The River Towns Ride, July 1-8, 2011

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Here’s the thing about motorcycling: Even when you don’t get to your destination, the not getting there is a blast. Take this River Towns Ride fer example. I was headed to Kansas on a business matter. I need to see some old documents and photos in Coffeyville, KS, so my bud Mark Arsenault and I can wave a book proposal at publishers and see if anyone bites. Kansas in July — Yessuh! I knew it would be hot but figured I’d give it a whirl and see what happens.

My plan was to ride west along the river valleys. I especially wanted to see the Ohio River Scenic Byway, which runs for close to 950 miles from East Liverpool, Ohio to the Mississippi River.

On July 1, I headed west from Sweet Home Rhode Island, planning to cross into northern Pennsylvania at Matamoras and follow the Susquehanna to the northwest, duck off the river in Bradford County and continue west to Couldersport and the headwaters of the Allegheny.

The ever-stalwart Iron Piggy, in traveling trim
Got this lump of coal in my stocking years ago. That Santa, what a kidder. Stretched my stocking all out of shape. I donated this sucker to the Pennsylvania DOT as a roadside attraction. I always stop to see it when I ride by.

 

I rode 328 miles on Day 1 and camped in Tuckhannock, PA. A rough place, very run down, but I met friendly people, as always. A guy who works on oil and gas rigs and lives in the campground full time offered me the use of his grill. I was already boiling lentils and rice on my little backpacking cooker. “That’s roughing it,” he said. That night I fell asleep to a whisper of turned-down country music radio coming from the oil man’s camp.

 

Somewhere on US 6 in northern Pennsylvania
I like the point 12 and point 68. Are they alleging the other four towns are dead-nuts-even-miles from this watering hole?

 

Cops had traffic stopped in Galeton, PA while the town’s Independence Day parade queued up.

 

It was blistering hot and my fuel light was on.

 

I shut down the motor and waited out the parade setup. Bought gas and rode on.

 

Headwaters of the Allegheny River. Just a creek here in Couldersport but it becomes the biggest single tributary of the Ohio by the time it reaches Pittsburgh.

 

I don’t wear logos. I cut them off. But there was a glue strip underneath and it’ll be slightly tacky forever. In the Allegheny National Forest I saw one of the bride’s golden hairs on my jacket. It had been there for 450 miles. I put it in my wallet.

 

Saw this artifact on display at a Forest Service station. Proof that ancient Native Americans had motorcycles. The carving depicts the three faces of the long-distance biker. From top to bottom, the starting-out face known as “Oughta be cool I hope.” Next, the on-the-road-a-while face, “Hey, it IS cool!” Finally, the on-the-road-forever face, which the native peoples called, “Uhhh.”

 

Moving on, down the Allegheny

 

What becomes of that creek

 

Saw a vintage Morris Minor. I pulled alongside on Piggis Major.

 

An abandoned road house. No respite for the sun-scorched traveler.

 

Even hotter to the east, apparently.

 

There is many a steel bridge on the steamy river roads

 

In Franklin, PA, another town setting up for a parade. Chairs lined up on Main Street for a quarter mile.

 

Jesus had reserved two seats, maybe one for his old man? Good location but he probably knew that.

 

That was it for the Allegheny. I didn’t follow it right into Pittsburgh, lest I get jammed up in big-city, holiday-weekend traffic. I camped in Mercer, PA that night with 330 miles behind me for the day. Met a nice couple there, Laurie and Mark, from Erie, PA. Gold Wing riders, though they were on four wheels at the time.

Next morning I was on the Ohio, at East Liverpool, OH, the start of the Ohio River Scenic Byway. It’s anything but scenic in eastern Ohio, unless you count the smoke stacks. You hardly ever see the river. The Ohio is an industrial waterway in the state named after it. The sightseeing is sparse on the west and north sides all the way down to Huntington, West Virginia. An interesting ride, I thought, just not the kind that makes for a wish-you-were-here postcard. But I guess that depends on who you’d send it to.

Man, it was hot riding an air-cooled motor down along that valley. No shade on the road and little available off to the side. You can’t absorb water fast enough to replace what you’re losing. It sloshes around in the gut and soaks up slow. Meanwhile you’re bleeding out buckets. Ride on. What else?

