Sunday, July 20th
The Drive from Bulltown Campground, West Virginia, to Shawnee State Park, Pennsylvania
The drive to Shawnee State Park in central Pennsylvania was ideal. Just about the right distance, 190 miles, and just about the right time. I arrived at the Park just before 4:00 p.m., if memory serves. This was the first long leg of the trip on which the GPS took me exactly where I wanted to go. No circling. Probably because I took care to program the proper destination into the system before leaving! GPS really does make travel with the Aliner easier and more enjoyable.
First, south on West Virginia Route 19. That is a beautiful road. The GPS suggested I turn off on a dirt road to get to I-79 north more quickly. But the road didn't look very good. Unpaved. More a farm track than a road. So, I drove south to the exit where I first stopped to get gas on the way up. Then north on I-79.
This fast highway goes through some beautiful country. Even for West Virginia. Toward Morgantown. Well worth driving. Here and there signs advertise gas at the various exits. I stopped at one. The area surrounding the highway interchange was modest, at best. But the scenery is great. Once again, that inverse relationship between the beauty of natural scenery and signs of economic prosperity.
I've been packing a lunch and a bottle of water for these inter-park drives. That's been working well. A peanut butter sandwich wrapped in paper towels works well. No jelly. A banana. And two of those now-popular breakfast bars. More than enough for a lunch that I can eat while driving along. Or, stop and eat if there's a good place to do so and I have the time. It also saves a good bit of money. Restaurant eating is expensive. At least $5.00, and usually more. Let alone the opportunity to reduce salt intake. A win-win situation
From I-79 the route turned on to I-68, through Maryland into Pennsylvania. That too is a beautiful road. With more hills. It's a shame to waste all of this scenery. I've got to make arrangements somehow to take photographs while on the road. And to do so safely. Photos through the windshield are one possibility. And I did some of that last year. They don't turn out very well, though. Reflections and haze that even PhotoShop has difficulty coping with. And it's dangerous, if not illegal, to stop along the side of the road. Especially when pulling the Aliner. The Blue Ridge Highway and Skyline Drive are both good about providing pull-overs where it's possible to get out and take photographs safely. Here in West Virginia, Northern Maryland, and Pennsylvania they'd have to be located every 1,000 feet or so! I'll give this road photo problem more thought.
Fortunately the road construction folks have provided slow-traffic, or truck lanes. Some of the hills were so steep the Lincoln slowed down to 50 mph. The scenery, on both sides of the car, though, made it worth it. What a beautiful part of the country. I didn't know Maryland had such nice territory. It's hard to tell without stopping and looking around, but this part of Maryland appeared to be more prosperous than West Virginia. Judging from the appearance of the interstate exit facilities as seen from the road.
I-68 turned than to Route 219 North. The Mason Dixon Highway. 219 is a more modest road, and the scenery gets even better. Farms and rolling hills along the way. I didn't stop to take photos, but could have at almost any point. Here the road went through some small towns that were best described as "neat." Here the towns had the look of economic downturn to them, as if manufacturing jobs of some kind had disappeared some time back, and tourism hadn't quite made up the difference. Economic downturn that the townspeople had yet to accept. Lots of signs for small businesses in the yards of houses close to the road. Hair salons; computer services; carvings; yard sales; jewelry of a specialized nature; and the like. Speaking of yard sale signs, back in West Virginia on Route 19, a sign announced: "Open: Yard Sale Inside." I almost stopped to take a picture, but thought better of it.
From 219 north the Mio GPS directed me to Route 30 East. This is part of the Lincoln Highway. A cross-country highway I recall described in that Roadtrip USA book that I forgot to bring with me! It too was spectacular. Nearly every turn in the road brought a new scene. Natural scenery; social scenery. One could easily spend several days driving this route, stopping from time to time for photos and conversation with folks along the way.
