By Editor 'arris
It's become a bit of a custom at CMG. Every year, when the leaves are turning and the temperatures dropping, we give the motorcycle season a grand send-off with a grand tour. It's a good excuse to let loose, explore some roads and slap in a last comparo test before the snow hits.
If you've used the Discover Your Roads section in the CMG Touring section then you may know first hand just how glorious the roads in Pennsylvania are. However, have you ever checked out the Catskills in lower New York State? How about the Adirondacks and the Poconos? Maybe, but we were convinced that these places could be joined, with the actual getting there being as much fun as the destinations.
And so it was, on a Wednesday morning in October that the three full-time staffers met up with Ed 'the-tour-guru' White in an Toronto restaurant, armed with three STs, one big scoot and a plan to find the perfect route.
Over two poached eggs and a side of home fries, job responsibilities were confirmed and allocated. Mr. White got the routing through Pennsylvania and the final tour write-up … hey, that would be this.
So why I'm I rambling on? Good point, although I will add my 2 cents throughout. Ed, over to you …
YOU DON'T HAVE TO ASK TWICE
After a summer devoted to family matters and devoid of touring, it took me a nanosecond to agree to the offer to join CMG on its annual extended Fall Foliage Tour.
We had decided to put together a sport rider's dream – stringing together a route that connected four pearls of the US northeast – northern Pennsylvania, the Poconos, the Catskills and the Adirondacks. The "string" can be done in five days, although thoroughly exploring the "pearls" could take a lifetime.
Editor 'arris had a myriad of tour objectives but my goals were simpler – have fun, and get all riders and machines back to the start point in one piece. Modest enough … until one considers the recent histories of two of the tour participants (Editor 'arris – that would be the bone-breakers Ed and Mr. Seck BTW).
The usual suspects included Editor 'arris, Mr. Seck, yours truly and for a dose of self control, CMG's newest member, Jon Lewis. For the first time the bikes were actually an odder collection than the personalities astride them.
Editor 'arris had decided that it would be interesting to do a ST/ST/ST test, which resulted in a mix of two true sport tourers, consisting of the BMW R1200ST and Triumph Sprint ST, and a slightly more touring-orientated, Honda ST1300. Oh, and just to make things very CMGish, the long-term Yamaha Majesty scooter came along too.
SOUTH TO THE MARY
So it was, that after an incredibly warm (and dry) summer, we headed out of the GTA on a thoroughly soggy and cold Wednesday morning, towards the town of St. Marys.
The route south is boring slab until about 30 minutes from the quaint western New York town of Ellicottville. Here you hit the first of the hills – signifying the end of the mind-numbing flatness of the Lake Ontario flood plain. If our idea came to fruition, from here, all the way around to the Canadian border near Kingston, we'd hit nothing but twisty, exhilarating roads (the string should be almost as entertaining as the pearls themselves).
Ellicottville is a great place to stop for lunch and ponder the fact that the slab is finally over, the fun stuff has already begun and ... did anyone turn off the coffeemaker when we left Chez Seck?
"Not I" was the common response, and so in typical manly fashion, during the next several stops, we discussed all the possible corrective actions, outcomes and subsequent problems ad infinitum. This continued until we were well past the point in time that the worst-case scenario could possibly occur and thus we were able to continue on our merry way, satisfied that we had successfully handled yet another one of life's crises.
The day was overcast and drizzled from time to time, but the bikes were performing well and the roads were at their Pennsylvania best as the small town of St. Marys came as a welcome end to our first long day on the road.
We've been using St. Marys as our Pennsylvania base for several years now and our hosts at the Towne House are beginning to notice a significant rise in the number of Toronto motorcyclists heading down for weekend adventures. The management of the Towne House firmly believe that CMG has had a hand in this and in appreciation they booked us into the illustrious and very comfortable Coach House part of the complex for the next two nights.
The following day was spent 'testing' the STs along the familiar and most entertaining routes highlighted in past articles. Brad, our Pennsylvania buddy and long time CMG reader, joined us at this time (although somehow we'd managed to miss him at the Towne House the night before) for an excellent day of riding.
Along the way, I believe that I may have set a new record for the year's cheapest lunch – a large taco with all the fixin's (sour cream, salsa, chives, etc.) plus an 8 oz. beer – all for $1.53. Ok, the beer was American, but the challenge is out there to all Soapboxers to beat that!
At day's end we settled in for a more expensive meal at the Towne House restaurant, served by a waitress who was not only facing her first day on the job, but also was trying to enjoy her 20th birthday. Stevie was treated to an extra large dollop of CMG nonsense, topped off with a rousing rendition of Happy Birthday. Imagine; new job, birthday and the CMG goons all on the one night – priceless!