 

Ohio River Valley, headed south and west

Lots of power generation on the river
Let there be light
Old King Coal’s skyprint
Down the road, the first of many cooling towers
A rare glimpse of the river. I happily soaked up a little shade.

 

I met a real character here and inexplicably failed to snap his photo for your entertainment. A sun-baked brain is a slow-thinking brain. He rode a Yamaha sport touring bike, 2005 FJR. Pulled up in a filthy Aerostich with crash damage, which he wore as a badge of honor. He was wearing a couple of layers of Bohn armor underneath, hard knee-and-shin gear, the works. You could drop him off a building and he wouldn’t get hurt. He had a white beard and was bald on top with long white hair around the sides. He took a look at my windshield, saw the flags of 47 states and said, “You’ve been everywhere. But I’ve been everywhere in Ohio.”

Dig it, he had rolled 218,000 miles on the FJR in six years without ever once crossing the Ohio state line. He killed a big buck whitetail with it in his first get-off. Oops. (“Not a drop of blood, I must have broken his neck.”) And then there was the collision with the German Shepherd that removed half the fairing and a saddlebag.

Live long and ride far, brother! Albeit in Ohio.

 

Saw quite a few barns selling tobacco
I like to ride through the towns, see how the people live
Coal conveyer over the road
These would be the coolest condos in Ohio

 

Day 3 on the river, another scorcher. I was feeling good at the end of it but the air up ahead was even hotter and muggier. I saw the bridge over to Huntington, WV and decided to take it, get out of the river valley and up into the mountains where the air would be cooler. Kansas could wait for the fall, and anyway, Johnny Danger, my bud from California would be there for bird hunting then, camped out at one of his brothers’ places, in Pleasanton or Emporia.

If I insisted on getting to Kansas now via the Ohio, I’d be in the broiler for five more days. I could duck off the river, go north, grab the interstate, give the iron piggy a good twist and get there at speed,  but then I’d have a week of 100-plus in Kansas, then the ride back east… Nah. Not gonna do it.

I dodged left at the bridge and found a place to camp for the night in Milton, WV.  I was 1,001 miles down the road and figured on making 500+ the next day to Philly, the old home town.

I was looking for a KOA because I needed to shower off the salt and the eau d’ road. The one in Milton was full up on account of the holiday weekend but the owners made room for me. As I motored in and unloaded my gear, a guy walked over and said, “Biker trash, you hungry?” He held out a plate of ribs, corn on the cob, sliced tomatoes and a baked potato. His name was Scott and he was living at the campground with his girlfriend while working as an equipment operator at a superfund site. His Harley was in the shop and he was not happy. He had a tiny black lapdog he had trained to alert to “biker trash.” Whenever Scott said the words, the wiry little dog would hop up all excited and look around, head on a swivel, Where? Where!?

From another camp, with more grub, came David, a dozer operator like Scott, but at a coal mine. He works up top, on the surface, while his wife’s brother works below in the mine, bringing up the black rock. David’s whole family was there, including his father- and mother-in-law, Gold Wing trike riders. Really nice family. And they make good coffee.

It never fails. The media will sell you fear but the world is full of friendly people, always eager to take care of the lone rider far from home. And they often don’t have much themselves. One time in Baton Rouge I met a young couple from South Carolina living in a tent at a campground. She was disabled from a car wreck. They had traveled to Louisiana so he could try out for a month on a new job and see if he got the offer. Their car had barely made it. People in the campground had chipped in to get it running again. And after I rode in, these kids offered to feed me from what little they had for themselves.

 

Day 4. That’s not Ohio Valley steam up ahead. It’s cool, early-morning fog in glorious West Virginia.

How good it felt to hurtle through misty mountains at 75mph after broiling on the slow roads for three days.

 

I was up on the sides of my tires at speed and they were singing to me. It was good to be a free man on the earth.Turn left, turn right, turn around if you want. Roll on.

 

I stopped for a glass of orange juice in Sutton, WV, a little town on the Holly River. I was standing out by the iron piggy drinking it when an old gent in a Navy cap walked up, opened his wallet and showed me a photo of himself on a Harley right after WWII. After witnessing much carnage while serving on a destroyer in the Pacific, he vowed to live! Orval Butcher rode motorcycles all over America, took Arthur Murray dance lessons, learned how to ski, and how to sail.

