Pittsburgh Rides: The Luddite Traveler
Garry Nelson boldly marks on note cards, left, intersections and towns of interest and attaches it to his motorcycle.
Before Garry Nelson rides the blue routes, he checks two main sources: state map atlases with detailed topographical maps, and the American Guide Series.
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March, thinking about riding, I watch the NCAA hoops and ponder the possible destinations of this summer's trip: Where am I going and to what new places will my motorcycle take me?
A year of shirt-pocket notes provide events and places that might be a worthy destination. When do the warbirds arrive in Geneseo, N.Y.? Do I want to ride to Jack Kehoe's Hibernian House in Girardville? What is happening at Watkins Glen?
For summer trips I prefer riding the two-lane blacktops, the old roads as described by William Least Heat Moon in his book "Blue Highways." He called them the "blue highways" as the older road atlas maps showed these roads as blue lines. I find that riding these back roads allows for the meeting of interesting people and stumbling onto unknown wonderful places. I use two resources in my quest for the prefect road.
• Gazetteers: State map atlas with detailed topographical maps that show the placement of the smaller roads that are omitted in either the road atlases or state maps. These maps show the lay of the land and minor roads that provide shortcuts between the blue highways.
• The American Guide Series: The books were written in the late 1930s by the Work Progress Administration's writer's project. The authors were unemployed wordsmiths who researched the towns, landmarks, industry and people in state specific books. Along with describing the cities and towns, they outlined tours using the late '30s main roads, which are now today's blue highways.
Using these tools along with my notes on yellow pads helps me pass the long winter evenings and end up with possible daily routes boldly written on 6-by-9 note cards, which will be placed in the map window of my tank bag.
I have friends who rely on GPS machines to direct their travels. This is fine in a rental car, but I prefer note cards and the random possibility of getting lost. I find that missing a turn and wandering around to wherever the road may lead is a wonderful way to discover the serendipitous happenings of the highway.
I insert my cards into my tank bag map holder, intersections and towns boldly marked on a note card that are easily visible as I ride down the highway.
I have stumbled on the most memorable places, sites and people while wandering lost, depending on the sun to show east and west. During one stop in the unknown settlement in the mountains between West Virginia and Virginia an old fellow came up to us and started talking about his old Indian motorcycle with a glint in his eye. After a 45-minute discussion he ended up with "Be careful, you can't swing a cat round the bends up over that mountain."
He was right, the curves were great and the memory of the old man was even better.
GARRY A. NELSON
• What I ride: 1977 BMW R100/7 fake S/GS; 1978 BMW R100RS.
• Fave riding place: Appalachian Mountain twisty two-lane blacktops.
• Hang-outs: Aspinwall Beans and Cream, the origination point of all rides; Wellsboro diner, Wellsboro, a favorite weekend destination.
• Fave biker song: Shorty Rogers and his Orchestra's opening jazz piece from the movie "The Wild One," starring Marlon Brando and Lee Marvin.
• Fave biker book: "You Can See By My Outfit" by Peter S. Beagle. Two teenagers road trip the United States on motor-scooters.
• Event: The BMW MOA's (Motorcycle Owners of America) annual rally. The 2009 event is being held in eastern Tennessee.
• Gear: My Aerostich Darian Jacket & Pants.
• Helmet? I will not ride the three blocks to the supermarket without my full face helmet and gloves.
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First Published May 6, 2010 12:00 am