Years ago, we attempted a round-trip, cross-country motorcycle tour. The route we chose took us from Southern California, across the vast wasteland of Texas, to New Orleans, along the length of the Blue Ridge Parkway, into New England, over the border to Canada, around Lake Erie, through the canyons of Utah, and back down to LA. Seven thousand miles in one month. It’s a trip we’d recommend to anyone with the time, the resources, and of course, the wheels (two are preferable).
The First Law of Motorcycling: keep the rubber side down.
We stayed with friends and relatives whenever possible. It’s become a yardstick for dedicated travelers like us. In how many places can someone you know put you up for the night? If you’ve traveled and made friends and moved often, you should have contacts in nearly every worthwhile burg on the continent. We’re not counting ex-girlfriends who take you in out of pity when you show up saddle sore on the doorstep, only to kick you out early the next morning without so much as a slice of toast. Not that it’s happened to us.
Despite our connections, we occasionally had to venture out past the cocoon of the familiar into the room rental wilderness. In that cash-crazy world, we had to pay the same rate for a stuffy room in Van Horn, Texas, as we did for a suite right outside the French Quarter in pre-flood New Orleans. Go figure.
Most of the time, however, we did better than merely survive; we flourished. A restaurant owner outside Baton Rouge, Louisiana, gave us all we could eat while allowing us to pick the ambient music. A motorcycle mechanic in Warwick, Rhode Island, included a free polish with our oil change. A waitress in Grand Junction, Colorado, gave us an extra helping of pie just to listen to our adventures. A New Yorker actually apologized after bumping into us on the subway.
We met friendly people at every turn. Even the weather cooperated. Warm, dry, sunny days followed us from one state to the next . . . until our ride from Virginia to New York. It rained tabbies and terriers, as if to make up for the sun we’d been enjoying. In case you’ve never ridden a motorcycle, we can tell you that riding in the rain is bearable with the right gear. Bearable, but never fun. You can’t ever relax.
Despite the rain, we made decent time until we hit Harrisburg, Pennsylvania, where everything came to a stop. In case you’ve never ridden a motorcycle, we can tell you that riding in the rain is bearable with the right gear as long as you’re moving. Once you stop, you realize how miserable you really feel.
When traffic began moving again, we positioned ourselves in the far left lane, entertaining the illusion it was still a passing lane. We left plenty of space in front of us, for emergency stopping on the slick surface. That’s when we noticed a pickup truck behind us, right on our taillights. He flashed his lights. We smiled and waved back at him. After all, the state’s motto was: “You’ve got a friend in Pennsylvania.” It said so right on their license plates.
We continued for another twenty feet, but the pickup refused to back off. So we did the natural thing: we slowed to allow even more space in front of us, in case of accident. This apparently wasn’t what the pickup driver wanted. He inched even closer and honked like a lost goose over Greenland.
The situation had turned dangerous. We’d seen nothing but courtesy from drivers in every other state, but here in Pennsylvania, we were all but assaulted. When we finally found an opening in the next lane, we pulled over and the pickup sped by to tailgate the next car in line.
We eventually made it safely to New York City, where we spent a few days drying off, but we learned our lesson: We don’t have any friends in Pennsylvania.
Mark in full rain gear: it's as uncomfortable as it looks.
Lessons Learned: Besides learning that we had no friends in Pennsylvania (ultimately destroying the myth and leading to the state removing the slogan from its license plates), we learned that people around the country are actually a lot nicer than we’d given them credit for. You’ll find jerks everywhere—in New York, in California, even in Pennsylvania—but they’ll get what’s coming to them. Karma and bad driving habits have a tendency to catch up with you.
How We Saw It
Communication Breakdown: 5
Customer Dis-service: 3
Discomfort Level: 3
Grunge Factor: 4
Inactivity Guide: 1
Spontaneous Consumption: 1
Fun Fraction: 2/5
If You Won’t Listen to Us
Nearest Airport: Harrisburg International Airport
Native Population: 49,000
Normal Attractions: The state capitol complex (including performing arts), Strawberry Square shopping mall, and the annual Pennsylvania Farm Show, the largest agricultural show in the US.
Final Point of Interest: Harrisburg is famous for its CowParade, which featured fiberglass cows designed by local artists and scattered around the city. We think this qualifies it as a cow town.