After reading stories of traffic nightmares on Rush Hour Rambling, Midwest Scooter Enthusiast, and Musings of an Intrepid Commuter I've become aware of how little traffic there is here in the sticks and this Sunday morning the roads seemed even more empty than usual. At one point I remember thinking that something terrible had happened and everyone was at home glued to their television.
I did have one chore to mix in the ride. I had to deliver motor and hub oil to my father-in-law Bob for his Vespa ET4. I rode along the winding country roads I usually take on this 49-mile trek and after an hour I had only gone 20 miles.
The light was striking on the emerging spring landscape and I wasn't able to travel without constantly stopping to take pictures. If I had any hope to see how the scooter would perform at a distance I was going to have to learn to stifle my visual senses a bit. With the picture of these lone trees near Seven Stars I made an oath to ride directly to Altoona. I passed quite a few subjects beckoning to me like sirens but I rode on. I knew I had shifted gears mentally to ride and not photograph when I made the turn onto the approach ramp for Interstate 99.
The Vespa GTS has an advertised top speed of 76 MPH and I was pleased to be able to cruise along easily at an indicated 70 MPH. The highway is relatively new and the road surface smooth and free of potholes and tar snakes. The absence of traffic continued save for the occasional passing SUV. With no wind and cool air I had a smooth ride into Altoona for that 25-mile stretch.
Bob didn't know when I was coming and was surprised to see me in the driveway as he was coming out the front door on his way to breakfast. We did a quick check of the fluid levels in his scooter and then I followed him to Kings for a quick bite before riding on. At age 70 he's still riding the Vespa as much as he can and having a blast.
The odometer showed 51 miles as I rode away from the restaurant. Air temperature was now at 54° F. Riding along 6th Avenue I made a decision to go south towards warmer weather by way of the Appalachian Thruway (I-99) to see how the scooter (and me) would do at sustained highway speeds on the 40-mile run to Bedford.
The thruway is a lovely (if a 4 lane highway can be) stretch of highway that follows the first ridge of the Appalachian Mountains south. The Vespa ran great on the highway that was almost empty. During this leg of riding I saw less than ten other vehicles. I was riding with the throttle wide open the whole way. Speeds on the long uphill sections would get to 65MPH and on the long downhill runs 85MPH. A passing car would cause a bit of air buffeting and a feeling of instability. It didn't take me long to figure out that much of the buffeting was my body being banged around by the air hitting me square in the chest and not necessarily the scooter. Tucking down low the scooter ran smooth and tracked along nicely. If I were going to do a lot of this kind of riding a windscreen would help. And tucking down shows a ride in speed as well with my body not acting like a sail.
Leaving the thruway at Bedford I have to make a decision --- turn around and go home or keep riding towards warmer weather. I'm not done riding yet so I head east on US 30 towards Everett, Pennsylvania.
I stopped for fuel there and saw one of the old movie theaters that every small town used to have. It's still standing as a reminder of what small towns used to mean though no movies playing anymore.
Leaving Everett on PA 26 I decide to head towards the Mason-Dixon Line and enter Maryland and the South officially.
Sure enough at the border was a marker commerating that famous demarcation line. The roads are the small winding country routes I find so attractive.
There are picture possibilities everywhere and my commitment to ride fades a bit and the camera comes out for a while and my progress dwindles again.
Eventually I find I-68 and the US 40 Scenic Route. Heading east towards Hancock, Maryland I see two other vehicles and my first motorcycle.
No one seems interested in the scenic route. The season is a couple weeks ahead of us and the Dogwood and Redbud blossoms are in full bloom.
Riding down this stretch of road I have an opportunity for a good deed. I pass a box turtle trying to make his was across the road. Even with almost no traffic I figured it would be a good idea to stop and help him across. He is now safely in the woods after posing for a quick picture.
The scenic route ended as it merged with I-68 heading towards Hancock. Maryland traffic here was heavier and fast. I stayed in the truck lane for most of the way until I had to pass a tractor-trailer. I began running into the rev limiter on this stretch. I thought the engine was starting to misfire until I realized what it was. Not sure why I didn't notice it earlier on the Appalachian Thruway because I thought I was going just as fast.
I exit the interstate and ride south on US 522 towards the Potomac River and West Virginia. I begin seeing my first groups of motorcycles out for their Sunday rides and I am happy to report that almost every rider gave the low wave. Many initiated it first and passing long groups I just left out my hand as we swept by. No evidence of scooter rejection, not even by the leather clad V Twin groups. I was a fine day all around.
Riding into Berkeley Springs, West Virginia I had ridden as far as I was going to today - 133 miles - at least in one direction. After a stop to stretch my legs I headed north towards home. Not wanting to retrace my steps I rode on I-70 north into Pennsylvania. This is a heavily traveled route with lots of trucks. The wind had picked up and I found myself being knocked around more than earlier in the day but was still able to find a comfortable speed to manage the wind, road, and traffic. I even was passing people on this 25-mile leg of the trip.
Exiting in Breezewood, Pennsylvania I headed west on US 30 where I found PA 26 again which would take me all the way home. I stopped at the Eats and Treats for a cheeseburger and fries and a longer stretch. From there a straight run home on winding roads for nearly 70 miles. Total mileage - 258 miles.
Home safe and writing now I know a few more things about the Vespa and myself.
- The scooter is capable of sustained highway riding if necessary.
- My ass is capable of 9 hours in the saddle with some occasional breaks if necessary.
- Taking pictures really slows things down.
- I'm ready for some tours.