Fall Tour: CMG goes to Pennsylvania

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INTRODUCTION – By Editor ‘arris

If you live in Toronto (of which I am quite pleased to say I no longer do), then you’ll be well aware that good riding roads are few and far between. However, do not despair just yet as there’s a hidden gem just a couple of hours south of the big smoke. We’ve said it before, and we’ll say it again – go south to Pennsylvania young man (or woman)!

A mass of hills and ravines, Pennsylvania has interesting roads in buckets and they’re pretty well all paved! It’s also quite rare to see any cops, and even the locals are quite friendly. What more could you ask for?

But trying to find good roads and having someone who knows the area to show you the good roads are two different things. With that in mind, Mr. Seck and myself teamed up with Pennsylvania route guru, Ed White, and headed south for a few days.

The following is Ed’s account of what happened.


A PINCH OF CHAOS

It was all so shanti-shanti … to start.

Riders gone missing, single digit temperatures, nasty gravel, winds gusting to 60 km/h, frequent photo stops – and just a pinch of that famous CMG chaos – all added up to one of the best Fall foliage tours yet.

When Editor ‘arris asked me to put together one of my Pennsylvania tours for CMG it was immediately apparent that I wasn’t going to be able to use one of my normal templates. There were specific challenges; 5 days, a single base at St. Marys, Pa, and eight riders coming from 4 different locations joining and exiting the ride in progress on different days.

Time to hit the maps and plot the routes!

With a week till departure, everything was detailed with specific routes and schedules laid out for every day. My job was done, now all that was left to do was to sit back and enjoy the ride …

WHERE FOOLS RUSH IN

Ed ponders the local engineering.

Departure day arrived and with it the chaos began. What was to have been a respectable sized group (for a variety of excuses) became quickly whittled down to his Editorship, the irrepressible Mr. Seck and me.

Los Tres Amigos seemed an apt description for our daring band of adventurers. However, it was a waitress at the end of a long third day that got it dead on with the “three old town drunks”, albeit via a thinly veiled innuendo.

Richard and I set out from Toronto but by the time we hit the border at Fort Erie, began to think that maybe those riders who bailed out had simply had the wisdom to read the weather forecast a little more intently than we did. The perpetual black cloud that hangs over Buffalo dumped a deluge of water on us for a good 45 minutes, until things let up a half hour south of Buffalo. By then we were riding the pleasant county roads of upper New York State and wound our way south.

Meanwhile, Editor ‘arris had set out solo from Kingston as he made his way to Elmira N.Y. and then west to St. Marys, Pennsylvania. (Yeah, not bad, but not great either, until, as if by magic, you cross the Penns State line and then wammo – hills, twists and all on a VFR. Loverly – ‘arris)

ST. MARYS

The Carriage House and the three steeds.

St Marys is the kind of town that leaves you with the distinct impression that its better days were in the distant past. Unfortunately, unlike most of the towns and villages of the area, it is not country quaint. In fact, the nicest part of the town is the collection of old 19th century homes that have been assembled into the very comfortable, and most accommodating, Towne House Inn.

Although St. Marys might be a bit lacking, it’s the ideal starting point to access a wide array of great roads within a 150 ~ 200 kilometre radius encompassing most of the area, known simply as the “Valleys of the Susquehanna”. This region is characterized by an elevated plateau (approx. 800 feet) which the eons have etched and carved into a mass of ravines. These ravines are aptly known as “Runs” by the locals, and give rise to some of the most glorious winding roads available to the motorcyclist.

If you avoid anything that resembles a major highway, you cannot but help but spend your riding hours endlessly twisting up and down these runs as you criss-cross the terrain. Add to this the endless deciduous forest, the vistas, the wildlife, the autumnal splendor and the friendly (and bike savvy) locals, and the area becomes an absolute Mecca for motorcyclists.

And that is why we decided to make St. Marys our home base for the next four nights.

A RAINY DAY TO WYCOFF

Bit damp, it was.

I must admit that I wasn’t thrilled to concede that all my tightly choreographed routes were for naught, but with the drop off in attendance we were at least now free to be as flexible as we wished.

The payoff was immediate.

On our first St. Marys’ morning, we awoke to a nasty one – winds in the high 60’s (km/h), single digit temperature and a frigid, driving rain. Now, with one of my “normal” tours, we would have had no choice but to press on to our next lodging. However, with a home base for the next few days, we now had the luxury to pour another coffee, find a comfy chair, and wait until the fierce-yet-fast front moved on through.

The weather eventually calmed and by midday we were on the back-roads and heading towards the nearby town of Emporium. Not much to see in itself, but a good stop for a lazy lunch before a short ride to the area’s primo twisty – the Wycoff Run.

What’s not to like?

Editor ‘arris was complaining of being in a bit of a sleepy haze (as per usual – ‘arris), and so elected for more coffee. I joined him and sent a very keen Richard to do the first run solo.

Twenty minutes later, a beaming Mr. Seck returned and convinced us all to throw caution to the wind and join him in a return trip of the 20 mile circuit. Mr ‘arris and Seck zoomed off ahead, leaving me behind with one of Penn’s finest State Troopers on my tail. I had no option to progress at the speed limit all the way through each of the 100 turns (and with plenty of time to count each one!).

