Finally a decent stretch of weather! And it coincides with a lifelong friend’s visit to his aging father in bucolic central Pennsylvania. Peaceful roads, rural splendor, horse and buggies ... road trip!
Part of the fun of a road trip, a big hunk of it actually, is the planning. I’ve mentioned this before. There is nothing better for the torpid mid-brain of a wintering motorcyclist than planning a summer road trip. The planning can take weeks and the tiny flicker of hope, deep in the thalamus, bursts into a raging inferno with the dreams that come with extensive planning.
My planning was simpler, but still fun: just three days of riding, and some subsequent hanging out in a very secluded stream valley, just 40 minutes from State College. But how, exactly, should I get there? No Interstates (insert Tarzan call here). Well, hold the call, I cheated a bit by taking about 30 miles of I-88 after emerging from NY 10 and the Catskills. For my money, I-88 is a civilized interstate, with well-behaved semis and modest traffic. I was headed to Owego, New York, and a reasonably priced bed. There was also the promise of an interesting meal at the Calaboose Grill. Why Owego? I couldn’t find anything reasonably priced in any crossroads town in northern Pa. Because I take quiet country roads, I needed a decent crossroads to have a chance at a room. Everything, I discovered, was $160 and up. Mallory stays in small villas in Italy for less than that. I would find out later that jacked motel prices were one of the trickle downs of fracking for natural gas.
The next day I headed south on Pa. 187. I soon found several chain-link corrals for 25 or 30 excavators and maybe a similar number of large tank trucks. Welcome to frankin’ land. Then I kept seeing newish road signs that advised that the road was slippery when wet. They were dotted about, always near some new track into the woods or a field where excavators were deftly chewing their way forwards. Turns out the workers were tracking clay from the construction site onto the pavement. Yes, indeed, slippery when wet -- especially on a scoot.
By the time I got maybe 70 miles south, things started to calm down, and Amish carts, not trucks, became the thing to avoid. The hard-working horses always are fitted with blinders, so they can only see what is passing after it has done so. But they must be able to hear the overtaking vehicles, and when I look in the mirror, they always seem to have a kind of wild-eyed demeanor. I’m thinking they can tell a Harley from a Triumph.
I had a good time with the tribe that is the family of my friend, but I had really gone to visit with Jack, the 91-year-old patriarch. He recognized me instantly, so I knew we were going to have some conversations. At one point, he asked me if I remembered his deceased wife. "Yes, vividly." I was sitting with him and a neighbor who has also outlived his wife (short of out-living a child, I can think of very little harder for a man), and I happily recounted a variety of the signature dishes she had made for us over the years. His eyes glistened with the memories. It was just of kind of connection I had hoped for.
That night, a sluggish cold front passed without any real excitement, so I was on my way the next morning. When I got to Tunkhannock on Pa. 29, one of those crossroad towns, I realized why the motels were expensive. They were loaded with frackers, even in the middle of the day. Since the Company was picking up the tab, these guys didn’t mind $160 plus tax for the beds. I was also picking up convoys of tank trucks at this point, so it became a little hard to ride the nicely twisting roads as they were meant to be ridden. Up the road in Montrose, a town the size of Wilmington, it took me three cycles to get through the only stoplight -- nothing but heavy truck traffic. "Holy energy self-sufficiency, Batman!" So much for rural character, sleepy roads, and country living -- big money and big business had come to town. What used to be great motorcycle country is just too congested, too slippery, or too expensive for my tastes. What’s that you say? Groundwater contamination?
Last spring, at the Marlboro Town Meeting, our state representative came to give his annual State of the State assessment. I’m usually with him all the way, but had to smile when he got to the fracking news. "We prohibited it," he trumpeted. Good for us, I thought; makes it easier when we don’t have any gas-containing Marcellus shale. And that’s a very good thing, too.
Bob Engel lives in Marlboro with his motorcycles, wife and cat.