Leaving the DC area wasn’t nearly as bad as I thought it would be. Route 50 was, once we got outside the urban sprawl, an unbelievably beautiful ride and road. It cuts straight through some of Virginia’s oldest colonial villages and farmland. The presence of American history along this old trade route is so prevalent it’s almost palpable – it feels like you could stop anywhere and meet the ghosts of some of our great country’s first settlers. Elegant taverns and inns dot the villages alongside more modern boutiques and coffee houses.
White brick or colonial stucco houses are imposing and majestic, with their regal wrought iron fences, black shutters, and multiple dormers breaking up the monotony of the stormy grey slate rooflines. In between the villages, stately and opulent estates dot the beautiful and well-maintained farmland. Rich brown-colored horses with flowing black manes prance back and forth across cropped green fields. It’s as close to a step back to the 1700’s as I think I’ve ever experienced.
After some relatively unremarkable miles and a quick pit stop outside Winchester, we scooted into town and zig-zagged our way across. Back out in the countryside, we noticed road signs marking mileage to the towns of Romney and Gore, sparking bad jokes about failed politicians and the invention of the internet. As we passed through Gore (a town by name only – a couple sparse buildings and one combination gas station/grocery store) and rumbled across the WV/VA border, the road began to liven as we approached the West Virginia foothills. After Capon Bridge, we were treated to several severe inclines and returns, snaking our way towards Romney.
Romney was a cute enough place, a rural hill town that blended aspects of being both a farming community (tractors and small-town banks) with signs of the mountainous bad weather just recently left behind (souped up 4×4’s with big mud tires and body flairs). Sitting at a red light waiting to turn from 50W onto 28N, I noticed a statue memorializing WWII soldiers outside of a monumental marble-block bank. It was a soldier with his rifle, standing in attention, a plaque at its base presumably commemorating the town’s victims of the Great War. It held my attention for a few moments while we waited to turn, then headed North on 28 once the light changed.
28N was a pleasant byway, tracking its first several miles alongside the murky brown waters of the winding South Branch Potomac River. Once beyond the final bend of the river, the road continued its twisting & turning course to its ultimate destination – Cumberland MD.
Cumberland is a surprisingly industrial and down-trodden little burg. I say surprisingly because when you pass through town on I-68, Cumberland appears to be an attractive and picturesque place – large church steeples, columned colonial banks, and inviting multi-story brick buildings seem to dominate your perspective when flying past. Riding through the city’s streets, however, paints an entirely different picture.
I won’t dwell on it for long, as we weren’t able to find an open restaurant appealing enough to entice us inside. Cumberland appears to be a once-prosperous city that is attempting a revival but lacks the true economic appeal to bring in the money required to survive and thrive. Vacant buildings and run-down homes dominate the close up perspective, and we were both glad to have the place in our rearview mirror.
We were both hungry, however, and were getting frustrated and desperate to find somewhere both interesting and satisfying to eat. As such, we hopped on 68W briefly in hopes of getting somewhere quickly and easily – we should’ve known better. After passing Frostburg, we got off on the next exit and saw a sign saying we could find food at the Savage River Lodge, about 4 miles south of where we got off.
The detour proved extremely interesting but also fruitless. After making the 4 mile trek through some incredibly beautiful and lushly-wooded Maryland countryside, we reached a sign indicating the entrance to the Lodge…. which is another 1.5 miles down a very sketchy looking gravel road! Not terribly intimidating to a 4×4, a steep & winding downhill gravel road is not a great idea on a motorcycle. We’ve come this far, went our logic, might as well give it a shot. We got to the bottom of the hill, were only halfway to the lodge, and by this point, were both extremely creeped out by the situation. We turned back and made our way back to I-68.
Because TBR wasn’t yet a twinkle in my eye, I intended on staying on I-68 for a half hour or more to save some time. Finding the experience to be very similar to the one on I-64 – violent rushes of wind pushing us all over the road, cars and semis blaring by at 70MPH, road grit sandblasting our faces – motivated me to get back off at the very next exit and continue our journey on Rte 40. Signs advertising the Hilltop Inn and Penn Alps Restaurant enticed us immediately and lifted our hopes. Fortunately for us, Hilltop was closed and we ended up at the Penn Alps.
Nestled at the basin of the shallow & woodsy valley of the Casselman River, Penn Alps sits immediately adjacent to and shares a parking lot with the Spruce Forest Artisan Village. I can’t say enough about how thoroughly we enjoyed the Artisan Village, in spite of many of the artists having vacated their operations for the day (Sunday & Monday were the relatively busy Memorial day weekend, and many took Tuesday off). The Village is made up of buildings dating back to the early 19th Century, many of which were dismantled at their original locations, brought to the Village, and rebuilt and restored.
There are 13 cabins housing various resident and visiting artists, plus the area’s original inn and Compton’s one room schoolhouse. Some of the artisans include a sculptor, blacksmith, and wood turner. Gary Yoder, a woodworking bird-watcher and resident artisan, creates some of the most amazingly life-like carvings of birds that I’ve ever seen. We spent a good 20 minutes or more talking with him, fascinated beyond belief.
Finally our stomachs got the better of us and we made our way across the parking lot to the restaurant. In the interest of time, space, and your attention-span, I’m going to spare you an in-depth description of our meal. Needless to say, it was gut-busting, hearty, and delicious. Simple and tasty foods in generous portions made us incredibly happy… AND it was inexpensive!
I digress. After filling our bellies and missing the only short burst of rain on our entire return trip, we got back on the road and continued our wild and wonderful journey home. Our journey across the remainder of Maryland and across the border into Pennsylvania was relaxing and enjoyable. The scenery was attractive but not terribly memorable as we made our way to, and briefly crossing, the Yough Lake. Our crossing was indeed unfortunately brief, as the Yough is a narrow lake with steep, thickly-wooded banks – a beautiful secret hidden from the surrounding farmland by hills topped with towering pines, oaks, and maples.
After passing a large swath of state game lands and Fort Necessity National Battlefield, the beautiful scenery took a backseat for about 3o minutes or so while we passed through Uniontown. After a brief detour (AKA I got lost), we were back on our way cutting across more Pennsylvania woodlands on 40.
40W between Uniontown and PA 519 could be best described as a ridge road, as that’s almost exactly how it runs as it connects the two. Long stretches of concrete split the top of some unnamed (as far as I know) ridge dividing some of the lusher rolling countryside of Fayette and Washington counties. You ride over a sadly dull crossing of the Mon River and through a couple towns before reaching the aptly named Scenery Hill. If you get the chance, stop in the Century Inn for at least a peak around, if not for a tour and a meal. They claim at least two of the original presidents have stayed there, and having been built in 1794, you can certainly believe it’s possible.
A brief mile later you’ve reached the junction with 519N, where you will pass through the village of Eighty Four, home of 84 Lumber and the SpringHouse (get the fried chicken!). Our journey was nearly over.
Once we reached Canonsburg, exhaustion, road-weariness, and familiarity with the area prompted us to take a less interesting and more efficient route home (no, we didn’t take the highway). In the interest of time (yours and mine), I’ll spare you the details and wrap things up here. It was on this section of our trip, right around the time we were crossing the WV/VA border, that the idea for this blog began to take shape. By the time we were eating at Penn Alps, it had solidified into motivation, and by the time we got home it had a name. I won’t be so dramatic as to say the trip has altered the course of my life, but it definitely has caused it to be even better than it already was. I hope that this blog will help you be able to say the same.