Pennsylvania's Great Lakes Region

Text: Kimberly Orsborn • Photography: Kimberly Orsborn, R. Dan Pauley

Pennsylvania's historic Oil Heritage Region and its border on lovely Lake Erie beckon us northward from central Ohio for a three-day motorcycle tour.

Running late, we fly up Interstate 71 toward Cleveland, then head northeast on I-90 toward the city of Erie, Pennsylvania, and I'm wondering whether the price of gasoline was as high back in the early days as it is now. But having no way to research it at the moment, and being a believer in the motorcycling adage that 'sometimes it takes a whole tank of gas before you can think straight,' I don't ponder the question long. I'm just thankful my vintage Moto Guzzi V50II gets 50 miles to the gallon.

Dan Pauley, ace motorcycle mechanic, accompanies me on this tour on his 2004 Suzuki DL-1000 V-Strom, nicely set up for touring with Givi hard bags and a CB radio. And since my bike is 25 years old, it's good to be in the company of a guy who could probably find enough objects in a deserted parking lot to rebuild a busted carburetor.

Day One: Islands and Yellow Dogs
Christine Pennsy of the Erie Area Convention & Visitors Bureau and Mark Aleks of Aleks Powersports join us for our Friday morning breakfast in the city of Erie, Pennsylvania's fourth largest. Mark is riding a beautiful 1964 Yamaha YD3.

Getting to know each other, I ask Christine, 'If visitors only have time to see one attraction in Erie, what should it be?' She answers without hesitation, 'Presque Isle! It's Erie's crown jewel.' She also clues us in to a local factoid: Pennsylvania is a state, yes indeed, but residents refer to it as 'the commonwealth.'

We want to see Erie's bayfront before lunch and so we follow the city streets downtown, although I-90 to I-79 to the Bayfront Parkway would have gotten us there faster. Still, I prefer to err on the side of local color, and there's plenty of that around: a portly fellow in a Krispy Kreme cap and baker's apron, an old mural on an old brewery, crowds waiting for city buses…

I can smell Lake Erie as we approach the bay. Its tangy scent triggers memories of annual family visits to the lake when I was a kid in the 1960s. But we had to stop going when the beaches were covered with rotting fish and the lake was dying. That Lake Erie lives again is an environmental miracle, and all weekend the fresh smell of the clean lake water I remember makes me smile.

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For the complete touring article, including facts & information, map(s), and GPS files, please purchase the November/December 2006 back issue.