What could be more All American than hot dogs, baseball and apple pie and traveling on an American-made motorcycle? I managed to squeeze all of that into one day (if you count Apple Crisp as an apple pie).
I was close enough to Cooperstown, New York, to visit the National Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum, so I took a quick tour of the place. It’s an amazing collection and display of baseball memorabilia that begins in the mid 19th century and goes to the present big-league, big-money enterprise that America’s favorite pasttime has become. From changing equipment to the changing faces of the game to the always changing records that may get harder to break but usually get broken somehow, this three-story museum has something for every baseball fan. It’s clearly a place where baseball aficionados can spend days and the 2 hours I allowed myself didn’t do the place justice.
But it was fun to walk through and it brought back memories of my youth when I actually played the game, knew the players, collected the cards (which my mother threw away while cleaning out the basement) and even attended a few games. The display of the old Milwaukee Braves, for example, recalled my first trip to a Major League stadium to watch Eddie Mathews, Del Crandall, Warren Spahn and young fella by the name of Hank Aaron play the game. Don’t remember who they played or what the score was, but I remember sitting in the stands on the third base side of the stadium eating pop corn and cheering for the Braves. Today’s visit to the Hall of Fame also included a chance to watch other old men reminisce to young boys who dream of a chance to go to the big dance. It was 2 hours well spent.
After the museum, I walked around Cooperstown and discovered an old diner that still served hot dogs the way they’re meant to be served. I ordered a jumbo dog but they were out so the cook gave me two of their regular dogs. I told Louise-the-waitress I thought they were two jumbo dogs but she assured me they weren’t. I ate them both so I didn’t have room for the pie I expected to have with lunch. Instead, when I got to Middlebury, VT, and settled in for the night, I found a cafe that had homemade Apple Crisp with apples actually peeled in the kitchen. Not quite pie but close enough.
For the first time on this trip I completely avoided Interstate highways, depending instead on the fortunes of state roads, county roads and some roads that didn’t qualify as either. The quality of the roads in New York continued to be a mix of truly awful, moderately terrible, and, in some cases, pretty good. A constant problem was trying to predict when a pretty good road would devolve into the bone-jarring variety. I always slowed down after the first major bump, which they occasionally warned drivers was ahead somewhere in the undefined distance, but hitting the first one each time resulted in a series of unkind words for the NY DOT.
While the roads may not always have been to my liking, the scenery almost certainly was. Every time I travel across America I’m reminded what a beautiful place it is. Soaring mountains, rolling hills, cascading streams and serene lakes. What a good way to spend the day. The mountains in New York, at least the ones I saw were mostly in the Adirondack State Park (the biggest state park in the U.S.) At only about 3500 feet, the tree-covered slopes are not as tall as those in North Carolina/Tennessee or the American West, but they still have the power to instill awe in the viewer. But what made these hills different from others, I think,, is that they are dotted with thousands of lakes. Once I got into the Park, I was almost always in sight of water somewhere, in the form of brooks, creeks, streams, ponds or lakes. Sometimes you have to search for the lakes between the trees, but that’s not always a good idea when you also have to be searching for road breaks and pot holes.
One of my realizations today was that triple digit roads are better for riding than two digit or one digit roads. And roads with names of local farmers or landmarks instead of numbers are even better. The small county roads, where you have to go slower because they make no effort to straighten them out and the narrow asphalt ribbons frequently intersect driveways and hidden farm roads, are the best places to slow down and smell the roses (or the hay or the alfalfa or the manure). And sometimes it’s nice to just stop on the road and look around at well-kept farms, contented stock and hard-working farmers.
Between the two-hour stop at Cooperstown and the enjoyable but slow country roads, it too, me almost 11 hours to go less than 400 miles. I’m ready to finish my Jack, take a last look at the sun as it sets over Vermont and get ready to head for Canada, eh?
I should cross into Canada about 11 a.m. tomorrow and will head for a currency exchange to trade my Andrew Jacksons for some Loonies and Toonies. Looking forward to roads where the speed limit is 100. Well, in Kilometers Per Hour, anyway.
Everyone stay safe and I’ll try to do the same, eh?
Enjoy more pictures. Link to Flickr: Click here
Finding rain on this trip didn’t take long. Only the second day on the road and I had about 2 hours of the wet stuff even though I changed course and tried to navigate around it. I went through a few sprinkles in West Virginia and Maryland, but not enough to even consider putting on rain gear. When I stopped for lunch in Pennsylvania and checked the weather radar, however, I knew there would be no avoiding the hundred-mile rain band dousing the Keystone state. My external clothing pack was already covered, and I slipped my official Harley Davidson rain pants on to get a jump on the inevitable rain. But I only rode about 20 minutes more before I stopped to add the jacket as well. It was a gentle rain for the most part and I’m sure farmers were glad to get it. It never came close to raining hard enough to send me scrambling for cover and a place to pull over. The rain gear kept me dry but I wish I could have stopped more often this afternoon to take in some of the gorgeous Pennsylvania scenery.
