Archive for the ‘Pennsylvania trips’ Category

I made plans to bicycle through an area of mountainous central Pennsylvania I knew nothing about, an area that seemed remote. Say what you will, but Pennsylvania looks exotic for a guy from the South. The bizarre name Altoona beckoned me. It was only about a seven hour car ride from my home in Chapel Hill NC to a place called Bedford PA. I started packing my stuff.

I have realized on recent trips that making my own peanut butter and jelly sandwiches is a healthier lunch than what I could buy on the road. My friend David taught me way back in high school that the only peanut butter worth eating is the kind that separates. I packed peanut butter into a Tupperware-like container to carry with me on the bicycle. May is strawberry season. I thought it ridiculous to bring canned strawberry jam when we had delicious local strawberries lying around our kitchen in Chapel Hill. I sliced up strawberries into a Tupperware box, sprinkled them with sugar, and mixed it around. I would carry this concoction with me the entire trip, to spread with peanut butter between two slices of bread each day.

Here is a map of my cycling trip. I cycled one day from Bedford PA up to Altoona PA. I took one day to cycle around Altoona and cycle up to the Horseshoe Curve, then one day back to Bedford PA. Note how the mountains from northern Virginia up into Pennsylvania are a series of parallel ridges. If you stay between the ridges you can minimize cycling up mountains.

I drove our Ford Escape up to Bedford PA but left late, and did not arrive until five or six in the evening. It was raining. I decided to skip cycling that day and instead looked for a place to stay.

1950’s motels can be nice if they are lovingly maintained, but they usually are not. Judy’s Motel on the outskirts of Bedford PA looked to be one of the good ones. Its online reviews were excellent. The edges of the parking lot were neatly lined with colorful flower beds. Someone cared about details. There were no unsavory characters hanging about.

The genial owner even dressed the part with a Judy’s logo shirt.

In our inflationary environment hotel prices are skyrocketing. In remote Bedford PA sixty dollars plus tax for a clean, quiet, and comfortable room with a TV that works was a very good deal.

It was a Monday night and dining options in Bedford were limited, especially downtown. I found The Bedford Tavern. The front entrance was locked. No one seemed to be around but signs directed me down some stairs on the side of the building.

It felt creepy to open the door down there. I discovered a few people inside. Some of them were actually eating and I was greeted with smiles. I ordered a beer and eventually dinner: barbecue salmon with choice of two sides (I chose fries and broccoli.) This low ceilinged basement had a pleasant vibe.

I woke up the next morning excited to start biking north towards Altoona PA. The motel graciously allowed me to park my Ford Escape there for three days.

My destination of Altoona PA is about forty miles north of Bedford. I first had to cycle one mile back to downtown Bedford so I could get some breakfast. The town (population 2,800) looks exquisite, the buildings of its nineteenth century downtown so much more elaborate than a similar sized town in North Carolina. There clearly was money here, back in the day.

HeBrews is a friendly local spot. I got an oat milk latte with one pack sugar, plus some kind of pastry or bagel.

my bicycle in front of HeBrews

After breakfast I headed north by bicycle. I rode much of the way on the two-lane-with-a-shoulder-and-not-much-traffic US220.

Where possible I deviated off onto smaller parallel roads, which frequently ran through various settlements. In Pennsylvania they built their houses close to the road.

I like looking at small commercial mid-century modern buildings but they are slowly all being torn down; wonderful bank branches, dry cleaners, and car dealers are one by one biting the dust. Buildings that house non-profits are more likely to still hang around, especially Elks Clubs and VFW halls. I passed one of these north of Bedford PA.

I suppose A-frames seemed like a good idea at the time.

Guns must sell well around here, I guess it takes a rifle to sell real estate.

Two thirds of the way to Altoona I stopped for my peanut butter and strawberry sandwich. I couldn’t find a picnic table so I just sat on a guardrail and did a little reading.

Further on and just south of Altoona is the town of Duncansville PA. I had just eaten but I could not resist Inlow’s Drive-In, specialists in foot long hot dogs. They had inviting outdoor tables. I realize COVID is now less of a risk but I am much more comfortable sitting outside.

foot long with ketchup and sauerkraut

Altoona PA, population 44,000, is a railroad town. Its population has been declining for years, there were 82,000 here in the year 1930. Like Roanoke VA, Altoona was founded in the nineteenth century by a railroad. Roanoke was founded by the Norfolk & Western, Altoona was founded in 1849 by the Pennsylvania Railroad. By the turn of the twentieth century tens of thousands worked for the Pennsylvania Railroad in Altoona. Altoona sits at the base of the hundred mile or more long north/south Allegheny Ridge. Trains from Philadelphia to Pittsburgh must get over this ridge. In 1854 the Pennsylvania Railroad built the famous Horseshoe Curve as a way for trains to climb this mountain, and Altoona served as the perfect location for steam engine switching and maintenance before the steep grade. I would bicycle out to the Curve the next day.

This day I cycled through the streets of Altoona. In some places the city is quite hilly.

There is one chain hotel in downtown Altoona, a Wyndham. I booked a room. It was great other than the windows do not open. I could still see and hear the main line of the railroad out my window, trains passing by almost constantly. That evening I bicycled over a hill about a mile away to a neighborhood for what TripAdvisor deemed the best restaurant in Altoona. There was no outdoor seating so I took my COVID chances and ate inside. There were white tablecloths.

