Tales We Tell: Viewing America by motorcycle
North Strabane Township couple travel nation’s back roads
Sitting in the kitchen of his North Strabane Township home, his wife, Laura, beside him, David Podurgiel began to sing the lyrics of Arlo Guthrie’s “The Motorcycle Song.”
“I don’t want a pickle. I just want to ride my motor-cicle. And I don’t want a tickle. I’d rather ride on my motor-cicle.”
Ride they do.
The Podurgiels have spent nearly a decade traveling the nation’s back roads on their motorcycles, encountering everyday Americans and visiting some of the most beautiful – and quirky – spots across the United States.
The pair struck up friendships with the likes of Adeline Johnson, who crocheted, played bingo and wrote for the weekly Wahoo Newspaper, circulation 3,000, until she died in 2011 at age 95, Poison lead singer Bret Michaels and a man who is one of the most prolific skull collectors in the country.
They’ve piloted their bikes across the “Loneliest Road in America,” a desolate 350-mile stretch of Highway 50 in Nevada dominated by blue skies, jagged red rocks and desert valleys (they earned a certificate for completing the ride), rumbled down California’s Highway 1 and navigated the tight switchbacks and open grasslands of the Badlands.
Ah, and the cuisine.
“Harley-Davidson has a saying, ‘Live to ride, ride to live.’ Ours is ‘Live to eat, eat to ride,’” said David Podurgiel.
The Podurgiels have eaten bull testicles at the Testicle Festival outside Omaha, Neb., fish sandwiches at Lou & Mariann’s Café in Bee, Neb., (the restaurant, in a town with a population of 191 and with shag rugs adorning the walls, serves more than 1,000 sandwiches Saturdays during Nebraska Cornhuskers games), and Taylor’s Maid-Right sandwiches – finely ground loose meat proudly made in Iowa for 80 years and served on a bun with mustard, pickles or onions, and, only recently, ketchup.
Among the unusual sights: Carhenge, a replica of England’s Stonehenge in Alliance, Neb., built from vintage American automobiles sprayed with gray spray paint, and Christ of the Ozarks, a 70-foot-tall sculpture of Jesus erected atop Magnetic Mountain near Eureka Springs, Ark.
What they’ve learned from their conversations with folks is that “everybody has a unique story,” said Podurgiel. “It just takes about 10 minutes to learn about their life. I like everybody, and I like to talk.”
Laura, as personable as her husband, agrees.
“(Visiting small towns) makes you more open to accepting other people. Meeting people across the country, you come to find there are such nice people out there. America is so beautiful. I don’t think we, as Americans, realize what we have here, not just with the landscape, but with the people who are the heart of this country.”
The couple met in 1998 when Laura and Podurgiel’s sister worked as counselors.
At the time, she didn’t want anything to do with the formerly long-haired, motorcycle-riding Podurgiel, 47, a former Navy man who is a vessel operations manager for Consol’s River Division.
“He wooed me, though,” said Laura, 43, who once owned a day care and now works for BNY Mellon in global client administration. “And I saw the love and passion that he had for motorcycles, and I started enjoying it as much as he did.”
After riding two up (in motorcycle slang, it’s driving with a rider seated behind) on several long trips, with Laura serving as photographer, she decided to get her own license so that she could drive a motorcycle in case of an emergency. For her birthday in 2007, Podurgiel surprised Laura, 5-feet, 2-inches tall and wispy thin, with a Honda Shadow.
The next year, she bought him a new Harley-Davidson.
David spends at least six months planning the pair’s trips, poring over Mad Maps – U.S. road trip maps highlighting the best scenic routes across the country – and magazines.
The couple keeps a loose itinerary, knowing where they want to stop along the way, but not when they’ll get there or how long they’ll stay.
They once shipped their bikes to a Harley-Davidson dealership in Los Angeles, flew there and then rode their motorcyles to Colorado, where they shipped the bikes back home.
“We always try to pick mom-and-pop hotels, under $100 dollars a night. We like to help the local economy,” said David Podurgiel.
Their trips have been relatively trouble-free.
But in 2009, the Podurgiels and their riding companions trailered their bikes and were driving on a road outside Denver when a bracket broke, driving a back wheel into the wheel well.
It was 10 p.m. on a Sunday.
Passersby told them about a repair shop, so they limped into the shop, and the next morning a half-dozen welders began a daylong project to repair the trailer, stopping only to eat several pizzas the Podurgiels bought them for lunch.
“At the end of the day, we went to settle up and I pulled out my credit card, and one of the guys said, ‘You don’t owe us anything,’” recalled David Podurgiel. “He said they were happy they could help us and that it was a blessing that we found their place.”
That’s not surprising. Wherever they travel, the Podurgiels are unforgettable to the people they meet.
“They’re wonderful people. They’re people that I’ll always remember,” said Jay Cattle, president of Cattle National Bank & Trust in Seward, Neb., who met the couple on one of their trips out West and has entertained them in his ranch home. “They enjoy life, and their spirits are always very high. They’re great talkers, but they’re also great listeners. The next time you meet them, they remember details about you, and you get the impression that they genuinely care about you as a person.”
The Podurgiels, who serve as a host family for the Washington Wild Things, are starting to plan their next road trip, a ride to Montana and Wyoming.
They’re itching to go. There are friends to be made and steaks to be consumed.
They just want to ride their motor-cicles.