Speaking of social scenery, I saw my first windmill power generation development on Route 219, or it could have been Route 30, heading northeast. Atop a mountain ridge in the distance. Perhaps a dozen huge three-bladed windmills, with arms turning slowly. An incredible sight. It wasn't convenient to stop there to take a photo. I'll have to look into the project. Further along the road, on Route 30, I think, there was a small roadside sign announcing the arrival of a new set of electricity-generating windmills. Seems an ideal arrangement. Though it does change the view. Not for the worse, at least for me. Maybe because I've never seen any of them before.
Route 30 took me through some historically significant territory. As it happened, I have an audio book on the iPod about the French and Indian War. It's Fred Anderson's "The War That Made America." It gives special attention to this part of the country. Colonel Forbes' road, and so on. Interesting to see the actual sites of these events. I can't recall all of the interesting signs. But do remember the Old Log Church and Cemetery, and a Bison farm! They are close enough to drive to if time permits while I'm here.
At one point, on-coming traffic featured quite a few mud-spattered high-wheeled vehicles that looked as if they were returning from one of those mud pit driving exercises. I've never seen one. But I've heard of them in rural areas of South Carolina too. Trucks, some pulling trailers full of four-wheeler-type vehicles. With cabs full of young men looking as if they were returning from a hunt, or something.
Speaking of hunting, I was surprised by the number of deer carcases along the road. Deer obviously hit by cars. Most of them fairly small. But there was one huge doe at the side of Route 219, not far before I turned to Route 30. I'll have to be careful driving in this area.
The Mio GPS took me unfailingly to State Park Road just after Schellesburg, and down that road to the camping area. No circling at all! The difference this time was that I took care to confirm that the destination listed in the points of interest was the park itself and not the in-town office of the Park system. Though I had to rely on Park signage once inside the Park.
The gate attendant quickly found my reservation and gave me an abundant packet of literature about the Park and about the surrounding area. Including an especially nice brochure about Bedford County. She didn't know anything about the registration of my kayak for paddling on the lake, though. I'll have to ask one of the Rangers about that.
Site # 258 could hardly be better. True, there's no lake view. And it is even rougher than the one back at Bulltown. It too has a slant that requires the BAL leveler. And it has no water. Only electricity.
But all of that is minor inconvenience for the beauty of its surrounding.
It is at the edge of Section D, with one of the Park's yurts directly across, and two of the cabins on the other side. The yurt is occupied, but the cabins aren't. A family has a pop-up trailer parked on the other side of the camper. A quiet group that seems to know about camping.
I went directly to the site and set up. The couple across the way in the Yurt arrived about the same time and were showing the yurt to a young family walking by. I went over at their invitation and took the tour. They are here from Connecticut to bring their daughter to a fencing camp at a nearby university. They told me the Park's yurts must be reserved for at least one week, Friday to Friday.
Back in the Aliner since it began to rain. The NOAA weather radio had a thunderstorm warning. The storm didn't reach here, however. I took the time to have a light dinner and read the abundant literature provided by the attendant at the gate. Then to sleep around 9:00 p.m.
Monday July 21st
Up with the alarm this morning at 4:00 a.m. The campground was completely quiet and almost completely dark. The only exception was a glimmer of light from the bath house porch and one festive string of lights on a nearby travel trailer. I went up to take a shower right away. The push-button shower system here too works very well. The bath house was clean and well maintained.
Then back to the Aliner for a pot of coffee and writing. Just at 5:24 a.m., the first birds began to chirp outside. It wasn't yet quite light. Just a hint in the sky through the trees. The outside temperature was 62 degrees, and it seems a little foggy. Probably a high humidity.
Out for a walk around the Park this morning around 6:15 a.m. About 2.8 miles to the boat rental place and back.
This is the Park Map at the entrance. The red arrow I added with Photoshop shows the approximate position of my campsite.
A view of the surrounding area from a high point in the Park.
A neighbor in the Park out for an early breakfast.
The sun was shining by the time I returned around 8:05 a.m. Burning the fog off the lake, the fields, and the trees. Nice process to watch. According to the NOAA weather radio, it will be hot again today and sunny. Though there's a 20% chance of thunder showers in the afternoon.
The campground was still when I left. Nobody stirring yet. Many were up when I returned.
