Sunday, August 2, 2015

Retro Tour

It started when I Googled 'Silk 700S', an obscure British motorcycle.  I own the 2nd Silk sold and only 130 some odd were made.  But, through Google, I discovered that an old friend, Joel Samick, owned  one, too.  I know Joel from AAMRR road racing in the mid '70s to early '80s.  Joel was one of the fast guys and won the '81 F1 championship.  Not long after that, he and his wife, Lynn Nathan (who also road raced), retired from racing and eventually opened a Honda dealership in Bear, De., which is now a multi-line dealership, Powersports East.
Over the years, Joel collected a bunch of twin cylinder bikes from the '70s and organized a few rides on these bike for his buddies.  After a while, he decided to make a business out of it, Retro Tours, leading 1, 2, 3, or 4 day tours on his bikes.  I called Joel after not having talked to him for about 25 years and we got caught up and talked Silk for a while.  I decided to sign up for a 4 day tour that he had coming up, even though he told me his Silk wouldn't be going on the tour as it was making a bad noise.
We showed up at Lynn and Joel's house in Kennett Square, Pa., north of Wilmington, De.  As each person going on the tour showed up, they got to pick a bike from a short list of his twins that were ready to go.  Bob Gould was first and he chose the '72 Laverda 750 SF that he had owned at one time.
'72 Laverda SF with Joel on the left and Bob on the right
  Bob had picked up Pete Elliot in Old Chatham, N.Y. on his way down from his home in Webster, N.H.  Pete chose the '73 Norton Commando Combat Fastback.

I chose the '76 Yamaha RD 400 in a close decision over the '75 Ducati 860 GT.

 Luckily, Steve Costallas, who showed up Fri. morning as he lives about 20 miles away in Coatesville, Pa., chose the Ducati.

