Posted On 09 May 2024
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This entry is part 7 of 25 in the series AusMotorcyclist Issue#31


“If you can fill the unforgiving minute / with sixty seconds’ worth of distance run…” wrote Rudyard Kipling, and Alan managed to fill ten days’ riding with an amazing amount of distance and experience… our hat is off to him.

After flying from Perth to Canada, I dusted off my Gold wing GL1800, and with a couple of local friends headed off for ten of the best riding days of my life. Our route took us from Toronto to Toronto, by way of… but read on!

My mate John on his BMW K1200LT, his son Jeff on his Honda VFR 800 and I rode south in slow-moving heavy traffic to Niagara Falls, and crossed the Canada–USA border a short ride further on at Buffalo, New York. It wasn’t until we were about a half hour’s ride past the border that we were finally out of heavy traffic and able to relax. We stopped for a lunch break at the town of Hamburg.

Known as a “Show town” in Erie County New York, Hamburg is a beautiful place with old stone buildings and street posts adorned with flower pots and American flags. As this was one of the first sunny spring days following a long and very cold winter, many locals were out cruising on bikes and in convertibles—some of them the old classic American V8’s.

We were then riding through beautiful farming country with vineyards and endless miles of corn fields. Typical farms in this area are prosperous, with large two-storey farmhouses, big red barns, post and rail fences, and the look of well-manicured country clubs.

Almost all our riding was on winding hilly back roads, which adds to the time in the saddle but is by far the best way to see and appreciate the country.

Horse dung along the edge of the road told us that we were in Amish country.

The Amish people are descendants of settlers who fl ed religious persecution in Europe in the early eighteenth century to settle around here and to the north in Canada. They are known for simple living, plain dress, and a reluctance to adopt the conveniences of modern technology. They are respected and successful farmers.

Sure enough, we soon came upon some horse-drawn buggies. The buggies and horses are always black.

The people on board were dressed in traditional garb of long dresses and bonnets for the girls and women, and plain clothes, black hats, and beards for the men. Amish men are well known for their furniture making, and women for their baking and preserves.

At the end of our first day and a 400 km ride, we arrived in Du Bois, Pennsylvania. We all had hotel chain customer loyalty cards, which usually gave us good accommodation and continental breakfasts for around $50 to $80 per head. These cards are easily obtained at home, as many of the hotels belong to international chains.

Where possible, we preferred to stay in B&B’s—not just because they are generally $10 to $30 per head cheaper, but because staying in them is a great way to get to know the locals and learn more about the area. We found local attractions that we would otherwise have missed and people are much friendlier when they see that you are interested in them and their towns.

The next day we rode further south in Pennsylvania to see Punxatawney Phil, the weather forecasting ground hog made famous in the comedy movie Ground Hog Day. Phil actually resides in a local zoo and is brought a few miles from town to a little hollow called Gobblers Knob every February 2nd.

Thousands of locals turn out before sunrise to enjoy the festivities around a roaring bonfire and to see Phil’s weather prediction. Apparently he has made appearances at the White House and on the Oprah Winfrey show.

From Punxatawney we headed further south for two hours, riding through the heavily forested Allegheny Mountains to visit the iconic house “Fallingwater”, designed in 1931 by Frank Lloyd Wright. Built on a waterfall, it’s a great attraction for architects, engineers, and designers the world over. As my riding pals are in the construction business, it was on the top of their list and both were greatly impressed.

Late that afternoon I had a serious reminder to be watching the roadsides, as I came within about a metre of a large wild dog that had run out from the forest.

Our stop for the night was near Farmington, where we stayed at historic Stone House Country Inn.

When we arrived there was a country and western band playing in the parking lot to a large group—mainly bikers—who were enjoying a massive “THOUSANDS OF LOCALS TURN OUT BEFORE SUNRISE TO ENJOY THE FESTIVITIES AROUND A ROARING BONFIRE AND TO SEE PHIL’S WEATHER PREDICTION” barbecue of spare ribs, roast chickens, hot dogs, burgers, french fries and of course lots of beer. This hugely popular event takes place every day in the summer, and every Thursday is Bikers Day, when even more bikes roll in.

Here, as was the case in most places we rode, crash helmets and protective riding jackets give way to bandannas and tee shirts. As each bike left, the rider would give a big handful of throttle, much to the delight of the crowd.