Once out of the camping area, I turned on to State Park Road. That road seems to be used by folks going through the area. A normal two-lane road, in other words. But it has a well marked walking path. So it isn't at all dangerous. I met one cyclist peddling up the hill on the way down to the lake. And once near the lake three walkers.
"No Fishing" signs are placed clearly around the bridges I walked over. But that didn't discourage at least two groups of fishermen. One group was two men. One elderly; the other middle-aged. The other group was three children. The two men seemed to know what they were doing, and had some luck. Though they weren't anxious to discuss it with me. Probably because of the sign just behind them that prohibited fishing. The children were just having fun.
The Park boasts an impressive new boat rental facility. But the concession windows are shuttered. With a sign posted by the park manager notifying potential customers that the last concession contractor left unexpectedly, and the manager hasn't been able to find another. The area around the concession shop and restrooms was clean and neat.
But the boats arrayed along the shore, between the bridge and the concession stand, looked as if they could use some attention. Many looked as if they hadn't been moved in some time.
It would have been an ideal time to put the kayak in the water. But the Park regulations require some sort of temporary permit for any boat, including kayaks. I'll have to wait until I can obtain that permit. I'll do that today. And if it isn't too hot, I'll put the kayak in today. If it's hot, then wait until tomorrow morning around the same time, if not a little earlier. I was able to take a few photos while walking along. Hopefully, some of them will will turn out.
Upon returning to the campsite, one of the rangers drove by and I flagged him down to ask about boat registration. He confirmed that even my kayak has to be registered in Pennsylvania waters, and he said he'd take care of it up at the information booth. I followed him up there, and he made arrangements for me to pay a $5.00 fee that will allow me to use the lake for a week. Regulations about the size and durability of the inflatable kayak. The Ranger said they don't have many swimming and boating accidents. But they have a few. And maintain a rescue launch on the lake just for that purpose.
After collecting my boat permit and talking a while with the Ranger, I returned to the Aliner, changed into paddling clothes, make a light lunch, and went to the put-in site I'd walked to earlier in the morning.
I paddled around the northwestern part of the lake, going from the boat ramp right under the bridge.
Total trip of only about 4 miles. But very interesting. In the beginning there was a headwind that made paddling a little bit of a challenge. Not serious, but I had to keep up a steady, strong paddle cadence to keep going against it.
The wind didn't last long, though. That, or I was in a part of the lake where it didn't reach. The southeastern part of the lake looked to be only minimally affected by the wind.
I paddled along the shore, relying on the GPS to show me what was around the bend. Shawnee Lake is fed by two creeks, and I paddled up both of them. The creeks were quite marshy and interesting. I saw one great blue heron at the first creek. I think that bird is fairly unusual here. Other than the heron, though, only turtles. I didn't see any fish. Well, other than a couple of dead ones floating in the lake. Small bass and sunfish-looking smaller fish.
The creeks were full of aquatic plants, some of them quite thick. And the water wasn't very deep. In fact, it was so shallow that I couldn't go very far up the creeks at all. Even in the kayak! But as far as I was able to go, it was interesting to see. The water was quite muddy in the creek area. In fact, water in the whole lake wasn't as clear as it might be.
There are two small islands out in the northwest part of the lake. I paddled near the shore of one of them, the larger one. But didn't go all the way around because a man was fishing intently from a small boat there, casting in toward the shore of the island. The trees and vines and shrubs on the island came right down to the shore. It would have been difficult to land even the kayak on the island. It didn't look as if anyone was doing that, at least not regularly. Of course, there could have been some paths that weren't visible from a distance.
Once around the island, I paddled straight back for the bridge. The sun was hot, and I didn't want to get sunburned. I paused for a while in the shade under the bridge, paddling steadily to avoid being pushed by the wind. Then on to the boat ramp and take-out.
Mr. O. was standing at the boat ramp when I arrived. He asked about the inflatable, and watched as I took it out of the water. He is retired. Drove an 18-wheeler, after farming for a while. He's lived in this area all his life. And his father before him. His father had a grist mill nearby here, and then a 120-acre dairy farm. Mr. O has a son who now drives truck. We talked for some time about the economy of the region and what it's like to live here. Mr. O was neither idealistic or pessimistic. More practical in his observations. He said the loss of manufacturing jobs has hurt the area badly. Also the farmers are suffering from bad weather. Corn is withering in the fields for lack of rain.
