The girls behind the counter looked at me blankly when I asked if I had passed the turn for River Road, the one that would get me to Virginia 250 that would then get me to 64 and finally to 81N. While they negotiated who had been working there longer and was then more qualified to give directions, a man touched my arm, and said, "I'll tell you the best route to 81 . . . and he did, and he was so confident that there was no reason to doubt him. I went his way.
That's right, I don't use a GPS . . . although later in this episode, Wolfy will attempt to use a GPS and well, it's not pretty. Give me a paper map, preferably with topo lines, and I am happier than a horse in the shade.
I81 is way up, it traverses the mountain tops, and the light up there is electric, and you can see all the way to the Midwest I believe. The green valleys are immense and I saw at least two houses tucked way up on hilltops that I wished I could call home. A billboard asked me to pray for Recovery and it was not the last sign of the dire economic times we're in that day. I81 a truck route really, and heavily traveled by military. It's not I-95, it's got a very serious look on it's face, everybody seems to be working. Except for the little party I saw going on in a red Cube. I followed that tiny car for several miles, and it was filled with dancing heads, and for a moment I thought the car was filled with Afghan hounds, but when I passed, I found it to be jammed with Asians - I know, I know - but it's true, and they were having a fabulous time, so fabulous, that I wanted to follow them further, but I had miles to go, so many miles to go.
I passed at least two army convoys, and was straifed by a boy in full camo on the meanest looking black dirt bike I've ever seen -- he peeled by me and crouched down as he weaved through the traffic, good gosh he was free.
I passed War College . . . which made me think of Peace College, and then this led to thoughts of them meeting for debates and goodwill football matches.
It was sometime after lunch that I made the climb between the coal mines to the bleakest highway stretch I have ever seen - I81 N through western Pennsylvania, with a brief impasse into West Virginia, north of Harrisburg, somewhere near Scranton and Wilkes-Barre. Though it was a sunny day, I felt the grey skies of Andrew Wyeth sitting heavily on my mind. Perhaps I had been on the road too long, but the road seemed uninhabited and deathly lonely, despite being surrounded by trucks - it was as though they weren't being driven by people. There were coal mines in the distance, blackness fell over me . . . I felt like Amelia Earhart just before she disappeared over the Pacific, my radio was silent.
But, I made it to Binghamton for a ham sandwich and a Coke and was rewarded with the late golden hours on 88 East toward Albany. The traffic was almost nil, only me, a station wagon from South Carolina, and a heavy duty pickup truck with a winch and a gun rack. But the loneliness of this highway was a wonderful solitude among the foothills of upstate New York. Here was the light and the scenes of the Hudson River School - more pastoral than one could stand. Great red barns, lush green fields, cows waiting for evening.
And yet I was hit by the lack of traffic and the emphatically CLOSED rest stops. Nobody comes this way anymore . . .