Greenery, blue skies, and sunshine were bursting forth upon the land like an invitation from Mother Nature to fire up my machine and go forth on a ride on some of my favorite northeastern backroads. I accepted her call and began my cruise a few miles north of the New Jersey border in Pine Island, New York.
Negative depictions of the state in film and television cause some people to think New Jersey is covered in urban sprawl, oil refineries, and clogged “highways jammed with broken heroes on a last chance power drive,” as Bruce Springsteen put it.
Although true for some parts of New Jersey close to the metropolises of New York City and Philadelphia, it’s called the Garden State for a reason. Northwestern New Jersey and northeastern Pennsylvania are blessed with farmland, forests, lakes, rivers, state parks, small towns, country churches, and most importantly, great roads to ride. Those blessings make this loop route a memorable favorite ride.
With the sun warming my face and the sweet fragrance of greenery filling my lungs, I rumbled south on my Kawasaki Vulcan 900 Classic LT. I had sold my heavy Vulcan 1700 Voyager, and although I missed all its bells and whistles, I enjoyed the backroad nimbleness of the much lighter 900.
On Glenwood Road (County Road 26) just north of the New Jersey border, the Blue Arrow Farm has an impressive replica of a western Plains Indian village. In New Jersey, Glenwood Road splits, and I turned west onto the rolling, serpentine County Road 565 and stopped at the unique Farm at Glenwood Mountain. Encompassing 170 acres, it sells grass-fed, free-range beef from Scottish Highland cattle, free-range chicken, eggs, turkey, and pork, as well as local honey and organic fruits and vegetables. They also host private farm-to-table dinners and weddings.
Rolling southwest toward Sussex takes you along the border of Wallkill River National Wildlife Refuge, which runs 9 miles along the Wallkill River (one of the few rivers in the U.S. that flows north) and protects 5,100 acres of land. Wildlife abounds in this area, including waterfowl, raptors, coyotes, deer, and bears. Throughout my years cruising through rural New Jersey, I have been lucky enough to spot several bears, as well as red foxes, a coyote, and numerous great blue herons.
After crossing over State Route 23, I passed The Village Smith and Cycle Works, a motorcycle repair and blacksmith shop where you can get new tires for your motorcycle and new shoes for your horse. Naturalist writer and gadfly Henry David Thoreau said to “simplify, simplify” your life. In rural New Jersey, we say “diversify, diversify” your life to succeed.
Continuing on 565 to rustic Plains Road, I connected with U.S. Route 206. Cruising north toward Kittatinny Mountain, I saw some interestingly named eateries, such as Jumboland Diner and Firehouse Bagels, which has a real firetruck as part of its decor.
Passing through part of Stokes State Forest, which encompasses more than 16,000 acres, I turned onto County Route 560, sailing toward the Dingmans Ferry Bridge, one of the few remaining privately owned bridges in the United States.
Opened in 1900, the bridge is 530 feet long and crosses the Delaware River into Pennsylvania. Riding high above the river on a motorcycle over its wooden planks is quite the experience. This rustic bridge lies within the Delaware Water Gap National Recreation Area, which spans 70,000 acres in Pennsylvania and New Jersey. A boat-launching area next to the crossing has views of the bridge.
Two impressive waterfall areas are nearby: Dingmans Falls and Childs Park. Both are worth a stop. Dingmans Falls is reached by a short, flat stroll on a boardwalk through the forest and alongside the stream. Childs Park is more challenging, with stairs going both up and down and a rugged walkway.
After a brief respite by the river, I fired up my machine and took State Route 739 to Silver Lake Road – a winding, rolling traverse through state forest land, lakes, and hidden gated communities. With areas of huge trees and forests lining the road, you get the feeling of motorcycling through primeval times. Route 402 north is much the same but is a faster-paced ride.
Blooming Grove Road (County Road 4004) and Well Road (CR 434), meander past country stores, rural homes, and forests. I felt like I was riding through a simpler era in America. At U.S. Route 6, a scenic byway that traverses the northern part of Pennsylvania, I roared toward Milford, a touristy town with several good restaurants.