 Joel was initially going to ride the '73 Benelli Toronado but, after we discussed it, he decided to take a vote among us and we chose the '78 Moto Morini 500 for him.
The Benelli Tornado that DIDN'T go on the tour
The '78 Moto Morini 500 that was taken in place of the Benelli
We all loaded tank bags on the bike we chose, but we were going to rotate the bikes we rode every 100 or so miles.  The tour headed north west with the first stop at Hopewell Furnace National Historic Site, one of the earliest place iron was smelted in the U.S.  Joel was eager to show us the bellows powered by a big water wheel which got the charcoal fired furnace up to a temperature to smelt iron ore and we caught a demonstration of sand casting that was used to make plates to build stoves.
From Hopewell we headed north, getting gas (and swapping bikes--me onto the Laverda) in Kempton, then Mexican lunch near Tamaqua.  After lunch, we headed west to Ashland where we went into the Pioneer Tunnel Coal Mine, a tour especially interesting to me as I had just started reading a book about the 33 Chilean miners trapped in a collapse for 69 days in 2010.  From there, north again to Bodnarosa cabins in Beach Haven on the Susquehanna River.
Joel barks orders at Bodnarosa Cabins.
We rode a few miles down to Bandit's Roadhouse in Berwick for dinner.  In the morning, it was back to Berwick for some breakfast the a few miles further to Bill's Old Bike Barn.  I had stopped there maybe 5 years ago on my way to Mid-Ohio and was blown away by the place.  Since then, a good deal more has been added.  While this a a great bike museum, it's much more than that.  Bill and his wife collect just about anything from say 1900-1975  and have created a 'Main St.' with specialty shops: a camera store, a shoe store, a telephone store, a beauty salon, a dentist office, a police station, a bar, etc., etc.  While the predominant marque is probably H-D (with plenty of Aermacchi made H-Ds), there are plenty of Brit and European bikes too, with an especially good representation of Moto Guzzi, as Bill was a dealer at one time.
A early-mid 30s NSU designed by former Norton designer Walter Moore
A late 30's Velo MAC in front of the camera store
A picture in Bill's garage
A Rolls Royce pick-up truck
A Moto Guzzi Galletto with a wicker side car
The elegant gas cap on a Moto Guzzi Airone Sport.  I have one like this on my Dondolino.  Push the lever to the left and it seals the cap; push it to the right and it opens the cap.
Then there were all the signs, posters and ads on the walls.   I was especially taken with this one as I worked with Jimmy Chann at Electric Boat in Groton, Ct. in the 70's
One could easily spend a day in Bill's Old Bike Barn and not see everything.  It's absolutely amazing and highly recommended.  But, we had riding to do, so headed west in early afternoon.
After a quick stop at the double covered bridge near Forks, Pa., we gassed up and got some lunch.  Now I was on the Ducati and we rode to Hyner View.  After viewing the man made wonders, now we were viewing the natural wonders, high above the West Branch of the Susquehanna River.
Hyner View looking northwest
Apparently, this is a popular spot for hang gliding, but unfortunately, none was going on while we were there.
This is the ramp the hang gliders pump off
Looking south
From Hyner View, it was a short ride into Renovo for our 2nd and 3rd night's stay at Yesterday' Hotel.  When we got there and checked in, we met some guy's admiring the bikes.  They were from Minnesota and were there for the Rattlesnake National Enduro.  Sunday, we had no fix itinerary, so this answered the question of what we were going to do.  I had somewhat regretted missing the USCRA's one day Moto Giro before the International trials in R.I. this same weekend, and seeing a National Enduro went some way to make up for that.  But first, Joel insisted that we must bowl in the manually set bowling alley in the basement of the hotel.  This was an opportunity for Joel to humiliate us with his bowling prowess.  I had a cut throat duel with Bob for last place and, though I got a couple more points, he got a strike.
In the morning, we gassed up and now I'm on the Norton.  We headed up Rt. 144 towards Cross Fork where the Enduro was being held, but after a few miles, came upon a downed tree that totally blocked the road.  There was nothing to do but turn around and go back to Renovo, then head west a ways and head north again at the first opportunity.  Then we overshot the turn off in Cross Fork so the 13mi ride to the Enduro turned into a 50mi ride.  But, it was a gorgeous 50 mi. ride with the last bit a fun dirt road to the first section of the Enduro.  The local fire company was serving a killer breakfast after which we watched the first section.  Apparently, Enduros have changed quite a bit recently, and now there's no penalty for being early, but that's unlikely anyway as the average speed is set very high and virtually every one loses point for being late.  So, it seemed like a hare scrambles except riders were sent off in groups of five.  The first section was a 6.1 mile loop that started as a series of switchbacks in a big field, then went into the woods, back into another field, back through the woods, and back to the start.
The Rattlesnake National Enduro started in this field.
After the last bike had finished the 1st section (there were 520 entries), we suited up and headed north.  We stopped for fuel in Galeton and, while we were stopped, a shower came through, so we waited it out.  Then we headed east, with me back on the RD 400, and went to the Grand Canyon of Pennsylvania.  It's much like Hyner View, a dramatic high promontory over looking an river, in this case Pine Creek, with a superb road to get there.  It looked like more rain, so we put on rain gear and skirted south of Wellsboro and headed south west in a round about way back to Renovo.  This involve a couple of long dirt roads and, with intermittent rain and dust, we got caked, esp. me as I couldn't resist staying on Joel's tail.  We came to one dead end, but Steve had a smart phone and he and Joel worked out a way to continue with only a bit of back tracking.  We gassed up just east of Renovo (me now back on the Laverda), and got an early dinner before we got into town.  We went to a coin operated car wash and hosed down the bikes and me.  After a beer in the hotel bar with talk of Bigfoot sightings, we took a walk around town, a town that time has passed by.  It was at one time a major railroad hub for the timber industry, but that was all gone now.  There is hope that converting the abandoned Penn. R.R. maintenance building into a power plant run on the abundant natural gas in the area.
Mon. morning, we headed south on Rt. 144, a superb, smooth, flowing road, and I began to enjoy the Laverda more.  Gas in Milesburg (now back on the Moto Morini), through Bellefonte, and east to and interesting tour of Woodward Cave, an extensive cavern with stalactites and stalagmites and some evidence of native people's habitation.  Heading east from there, we stopped for a break in Shamokin and chatted with two brothers on modern bikes.  One said that he was a student at the Motorcycle Technology Center in York.  He said that one of the staff there was into vintage m/c racing.  I asked who that was.  He said 'Bucky';  I said 'Bucky Sexton'; he said yes.  Small world.
Steve had to get back home, so he left us from there and the four of us carried on south east, gassing up in Terre Hill.  I had the Ducati for the final leg.  After a while, I noticed that the headlight wasn't working.  Again.  This happened before and Joel had to go into the fuse box and wiggle a wire.  We topped the bikes up in Kennett Square just before arriving back at Joel and Lynn's home.  Lynn served us another sumptuous meal and Bob, Pete, and I spent the night there before taking off in the morning.
It was a fabulous trip.  Joel led us on great roads at a lively pace.  He and I often went ahead, but everyone ran their own pace and there was little waiting, as all were good riders.  And, interesting people who got along well.  I was the oldest, having just turned 67, a few years older than Joel and Bob, who had been roommates in boarding school.  Pete is 55 and Steve was the kid at 49.  The three of them had all been on Retro Tours before.  Joel does a through job of maintaining the bikes and, other than the wonky wire on the Ducati, the only other mechanical issue was a split fuel hose on the Morini that had to be trimmed back.  It was a great treat riding these different classics back to back.  Retro Tours is not luxury touring.  There is no chase vehicle carrying one's wardrobe, so pack light.  There was no 'Fine Dining'.  It's for people who want to ride, not be pampered.  Having said that, it is a luxury to be able to sample a variety of great classic twins, led by someone who really knows the roads and knows how to ride, and with broad enough interests to stop at fascinating sites.  I expect to be doing it again.

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