Salad first course, house dressing. Out here in real America salads are usually included with the entree.

my entree; eggplant parmesan. Delicious. Even though it was enough for three I ate almost all of it!

Cycling back to the hotel in the twilight I passed by Altoona’s Roman Catholic Cathedral of the Blessed Sacrament, built in 1923. I do not know what that parking garage looking thing is next door.

The next morning I noodled around the town of Altoona by bicycle. For a such a small city it looked quite urban.

Mid morning I cycled to the Horseshoe Curve, about five miles uphill from town. The road ran along some lovely reservoirs, with almost no traffic.

I like trains but I am NOT a true train fanatic. Actual train enthusiasts take vacations just to come to places like Horseshoe Curve. The couple of guys seen on this video sat at a picnic table here at the center of the curve, going over handwritten notes of what I assumed to be railroad minutia. It was a lovely day in a mountain setting. I did not know if a train would come by during my visit or not. After standing around for about half an hour I got ready to leave, and just then a huge long train came up the horseshoe curve. The Pennsylvania Railroad that built these tracks in the 1850’s has gone through a series of mergers and reorganizations over the past sixty years. Most of it is now part of the Norfolk Southern conglomerate. The long train had what seemed like hundreds of double stacked containers and took about half an hour to pass. On this steep grade there were three locomotives pulling and two pushing. This video is only seven seconds long.

I waited until the train circled around the horseshoe.

end of the train

I got back on the bicycle and headed back downhill towards the southern Altoona suburbs and looked for somewhere to do a late lunch on a Wednesday. In the town of Hollidaysburg, eight miles south of Altoona, I found the Allegheny Creamery & Crepes. Not only was the vegetarian hamburger and a lemonade delicious, but the shaded outdoor seating was relaxing. Everyone in town seemed to be eating there. I read The New Yorker on my Kindle.

The courthouse was across the street. About a hundred miles north of the Mason/Dixon Line I guess monuments like this one are NOT coming down. It looks so much like the Confederate monument that was recently taken down in Chapel Hill, except these are Yankees!

That night I stayed in another cheap motel, the Wye Motor Lodge a few miles from Hollidaysburg depressingly out on a highway. I could find no other place to stay. At least the windows opened and one could get fresh air. Nights in late May are still refreshingly cool up here. Like Judy’s Motel back in Bedford, I took it as a good sign that they carefully maintained their shrubs.

The only place to eat dinner out here on the highway was a chain Italian place called Marzoni’s. I had low expectations but they cheerfully served me outdoors, even though no one else was doing that. Wine by the glass was something like four or five dollars. Pizza on the patio was all quite pleasant and the waitress conversational. I left her a big tip.

The next day was Thursday. I have a group of friends that meet each week near my Chapel Hill home at the outdoor patio of Weaver Street Market at 5:15 PM on Thursdays for social interaction. I really wanted to make that meeting. I would have to cycle thirty something miles back to my car in Bedford PA and then drive at about seven hours. To arrive at my meeting on time I started cycling very early the next day, peanut butter and strawberry sandwich in hand. It was light outside a few minutes before actual sunrise at 5:50 AM.

Gun store, 6:00 AM

A few miles down the highway, not really in any town, I was surprised to pass a bakery that opens at 6:00 AM. I stopped and bought a cherry danish.

It was a lovely day to be bicycling.

A couple of hours later I sat on a guardrail and ate my peanut butter and strawberry sandwich.

Late morning I arrived back at my car at Judy’s Motel in Bedford PA, and drove home to Chapel Hill NC. I arrived in time for my 5:15 appointment with twenty minutes to spare.

A weeklong bicycle tour through the middle of nowhere in Upstate NewYork and Pennsylvania? Why not!!!

The focus of this tour was the sixty-two mile long north / south Pine Creek Rail Trail in north central Pennsylvania. On the map below it is the line between Wellsboro PA and Jersey Shore PA. My friend Lyman Labry and I bicycled total about two hundred sixty miles over seven days.

Getting to a starting point was complicated! Lyman lives in Texas but was visiting in nearby Durham NC. I picked him and his bicycle up in Durham at 8:00 AM and we drove my Ford Escape Hybrid about seven or eight hours north to the Harrisburg PA airport, where we picked up another car, a Hertz rental. We drove both cars seventy miles north before parking my Ford across from a bike shop in the town of Lewisburg PA. The guys at a bike shop said they would keep an eye on my car for week. We then drove the rental car four hours north to Rochester NY, where we planned to turn in the rental car the next morning.

transferring folding bikes into the rental car

By car we arrived into Rochester NY at 8:30 at night, just before closing time at a restaurant called the Owl House. We luckily got an outdoor table; drinks and each a sesame noodle bowl. Gourmet health food! While both Lyman and I fully vaccinated, I am a worrier about COVID. I wanted to stay out of crowded indoor spaces and to eat al fresco. During the next week we would be bicycling through an area where vaccine rates are low and Trump support high. After leaving Rochester we saw almost no one wearing a mask.

It was a Saturday night and hotels in Rochester were either full or very expensive. I had found an unusual Airbnb in what I now know is the poorer northwest side of Rochester, the Maplewood neighborhood. The hostess did not seem to mind meeting at eleven at night to a large early twentieth century house, on a street of similar houses. It had seemed to be an especially good deal because Lyman and I each had our own room.

As we walked in we were requested to leave our shoes at the entrance. We added to the pile and walked up the stairs.

