Shamrock Tour® - Western Maryland

Shamrock Tour® - Western Maryland
The Appalachian Mountains, once reaching Himalayan-scale heights, are among the oldest on earth. Erosion-resistant sandstone sustains their rounded green shoulders, while limestone undergirds the verdant valleys. Yes, there are many attractive features in the western highlands of Maryland, Pennsylvania and West Virginia; but the most appealing of all has to be the sheer abundance of winding two-lane roads.

Tuesday (250 miles): Ridge and Valley Ramble

Although it's mid-August, we're greeted by cool, clear mountain air on the glorious first morning of our tour. Our excitement is palpable as Christa fires up the big V-twin Moto-Guzzi Norge and I bring the BMW F 800 ST to life. Bright sunshine warms the two-lane tarmac ahead and illuminates the deep green embrace of the surrounding mountains.

Geologists categorize this section of the Appalachians as the Ridge and Valley Province. These mountains typically are long, even ridges, with equally long, continuous valleys in between. Because the valleys are often too narrow for extensive commercial development, many of them still have a colorful patchwork of family-owned farms and quaint small towns where life flows at a more tranquil pace.

SR 475, as it follows the crest of a long ridge, provides expansive vistas of the valleys on either side. Suddenly though, the road dives deep into a sinuous gorge with tight curves tracking a small creek. Moving from dark shadows to sunlight and into shadows again increases the sensation of speed. Riding aggressively here is exciting, but requires full concentration to avoid flying into the outside rail or winding up in the creek.

There's a charming old railroad station in Rockhill, PA, that looks to be at least a hundred years old. Valerie, a part-time employee, tells us that the station, track, roundhouse, repair shops and rail yard are all part of the East Broad Top Railroad (EBT RR) National Historic Landmark, the most complete historic rail site in North America. Founded in 1856, the steam-powered railroad hauled coal, lumber, ore and passengers until it closed in 1956. Ironically, the EBT RR was saved for future generations to enjoy by the Kovalachick Salvage Compay, a large railroad-scrapping firm. The line is reportedly the only remaining narrow-gauge steam train east of the Mississippi that's still in operation. The EBT RR and the adjacent Rockhill Trolley Museum are kept running by a veritable army of volunteers. Rides are available for boys and girls - of all ages - on weekends in June through October.

Another reminder of an earlier time in history is about 30 minutes further north and almost hidden between two mountain ridges. Scots-Irish and Amish settlers arrived in the Kishacoquillas Valley, or "Big Valley" as it's referred to colloquially, in the late 1700s. Thirty miles long, the valley's fertile terrain is entered through two natural gaps at either end. Hundreds of yellow and green Amish fields, punctuated by gleaming white farmhouses and barns, are stitched together in a bucolic panaroma reminiscent of nineteenth-century America. Fair-weather cumulus clouds, with their puffy tops and sharply defined bases, float lazily overhead on thermals rising from the fields. Amish buggies, powered by exactly one horsepower, travel sedately along to market, passing road signs emblazoned with scripture.

Belleville, PA, the largest town around, is where the Amish and "English" (non-Amish) mingle each Wednesday at the livestock auction. Unlike the settlements in Lancaster County, however, there is no commercialization of the Amish lifestyle here. To the west, switchback curves climb up and over Stone Mountain, turning the green acreage into a faint image receding in our rearview mirrors.

We motor south on SR 26, searching for the largest manmade body of water fully contained within the state of Pennsylvania. Raystown Lake, an 8,300-acre aquatic playground tucked away in central Pennsylvania's Huntingdon County, isn't widely known outside of the area - and because the land surrounding the lake is owned by the Army Corps of Engineers, it is not available for residential development. Consequently, the hills on the shores are covered in trees all the way down to the water's edge.

Dozens of pleasure-craft buzz across the lake's blue waters while Christa and I take a break and enjoy our cool drinks on the Marina Café's elevated deck. And there's no sign of the lake's reputed monster, "Raystown Ray," rippling the lake's placid surface this afternoon. But with the sun sinking on the horizon, we haven't got the time to find out what lies beneath. After a long day in the saddle, the comforts of the Rocky Gap Lodge beckon. A warm shower and an excellent meal at the lodge make a fitting end to our first day of touring.