Passing Through Pennsylvania

So much has happened in the past 6 weeks since leaving Camp Little Notch and traversing New York State so that I could begin my southern expedition. This writing will cover only a bit of the time it took to get through the western top half. I find that driving an SUV while towing a trailer is more tiring than driving an SUV without. I decided before leaving Maine that my driving days would be in the range of 3 to 4 hours.  And when I plan to move from one destination to another, I always add a half hour to the time estimated by my online mapping service because I often drive under the speed limit or I may need a break to stretch, text or simply ogle the countryside. In addition, based on a tip from another traveling friend, I try to fill up when my fuel gauge shows half full.

So Pennsylvania….I’ve driven through the eastern part from south to north and north to south a couple times.  That experience clearly should that traversing Pennsylvania in a northeasterly or southwesterly fashion was the way to go. Trying to travel east to west or west to east may follow that orientation but several brake jobs might be needed.  That is to say, the ascents are long and the descents are fast….and they are endless!  Just check a satellite photo to see how the Alleghenies lay.  You will readily see what I mean.

I left Bath New York at about 11 on Thursday and had reserved a ‘rustic’ camp site at the Bald Eagle State Park in Howard.  It was raining….not terribly but off and on. The GPS sent me southeast on Route 86 and then south on Interstate 99 (or Future Interstate 99), otherwise known as route 15 which runs roughly southwesterly.  These sections of the interstate system are not connected to major metropolises so the traffic volumes and speeds are not unlike what I am accustomed to in Maine.  I had planned on avoiding interstates at all cost because I was not confident of driving at those speeds but the time it takes to go through every single little town, hamlet, village, and borough really increases the time-distance between destinations and it’s really hard on the brakes. So, I put my big girl pants on and decided that they can’t arrest me unless I’m going slower than the minimum speed. I am comfortable going 60 and 65 so, hey, that should work.

I arrived in Pennsylvania early afternoon.  It began to rain a bit harder and by 1 p.m. I needed a pee break. pennsylvania-highway The Welcome Center on Interstate 99 is like entering the Ritz.  And the setting is spectacular.  Getting to it was also a treat with the highway’s long sweeping curves inclines. This interstate feels very safe to travel and the views of hills and valleys are spectacular. I t
hink the design engineers, be they on staff or contracted, working for PennDOT did a fabulous job with this highway. It is very scenic, dramatic and yet convenient and safe.

As I was driving, I was thinking about the mountains that had to
be moved, carved and possibly even obliterated to make this dream of a roadway.  Having worked for DOT in Maine, I saw how building new roads and sometimes renovating old ones for modern travel significantly defaced Mother Earth and it made to sad. It also made me feel conflicted about my desire for convenience and beauty at the expense of her natural state.  How could I love this engineering feat and at the same time feel disdain for the idea that nature had to pay such a heavy price for my gratification.  This made me think of DAPL, the North Dakota Access Pipeline that Na
tive Americans around the world are fighting in order to protect the water they (and we) rely on for life.  How do we reconcile our desire for cheaper energy and our dependence on oil when so much is at stake?

For anyone who is on a consciousness path, I ask you to journey or meditate on this question because we are all a part of the depletion of resources and yet we continue to use them as if the well will never run dry. I know, that’s a bad pun in light of the drought conditions we’ve been experiencing…at the same time, it’s the right pun!

Meanwhile, I had stopped at the Welcome Center, marveled at the extravagance (wondering what public service might have penn-view-at-visitor-centersuffered for insufficient funding) and enjoyed the scenery. It was now time for me to continue south.  About 10 minutes into the next leg of my, I rounded a curve and began a long . I’m traveling about 60 mph. It’s raining now and it’s windy too; and it’s not that the shoulder is narrow, it’s that it is edged by a guard rail with nothing but air on the other side.  But out of the corner of my eye, I noticed a tiny movement from the shoulder toward the travel way.  As I focus and approach, I notice it’s a tiny black kitten! Its fur is matted from the rain and God only knows how long it has been there.  Further, how they hell did it get there?  There are no houses anywhere. Could someone have been so heartless as to leave this helpless creature on the side of the freeway at the top of a mountain?  In a split second, I begin to break but there are vehicles right behind me and stopping the extra weight of the trailer is not that simple. By the time I realize I cannot slow down, I’m well past that little feline…..and I’m devastated. I imagined it being Nuttah’s baby buddy and then I imagined all the terrible things that could happen to it on this highway.  I’m sad, disappointed, frustrated that I could not stop….I pray that whatever happens is for the highest and best good of this little soul.  Was it left there because it is black?
Some people are really creeped out by black cats for so many unfounded reasons.  Then I remember my black cat….Max.