My room as it was presented, soap, toothbrush, towel, bible open to the Old Testament
Lyman got the larger room, no open bible, LOVE wallpaper, roll of toilet paper

Both rooms opened directly onto a kitchen whose refrigerator was stuffed with other people’s food. There was a Jamaican flag on the mantlepiece in the other room. Another guy, who seemed perfectly nice but whom we did not know walked into the kitchen, he was staying here as well. Across the kitchen was the shared bathroom for the three of us.

non functioning old fashioned pay phone, plastic flowers
RULES FOR LIVINING

In the morning I walked around the neighborhood, waiting for Lyman to wake up. The neighborhood looked generally well maintained. Most houses were cut up into apartments. I learned later that houses in this north side neighborhood sell for less than half the price of houses on the other side of Rochester a few miles away.

A very old looking man was sitting on his porch Frisbee-ing pieces of bread out onto the sidewalk. I guess he wanted to watch the birds.

Our bicycles were still in the car as left the Airbnb and drove first to downtown Rochester;

Kodak Building in the distance

then to Cafe Sasso on the wealthier southeast side of town for breakfast with a bicycle touring hero of mine who lives in Rochester. I had met him on Amtrak a few years ago. Harvey Botzman has circumnavigated all of the Great Lakes by bicycle, some more than once, and he has written books about it.

Cafe Sasso
Harvey showing me some route details (photo by Lyman)

Before leaving Lyman and I drove and Harvey bicycled a few blocks away to see local architecture.

Lyman and Harvey in front of the Frank Lloyd Wright designed Boynton House, from 1908

We could finally start bicycling! We drove the rental car a few miles to the Rochester airport, pulled our folding Bike Fridays out of the back, and returned the car to Hertz. Getting away from the airport by bicycle was easy, as the three hundred mile long Erie Canal Heritage Trail runs right next to the Rochester airport.

Erie Canal Heritage Trail

The next major town with places to stay was Geneva NY, fifty-five miles to the southeast.

We crossed and re-crossed the Erie Canal

After about fifteen miles on the trail we turned south on conventional highways. Harvey had bragged to us that all significant New York State highways have paved shoulders, and he claimed to know the guy who in the 1960’s implemented this policy. It is absolutely true that almost all two lane highways in my home region of North Carolina, South Carolina, and Virginia lack these wide paved shoulders.

a New York State highway south of Rochester
Lyman bicycling on the shoulder
Sometimes there was so little traffic that we felt we could take the whole road!

In the afternoon we returned to cycling on a path, this time for a few miles on a roughly shod rail trail called Ontario Pathways. The ride was bumpy but lovely.

We arrived into Geneva NY, population 13,000. I attended Maryland’s tiny Washington College for four years in the 1970’s. The college that cruelly prevented mine from winning the Division III lacrosse national championship was a college that we had never heard of: Hobart College in Geneva NY. Now I could see it for real, at the top of one of the the Finger Lakes: Seneca Lake.

Where should we stay? Hotels were over two hundred dollars and we would have to share a room. Harvey wisely had encouraged us to look at Airbnb. Lyman and I got separate Airbnb’s located about a mile apart for about total seventy dollars each. Each was run by quite different eccentric fifty something guys. Lyman’s Airbnb was messy and artsy and the host had a 919 area code on his cell phone, (he said he used to live in Clayton NC.) My Airbnb guy was a photographer and neat freak, obsessed with order and cleanliness to an almost OCD level. Those are great attributes in an Airbnb host. He was married with children but I did not see or meet them.

My host’s clothesline

We went looking downtown for a nice meal where we could eat outside. The temperature was in the low sixties but we had hats. Many of the restaurants in town were closed on this Sunday night. At Bella’s Sicilian Ristorante and everywhere else in Geneva NY no one else seemed to care about COVID and the other patrons were jammed indoors unmasked. At Bella’s one table on the sidewalk Lyman and I split an eggplant parmesan (pasta and side salad included) and a bottle of wine. The service was prompt and friendly. Like most mainstream Italian restaurants in America, a portion for one is really a portion for two, especially if you get an extra salad. This was my favorite kind of food and a very good deal. I could do nothing but leave them a big tip.

on the sidewalk at Bella’s, Geneva NY

We biked back to our respective Airbnbs.

Geneva NY

The next morning we went to the local Monaco’s Coffee. I had an almond milk latte with one pack sugar, and some kind of breakfast thing, a cheese scone? It was unusually fresh and delicious.

It was forty miles south along the western shore of the Finger Lake Seneca Lake to our day’s destination Watkins Glenn.

We had brought along peanut butter and jelly for lunch and at about the halfway point the otherwise vacant looking town of Dresden NY had a nice picnic table in its park.

Abandoned looking hotel/restaurant, Dresden NY

It must be a Northeastern thing. On the side of the road in the middle of nowhere, with lots of chickens and ducks running around the yard, was an absolutely gourmet ice cream parlor. I had seen word of the Spotted Duck on Google Maps and we had to cycle off our route for more than a mile, almost all uphill. The ice cream was clearly homemade with high cream content. There were exotic flavors.

