Michigan to New York on a 1982 Yamaha Virago 920

Eastern promises

| December 2010

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    My 1982 Virago 920, on her way to Warren.
    Photo by Andrew Wheat
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    At the start of our trip; my garage.
    Photo by Andrew Wheat
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    A barn at the top of the Allegheny Mountains.
    Photo by Andrew Wheat
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    Houses in eastern Pennsylvania.
    Photo by Andrew Wheat
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    Rolling foothills, on our way up the mountain.
    Photo by Andrew Wheat
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    Kane, PA. Mainstreet USA.
    Photo by Andrew Wheat
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    The white church in Kane, PA.
    Photo by Andrew Wheat
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    Kane, PA.
    Photo by Andrew Wheat
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    Confucius stands watch over the entrance to Chinatown, Manhattan.
    Photo by Andrew Wheat
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    Kane, PA.
    Photo by Andrew Wheat
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    Chinatown street scene.
    Photo by Andrew Wheat
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    A Jackson Pollock.
    Photo by Andrew Wheat
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    Kane, PA.
    Photo by Andrew Wheat
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    This underwater mosaic actually adorns the subway entrance to the Museum of Natural History.
    Photo by Andrew Wheat

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In general, I would describe my prospective journey simply: I would ready my 26-year-old Yamaha Virago 920 on a 750-mile trip from central Michigan out east to New York to visit friends and relatives. I also hoped to find what lays behind the seemingly impenetrable walls of granite that line US 80. In the past, I simply blew by them in my car, wondering how the houses and towns were laid out on this steeply sloping, mountainous landscape. I had been re-reading Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance by Robert Pirsig, which likens the proper maintenance of a machine to the quest for ultimate truth and understanding. Like the main character of the book, I hoped to discover the true nature of the land I would be passing through.

Much-needed maintenance
The story begins with my motorcycle’s over-the-winter overhaul, which included a list of small but irritating things that had eluded my wrench for the past two seasons. I had purchased some new engine cover bolts to replace some bunged up ones, but had failed to install them, nor had I installed the new crankshaft end cover, which I’d cracked two years prior by over tightening. I began with what I thought would be the easiest task: replacing the engine cover bolts. Three ruined fasteners, a new set of drill taps and an E-Z out later, the bolts were finally in place. This fastener fastening experience provided considerable posterior pain. In order to avoid another kind of rear discomfort, I also knew I would need something other than the smooshed foam padding of my vintage Japanese seat. I purchased a large gel seat pad for about a hundred bucks from a Competition Accessories catalog. I knew without it, my butt would become gravy in about 120 miles. The last step in the overhaul was to address the turn signal dilemma. The front left and rear right turn signals both left service after I broke them off one night in a display of utter stupidity. Some scavenged wire, solder and a torch were all that were needed to rectify the wrecked directors. Phaedrus would have said that my romantic rush to ride had necessitated a more classical understanding of the damage I had caused; i.e., haste makes waste. After changing the engine oil and adjusting tire pressure, I took her out for a shakedown cruise. She performed flawlessly, turn signals and all. For now, anyway.

The journey begins
The weather was sunny and warm as I set out down US 23 that first day. I joined the Ohio Turnpike, and headed east. After paying my $6.75 toll, I exited the turnpike, and found 80 East, and took it into Pennsylvania to 79 North. After some twists and turns, I eventually found Route 6, a winding two-way mountain passage. I took it east, attempting to find Warren, Pa., and a welcoming camp sight to stop, eat, and rest my aching backside.

My neck had also begun to cramp, so I decided to stop at the top of a small hill and get a photo of the scenery. Top-heavy with all the gear, I had to reposition the front end to stabilize her; then I snuck away to attempt a quick shot. I turned around just in time to see the Virago keel to the right, and fall over smacking the jagged edge of the pavement. Horrified but numb from all the miles I’d killed, the accident didn’t even phase me at first. She had stalled, so I put the camera down and tried to lift her. But she was canted down at the edge of the shoulder, and her extreme angle and gravity conspired to keep her sideways. I stepped back to scratch my head, and pant, just as a white sedan pulled off the road a few feet behind us, and a bedraggled looking young man, with calloused, tarry hands got out and ambled up to me and the flattened cruiser. With his help, we righted the bike, and after a quick check I thanked the man, who told me his name was Mike. I shook his hand as he asked, “You sure she’s O.K.? Got a Harley myself. Want me to stick around to be sure she’s working O.K.?” I assured him that we’d be alright, thanked him again, and rode off feeling embarrassed on some two lane road that promised to take me away from the site of the accident, and the encroaching construction, and back to Route 6. As we picked up speed, I marveled at the helpfulness of this man and the friendliness of the area in general. The bike seemed to ride O.K., despite some popping and backfiring from an apparently lean condition brought on by the fall. I made a mental note to check her out when better lighting allowed in the morning. Her pipes were also scraped up pretty good; battle scars.



After a long trek south to avoid some more construction, I discovered 62 North, and turned onto this, hoping to find Warren. A twinge of worry set in, as daylight began to fade. I cruised along gently, at around 55, passing farms built on plateaus or in valleys, and small towns tucked away here and there, around sweeping curves. At speed, the bike thumped along happily, and all elements - the warm air, the countryside, and the curvy road - assembled at once into a feeling of riding bliss. Then I realized it was this exact confluence of events, including getting lost, dumping my ride, and the confused quest for the nebulous Warren, that led me to this graceful state.

Warren was an aptly named village, for it was as well hidden as that of its long-eared, marsupial counterpart. At last, near dark, I stumbled upon East Route 6 again, and a few yards down I discovered the first motel I’d seen in 60 miles. I decided that setting up camp in the dark, wherever that camp might be, was an uninviting idea, and to stay at the Budget Lodge was a much better one. Ground versus Bed. Mosquitos versus cable TV. At $49.95, with a fridge for my Spam and fruit cocktail, a microwave and shower, it was no-brainer. Which was good, because I had no brain left. And to top it all off, I discovered from the phonebook that this welcomed refuge was indeed in Warren. After several coffees and rums, I was feeling MUCH better. My bottom had almost forgiven me for our course, and the Silver Ghost, out there in the parking lot with just an enshrouded KTM to keep her company, seemed to have forgiven me, too.

Greg
1/30/2011 7:32:34 PM

I thoroughly enjoyed this these stories! I bought an 82 Virago 920 3 years ago as my first bike at 40 yrs old from the original owner. With 29k miles, I wondered if I could do some touring on this bike and you've inspired me! What kind of windshield is that? I bought one but it requires me to change the bars to an uncomfortable position. So glad I came across this article.


KioskGuy_1
1/3/2011 5:42:05 PM

This article helps me get motivated for my next road trip. Unfortunately it is currently early January. So I'll plan and plot until the warmth of spring returns. And I'll try to leave some extra time in my schedule to "get lost" and see what lays just beyond the interstate. Thanks!


Chris Delling
12/9/2010 12:03:02 PM

Great story! Very reminiscent of a trip I took in mid-eighties aboard my trusty Honda Ascot. Detroit to New Jersey/New York. My return trip included a trip thru Niagra Falls, and up the Canadian shore of Lake Huron, and back into Michigan thru Sault Ste. Marie, before returning to Detroit. Thanks for sharing! Brought back some great memories.




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