Postcards from Pennsylvania Part Two

photo credit: Eric Vengroff

By Eric Vengroff

Day 2
State College, Pennsylvania, home of Penn State University, is a school town quite obviously. Founded in 1855, the school has a population of 80,000 at its 23 campuses around the state. As you can imagine has every conceivable variety of student food in the burger and pizza joints scattered across town. It also has many fine restaurants. We didn’t go to any. Instead we chose the Olive Garden across from our hotel. Although not the finest fare, it was far from being poor and it had the redeeming quality of being across the parking lot from our hotel. After a long day of summer riding in leather suits, the last thing anybody was up for was jumping back on the bikes for a night on the town. Besides, we were drinking and had to be up early the next morning.

An hour after leaving the hotel, I was able to snap this picture, at the top of one of the many mountains we would climb today, overlooking the idyllic pastures and farms that are all through this region. I also had a taste of what we would be in for ride-wise on our way to Virginia. Eschewing most arterial roads and thoroughfares, we carved our way through the mountains where the sunlight filters through the foliage, creating beautiful mental movies that play in your head and make you want to come back over and over again, as some of my companions on the ride have done.

There was not much opportunity to enjoy the scenery, for the pace we were traveling at demanded steady focus on the road and conditions ahead. The constant changes in the road -from straights to turns, changes in elevation and the need to pass the occasional car, truck or farm vehicle – required rapid acceleration, transitions to coasting, to braking and back to acceleration again. Despite certain mountainous and curvy sections that had me pushing my bike to the redline, clamping down aggressively on the brakes, and leaning heavily into the turns, the Harley could not keep up with the lighter, more nimble sport bikes, and the bigger, but more powerful Honda Gold Wing. After a while, I’m sure it was becoming mildly amusing for my colleagues, who had they known, probably would have ordered chilled refreshments ahead while waiting for me to catch up at key intersections.

We stopped for lunch at a hole-in-the-wall BBQ restaurant outside of Everett, PA about 1 o’clock. The food sounded much better than it was. But it was cheap (my ribs with two sides was $7.00 US) and our server looked like one of those farmer’s daughters of ‘traveling salesmen’ stories you may have heard from time to time.
As the afternoon sun climbed, the roads took a decidedly primitive direction. We rode through some treacherous back roads that traversed three states in just a few miles – a no man’s land with dirt roads that included traversing a wooden bridge across a swampy part of the Potomac River into Green Spring, WV. As we crossed the bridge in single file, riding on one of the two available rails of flat wood to roll on, a canoe with two passengers paddled lazily toward us – a scene almost out of Adventures Huckleberry Finn.

All this back road maneuvering was chewing up time and by the next time we filled up for gas, clouds from an approaching front were overtaking us and obscuring the sun regularly. While the reduction in temperature could be felt and appreciated, I could see rain clouds accumulating on the hills around us. With two hours to go before reaching our destination, it’s drizzling lightly. We stopped to put on our rain suits and cut the trip short in favour of a direct route over Mt. Shenandoah, crossing from West Virginia into Virginia at or near the summit. This proved to be an interesting decision, as the higher we climbed, the wetter the roads became as we ascended through the lower rainclouds. The switchbacks and steep climbs in between came one after the other. We stopped for a Kodak moment at the lookout, although it had become quite murky and visibility was poor -too bad, it was very pretty country.
The condition of the road deteriorated immediately upon crossing into Virginia d of repair. Fortunately the weather conditions improved as we descended. At the bottom of the mountain we entered the Rawley Pike, where the tree-canopied road was straight downhill through the valley and dry – ideal for a 100+ MPH blast down towards Harrisonburg.

A brief let-up in the rain was followed by a steady downpour by the time we arrived at our hotel on the outskirts of Harrisonburg just after 6 PM. Ten hours, no less than eight of which were spent in the saddle, was quite enough for me. Shower, eat, collapse on the bed -over and out.
It rained all night.