Note: two flavors served on real utensils, a non-plastic metal dish with a non-plastic actual metal spoon

It was still quite a few miles into a headwind before we finally arrive into Watkins Glenn.

photo by Lyman Labry

I grew up devouring my father’s subscription to Road & Track magazine, so I knew all about what Watkins Glenn once was. From 1961 to 1980 Watkins Glenn NY was the home of the Formula One car race U.S. Grand Prix. The car track is a couple miles out of town and continues to host other racing events, especially NASCAR. The track complex also has had rock concerts, including the 1973 billing of the Allman Brothers, The Band, and the Grateful Dead that drew six hundred thousand. Although there was no apparent event this day, hotel space in the faded tourist town was tight and we got one of the last rooms at the Watkins Motel on the south side, two double beds. For an older motel it was unusually clean and pleasant, with a welcoming proprietress.

friendly owner, Watkins Motel

A lot of restaurants are closed on Mondays and restaurants in tourist towns are already suspect. I really did not want to eat a bad dinner indoors. It was a lovely evening and much more pleasant to sit outside our motel room in the blue chairs in the fading light and drink a bottle of local Finger Lakes wine, accompanied by Whoppers and fries from the Burger King across the street.

Almost a year after the election; woman wearing a WOMEN FOR TRUMP hat inside Burger King, Watkins Glenn NY

Early the next morning I walked around the town of Watkins Glenn.

Is this Ford LTD a 1971 or 1972?

The town of Watkins Glenn was originally built and promoted in the late 1800’s not because of car racing but because of the gorge on Glen Creek. I had visited Watkins Glenn State Park with my parents in the 1960’s when I was about eleven years old and I remember thinking: this gorge is the coolest place I have ever been. The park is adjacent to downtown; we could walk there from our motel.

I have seen nowhere else where water cuts so intimately through rock. It is like a miniature Grand Canyon, squeezed together. Lyman and I spent about an hour walking up and back on the walkway through the waterfalls.

Back at the hotel room we pumped our tires getting ready to leave. Lyman’s front tire and tube essentially failed. While we had brought spares it would be better just to buy new ones but there was no bike shop in Watkins Glenn. Luckily, I bicycled two miles over to the Walmart in Watkins Glenn. A BMX tire and tube from Walmart fit Lyman’s bicycle perfectly.

Our next destination was Corning NY to the south. Heading out of Watkins Glenn we cycled the first fifteen miles off-road on the Catherine Valley Trail.

South of Watkins Glenn the trail goes nearby Montour Falls
Then the rail trail continued

The trail ended near Horseheads NY, part of suburban Elmira / Corning. We got back on regular roads to ride the remaining fifteen miles to downtown Corning NY while dodging highly trafficked areas of dying shopping malls and Walmarts.

Corning NY (population 11,000) feels like a much bigger place. It is home to the famous glass museum and the glass technology company of the same name. Lyman and I looked for a coffee spot.

photo from Wikipedia

Market Street Coffee and Tea sadly does not make lattes, it just sells brewed coffee by the cup. We made do and sat out front, looking at hotels on our phones.

We decided to take a cheaper hotel, the Quality Inn, on the clearly less hip north side of the Chemung River that divides the town, but splurge on separate rooms. We bicycled over there in a light rain. We would still be able to bicycle back across to downtown that night for dinner.

View looking from the hotel parking lot

A little later it was a short bike ride to a brewery called The Iron Flamingo. Breweries have popped up everywhere in America; Corning has at least three. Inside the Iron Flamingo brew pub there were a few people, unmasked, sitting socially around inside at the bar. I nervously insisted that we take our beers out to a picnic table in the yard. The beer was delicious.

It was about dark when we starting cycling back across the river to downtown, looking for a place to eat. We went to Nickel’s Pit BBQ because we could sit outside and almost everywhere else was closed. Lyman (originally from Louisiana) swears the sandwich we split called The Cajun was the best thing we had eaten on this trip, even though the sandwich had little to do with Louisiana. New York State barbecue joints do not feel constrained the “rules” of barbecue of more famous barbecue states. This place also charges fifteen dollars for a sandwich. Ouch.

We headed out the next morning, stopping first in a coffee place on the fringes of Corning.

There was expected light rain or drizzle as we cycled into the woods near the New York/Pennsylvania state line.

Shortly after crossing into Pennsylvania we unexpectedly came upon this barrier. I fault Google Maps for not indicating this.

Touring cyclists takes these warning signs with a grain for salt, in most situations a cyclist can get around these barriers. This was an exception, we would have had to swim across.

Someone left a bridge-out scarecrow!
A boat! let’s steal it and paddle across!

We declined the temptation to steal a boat and had to turn around and cycle the long way around. Our original route was following a creek with small mountains rising from each side, so the detour involved some steep hills.

For lunch we looked for some kind of restaurant in the town of Tioga PA (population 650).

Tioga PA

We watched a woman make us submarine sandwiches (with too much mayonnaise!) at a Citgo station mini-mart. Repeating a pattern seen all across central Pennsylvania and southern New York State, this tiny town has made a huge effort to honor military veterans. We ate our sandwiches sitting around a tiny veteran’s memorial park, hoping the rain would not start again.

It was still seventeen miles to our night’s destination of Wellsboro PA, the only town in the region that has motels. Right after we started cycling after lunch the skies opened up and we both got quite wet. We pulled into Wellsboro looking to dry out.

Wellsboro PA (population 3,200) is isolated; by car it s two to three hours drive to either Buffalo NY, Rochester NY or Harrisburg PA, four hours to either Pittsburgh, Philadelphia, or New York City. The town is cheerfully well maintained and has an obvious tourist industry.

