a stop to make on my way home: Chautauqua Lake and the home of my godparents. Their home was too close not to make the detour and it would also add a little variety to the return.
I took I-90 for just a few miles before jumping off on Rt 430 (Station Road). It was as I passed through the towns of Findley Lake and Sherman that it really hit me: our world is so much bigger than we can ever understand. When I was living here, these names represented the outer edge of my known world. I spent little if any time near this edge, but they were the framework of what I knew. I had been gone for 25 years and to come back and see these old names and realize just how small my world had been was incredibly eye-opening to me.
Just a few hours later I pulled in front on my childhood memory: the Lake House. Situated predominately on “the point”, the house of my godparents held many pleasant memories for me. I had spent many weeks, over many years, at this house, playing with their youngest daughter and boating on the large lake. I knocked on the door, but no one answered. I called, but got only the voice mail. I thought it was too bad that I wasn’t able to get a hold of them, but it wasn’t to be unexpected: I had arrived unannounced on a beautiful Sunday morning. It wasn’t surprising that they would be out enjoying it. I snapped a couple of photos and got back on the bike. Not two houses later, I saw my “Uncle” Bob walking down the street and I stopped to say hi. I spent over an hour with them, catching up and enjoying the morning. But I still had a long way to go to New Jersey, so I eventually got back on the bike and this time, headed east.
Despite my attempts at adding variety to my return route, I still ended up retracing parts of my original route. However, just east of Coudersport on Rt 6 I saw a sign for the “Coudersport – Jersey Shore Turnpike” (not the “Jersey Shore” in New Jersey). This is actually Rt 44 and it takes a lovely 70 mile jaunt through numerous start parks, forests, game lands and wild lands. This was also an obvious favorite of motorcyclists, as I saw more on the stretch of road than I had for my entire trip.
I enjoyed this leg of the trip, even though it spit me out onto 220 near Williamsport and then onto I-80 for the remainder of my ride. The best part of the ride was seeing the blooming rhododendrons along the forest roads. I liked them so much I even took the time to take a short forest service road to get a better angle.
The most interesting thing I saw along I-80 was a family of wild turkeys along the shoulder. I had never seen wild baby turkeys, but they looked cute at 75mph!