Science tells us that around 55% to 60% of the human body is composed of water. In that vein, marine biologist Wallace J. Nicholas has noted that: “We are beginning to learn that our brains are hardwired to react positively to water and that being near it can calm and connect us …” Water, in its many forms—rivers, lakes, rain, waterfalls, canals, and streams—will be a constant companion for Jeff Arpin and me, riding a silver and blue Honda ST1300 respectively, as we explore western Pennsylvania and New York.
Father of Our Waters?
Our northern trajectory begins about 10 miles south of the Mason-Dixon Line in historic Berkeley Springs, WV. George Washington periodically traveled to this quaint burg, known as Bath in George’s day, to bask in its thermal waters. We find what is probably the only monument anywhere dedicated to presidential bathing. It’s located on the west side of Berkeley Springs State Park, which sits atop thermal springs. Jeff and I posit that President Washington was both the Father of Our Country and the Father of Our Waters … Well, maybe. The scooped-out stone replica of George’s original tub continues to capture thermal spring waters to this day.
Motoring north, we soon cross over the Potomac River and arrive in Hancock, where the State of Maryland is only about a mile or so wide. Pennsylvania SR 26 leads us north. This road is a rider’s delight! The seemingly constant onslaught of sharp curves, rapidly rising and falling terrain, and bucolic farmland transports us to a kind of ethereal Zen state of consciousness. We roll on the throttle. After a short westward stint on the Lincoln Hwy between Everett and Bedford, PA, we’re charging north again.
It was the need to easily cross rivers and streams with wheeled vehicles that led to the invention of bridges. Early wooden bridges were covered with a roof to extend their life span against the elements. It’s been reported that the total number of wooden covered bridges in America once reached nearly 14,000. Although accurate information is not readily available, it’s estimated that less than 900 remain. Pennsylvania, in particular, has a notable collection of over 197 of them, many of which are still in use.
After the Civil War, bridge builders began using iron instead of wood. Unfortunately, many of the once ubiquitous wooden covered bridges were allowed to deteriorate and be swept away in floods or consumed by fire. We leave the main roads to ride across several of the lovely surviving examples of 19th-century bridge building.