We had made a reservation at the Penn-Wells Hotel, right on Wellsboro’s Main Street. Its building goes all the way back to 1869 and was heavily renovated in 1928. As with most older hotels the rooms are small so we got two adjacent rooms. The floors were creaky and slanted but everything was clean and the mattresses firm.

hallway, Penn Wells Hotel

Despite the rain and the small choice of restaurants that evening I kept my insistence that we eat outdoors. Lyman cheerfully went along. The Wellsboro House Bar & Restaurant served us beer and dinner outside under the overhang. It worked out quite happily.

I got salmon with potatoes and vegetables
Lyman had a cheeseburger with chips

The next morning we did not started cycling until almost noon because of rain. As we were heading out of town my rear brake cable repeatedly jammed. I theoretically could have fixed it myself but luckily we were a few blocks from a bike shop called C S Sports and we waited an hour while they re-cabled my brake.

workshop of C S Sports

The Pine Creek Rail Trail is sixty-two miles long with its northern terminus just three miles from Wellsboro. It follows the Pine Creek Gorge for almost its entire distance. For most of the area there is no cell phone coverage at all. As we started cycling down the trail we were surprised as to how well it is maintained with smooth fine gravel or pavement the entire distance. We planned to cycle the trail in two days and had a reservation at an inn at about the halfway point.

It had been raining for days so the water is the creek was high

Steep slopes rose from the left side of the trail, and impromptu waterfalls cascaded down. There had been a lot of rain but the sun was now coming out.

It was so peaceful that I had to stop and play a song! (the image will correct its alignment)

In the late afternoon we arrived at about the halfway point of the trail. Cedar Run Inn is next to the trail and is essentially the only lodging around here. This welcoming place is the rare American small hotel that offers quality food and lodging for one low all-inclusive price. We paid $ 95.00 per person, including dinner and breakfast, cash only! I had made reservations almost three weeks in advance for a weeknight and they said I was taking the last available rooms. In talking to other guests, many had been coming here for years, most were from other parts of central Pennsylvania, and none were touring bicyclists.

Cedar Run Inn

There is a full bar in the inn. We settled for beers, which we took out onto the porch.

We were given separate small rooms upstairs with a bathroom down the hall, passing a bear skin on the way up the stairs.

Myself, the COVID nervous ninny, I was facing the first restaurant of the trip where we had no choice other than eat indoors. Sure, both Lyman and I had been double vaccinated, but no one here, employee or guest, wore masks. It did help that the food was delicious!

In the morning we ate again at the restaurant, a full blown American breakfast.

We packed up and set out by bicycle.

This man who we met at the inn was lifting the bicycle off the bike rack on his car, then going for a day ride with his son and daughter-in-law. Nice guy. Ninety years old.

Once again, the scenery was lovely, the trail smooth, car traffic non-existent.

The trail crossed and re-crossed Pine Creek, It was all so peaceful that I had to again break out the music, this time a song by John Darnielle of The Mountain Goats.

Pine Creek empties into the Susquehanna River at the incongruously named town of Jersey Shore PA and our Pine Creek Rail Trail ended there. We had not passed anywhere to eat all morning but near the end of the trail we arrived at what turned out to be a biker bar. (Motorcyles!) We got two cheeseburgers. Yes, several guys looked vaguely threatening but I passed this off as a style issue. Lyman was more concerned, we took our sandwiches and beers to a table out by the trail.

We bicycled onward though the streets of Jersey Shore PA. At a stoplight I saw a pickup truck whose tailgate had been painted (not just stickers) to indicate NO VACCINES, NO MASKS, TRUMP.

Jersey Shore PA

It was still seventeen miles to the larger town of Williamsport PA, where we had reserved an Airbnb. Part of the distance we unfortunately had to cycle on the four lane highway US220.

We headed onwards until we arrived in Williamsport PA; population 28,000, about the same population as it was in the year 1900 when it was a lumber boomtown. Its claim to fame since the 1930’s is being the home of Little League baseball. Our Airbnb was run by a reliably eccentric couple (she a graphic designer, him a political filmmaker) who live in a large turn-of-the-twentieth-century brick house.

Our hostess Melinda showing us our room. She and her husband have several rambunctious dogs.
the back of their house

A little later we bicycled the mile or so to downtown Williamsport, once again looking for somewhere to eat, but also to eat outside. It was Friday night and the restaurants were really crowded. Drinking beer and having dinner on the sidewalk outside the Bullfrog Brewery was a great time although the food was only just OK.

We watched across the street as people were arriving at the Community Arts Center; a 7:30 PM show by the Machine, a Pink Floyd tribute band. (The following night would be oldies standbys Tommy James & the Shondells!). I now know that inside the Center it is a gilded 1920’s former movie palace. We watched as the patrons were asked to put on masks, about the only time in Williamsport we saw anyone wear a mask.

we watched from across the street at the Brewery

Our Airbnb was quirky with a narrow dark back entrance and an elaborate kishy decor. Our hosts had no obligation to feed us the next day, but they cooked us eggs just to be nice. They certainly had no obligation to offer to drive us the first twenty miles of our bike ride the next day, so that we would not have to cross over a mountain on a freeway in the cold fog. We folded our bicycles and put them in her car. Melinda’s Jeep was colorful. One of her dogs came along for the ride.

