Category Archives: Road trips

Roadtrip: Pennsylvania, Ohio, Indiana

I took three short trips off the interstate today, trying to find something other than rest areas and the usual fast food joints you find near interstates. The first two side trips were unsuccessful. The first led to malls and suburbia, and the second led to a place that wasn’t worth the trip.

But the third side trip led to the barn where my older sister is taking care of three horses. It led me past the Village Smorgasbord in the middle block of downtown Hagerstown. It wound down past a small creek bed, through woodlands, around a bend where a white clapboard church, Nettle Creek Friends Meeting, stands next to a little cemetery, then in between eight foot high walls of corn, and at last to a house where my sister fed me dinner, and then to the barn where her horse is stabled.

Jean and I and the two dogs, Tracer and Parker, walked from the house down to the barn. Already in the barn were several pairs of barn swallows, three horses, and a cat named Pumpkin who ate baby Barn Swallows when he could get them. Jean showed me how the timbers of the barn had been hand hewn, and pegged together with oak pegs. Tracer lay down on the barn floor and kept an eye on things:

All too soon, it was time for me to get on the road again, and I forgot to wish my sister a happy birthday. Happy birthday, Jean!

Roadtrip: Connecticut, New York, Pennsylvania

The price of the motel included a full breakfast. I brought yesterday’s New York Times to read. A man with glasses and carefully combed silver hair sat at a nearby table. He was wearing a dark polo shirt and neatly pressed white shorts. He eyed my paper. “You got that at the front desk?” he said. There was just a hint of a sharp tone in his voice; he was in obvious newspaper withdrawal. “No, I got it from my car,” I said. His face fell. The only newspaper available at the motel was USA Today.

As I drove over the high point of the Taconic Hills, over the border from Connecticut into New York, a sign gave the elevation as 970 feet. Near the Pennsylvania border, we reached a high point of about 1250 feet. Then halfway across Pennsylvania, a sign told me that I had reached the highest point on Interstate 80 between the Atlantic Ocean and the Mississippi River, at about 2250 feet. Some of the scenery was spectacular, the road winding in among wooded hills and mountains that had clearly been shaped by glaciation. In many places, the road had to be cut through bedrock:

In the middle of the afternoon, I started getting fatigued. I had gone through several road construction projects where the road went to one lane, and at one point traffic had come to a complete stop due to an accident; when I passed the accident scene, they were trying to right an overturned car. I pulled into a rest area. Down behind the picnic area, a small stream wound through some woods. I walked along looking at the plants: big eastern hemlocks with young beeches pushing up around them, sassafras in the understory, and on the forest floor wintergreen, ground pine, jewel weed, trillium, all the familiar plants of the eastern woodlands. I picked a wintergreen leaf and smelled it. This would be the last of the eastern woodlands that I’ll see this year.

Towards evening, I decided to pull off the road to see if I could find a place to eat. I chose Reynoldsville, because I liked the look of countryside. It was seven miles away from the interstate, along a two-lane highway that was straight at first, then began to wind down an increasingly steep hillside, until suddenly I was on the main street of Reynoldsville. I parked the car and went for a walk. There were three or four restaurants, but they all seemed to feature pizza, except for one restaurant which promised “home cooking.” A woman was getting into her car in front of the Episcopal church. “Going for a walk?” she called out to me. “Yup, stretching my legs,” I said and smiled. Several of the houses had anti-abotion signs on their small front lawns: “Abortion stops a beating heart”; “Respect Life”; “Choose Life.” Reynoldsville did not seem like the kind of place where a middle-aged man with a pony tail would exactly fit in. I got in my car and drove back to the interstate.

Next I tried Brookville, because of a sign which mentioned the “Brookville Historic District.” When I got to Brookville, there were some impressive houses, most of which were carefully maintained. Right across from the big red courthouse with the brillian white trim, there was a little restaurant called “The Courthouse.” I would have been the youngest person there by a good twenty years. I decided that as pretty as the town was, I would not try to eat dinner there. I walked around a little bit, and came across a small manufacturing plant with a sign that said “Brookville Locomotive / Diesel Locomotives / Personnel Carriers.” This could not have been their main plant, though, for there were no railroad tracks anywhere nearby.

