Category Archives: Pennsylvania

Emotional rollercoaster

By now you probably have figured out that I must be back in New York, even at my slow pace.
The last stretch of my journey, I like to call it “Alternative Lifestyle”, took me through Pennsylvania from the Bald Eagle State Forest thru Lewisburg, looked like a nice small town, to Centralia. Centralia is considered a ghost town; only nine people live there at this point. Originally Centralia was a town with a population of roughly 1,100.

Centralia - deserted Railroad Street

An underground coal fire that has been burning since the 1960s! is a cause for the exodus. The fire emits unhealthy fumes; even I had difficulties breathing when I went up the hill where you can see smoke and steam coming out of the hillside. However, I had no problems breathing when I walked around the deserted streets of Centralia. In the 1980s the government bought out most of the homeowners and dismantled the homes. All that is left of the town are streets with no names going nowhere, a cemetery and a handful of homes.

Centralia - overgrown sidewalk, Railroad Street

You can only imagine what this town must have looked like judging by the wide side walks and stone walls, very sad. There are several sites online which give you more details about the local and federal governments’ failures to put out the still burning fires.

Centralia - closed hwy 54 due to buckling and cracking caused by the nearby coal fire.

Next stop, Pottstown where I visited my cousin Bill. The closer I got to larger towns the less I enjoyed driving. The streets are not build for trucks, they are too narrow and most of the time don’t have a shoulder. Drivers are getting worse too, making left hand turns right in front of me thinking that I can just stop on the spot. Never mind that they don’t let me merge even in stop and go traffic; I was cursing like a truck driver. Did I mention low clearance bridges? There have been several occasions when no bridge height was indicated and my stomach contracted and I stopped breathing as I made my way under the bridge or overpass.
My last stop was a visit to a friend in Princeton. I knew that the last stretch of the drive would not be easy. I remembered coming home after my seven week long cross-country trip. This time I was coming home to a lot of uncertainty; would I be able to hold on to the truck, would I find another job, would this be the end of my traveling days? A lot of questions with no answers. I wasn’t really thinking about any of this when I approached the Tappan Zee Bridge and I was not prepared for what was to come. About two miles before the bridge my eyes started to well-up and by the time I reached the bridge I was experiencing the worst possible anxiety attack. I pulled over into a parking strip right after the toll booth. My arms and legs started to cramp up, I couldn’t walk, my fingers were tingling, I was breezing rapidly, my body was tingling all over, leg and arm muscles were contracting, nothing felt right.
It took me an hour to recover and feel well enough to drive the remaining ten miles to my friend Bettina’s house in Westchester. I was relieved when I arrived.
I have been back for about two weeks now and I am still settling into a new routine. The first brief trip to the city was a bit overwhelming. The crowds and noise on the train were more than what I could deal with after all those months away from large cities and mass transit.
My good fortunes have not stopped since I have come back to NY. My biggest concern has been to find a way to hold onto my truck. Thanks to Bettina I might be able to do so. For the time being I am camping in her driveway. It is a very nice driveway surrounded by woods and chipmunks on a dead end road. I was able to sublet my apartment within three days for the next couple of months taking away the burden of having to come up with rent money. I am still looking for additional part-time work.

Bowery looking north, Empire State Building

I spent four days in the city and fell in love with it all over again. I walked around the Village, Midtown and the East Village. It was great to walk home in the evening up Fifth Avenue, hearing music drifting from Central Park’s Summer Stage concert out to the Avenue. I thought I might see the Alexander McQueen exhibit, a retrospective of the late British designer’s work at the Metropolitan Museum of Art. It was the last day of the exhibit and the Met had extended opening hours until midnight. When I got to the museum the line was out the door and half down the block at 10 PM!, only in New York.
I marveled at the Empire State building from Houston Street looking up Bowery, just great and a bagel with veggie cream cheese never tasted this good. Best of all, I now have the wonderful Fairway grocery store in my neighborhood. No need to trek all the way to the Westside anymore.
There is no greater city than New York City. Granted it is nothing like the open spaces out West, but the city has so much to offer.
For the time being I will be one of those commuters traveling to the city to work.

