To be fair, elderly comes down to a number, an implication of being feeble. It doesn’t really take into consideration a person’s state of mind or physical abilities. At 70.7 years old, Gabe may not have been the oldest to tackle the Mid-Atlantic Backcountry Discovery Route (MABDR), but it was an accomplishment, nonetheless. Especially after our last trip down that way a few years earlier went haywire. Gabe took what looked to be your run-of-the-mill slow speed fall on a George Washington National Forest two-track and ended up with a broken tibia that needed a cadaver part, a plate, and a few screws… we shall call him FrankenGabe!
This trip, for us, was more than your run-of-the-mill ADV experience, it was a reckoning. There was more meaning behind the act of riding two wheels over 2000 miles in 11 days than simply completing the task. Gabe had something to prove, to himself, that his bum leg would not hold him back, make him slide into that “feeble” phase. For me, I was on a mission to put to bed that fateful trip two years previous. I always had a twinge of guilt, it was my ride plan that put us on that ugly two-track that took down Gabe. Each rider must choose his own line, but I had us putting in a decent number of hard miles the days leading up to the incident. It was important to me to ride the MABDR with Gabe, only a couple miles from where that injury occurred, from start to finish. To help my riding buddy complete the circle and conquer a Backcountry Discovery Route, our first on the East Coast.
The BDR Organization has been hard at work creating routes on the West Coast and Rocky Mountain States. Generally a route is developed to be completed in approximately a week from the southern end of a state to the northern end on a majority of dirt and gravel tracks (the routes can be ridden from either direction). They piece together the route, find interesting road side attractions, and take you through some of the most beautiful scenery the state has to offer. When bringing the first route to the east, the decision was made to include several states due to the geographical differences compared to the wide-open west. The MABDR officially starts on the Tennessee-Virginia border and wanders the Appalachian Mountains through Virginia, West Virginia, Maryland and Pennsylvania to the New York border. Twisty pavement, forest service roads, drivable trails, water crossings, mountain ridges, valleys, historical sites, small Appalachian towns, and stunning wilderness are all found on the Mid-Atlantic Backcountry Discovery Route.
The BDR Organization ended up marking August 2018 as #MABDRMonth, so we jumped at the opportunity to help christen the first of three planned routes on our side of the States (the North East BDR was released this year for the BDR’s 10th Anniversary!). Officially broken into nine daily sections, my route plan was to combine parts of some sections so that we could tackle the route in approximately seven days, giving us two days to get to the start and two days at the end to get home. Being from Ohio, this would give us a couple extra days to play around in the Pennsylvania Mountains and it would also place a buffer if (when) any problems came up along the route.
After swinging through Columbus to pick up Gabe we headed south for Virginia on an indirect, direct route. In order to ensure we had a little cushion at the end of our journey, we had to B-line the first leg on interstate through West Virginia. Since we would be running past it, we couldn’t pass up the opportunity to ride the Back of the Dragon! My Suzuki V-Strom 650 has tackled the 438 curves heading north on the 32 mile stretch several times, so it was time to see it from a different perspective… familiar but different enough and still knee-dragging fun!
We ran into our first drama shortly after making the official start at the small waterfall on the VA-TN border (noted in the opening picture). I am not a mechanically inclined person. I grew up on sports and just wasn’t a greaser, didn’t grow up around it, never owned a motorcycle until I was an adult. I am a laboratory professional, so I’m not opposed to digging around equipment to troubleshoot, but I know I have limitations. I can follow directions and get clues from videos but there’s always this twinge of, I hope I did this right. Without experience and a point of reference, it’s a bit of a guessing game. Pictures don’t always have the best angles and the way it “feels” can be different than how it looks on a video.
