Intriguing people, unusual places
by Dan Dolack
Authorhouse, $19.99, 100 pages
This author is my kinda guy—and your kinda guy, too, if you love adventure and the way the world unfolds as you ride through it on a Harley with a sidecar. Dan Dolack, now age 84, has seen a lot of the world. He saw it from way up high in the sky as a fighter pilot over Germany during World War II. He saw it as he later traveled in Europe, Africa, South America and the Caribbean. In the United States, he left the imprint of his boots in some 33 states.
Nevertheless, most of his home state of Pennsylvania remained unexplored until Dolack went on an adventure of discovery. Dolack, a resident of Perkasie, Pennsylvania, was ready for an excursion. He had buried his wife Catherine in 2004. A rough period of repair for soul and spirit followed.
But he rocked up. He eventually set his chin once again to a challenge and renewed his intention to live his life to the fullest. He began anew with a different kind of journey—a journey to see the lesser-known attractions of his own state of Pennsylvania.
In 2006 he bought a creamy white Harley with a matching sidecar at Dean’s Harley-Davidson in nearby Sellersville, and he went exploring. What he discovered was a Pennsylvania full of intriguing people and unusual places—places far enough off the beaten path to warrant writing a book.
Dan Dolack did just that, and he found the trip not just a learning experience, but a refreshing new beginning. It had been some 60 years since he’d been on an impromptu motorcycle trip with a fellow Air Force pilot in Germany. It was a learn-as-you-ride experience that provided him with more skills, and a measure of confidence. Now, six decades later, here was Dolack, steeling himself once again for yet another two-wheeled excursion. An intensified exercise program and skyrocketing optimism lent a glow to his quickly evolving plan.
Dan Dolack and an advisor at AAA put together a basic route that would initially touch Pennsylvania’s four corners. Ultimately, some spontaneous tweaking of that plan delivered him to places not always found in tour guides. Guardian angels and family members watched him ride out of his driveway on May 21, 2006. He stopped once to visit his wife’s grave to let her know what he was about to attempt. Then, he was moving on down the road, Harley style, with a smile and a rumble.
Dan Dolack visited some of Pennsylvania’s smaller wonders. He saw Fort Mifflin, whose ghosts find little rest beneath the airspace of Philadelphia International Airport. The fort was smashed in 1777 by British forces firing thousands of cannonballs from more than 200 British warships off shore. The Brits’ attempt to defeat George Washington’s men there met such resistance that the British—their armaments depleted—had to call off operations for the remainder of the winter. Washington, meanwhile, marched his troops away to Valley Forge to recuperate and get ready for defeating the redcoats later in the war.
Many other destinations followed. Sprinkled into Dolack’s vivid journal are hair-raising anecdotes about riding a motorcycle with a sidecar. He found out quickly about left-hand turns, that if performed too rapidly tend to lift a sidecar high up off the ground. He learned swiftly about sun glare and windchill and rain—and wrestling for your rightful place among 18-wheelers and speed demons in sports cars. The angels who watched him throttle away from his wife’s grave zipped overhead once in a while to shush away close calls.
Soon, he found he was mining experiences laden with sparkle. Folks he met added nuggets of humor and wisdom. He went on his first parachute jump—just for the fun of it. The tandem jump from 10,500 feet had him following instructions from professionals at the Chambersburg Skydiving Center, a place he noticed on his ride. Dolack noted the elder George Bush had made a recent jump at age 80. Then, he decided, “If a Navy pilot could do it at age 80, I could do it at 83.”
He rode on and on. The mountains of the Laurel Highlands, the Pennsylvania Military Museum just north of State College and Penn’s Cave—the domain of Native Americans until white settlers peeked into its mouth in 1795—followed. Explorers of the cave have to do it in low-slung boats that follow an underground stream. Later, he visited Horseshoe Curve and a haunted hotel in Altoona.
Another leg of the journey took Dolack to the site of the Flight 93 Memorial, where heroic passengers crashed a massive passenger plane rather than let the terrorists who had commandeered it continue on the mission of destruction launched against America on September 11, 2001.
Dolack pressed on—hard enough at one point to need repairs. Greg Dahl of Greg’s Machine Service in Uniontown fixed him up. Many other destinations were visited on the trip, one that touched all the border counties of Pennsylvania and some of the interior, too. The sites he visited are places you, too, can see the next time you’re up for an adventure on a Harley.