After a late lunch at the Apple Valley Restaurant, I cruised across the modern Milford-Montague Toll Bridge with great views of the river back to Jersey. County Route 650 serpentines back through Stokes State Forest, which is a favorite of riders who love to challenge its rolling curves or just cruise along serenely. Traveling Routes 519 and 23 to Sussex, I headed northeast on State Route 284 to Bassetts Bridge Road, Lake Wallkill Road, and Glenwood Mountain Road.
As my Vulcan weaved through the countryside to Routes 565/517 and back to Pine Island, I reflected on what an enjoyable ride it had been. It was one I was destined to repeat.
At a time when American riders were fighting the Harley and Indian wars, Gene Townsend and Floyd “Washie” Washabaugh were unflinchingly Indian men. It was rumored their blood flowed a bit more maroon than the rest of us, having the distinct deep shade of the brand’s signature Indian Red color.
Over the years, the two men defended the Indian brand on dirt tracks across Pennsylvania, Maryland, and Virginia. Gene, my grandfather, born in 1908, spent most of his racing years on an Indian 101 Scout sporting the #9 plate. He was a top regional amateur racer from the mid-1920s on into the war years, only to retire when a brush with a #6 bike sent them both through a fence.
The radio announcer covering the event mistook the upside down #6 machine as the #9 and mistakenly reported that Gene Townsend had been rushed to the hospital with serious injuries. My grandmother and her young daughter (my mother) were beside themselves when they heard the broadcast. Gene promised to never worry them again and quit racing on the spot. Washie, five years his junior, competed successfully on Indian Sport Scouts through the mid-1950s, and even had a short stint as a professional racer with Gene’s backing.
By 1948, Gene had owned his southwestern Pennsylvania Indian agency (what dealerships were called back then) for about 20 years. He had built his reputation as an exceptional rider and racer as well as an expert tuner. If Indian riders wanted the hot setup, Gene was the guy to see. Washie was granddad’s close friend, a fellow racer, and a fixture at the old shop. They shared a passion for three things: Indian motorcycles, racing, and storytelling.
I only knew Washie as an older man who rode his flashy old Indian Chief to my granddad’s shop. But I envisioned him and Gene as the vibrant and courageous young dirt-track racers in the old, dog-eared photographs taken in their racing days. The deep connection I developed with these older men was something I thought only my brother and I knew. Then I heard about Washie’s grandson, Ron.
We may have met at some point at the shop when we were kids, but Ron Washabaugh and I didn’t know each other. About three years ago, we met while attending the American Flat Track races at Williams Grove near Harrisburg. We immediately hit it off and began swapping stories of that magical old motorcycle shop and the deep appreciation and fondness we had for our grandfathers.
The most powerful memories for Ron and me were the racing tales told so passionately by old Gene and Washie. Through their words they painted vivid pictures of handlebar-to-handlebar racing adventures aboard their Indians on myriad local dirt tracks, as well as more distant venues such as Cumberland, Maryland, and Winchester, Virginia. They would either stuff a bike into the back of a sedan or ride their Indian Scouts to a track, remove the headlights and fenders to race, and then reassemble everything for the ride back home afterward. If they weren’t racing, they were organizing rides to watch others compete, like legendary AMA Hall of Famer “Iron Man” Ed Kretz at the Langhorne, Pennsylvania, track where he dominated the mile oval.
Ron and I decided to retrace Gene and Washie’s path to one of the legendary tracks they rode to back in the late 1940s and early 1950s.
Ron and his son, Steven, and me and my son, Parker, conspired to chase Gene and Washie into the past on a journey to the old Winchester Speedway. As grandsons and great-grandsons, we would emulate the experience the two elders had back in the day. We would ride the National Road (U.S. Route 40) and other two-lane roads, stop where they might have stopped, eat at family-owned diners along the way, and find classic roadside motor lodges where they might have stayed. At every opportunity, we would celebrate their story and, at the same time, get to know each other and forge another generation of bonding around a common passion for motorcycles.
