Around the World in 80 Hours

To Lisbon, Dublin, Glasgow, Damascus and Salisbury. By John Morris

This article was originally published in the August 2002 issue of Motorcycle Cruiser.

Paris in the spring. Is there a more scenic motorcycle destination? How about Austria, Switzerland, Italy, Russia, Germany, India, Poland, England, Portugal, Saudi Arabia or Egypt? Now, imagine you could tour all of these places with your best buddies, and for under $150. That's exactly what 11 riders from the Capital Area Motorhead Society (CAMS), a Northern Virginia/Maryland area non-club did last May. Well, kinda.

The concept is simple. A bunch of friends who have ridden together for years take four days and ride scenic roads to small towns with foreign names. Little planning is done, apart from picking out the backroads connecting our international ports of call and booking rooms in cheesy hotels. This "Around the World" tour, our sixth, is such fun because it involves motorcycles, great roads, massive quantities of cheap food and camaraderie. To date, we've visited international cities such as Shanghai (West Virginia); Odessa and Glasgow (Delaware); Sparta, Moscow, Vesuvius and Syria (Virginia); and Oxford and Lebanon (Pennsylvania). We've even passed through towns with interesting, if not exotic names: get a load of Crappo and Accident (Maryland) and Chrome and Harleyville (Pennsylvania).

80-hour motorcycle tour
The group of friends that gathered together for an 80-hour world tour.John Morris

As I arrived at Vienna, Virginia's Amphora Greek Restaurant (where else would one begin an Around the World Tour?), the temperature was 20 degrees colder than normal and rain was a certainty. But by 9:30 a.m., after gallons of coffee and a ton of Greek pastries (so much baklava, so little time!), we grunted collectively, pushed ourselves away from the trough, mounted our bikes and headed west on Route 50 toward Paris and the hills of western Virginia. This rolling road is one of Virginia's most scenic, traversing lush farms with stone fences, million-dollar homes and vineyards.

Paris is a community of five houses and a church just off Route 50. Like their Continental relations, Virginia's Parisians appreciate beauty. For instance, a sign on the side of one home advises, "Speak to a cow as if she was a lady." Now I've done this in a few bars in days past, but that's another story. We stopped for photographs of the famous cultural sites (such as what may be the world's smallest fire hydrant) and then pressed on toward Winchester.

80 Hour Tour
Naturally this was a photo op.John Morris

By the time we stopped in Paw Paw, West Virginia, for gas, it was pouring and fog was descending. The roads were getting slick so we slowed down as we rode along the old C&O; Canal to Cumberland, Maryland, and the all-you-can-eat China Empress restaurant, where we literally ate the house clean.

From Cumberland, we headed west on Alternate U.S. 40 (one of the earliest transcontinental highways) through the Appalachian Mountains. This road snakes its way through quaint towns like Frostburg, where 1920s-vintage Victorian architecture reminds one of slower, less complicated times. Unfortunately, the fog around the 2300-foot peaks became so thick, visibility was less than 30 feet. Although we slowed the pace to 20 mph, the poor visibility on twisty, wet, unfamiliar roads, with school buses dropping off their charges, made for harrowing riding. After riding through Salisbury, Berlin and Somerset (Pennsylvania), I was happy to pull off the road for a rest in a burned-out gas station.

80 Hour Tour
One highway after another.John Morris

The rain stopped and the fog lifted for our last 150 miles. Since it was getting late, I decided to bypass Normalsville. I figured nothing unusual would be happening there and the CAMS, barely normal on our best days, couldn't discern the difference anyway. With almost 300 miles under our belts, we pulled into Washington, Pennsylvania, tired but content. Hot showers, gluttony, cigars and bourbon made for a good end to a great day. I was a little concerned, however, about the thunderstorms forecast for our second day.

Friday dawned clear and warm. We headed north on PA 18 to Florence and Paris, across West Virginia's panhandle, and then over a breathtaking cabled bridge into Steubenville, Ohio. Highway 7 runs north along a beautiful stretch of the Ohio River and passes through Toronto, East Liverpool and Calcutta. In Calcutta, I looked in vain for the Black Hole. Unfortunately, the only black I saw was the oil leaking from a ruptured O-ring on my BMW's oil fill cap. After some field-expedient repairs (and a bunch of abuse from my Harley-riding friends), we headed for Lisbon.

Lisbon stop
The stop in Lisbon, Ohio.John Morris

Lisbon, Ohio, is a wonderful small town, complete with a town square, a war memorial and lots of friendly residents. While the rest of the guys gorged themselves on chicken-fried steak and fries ($2) at the Steel Trolley Diner ("open most times"), I located a replacement O-ring.