In my journey as a motorcyclist, my first goal was to learn how to ride that sucker. You know, keep the rubber side down. After jumping into the ADV realm that sentiment just couldn’t be avoided. That meant learning even more riding skills and the need to dive into bike repair and maintenance. Each task has added experience, each experience has helped set a new point of reference. There is a lot of trial and error and I feel like I have come a long way but…
Needless to say, one of the maintenance items I dutifully performed prior to this long trip did not go as planned. I figured that out when we were on the side of a dirt road in nowereland. My first attempt at a chain replacement, I didn’t quite get that rivet-style master link punched on appropriately. Thank goodness the chain decided it was done with me when I was going about 20 miles an hour. Thinking ahead, I also purchased a clip-style master link and had it stowed with a few other extra parts.
With no damage to the chain, we slapped on my spare link and got to moving but knew we would feel better with my spare part collection replenished. Once back to a paved road we found cell service and contacted every motorcycle parts store in a 45-mile radius. Being late on a Saturday afternoon most shops were closed or closing soon but didn’t have the right size link anyway.
The kindness of strangers is apparent when riding a motorcycle. We found the aforementioned pavement near the hamlet of Ceres, nestled in a valley between a couple Appalachian ridges. A resident stopped to check on us, drawing a crowd of more locals. They had heard about the MABDR and, after sharing our story and desire to reach the end, offered a hand. Reaching out to friends, they found Patrick who thought he may have a similar enough bike to scrounge from for us. We followed Patrick on a long gravel road that just so happened to turn out to be the driveway to his beautiful house at the foot of another mountain ridge. After poking around in his garage and helping him move multiple bikes around we concluded that none of the chains matched. Even though we came up empty I appreciated the kind gesture of Patrick and enjoyed our time getting to know each other. I hope that kindness of strangers and a desire to help others in need continues to be the norm and not the exception.
Our next setback happened on MABDR’s second section. The East Coast was getting pounded with precipitation along with major flooding ahead of us in Pennsylvania. The fire and forest service roads in Virginia were not flooded but muddy and slick causing a slow pace. Gabe’s TKC70s were no match for the mud and his BMW 650GS took a spill on a washed-out section. When I heard him over the Sena, I had a heart-stopping flashback to “the incident”. Luckily, this time nothing but his pride was hurt. After taking a few pictures of his overturned bike (so that I can continuously razz him), we picked the Beemer up out of the muddy rut and moved it to more solid ground.
These two incidents combined to push us back a full day but that was why we planned the ride the way we did. We also intended on camping most nights but with Mother Nature deciding she wanted a wet August, we often opted for motels. Fortunately, with occasional respite in the weather, we were still able to go rustic and throw the tents down a couple times. The BDR Route Development Teams put a lot of time and effort into creating these routes and ran the MABDR so that there are plenty of options when it comes to lodging and food. This made it easier for us to adjust plans on the fly as we progressed.
Before leaving Virginia on MABDR’s third section, we had to run past the area that took out Gabe’s leg on that nightmarish trip. We stayed in Covington (where I stayed after watching him getting carted away in an ambulance), had to run past Hot Springs (where that ambulance left from) and ride a couple forest roads that we hit right before he went down (Bath Alum Ridge Road and Sugar Tree Road). This time the only excitement was successfully navigating the awesome route including crossing several creeks and runoffs, in the rain nonetheless! This section helped us mend that bad experience from before and closed out the Virginia leg of the trip. Each night was a cause for celebration on this ride, but the sustenance and spirits tasted just a little bit better after this one!
So far on our trek, the balance of pavement to dirt was offset by the sheer beauty and remoteness of the forest roads. The paved connecting sections were well worth it once on roads like Chestnut Mountain Road, Dismal Creek Road, Mountain Lake Road, Tub Run Road, Smith Creek Road, Lime Kiln Road, Bath Alum Ridge Road, Sugar Tree Road, Shenandoah Mountain Road, and the watery Westside Road. That being said, the tarmac chosen for the route was magnificent… out of the way twisty mountain and valley routes including Nebo Mountain Road that we dubbed the “Dragon’s Sphincter” due to it running “parallel” to the Back of the Dragon and interesting roadside attractions like Horn Camp, Mountain Lake Lodge, and Oldtown Toll Bridge.