Ron and I both have vintage Indians, but for this excursion Ron was aboard his modern Indian Roadmaster, and I piloted my Indian FTR 1200 S Race Replica. Stephen rode his new FTR 1200 as well, complete with a number plate bearing his great-grandfather’s racing number, #64U. Parker rode a 2018 Harley, just for a little tension in the spirit of that old brand rivalry. (The H-D Heritage 114 is mine, and so is the kid; both are terrific, and any ribbing was in good-spirited fun.)
Last October, the Washabaugh boys met my son and me at a diner not far from the old shop. We ordered breakfast and gobbled up the vintage photo albums Ron brought with him. Although the food and conversation were delicious, we needed to get our planned adventure rolling. There would be more time to talk along the road, so we paid the tab and headed to the old Townsend cycle shop. The unexceptional building still stands (barely) just off the National Road, three miles east of Brownsville, Pennsylvania.
The modest shop was a hub of activity in its day, a gathering place where riders regularly came and went. Some visited to see what new machines and accessories had arrived. Others stopped by for a set of points, a condenser, and maybe a pair of spark plugs on their way through town. Most wheeled in for the conversation and the stories.
It was also the headquarters and ride origination point for members of Gene’s Scouts Motorcycle Club, an AMA-sanctioned club that served as the local riders’ social group and the sponsoring organization for motorcycle competitions. Washie raced as an AMA pro for one year under the Gene’s Scouts M.C. banner. Unfortunately, after just one season, the cost proved to be too steep, and he returned to amateur racing. Some things never change for aspiring racers.
Soon, the engines of our Indians (and Harley) fired to life in front of the old shop, echoing the hundreds of Indians that had gone before from that same spot.
We rolled out of the parking lot and onto Route 40. The first planned stop was just up the road at LaFayette Memorial Park, where we paid our respects at Gene’s and Washie’s family plots. We thanked them for the tremendous influence they had on our lives, saluted their adventures, and invited them to ride along with us inspirit as we retraced the path they took seven decades earlier.
Back on the road and heading east on the National Road, we approached Uniontown. I thought of the story Gene told me about a board-track motordrome speedway that was built there for motorcycle racing in the late teens of the last century. As a boy, he would climb a tall tree outside the grounds just to catch a glimpse of the racers flying by on the large, steeply banked wood-plank track.
Although the multilane highway now bypasses the towns, we took the old route that Gene and Washie would have followed through downtown Uniontown and Hopwood. We rejoined the highway on the other side where the pavement abruptly angled skyward, ascending Summit Mountain. Back in the day, this was a narrow two-lane ribbon that wound tightly up the steep hill – a rider’s dream. This stretch was the subject of many of the old timers’ stories as they recounted how they raced each other up the steep, twisting curves to the crest of the hill. They heeled their Scouts and Chiefs over so far into these corners that the frames would drag, levering the rear wheels off the ground momentarily. The trick, they said, was to hold the throttle open and let the bike reestablish traction without upsetting the chassis. Easier said than done!
Today, the road is a four-lane divided highway tracing the original circuitous path. Ron, me, and our boys turned up the wick on our machines as we ascended the hill. It was a hoot to drop down a gear and put ourselves, at least mentally, alongside our grandfathers and great-grandfathers on a spirited sprint up the mountain.
As we approached the summit, I signaled and the four of us wheeled off I-40 into the lookout at the peak of Summit Mountain. This was a spot where Gene, Washie, and the rest of their crowd regrouped countless times over the years. Summit Mountain was not just a road they took on the way to somewhere else, it was their local destination for sport riding. It’s where the guys tested their latest tuning and hop-up tricks. It’s where local Indian and Harley riders found out whose machine had the “soup” to capture the king-of-the-hill title for that week.
Ron and I used this pull-off to tell our sons stories we’d heard about this road and their great-grandfathers’ motorcycling adventures. We took turns contributing our own recollections, helping each other connect the dots where there had been gaps in our individual knowledge. Parker and Stephen stood by, soaking it all in.
Back on the road, we imagined the roadside stops the men might have made along their way. We proposed where they may have paused to stretch their legs, consult a map, check chain tension, or maybe add a quart of oil. Then we’d stop too. We took advantage of those roadside breaks to look through collections of old racing photos, racing publications, and pictures our grandfathers and their pals had taken along the road to different racing venues.