I asked Mr. O about the wind mills I'd seen on the ridge of the mountains. He said they have generated controversy in the area, as well as electricity. They have very vocal opponents who complain that the windmills create unbearable noise, and that they're a threat to birds. He also said that the electricity they generate is used in distant cities rather than in this region. However, Mr. O himself doesn't oppose their development because they are a clean source of energy. Mr. O is more worried about the increase in crime in the area. He attributes it to illegal drugs. He considers cities and towns in the area dangerous. But not this immediate area.
It was a great opportunity to talk with Mr. O. He's a humble man with no affectations. And he knows a lot. He's thoughtful. Probably overly aware of his own limitations. And nice to strangers. Demonstrating that such characteristics are not confined only to South Carolina!
After a half-hour or so of conversation with Mr. O, I got the kayak back in the car and headed back to the campsite. I still had the lunch for paddling. Didn't eat it there because it was just too hot in the sun. So I ate it in the Aliner, washed down with a glass of cold milk.
After some writing and reading, I left the Park around 5:15 p.m. to look for a grocery store. I was out of AA batteries and bread, and needed several other things. The Mio GPS didn't indicate any supermarkets in the immediate area. The closest was around 20 miles. So I drove to the little historic town of Bedford. East on Route 30, the Lincoln Highway. I selected Bedford because I wanted to see the town, and to look for a WiFi connection that Mr. O. had mentioned.
I didn't find a comprehensive grocery store in Bedford on the first pass through. So I headed out a bit further. To Everett. A supermarket there had everything I needed. It was an older store that seemed to survive in its comprehensive configuration due to lack of competition. They've made best possible use of their shelf space by having as many items as possible, but fewer types of those items, and fewer quantities of the things they did have on the shelves. It made for a cluttered appearance. But clearly thought had gone into the operation. Somebody knows how to manage a retail grocery store. And to make the best of the resources available to them to provide goods and services. I spoke with several of the employees, asking where this or that was located. All of them were cordial and well informed. Seemed like nice folks. One young man, in his late teens or early twenties, was especially impressive. I've rarely seen anyone work as hard as he was working to stock the shelves and to maintain the appearance of the goods. What an employee!
From the Everett supermarket, I drove back through Bedford, retracing my steps on Route 30. This time I passed a couple of comprehensive grocery stores right in Bedford. The most likely-looking one was "Giant Eagle." Mr. O. had mentioned Giant Eagle, but I'd forgotten the name. According to the Mio GPS, there are quite a few Giant Eagle stores in Pennsylvania.
I purposely drove through this downtown section of Bedford, looking for that coffee shop, and found it. It's called HeBrews. It has a free wifi hotspot sign on the door and window, but it was closed. Open during the summer from 7:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m. on Mondays through Thursdays. I'll try to go there tomorrow and use their WiFi to get e-mail and upload files.
From Bedford back to the campsite. The Mio GPS performed beautifully. At one point taking me around excessive traffic complications on a back street it would have been impossible to find without it. It got confused briefly just before the campsite within the Park, but managed somehow to correct the error within 500 feet. A remarkable system. Even these unpaved Park roads are in is system.
A light dinner of blueberries over milk and cereal, and then reading until about 10:00 p.m. It is raining now, with some lightning. Sounds very nice on the roof of the Aliner. I went to sleep easily with the top vents cracked open and the side windows open, since there was little wind.
Tuesday July 22nd
We had quite a bit of rain during the night. Hearing rain on the roof of the Aliner is almost as nice as sleeping under a tin roof in the rain! Noisy, but a soothing sound not easily forgotten. Fortunately, no leaks in the Aliner yet. Next year, or the year after, I may replace the open-cell strips of weatherproofing all around with the newer closed-cell material the factory is using now. But it's not necessary yet.
