In late October, an Appalachians motorcycle ride is a gamble. Weather is the house, and over time, the house usually wins. But once in a while, lady luck is on your side, as she was when a college friend and I gambled on one last ride before the riding season ended, taking a 460-mile loop through the Allegheny Mountains of West Virginia, Maryland, and Pennsylvania, including a section of the historic Lincoln Highway and a visit to Gettysburg.
From my home in Manassas, Virginia, we headed west on Interstate 66 toward Front Royal under clear blue skies with temperatures in the mid-60s. My leather jacket was perfect for these conditions because my Triumph Sprint GT’s sporty fairing offers only modest wind protection.
After a brief jaunt on Interstate 81, we continued west on U.S. Route 48 into West Virginia, where we enjoyed highway cruising speeds through mountains blanketed with foliage in various hues of yellow, orange, red, and brown.
We made quick time to Baker, where Route 48’s four lanes become two. At Thomas, we turned north on U.S. Route 219, dialed up some throttle, and weaved through the highlands briefly before stopping at the remote Fairfax Stone. The Fairfax Stone, originally placed in 1746, once marked the boundary of land granted to Lord Fairfax. The weather can be unpredictable in the mountains, but our luck held. The wind and the rustle of falling leaves brought a sense of solitude and calm to the area.
Continuing north on Route 219, we entered Maryland and enjoyed more mountain views, including a ridge lined with big wind turbines. Just outside of Oakland, we turned east on State Route 135 towards Westernport. This part of western Maryland, just south of the Savage River State Forest, in and out of valleys and up and over mountains, felt more remote than any other area we rode through. Occasionally, where the trees had shed their leaves, we caught glimpses of the valley below as we ascended a mountain.
From Westernport, we took State Route 36 north toward Frostburg, where we hopped on Interstate 68 east for about 12 miles to the exit for U.S. Route 220. We continued north and soon crossed into Pennsylvania, and after about 25 mostly straight miles, we arrived in Bedford, where we picked up U.S. Route 30 and saw the first red, white, and blue sign with a large “L” designating the Lincoln Highway.
Dedicated in 1913, the Lincoln Highway was America’s first transcontinental road for automobiles – and motorcycles! It spanned 3,000 miles and connected New York to San Francisco by way of Philadelphia, Pittsburgh, Chicago, Omaha, Cheyenne, and Salt Lake City.
One of the many historic sites along the Lincoln Highway is The Coffee Pot, an 18-foot-tall building shaped like a coffee pot that was built in 1927 in Bedford, Pennsylvania, and once housed a small restaurant. A few miles west of Bedford, at the crest of one of the rolling hills that ebb and flow through bucolic pastures, the neon sign of the Lincoln Motor Court beckoned us to step back in time.
Built in the 1940s and laid out in the shape of a U, the motor court’s 12 single-room cottages offer more than just a place to rest for the night. The wood paneling, kerosene wall heaters, and period decor transported us back to the days before interstate highways.
With autumn daylight burning away, we hopped back on the bikes and cruised over to Schellsburg for dinner at Judy’s Place (a recommendation from the motel owner), where our bet on wings and a plate of crabby fries paid off. When we returned to the motor court, there was a fire crackling in the fire pit. It doesn’t get much better than sitting in the glow of a fire and trading riding stories over beers.
A crisp autumn day with clear skies welcomed us the next morning. As we cruised east on the Lincoln Highway toward Gettysburg, we tried to imagine what the road was like in its early days. It was once promoted as a way to get from New York City to San Francisco by automobile for the 1915 Panama-Pacific International Exhibition. Completing the full route took weeks back then.
We were less concerned about getting to a destination than getting away, as the Lincoln Highway offers a nice reprieve from the nearby Pennsylvania Turnpike (Interstate 76). There’s less traffic and noise and more scenery – a ribbon of highway that rolls through beautiful Pennsylvania farm country and crests at numerous ridgelines.
In Gettysburg, we had a bite to eat at the Lincoln Diner and browsed at The Union Drummer Boy, a shop that sells Civil War artifacts. Then we cruised through the historic downtown and over to the Gettysburg National Military Park. We climbed to the upper level of the Pennsylvania State Memorial, which offers sweeping views of the hallowed ground where the Battle of Gettysburg was fought in 1863. For anyone who appreciates American history, a visit to Gettysburg is highly recommended.
Late in the day, my friend and I parted ways. He headed back to Philadelphia, and I turned south toward Virginia. With one last ride in the books before the onset of winter, we walked away from the table as winners.