This morning, I found myself on I-81 going north for more miles than I liked, so I turned off the GPS and headed cross country. I knew there was a pretty good road (PA 522) that would take me closer to and into some small mountains and foothills, so that’s where I headed. Interstates are boring and they almost never have good pie stops. You need small town cafes and diners for that. And I found one in time for another early lunch. I hadn’t intended to eat more than an obscenely large piece of pie, but I started talking with Mr. Williams who told me that he and his family had just opened the “Sunny Ridge Station Family Restaurant” last week so I decided to help him out a little and ordered his namesake “Williams Burger” and a cup of cream of potato soup. Turned out his granddaughter in the kitchen does all the creative cooking. She invented the Williams Burger, which consists of 1/3 pound ground beef patty covered with fried onions and a sauce that includes BBQ sauce and brown sugar and some other no doubt secret ingredients served on a Kaiser roll. Not bad. But the cream of potato soup was outstanding. Best I’ve had in many a year.
When I finally got to what I stopped for in the first place–PIE–I opted for the granddaughter’s Boston Cream Pie, which, by the way, won’t win any awards. She sure makes good potato soup, though. She should put it in a pie shell and bake it. Call it Cream of Potato Pie. The place started to fill up around noon as I was donning rain gear and getting ready to leave, so maybe the “Sunny Ridge Station Family Restaurant” will still be there the next time I go riding down PA 522. I’ll try the cherry pie. It looked good.
Pennsylvania has miles of beautiful farm country and lots of REALLY BIG barns. I had hoped to get pictures of some of the barns, but it was either raining or there was no place to pull off to take a picture. Trust me, even a city boy can tell that those are some fine old barns.
The other thing I noticed today as I was rolled through small town after small town (or village or borough or township) was the 19th century architecture that dominated the towns’ main streets. Beautiful old homes and downtown buildings, many of which are being or have been restored, often with the colorful palettes typical of Victorian era houses. When the rain finally quit I found myself in Mifflinburg on PA 45 and was so struck by the downtown and the houses that lined Main Street that I parked the bike and walked around for a while. Of course not every house has been restored to the glory that the picture here and others on Flickr attest, but clearly many of them have been lovingly rehabbed, restored and nursed back to life. I would liked to have seen the insides but no one seemed eager to invite a wild-bearded biker into their parlor. Too bad.
By 3:30 the rain was gone completely and I had gorgeous blue skies with billowing white clouds for the remainder of the day, including the time I went through Williamsport in the spectacular Susquehanna River Valley. In the back of my mind I knew I had heard something about Williamsport, but couldn’t remember what it was. And then I saw a “Little League International” sign and one of the many voices in my head whispered “Little League World Series.” A quick turn into a parking lot gave me a chance to see the “Field of Dreams” for many young boys (and a few girls) who work so hard at learning the finer points of America’s Favorite Pastime. It would be fun to go through Williamsport when the Little League World Series sends young dreamers scurrying around the bases to youthful fame and fleeting glory.
One final note tonight: The roads in Pennsylvania where I spent most of the day–either wet or dry–were in pretty good shape. Some had been recently repaved, a couple were brand new, and the rest were solid and I didn’t have to adjust speed or direction to avoid potholes. But New York–I made it to Elmira where I’m comfortably ensconsed in a Hampton Inn– well, New York is another story. I’ve only driven about 30 miles in New York and all of it on an Interstate whose number I can’t remember. And that road is terrible. Crumbling pavement, expansion joint ridges that jar your teeth, pot holes that could swallow a small car. I’d rather ride the Alaska Highway again. I think I’m avoiding all Interstates tomorrow and I’m hoping that the back roads are in better shape because they’re less heavily travelled.
Through New York and into Vermont tomorrow. I can’t wait to get on the road again.
Flickr link: Click here
Ten hours and 478 miles between Maggie Valley and my motel in Luray, Virginia. What a perfect day on a motorcycle. I layed awake most of the time after 2:30 a.m. this morning thinking about the 30+ day adventure that lay before me and I’m a little tired tonight. I had planned to go kickstand up at 0700 but I was so ready and so anxious that I actually fired the engine, loaded Willie Nelson on the CD and started a few minutes before 7, much to the chagrin of one of my neighbors who wanted to wave goodbye from her porch as I left. Sorry Yvonne, but at least I revved my engine as I went by on my farewell loop around Raven Ridge circle.
