The rain returned the day I left the island. I took an early morning ferry back to Woods Hole, and then retraced my path to New York City. Once again, I was faced with the “should-I-or-should-I-not” stop to put on my raingear. This time, I stopped under an bridge in time to don my rain gear before I got wet. I didn’t remove it until I was almost in New York state. There was nothing special about this part of the ride. I just had to put in the hours to get out of New England and get to my first destination in central Pennsylvania. I-95 in Connecticut is a lousy ride.
Once again, I crossed the George Washington Bridge (no toll going westbound) and picked up I-80 across New Jersey. I was happy to be leaving the New York metropolitan area and looking forward to some relaxed country touring. I rode until early evening and stopped for the night at a motel in Mausdale, Pennsylvania, near Dansville.
The next day was beautiful. It had cooled off considerably during the night and riding conditions were perfect. I headed West on Rt 642 and then quickly picked up Rt 45. This route rolls through picture perfect farmland (admittedly some farms looked more prosperous than others). Most towns were small, but as I approached Lewisburg, there were more businesses, more restaurants, an economic vibrancy that was absent from the other towns. Passing a sign, I suddenly realized why – this was the home of Bucknell University.
My Rand McNally map had this road flagged as a scenic route and I was not disappointed. I rode Rt 45 to the end at Shaffersville, took Rt 453 south for a short distance, then picked up Rt 22 west, the William Penn Highway. I stayed on Rt 22 through Hiolidaysburg, under I-99 into Duncansville, then State Route 2014, the Admiral Peary Highway to Cresson. There I took Rt 53 south to Rt 219 then got off at Rt 869 and followed the signs to the Johnstown Flood National Memorial.
On May 31, 1889, the South Fork Dam failed and emptied millions of tons of water into the Conemaugh Valley, killing 2209 men, women, and children in Johnstown, PA and nearby areas. Of those who died 900 bodies were never found. Inside the park building are exhibits, diaramas, stories of survivors and a movie. The scale of this man-made disaster is difficult to capture in photographs. Like much of history, an understanding of the geography of the area is essential to fully understand the scale and timing of events.
The treeline marks where the water level used to be. Today, a railroad line runs though what used to be the lake.
From there, I took Rt 56 down, down, down to Johnstown. This steep road down into the valley parallels the path that the water took. I did a brief ride through the city, and then headed back up to 219 to continue on to Shanksville and the United Flight 93 Memorial site.
I continued south for three more exits, got off at Rt 403 and took that south to Rt 30. East on 30 for 1-2 miles, then a right onto Route 1007. At this point I was just following the signs to the memorial. The last turn was a left onto Skyline Road, an informal paved road that goes up and down gently rolling meadows. I suspect that the road was put in to help with recovery efforts, but perhaps it existed prior to the crash. Coming over the last hill, you see a small parking area in the middle of the fields. There is a tiny shack for the federal park employees who work at the site, a gravel parking area, benches engraved with each passenger’s name and the memento fence. I was struck by the quietness of the spot. The wind was blowing gently through the grass and the only other noises were the sounds of tires on the gravel as cars arrived and left and the hushed voices of people talking.
Off in the distance, near the treeline stood an American flag that marked the spot where the jet came down. It was a very moving experience. The inscriptions, messages of love and support and scriptures and prayers brought tears to my eyes. There was steady stream of vistors coming and going, but there were never more than about a dozen people there at one time.
It was late afternoon whem I left Shanksville and continued south on 219 into Maryland. I don’t remember exactly where I stayed that night. It might have been in Maryland or I may have pressed on into West Virginia. I don’t think that I pressed on beyond Elkins WV however.