Motorcycle Classics Blogs > Black Side Down

Road Memories

When I first met my wife, Maggie, she wouldn’t come near my Norton. The death of a cousin, hit while riding his Sportster, had soured any interest she might have had in motorcycles. I didn't push it, hoping she’d come around some day.Richard and Maggie Backus

Then I discovered the circumstances of her cousin’s accident; he ran a red light, at night, speeding, after drinking. With all due respect to her cousin, that’s kind of like slapping a “kick me” note on your own back. The odds were stacked hugely against him. I told Maggie what I thought, and let her know that if I ever did have an accident, it wouldn’t be because I was riding drunk and dumb.

Maggie didn't try to talk me out of riding, and when our courtship rapidly accelerated to a proposal of marriage, I was more than a little surprised when she readily agreed to visit my parents in Connecticut — with my Norton in tow. By this time she’d gone for a few rides with me and was getting comfortable on two wheels. She decided to trust my riding skills, and I promised her I’d do everything I could to keep her out of danger.

My mother’s response to the Norton was another matter. Greeting us upon our arrival at her home, she let out a shocked “What’s that?!” as soon as she saw the Norton in the back of my brother’s old Datsun pickup. “Why on earth do you have a motorcycle with you?” “Because,” I explained, “we don’t have enough money for a honeymoon, so we’re going to ride the Norton up to the Adirondacks instead.”

Mom was certain this was a bad idea, but Maggie had decided this was going to be the trip of a lifetime, a chance to discover the back roads of New England without interruption, just the two of us rolling across the landscape.

We had two rules for the ride: two-lane roads only, and take every ferry boat we could find. New England was once home to hundreds of small ferries, working their way across rivers major and minor to keep small towns connected. Only a few survive, and I think we took most of them on our trip.

Northeast of New Haven, we found the Chester-Hadlyme Ferry crossing the Connecticut River. Dating to 1769, it’s the state's second oldest ferry in continuous operation. The first ferry used a rope pull, then a steam engine, and when we loaded up with six cars for the crossing it was diesel-powered. It’s a short 5-minute ride, punctuated by a view of the amazing Gillette Castle on the bluffs of the Hadlyme side.

From Hadlyme, it was a leisurely 40-mile ride north to the Rocky Hill-Glastonbury Ferry, the oldest continuously operating ferry in the U.S., starting with a simple raft in 1655. In some ways it hasn’t changed that much; the ferry is little more than a barge, pulled by a diesel-powered tug. We got to the landing just as the last car — it only carried three — loaded, but the ferryman waved us aboard anyway and squeezed us in.

We didn't find our next ferry until the Fort Ticonderoga Ferry between Shoreham, Vt., and Fort Ticonderoga, N.Y. The oldest ferry on Lake Champlain (1759), it makes a short half-mile crossing, just enough time to lean on the rails and look at the lake opening up to the north and the Adirondack Mountains rising to the northwest.

That was the last ferry before heading into the Adirondacks, but a week later when we headed back, we rode a little farther north to catch the one-hour ferry between Port Kent, N.Y., and Burlington, Vt., before working our way south to Connecticut via the Green Mountains.

We made it safely back to my mother’s, of course, and after that Maggie was ready to hit the road on two wheels whenever we could. Happy memories, with lots of good miles in between. Here’s to great road memories for the rest of you. — Richard Backus