For the first hour on the road (mostly interstate to get through Asheville) low-lying clouds hugged the ground and climbed the mountain sides but usually failed to get to the top of the peaks, providing occasional glimpses of the Smokies at their best. I headed east for about 60 miles before turning north, and when I did the mountains were mostly on my left side as I rolled through rolling farmland and foothills. Good roads though, with enough sharp and steep twisties thrown in to keep the ride interesting.
Thanks to farmers who were out early mowing hay, I was reminded of one of the great pleasures of riding a motorcycle: the smells. There are few aromatic delights more invigorating than fresh cut hay in the morning. You miss that riding in a car with recycled, air-conditioned conditioned air that always smells stalely the same. Note to friends on four wheels: Go for a ride in the country from time to time, roll down your windows and take a deep breath. Aaahhhhh. Riding a motorcycle is always sensual because all the senses seem to be heightened: Smell the fresh mown hay. See a kaleidoscope of colors as scenery flashes by all around you. Feel the wind (and bugs) in your face and on your arms as air rushes by at 70 mph. Hear the gentle roar of the engine (volume dependent on muffler choice) and the woosh of the air going by. Taste? Well maybe not so much taste unless you’re grinning real big and a bug smashes between your nose and your chin. All in all, though, riding on two wheels is truly sensual.
I suspect long-time readers of this blog are waiting for me to get to the good stuff. OK. Here it is. Apple pie for an early lunch at a real diner. And the slice was so big and so full and so juicy that the waitress, somewhat puzzled by my 11 a.m. menu selection, had to put it in a bowl. Maybe it was deep-dish apple pie. Definitely a good gastronomic start to the trip, even though I opted not to add the ice cream that would have no doubt nicely complemented my apple pie lunch with diner coffee chaser.
Almost 500 miles today and no rain. That’s a good start. But the temperatures did climb into the mid 90s as several Virginia cities set June 18 record highs. I kept my long sleeves on to protect my arms from the sun and it wasn’t too uncomfortable as long as I was rolling. Lengthy stop lights were another matter.
One of the great things about a trip like this is that you never know what what to expect as you round a curve. For example, today I didn’t expect to see a pink elephant, but suddenly there it was. Perched on a platform high in the air. And below this particularly poised pachyderm was a plethora of other beasts and fowls of various stripes. All composed of the same concrete mixture as the Dumbo want-to-be. It was worth turning around and going back for a second look and a few pictures. I even found a motorcycle with less power than mine standing near a hippopotamus and a squad of grape-laden Greek warriors. (More pictures are available on the Flickr link below.)
Most of the day I rode parallel to the eastern slopes of the mountains, sometimes separated from them by several miles of lush farm fields sprouting corn, tobacco, and lots of hay and dotted with agricultural structures and vehicles in various states of disrepair. This was especially true as I rode the “Stonewall Jackson Memorial Highway” in the Shenandoah Valley. Earlier in the day I had putted along on the “JEB Stuart Memorial Highway.” In Virginia, of course, you’re never far from reminders of the Recent Unpleasantness between the States and I whizzed past several fine-print highway historical markers that I’m sure recounted the excellent exploits of troops on both sides of the Civil War but that I couldn’t read because I was going too fast and they were written too small and there was no place to pull over and stop or even turn around so I kept going. Some genius in the Virginia DOT Highway Historical section needs to come up with a solution.
Tomorrow I continue north, probably ending somewhere in the middle of Pennsylvania or maybe New York depending on the weather, the quality of the roads, my response to reveille and whether or not there are more concrete kingdoms or equally entertaining oddities to explore.
I’ve put pictures on a Flickr Album designated for the Newfoundland/Labrador trip. If all goes well, you should be able to see them by clicking on this link (which I’ll link to in each blog post from here on out): https://flic.kr/s/aHsjXhQnYK
Since I prepacked a half dozen times in the last two weeks and checked the bike over several times and did pre-ride planning since last fall, there wasn’t much to do today but take care of a couple domestic chores and drum my fingers on the table. I’m as ready as I can get and eagerly anticipate kickstand up tomorrow at 0700.
Just as we have great friends in Florida who gathered to wish Marilyn and me bon voyage last year when we headed for Alaska, so too do we have great NEW friends in North Carolina who also gathered today to wish me well during the next 30+ days. Marilyn and I are fortunate to have so many people who care about us. At least I think that’s what it is. It may be, however, that we just surround ourselves with people who latch on to any excuse to have a drink.
