Feeling my blood pressure climb, I watched the scene behind me shrink until people appeared to be the size of ants. Doubts filled my head as my eyes continued to search left and right for a possible escape route. Not only had I put myself in this dangerous situation, but I’d also coerced the most important person in my life to come along for the ride — my young daughter Kaia. But she paid no heed to the danger, her eyes only reflecting excitement and anticipation. We’d waited so long to get here, and now that the moment had arrived I was not sure I’d made a very motherly decision. But I’m no ordinary mom. I ride motorcycles for a living, after all. So I needed to suck it up and show Kaia how cool her mom is.
The moment the Comet crested its first peak, I threw my arms up in the air while my stomach dropped the entire 96′, 47-degree descent of the old wooden coaster. The two of us couldn’t control our giddy laughter from that moment until the ride’s end. Kaia’s face was plastered with the same smile as mine, and various photos taken by the Hersheypark cameras documented this image a dozen times that day. Hersheypark probably isn’t on most motorcycle tourers’ list of destination dreams, but when you have a 10-year-old passenger, her idea of vertical climbs, drops, and twisties may be different from yours.
Last spring, armed with vacation time, a brand-new Honda Gold Wing, and a stack of travel brochures, I quizzed my daughter about her desire to go on a two-wheeled adventure with me during her summer vacation. She’d asked me a dozen times why she couldn’t come with me on one of my magazine tours, so I decided that the summer she turned 10 would be the year that we’d take our first motorcycle trip together.
We narrowed down our itinerary to include five days filled with our favorite destination picks in nearby eastern Pennsylvania. Loaded up with supplies, the first leg of our trip had us heading west on Interstate 84 from Connecticut to New York. I’d ridden this area many times with my dad, and I knew a nice photo op just north of Port Jervis in the area called Hawk’s Nest. The upper Delaware is one of the cleanest free-flowing rivers in the eastern US, and much of its 73.4 miles can be viewed without obstruction on State Route 97 to Hancock. The twisty road parallels the river to the western side, and a forested rock wall to the east reveals climbers, waterfalls, and, yes, hawks. There are several pulloffs at higher elevations where you can get some good vistas.
Our next stop was at the Roebling Bridge. The one-lane, wire suspension bridge is said to be the oldest existing one of its kind in the US. Originally an aqueduct built in 1847 by the future engineer of the Brooklyn Bridge, John A. Roebling, the converted bridge connects Minisink Ford, New York, to Lackawaxen, Pennsylvania. Kaia was in charge of shooting pics while I rode slowly across the narrow bridge. Wooden boards completely obscure any view beyond the bridge, but it’s a sight in itself. From there, Route 590 turns into Towpath Road, and follows the Lackawaxen River. The road is squiggly on the map and is equally interesting in reality, but it’s in poor condition. Dodging potholes kept me busy, while Kaia enjoyed the view of the trout river. I turned south onto State Route 6, and picked up State Route 507, which follows Lake Wallenpaupack’s eastern shoreline. At our lunch stop, I reprogrammed the Wing’s GPS to take us the quickest route to our next stop: Camelback Mt.’s CBK Mountain Adventures in Tannersville.
One of my ideas for our adventure was a zip-line ride, which neither of us had done before. We arrived at the mountain later in the afternoon than I would’ve liked, and headed straight for the side-by-side, 1000′-long, 85′-high zip lines after paying $15 each. While we waited our turn, we observed elated groups coming back from the outfit’s three-hour tree-top adventure courses. The adventure company also offers mountain Segway tours, a waterpark, and presumably by the time you read this, a new zip-flyer and mountain coaster.
Along the hike up to the drop-off point for the zip-line, you can catch the zippers flying out from the wooded shade, high up in the air. I didn’t hear much screaming, but I was a little nervous about jumping off the tall platform. Kaia was calm, cool, and collected. We tried to time our jumps to pass by the photographer at the same time and get in one shot together. We noted that smaller zippers went a bit slower, so I waited a few seconds after Kaia jumped. My heart dropped as I watched my baby disappear below the deck, and I stepped off the platform a few seconds later. After the initial shock of being airborne, the ride was pretty enjoyable. I felt safe, buckled into the big harness. It was over quickly, and Kaia begged to go again, but we had more riding to do that day.