Section four takes you out of West Virginia and into Maryland but we decided to take the official MABDR bypass into Pennsylvania and skipped the Harper’s Ferry and Antietam Battlefield options. These are amazing places to visit with great American historical significance. Putting this paved route tied in with Harper’s Ferry and Antietam makes sense if you are planning on taking a day off to explore, which I would recommend. Antietam Civil War Museum along with the 96 monuments are all amazing and you ride a loop on the old battlefield to check them out. The MABDR takes more days to complete compared to most of the western BDRs and having a break in the middle can give some adventurers a chance to recharge, along with the bonus of learning a little American history.
When passing through Maryland’s Green Ridge State Forest make sure to stop and check out Carroll Road’s Point Lookout to get an excellent view of a bend in the Potomac River, which also has Civil War historical significance as the border between the North and the South. Not marked on the official BDR map, Point Lookout’s great view is only a few hundred feet off the official track (Oldtown Orleans Rd SE and Carroll Rd). I’ve been through Green Ridge a few times and can’t wait to head back to continue to explore more of its amazing terrain.
It’s no surprise that about half of the MABDR’s squiggly lines and all three expert sections fall within the borders of the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania. Half of section five all the way through section nine’s end at the New York border contain some of the best of the Pennsylvania Wilds. This state is serious about its outdoors and contains amazing mountains, valleys, rivers, and those sought after maintained and unmaintained roads and trails through dozens of state forests and parks. You could easily create several amazing routes through the state’s wilderness and I know that many of us that live in or near Pennsylvania are piecing together our own personal PABDRs each year.
Shortly after leaving our accommodations in the quaint town of Waynesboro, we found the first of many Pennsylvania State Forests. Evidence of the recent storm damage was apparent with trees and branches covering many of the roadways. In the woods of section five’s Michaux State Forest we also found a closed gate on our intended path. The official MABDR Butler Motorcycle Map and my Garmin 64st helped us find a detour, something that you need to be prepared to do on any ADV ride.
We still had not come across a motorcycle shop to pick up spare parts and Gabe’s automatic chain oiler was in need of a repair. After a lunch stop in Mt. Holly Springs, we were able to find Young’s ATV & Motorcycles less than a mile off our path on section six. Dave, his wife Genie, and his son Josh run an excellent mom and pop operation. After picking up a few supplies and sharing stories with our new friends, Josh helped Gabe fabricate and install a new dispenser nozzle using an old straw from a can of spray lube. Good old American ingenuity as well as a little bit more of that kindness of strangers. Luckily, I didn’t need the spare link, but it helped ease our minds for the remainder of the trip (as of this writing, that chain and link are still spinning my rear wheel!).
With weather predictions in our favor we decided to camp at Tuscarora Creek Campground after getting some advice from the employees at Long’s Community Store in East Waterford. Only a couple miles off our route on section six, the tent-only section was wide open giving us free reign. A large, old oak tree would be our companion at the peaceful campsite which offered us a relaxing evening overlooking the creek. Barley and his friend Hops would also join us under the stars as we laughed about our previous misfortunes and excitedly talked about the miles yet to come.
We would need the relaxing evening as section seven’s terrain in Poe Paddy and Bald Eagle would see our rubber touching some beautifully ugly terrain. We were surprised by the condition of Poe Paddy Drive heading down the mountain from the picturesque Penn’s View. After the weather of the summer, the unmaintained route was gouged by the massive rains with many rocks of various sizes scattered about, loose and embedded, for good measure. Gabe fully tested his skills as I led him down the steeply graded forest service road calling out obstacles over our Sena’s.
Enough excitement for him, Gabe took the well-maintained gravel route when I dipped into the Flat Hollow expert section to continue beating my poor Wee’s skid plate (this expert section is part of the Bald Eagle Dual Sport Trails). With two of the highlights of the trip in our rearview, we met up with my buddy Brian and his trusty Kawasaki KLR 650 outside of Mifflinburg, finding lodging for the night near Bucknell University in Lewisburg. A resident of Pennsylvania, Brian was able to meet us for our final push to the finish line.