On occasion, we saw a turnoff to Old Route 40, most often a short spur of narrow two-lane that soon rejoined the newer main road. It was fun to ride a few of these old sections to capture the ride experience Gene and Washie had, but it was impractical to take each little detour. Other times we saw sections of Old Route 40 that were no longer accessible, including an area where an old stone arched bridge was once the path of the old National Pike. Gene and Washie probably traveled that same old stone bridge on their way to Winchester. We could only view it from the main road.
We paused at the old Clarysville Motel that looked like it might have been there when our grandfathers rode through. As it turns out, the place has been serving travelers for nearly 100 years. Other than the modern vehicles in the parking lot, it would be hard to distinguish 2021 from 1948 or earlier. Certainly, Gene and Washie rode by here many times, and may have even stayed on occasion when daylight expired.
In Maryland, the old highway began to rise, fall, and twist dramatically. This was the kind of road on which the boys surely had the old Indians dancing. They would have been intimately familiar with this fun section of road, knowing what lay ahead and anticipating it well in advance. After navigating a particularly enjoyable stretch, we crested a hill to discover the historic Town Hill Inn and overlook. This was a likely rest stop for Gene and Washie along their ride. It was a natural place to take a breather, check over the bikes, and enjoy the spectacular view across the wide valley below.
In Hancock, Maryland, we picked up Route 522 south and rode through quaint, historic Berkeley Springs, West Virginia, and on south into Virginia to our destination of Winchester.
Once in downtown Winchester, Ron led us to an iconic spot for a hot dog. Whether Gene and Washie ever stopped at this historic stand for a dog when they were in town, we’ll never know. But just in case, we thought we’d better have one since we were trying to capture the experience.
Since the Winchester Speedway is sometimes referred to as the old airport speedway, we meandered through the town following directional signs for the airport. After working our way along narrow roads that wound around the airport property, we came to the end of the road and were unexpectedly at the back side of the racetrack. No big sign. No grand entrance. As a lot of these rural speedways were, it was simply a venue where people gathered. The raceway was probably not much different than it was when Gene and Washie were last here together, except now the old wooden grandstands are gone, replaced with concrete and metal.
The beauty of these local facilities is how approachable the track personnel can be. We arrived midweek in the middle of the day and told our story. Hoping to have a picture taken outside the track at the speedway sign, our plan was thwarted when we realized there was no such sign and no suitable backdrop. Fortunately, the track folks invited us to bring the bikes onto the track and position them in front of the wall on the back straight where “Winchester Speedway” was painted in bold lettering. It was perfect. Ron couldn’t resist the temptation to ride around the dirt track just to run tires on the same clay that his grandfather once tore up on the #64U Indian Sport Scout.
We were all having a great time and didn’t want the adventure to end, but the autumn sun was already sinking low in the sky. With our mission completed and an abundance of pictures taken to commemorate our expedition, it was time to say our goodbyes. Ron and Stephen had about a two-hour ride east to get back home. Parker and I needed a bit longer for our westward trek on modern interstate highways back toward Pittsburgh.
On the way home through the darkness, I replayed the ride over again. In my mind, I overlayed images of Gene and Washie from 70 years ago on today’s images of Ron, Stephen, Parker, and me riding the same roads to Winchester. It felt good to ride with other descendants. It felt even better to be together, chasing Gene and Washie.
As much as the Indian boys would love to hear that the Harley broke down so often that we were forced to abandon our plans (or abandon Parker), the Heritage 114 did just fine. While it’s fun for us to see the old Harley and Indian wars heating up once again in this modern era (we can hear Gene and Washie piping in from the great beyond), the real benefit of that rivalry has been the development of better motorcycles from both brands. A little competition is a good thing, though Gene and Washie would still give Indian a slight edge. After all, it’s in their blood.
When I head out for an overnight adventure, I like to ride back roads in the hinterlands that are devoid of the traffic and complexity of the 21st century. I seek the simplicity in life that naturalist writer Henry David Thoreau advocated more than 150 years ago. Cruising alongside lakes and rivers, through forests, over mountains and by farms on rolling, serpentine two-lane roads make my trip. Meandering through the hinterlands of New Jersey, New York and Pennsylvania suits me as an excellent favorite ride.