Back on the bike, we headed west again on Interstate 80 for a short stretch to State Route 534 south. The densely wooded road brought us to our night’s accommodations, Hickory Run State Park. We checked in at the park gate and did a ride-around to pick out a good campsite. Kaia chose the site, which was large, mostly flat, and almost as far from the entrance as you could possibly go. There weren’t many sites set up, and I wondered if a lot of people had bailed because the weather wasn’t ideal, or if it was typically a quiet park. In any case, we were alone in our corner of the woods, with heavy timberland behind the site and shady forest in front. A picnic table and fire ring rounded out our amenities. Clean bathrooms with free hot showers were just a few minutes away.
Not what you’d call experienced campers, we set up our site as best we could. The four-person Hooligan tent I’d gotten from Coleman was easy to set up, with just two poles popping it into shape. It’s large — I could comfortably stand in it — and there’s mesh screen on all four sides. The rain fly has a small window at the top and a vestibule area for storing gear that you don’t want to bring into the tent but want under cover. Kaia was a big help blowing up our Aerobed Pakmat airbeds. The inflatable mattresses are packaged inside a hard plastic shell that doubles as a manual pump. We brought one pump and two beds, which roll up small enough to fit on the Wing’s accessory luggage rack along with the tent (note: I did exceed the rack’s weight restrictions but had no problems). Kaia had our beds made up before I finished tying down the rain fly, and even with all our gear inside the tent, there was plenty of room for company.
We were starting to get weary from the long day and hadn’t yet gotten any firewood or food for dinner. Discussing the options, we decided to skip the campfire and go out to eat. I guess we are cityfolk through and through. Suiting up again, we rode out of camp as dusk began to set in. It was dark riding under the tree-covered roadways, and I watched carefully for reflective eyeballs. It was Kaia, though, who spotted the field full of deer. We counted between 40 and 60 deer before they hightailed it into the woods. We finally arrived at Nick’s Lake House, a family restaurant with a large, wraparound deck that overlooks the boat slips on Lake Harmony. Choosing a table outside, Kaia and I watched the sun set over the lake while eating ourselves silly and chatting about our fun-filled day. Once our bellies were full, we had just enough energy to get safely back to camp and into our sleeping bags, but not before seeing a skunk cross in front of us. Kaia was delighted with her first nighttime motorcycle ride (and first skunk sighting), and we embraced the special moments until falling fast asleep to the sound of crickets.
The next morning, I wanted to hike to the field of loosely packed red sandstone and quartz boulders aptly called Boulder Field, but Kaia wanted to play cards in the tent and explore the campground. So we relaxed most of the morning, taking in the glorious sunshine and observing tadpoles with half-formed legs in the nearby pond. If I’d been a better planner, I would’ve planned another night at Hickory Run. Instead, we packed up camp — an action that’s not as simple as throwing clothes in a saddlebag. Eventually we had everything back in its place on the Wing and spent the next few hours following the GPS toward the state capital.
The Best Western Premier Central Hotel and Conference Center in Harrisburg is located just 10 miles from Hershey, and as opposed to camping, offers tons of amenities. With time to relax before dinner, we enjoyed the indoor pool all to ourselves. Tired from riding, a good swim and a hot shower rejuvenated us enough to explore the town on foot. We spotted several dining options just down the road. We chose a place called Infinito’s, where for less than $15, we were treated to an all-you–can-eat pizza/pasta/salad buffet. While I’d initially considered this establishment below my picky standards, I have to admit it wasn’t bad. Kaia and I still reminisce about that buffet dinner. Afterward, we enjoyed the luxury that comfortable hotel bedding, Wi-Fi, and flat-screen TV offer, and slept soundly to the chatter of air conditioning instead of crickets.
Waking bright and early wasn’t difficult: this was the day we’d been dreaming of. Fifteen minutes from our hotel was Hershey Lodge, where we’d be spending the following night. Hersheypark offers three different styles of accommodation, from the high-end Hotel Hershey to family-friendly Hershey Lodge to the Hershey Highmeadow Campground. Staying at one of these official resort options provides perks like discounted and free admission tickets to area activities and free shuttle service. The Lodge is enormous; its 665 rooms were running at full capacity that morning, and the bustle of activity was overwhelming. We checked some of our stuff, parked the Wing for the day, and took the shuttle to the theme park. Passing a long line of cars waiting to pay the $12 parking fee, we were happy that we didn’t decide to ride to the park. Spotting the tall spines of the park’s dozen roller coasters, excited passengers buzzed until we were let out near the entrance.
