What is it about riding the back roads that creates such an intimacy with the surroundings? Maybe it's the heightened sense of awareness that's required for this type of riding. The mind is wide open, processing not only the sights, but the rhythms and even the smells of the terrain. In the midst of it all, buildings become architecture, people become folks, and behind everything, a story lurks.
The merits of scouring the back roads are innumerable. The trashy, floodlit world of the interstate crushes personality the way it crushes the land. Homogeneity is the rule and, no matter which state you happen to be in, the bottles and wrappers swirling about the rest stops and service areas merely exchange logos. History is relegated to, "When I was a kid, we used to stop at Stuckey's" or "Remember when they used to call it Esso?" No one can deny the expediency of the four-lane, but it sure is nice when the miles to your exit start hitting single digits.
This is certainly the case today considering the tag-team pounding dished out by freeway joints and the unremitting rain the Weather Channel had so assuredly predicted as "scattered showers." Finally reaching Scranton, Christian peels off the slab and hones in on the first motel. We secure sleeping arrangements and tuck the two MV Agustas as far under the awning as we can. We got a small taste of the capabilities of the F4 1000 and the Brutale, but we're looking forward to a promised clear day tomorrow to really see what these beauties are all about. Our digs here are both spartan and soulless, but at least the rain is on the outside. We immediately begin hanging our wet gear to dry and soon the room resembles a gypsy camp on laundry day. Having had enough of the rain we opt to call a cab, find a hot meal and take the pulse of our host city.
Scranton's industrial heritage dates back to the mid-1800s and includes iron, coal, textiles, and railroads. Despite economic downturns throughout the 1900s, the city is bouncing back and displays a brassy, dynamic attitude. Loud, raucous crowds greet us wherever we go. Our final stop at a large Irish pub called The Banshee proves to be the perfect cap for the evening. The large columns, original brick walls, and pressed-tin ceiling of this old downtown room hint at a once glamorous past meshing perfectly with its present day duties as a party place. If only walls could talk...but they sure couldn't be heard above the din here. The whole place is packed and everyone is happily singing along with a lone guitarist playing traditional folk songs. The people of Scranton must work hard, because they certainly do play hard.
Despite taking full advantage of our non-driving status the night before, we wake feeling revved up to ride. The gray morning soon gives way to beautiful blue skies. We find ourselves racing through breakfast, with the call of the road overpowering the need for any real sustenance. Before you know it, two Italian sportbikes are roaring off into the Pennsylvania morning. West of Scranton, roads worthy of the spirited MV Agustas appear. It's ironic: I partied at The Banshee last night and I'm partying on one today. The Brutale absolutely wails, its true power not fully unharnessed until the tach needle sweeps past 6000rpm. The upright seating position and handlebars elicit a super-motard feel that seems custom made for these narrow, winding roads. Despite the 250cc deficit, keeping up with Christian on the F4 is not a problem.
We maintain a spirited pace, rambling across a countryside obviously saturated with family histories going back many generations. A number of farms and businesses carry names familiar to Christian from his native Austria. These folks are likely descendents of the original settlers of William Penn's forest. Much of the architecture their forebears left behind reminds us that, in places, European roots are still rather close to the surface.
A quick lunch of sandwiches and ice cream at the Country Cottage in Wysox is just the impetus needed to return to the challenge of taming some of the finest roads Pennsylvania has to offer. All morning we've been impressed by the quality of the twists and turns thrown our way. More often than not, we have the road to ourselves and can't help marveling at the serenity the mountains and valleys offer. We continue east planning to call it a day in Montrose, but the beautiful weather gives us a boot in the pants, urging us on to Binghamton, just across the state line in New York. Though we could again push on, we decide to stay there. Numerous options for food and lodging await travelers in this good-sized city.
Beautiful blue skies see us off as we wheel south, back toward Pennsylvania. The sheer volume of nice roads in this part of the country is amazing. The river valleys' gift of clear running waters adds even more sparkle to the trip as the asphalt weaves its way through the countryside. Winding our way south, we pass through more small towns and receive friendly waves in each. If I didn't know better, I'd swear Christian is scouting locations for a second home and I can't say I blame him.