The Drummer, the Private Eye, and Me (Rush Fans Take Note)

What follows is a true story, involving Neil Peart, Michael Mosbach, and Yr Fthfl Srvnt. As most of you probably know, Neil is the drummer and lyricist for the progressive rock band Rush, and many experts consider him to be the best living drummer in the world. Michael is a private investigator from Los Angeles. He is also head of security whenever Rush is on tour, since Neil considers him to be the best P.I. in the world. As for me, well, I’m just the luckiest guy in the world. But let’s begin at the beginning…

An Aston Martin at the Battle of Cedar Creek

So what is the best way to check out a newly acquired 2007 Aston Martin V8 Vantage? In the immortal words of Otter from Animal House, “Road trip!” Accordingly, in early May I set off to do two of my most favorite things: go for an exciting drive, and look for historic, scenic, and otherwise-interesting places in the Mid-Atlantic area.

Everyone knows the Civil War battles of Gettysburg and Antietam, but not many know the significance of the Battle of Cedar Creek. Yet it was a critical point that almost produced a decisive victory for the South, which would have jeopardized the reelection of President Abraham Lincoln. Ultimately, it proved to be a major Union victory, sufficient to end the Confederacy’s potential to win the war.

A BMW Tour of Fall Colors (and Haunted Houses)

BMWs are great for spirited riding or driving—and if you use that ability to visit scenic and historically interesting places, then you have an unbeatable combination. With that goal in mind, I set off in late October to find out whether Pennsylvania or West Virginia had the best Fall Colors. Along the way, I encountered no small number of historical haunted houses, just in time for Halloween. My path first took me through Gettysburg.

Ports—Royal and Otherwise (Rappahannock River Ride)

Having often explored the Maryland side of the Potomac River, I thought I’d try the Virginia shore for a change. And for good measure, I decided to work in the Rappahannock River, since I knew little about it. The river was originally named by Native Americans, naturally, and is said to mean “the river that rises and falls” or, possibly, “river of quick, rising water.” The Rappahannock runs roughly 195 miles before emptying into the Chesapeake Bay.

History, Scenery, and Wonderful Roads—Virginia & West Virginia at Their Best

Let’s face it: Some tours are better than others. This one was spectacular, from start to finish, and it had everything: Historical sites, exceptional scenery, and winding, climbing, and diving roads throughout, with smooth surfaces and minimal traffic. In fact, it would have been perfect but for the fact that Churchville had run out of their famous apple butter. But I’m quibbling already…

Before There Were Interstates

For Christmas, the Intrepid Buzz gave me a box of very old maps of the Mid-Atlantic area. The idea was to use them to plan some routes using the older, original roads in the area. As it turned out, this was a pretty good idea. One of the maps, in particular, was a 1956 National Geographic map entitled “Round About the Nation’s Capital (with Descriptive Notes),” and it proved to be a treasure trove.

The Battle of Kabletown and Other Lurid West Virginia Stories

On a cold, bright, day-after-Christmas, I fired up the trusty Z4 roadster and headed, once again, for that awe-inspiring state of West Virginia. My hopes were high that I would find Rippon, Capon Bridge, Blue Beach, Paw Paw, and all the places I’d planned, and a whole lot more. And in the process, I got to exercise the BMW on a great collection of interesting roads.

The Mystery of the One-Room Schoolhouse

Yeah, I know—it sounds like a Hardy Boys book. But the Blackberry one-room schoolhouse was definitely an enigma. I never did find it, and yet I saw it over and over again. Moreover, I ended up driving around a pre-war dirt oval racetrack—strictly by accident, I’m sure…

A Z4 Tour of Maryland Mansions, Abandoned and Not

With a stress fracture in my left foot and strict orders to stay off of it as much as possible, I decided to limit this BMW Z4 tour to just half a day. Carroll County (Maryland) was calling me, and I thought I would see how many mansions I could find in what is practically my own back yard. Despite the abbreviated time, this tour was far more fun than usual.

A Z4 Ride to Virginville and the Scariest Place Ever

Yes, I thought that would get your attention. And I’m not kidding—this trip led me to Virginville, Pennsylvania and to the “Eastern Pennsylvania State Institution for the Feeble-Minded and Epileptic,” as it was originally known. For some reason, there was a serious shortage of residents in Virginville—and no one at all at Pennhurst…

Almost Heaven, West Virginia

As I forced my long-suffering BMW Z4 up a narrow, steep, rutted, rocky dirt path, around switchback corners and with the tops of trees visible next to the guardrail-less road, I wondered how Frankye and her husband Howard had ever managed to tow a motorboat up this mountain in the 1950s with the family sedan. But I’m getting ahead of myself…

Sometimes They Come Back To Life…

My 2006 BMW Z4 can find abandoned houses, lost churches, forgotten forts, and other remnants of cast-off civilization practically all by itself. And the Mid-Atlantic region is the place to look. But once in a rare while, one of these decaying places is brought back to life. On this trip through Pennsylvania, I was lucky to stumble across several such revitalizations—not to mention signs of Christopher Columbus himself.

