The events described below happened in May 2013. Most of it was written earlier this summer, but for various reasons I never got around to posting it until now.
Packing is easy when you’re thinking about leaving on a motorcycle—you can’t really bring anything. It’s the night before I leave and all I’m wondering is, can I actually fit everything I want? What do I want? What do I need? Let’s face it, this trip isn’t the longest, but at the same time it will be my first weekend-long trip. The plan is fairly simple, head down from London Ontario across the border to upstate New York and drive straight south to Pennsylvania. I think to myself, 400km in a day isn’t bad. People do it all the time. In any case, it’s packing time. Rain suits, clothes, sweaters, walking shoes, water bottles, small towels, snacks, few tools, my camera, an extra lens and my crude Google Maps print outs with turn-by-turn directions. By midnight, everything is in its place in my tank bag, my top case, my two side cases and Mel’s tank bag. We go to bed pretty excited; tomorrow is going to be a long day for us after all.
At 8AM sharp we are getting ready to go and the bikes are warming up. The first bit of our trip is pretty straightforward, as we all know the 401 very well. I want to make some good time early on by immediately getting a few clicks out of the way. By clearing Canada quickly we could spend more time in the USA. After an hour on the 401, we take a small break and let Sam switch bikes. I didn’t want her on the 401 with me. Rightfully so as well! Following Mel and trying to keep up in the 6-lane superslab highway made me feel like an underpowered mule—there’s only so much a 250cc engine can do.
At 10AM we are in south Brantford. We stop to fill-up with gas, coffee, tea and some snacks, but also to empty our bladders. I decide to add a bungee to the magnetically held tank bag that is acting as my camera bag on this trip. I just don’t trust the magnets to do their job and hold my prized 35mm lens throughout this trip. Why take a chance?
Before we leave Brantford, I doubt our pace and already wish I had GPS because of the numerous times I needed to pull out my maps when we got off the 401. We retraced the road I took during my maiden voyage on Haldimand all along Grand River. Going back through an overcast and cold May morning was not as wonderful as the first time with the setting sun of a beautiful July evening. I missed a turn on Golf Course Rd and had to turn around, Mel’s hand got caught in her tank bag, which made her run a bit wide on the tight road.
We made it to Port Colborne by 12:30PM and it is our last stop before we cross the border in Fort Erie/Buffalo. I note that Lakeshore Rd on Lake Erie had some pretty nice twisties, even if the speed limit was quite limited. We take in a few more snacks and a drink of water. Meanwhile the weather started clearing up and the sun was coming out—the thermometer on my bike was reading out 26C.
Crossing the border to the US is fast becoming a nightmare. The temperatures are rising quickly and the wait to get through the border starts before we even get on the bridge. The heat gets to the point where it is too much with all of our gear. We unzip and take our gloves off, but it doesn’t do much when your core is boiling, you just want to get moving or get a drink of water. Making matters worst, the 599’s battery dies getting through customs. The US Customs agent is nice and directs Mel to a spot so she can park the bike and take her jacket off in the sweltering 29C, if you consider her great weatherproof Alpinestar Scout jacket. Who knew it would get so hot when we set off? In the morning it was completely overcast and a mere 13C. Anyway, I get through customs, which could be considered as one of my easiest crossings into the US. I stop next to Mel, take my jacket off and push start her bike. The nice agent comes out to see us again and he made sure we are all right. We thank him. After spending a better part of an hour and half crossing, we don’t want to spend much more time sweating here so we get on the highway to get the battery charged up again and to get ourselves out of the city as quickly as possible.
The rest of the day is being spent riding towards our destination, Port Allegheny. Route 240 in New York is amazing. Through some great winding corners we notice how green everything is. We eventually stop in a small town to eat. But there is not a single public restroom or gas station here! A bit of agony… The nearest gas station is about 15 miles away.
We ride through Allegany State Park. While being very beautiful it is a bit of a detour considering the slow 35MPH speed limit. The narrow road and bright greenery almost hurt my eyes, so it isn’t really the place to go much faster than the limit. It’s too bad, because there are barely any cars on this road and I can see the potential fun this road could be if you knew it like the back of your hand. What do they say? Better safe than sorry.
The road out of the state park is great as well. Some good hills start to challenge the little Sherpa and occasionally require me to shift it down into 5th gear. It is a bit strange seeing other riders on the road without helmets. I know I’ve arrived to the right place when bikes are outnumbering cars on the roads leading to Port Allegany. I haven’t travelled the world, but I can definitely say anyone that enjoys riding or driving would find pleasure going through the northern parts of Pennsylvania. For me, riding through these mountains is heavenly. It is similar to the feeling I get carving down a hill on a snowboard.