Melinda dropped us off. I gave her a twenty dollar bill which she did not ask for. We had only fifteen miles to cycle back to my car that had been parked for a week in Lewisburg PA. While Lewisburg seems a prosperous town with the vibrancy of having Bucknell University, just north of Lewisburg the town of Milton has seen hard times. Milton must have once been an important place because in the 1930’s the U.S. Postal Service chose to build a certainly expensive and lovely Art Deco post office with likely original artwork. Lyman insisted that we go inside. As a retired historic preservation architect he was impressed that the Postal Service has kept the building mostly original and intact. (photos by Lyman)

Post office, Milton PA

carving in the Milton PA post office

Back on the bicycles, we headed on to Lewisburg. The guy at the bike shop had succeeded, our car was still there!

We drove back to Chapel Hill NC which took almost ten hours, arriving about 9:00 PM. Lyman’s partner Gillian was waiting with my wife Tootie at our friend Maxine’s house. We had their dinner leftovers which were really delicious.

Joe Scarborough says that, politically, the state of Pennsylvania is “Philadelphia and Pittsburgh, with Alabama in the middle.” I set out to find what I could find in central Pennsylvania. We have a new car, a Ford Escape Hybrid, but Tootie was using the new car this week. I drove up north in the 2004 Honda that we inherited from her late mother; my Bike Friday folded in the Honda trunk. Because the car is so old I did not want to push my luck by driving too far. I chose Harrisburg PA as a spot far just north enough that I had left The South, both to see something different culturally and to escape summer heat.

In the 1960’s my father had an ultimately unsuccessful business as the AMC Rambler dealer in Virginia Beach. Amazingly, somewhere on I-95 I passed an AMC Ambassador station wagon, similar to the one my parents used to haul us on family adventures in the late sixties/early seventies. We had two parents, four not-small kids bickering at each other, and a well behaved miniature poodle named Inkie. Our car sometimes hauled a travel trailer, the Zipper.

On I-95 in 2021, an about 1970 AMC Ambassador. Note that their A/C is not working. I doubt ours worked either, back in the day .

I like to drink coffee while driving and am a big supporter of small independent competitors to Starbucks. These coffee houses have opened all over America, frequently in otherwise neglected downtowns. They are easy to find by searching “coffee” on Google maps. I knew of a place in Petersburg VA really close to I-95. I wanted a latte-to-go, but Demolition was not open.

Petersburg VA
Covid staffing problems, Petersburg VA

By car, Harrisburg PA is a little over two hours north of Washington DC and six to seven hours from my home in Chapel Hill NC. On my trips I frequently park in Walmarts for extended periods but on this one I got all cautious and paid to park in a commercial lot in downtown Harrisburg. I pulled my bicycle out.

This is the 200+ mile loop I would bicycle over six days, making up my route as I went along. In North Carolina the geography is pretty simple; there are mountains in the west, rolling hills Piedmont in the middle and flat coastal plain in the east. Pennsylvania geography is much more complicated. Mountains are strewn all across the state, most of them running in ridges from the southwest to the northeast. My first three days in Pennsylvania I cycled north from Harrisburg to Lewisburg to Berwick along the Susquehanna River and the bike ride was mostly flat, but with hills or mountains rising steeply from both sides of the river. Coming back through Hazleton and Pottsville I had to bicycle over real mountains.

It was already after 3:00 PM by the time I got underway. My cycling destination this afternoon was a motel called the Halifax Inn that I had located on my phone and made a reservation at, twenty-six miles upriver.

Harrisburg is the state capital of Pennsylvania and its downtown fronts the Susquehanna River. There is a bike path along the river and I could see the historic houses that line the riverfront.

Riverfront, Harrisburg PA

North of Harrisburg the landscape is squeezed where the mountains fall down to the river. After the bike path ended the first five miles of cycling were challenging as I was forced to deal with heavy car traffic on the four lane highway. Eventually the traffic thinned out and the countryside and the cycling along the east shore of the Susquehanna River became quite delightful. Highways in Pennsylvania generally have wide shoulders.

I was in the mountains but the Susquehanna River cut through them.

The Appalachian Trail crossed my highway at a right angle

I bicycled through several small towns, houses built close to the sidewalk, very different from North Carolina.

North Carolina towns do not look like this

The Halifax Inn sat by itself on a rural two lane road.

I met no actual person while staying at this motel. After paying over the phone the motel texted me a room number and numeric lock combination; a Covid procedure that I can see becoming permanent, both here and elsewhere. The room was quite nice. I made my own dinner that night in the room with the mini-rice cooker that I had brought, polenta and ham.

The next morning I cycled through the cool morning. Sitting in an empty parking lot, clearly for sale, this early 1970’s Lincoln is the same model that was used to smuggle white bags of hard drugs in the 1971 movie The French Connection.

Just a few miles down the road was Millersburg, population 2,500. I had an almond milk latte and a roll at the local coffee house Peace of Mind Cafe.

At the Peace of Mind I sat outside on the stoop. During Covid I do not like to sit indoors in restaurants unless necessary.
Millersburg PA

Some of the best preserved commercial mid-century architecture in America is at VFW Halls, Elks Lodges, and the like.

Moose Lodge, Millersburg PA
another view, Moose Lodge, Millersburg PA

Heading out of Millersburg it was a pleasant morning cycle north through countryside interspersed with small towns, buildings right up to the street.

Lunch was at the larger town of Sunbury PA (population 10,000.). Because the taco place had no outdoor seating I took my tacos to a park downtown.

SunburyPA
tacos on the square, Sunbury PA
honors to veterans are ubiquitous in Central Pennsylvania, this is Sunbury PA

After lunch I cycled the additional twelve miles along the river to where I planned to stay the night, Lewisburg PA, (population 6,000) home of Bucknell University and a town with a lovely historic center.