Up with the alarm at 4:00 a.m., with the hope of an early morning, cooler, paddle on Shawnee Lake. The NOAA weather station, however, indicated that rain and possible thunder showers would continue all morning. Not good paddling weather. So, back to sleep until 6:30 a.m.
The rain had stopped at 6:30, so I was able to walk up to the bath house without getting wet. That turned out to be a short break in the rain, however. By 7:30 a.m. it had returned in earnest. I could hear a few rolling peals of thunder across the mountains in the distance. But no lightning. Just good solid rain. I'd left the Reading Chair outside beside the Aliner and it got good and wet. It's made to withstand weather. So this will be a good test. Probably should have put it in the back seat of the car with the kayak.
This morning I stayed in the Aliner, enjoying the rain and cooler temperature that came with it. And working on the computer. I got a good bit of writing done, including notes for this web page. Around 1:00 p.m., after lunch, I'll take the computer over to HeBrews in Bedford to try to post the pages.
Re-Visiting Bedford, Pennsylvania
Well! It's only about 8 miles or so from the campsite at Shawnee State Park to Bedford. This was the fourth time I've traveled the road. And I still saw new interesting things along the way. This part of Pennsylvania offers a beautiful combination of natural and social scenery. Sometimes both at once. Interesting small shops right next to the road, for example, combined with spectacular mountain views in the background. It just has to be seen to be believed.
This time I went straight on Route 30, including the "Business 30" section that I'd avoided on the previous trip. It took me directly to the corner of Pitt and Richard Street. My destination. Parking is regulated in Bedford. But it's not much of a problem. At least not today. I parked just in front of a sign that admonished me to vacate the spot within four hours or less! And walked the block to HeBrews.
HeBrews lived up to all of my expectations. First, it turned out to be a great coffee shop. Comfortable chairs and couches; lots to read. And best of all, very skillfully brewed coffee and cold drinks. With plates of tempting pastries here and there.
That's enough for one shop. But also, as a sign in the window advertised, HeBrews provides a free WiFi cloud to its patrons. When I arrived there were eleven customers. At least six of them were staring intently at laptop computer screens! Sipping coffee from time to time. Not something you'd necessarily expect in a historic town like Bedford!
Then, there's the name. I just had to ask! The proprietor was most patient. She'd obviously been asked many times before. No, she's not Jewish. No, the "He" doesn't honor a male partner proprietor. Rather, it's a reference to the Deity "He."
The proprietor opened the shop just two years ago this month. And she's worked the operation into a success. Not easy for a small business of any kind in a town like Bedford! Let alone one as specialized as an urban-styled coffee shop. Young people came and went at the front of the shop, during the two hours I sat uploading web pages, and then downloading e-mail and news from Japan. The proprietor told me she considers providing a healthy meeting place for Bedford's young people an important part of her mission.
Once I'd taken shameless advantage of HeBrews free WiFi and the town of Bedford's generous parking regulations, it was straight back to Shawnee State Park. I must leave tomorrow morning for the drive north to "The Property." That will be the highlight of the trip. And I look forward to seeing everyone, and being among those hills that I remember so vividly from my childhood. But this region of Pennsylvania is not easy to leave. It's a beautiful, comfortable place where one can learn a lot about nature, and a lot about people, just by wandering around with your eyes and ears open. I hope to return some day to spend more time here.
Back at the campsite the NOAA emergency weather radio was predicting significant rain later on tonight and throughout tomorrow. Well, that would make a nice change. Though setting up and breaking camp while it's raining is less than ideal. Another light dinner tonight. Since it proved impossible to resist HeBrew's pastries and coffee. Well, only one pastry. But in addition to the cup of coffee, something called a "Smoothie." A cold thick, sweet drink that's a challenge to pull up through a normal-sized straw. Great stuff! Followed by a couple hours of writing, reading, and chat with a new neighbor in the next campsite.
When traveling with an Aliner it's near-certain that the Aliner will be the "neatest" RV in the campground. If that's still a word. Folks walking by pause to look. Not infrequently, they come to the door and ask to look inside. Nearly all express surprise at how much room there is. And recently, ask about gas mileage while towing. Our elderly Lincoln Town Car gets an average of just over 18 miles per gallon when towing the Aliner. Terrain doesn't seem to matter. 18 MPG is the rule even in the hills of West Virginia and Pennsylvania.