Walk, don’t run

I spent last night at the darkest place east of the Mississippi, Cherry Springs State Park in Pennsylvania. It is the best place in the East to stargaze and to see the Milky Way. Unfortunately, the blue sky during the day turned into a very gray sky by the time the sun set; so much for a final gaze at the stars. People had come all the way from the Philadelphia area to take photos and see the Milky Way for the first time. I hope they have more luck tonight; however, the forecast this morning wasn’t great.
Today, I headed south on highways 44 and 144, both lead through the mountains, yes mountains. At 2,400’ they qualify as mountains. The drive took me thru beautiful Clinton and Union counties. I just wish the roads would have been a little less bumpy and just a bit wider. I had to keep my eyes glued to the road and could only enjoy part of this great scenery. This area must be spectacular in the fall with all the leaves changing colors.
I followed some tiny roads south of I-80 to get to highway 192 east to the R.B. Winter State Park. The park has a lake and a swimming beach, just what you need in this kind of weather. I had my reservations about a state park on the weekend, but figured for one night it would be OK. Well, within minutes of getting to the campground I was certain that I would not spend the night here, not even one. The parking lots were filled with cars, people walking around in swimsuits, the beach was packed, I guess you get the picture. I had no interest to be subjected to crowds and the noise that comes with it. I’ll have plenty of that when I am back in NYC. I headed for the park office and asked if there are any dispersed campsites in the adjacent state forest where I could stay overnight. These are primitive campsites, no water or electricity and they are free. All you need is a permit issued by the bureau of forestry. After a little research the very nice park employee had me on the phone with the forestry folks and they faxed over a permit. I am staying in the woods about two miles from the commotion, wonderful.

The way I like it - quiet, no neighbors

It was too early to call it a day and I decided to go for a little walk in my “neighborhood”. Usually, when you hear noise in the woods it comes from squirrels chasing each other or from a deer. I don’t know why, but when I heard a noise I looked for a stick as protection, not that it would have really helped. I kept on walking until I came around the bend and saw a black bear less than fifty yards away on the trail. I very carefully walked backwards until I couldn’t see the bear anymore and than walked at a steady pace in the opposite direction. No, I didn’t stick around long enough to take a picture. I like an adventure, but I am not stupid. After that almost encounter I was even more alert to the noises around me and I was glad to be back at my camper.
It is going to be a wonderful dark and quiet night, just the bear and I. Good night.

Inching back to New York City

Much time and many miles have past since my last post. I started writing posts, but didn’t finish any. I have not been in the mood to write, the inevitable end of my journey has been looming over me. I have stayed in places longer than I usually do, hoping to avoid the return to NYC, no such luck. It is not that I hate to go back to the city, I love that place. It is more the fear that I have to sell my truck which would mean the end to any future travels. I just can’t afford the truck and rent.
Don’t get me wrong, it has not all been gloom and doom since my last entry. I had a very nice write-up in the online version of GoMagazine, including a small slide show of some of my photos. Let’s see what comes from this publicity.

Hay bales

I left Iowa crossing the Mighty Mississippi River into Wisconsin. The flat cornfields were replaced by very hilly even mountainous terrain where fields moved up the hillside, a welcome change of scenery; forests instead of just gatherings of trees. I stayed for four nights in the tiny town of Avoca, population 608, at the city park campground, adjacent to a baseball field. I treated myself to some Little League games.
A friend of mine told me that I had to visit Madison, the state capital and home to the University of Wisconsin. Madison is a vibrant and progressive college town and to me a very large city (pop. 233,000+). I street camped for two nights in a very nice residential

