Pennsylvania's Hidden Corner - Keystone Weekend

Pennsylvania has its fair share of riding riches, with plenty of sweeping backroads and a good supply of quirky destinations. you may have experienced some of the usual suspects-the Delaware Water Gap or Lancaster's Amish country-but to really get away from the crowds you should head west, young man.

Just at the foothills of the Pocono mountains lies the Lehigh Valley Gorge, an oft-overlooked part of the state that's custom- made for riding. It's only two hours west of New york City, but the tangle of two-lane roads unfurling across the hills and rivers of the Lehigh Gorge makes for a truly relaxing and attitude-free backdrop. Because it's hundreds of miles away from any metropolis, you're assured of peaceful, traffic-free lanes, plenty of natural beauty and even a few manmade oddities.

The best riding itineraries of the area will usually include some combination of SR 209, SR 309 and SR 118. To get to it all, I like to take I-80 west out of the NyC area, exit just past the Delaware Water Gap at Stroudsburg and jump on Route 209 westbound for a lazy cruise into the hamlet of Jim Thorpe.

I've been told to also check out eckley miners' Village in Weatherly, just off Route 940. It's northwest of Jim Thorpe along 209 and then north on Route 93 past Hazleton. The preserved mining village is set up to show the way life was in the anthracite region over 100 years ago-so it should be a real treat for the geologists in your riding group.

But that's a side trip-your main blast through the area should be centered around the charming little burg of Jim Thorpe, nestled at the junction of Routes 209 and 903 at the western end of the Pocono mountains. once known as mauch Chunk, this mountain town really does know how to show its age- in a good way.

Built on the fortunes of the coalmining and railroad industries, mauch Chunk was once one of the ritziest zip codes in America. The steep hillsides, narrow streets and terraced gardens gave it a hilly european feel and earned the town its nickname "The Switzerland of America." But by the mid-1900s, mauch Chunk had hit the skids as the mining industry tanked, and in a brazen bid for tourism dollars the town changed its name to honor one of the most popular sports figures of the 20th century-Jim Thorpe.

The funny part was that Thorpe may have never even visited the town-but his family agreed to donate Jim's body anyway, with the stipulation that the village would be renamed Jim Thorpe and provide the athlete with a nice memorial in the city. (Thorpe Park showcases Jim's body interred above ground in a marble tomb.)

Whether it's because of or despite the name change, the town has continued to draw tourists for almost two centuries. Today the restored old mauch Chunk Railroad Station serves as the hub of the town at Hazard Square, offering visitor services and historical information on the area. A dressed-up old locomotive still leaves the station every summer and fall, pulling tourists down the tracks along the Lehigh River and into the Gorge. Park your bike here, pick up your maps and menus, and head out for a stroll along the narrow streets.

There's plenty of exploring to be done-especially at the famous old Jail museum where the molly maguires were hanged in 1877. It's also an easy walk to the historic Asa Packer mansion, where you can ogle oldtime multimillionaire philanthropist Asa Packer's very posh digs.

Once you're done touring the twisties and dusty old shacks of the region, hole up at the restored New orleans-style Inn at Jim Thorpe right in the center of town, and you'll be living like a king-or at least like Buffalo Bill, who's said to have stayed there back in the day.
-Andrew Cherney

The Goods
Start:
From Lehigh Valley International Airport, take Rte. 987 onto Rte. 248. After 20 minutes go left on Rte. 209 south. Continue on Rte. 209 into Jim Thorpe

From NyC, take I-80 west to Pennsylvania Turnpike (Rte. 476) Ne extension south to exit 74. Take Rte. 209 south to Jim Thorpe.

Distance:
Approx. 90 miles roundtrip from Allentown, 220 miles roundtrip from New york metro area

See:
Old Jail museum, theoldjailmuseum.com Lehigh Gorge Scenic Railway, lgsry.com eckley miner's Village,eckleyminers.org

Eat:
Antonio's JT's Steak & Ale

Sleep:
Inn at Jim Thorpe, innjt.com

Best Time Of Year:
Spring, summer, fall