 

Home from lobbing 5-inch shells at the Japanese Imperial Navy.
Our last unambiguous war.
His wife, Betty, at 18, in front of their humble home. He smiled when I said my wife had lived in a trailer, too, as an infant, in Huntsville, Alabama
Betty and Orval had a daughter
Betty at 70. She died two years ago, at 73, married for 56 years.
Orval Butcher, 88, family man, Navy man, Harley man. Well done, sir!
If you think of it, drop Orval a note or a card and thank him for his service. He’s at 461 Airport Road, Sutton, WV, 26601
No more mountain fog once I left West Virginia but I enjoyed the cooling cloud cover over Maryland
Got rained on for a few miles on US 220 in Pennsylvania, along Willis Mountain. It felt wonderful. You all know this sun-bleached photo of my gals. If I ever see a motorman’s fate coming head-on, and unavoidably so, the always-out-there That-Was-My-Life Moment, I hope I have a split second to look at this photo one last time. Being their dad is the best thing ever.
Lunch on the Pennsylvania Turnpike, headed east to Philly, at speed
Johnny Law said move on, biker trash. I said does this look like a diesel to you? He pointed to the weight limit and I was sunk.
In Drexel Hill, PA, my nephew Dave Craddock and his son, Dylan. Dave is a Marine and an Iraq vet.
Dave’s a devoted dad and uncle. His niece Cadie Thomas joined forces with Dylan to gang up on him. That’s Dave’s sister and Cadie’s mom, Caryn Thomas. She and her husband, Rob, are expecting twin boys in September.

 

By the way, Rob Thomas, USMC, is stealthy. I got the jump on him when the pizza man came to the door. Then when I got home I found that Rob has slipped $40 into my Macbook case.

 

Back on the road, following the Delaware River north via state routes 32, 611 and 209. Headed for the Water Gap.
Here are a few shots of typical eastern Pennsylvania architecture…
Grabbing snapshots on the fly… not a best practice exactly…
Piggy’s got cruise control, allows for left-grip riding, just keep your eyes peeled while snapping pics…
Be prepared to drop the camera and tend to your health instead.
Lock 20 on the Delaware Canal, at Nockamixon Cliffs.
Beans again. Protein and carbs, open the can, eat it, roll on. I also heated water and tossed in a bouillon cube. I would need the salt once I left the shade of the backroads and hopped Interstate 84 east. Had more than 200 miles of superheated slab ahead
I-84 to Danbury, CT, then east/southeast along the Housatonic River to I-95 in New Haven. Ran out of drinking water here, in Mystic, but saw some nice salt water. I stopped at Ocean State Harley in Exeter, RI, and the HOG guys were setting up for an outdoor meeting, had the cooler out and the grill going. They gave me a free bottle of water and I got back on the road.
Home, and in one piece, un-done-in by the heat and all the usual hazards. Iron Piggy shall ride again.

 

Okay, so I didn’t get to Kansas, but I hereby declare victory and depart the field. Was gone only briefly, 7 days. Rode 1,927 miles over five of those days. Will get to Kansas in September or October but I need to get somewhere else before then. Not sure where yet, but definitely north.

All rides are good rides but 1,927 miles don’t begin to scratch my itch. I have ya-yas to get out.

Cranston, RI, July 9, 2011

About Tony

The occasional scribblings of Tony DePaul, 62, father, grandfather, husband, freelance writer in many forms, ex-journalist, long-distance motorcycle rider, motorcycle wrecker, motorcycle rebuilder, collector of surgical hardware, blue routes wanderer, outdoorsman, topo map bushwhacker, handy with a wrench, hammer, chainsaw, rifle, former photographer, printer, logger, truck driver, truck mechanic, jet fueler… blah blah...
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2 Responses to The River Towns Ride, July 1-8, 2011

  1. motty says:

    Your old war vet in Sutton was exactly the sort of person I knew growing up in good old West Virginia. The state is full of them and they’re all characters.

    German shepherd, as in dog who herds sheep…sheep-herder…shepherd
    Ernest Shepard was the illustrator for Winnie-the-Pooh.

    Love the photos.

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