The Comet was our first coaster of the day, and by far our favorite of the nine we managed to ride. The 45-minute wait time was the second-longest line we stood in all day and well worth it. If we’d had another day at the park, we surely would’ve ridden it several more times. Other coasters that we particularly enjoyed included Wild Mouse, a four-person car coaster that takes quick, sharp corners that give the illusion that you’re going to careen off the track. While I screamed in terror, Kaia was busy laughing at me. Coal Cracker was a fun way to cool off; the hydro flume boat ride offers plenty of splashes before its final big plunge. Part of the fun was checking out the frightened faces halfway down that drop on the TV monitors at the end of the ride. Many of the rides at the park sell photos taken by cameras positioned at significant places, and it’s a fun way to remember the memories.
Kaia and I spent the hot afternoon in the Boardwalk section, where the waterslides and water activities are. The longest line we stood in all day was for the Roller Soaker, which runs on a track, high above the park, and contains a crank that you direct to dump a load of water on the people waiting to get on the Soaker. The ride itself wasn’t particularly exciting, but getting drenched (and avoiding it) while waiting in line is half the fun. Late in the afternoon, the sky opened up, and the rain came down hard, causing the coasters to close while people scattered to find cover. Soon, the sun came back out, and all was back in order. Wiped out, we headed for the shuttle back to the lodge, where room service saved our weary souls while we took comfort in our chocolate kiss-themed room.
Friday, Kaia and I took in Hershey’s Chocolate World, where we learned about the history of Milton Hershey’s chocolate empire. The actual Hershey plant doesn’t give tours, but the animatronics ride is free, fun, and simulates the chocolate-making process well. In fact, it was so much fun, we rode it twice. There are several pay-to-play activities for the kids here, but the wait time was too long for us, and even Kaia was annoyed by the noisy, kid-infested atmosphere. The smell of sugar and the whiny pleas for more chocolate was enough for us. We both wanted to go home.
Had we left a half-hour earlier, we may have had a chance. But the storm clouds that I was trying so hard to keep behind us caught up when we got delayed behind road construction crews. Thunder roared and the lightning spread across the sky, closer than I’d have liked. Finally, we were waved past the crews, but it was too late. Fat raindrops came down fast, and they hurt when they hit my legs. Kaia gave me the thumbs up as I checked my mirror. I couldn’t see more than a car-length ahead when I found the exit. Luckily, I found cover under a big used-car tent. Sopping from head to toe, I dismounted and only then realized what was going on in the seat behind me. The brave soul who’d laughed in the face of dangerous fun all week was now shaking and sobbing with real fear. I’d been through similar experiences before, but this was one adventure my little girl wasn’t ready to have yet. We waited out the heaviest rain in the restaurant lobby next to the car lot. When the coast was clear, we got back on the Wing and found our way to the closest Best Western.
I always try to stay at Best Westerns because they offer motorcyclists Ride Rewards, and I’m awfully glad I did that day. The Genetti Inn & Suites in Hazelton was our saving grace. Autumn was working the front desk and offered us a room that would allow us to park the motorcycle under cover just outside the door, so we could unload without getting our stuff soaked. Not only that, but she gave us the two-room suite with full kitchen at the same rate as a single. We spent the afternoon drying off with cups of hot tea and Chinese food consumed while watching movies until bedtime. We woke the next morning, as fresh as the sky, and made it home for lunch. While riding through that storm was one experience we both could’ve done without, it turned out to be the perfect ending to our first two-wheeled adventure.
By Kaia and Tricia Szulewski
Originally published in RoadBike, August 2012.
CBK Mountain Adventures
Pakmat Airbed, $120
Best Western Genetti Inn
Best Western Premier
Central Hotel & Conference Center
Hooligan 4 Tent, $130
Hickory Run State Park
White Haven, PA
Nick’s Lake House
Lake Harmony, PA