Lewisburg PA

I got a spot at the historic Lewisburg Hotel downtown, somewhere that should have been nice but the room was dumpy and musty, with beat up old furniture, and a noisy window air conditioner. At least the room had cost less than $ 100.00.

Hallway of Lewisburg Hotel

Dinner down the street was nicer, a somewhat fancy restaurant called Elizabeth’s. There is so much Red America out her that Blue America stares you right in the face. During this pandemic the lower cost places mostly had only crowded indoor seating but restaurants catering to a Blue America clientele had outdoor seating that was usually full. I only got a table here only because I had called a couple hours earlier to reserve.

I somehow imagined that all these people were University faculty
First course, soup of the day, squash
Main course, frittata

The next morning I cycled away from my depressing hotel room into the comforting soft morning light. I would get breakfast in the next big town, Danville PA, fifteen miles to the east.

leaving Lewisburg PA
Heading east the scenery was lovely

At 7:30 AM, for the first time in my life, I cycled across a covered bridge. This one was built in 1830.

The beautiful landscape continued.

Danville PA (population 1860: 6,500; population 2020: 4,500) had an attractive but decaying inner city. I could not find specifically a coffee house but Old City Bagel Company worked fine.

Old City Bagel Co., Danville PA
Egg and cheese on an everything bagel, with coffee, sitting on the sidewalk

It was twenty something miles further to Berwick PA, passing through a series of decaying towns that line the Susquehanna River.

Ford Falcon, 1962?
Adult World, now hiring

Mid afternoon I cycled into Berwick PA. Berwick. (population 1920: 12,000; population 2020 10,000) is a town built around heavy industry, much of which is no longer viable. Berwick is the birthplace and home of Wise Foods, maker of Wise potato chips. I cycled up to Berwick Brewing Company. The seats at their indoor bar were all taken at 3:00 PM on a weekday but I was able to take my porter out to their delightful rear terrace, which overlooks both the rail line and the Susquehanna River.

my beer on a log, outdoor patio, Berwick Brewing Company
guys at Berwick Brewing Company, I listened to them talk

While chilling at the Berwick Brewing Company I assessed my situation. There was almost nowhere to stay except a bed and breakfast here in Berwick, and nothing if I continued cycling. I booked a room at the White Birch Inn.

I was able to check into the White Birch Inn totally by cell phone and I was given a numeric key code by text.

That evening there were two or three restaurants within walking distance. Everyone in town seemed to be eating at the Forge Pub & Eatery.

Inside it was jam packed with unmasked and I assume some unvaccinated people. There were two or three tables outside, they were also taken. Next to the outdoor tables was a wooden counter overlooking the parking lot. I took a seat and the host graciously agreed to serve me there. I realized after a while that this spot was frequented by those stepping out of the bar so they could smoke.

I did quite a bit of talking with this friendly smoker who had questions about my camera.

The Forge Pub & Eatery has good food and service.

salad with blue cheese dressing; house red wine
Main course, broiled fish with two sides, green beans and fries

I walked back to the B&B through the streets of Berwick in the fading light.

I saw a lot of right wing paraphernalia on this trip but this sign bothered me even more than the Trump signs.

The next morning I discovered that the White Birch Inn had been full the night before, and the included breakfast service was crowded. I shared a table with a woman about my age (sixties) who lived in suburban DC and was in town for a relative’s funeral. She told her mother grew up Ukranian-American in Berwick with a life centered on the Ukranian Orthodox Church here.

We have all seen those wooden boxes in neighborhoods where people invite strangers to share books. In front of the B&B was a similar box, but it was to share food.

While I was in my room upstairs packing up I saw out the window a man come up and take food from the box.

The White Birch Inn proudly gives two bags on local Wise snacks with their room, I packed them for the road.

To cycle back to my car in Harrisburg without retracing I was going to have to cycle over mountains, three days with only a limited number of towns with hotels. I did see a bunch of chain hotels at the Interstate interchange just before Hazleton, only fifteen miles away but the ride would be entirely uphill, gaining about twelve hundred feet in elevation.

I cycled through downtown Berwick and over the Susquehanna River.

looking back at Berwick from across the river

I cycled along the floodplain for a short time before the road turned sharply uphill.

I assume this is a nuclear power plant but I actually have no idea

The road became very steep, for miles at a time. I stopped and rested in the shade and sat on the guardrail.

I continued my lowest gear, chugging slowly up the mountain. I was still carrying my mini rice cooker and I had planned to cook my own dinner in a hotel room that evening. I had seen signs for fresh local corn all during this trip and halfway up the mountainI finally stopped for corn. They were shocked that I only wanted one ear of corn for fifty cents.

strapping one ear of corn to the back of the bicycle

I stopped for lunch (my peanut butter & jelly sandwich) at a public park in West Hazleton. In Central Pennsylvania reminders of our veteran’s sacrifice are constant.

Afterward I cycled over to Walmart to get groceries + a bottle of wine.

I stayed that night in a chain hotel that overlooked the freeway.

My hotel, a Candelwood Suites up on suburban hill

Candlelight suites had an actual kitchen included. I made dinner there that night.

Fried rice with egg and corn

I had breakfast included with my hotel and set off the next morning. The hotel had been in suburban West Hazleton; I set off for Hazleton proper.