After a large meal in the parking lot of delicious spare ribs and melted cheese-covered fries washed down with a “Bud”, we adjourned to the Inn for another beer. One of the handles on the bar for pulling beer was a converted Civil War pistol.

Our stay at Stone House Country Inn gave us a terrific insight into the history of this area. The following are a few notes from the book, Stone House Legends & Lore.

Well-known people who had something to do with this area include George Washington, Abraham Lincoln, Benjamin Franklin, Thomas Jefferson, Chief Blackhawk, and Davy Crockett—to name just a few. In later years it was a place of coal and timber barons, bootleggers, and wild mountain men. A very interesting character named Fannie Ross owned the Inn from the 1960s to the 1990s. She was a little Italian lady who reportedly carried a gun in her apron pocket. She could hold her own with the tough coal miners and lumberjacks. An ex-employee, when reminiscing about working for Fannie, said that Fannie had told her to stand her ground and “if anyone gets in your way, just shoot them!” Fannie had a couple of shootings (no fatalities) to her credit as a result of confl icts with customers in businesses she had owned previously.

I really enjoyed hearing stories from the locals, told in their delightful southern accents, although sometimes I had difficulty understanding them.

One “good ol’ boy” I spoke to at the bar who told me that he “races darts”. I could not understand how one could race a dart. After a little more probing I realised that he raced cars on dirt (dart) tracks.

Jeff left us the next morning as he had to return to work in Canada. I love being retired!

Our ride for the next four days took us through beautiful country that is popular all year round, with skiing in the winter and whitewater rafting, canoeing, camping, trout fishing, hiking, caving, cycling, and motorcycling in the summer. Riding along those twisting scenic back roads in the Appalachian Mountains of Pennsylvania, West Virginia, and Virginia, with the sweet sounds of bluegrass and country and western music drifting through my helmet headphones, is, as John Denver wrote in his song, “Almost heaven, West Virginia, Blue Ridge Mountains, Shenandoah River”. It doesn’t get much better than that.

After Jeff left we put in a good day’s ride through West Virginia along winding mountain roads from bend to bend. We were grateful late in the afternoon to have some respite when we came down from the mountains to cruise the river’s edge along a scenic valley to Roanoke in Virginia.

The amount of road kill along the way reminded us that we should not be riding after dusk. Deer may be cute little critters, but not when they are straddling your headlight. And then there are the skunks. You haven’t lived until you’ve had a good whiff of one that has just been skittled on the road.

As well as being on watch for animals, we were constantly watching for broken road surfaces caused by the severe winters. John hit one pothole so hard that both of his rear view mirrors popped out of their housings. On a previous ride together in Canada, he hit a pothole so hard that his bike suffered a bent front rim and a destroyed tyre.

In built-up areas, manhole covers can throw your bike around, as some sit quite proud of the road surface.

At the motel that night I struck up a conversation with two young guys from the room next door. One had noticed the Aussie sticker on my bike and was interested in our ride.

They asked many questions about Australia, kangaroos, and koalas. They were rapt when I gave them kangaroo lapel pins and small clip-on koalas for their kids.

One of them was a collector of foreign currency, and when we did a money swap, was intrigued to learn that the lady on my note was the queen of Australia who lived on the other side of the world in England. In a delightful southern drawl, his mate said that it would be cool to have kings and queens and all that stuff. I told him there was a time in history when they did have a king and queen, but after a big disagreement, the king and queen were kicked out. They seemed a little sad to hear that.

Here we spent the night relaxing before the ride north along the famous Blue Ridge Parkway—often claimed to be America’s favourite drive. There’s another famous motorcycle ride just south of where we were, in Tennessee. Unfortunately we could not get to it due to lack of time. It’s called the “Tail of the Dragon”, and has 318 tight curves in 17.5 km. That will be a ride for another day.

The ride for this next leg—the Blue Ridge Parkway—was the main purpose of our trip. It runs along the peaks of the Blue Ridge Mountains with the Allegheny Mountains to the west and the Shenandoah Mountains to the east. A very long way down on either side of the parkway we could see fertile farms in the valleys, while above we were watched by eagles, lazily soaring in the updraft from the valleys. At road level was a steady stream of motorcycles heading south.

Many riders we spoke to were headed for the “Tail of the Dragon”. Car traffic was fortunately light, as it was early morning on a weekday, and not school holiday time. Otherwise heavy traffic and a shortage of accommodation can be a real problem.