Roadtrip: Maine, New Hampshire, Massachusetts, Connecticut

Hot and humid at midafternoon, with a sky that threatened thunderstorms later. I drove out of the Ferry Beach Conference Center campground and headed towards Biddeford and Interstate 95. Slow going through Saco and Biddeford, moderately heavy traffic on the interstate. After I turned on to 495, I could see that the northbound side had very heavy traffic, which came to an almost complete stop at the approaches to 95 north, 93 north, and 3 north; presumably vacationers heading north. It was hazy, hot, and humid, and the thick hot air made distant hills look bluish. I made a quick stop in Stow to eat dinner with Carol and her dad, and then got back on the road. Lots of traffic through Worcester, then a little less through the eastern hills of Connecticut, then more traffic around Hartford, along with heavy rain and lightning. The rain ended leaving a faintly pink sky in the dying light, then light traffic through the steep hills of western Connecticut. A maddening construction delay, then at last I made it to the motel feeling frazzled. This morning I was awakened in my tent by the sound of a Wood Thrush singing.

Morning song

Ferry Beach, Saco, Maine

Sometime after first light this morning, I came partially awake when a Wood Thrush (Hylocichla mustelina) started singing not far from the campground: three or four or five flute-like notes followed by a sort of trill. Birds don’t have larynxes; instead they have syrinxes, which in some species can produce more than one note at a time. Wood Thrushes have an amazingly rich and complex song; the first flute-like notes change in pitch and duration and sometimes seem to include more than one note, and the final trill might incorporate a buzzy sound and flute-like tones and more. The basic structure of the song is always the same, but each iteration of the song is slightly different; I can listen to a Wood Thrush without boredom for a very long time.

I drifted off to sleep, but while sleeping kept listening to the song, which went on and on and on. I had a dream in which I was listening to a Wood Thrush. I kept coming partly awake and marveling at the song, and then telling myself that I had to get some sleep. At last I fell sound asleep, and the alarm awakened me right at 7:00. The Wood Thrush was still singing. I listened as I pulled on my socks and shoes. I kept listening as I walked over to the wash house. I took a quick shower, walked back to my tent, listening to the Wood Thrush, trying to figure out where it was. I thought I might walk over and try to see it. But by the time I got back to my tent, at about 7:15, it stopped singing.

Road trip notebook: Massachusetts

We left the motel in Greenfield, crossed Interstate 91, and headed east on Route 2, the Mohawk Trail. Carol started playing the last bit of the Trollope novel we’ve been listening to on this trip. The road wound through some old paper mill towns along the river, and then up into the hills of central Massachusetts. Although I’m not usually sentimental, I did take a detour off the main highway into downtown Athol, past the little church where I was ordained; it looked neater and better-maintained than ever, and the signs out front had been renovated and repainted. The Trollope novel reached its inevitable conclusion, although it took forever for Will and Clara to finally get married, and we had to listen as Will crushed her passionately in his arms and kiss her brow, her cheeks, her lips; it was not a very satisfying novel, but it was good enough that we had to listen to the very end of it. At last the novel was done, and we wound down through the hills towards Concord, and met my dad at the house of Deacon Miller of First Parish of Concord. Deacon Miller is not a bit like the deacons they had 350 years ago at First Parish of Concord; first of all, she’s a woman (which would have been unthinkable in the 17th century); and she is a self-described Jewish atheist deacon (equally unthinkable in the 17th century). Carol and Deacon Miller and dad and I all sat down to a lovely dinner, and that was the official end of our cross-country trip.

Road trip notebook: New York and Massachusetts

After driving a couple of hours or so, we stopped at a rest area in upstate New York. A local farm had set up a table outside the rest area, and a young woman sold us locally-grown fruit: raspberries, cherries, and apricots. Carol said she liked the New York apricots better than the California apricots we had gotten on the first day of our trip. I contented myself with eating a generous half-pint of raspberries; to my way of thinking, there is no fruit quite so satisfying as freshly-picked raspberries.

We continued to listen to the audio recording of Anthony Trollope’s The Belton Estate. At about the time the old squire dies, the story loses energy. Carol said she guessed Trollope must have gotten paid by the word. Yet we kept on listening, even though the book grew almost dull in places, because we wanted to find out what happens to the characters.

We passed through the tail ends of the Adirondack Mountains, then dropped down to wind along the Mohawk River and the course of the old Erie Canal. We skirted around the horrible traffic jam headed north on Interstate 87, presumably people heading north to spend the long weekend in the Adirondacks, and kept going until we reached the Berkshires. We passed under the Appalachian Trail, and past a sign that told us we were at the highest point on Interstate 90 since South Dakota, at an elevation of 1,724 feet above sea level.

The woman who checked us into our motel here in Greenfield told us that there would be fireworks tonight at 9:30, and she told us how to get there. We had decided not to go. But we went out at 9:30, and walked up the hill from the motel to a nearby mall. There were half a dozen cars parked in the otherwise empty parking lot, with people sitting in them. We turned around, and there were the first fireworks shooting up into the night sky. A family got out of one of the cars to watch: two parents, and two children dressed in pajamas. It was a good vantage point from which to watch the fireworks.