On the highway, near Hazleton PA

I have learned that anthracite is the cleanest burning and most valuable type of coal, with a value of two to three times that of regular coal. Underground anthracite was discovered in what is now Hazleton in the 1830’s. The Lattimer Massacre of 1897, when a sheriff’s posse shot and killed nineteen striking miners, helped inspire the United Mine Worker union. By 1940 the mining boomtown of Hazleton had a population of 38,000, comprised mostly of immigrants from places like Italy, Poland, and Lithuania. The town’s current population is down to about 24,000.

I cycled on this Sunday morning up and down a hill on a wide highway before turning to cycle through the street grid of Hazleton.

Empty buildings, downtown Hazleton PA
statue of Christopher Columbus, downtown Hazleton PA

In a city that has had a falling population for decades one strategy might be to welcome immigrants. Or maybe not. It seems that the arrival of Hispanics freaked Hazleton out. According to Wikipedia, Hazleton PA made national news in 2006 when the city passed the Illegal Immigration Relief Act, making it illegal for landlords to rent to illegal immigrants. A law passed at the same time made English the official language of Hazleton. Many newcomers to Hazleton have come from the Dominican Republic, most first through the New York City area. In a short period of time Hispanics have come to comprise about half of the population of Hazleton. While cycling through Hazleton neighborhoods I saw multiple Hispanic looking grocery stores, seeming to be the only viable businesses in town. WEST Hazleton is now listed as having a population 97% white.

JC Grocery: Sandwich * Jugos * Sodas y Mucho Mas

I cycled back onto the highway for the mostly downhill twenty-eight mile ride to Pottsville PA, another city built with the riches from anthracite coal. First I passed through miles of coal landscape and several smaller towns.

Huge pile of something coal related, just outside of Hazleton PA

I was reminded how many Eastern Europeans had moved here about a hundred years ago.

In McAdoo PA, Ukrainian culture
I think Eastern European: Halushki, Halupkis, and Bleenies

Twelve miles down the road on this Sunday morning, it was a respite to sit outdoors in Tamaqua PA with an almond milk latte at a nice place called the Hope & Coffee. Hope & Coffee clearly has a mission to help the recovering.

Outside Hope & Coffee, Tamaqua PA

bulletin board: re-entry from prison programs, approaches to sobriety

Biking out of Tamaqua towards Pottsville I passed through miles of what I assume is strip mined land. It was not as apocalyptic looking as I had thought, maybe because trees have had time to grow.

While the wide two lane highway had little traffic there was an older road with virtually no traffic paralleling the main highway. It passed through a series of tiny older coal towns two to three miles apart.

the flag says “Fauci Lied People Died”

I was startled when I read that the population of Pottsville PA was only 13,500; it feels like a more substantial city, a bigger and formerly wealthier place than the towns I had previously stayed in; Berwick PA and Hazleton PA. Pottsville was also built with mostly coal money.

Schuykill Trust Company building
Miners National Bank 1928
off the main drag Pottsville has steep hills

Pottsville is famous for being home of the Yuengling brewery. I never actually saw it but knew I had read it was closed on Sundays. Pottsville has a local microbrewery open on Sundays, the Black Rock Brewing Company and I could sit outdoors. I stopped for a pint.

I saw only one place to stay in-town Pottsville, The Maid’s Quarters Bed Breakfast and Tearoom, owned and operated by an energetic thirty-something woman who told me she does all the cooking by herself. The front room was filled this Sunday afternoon with matronly looking women doing tea: tea and pastries.

Maids Quarters is the stone building in the center

Small privately owned museums of any topic are my sure thing. Down the street from the hotel I spend eleven dollars on visiting Jerry’s Classic Cars & Collectibles. He has a lot of stuff. I found the car collection only meh.

I walked around town

Pottsville had an NFL team!

Later on downtown: small town amateur theater projected a sense of community. Outside before the show actors in makeup mingled with the audience; everyone seemed to know each other.

My hostess specifically asked if I wanted breakfast earlier than the normal 8:00 AM the next day. What could I say but yes! It was going to be a hot day I had to get an early start. I was by myself in the dining room at 7:30 AM. Fresh fruit + eggs with spinach and smoked salmon, all cooked solo by the proprietor.

I cycled off into the morning light. It was sixty miles back to my car in Harrisburg.

Across the street from the hotel; Pick A Deli & Beer
Sweet Arrow Lake, Washington Township PA

I had not planned what to do about lunch as I neared the military base Fort Indiantown Gap. The temperature was already climbing up to near ninety. On the highway just outside the base was inviting outdoor seating at Moose’s LZ Bar and Grill. Many of the patrons were in uniform. One should not pass up such an opportunity.

Beer and veggie burger at the outdoor bar = perfection

I eventually got back on the road, now in even more intense heat.

Hercules aircraft on display, Fort Indiantown Gap

It was too hot to bicycle all the way to Harrisburg. I stayed in the very nice hotel Mainstay Suites at the freeway interchange. The one restaurant near there said they were short staffed and could only do indoor seating. My hotel had a real kitchen, I cooked myself supper that night and watched sports on TV.

I got up the next morning and cycled the seventeen miles to Harrisburg. Just before I arrived at my car in downtown Harrisburg I stumbled upon this Brutalist monolith, the Pennsylvania State Archives building.

It looks like something out of science fiction movie

Our car was still there. I was home in Chapel Hill NC in time for dinner.

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!)

From Wikipedia:

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.[75]

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.