Yesterday was the first day of my drive west. I did almost 600 miles in around nine hours. Pennsylvania is a wide state. I left Bryn Mawr at 8:13 and crossed into Ohio at 2:00. Route 76, which in Philly we know as the Schuykill Expressway that is typically clogged with traffic, in its west bound leg quickly opens up to farm land and then climbs into the Laurel Highlands. If you’re a person of a certain age, you might remember beer ads that used this phrase to tout the fresh water of its brew. I’ve forgotten the brand, but as I entered the tunnel that bears the Pennsylvania Highlands name, the sunshine and high clouds and verdant hillsides brought back a nostalgic memory of childhood.
Over the border, 76 West becomes the Ohio Turnpike, and the traffic becomes lighter yet. Ohio has beautifully designed modernist rest stops that are as airy and welcoming as its landscape. I remembered the Starbucks where my beloved and I stopped two winters ago when we did this trip together. It was uncrowded as the roadway, the only other patron a man in a Seattle tee shirt. I thought to ask him which way he was going, east or west, but he was wearing his ear buds and the fixed concentration of the solitary traveler.
I had set Angola, particularly Pokagon State Park as my potential destination uncertain if I’d make if this far. When I realized I was getting close sometime around 5:00, I called their reservation number to make sure they still had room. The attendant informed me that there’s a two day minimum on weekends. This was disappointing news, especially as I’d already called twice before during the week to talk to agents about the likelihood of getting a spot without reservation. I was quite disappointed with and decided to take my chances on finding camping by following road signs.
When the sign for Pokagon came along, I signaled and exited the highway. Driving into the park from the road, I relaxed into its slower pace and deep greenery. I paid the $7 out of state fee to enter the park and flowed the signs for the campground entrance past the wilderness preserve and the elegant lodge and restaurant. At the camping gateway, I was greeted by a vested volunteer with the question, do you have a reservation?
I told them that I had just driven the first nine hours of a cross country trip and was hoping to spend a night. She conferred with the staff at the gatehouse and they did indeed find me a spot.
The campground is large and well treed. At 6:30 it was smoky with dinners cooking and busy with bike and foot traffic. Families were gathered around picnic tables or sprawled in beach chairs, bathing suits and towels like prayer flags lining their sites. It was altogether a good feeling place. Safe. Green. And with a promise of peaceful sleep.
Even through my earplugs I heard a guitar strumming, s’mores making, laughter and the one very unhappy baby whose wails had earlier filled the bath house. Maybe she is teething. It can be a painful business this being alive. Her mother had spoken soothingly to her from the shower while also monitoring the tooth brushing of her two bigger sisters with their clean wet hair and fuzzy pajamas.
I drifted into sleep amongst these fellow campers and woke at dawn to songbirds and crows and a wood pecker somewhere off in the distance. I showered and did some yoga in my tent. It’s time for breakfast and breaking down my temporary shelter to get back on the road. Where will I sleep tonight?
It was Rolling Rock beer. Brewed in Latrobe, PA, with mountain spring water. As a child in Western Pennsylvania I remember my uncles drinking Rolling Rock in the green bottle with the pony on the front. Now it’s owned by Anheuser-Busch and brewed in New Jersey. Everything changes.
Right! From the Laurel Highlands! Nice to hear from you!