Setting out on a motorcycle road trip requires a good deal of preparation if one wants to enjoy the ride. Unfortunately, even with hours of preparations for our Eastern tour, we had several unforeseen travel challenges. First, Ernie encountered a problem with his starter switch and my speedometer cable broke. Next, I went to Emergency to resolve a health problem and Ernie twisted his leg. We also faced an onslaught of unpredictable weather in 2011. While traveling from our starting point in Ohio through Tennessee, we encountered monstrous rainstorms. Some approached so quickly that we couldn’t don our raingear before getting thoroughly drenched. Also, before getting far into the ride, we discovered a woman lying on the side of the roadway. She had been thrown off her motorcycle, which rested several hundred yards from her. She lay crumpled along a road barrier bleeding from the nose and mouth and unable to speak or move. We stopped to help until emergency assistance arrived. We sensed that there was a great deal of uncertainty surrounding her mishap, but we never heard any more details.
Returning to the road, things finally went smoothly. We stayed for a couple of days in Knoxville, Tennessee. Our destinations were Harper’s Ferry, West Virginia, then Gettysburg, Pennsylvania. Upon arriving at Harper’s Ferry, we strolled through the village and viewed many monuments depicting abolitionist John Brown’s raid on the United States militia and his eventual capture. It was a great history lesson. At Gettysburg, Pennsylvania, we viewed a brief movie of the battle of Gettysburg and experienced a large cyclorama display (which was very surreal in depicting the battle), after which we ambled around the cemetery where Union soldiers are interred. The cemetery visit was the most sobering of our experiences. The grounds are hallowed and symbolize a very pivotal period in our country’s history. The battle lasted only three days, but many soldiers lost their lives while drastically changing our country’s history in the process.
Now our concentration was back on the road ahead. We were not in a hurry; we casually moved along. Suddenly, Ernie’s bike began sputtering as he attempted to accelerate. We pulled off the roadway to inspect the motorcycle. We could not find anything that appeared an obvious problem so we added several ounces of Sea Foam additive to his gasoline. The problem waned and seemed to disappear. The sputtering problem was not our only concern. After checking into a motel, Ernie began to experience another health problem – itching. At first we thought mosquitoes caused it. We were wrong.
When we arrived in New Jersey and New York, the traffic was bustling, drivers were rude, toll fees were startling and roadways rough. The fees imposed on motorcyclists towing trailers were unfair. It was a discouragement. Despite that, Ernie wanted to take a ferryboat ride to Staten Island and to see the Statue of Liberty. He also wanted to visit Long Island. To accomplish this he called a friend, Michelle Proctor, who lived nearby and was familiar with the area. She was very helpful, even helping us get back on the road afterward. Soon we found ourselves in Connecticut. The rough roads continued and the veil of night fell quickly.
After a great night of sleep, we continued along I-95 toward Maine. To our surprise, Massachusetts provided few rest stops, and where we stopped, outhouses were the only facilities available. We were, however, fortunate to find coupon circulars for available lodging in the eastern states ahead. When we left Massachusetts, we crossed into New Hampshire where our excitement swelled because we would soon see the Atlantic Ocean. We had to first leave I-95 and take U.S. 1A. Finally, there it was: grand, blue and majestic. Its coastline framed the small towns that dotted the landscape.
After stopping in for a lobster meal, we wandered around until we found a campsite for the evening. It was well off the road in the small hamlet of Wells, Maine. It was a clean, orderly site; however, we slept very little because we could hear traffic from the rural highway. Despite that, we broke camp early the next morning. Before returning to the road, Ernie wanted to stop at a hospital to get advice on his plaguing itch. After being examined, it was determined that bed bugs were the culprits. The doctor said she had seen many cases involving the pests. She advised him to leave his belongings in the garage after returning home.