The day’s ride was finished with a run down route 555 – the roaming ground of Penn’s famous elk herd.

A great end to a follow-your-nose kind of day … well, half day.

SHIP OF FOOLS

Frost in seats means a slow start to the day.

The next morning the pep-talk over coffee focused on the need for discipline on this day. We had, for this time of year, a rather long 450 km ride and we had to co-ordinate a crossroads rendezvous with Brad B. – a long time CMG reader from State College.

Brad had kindly agreed to escort us along some of his favourite roads, taking us down south to the city of Altoona, where we could ride the ridges of the mountains on each side of Interstate 99. Since the meet point was only an hour away, we postponed breakfast and headed off as soon as the frost had lifted off the roads.

The CMG chaos happened not more than 25 minutes out of St. Marys, when a nameless arithmetically challenged rider (oh hell, it was Mr. Seck) failed to account for his previous day’s extra lap on Wycoff Run and faded into the background as the VFR sputtered out of gas. A touring heresy!

Due to the benevolence of Don (a passing Good Samaritan), we managed to lose only 45 minutes. This kind stranger not only went home to retrieve a gas can, but then drove to the garage for gas and went on to meet us back at the bikes. The only thing he demanded from us was to “pass on the kindness”. This kind of act and attitude has been typical whenever we have required assistance in the area, and you’re never put in that ‘awkward moment’ of wondering if you should offer something.

Ed was getting used to being alone and waiting for others.

Meanwhile, Brad is left standing at the crossroads (couldn’t resist it, cue Clapton riff) freezing his umm, carburettors off his ‘83 Suzuki GS450E (one of seven bikes). After an appropriate amount of grovel time for Mr. Seck, we continued on our way after establishing an appropriate point ahead to regroup. This allowed the two younger CMG puppies to run up the revs on their test bikes, while Brad and I leisurely trailed behind.

Well, I think you can all probably guess the next scene. Tumbleweeds blowing, Brad and I alone at the remote regrouping point, looking forlornly in all directions while the “Dynamic Duo” conducts an independent tour of the State. It was all thanks to yet another problem with numerology.

This time Editor ‘arris confused route 453 with 253. To their credit, without a map, they somehow managed to find their way back to the rendezvous, albeit an hour late. They were so enthusiastic about the new roads that they had just discovered you just couldn’t scold the young ’uns.

One of the few stops where we all met at once.

I must explain that I simply cannot keep up with these two very capable riders, so for the sanity of all, waving them ahead is a must. However, leading from the back of the pack is an acquired art not yet mastered. So, during the day as missed regrouping points became the norm, we devised a hard rule – unless we could set up a T-intersection as the stop, the puppies were not allowed off leash!

This didn’t seem to do much as the rest of the day certainly didn’t go as planned. We didn’t ride every road we had planned to, we continued to make wrong turns, and the “schedule” went all to hell. But, you know what? We had the time of our lives! They had won me over to the dark side. To hell with my tight arsed plans and schedules, let chaos rule!

CHAOS AND THE ART OF THE TOUR

Editor ‘arris and Ed try to climb the Austin Dam. Well, what’s left of it.

That day, and for the remainder of the tour, the weather was absolutely perfect, clear blue skies and autumnal colours beyond belief or description.

For the next two days we followed our noses, stopped often, and lingered over conversations at the lunch counters of the local eateries. We rode down gravel and dirt roads that we had no business being on, made time to climb the ruins of the Austin Dam disaster, watched the leaves dance down to the surface of the Clarion River and skipped rocks on the Alleghany Reservoir.

Some riders may focus on kilometres ridden, hours in the saddle or on getting to the next motel on time. However, try to remember, as you join or lead a tour, that it’s important to build in flex time so you can just enjoy the moment, do some unplanned turns, get lost, and get to know some the local character and characters. Also, if possible, exploring from a home base (especially when there’s so many superb roads to choose from) will greatly increase your ability to be flexible.

Finally, I must thank CMG for two valuable lessons learned on this tour.

1) Never let Mr. Seck gain custody of the restaurant doggy bag and …

2) A pinch of chaos can be a good thing.

Happy Trails,

Ed White

Editor’s Note – Curious about the routes we took in Pennsylvania? Click here to see Ed’s excellent DYR description of the route.


WHERE WE STAYED

Editor ‘arris is already changed into lounging clothes by the time Ed rolls in.

As St. Marys is a great launching point for the copious twisty roads in the area, we chose it as our base. For the duration of our tour, we stayed at the Town House Inn, where we enjoyed the Carriage House – a separate building all to ourselves.

Although St. Marys is a bit limited when it comes to gastronomical delights and enchanting pubs, it has just enough to entertain you for 3 or 4 nights.

After sampling the local Bavarian and Chinese restaurants, the best eats in town were to be found in the main restaurant right at our Inn. Even the waitress managed to smile through our CMGesque humorous quips (save for that “town drunks” comment – as accurate as it may be).

Speaking of drunks, the Towne House Inn is also handily equipped with a tasteful bar, complete with the all-important variety of Scotches, and even a microbrewery beer on tap …

The Towne House Inns
138 Center Street
St. Marys, Pennsylvania,  15857
Ph: (814) 781-1556, or (800) 851-9180
Fax: (814) 834-4449
Owners: Floyd & Maryann Howell

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