The traffic was mainly motorcycles, whose friendly riders insisted on waving as they went by. This pushed the bounds of friendliness, as there are very few guardrails and if you leave the road it’s an awful long way down. The temptation to rubberneck was strong but dangerous, so we stopped often for photo opportunities.

We also had to stop for road works, giving me the opportunity to ask one of these mountain men workers for directions to the nearest coffee shop.

His accent was so strong that after a few minutes of talking and hand waving from him, all I learned was that he despises lawyers and is convinced that many of them will burn in hell for eternity. We rode on, still without any idea where we could get a coffee.

After a few hours we were down from the ridge through the foothills and in the beautiful Shenandoah Valley. We rode through many miles of rich green corn fields and past pristine towns. For the entire ride it seemed that the roads were made for motorcycling, and we loved every mile of it. (Americans have not converted to kilometres.) We had a short ride that day as we wanted to spend some time in Staunton—the oldest city in the Shenandoah Valley. Staunton featured prominently in the American War of Independence and again in the American Civil War. Here we stayed at Frederick House, a very old 25-room, family-run B&B hotel with period furniture and hospitable hosts. Within a short walk of this classic hotel are galleries, museums, a 1950s style ice cream parlour, and music venues for classical, jazz, and bluegrass.


This is the home of The Statler Brothers, a country and gospel music group who at one time backed Johnny Cash. Despite the name of the foursome, only two were brothers and none were named Statler. They joked about the fact that one day in a hotel room they had picked their name from a box of facial tissues and that they could well have been called The Kleenex Brothers.

Also close to our B&B was a sports bar. These are common in the USA, and provide a great place to unwind with a tall cold beer after a day on the road. Numerous large plasma screen TVs show baseball, football, and at this time, World Cup soccer—all playing at once. With a pint of beer at around $3 and a chance to talk to the locals, a sports bar is a great place to soak up a bit of atmosphere. Beer selection has improved in recent years, with many imported brands available alongside a large range of major brands and the selection from local mini-breweries.

The next day we rode north to another old historic town called Harpers Ferry, located where the Shenandoah and Potomac Rivers meet. The history here goes back to 1750 and includes abolitionist John Brown’s ill-fated attempt in 1850 to raid the US Armoury and then lead slaves in a revolt against the government. Things did not go well for John and he met his end a few days later on the gallows. This town featured greatly a few years later during the Civil War.

The afternoon’s ride was very a pleasant one through rolling hills, attractive countryside, and numerous state forests. By mid afternoon we crossed the Mason Dixon Line, which in this area is the Maryland–Pennsylvania border.

We were now officially back in “The North”.

That night’s stop was at Hazleton, Pennsylvania. The next day we continued north, crossing the New York State border and into the summer holiday and wine growing Fingers Lakes district.

We had more riding on great roads under bright blue skies to the city of Auburn, with its classic American stone buildings—many adorned with American flags. We paused here for a coffee break and, as luck would have it, stopped right outside a diner straight from the 1950s—its Art Deco interior complete with a juke box, booths, and bar stools. We had to try the house speciality for which they are famous— fries and gravy. The waitress assured us the recipe had not changed since the diner opened in 1951. I understood why, as the dish was superb. Of course we had to get in the theme of the place, so we finished the fries with a Coke fl oat. North Americans love their french fries, piling them up with almost every restaurant meal. Common sights are roadside vendors in “chip trucks” selling only french fries.

Heading further north, we arrived late in the afternoon at Oswego on Lake Ontario. This is the home of Oswego Speedway, famous for the 200 lap big-block super modified Budweiser Classic.

The next day we got off the back roads and took the highway to the “BEER SELECTION HAS IMPROVED IN RECENT YEARS, WITH MANY IMPORTED BRANDS AVAILABLE ALONGSIDE A LARGE RANGE OF MAJOR BRANDS AND THE SELECTION FROM LOCAL MINI BREWERIES” Thousand Islands, an archipelago of 1,864 islands in the St Lawrence River through which runs the USA– Canada border. After inching our way along in the traffic at Customs and Immigration, we were finally in Canada and heading for the nation’s capital, Ottawa, to spend a day of R&R with family.

What a fabulous ride this had been.

The weather had been kind to us, the scenery superb, and the memories of our experiences and the delightful people we met along the way have inspired me to begin organising my next big ride.

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