After the guys waddled back from their gut-busting meal and stiffened their suspensions, we headed off on route 170 (very scenic) for the war-torn streets of East Palestine and Petersburg on our way to Poland. After a photo-op under Poland's clock, we skirted Youngstown, and took Highway 7 north past the Ohio State Penitentiary, which sits next to the Free Methodist Church. (Nothing like rubbing it in.) Then, it was on to Vienna, Johnson (I couldn't find the guy named "Big"), Mecca, Bristol and Rome. At this point, we were only approximately 30 miles from Lake Erie. We were so inspired by metropolitan Rome (population 85), we made an unplanned detour to Lake Erie so we could wiggle our toes in the holy waters. We accept no blame for any fish left floating after our departure.

Heading east on Route 6 through Andover, Ohio, we traversed the Pymatuning Reservoir, Pennsylvania's largest man-made lake. We stopped for cheese in Geneva, Ohio, (the snowcapped peaks were magnificent), and then blasted down U.S. 322 to historic Clarion, Pennsylvania, for the night.

Distelfink Restaurant
We made a stop at Gettyburg's Distelfink Drive-in Restaurant.John Morris

Saturday, our third day, was unforgettable. The morning was clear, cool and dry as we headed east on Route 322 through Corsica and toward quaint Brookville, where we picked up Route 36 south toward Punxsutawney. Route 36 is a great road: long sweepers through rolling farmland. At Punxsutawney ("Punxsy" to the locals), we made a quick detour of the towns Panic and Desire. Though not international, I considered visits to these place wholly appropriate since I had been in both many times before. Panic was so small we couldn't find a place to park together for the obligatory photo-op. The village of Desire, lacking a sign, was difficult to find. I pulled over to ask some young girls playing in a yard if I had found Desire. The sight of me at the head of 11 motorcycles caused them to scatter. Go figure. I found a more intrepid (male) local who confirmed we were in Desire and gave me directions back to Punxsy via unmarked county roads. His directions, replete with words like "crick" and "holler," promptly got us lost, but with some random quartering (and three more stops for directions), we made it back.

Group shot in front of the sign for Petersburg.John Morris

An unexpected treat awaited us. In Punxsy's town square, a local church was sponsoring a fair. The pastor, the Reverend Stonebreaker (really!) was singing karaoke gospel songs. (My favorite was The Devil's in the Phone Booth Dialing 9-1-1.) There were cake-walks, games and plenty of tasty chow. Another treat was seeing Phil, Punxsy's famous weatherhog, and his lovely lady, Phyllis, in their cage at the public library. Meanwhile, the locals were wondering why a leather-clad guy wearing a black "Army of Darkness" T-shirt, complete with a skull and crossed pistons, would attend their event. I explained to the many good parishioners expressing concern for my soul that Army of Darkness was a motorcycle racing team and I was hardly the unsavory denizen of the underworld they feared. We were made to feel welcome. Once again, I was reminded how much fun one can have touring, if curiosity and openness are not crowded out by subservience to rigid planning.

Dorrance's Warehouse
Dorrance's WarehouseJohn Morris

We finally reached U.S. 30, the country's first transcontinental road, and began our most challenging stretch of riding through the Juniata Mountains. By the time we had visited Caledonia, Scotland, Arendtsville (home of the "Brick Stitch House") and East Berlin and had explained the "kill-switch" principle to one of our group members so his bike would start, we were eager for our hotel in York.

It had been another great day, without a drop of rain. We were not to be so lucky on Sunday when we departed for Hanover, the pretzel capital of Pennsylvania, on our way to a BMW motorcycle flea market at Gettysburg's Distelfink Drive-in Restaurant. In Pennsylvania Dutch country, the distelfink is a bird of good fortune, often painted on hex signs on barns to ward off evil spirits. It warded off everything except the approaching black sky.

After making new friends, discussing great roads and seeing cool bikes, we decided to leave Gettysburg early to avoid the approaching electrical storm. The deluge finally caught up with us, so we blew through Florence, Lisbon and Damascus, Maryland, on our way home, stopping only to assist a stranded rider who'd lost a throttle cable. All in all, we had a great time, ate a ton of chow, carved some twisty roads and learned important lessons about touring and group dynamics. For instance, the laws of physics are universal. Cow dung on Pennsylvania roads is as slippery as in Virginia, and bikes with kill-switches in the "off" position will not start, no matter how many times the gas is checked.

I'm not sure where we're going on next year's Around the World Tour, but if you see a rag-tag band of riders in Timbuktu, give us a wave.