We arrive at the Inn on Maple Street in Port Allegany about an hour off our target. Which is pretty good considering I had not fully anticipated so much time would be wasted at the border. Jay and Sharon at the Inn are very friendly as they greet us inside. They brought us to our rooms in the other house and helped us carry our bags. They had provided us with some pamphlets in advance which showed us a town map, a guide to some good riding roads and a few of the area’s sights to see. Port Allegany does not have much to offer in terms of fine dining, so we simply settle on the local diner. As 3 tired French Canadians, we certainly stand out from the locals bantering about as they enjoy a late-night cup of drip coffee. I figure the tourism industry is not the big here. The food is actually not bad, as long as greasy as hell with tones of mayonnaise fits your appetite. Don’t bother asking for gluten-free bread… Afterwards, I try to find some beer. With the advice of a local we walk a good 10 minutes to the only convenience store in town with beer. We return to our rooms to relax after what was a long day for us. After two brews, I’m ready to pass out while I still feel my legs vibrating from my day on the Sherpa.
Our alarm wakes us at 7AM. We take showers and wander over to the other house where breakfast will be served. Three other couples are there with us. Some folks from Wales, but living in Oakville, ON are great fun to talk to. In fact the whole experience is good—I had never been to a bed and breakfast before. Sharon and Jay had cooked up some mean waffles with banana caramel sauce, which are delicious. They even made some special gluten free waffles for our daughter.
Stuffed we are ready to start our day of riding around the area. First, we do the short stint to Bradford, PA and toured the Zippo/Case museum. It is cool to see all the designs over the years and the American flag made up of lighters is a nice piece of Americana. Coincidentally, we meet some other folks from London, ON who are riding the area on some Thriumphs (Bonnie, America and Thruxton). We leave the museum and head-out into Bradford to find a place to lunch. The John Williams bakery looks like a decent stop for a soup and sandwich and as it turns out the food was amazing. I’m also impressed with how cheap food is around here compared to Canada. For a bit over $20 you can feed your whole family. I’m sure a similar meal in Ontario would have cost very close to $40. It turns out the Triumph crew from London decided to eat here as well.
We gas up with half our day gone, it is now 2:30PM. We leave Bradford in some great 26C weather. The scenery continues to be great. Valleys, rounded hill climbs followed by descents, trees, streams, rivers, and even some lakes.
I occasionally stop for some pictures, at the mild annoyance of my travelling partners. At the Kinzua Dam, a Harley rider tells me I have a lot of guts riding the Sherpa “all the way down from Canada”. I chuckle a bit to myself, the bike is really holding up in Pennsylvania and is eating up the twisties and continues to raise my confidence riding the bike.
I had hoped to do all of Route 666, but with time getting late I decided it was best to simply do a small stretch of this road. I still wanted to see the Kinzua gorge. The part of Route 666 we are on is pretty much downhill the whole way and is easy to cruise through. We miss our turn for the Kinzua bridge by about 5-10 minutes and have to backtrack on some really nice roads, so in the end we’re not too disappointed about missing it. The bridge is quite the sight, and it feels good to get off the saddle to walk around—my butt is hurting. We have a bit of fun on the bridge and I proceed to take several pictures. The collapsed remains was an awesome sight.
We ride away from the Kinzua gorge and stop for some snacks in Port Allegany. We sit with Jay on the porch and notice that the temperatures are dropping quite a bit. We eventually retire to our room for some beers and rest.
Another great breakfast awaits us at the Inn when we wake up. We eat our quiche with salsa, banana bread with cream cheese and chat with other guests who are still staying here. We get going around 10AM and head towards the Cinqo C’s alpaca farm. Mel and Sam buy some yarn and we get a tour of the farm. We leave and go through Port Allegany for some gas. I note that the Sherpa got some excellent consumption yesterday. By keeping revs below 6k and riding between 75-90kph I managed a respectable 77mpg.