Interested? Read on!

Unexpectations: An Off-the-Beaten-Path Z4 Tour of West Virginia and Virginia

On any tour of back roads and rural areas, you will encounter the unexpected. The ratio of unexpected-to-expected goes up considerably when you enter West Virginia, and that’s a big part of the fun. Moreover, rural Virginia can hold its own in this regard, too. In addition to a multitude of historical and scenic sites, my WV-VA trip offered some of the best driving/riding roads I’ve been on in a long time.

Johnstown, PA: May 31, 1889

On May 31, 1889, a major rainstorm caused significant flooding in downtown Johnstown, Pennsylvania—and, at 3:10 PM, the earthen South Fork Dam at Lake Conemaugh gave way, allowing 5 billion gallons of water to come crashing 14 miles down the mountain, destroying the city altogether. At least 2,209 people lost their lives, making it the worst flood disaster in U.S. history. I returned to Johnstown for further historic exploration—but, unlike my first visit, I didn’t see Chelsea Clinton this time.

Remnants of the Way We Were

By bike or by car, interstate highways are fast, efficient, safe—and boring. Fortunately, virtually all the pre-interstate roads are still out there, providing scenic, historic, sometimes challenging, and always interesting paths into the past, in the process depicting what life in the U.S. used to be like.

My goal for this Easter Monday trip was to find the very northeast corner of Maryland, where Maryland, Pennsylvania, and Delaware all join in a three-quarter scale replica of the famous “Four Corners” of Utah, Colorado, New Mexico, and Arizona. Along the way, I observed that the countryside is positively littered with reminders and remnants of how life used to be.

Ports—Royal and Otherwise (Rappahannock River Ride)

Having often explored the Maryland side of the Potomac River, I thought I’d try the Virginia shore for a change. And for good measure, I decided to work in the Rappahannock River, since I knew little about it. The river was originally named by Native Americans, naturally, and is said to mean “the river that rises and falls” or, possibly, “river of quick, rising water.” The Rappahannock runs roughly 195 miles before emptying into the Chesapeake Bay.

Well Off The Beaten Path

On March 20th, with a hint of Spring here and there, it was time to go exploring again. By day’s end, the faithful Z4 and I had been to quite a collection of Strange & Wonderful Places in Southern Maryland. A great day, a great State, and a great car—what more could you ask for?
My tour began in (not so) bustling, (not so) downtown, Accokeek, MD.

To Have and Have Not

Everybody quotes Ernest Hemingway, so why should I be different? This BMW Z4 trip featured sharp contrasts between the historical Haves and the Have Not’s, indicating that Fortune does not smile on all. The differences between the nearly abandoned African-American community of Olivet Hill, MD and the still-thriving historic river port town of New Castle, DE couldn’t have been starker. Both were fascinating, as was everything in-between.

In Search of Lost City (or “Half a Mansion Is Better than None”)

The goal of this trip (well, one of them) was to find Lost City, West Virginia. I mean, how could any self-respecting BMW explorer fail to be intrigued by such a name? I eventually found Lost City, but it wasn’t easy and there were many other fascinating things between here and there. As the philosopher Martin Buber said, “All journeys have secret destinations of which the traveler is unaware.”

By the Side of the Road

We all know that it’s terrific fun to ride and drive BMWs, and there’s nothing like a twisty, up-and-downhill road. But what sits beside these roads can also be very interesting. This report features a collection of streams, old cars, bygone railroads, and the like from central Pennsylvania. Oh, and a lot of snow for good measure.

Cold and Colder: Touring Antietam by Topless Z4

Touring by BMW (bike or car) is always a good thing to do. Even if the temperature is only 32 degrees. And even if, by car, you want the top down so that you can spot Interesting Stuff more easily. Thus, I set off on December 5 to see what I could find at the sites of two major Civil War battles (South Mountain and Sharpsburg, MD) as well as points East, South, and West.

Old and Older: The Eastern Shore of Maryland

After a lengthy layoff due to work pressures, I finally got back on the road in the trusty Z4 last weekend to seek out “scenic history” and the last of the Fall colors on the Eastern Shore of Maryland. The itinerary wasn’t much—go to Chestertown, go to Eastern Neck Wildlife Refuge, go to Rock Hall, go back to Chestertown—but there was something interesting to see in each place and everywhere in-between.

Mason and Dixon, At Your Service

As everyone knows, the Mason-Dixon Line separates Maryland and Pennsylvania. It runs almost exactly East and West for a total of about 244 miles. My goal on October 23 was to follow the line as closely as possible and to enjoy whatever the resulting route had to offer.

The Mystery of Madame Montour

No, fellows, it’s not that sort of “Madam.” But Madame Montour played an important role in the early 1700s as a leader of the Iroquois Indians in Pennsylvania and as a translator and diplomatic advisor for British, French, and Indian negotiators. But to learn more, we first have to travel to Ostonwakin (now known as Montoursville, PA).