Today my dad and I are riding from West Virginia to Shanksville, PA to visit the Flight 93 National Memorial by Motorcycle.
The ride takes us across I-68, which, for interstate standards, is a pretty scenic journey. Riding along the tops of the Appalachian mountain range, we take 68 from Morgantown to Grantsville. There, we hop off for Highway 40.
I don’t often ride a cruiser, but when we’re chewing some miles I certainly appreciate this riding position over my VFR400R. I’m riding a Suzuki Boulevard C60 and my dad is on his Harley Davidson Road King.
40 connects to Route 219 (aka the Flight 93 Memorial Highway) which leads to Route 30. This route takes you into the memorial. It snakes through some smaller towns and is a welcome break from the four-lane highway.
It’s about 100 miles from the start of our trip to the Flight 93 National Memorial by motorcycle (and car, for that matter). What would a visit be to a national park or monument without a photo at the main entrance sign?
Dad has the solemn pose down pat.
When visiting sites like these, I always find myself needing a moment to forget the journey, the ride, etc. and just get back into that solemn mindset. This is a site of tremendous violence, pain, and to some degree, heroism and triumph.
It’s important to me to give the site the reverence and the event the reflection it deserves.
Right off the bat, I’m struck by the way the architecture is symbolic and instructive. The opening in the walls follow the flight path of Flight 93, with time markers along the walkway bringing in the other events of September 11th, like the World Trade Center attacks.
Situated on top of a hill, there are a lot of views and a lot of sky. The stretches of concrete are broken up by glass panels reflecting the tranquil Pennsylvania countryside.
Following the path to the end of the upper part of the memorial brings you to the overlook.
Here, you can see the lower memorial, the memorial groves, the crash site, and the Wall of Names.
A common field one day. A field of honor forever.
Truly, this site is in the middle of nowhere. Imagine the most pastoral farm scene on a cloudless end-of-summer day interrupted by a passenger jet, inverted, both engines roaring at full speed, impacting the Earth nose-first with a tremendous near-supersonic impact.
The boulder marks the spot where the plane slammed into the ground, spreading debris throughout the forest and ending the lives of all 44 passengers (4 of which were the hijackers).
Heading into the visitor center, this is where the real education happens. I would spend some time familiarizing yourself with the whole of September 11th. It’s a massive topic and there are so many nuances and details to help make this visit worthwhile. The Visitor Center can only do so much, and if it’s busy you will feel rushed to look at the exhibits.
There are a number of exhibits inside, my favorite being the items made after the event to honor those who fought the hijackers, remember the crew, the passengers, and of course remember the heroes who responded to and investigated the scene.
Take your time at these exhibits. Since we were here during the COVID-19 pandemic, the audio exhibits were closed. These exhibits play the audio from the passengers using the airphones on the airplane. I suggest you hop onto YouTube and listen to those calls, the air traffic controllers, etc. from the day. To listen to someone’s last moments is pretty moving stuff and adds detail and context to your visit.
From the Visitor Center, you can continue to the lower part of the memorial via hiking trails or you can drive. We hiked a little bit and then rode down to the lower memorial. Here are some photos from our short hike.
The lower section of the memorial features the Memorial Plaza, the crash site, and the Wall of Names.
This boulder marks where the nose impacted the ground.
Flight 93 is the only one of the four hijacked planes that did not reach its intended target (presumed to be the Capitol Building). The reason for that is the mutiny on the plane by the passengers. Those names are listed here at the Wall of Names.
Todd Beamer is known as the passenger who led the effort to break into the cockpit and overtake the hijackers. He is believed to be the one overheard on an airphone call saying “Let’s Roll” or “Roll it” referring to the use of the beverage cart as a battering ram to get into the locked cockpit.
The hijackers mistakenly broadcast to air traffic control their concerns about the passengers breaking in, and decide to purposely crash the plane.
Many sad personal stories are discoverable from that day, but really what else needs to be said on this marble panel? Heartbreaking in every way.
A big gulp and a long walk back to our bikes from the Wall of Names gives us time to turn our attention to the next site, near the entrance; the Tower of Voices.
The newest addition to the memorial is this, the Tower of Voices. Not yet completed, the tower will feature 40 windchimes, representative of all the victims of the crash – hijackers excluded. During our visit, only 8 chimes are in place for testing purposes. I think it will be a really cool living sculpture once all of the chimes are installed.
Naturally, any trip on motorcycles leads me to look for great motorcycle roads. From Somerset, where we stopped for lunch, we hopped onto Route 281 for our trip back.
This road travels the Pennsylvania countryside, following farmland, gentle hills, and some exciting twisties when you get into the Laurel Highlands. I highly recommend this road. We catch I-68 again at Bruceton Mills.
Visit the official website for all the latest hours and events going on. If you can make the journey, I certainly recommend visiting the Flight 93 National Memorial by Motorcycle. The roads nearby are fantastic for a nice ride you won’t soon forget.
A very humbling visit. A wonderful experience for a father and son to share together. I enjoyed riding with you to the Memorial and look forward to doing more riding together in the future. Thanks for all the memorable trips we have been on together in the past.
My wife and I visited this Memorial the summer of 2019. Thanks for your photos. // MAJ G. Brown