To get from Catonsville, Maryland to Cape Cod, Massachusetts, anyone with any sense flies. Enter Yr Fthfl Srvnt and his trusty BMW Z4 3.0i roadster from the lunatic fringe… Yes, with the prospect of 2 weeks on Cape Cod, I decided to fit in as many Z4 tours as I could. After all, it would be a grand opportunity to explore new sights outside of my usual Mid-Atlantic region!
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…
After an 11-week layoff from touring, courtesy of a string of 70-hour work weeks, I was anxious to get back out on the road. On April 21, I pointed the impatient Z4 3.0i toward Pennsylvania with a GPS-full of sights to see—but I wasn’t expecting to find either the country’s first roller coaster or New Jersey’s last covered bridge.
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.
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.
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…
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.
While I am occasionally prone to exaggerating the things I see on my BMW Z4 journeys, I’m not making this one up. Curious? Read on…
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…
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…
My Z4 trips invariably lead me to beautiful old churches, homes, battlefields, rivers, lakes—you name it. But this tour of Southern Maryland had a major surprise waiting for me. One that brought back many treasured memories of a past that has guided my avocations ever since.
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!
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.”
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.
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.
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.
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.
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).