Well, returning to the campsite last night I found a new neighbor occupying the next site. Mr. R. was setting up a travel trailer even smaller than the Aliner. One that was hands-down "neater" than the Aliner. The photo on the left shows it set up. Since he was nearly done setting up when I arrived. Mr. R. told me the trailer was made in Canada, by the Weston company, if memory serves. It's designed to be towed behind a motorcycle. The box, or frame, is quite small. But when the canvass parts are added it's quite roomy inside. It has a heater and air conditioner, making it a four-season rig. Mr. R. is towing it behind a pickup truck this trip.
Mr. R. proved to be an interesting person. He was raised in Florida. But his family had lived in this part of Pennsylvania for generations. He returned to live here as soon as he could. He knows a lot about this part of the country in general, and specifically about this Park. He said he and his family have camped here many times. And his relatives for generations had hunted in this area, and knew its terrain and trails. He told me about finding evidence of earlier Indian settlement, and said he hopes to learn more about that part of the region's history.
No rain yet when I drifted off to sleep. In spite of the NOAA radio forecast.
Wednesday July 22nd
The last day at Shawnee State Park in Pennsylvania. This is a wonderful place to camp. Were there time, I'd gladly stay for a few weeks. Just so much to see and learn here. The only negative thing I could find to mention about the whole Park is the condition of this particular campsite. Mr. R., however, explained to me that these campsites are among the last few sites in the whole campground that have not been improved. All of the others have been resurfaced and leveled.
That makes sense. Given the beautifully wooded surroundings here. Save these sites until last for upgrade. I drove through most of the other loops and didn't find another site more beautifully situated. So, putting up with an uneven surface that rivals even Bulltown's sites, and a good bit of slant, is a small price to pay.
Ah! The NOAA weather folks certainly knew what they were talking about yesterday. Not long after midnight it began to rain. And rain quite hard. Awakening me from a sound sleep. I closed the Aliner side windows and left the ceiling vents open just a crack. Then went back to sleep lulled by the sound of the rain on the roof. No wind to speak of last night, and only a little lightning and thunder. But it did rain! Farmers in this area will be pleased.
Once again this morning I was kept off the lake by the weather conditions. I didn't hear any thunder or see lightning, but it was predicted. So, better safe than sorry. No fun to be caught out on even a small body of water in a kayak with lightning flashing! So I could sleep in until 6:30 a.m. again.
The rain continued this morning. Enough to maintain a a tiny stream down the road in front of the campsite.
And to keep everything in camp quite wet. I'll be kept busy wiping things down before they're stored for the trip to "The Property"!
Common sense over-ruled pride this morning, and I took the umbrella for a soggy walk up to the bath house. The rain was heavy enough on the way up to make the shower there almost redundant! Still, the warm water was welcome.
What a sight it must have been! Umbrellas are pretty rare in State Parks. Especially enormous umbrellas, roughly the size of Rhode Island. Sorry there's no photo.
Back at the Aliner I waited for a break in the rain to make packing up more comfortable. It continued to drizzle. So, another visit to my neighbor, Mr. R., who was sitting under a canopy in front of his Weston travel trailer. Mr. R. told me more about this region, and recommended that I return in the fall. Views then are spectacular. And the surrounding towns, such as Bedford, take advantage of the influx of tourists to hold festivals. Some of which are interesting.
I told Mr. R. that I'm scheduled to visit the Corps of Engineers Seven Points Campground after spending four days at "The Property" in Wheeler, New York. He also knows that area well. In fact, he keeps a 25-foot travel trailer permanently parked near Raystown Lake and visit there often. He said the lake will be beautiful to paddle in the kayak, and the surrounding scenery there is beautiful as well.
Nothing for it but to brave the rain and pack up. It's nearing 11:00 a.m. now, and the NOAA weather radio insists that the rain here will continue at least until later on this afternoon.
Shawnee State Park
South Central Pennsylvania