Madison Capitol Building and city lights reflecting in Monona Bay

neighborhood at Monona Bay with views of the State Capitol Building, stunning at night with the city lights reflecting in the water. I even caught a glimpse of the 4th of July fireworks finale from my camper, not bad for a free camp spot. I always thought that California campgrounds are expensive, but they are nothing compared to the prices charged in the East where campgrounds are only open for six to seven months. I have seen places charge $60 per night! Bet they don’t have a site with a view of the Capitol Building. Large cities are a pain to explore by car so I did the next best thing and rented a bicycle for the day. I make sure to have my own bike on my next trip. After exploring the downtown and surrounding area, I managed to go for a swim in Lake Mendota; the other big lake in Madison, unfortunately the water was full of algae. I was glad that there were showers at the beach/park. I can’t say that I really liked Madison. It’s not a bad city, I just didn’t like it.

Brooklyn town sign

I headed south from Madison via Brooklyn to Illinois. I stayed west of Chicago, no need to get myself into another large city. In Illinois I briefly stopped in West Brooklyn. It is fun to travel through all those namesake towns. I visited Manhattan in Kansas and in Illinois and I stayed overnight in Warsaw, Indiana.
Once I entered Illinois the towns seemed to move closer and the farms seemed smaller. Even the little roads have traffic, no more peaceful cruising through the countryside. I had returned to the East. I thought Iowa’s roads were bad, but the roads in Illinois, Indiana, Ohio, New York and Pennsylvania were not any better. What happened to those shovel read stimulus projects? Let’s fix our roads. The roads I was on today were so bad that my camper moved a good inch within the truck bed, not good.

Hay bales

Illinois was followed by Indiana, Ohio and Pennsylvania. Indiana and Ohio are a bit of a blur. I was driving close to 200 miles a day and I only spent the night at each stop for three days. That might not seem like much to you, but I had been driving around 100 miles a day. If you haven’t followed my blog, driving my pick-up with the camper is nothing like driving a regular car or just a pick-up. My rig weighs 11,000 pounds, is top heavy and almost as wide as a lane. Driving on two lane highways with no shoulder takes my full concentration and a 200 mile drive takes six hours. Never mind narrow roads through small towns where I always fear to hit the roadside mailboxes with my huge mirrors.
Why the rush? I was trying to meet-up with my hiking buddy Ron from Nevada. He was visiting his sister in Erie, PA. He wasn’t sure how long he would stay and I didn’t want to miss him. It took Ron only four days to drive the 2,200 miles from Nevada to Erie. In contrast, it took my three and a half months and close to 7,000 miles (=NYC to L.A. to NYC and ½ way L.A.). I guess I was doing a little more “sightseeing”.

Amish farmers harvesting spelt

It was great to see Ron again and to meet his sister and his friends. We roamed the countryside and visited his Amish friends in Pennsylvania and New York. I felt very privileged when we were invited into their home to have lunch.

Amish buggies driving down the road

It takes a little bit before you realize that there are no electrical outlets, no rugs or carpets, no framed pictures or photographs. The big stove and oven are wood burning and there is only cold running water, no flush toilet; a clutter free household. The fields are still farmed the old fashioned way with horse and plow. In the barn you find the workhorses and the horses that pull the buggies. I knew about all this before I met the

Amish buggies

Amish, but it is very different when you get to experience some of this first hand. I admire that the Amish community has withstood the pressures to modernize in any way and has stuck with their “simple” way of life. I am aware that there are issues within the community, especially when it comes to leaving the Amish. You have to choose between family or the “English” world. You can’t live in both. A decision I am glad I never have to make.
I am leaving Jamestown, NY and head back into Pennsylvania. I don’t like to see all those NY state license plates, makes me feel like I am home.

Amish spelt harvest

I have two weeks left on this incredible journey. My goals when I am back in NYC are to write about all those stories I promised, to edit my photos and to find some additional part-time jobs, not necessarily in this order. Hopefully, a photo book will follow soon as well.
I dread having to empty my camper and move back into my apartment. I am just not ready for stationary life.