We returned to I-95 toward Bar Harbor, Maine. Along the way, we communicated often about the rough roads under construction. We also cautioned each other about squiggly, slippery tar patches on the road. Both bikes had great tires, but conditions were often challenging. Then, we encountered a young lady riding solo along the highway. Ernie caught up with her just before arriving at a toll station. She passed through the booth ahead of us. When our turn came, the attendant refused our toll fees. He told us that the woman riding solo paid our toll along with hers. We were incredulous but very grateful. It was a kind gesture. We attempted to catch up with her but she disappeared. We never got her name to thank her.
Ernie’s GPS unit began recalculating routes at curious moments. It often was less reliable than a road map. We missed several road junctions and clearly posted connections. Despite this, we began seeing beautiful waterways and the Atlantic Ocean. Riding 1-A afforded both panoramic views of the landscape and opportunities to develop an intimacy with small communities along the way. People were friendly and very interested in our motorcycles and destinations. We also encountered many motorcyclists enjoying the same route. Finally, we checked in for the evening at a small, folksy, lakefront hotel called the Pine Shore in East Orland.
Starting out the next morning, our immediate plan was to stop in the town of Ellsworth, gas up, restock ice and sundries and venture around Acadia National Park. The park is a jewel of the east and lies along the banks of the Atlantic Ocean. Each curve we rounded offered breathtaking views, most rivaling previous sites. We followed along its awe-inspiring loops, capturing glances of its wonderful displays of nature. Finally, we arrived at its summit – Cadillac – where miles of ocean, lush forest wilderness and the city of Bar Harbor could be viewed in a sweeping glance. We felt privileged and small in the grand scheme of such natural beauty.
The park roadway was in very good repair and our motorcycles performed admirably during ascents and descents. There were no problems with overheating even as our engines groaned protesting the climbs. We were careful not to ride our brakes. As we prepared to end a day of adventure, we noticed that lodging was expensive in settlements near the park. So, we felt fortunate to find a KOA campsite nearby. It was a great facility with great accommodations and a beautiful lakeside view. It served as a terrific area to end the day.
We packed to leave early en route to Bangor, Maine. We hoped to pick up U.S. 2 toward Vermont where we could see a number of covered bridges. We were lucky because we found one before leaving Maine. Along the way, we stopped at a roadside park in a town called Skowhegan. It was a brief stop near an area called Canaan. It is famous because one of George Washington’s most trusted and reliable officers, Benedict Arnold, led about 1,100 men in wooden boats across a waterway there during the Revolutionary War. It was a great place to stop.
In the morning, Ernie inspected my trailer tires. They were wearing prematurely and we determined that they were overinflated. We adjusted the air pressure but continued to monitor them. Continuing to roll, we embraced traveling through lush green forests. There are few things as aromatic as the scent of fresh pine trees. We smelled the trees frequently. Our ride traversed rolling hills and hairpin turns – many cut through neatly nestled communities, as we followed miles of pristine, exciting roadways. They were mostly two-lane, which are a motorcyclists’ dream ride. Many cyclists were plying the circuit. Most of the asphalt was smooth and well maintained; however occasional caveats warned: Motorcycles Caution. We were vigilant in heeding them.
The next day we searched for a Wal-Mart to purchase trailer tires. We weren’t successful, so we continued trekking along Vermont highway 100. Our run was met with miles of lush, green mountain scenery. The roadway was a penciled stretch of blacktop that swept along small villages. We often waved to residents sitting on their front porches. The route revealed a different face of nature at every turn. It was a motorcycle joy ride. The day ended near Rutland, Vermont.
The next morning, our ride began along highway 4. Vermont countryside is breathtaking and lush with varied shades of emerald foliage. As we looped along its blind curves and winding stretches of scenic highway, we were thrilled like children on a roller coaster. Soon we found ourselves in New York and back on super highway I-90. We paid a brief visit to Saratoga National Park. We watched a film and browsed displays where Revolutionary War campaigns were depicted. With I-90 being more urban, we located a store and purchased new trailer tires, which were quickly installed. Unfortunately shortly after the rain was pounding so we sought lodging.
