It’s that time of the year again, our annual Touring Weekend. A memorial ride for my late father who, along with my mother, started this very magazine. He was riding a sidecar when a freak accident took his life—he was only 45. At the time, I was just 19 years old, and while I’ve lived 12 years without him, there’s not a day that goes by that I don’t think about my father. In my office, a painting of him hangs above my desk and serves as a constant reminder of his absence. I look to it often for guidance. During the Touring Weekend, the RoadRUNNER community gets the chance to spend time together, riding great roads, sharing laughs, and celebrating his life. He’s the connection between everyone … the thread that interweaves readers, friends, volunteers, and writers, making us all family.
My father taught my brother and me how to ride a motorcycle. Technically, not quite of legal age to do so, we stuck to neighborhood and country roads for the first few trial runs. Dirt bikes? Small displacement? Old and worn? Nope, that’s not how we started (but I totally advise any beginner to learn on such). The very first bike I navigated down the road was a brand new 2000 Moto Guzzi California Jackal with all of its 1,100ccs—entirely too big for a scrawny teenager, but the alternatives were a Triumph Speed Triple or Tiger. So maybe the California was the most reasonable choice available. Even the first motorcycle he bought for my brother and me was a handful: a 1995 Honda VFR750. When I close my eyes, I can still hear that beast now. I’m a firm believer in pushing people into the deep end, and I think I know what side of the family I inherited that from.
Riding behind my father, I internalized his posture, his hand signals, and movements, ingraining them into my memory. He had a certain way he leaned on the bike, and a particular way his feet perched on the pegs. Even his slow head movements were unique. Everything about him emanated a sense of calm and confident control. To this day, I would be able to pick him out of any group.
When I ride these days I’m either the sweeper or the guide, the latter at the Touring Weekend. Since writers, friends, and family are scattered about the planet, this event finds us riding together. During our summer pre-rides for the Ligonier Touring Weekend, I get to hit the road with Jim Parks, regular contributor and resident history buff, and Zane Elrod, a reader-turned-friend. I’m atop a KTM 1190 Adventure, ready to explore the Laurel Highlands in the Allegheny Mountains of Pennsylvania with Zane and Jim before sharing these routes with the Touring Weekend crew.
Remembering Flight 93
I still remember where I was on September 11, 2001. My high school history teacher turned on the TV. None of us could believe what we were seeing, and none of us understood what implications this would have on our lives, or the life of our nation. Several of my high school friends ended up serving in the military. Flight 93 was the last of the four planes to crash. Washington, D.C., and the nation’s capital was the intended target, but the heroic group of passengers and crew fought back, causing the hijackers to surrender their goal and crash the plane in a Pennsylvania field, reducing further carnage.
Motorcycle & Gear
Just south of Highway 30, Approach Road winds its way through seemingly peaceful grassland and newly planted trees. Upon cresting the hill, a parking lot almost disappears from view as the large concrete memorial comes into focus. We park quietly, take off our gear, and slowly walk toward the visitor’s center. A 3D map provides an overview of the area, detailing what happened where. As we walk past the concrete structure to the overview platform, nobody says a word. Yet it’s clear we share the same sense of loss and pride—everybody, including the strangers next to us. It’s an eerie feeling. Upon paying our respects, we saddle up again and somberly cruise back to the main road.
Riding south on 160 we see rolling farmland, fast sweepers, and gentle elevation changes. Traffic is all but non-existent. Most of the towns we roll through are well kept and inviting, although not all offer an opportunity to stop. Once we cross into Maryland, Cumberland is the designated lunch spot. Situated along the Potomac River, the Crabby Pig offers delicious barbecue and a scenic riverfront view. A right onto Harrison Street (off Mechanic) leads us to a large parking area, from which we walk down Canal Street. It may not be the easiest to locate, but hungry travelers will always find a way.
Frank Lloyd Wright’s Fallingwater
Go north before riding south. That’s the plan for the figure-eight loop. As we leave Route 711 behind, a large coal plant appears on the horizon. Fumes spiral upward from its stacks, filling the sky. We’re surprised, given the lack of trucks and traffic that usually announce such enterprises. On 259, we turn the bikes south and shake off any rust, twisting on the narrow, windy road that goes in any and all directions. I’m on high alert for deer, but luckily none test my KTM’s ABS.
Youngstown is the largest city this route goes through, and I’m glad once it’s behind us. The traffic and hurried pace of everyone disrupts the peaceful riding we’ve enjoyed in such a beautiful region.