Max was half Siamese. His sister was Marble. I took them in as kittens when I lived on the farm in Palermo. I thought they’d be good mousers in light of the fact that I had horses, and grain and I knew it would be a m016_12aagnet for rodents.  Max was a lover, Marble not so much, at least as a kitten. When I’d pick him up, he’d perch on my shoulder or wrap himself like a stole around my neck and just hang out while I did dishes or other chores.  I lost Max in a blizzard.  It was early December and he went out one evening….nothing unusual. He always came home before 10 p.m. and was safe and warm for the night. On this night, the blizzard came upon us suddenly and I called him in to no avail. On the day he left, there was no snow on the ground; by the next morning, we had two feet. I never saw him again. I prayed he found his way to a neighbor’s house but after several days of hunting and knocking on doors, I thought maybe he’d been found by a fisher.  Several years later, a scraggly, mangy, black cat showed up in my yard. It did not really look like him but as I stared, I wondered if it could be. I called his name.  He looked at me for a few seconds and then rushed off in the woods.  If it was him, then he’d clearly gone feral. If it wasn’t, there was something about this cat’s spirit that reminded me of Max.  I thanked the little black fur ball on the highway for the memory and I continued to pray for the most appropriate resolution of his dilemma.

Pennsylvania is a billboard state. In other words, it does not have an anti-billboard law like Maine has.  There are many as I drive by….one, I happen to notice had my camper trailer on it. It’s the RPOD!!!  I notice village names – Jersey Shore was one that made me chuckle.  And the road names, one was Spook Hollow Road.  The landscape is very agricultural. Fields of sunflowers, corn and a short dry brittle grass like plant that could be soy but I’m not sure.  I just know it’s everywhere that corn is not. (I later learned it was soy!)

I had thought of driving into Penn State University at State College PA.  But when I crested the hill that revealed the famous college town, I knew I would not be stopping. More than any other feature on the horizon was the Penn State football stadium. It was monstrous. I’m not a football fan. Oh, I’ll watch the superbowl (I know this is college and not pro) but aside from the athleticism which I think is remarkable, I haven’t much use for the sport mostly because I think the gazillions people spend on this and other sports could be put to so much better use.  If it was a non-profit activity and the proceeds were donated to the needy, then I might enjoy watching but I don’t find it terribly entertaining.

So the stadium is this mass of steel and lights that rise up from the center of the city and takes over the entire panorama. The first word that comes to my mind was ‘egomaniacal’.  There was something very dark and foreboding about it – to me. It made me think of the movie “The Incredibles” and the evil child master mind’s headquarters. I looked for an online view from Interstate 99 but could find none….I guess they don’t want you to see it from that vantage point….and I know why!

But I digress! I drove in to Bald Eagle State Park headquarters. I went to the office only to be told that I needed to drive another 4 miles to the ‘rustic’ site on the other side of the pond.  I could not get a site at the modern campground because I had a dog. All the dog friendly spots were taken!  So I drove over and found myself in a deserted campground on a one way loop.  Within the first couple hundred feet of the access I noticed two especially large ravens. One was in the road, the other in a tree.  I slowed down, and they waited while I approached. As soon as I reached them, they flew off in the direction I had just come from.  Another few hundred feet down the road, a doe was standing there. Her ears perked up and she dashed into the woods.  As I drive by the spot where she was, I noticed she has a companion. They were both facing the direction from which I had just come.

eagle-lakeThe rustic reference refers to the fact that it had no utilities except for a common bath house. I’m ok with that generally and I rationalized, it’s only one night.  I found my site, and as I step out of the car, I was immediately overtaken by a dirty dank odor.  I rationalized that it’s because it has been raining all day.  I set up and then took Nuttah for a walk. I had been another long day of driving.  The path was not far and according to the map, it led to the shoreline.  So I walked the path and came to a rail line. It had  a 6’ diameter culvert under it where hikers were directed to go. Dark, creepy but I could see to the other side.  Once there, I walked down a short way to the trail that led south to the boat landing, but decided to check out the trail spur that led directly to the shore. Very nice pond but something does not feel quite right. No birds or wildlife to be seen.

We spent a few minutes there and I decided the pond might benefit from a little unconditional love – I gave it a rose quartz.  It was still early and would not be dark for a while so I decided I’d try the trail to the boat launch about a mile away.  The trail map called it a lake side trail but the undergrowth was so thick, I could not see the pond on my right. To my left, I could barely see the rail line. Generally, that does not concern me but there was a heaviness to the place that just would not lighten up.  We walked another couple hundred feet and the feeling worsened. I noticed a trail to my left and knew that it must lead to the rail line.  The rail bed was wide and open while the lakeside trail was narrow; it had to be better up there, I thought.  Nuttah and I moved up the embankment and when we stepped into the open we were immediately confronted with signs every few feet that say “stay off – use trail”.  In addition, the musty, dirty, wet smell I noted on arrival was now more intense and punctuated with the odor of some kind of fuel.  There is nothing fresh about it.  We stayed on the line but quickly moved back to the underpass and before getting back on the walking trail to the car, I decided to give the rail line another rose quartz.  This was no doubt a very unhealthy place to be; I packed up the dog and closed up the camper and dro ve to the nearest KOA just a few miles down the road.  Lesson learned; when the reservation attendant reads you a release of liability statement before taking your money, even though she focuses on the ‘rustic’ quality, she means something else!  I know what has been spilled on rail lines. Pessimistically, I believe they will never be cleaned up because the rail industry is largely untouchable!  I digress yet again.  The KOA was expensive and left a lot to be desired but I did at least feel safe.