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Awake at five, overhung from voddy shots with sweet wife a few hours earlier. Launch Naomi, that's my moto, just shy of six. Maintain 120-140 on the 401/QEW in copless bliss. After debarking the Skyway, Hamilton wafts up into my nose like three-day-old sardines dipped in coal tar. Sun's rising straight into my eyes, but they're squinting happily behind prescription black-out sunnies that also seal the wind at my schnozz bridge. A proper shiver takes hold as I pass Sodom Rd. - and why does that always happen? It's lowlands here, fog, deer and foggy deer that like clapping along this highway, judging by their blood all over it, carcasses already cleared away, I'm guessing, by the always- helpful OPP.
I stop, add a layer of coat. Cozy now, but my arse is already moaning about its first hour and a bit in the stock F800GS saddle, widely agreed to be the most abominable assault on that part of the anatomy since Singaporean caning - and I'm not getting off it till 11 tonight. I lean forward on my left forearm onto my fake tank, airing my tailbone, listening to 5000 rpm declarations of rage from beneath. But that's not easy, as my noise-block headphones do their job amazingly. Tom Waits is all, "…his wife was a spent piece of used jet trash, made good bloody marys, kept her mouth shut most of the time.' I vow to meet Tom one day and drink a dozen Mickey's Wide Mouths while watching a house burn down.
No lineup, I screech into the customs gate and am through in a minute. Intention: To ride to, and into, the alleged Grand Canyon of Pennsylvania, aka Pine Creek Gorge. Likelihood: Will not make it, due to unending invitations from side roads along the way. Always happens when I head south with plans - they dissolve into wide-ranging geophilosophical intentions.
Breakfast at The Store, NY, and the fog's all done by 10. I'm easting on 242 making for 16 south. It's cool enough to leave my liner in. But my headache's lifted, thanks to a waitress quick with her Advils. Hello, Franklinville, Ishua and your falling down farms and trailers. I drive 17 to Cuba, 305 to Bolivar and a tangle of dirt roads into Oswayo, then a bunch more to Sweden, grab 6 to Galeton, and the best road in years for me - the 144. If Pine Creek Gorge is Penn's Grand Canyon, then 144 is its Tail of the Dragon. And all mine. As always, this state is empty of humans and their transport. In 45 minutes I pass three vehicles and a bike. I lean harder and harder, all the way SE into Renovo, a fine town on the Susquehanna, hemmed in by a fairyland of valleys and tall hardwood forests.
I am starting to feel like a rider. My entry into this sport was odd and its continuance fragmented. A mate in the 70's, a Yamaha mechanic in Red Deer, Alberta moved onto the farm I rented in Sylvan Lake and showed up one day with a 600 thumper that work gave him. I took it for a visit in the fields and then got to ride it every so often, usually drunk. Next summer I bought my first bike, the buffalonian Suzuki GT750, traded for a VW bug, and it lasted a year and was sold off, dead. Then it was sporadic - a Kawi 80 dualsport in Western Samoa, a 125 in Celebes, a series of Honda MTX 125s in Thailand, a scooter in Singapore - it'll all get written up here eventually. But yeah, this is the first time I've had ownership papers, insurance and a license all at once. And the bike's teaching me things. Like not to drop it on anyone's leg. More on that, too, in time.
It's 4pm. I'm in search of food and beer. Renovo's utterly dead and tropical hot. A guy in white short-sleeved shirt and black tie with a square, oily haircut and a pornstache is standing under the sun at an empty grocery store parking lot. He's running a BBQ and looking restless. I park, go in and buy a couple of bags of junk food and snack out-front, sharing the sun with him.
'Want a hotdog?' he asks. 'Only a buck today.'
'What, special occasion?' I ask back.
'It's our twelfth anniversary. You get a soda for another dollar. It's a good deal, really.'
'Okay,' I say and order a hound and a plastic Perrier. While he cooks, I ask why the town is so quiet on a Saturday afternoon.
'No work here. I'm lucky to have this job,' he says, adjusting his tie. 'Town's been like this for years. Good place though. Good people. I'm from Colorado, moved here for family reasons.'
'What about the oil and gas boom?' I ask. 'Aren't they hiring for that?'
He snickers. 'Yeah, they'll hire ya, then fire ya a few months later, when you go to ask for a raise. Then they hire someone else. That industry's not doing much for anyone around here.'
The hotdog is disgusting, like boiled Wonder bread swimming in used-up french- fry grease. I drown it in Tabasco and try not to chew each bite longer than necessary.
This guy is such a creature of America. Resigned, fighting the listlessness, maybe 39, clearly beaten up by luck, still holding onto a bit of dignity, some hope. And he's friendly, kind of proud about his employer's 12-year survival. Reminds me of the guy stirring burning shirts into a 45-gallon drum in 'Repo Man' who says to Emilio Estevez, 'The more you drive, the less intelligent you are.'
I shake his damp hand, ride down the street, grabbing two take-out Canadian beers at a pub - and even it's empty - then get on the wrong, but oh-so right, road home, State Route 4001. It winds and winds and winds. I'm laughing and all alone. Stopping for a swim in the weedy lake at Kettle Creek Park, I drink the beers and swat at flies that look like normal flies but bite and bite. An obese young couple going fishing in their kayaks tells me the government wants to shut down the park. No reasons are given, but I note the park is empty, but for us three, on a mid-summer's Saturday. Just what is up with Pennsylvania? I keep asking myself. It's so completely gorgeous, so unspoiled, so vast, so pre-millennial. You'd think the world would be here. I'm immensely glad it isn't.
It's a seven-hour grueler back home. I take all backroads, excepting 45 minutes on Hwy 219 through Ellicottville, NY and the inevitable QEW. Leaving New York State, entering Ontario is like stepping off a lovely train ride into a warm, deep puddle. Disappointing, but not life threatening.
In all, 15 hrs, 1,100 km, no Penn Grand Canyon, but much else. And I'll add, the most eye-widening experience since taking delivery of the bike.