To continue our ride, we checked our engine oil and sprayed electronic cleaner on our switches. Then, Ernie lubricated my kickstand. Both bikes had new brake pads and I had recently installed new steering head bearings and wheel bearings. All my fluids had recently been replaced. Still, I was taking nothing for granted. I always remain mindful that opportunities on a motorcycle are cut in half when compared to an automobile.
The drive from Schenectady to Binghamton was very scenic. There were beautiful hillsides in the background with grander mountains overshadowing them. It was a scorching, hot day but Route 267 from Binghamton to Towanda, Pennsylvania, provided a cool, leisurely path. The area is famous because it was the site of the Camptown horse races near Route 6. A song, written by Southern folk ballad songwriter Stephen Foster, who actually lived in Northeastern Pennsylvania, popularized the races. The writing, in mock African-American dialect, details a horse race from Towanda to Wyalusing where a site marker is posted along the route. Within the city limits, many houses and businesses were close to the road. Traffic was moderate, with occasional posted speeds of 55. The best road conditions were little consolation in the steaming weather. Finally, we grew weary of the heat and pulled in at a nearby lodge for the evening.
We could have quickened our journey by taking the Interstate. Instead, we chose to travel as many secondary roads as possible because we wanted that intimate experience. The Interstate would also deny us the opportunity to see our country’s inner beauty – the architecture of homes, activities of residents and local color. Speaking of beauty, I can’t say enough for the many forests we traveled through, especially along Route 6.
One of the longest highways in the nation, stretching from Cape Cod, Massachusetts, to Long Beach, California, it is considered one of the best touring roads in America, co-signed by National Geographic magazine and embraced by motorcyclists alike. The road cuts through many state forests and through Pennsylvania’s only one, Allegheny National Forest. Driving the forests was spiritually stimulating. You inhale various scents of indigenous trees and sprawling tufts of wildflower. Oftentimes, the heavens seem to be arched green in places where the trees lean over narrow roadways. Ancient Roman Philosopher and Dramatist Lucius Annaeus Seneca wrote:
When you enter a grove peopled with ancient trees, higher than the ordinary, and shutting out the sky with their thickly inter-twined branches, do not the stately shadows of the wood the stillness of the place, and the awful gloom of this doomed cavern then strike you with the presence of a deity?
While winding through the woods I felt very relaxed and soothed. It was a wonderful, invigorating feeling. There was an overpowering feeling of kinship. I could clearly see how man can be perceived as an extension of his environment. I agree with former Soviet Republic President Mikhail Gorbachev who wrote: “I believe in the cosmos. All of us are linked to the cosmos. Look at the sun: If there is no sun, then we cannot exist. So nature is my god. To me, nature is sacred; trees are my temples and forests are my cathedrals.”
We cruised by miles of open farmland and many sparse settlements of diminutive villages situated several feet from the roadway. It was refreshing to watch the Amish casually rolling along in their horse-drawn wagons and tranquilly waving when we tooted our horns. The temperature was over 100 degrees so we checked in early for the day. We washed our motorcycles and trailers and, instead of going out for dinner, opted to eat food we had purchased and stored in our coolers. Shortly after eating, we meet two guys checked into the same motel. They were riding vintage motorcycles – Nortons – and were returning from a vintage bike rally in New York. One of the gentlemen lived less than 25 miles from my home and we struck up a very interesting conversation about their refurbished bikes.
After a cool night’s sleep, we packed early and returned to Route 6 where we continued along the thick-forested roadway. The woods were pregnant with creatures. Our greatest concern were deer. Deer played heavily on my mind because they can cause accidents few cyclists emerge from unscathed. We saw plenty, alone and in small herds, but were fortunate to avoid hitting them. As we continued our ride, Ernie alerted me that we would complete our journey by nightfall. I was surprised because I thought that we were a couple of days out. It had been such a relaxing ride that I even had the opportunity to observe a turtle cumbersomely make its way across the road. As we prepared to enter I-90, I reflected on the time we spent traveling the back roads of the eastern United States. We were now traveling through Ohio and we would be home before the end of the day. We hope to do the Eastern tour again sometime before the sunset of our lives.
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