I began my journey on Westbrook Road in Ringwood, New Jersey, crossing the Westbrook Bridge over the expansive 2,310-acre Wanaque Reservoir. Views of sparkling blue water licking the mountainous shorelines north and south of the bridge are impressive. Snaking along the bumpy shoreline road, I turned right onto Stonetown Road, a favorite of local riders. This rolling, weaving road runs through forests and past country homes before bursting into the open sky at the Monksville Dam and Reservoir. A parking area on the other side has a walkway across the dam and provides a scenic opportunity to stretch your legs.
From the dam, I continued on Route 511 cruising through Long Pond Ironworks State Park and crossing over the reservoir toward the eight-mile-long Greenwood Lake, which is half in New Jersey and half in New York. You can ride along the east or west shore; both are scenic but Lakeside Road (the west side: Routes 511/210) has more expansive vistas of the lake. Rumbling along the sun-drenched Lakeside Road, I drank in the views of the sparkling water, boats and the forested mountains rising from the shoreline. Cruising into the Village of Greenwood Lake with its 1950s vibe, I connected with Route 17A, which serpentines up the mountain to The Bellvale Creamery overlook.
There the hinterlands spread out before your eyes like a smorgasbord of farmland and forest, and the ice cream isn’t bad either. Gliding down the mountain on my 1,700cc Kawasaki Voyager to Warwick, I sailed over the waves of Routes 1A and 1, through the black dirt farmland of Pine Island while breathing in the sweet aroma of its many onion farms. Just northwest of Port Jervis is one of New York’s premiere motorcycling roads, the Route 97 Upper Delaware Scenic Byway. This fantastic road snakes alongside 70 miles of the mighty Delaware River. The famous Hawks Nest section has scenic overlooks hundreds of feet above the Delaware River, where Route 97 cuts into the mountainside and has more curves than a sidewinder.
Thundering northwest while paralleling the Delaware River is a rider’s dream: weaving in and out of forests but with river vistas of rapids, smoothly flowing sections and river runners. You might even spot a bald eagle nesting or swooping down from the heavens like a World War II dive bomber to snatch a tasty fish for its lunch.
Crossing into Pennsylvania at Cochecton on the Damascus Bridge, I headed west on the winding and rolling Route 371, which travels into Pennsylvania’s lush farmland. At the Route 191 intersection, I headed northeast, continuing into rural Pennsylvania with its country churches, farms and woodlands. Soon this snaking road drifted back toward the forested western shore of the Delaware River. Reaching Route 370, I again headed west toward my night’s destination: an old inn at a great location. Unfortunately, I discovered it was much in need of improvements, so I shall say no more.
The next morning I fired up the Voyager and headed southwest on Route 370 to Route 670, both great roads that sail smoothly through the wide-open Pennsylvania countryside. At Belmont Corner, the rustic and bumpy Belmont Turnpike (Route 4023) leads through backcountry farmland; no gentleman-farmer farm stands here, just the real deal: cows, barns, manure and corn.
I rode the bumpy Route 4023 south to Routes 247/296, which are equally scenic but a far less rustic ride with smooth pavement. Thundering toward Waymart, its mountaintop wind turbines stand guard over the territory below like centurions. South of Waymart, I turned onto Route 3028, bouncing my way through the countryside until I took respite at the humongous Lake Wallenpaupack. From there I cruised over the rolling hills and through the forests of U.S. Route 6 to Milford, where I stopped for lunch and a looksee at the motorcycle apparel and gear store: Life Behind Bars.
Riding across the Milford Bridge, high above the Delaware River, I felt like an eagle gliding through the heavens. Heading north on the sinuous Route 521 to Port Jervis, I decided to take the same route home from whence I came. With the sun bathing my face and the low rumble of my Voyager humming in my ears, I knew it would not be long until I again meandered through the hinterlands of New Jersey, New York and Pennsylvania. After all, this favorite ride has a wild river, farms and forests, country churches and fantastic roads to ride.