State College PA Shamrock Tour®: Roads Less Traveled

State College PA Shamrock Tour®: Roads Less Traveled
It’s early October in central Pennsylvania as days grow shorter, temperatures decline, the air is crisp, and fall foliage blooms. I’m reminded that it’s been 11 years to the month from when I did my first tour here for RoadRUNNER under the tutelage of magazine founder, Christian Neuhauser. Although this Shamrock Tour® explores many new roads, from those taken years ago, fond memories persist of that earlier time.

Gorgeous Gorge

I meet up with my two riding sidekicks, Steve Mauk on his red Suzuki V-Strom and Bruce Read on the gray Honda NC700X, in State College, PA, our home base for the next four days. Pressing the start button on my red BMW F 800 GS Adventure, I’m thrilled to, again, be exploring some of central Pennsylvania’s greatest backroads.

Ridge Road (aka SR 144 south of Renovo, PA) follows a serpentine path through low-lying heavily forested topography.

We head northeast out of State College and, before long, roll into Lock Haven, PA, which began as a “timber town” in 1833. Its location on the Susquehanna River’s West Branch and eponymous canal made it a stopover for 19th century loggers and boatmen transporting goods to market. Since there also was a canal lock in town, Lock Haven wasn’t a stretch of anyone’s imagination as an appropriate town name.

After navigating over the Susquehanna on the Jay Street Bridge, we roll on the throttle and push our handlebars deep into State Route (SR) 664’s inviting banked curves. Later, SR 414 writhes back and forth along the banks of Pine Creek. During Pennsylvania’s lumber boom in the 19th century, this valley was home to loggers and sawmills. Before tracks were laid for the railroad, log drives down the creek to sawmills were a common event.

Motorcycles & Gear

2014 BMW F 800 GS Adventure
2014 Suzuki V-Strom 1000 Adventure
2013 Honda NC700X

Helmet: Schuberth C3 Pro
Jacket & Pants: KLIM Badlands Pro
Boots: Oxtar Matrix 2
Gloves: KLIM Adventure Glove
Heated Gear: Aerostich Kanetsu TLTec Wind Blocker and Wind Blocker Zip Off Sleeves

Fast forward to the 21st century, logging has long since died out here. These days outdoor recreation is the area’s main attraction. A bicycle trail has replaced the former railroad tracks and small watercraft, instead of logs, can be seen floating with the creek’s current. Although the bicycle trail continues into the steep, narrow gorge section of Pine Creek Valley, SR 414 does not. After climbing out of the valley and lunch in Wellsboro, we arrive at Leonard Harrison State Park. A series of precipitously perched overlooks provide stunning vistas of Pine Creek Gorge. The Keystone State has dubbed this scenic wonder the “Grand Canyon of Pennsylvania.” It may not rival that other Grand Canyon in scale, but nevertheless it is quite grand.

As recounted at the restored "Bloody Knox" cabin, there were pockets of armed resistance to the Union draft during the Civil War.

With temperatures now in the 60s and many more miles to ride, today’s adventure is literally shifting into top gear. Picking up SR 144 South, we buzz along one of Pennsylvania’s most acclaimed motorcycle roads. Curves appear in rapid-fire succession, inviting a spirited pace. Approaching Renovo, PA, though, we throttle back and cruise through this old railroad town with its nostalgic storefront facades.

Continuing on Route 144, we ascend onto the Allegheny Ridge Heritage Area. Protected from development, the pristine expanse of hardwoods in Sproul State Forest is lightly trafficked by other humans and their vehicles. But the same can’t be said, necessarily, for the local wildlife. We keep a sharp lookout for the elk, deer, and bears that call this high plateau home. Traveling briskly at around 2,200 feet, with dusk approaching, I start feeling pangs of cold seeping through my gear. I’m already anticipating the luxurious hot shower awaiting me at the hotel.