Starting in the northern tip of Virginia near Winchester VA there is a stretch of the Shenandoah / Cumberland valley where you can pass through four states (Virginia / West Virginia / Maryland / Pennsylvania) in a forty mile stretch. In modern terminology this would be described as part of “the I-81 corridor.”
A few months ago on another trip I flew over this area while flying westward on Southwest Airlines from Baltimore on a clear day. Most mountainous land seen from the air has the shape of crumpled paper. Instead, the Shenandoah Valley area looked of long lines of distinct sharp ridges lined up in a northeast / southwest direction. Within these ridges the land looks (and is) comparatively flat.
The Shenandoah / Cumberland valley was a big deal in the American Civil War, where Southern armies marched north to try and conquer Yankee territory. Both Gettysburg and Antietam are right around here.
This is an area frequently on the news because it is a notably Trump supporting region within an easy drive of Washington DC. Media can come out and see what the other America is thinking and still get back to D.C. in time for cocktails. Much of this region has been economically left behind.
Maybe my readers will remember my trip here two years ago, when I bicycled north starting in Winchester VA. This trip I wanted to push further north into Pennsylvania.
It took a little less than six hours to drive our Prius from Chapel Hill NC to the Walmart on the south side of Hagerstown MD. Once again I assumed that Walmart did not mind me parking here for twenty-four hours. I pulled the Bike Friday out of the trunk next to someone’s religiously labelled minivan.
My self-appointed mission was to bicycle to Shippensburg PA, spend the night and ride back the next day, using a different route each way.
Hagerstown (population 40,000) greets a visitor like me with the kind of early twentieth century houses that North Carolina lacks. I love this look. This was not a wealthy neighborhood. Most of Hagerstown looks somewhat run down.
I continued on, cycling straight north through both sides of downtown.
Out of town US11 is wide enough for pleasant cycling.
Contrary to popular notion the Mason-Dixon Line refers to the border between Pennsylvania and Maryland. When I crossed there were no special signs or businesses that made issue of this line.
Eventually I did see some signage. Some of these signs were over twenty miles into Pennsylvania. Every commercial sign I saw about Mason-Dixon was in Pennsylvania, including the one with a rebel flag.
For a time a was able to find a parallel route off the busy US11. The countryside was beautiful.
On station wagon trips as a child, my mother told us to look at Pennsylvania barns, that they were bigger and stronger than the houses that accompanied them. She was right. North Carolina does not have barns like this.
I have been trying to get to Chambersburg PA (population 21,000) for quite a while. I am not a particular Civil War buff. I am more attracted to Chambersburg because I thought its architecture would look exotically Yankee and it is an easy drive from North Carolina. During the Civil War General Lee’s army used Chambersburg’s accessibility for other ends. There is no point in romanticizing this conflict. My great and great-great grandparent’s cause was wrong. Chambersburg PA was raided and occupied by Southern forces three times. The third time the town was burned mostly to the ground. Free African-American citizens of the town were abducted and murdered. As a result, for a time the Union used a battle cry “Remember Chambersburg.”
About Chambersburg today, whoever wrote the Wikipedia page about Chambersburg and its surrounding Franklin County said the following. (Note my previous comment on what an easy drive it is to Chambersburg for journalists like New York Times conservative columnist David Brooks!)
Journalist David Brooks in 2001 used Chambersburg and Franklin County to typify Republican “Red America.” According to Brooks, there is little obvious income inequality and people don’t define their place in society by their income level. They value the work ethic and are anti-union, anti-welfare, pro-free market, and religious social conservatives.
The joke that Pennsylvanians tell about their state is that it has Philadelphia on one end, Pittsburgh on the other, and Alabama in the middle. Franklin County is in the Alabama part . . . . The local culture owes more to Nashville, Houston, and Daytona than to Washington, Philadelphia, or New York . . .
The conservatism I found in Franklin County is not an ideological or a reactionary conservatism. It is a temperamental conservatism. People place tremendous value on being agreeable, civil, and kind . . . They value continuity and revere the past.
I am not sure I agree. Note this was written in 2001. Is Trump “agreeable, civil, and kind?”
I biked into Chambersburg late in the afternoon.
Chambersburg did seem a pleasant place. It has a small college Wilson College. For various reasons I decided to continue on thirteen more miles to the next town, Shippensburg PA.
Like Chambersburg, Shippensburg PA looks on the surface like the quintessential American small town.
Shippensburg (population 5,500) is home of Shippensburg University, a public university that is part of the Penn State system. There is a Quality Inn chain hotel right in the center of downtown. The front desk staff was quite cordial and fascinated with my bike ride. I checked in and changed clothes.
In a college town there are usually lots of places to eat; not so much here. The hotel restaurant seemed the best place to eat. I sat at the bar. The menu was very old school: choice of meat with two sides. I got salmon with mashed potatoes and broccoli. It was quite delicious. There were five or six mostly older men eating alone at the bar, sitting one or two seats apart. None of us talked to each other, which did not really bother me. We did all talk to the bartender. She said she was from Philadelphia.
At the free breakfast the next morning it was NOT Fox News on the wall, it was the local station. Still, one cannot escape this man.
Once back on the road the morning light was lovely as I bicycled first through Shippensburg and then back south towards Chambersburg, this time on back country roads.
I made it back into Chambersburg.
The rest of the ride back to my car was uneventful but pleasant. On the outskirts of Hagerstown I passed new multi-family housing being built, even though one mile away Hagerstown clearly has a dearth of housing waiting to be used. In many parts of American, people want to live in NEW housing, damn the older neighborhoods. Slash and burn urbanism.
I bicycled back through Hagerstown MD which was a couple of miles before arriving to my car at the Walmart. I wanted to get a Subway sandwich to eat in the car while driving home on I-81. I needed to get back to Chapel Hill NC by 6:30 PM (for a dinner engagement!). In an older neighborhood of Hagerstown I lucked into Hartle’s Subs. (The Best Since 1955!). Was the sandwich better than Subway? Absolutely, it was really good. On the other hand, Subway does not have Fox News playing on the wall.
In my final stretch before the Walmart I passed through other, nicer, areas of Hagerstown I had not previously seen. Hagerstown has a lovely City Park. It has a neighborhood on the top of a ridge with nicely restored older homes.
My car was still there at the Walmart. I arrived back home in Chapel Hill NC about 6:00 PM.