The Western Maryland

Text: James T. Parks • Photography: James T. Parks

As we pull into Community Park in Thurmont, Maryland, on our modern-day Honda ST1300, my ears are immediately serenaded by the mesmerizing music of vintage motorcycles revving up. My wife Karen and I have ridden to this scenic area to attend The Western Maryland Motorcycle Association's 15th annual vintage motorcycle meet and tour, known as the "Nostalgia Run."

Association President Bill Ford informs us that participation in this local event is open to all makes of motorcycles - both vintage and modern. And while perusing the parking area, I can see that he's right about that. Arrayed before me, there's an eclectic collection of motorcycles in all states of repair, from pristine British, Italian and American iron to others that clearly have seen better days. Royal Enfield thumpers seem to be a particular favorite with a number of riders. Here, the common bonds among all attending appear to be a mutual admiration for the machines and the simple pleasure of having a great time in the fall weather.

The tour routes are the highlight of the event. Thurmont, situated near the Camp David Presidential retreat in the beautiful Catoctin Mountains, is not far from the Pennsylvania border. And though the back roads in this area are twisty and provide expansive vistas of the green, mountainous countryside, they also run through pockets of hardcore poverty. Regardless of their economic plight, everyone we pass is friendly and waves at the colorful stream of vintage motorcycles rumbling by their doorsteps.

Negotiating the intricate series of back-road turnoffs (kept secret until the day of the event) can be quite challenging for riders not intimately familiar with the area. We notice that the first half of the tour loop is only 40 miles, but estimated to take two hours. An average speed of only 20 miles per hour suggests many route changes on very twisty back roads. To keep things interesting, no maps are provided with the route sheets, which include only a list of the route changes and the estimated distances between them. As a result, a rider has to miss only one turnoff before becoming lost.

The easiest strategy for successfully completing the tour in a reasonable amount of time is to follow someone who knows the area. My friend Joe Bass, an expert on these roads, offers to wait for us, but of course I tell him to go ahead; we'll see him at the midway rally point. Following my own navigational instincts, though, I'm frustrated by the high cloud cover, eliminating the sun as a reference. Some of the route signs are obscured by foliage and on numerous occasions we have to backtrack at a slow speed to find missed turnoffs.

About 30 miles out, we cannot find Girl Scout Road, even after numerous passes by the spot where we believe it has to be located. A scattering of cookie crumbs would have helped. At that point I started improvising, but the sign denoting our presence in the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania seems to remove all doubt that clearly we're lost. Karen, attempting to soothe my wounded ego, reminds me that the rally point is, indeed, in Pennsylvania - it's just not where we are in Pennsylvania. I can mentally picture the tour organizers taking demonic delight in the plight of hapless out-of-towners who didn't think it necessary to pack Maryland and Pennsylvania road maps. Us, for instance.

We eventually find ourselves in south central Pennsylvania in the middle of the Gettysburg National Battlefield. Fortunately for me, the shooting ended about 140 years ago or else I might have thrown myself in the midst of the molten fusillades. From Gettysburg, though, our extrication is simple. We make a quick trip south on US 15 back to Thurmont. Once there, reunited with the other riders, we exchanged our humorous misadventures and I vowed to return another day to find Girl Scout Road - no matter how long it takes.