How often do you discover things when you ride?
In my dreams I’m riding somewhere far away. The destination unknown, the road moves through the woods and then rises into mountains, I’m curious what will be over the next rise. During every ride there are moments, some quiet, others thrilling, when a door opens a chance to investigate and explore. Driven by curiosity, riding and exploring is one of the most satisfying activities of my existence. I’ve mistaken it for freedom. But it’s something more tangible and direct. It’s an experience from childhood that was stolen away by adult life; found and retrieved thanks to riding a two-wheeled machine.
My friend Paul and I were on our way to breakfast. He wanted to stop at a quarry to survey the photography possibilities. Some years ago we prowled the area with view cameras and sheets of black and white film. No scooters or motorcycles, just an old car and a box of donuts fortifying our visual explorations.
There are no paths through the heavy underbrush and weeds for us to ride, reducing riders to walkers in the early morning heat. Thrilled to explore again but unaware of problems lurking nearby. The Vespa stays at the roadside as I venture through what’s sure to be tick infested territory.
The quarry has filled with water since my last visit. Just a hundred yards off the road, dozens of ducks and geeze glide through the water. The pretty scene before me masked any concerns I had for ticks — the general evil now lurking in Pennsylvania’s fields and forests.
Imagine my surprise a few days later when I found a half-dozen chigger bites on my legs and waist. Sorry, no photographs. When the literature says chigger bites itch — they undersell the experience.
No ride seems complete without a meal. Another stop at Tom & Joe’s in Altoona for breakfast and a chance to ask where we were going. Paul took the lead on his Piaggio Fly 150 scooter. His BMW R1200 RT was for sale on eBay and he didn’t want to risk getting it dirty.
Despite years of driving in Altoona, I’ve never really explored the city, the alleys and back streets that criss cross neighborhoods. Paul led a winding route up to Gospel Hill Park and down one of the roughest stone alley I had ever encountered. The Vespa bounced down the hill which thankfully became brick before finally dumping out onto a nicely paved surface street.
Altoona has a long, proud heritage connected to railroads. We followed the main rail line for a few miles as freight trains poured into the city after making their way through the Horseshoe Curve, a famous feature so instrumental in moving steel and other products from West to East that Nazi Germany targeted it for destruction in 1942.
Riding the Vespa is more than transportation. It’s a reason to look more closely at the world around me. Even if only for a short time.
How often do you have the chance to really explore? They way you did when you were a kid.