What was supposed to be a one-hour chips and nibbles happy hour turned into a two-hour, too-much food party in the pavillion of our cabin community. The organizer even had a “Newfoundland Quiz” that I wasn’t allowed to participate in since I’ve been reading about Newfoundland/Labrador for the past six months. I told the group about my ill-planned itinerary for the next month (i.e. go north until every sentence ends with “eh”, then head east and look for a big island) and related what I hoped to see along the way (e.g. gentlemen’s clubs and hot biker chicks).
Lots of laughs and well wishes. Good friends, many of whom will be on their porches at 0700 to wave goodbye as I glide by with Willie Nelson providing a musical send off, are nice to have.
I think I must be getting pretty good at packing a motorcycle for long trips, having done it every year for about the past decade. When I finally got everything packed I still had room left in my tour pack for my helmet. That’s a lot of space for “Newfie” souvenirs. I was so bereft of ride-related things to do today that I actually weighed all the stuff I’m taking. The clothing pack, which will be on the passenger seat behind me, came in at 21 pounds, including a full bottle of Jack Daniels, an iPad and assorted heart, cholesterol and diabetes drugs apparently prescribed for all gentlemen of advanced years. The right saddle bag has tools, rain gear, cold weather gear, first-aid kit, and assorted bungy cords and cargo nets: 15 pounds. Left saddle bag has chaps, leather jacket, tennis shoes and one pair of Levis: 13 pounds. Tour pack has camera, tripod, notebook, hoodie, and heated jacket: 11 pounds. Total weight: 60 pounds. Not bad.
I didn’t mention this on last night’s blog, but I meant to. Please feel free to comment on the blog. It helps me feel connected. Connected not just to people who understand the same currency and weights and measures as me, but connected to friends and fellow travelers. I know you’re there because I check site visits on the blog stats, but it’s nice to communicate, too. Say hi once in a while and I’ll say hi back atcha.
Tomorrow night I’ll be somewhere in the middle of Virginia. As the Jack slowly melts a couple of ice cubes and I review the day’s miles, I’ll fill you in on tomorrow’s journey.
Now there’s only one thing left to say: I can’t wait to get on the road again.
In two days I’ll be on the road again. This time for 30+ days as I ride from North Carolina to Newfoundland and Labrador for a little look see in our neighbor to the North. I’m ready now. I’ve been ready for days. I’m anxious to fire up the big V-Twin, raise the kickstand and roll down the road. And I’m anxious once again to share the adventure with friends and family.
Thanks to everyone rejoining me on the blog after following Marilyn and my adventures last year as we putted our way to Alaska and back. Believe me, knowing that friends and family faithfully followed our journey and enjoyed, vicariously at least, our travels and my attempts to record them turned out to be as energizing as straddling the big Harleys each day. I can’t guarantee this year’s solo adventure will be as exciting or as interesting as last year’s two-month dream-come-true, but I promise I’ll try to take you along on another pie-filled adventure that will make you want to do something equally as crazy.
I’ve packed and repacked. I’ve checked the bike and put on a new front tire. The fluids and the air pressure are at their proper levels. Today I even washed and polished my Alaska Highway-scarred Ultra Classic. I’ve worried about what to take and what I’m forgetting until I’ve probably driven Marilyn crazy. She’s probably as anxious for me to get on the road as I am, though I think there’s a part of her (not the hind part) that wishes she was going on this ride, too.
Why Newfoundland? Well, I haven’t been there before. And I don’t have a Harley-Davidson t-shirt from there. And two North Carolina neighbors who went there several years ago highly recommended it. But mostly because when I looked at various Newfoundland/Labrador (it’s all one province) websites, it seemed like a great destination and a great place to ride. It has the northern end of the Appalachian mountain chain (which I can currently see from where I’m typing in my cabin); icebergs from the Arctic; an abundance of whales, moose and other creatures large and small; world class historic sites (e.g. the first European contact via the Vikings); music and folk festivals; summer theater; and plenty of gorgeous scenery and friendly people. Now, perhaps, I’ve come under the sway of the Siren Song of chamber-of-commerce PR hacks who just want me to come north and bring my U.S. currency. But I don’t think so. I think it’s going to be a great place to ride and visit. I’ll let you know over the next 30 days.
I’ll miss my little North Carolina cabin and the person who lives in it. And I’ll miss the frequent rides on North Carolina mountain roads and the always wonderful Blue Ridge Parkway. But they’ll be here when I get back. Once again, thanks for joining me on this year’s adventure. I hope it doesn’t disappoint.
Note: In the blog, click on the small pictures to see larger versions. In a day or so I’ll add a link to a Flickr album with new pictures each day.