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Spare Parts: Roads less traveled

By Ernie Copper

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Everyone has a favorite local ride—the place you ride to clear your head, get away from it all and recharge your personal battery. I’m not talking about a riding vacation or weekend trip. I’m talking about the ride you squeeze in between washing the car and mowing the grass.

Unseasonably warm weather in the northeast recently meant I just had to fit such a ride into my packed weekend schedule. Our kids had been doing a split shift at our house for spring break. Number one son went back to school just in time for number one daughter to come home. Today, she would be heading back to college and things would be getting back to the new normal. As soon as her taillights were out of sight, my wife and I jumped on the bike and headed out. We didn’t know then that the weather would stay this way, uncharacteristically, for weeks and so the opportunity to ride comfortably in shirtsleeves during March couldn’t be squandered. If you live in a more motorcycle-friendly climate, you couldn’t fully understand the craziness that overtakes us when good weather and the weekend collide in March. On a weekend like this, everything summer-like comes out: flip flops, bonfires, earthworms—the works.

To enjoy this premature spring to its utmost, I had to choose between the high roads, low roads and long and winding roads in my area. Ultimately I chose to head east toward rolling farmlands, passing through quaint villages with 1800s-era gristmills and Amish farms. While Amish conveyances bring their own special brand of perils to motorcycles, namely road apples, they also mark some of the best nearby riding for quick getaway rides. Creeks with names like Neshannock and Slippery Rock meander through the valleys and several covered bridges span them, adding to the natural beauty.

It was in one of these villages that I diverged from my normal ride by turning right rather than going straight for reasons unknown. By doing so I discovered a wondrous stretch of pavement that has become my new favorite. The road itself is in great shape, due in part to the mild winter I’m sure, but it also offers expansive rolling straights, sweeping curves and very few intersections with limited cross traffic. It’s the kind of rural road with homesteads and machine sheds that harbor 1960s project cars with sun-aged original paint and rusty old pickup trucks to keep things interesting. And it’s the kind of road that allows your attention to be safely diverted to enjoy these things. Anyone will tell you riding has become more and more of a defensive game with the increase in distractions to cage drivers and it was nice to be able to let my guard down and enjoy the ride for a change. I’m guilty of rounding each blind curve as though something horrible is unfolding on the other side and that can be exhausting—but it’s worked well for me up to this point. So when I do get the chance to ride a little more carefree, it’s twice as sweet.

There is something about riding an unfamiliar road that is exhilarating. The Magellan in us yearns for discovery and though most of us live in areas that preclude true discovery these days, we can enjoy elements of it through our riding.

Eventually, I began to recognize my surroundings again on this road less traveled and realized we would be coming into Plain Grove, a small village that just may have a larger population of dead than it does living—seriously. Hundreds of grave markers in churchyard cemeteries made me wonder what the living population of Plain Grove was. According to the US census of 2000, it’s about 850. I’m not far enough down my bucket list to count the headstones, but it’d be real close. I’d stayed away from Plain Grove on the bike in years past because it had been the site of a 200-acre sand and gravel operation and the requisite tri-axle dump truck traffic that goes with it. That led to the roads in the area not being the most motorcycle-friendly in the past, but on this particular Saturday there were no signs of any such truck traffic aggregate or the associated wear and tear.

Life gives us plenty of unexpected turns in the road. This riding season, why not be proactive and take a few turns that life may not be expecting?

 

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