Anyway, we leave Pennsylvania for New York on the 155, which is not very challenging compared to what we have gotten used to. We take the highway to Cuba instead of route 446 to save some time. My plan was to stop by the cheese factory there, but that changed rather quickly when Mel unfortunately drops her 599 making a right turn. Her clutch was pulled out so when the bike stalled, it locked up and she fell over to her right. Sam naturally jumped off to safety, but Mel’s foot got crushed a bit by the bike. We raise the bike together and inspect the damage… It’s not so bad, just some bent levers. A few people came over to check on us to make sure we were OK. We figure a small break wouldn’t be a bad idea so we get out of the intersection and I try to mend the front brake lever as best I could. Once our adrenalin calms down, we decide to take off and stop for lunch a little bit further away in Franklinville. It’s 1:30PM and I’m not really hungry so a bagel and a coffee does the trick. Mel got a bag of ice for her foot—it’s a bit swollen.
Since we are still a bit shaken from the accident we take things slow north on route 16. It leads us directly to Buffalo where we notice that regardless of the traffic, people are very considerate of others and everyone seems to drive in the correct lane according to their speed. This is certainly not the case on the other side of the border on the 401! While I’m in Buffalo, how can I pass up the opportunity to get some real Buffalo wings? We stop by the Duffs right off the I-290 in Amherst and order ourselves a nice little order of wings. I can’t say that they were that much more fantastic than other wings, but they definitely were not terrible.
It started getting pretty warm out as the sky cleared itself completely. Getting on the highway is definitely welcomed and we ride on towards Niagara Falls. Well, highway speeds quickly became crawling speeds as we get near the border. We take an exit to get some gas, maybe the traffic jam will clear itself a bit? After a bit of a detour to find the only gas station around, we are back to crawling on the highway—the situation has not changed. We crawl into the duty-free area all sweaty from the slow-moving ride towards the bridge and the border. To get across the bridge, we patiently waited along all the cars, sweating, barely breathing. My thermometer is reading 37C, which is almost hard to believe. By the time we can see the border, we are cursing the wait and how unbearable it is to suffer through this. We wear all of our gear all the time and waiting almost two hours to cross the border is not the greatest. I definitely contemplate lane-splitting or using a lane not designated to us, alas we obey the law and feel the consequences. Once we have crossed the border, Mel is feeling the heat and is bordering on a heat stroke. I tell her we will get off at the next exit to recuperate, thankfully there is a Tim Horton’s right off the highway. When Mel takes off her helmet, she is tears, for a moment just before we stopped her vision went black and got very scared. I bring her inside where we would sit and hydrate with the help of some Gatorade. As our body temperatures start to drop, we also feel the day getting long. After what must be a good hour, we take off in the setting sun through the vineyards of the Niagara region. Here the temperature is a lot more temperate, in fact the temperature is now visually dropping on my thermometer and we are starting to freeze in our sweaty gear. I stop to put my rain suit on, as it will cut the cool wind from freezing my body.
At this point, the temperature drops several degrees to about 12C and I realize my planned route is certainly not the best. We are riding through slow zones and it is dark when we arrive to Hamilton as backyard Victoria Day fireworks illuminate us as we drive. I tell Sam to focus on spotting fireworks, as it will keep her busy. The day draws long and I feel like she is getting tired. The plan was to ride into London on highway 2, but I stopped before we get there. I can tell that there are some storm clouds in the distance of the direction that road will take us. We contemplate getting a hotel room in Hamilton, but I tell Mel that since we are so close, we should try the 403 instead and see if we can make it. Once we are on the 403, the winds started to pick up and throw us, and especially the Sherpa around quite violently. Fearing that we are unnecessarily putting ourselves in danger, we get off the highway in Brantford. As we enter the offramp, the sky opens on us and rain starts to come down heavily along with some inner cloud lightning just about everywhere. Thankfully I am already familiar with this exit and know that there is a gas station nearby. We pull in and fill up under the cover of the awning. While we both know the storm will eventually calm down, we’ve had enough and decide to stop for the night. I look up the nearest hotel and we ride up to the counter completely soaked. It’s certainly a good thing that I got cold earlier and that we had all put on our rain gear before there was even the slightest sight of rain. Sam lays down on her bed and falls asleep within moments. Mel and I lay out our boots and our clothes so they can dry a bit.
Since I’m supposed to get to work, I get up earlier than Sam and Mel. I get my continental breakfast, suit up and ride the remainder of the 403 into London. As I take my shower, change into my business clothes and ride the car into work, I contemplate the trip and especially the events of the previous day. Overall I had a blast, but it is almost needless to say I learnt a few things about road tripping on a motorcycle. Having the right gear for the temperature is essential—we have both purchased mesh jackets since this trip. Stopping immediately when your, or your travel partners’, body and mind have reached their limit will keep you safe. And, never attempt to cross the border at peak times on a long weekend.