HEADING EAST TO THE SUMMIT
For Friday I had laid out a sinewy 385 km. run due east to the town of Clark's Summit, who's only claim to fame is that it is at a major confluence of inter-states. This was definitely going to be a case where getting there was all the fun.
The route took us through a myriad of state parks and forests as we headed almost due east through some of Pennsylvania's finest roads. Unfortunately it was also through the trip's worst day of weather, with a morning of drizzle and an afternoon punctuated with heavy downpours. However, this is October, and if you have a low tolerance for rain you should winterize your bike in September, turn on your gas fireplace and snooze through till spring.
As lunchtime approached at the end of the incredibly gnarly route 154, the homey Forksville Restaurant was a much-welcomed sight.
It's located nicely at the other end of a small covered bridge and has a distinctly urban feel to it, something not in keeping with the remoteness of Forksville itself. This was not at all a bad thing, and can be attributed to the fact that the owners had moved up from the Italian environs of South Philly. They brought with them a menu that includes a huge "Godfather" sandwich – big enough to even satiate the legendary appetite of Mr. Seck.
Weighted down we now had another couple of soggy hours of forested back roads, which included the spectacular "High Knob" lookout – overlooking the plateau of the Pennsylvania hills, with its carved valleys, bespeckled with flaming fall trees. The roads and scenery were simply stunning, but my most incongruous images of this day were of Mr. Seck thoroughly enveloping the Majesty (especially after the "Godfather" experience) as he loped through the tight sections of the route.
Wet and tired we descended into the town of Clarks Summit and our lodgings for the night at the Inn at Nichols Village. We decided to pass on an exploration of the town and instead opted to check out the hotel's adjacent restaurant. The Fireside restaurant (Editor 'arris: Moderately priced US$16 - $30 for an entrée) proved to be the best food of the whole trip, although the four disheveled bikers also proved to be the least savory characters dining that evening.
POC'D NOSE THROUGH THE GAP
The morning saw us up early and ready to go when Mr. Seck uttered the four most dreaded words in touring – "I've lost my keys". While on the road you can find a work-around for almost every problem, but lose your only set of keys and you're pretty well f%#ked. Luckily after half an hour this story had a happy ending (although not without a scolding for Mr. Seck) when he finally found them in his pocket (grrr), and we were able to start out in a south-easterly direction towards the Poconos, the Delaware Gap, and then on to the Catskills.
We skedaddled out of the populated Wilkes-Barre / Scranton area via inter-states (Editor 'arris: not ideal, but if you have to endure some slab, this section of the 380/84 is actually quite entertaining) to the more rural setting of a twisting route 447 south.
A series of small "woodsie" roads led us to the SW end of the Delaware Gap National Park. The "Gap" became the only region where the group's opinion varied as to the worthiness of including a run into a sport touring ride. While enjoying the Park's picturesque River Road I had somehow managed to tick off a Yuppie in his Beemer as I pulled in front of him while executing a four car pass. He proceeded to make life miserable for the following riders, continually blocking their passing attempts on the narrow road.
Mr. 'arris seemed particularly incensed about this, so I'll let him tell it to you in his own words:
Editor 'arris: Yeah, what a wanker that guy was. Once Ed had passed I was next. The road was narrow and twisty and he kept crossing the centre line in an attempt to see if he could pass the car in front ... or so I thought. When we finally came to a long straight stretch he'd pull out, straddle the centre line and just sit there!
This seems reaaaal long… oh there's more!
Editor 'arris: Eventually I just saw enough of a gap, geared down and blasted by on the edge of the road. Jon followed, but had to resort to horn-blaring and the threat of a boot to the side of his Beemer as the idjit started to drift out even more and push him off the road! Thankfully Mr. Seck opted to wait it out until the road eventually widened out and he could blast by without danger.
What a wanker (the BMW guy, not Mr. Seck).
Rankled, my companions were in a foul mood when subsequently faced with the federally-enforced low speed limit of 35-45 mph on Route 209. Thus the Gap was forever tainted. My opinion – go for it – there are sufficient natural and historic sights to warrant the one slow section of the entire tour, and – judging by the map – the Poconos offer a large array of suitable touring roads. So if you have the time, this would be an area worth exploring.
Sorry, what Rob?
Oh gawd, he's got something else to add …
Editor 'arris: I'll disagree with Ed on this one – too many people and idjits for my liking. Lots of police too. There's gotta be a better way to the Catskills than this!
Somebody hand me a sock!
In part 2 we venture into New York State and the Catskills, before ending the journey in the Adirondacks to the north.
The following establishments for the accommodation for the Pennsylvania part of the tour (click on link for the CMG review):
Towne House Inn
Inn at Nichols Village