We returned to the canopy of the fabulous Bald Eagle State Forest to start off section eight where Brian and I explored MABDR’s official expert drivable 4x4 trail. Gabe took a break while us “whipper snappers” played around in the woods. The harder of the two official MABDR expert sections contained sloppy muddy ruts, a small downed tree, plenty of rocks, and a couple riders grinning ear to ear!
Section eight wasn’t done with us yet! The rain returned after we crossed the West Branch Susquehanna River and brought with it a surreal sense. I swear the BDR Route Development Team found one of the most picturesque places I have ever been. Gravel roads such as these, following an ambling creek through a tight valley down towards a river, are a dime a dozen in Pennsylvania and all beautiful in their own right. I have been down a fraction of the hundreds located in the state, but none could compare to Lower Pine Bottom Road.
Maybe it was the fog-dense rain, maybe it was the perfect placement of the forest growth on the valley walls, maybe it was the gravel snake hugging the meandering creek, maybe it was the way the storm-surged water flowed in that creek, maybe the way the rocks in the creek were spread about by that water’s ancient current… the whole combination blended synergistically with the perspective of the entire trip. In the pouring rain I just had to stop and soak it all in (pun intended). Take an extra couple moments to reflect on our adventure up to that point, knowing we were nearing the end.
Our final day on the MABDR was celebrated in style at one of my favorite middle-of-the-woods establishments, the Black Forest Inn. A warm room, a delicious meal, and fresh kegs helped us celebrate. Well, it was more of a pre-celebration. After finishing the final and shortest section of the MABDR the next day, Gabe was to follow a direct route back to Columbus while Brian and I would take the long way home, spending an extra night in the Pennsylvania Wilderness.
As we said goodbye to the Black Forest Inn, we said hello to Colton Point State Park which is the home of the PA Grand Canyon. Not as vast as the Grand Canyon in Arizona but a sight to see nonetheless. Once in the park, a short dirt road can be ridden on the western edge with direct access to a couple great vantage points. Reaching the official end of the MABDR on the New York border, Brian and I watched Gabe ride away triumphant, jumping the interstate chasing the sun around the next mountain ridge.
Brian and I completed the day accidentally riding in the Old Home Day Parade through the town of Tioga before finding our nightly accommodations at Ole Bull Campground. We smiled and waved just to make it seem as though we were supposed to be parade participants! Our final stint in the PA Wilds was spent roaming the forest service roads and drivable trails of Hammersley Wild Area along with Susquehannock, Elk, and Moshannon State Forests.
The truth is Gabe cannot ride away from his age forever. I may think of him as Superman on that yellow GS, he has been a great mentor to me on and off the bike, but none of us can run from the nature of aging. Since his ill-fated bike dive, he will be the first to admit that he has to take it down a notch, ride more conservatively. The bum leg may have slowed Gabe down, but it did not defeat his resolve. He has faced his own mortality, shook its hand, and took it for an MABDR ride on the back of his Beemer. The route provided an excellent overview of ADV riding on the East Coast and, with the help of the weather, contained plenty of opportunities outside of the official expert sections to challenge our two wheels. Gabe’s scar will always remind him of our Washington National Forest calamity, but the memories of this trip will help keep him younger just a bit longer.
Not-so-Elderly Gabe may take lengthier breaks, soak in the scenery just a bit more than the rest of us, like to shoot the breeze with the locals a few extra minutes, or not put in as many daily miles as we used to, but he can still ride the hell out of that motorbike and teach some of us younger riders a thing or two about riding and life. Shoot, at his age riding the way we do he deserves a little extra time, the opportunity to take those good moments of life in for a long breath. And hold them in..
Disclaimer: I must admit that I am a BDR Ambassador, so I may be a little biased...
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