Please forgive the manifesto length of this post and too many pictures with it. I just needed to post this story and move on.
Pine Creek is one of the most beautiful streams in Pennsylvania. Riding through a late fall day I could feel a flame of excitement at witnessing the fading light and knowing I was riding on into the evening and my first overnight camping trip after over 30,000 miles of Vespa riding.
My friend Paul Ruby has been suggestion overnight foolishness for years including suggestions that we ride to New Mexico, the Adirondacks, and God knows where else. When I finally said yes to a humble camping trip I was ready for a little adventure.
Our plan was to ride north towards Wellsboro, Pennsylvania, and find a place to camp. The touring luggage on Paul’s Kawasaki Concours included a big cardboard box to hold his tent and other camping essentials all neatly strapped to the rear rack. I was sporting a new MotoFizz bag, one size larger than my previous one, and way too big for the little rack on the back of the Vespa. Neither of us would be confused as either overly concerned with style or as seasoned moto-campers.
Paul’s helmet sparkled in the shafts of light that burned randomly through the narrow valley carved out by eons of erosion courtesy of Pine Creek. I suppose it could have been some sort of spiritual illumination bursting forth from within, or maybe there is a Gort thing going on. (See The Day the Earth Stood Still) I’m still here and I saw no flying saucers.
Cedar Run is a small village along Pine Creek. Across the street from the General Store is the Inn at Cedar Run, a reliable place to eat and sleep. I was thinking of a hot meal and warm bed when Paul made the picture. With no suggestion from him of spending a luxurious night at the Inn we rode out of town and continued north.
The road passes through picturesque landscapes and non-existent traffic. We stop to make pictures where the road rises up above the creek. Paul spends some time with the camera and I just stand in the road, watching, taking in the place and the moment. I realize that I’ve never ridden with anyone but Paul save for a few hours one afternoon with a scooter rally. And rides with Paul are rare. In this moment I understand why I guard my aloneness on the road. It is the foundation on which my interest in riding is built.
Paul Ruby with his Canon 5D Mark II, Tioga County, Pennsylvania. We first met because of a shared interest in large format photography. He rekindled my dormant interest in riding and sold his Vespa ET4 to my father-in-law. I think this qualifies him as some sort of reinenasance man.
An unexpected work of art in the Penn Wells Hotel in Wellsboro, Pennsylvania. It was almost dark when we pitched our tents at the Stony Ridge Campground about 15 miles southwest of town and I fully expected to have a snack and go to sleep. Paul had other ideas. Tired, cold, and deer wary I followed through the darkness to a hot meal at the hotel. Dinner was uneventful as was the ride back to camp. Talk around a campfire until weariness won out and we retired to our respective tents.
Light streams through clouds at dawn. The tent’s mesh window unzips to allow for a picture before slithering back inside the sleeping bag to avoid the 40F predawn air. Years of sleeping in a comfortable bed has rendered the ground into a natural form of concrete. The Thermarest backpacking pad can’t abate the torture and thoughts of the Cedar Run Inn ease the aches as I slip back into sleep.
No one camps in Pennsylvania in late September, at least not here. There’s only one other pair of campers using the 240 odd campsites. There’s solitude in the off-season. After Paul makes a cup of coffee we decide on the Wellsboro Diner for breakfast. But not before I make a rash decision.
Our campsite was on the far side of a small stream accessed by riding across a small wooden footbridge. Anxious for eggs and bacon I suggest we just ride through the stream. Paul, not wanting to splash mud on his shiny Kawasaki, says he’ll cross the bridge and take a picture of me coming through the stream. Fine idea.
You probably already know large tires have a distinct advantage over smaller ones when negotiating obstacles. Though the stream looks shallow and tame the moment my front tire hit the water I knew I miscalculated. The streambed was composed of softball sized, rounded, algae covered stones that immediately caused the front tire of the Vespa to bump and lurch and nearly come to a stop as the back tire spun on the slippery rocks. I’m thinking of the camera and not wanting to post a picture of the scooter and I lying in a puddle.
Keeping my head I carefully manipulated the throttle while moving my weight as necessary and crossed the mighty water hazard. I’ll think twice before doing this again. On a motorcycle I wouldn’t have blinked.
MEMO TO SELF: Look before you leap.
My frequent stops to make pictures would frustrate most riders. Paul seems impervious as I photograph the Vespa along US 6. If inclined a person could ride another 3000 miles on US to California. I often think of Kerouac’s contemplation of this road as that long red line in his book On the Road.
A stuffed black bear is enough to have me make a U turn in Galeton. A conversation in the taxidermy should was a reminder why one should always speak and behave well in the world – you never know who you might run into.
The taxidermist, Mr. Hartley, and I talked a bit about riding and he told me about his son’s motorcycle. As the conversation progressed and he provided more details I kept thinking, “I know this motorcycle.” Turns out his son is my chiropractor. The radio-controlled car is a Christmas present for his grandson.
Just before Coudersport we leave US 6 for the more relaxed riding on PA44, a small road that winds its was through some of the most beautiful parts of Pennsylvania. Every so often I point the camera at something other than the Vespa and ask Paul to turn around and ride through a nice stretch of road so I can make a picture. Rain threatened on and off through the day. As the sky darkened a few drops of rain appeared on the camera. Thankfully it never got worse.
If my stomach was complaining Paul’s back joined the chorus. No, he’s not communing with the earth, just stretching his back. No matter how many times I’ve seen this maneuver it never fails to elicit a chuckle. I’ll have to ask his girlfriend what she thinks of it.
Crossing the West Branch of the Susquehanna River Paul pulls ahead and rides toward lunch in Lock Haven. Cruising at 60mph I watch the Kawasaki pass a sting of cars behind a truck. I grumble to myself but seeing the road clear I grab what throttle is left and manage to pass the cars and catch up to Paul. The Vespa is quick for a small scooter but its passing power at these speeds reminds me of my 1970 VW Beetle.
As we had lunch that melancholy feeling arrived signaling the end of the trip. You know, that Sunday evening feeling you had as a kid when you realize the weekend is over and you have to go to school in the morning.
Paul and I had ridden nearly 300 miles. We said our goodbyes since most likely we would not stop again before going our separate ways. Last legs of trips bother me whether on the scooter, in the car, or on a plane. They signal the inevitable end of a trip. Or maybe the last leg is so familiar that I’m just bored by the thought of it.
On the street in Lock Haven I was able to push those thoughts from my mind and relish the memories of a Vespa camping trip.