Gliding silently around the sweeping curves of Route 287 on our second day, we venture deeper into the north woods of Pennsylvania. Riding in the cold half-light of an overcast fall morning, we suddenly throttle back for road construction up ahead. The flagman, surprised to see three apparently lost souls on motorcycles, saunters over to chat while we wait. "When do you usually get the first snowfall around here?" I ask him a little nervously. "It snowed two weeks ago," he replies.
Day One - The Weather Channel Lied!
Frederick, MD, to Lock Haven, PA: 180 miles
I thumb the starter button on my Honda ST 1100 and the engine roars to life. On this my first editorial assignment for RoadRUNNER, publisher Christian Neuhauser accompanies me on his Triumph Tiger and my riding buddy Jeff Armitage who's revving up his Honda Interceptor. Easing out the clutch lever, we begin an 800-mile journey of unexpected pleasures and challenges. Heading east from Frederick, Maryland over SR (State Route) 26 on a clear and crisp 40-degree morning, we're somewhat comforted by the Weather Channel's extended forecast: "The next four days in Pennsylvania will be dry with clear skies and moderate temperatures."
Turning left onto SR 97 at Libertytown, we roll across the bucolic farmlands of Maryland's Piedmont country. Vibrant yellow and orange fall colors radiate against the deep green fields in the brilliant sunlight. At Taneytown, we head north on Harney Road, which turns into Pennsylvania SR 134. This was the same route followed by Union troops on their way to Gettysburg in July 1863.
Stopping in Gettysburg at The Pub & Restaurant for an early lunch, I summarize the key events of the Battle of Gettysburg for Christian. This crossroads town, just north of the Mason-Dixon Line, was the unlikely site of the Civil War's bloodiest battle. General Robert E. Lee had aggressively moved 70,000 Confederate troops into Pennsylvania, hoping to defeat Union forces on their own soil. While on reconnaissance, a contingent of Lee's troops ran into 88,000 bluecoats near Gettysburg. Fierce fighting raged for three days, producing 51,000 casualties, until Lee retreated to Virginia. Unfortunately, we cannot spare the day it would take to explore the Visitor's Center and miles of roads in the Gettysburg National Military Park.
Stepping outside after lunch, we are shocked to see that bright blue sky has given way to a rapidly advancing cloudbank. We soon realize that the Weather Channel's rosy forecast was just wishful thinking. Following SR 34 north, we wind through foothills blanketed with orchards and dotted with small villages.
As we ride toward the mighty Susquehanna River, I reflect on Pennsylvania's topography. Looking at a map, you see two distinctly different types of terrain. Much of the west and north is mountainous, with row after row of steep ridges curving across the state, west to east. To the southeast, the rolling hills of the Cumberland Valley and Piedmont Plateau are home to much of the population in eastern Pennsylvania. Our destination is the mountainous and less populated northern tier of the State.
Finally, our route intersects the Susquehanna River at Duncannon and we skim north along its west bank on US 15. The River is almost a mile wide at Harrisburg, on its way to the Chesapeake, where it pours 18 million gallons of freshwater a minute into the Bay, draining a watershed in three states of over 27,000 square miles. Most of the delightful roads we will be traversing in northern Pennsylvania during the next few days follow paths cut through mountains by creeks and rivers that flow into the Susquehanna.
We soon tire of US 15's four-lane monotony and bear left onto SR 104. At the intersection of SR 35, we discover a real gem - Bob's Cruiser Café. The vintage gas pumps, Coca-Cola signage and other 1950's collectibles suggest the set of "Happy Days." We pull up stools for old-fashioned milkshakes and listen to Peg and Connie recount the Café's colorful history.
Continuing our northward trek, we're crossing mountain ridges that run mostly east and west in this area. Quaint villages with names like Middleburg and Mifflinburg are nestled in the valleys. We soon head west on the sweeping curves of SR 192, taking us through a deserted Bald Eagle State Park. Clouds are hanging lower and the temperature is dropping as we crest the last few ridges and finally arrive at the Best Western in Lock Haven.
After a long, hot shower, my body is revived and I'm consumed with a ravenous appetite. We walk to the Dutch Haven Restaurant and linger there over an excellent meal while reliving the day's adventures.