This is a diary of my trip across the US with my daughter to start her freshman year at college in New York — and my return trip, too. Read all the entries here.
As we did yesterday, we hit the road at 8:40am, taking I-71 northeast out of the Cincinnati area. Forgetting to get water before departing, we stop after a half-hour at a rest area. My daughter’s very conscientious about recycling, so the plastic bottles from the previous day are still on the floor of the car. She sees a sign at the rest area that says “Recycle Ohio!”, but notes that there aren’t any recycle bins anywhere nearby. So the old bottles go back in the car, and we get a couple more for today. Our road-snack-bag also contains a big box of raisins, a bag of goldfish crackers, some peanut butter, and a couple of packages of M&M’s that my wife snuck in as a surprise. With all the important food groups covered, we pull back onto the interstate.
The day starts out sunny and clear, but dark clouds appear as we move east to re-join I-70 and we hit a couple of rainstorms. As my daughter dozes off, I turn on WLW (the first terrestrial radio station I’ve listened to on this trip) to catch the news, then use the Tuned In app to get the live CNN feed. The Todd Akin story is still creating buzz, but I can only take it for a little while before I switch to some 70s R&B on my iPhone. I have to fight the urge to sing along with the Spinners on “Rubberband Man,” because I don’t want to awaken the sleeping teenager next to me.
After three hours and a couple of hundred miles, I’m getting hungry and looking for a place to have lunch. There’s a roadside sign for Schlepp’s Family Restaurant, which seems perfect for a couple of people schlepping from state to state. I wake up my daughter as we pull off the highway. Schlepp’s is a typical small town place with a diner-like menu and a whiteboard that lists today’s specials, including the vegetable of the day: lima beans. Right there you know that the place doesn’t serve a young clientele. All of the people in the world who eat lima beans on purpose were born before the Korean War. My suspicions are confirmed as I look around the room and notice that I’m the only adult in the place who’s not drawing social security.
The waitress comes over to take our order and I ask “Where are we?” She replies, “Morristown, Ohio.” Opting not to get a big plate of lima beans, my daughter orders a grilled cheese sandwich, fries, and a chocolate milkshake. I ask for a chef’s salad and a Pepsi. These are the kinds of foods that are nearly impossible to screw up, no matter where you are, but we’re pleasantly surprised to discover that they’re really good. It occurs to me that Schlepp’s is the kind of place that probably has good homemade desserts, so I ask the waitress to bring me a slice of apple pie. She suggests I try the caramel-walnut-apple pie. I do, and it’s even better than I hoped. I leave her a generous tip and we get back in the car.
My daughter’s driving now as we head out of Ohio, through Wheeling, West Virginia, and into western Pennsylvania. The goal is to go around Pittsburgh before spending the night in the town of Blairsville, PA, chosen simply because it’s on the way and not near any big cities.
Before we get there, I decide we should make a stop at Keystone State Park, off US-22. It’s a large recreational area with a lake where you can rent boats. It’s only 3pm and the weather is beautiful, so we’re looking forward to dueling kayaks. Unfortunately, when we get to the boathouse, there are plenty of boats tied up on the shore, but not many people — not a good sign. Worse is an actual sign on the rental shack that says they’re only open Fridays-Saturdays-Sundays. I’m confused about why they wouldn’t be open every day during the summer. My daughter points out that the school year may have already started (like it has in St. Louis), so there probably isn’t enough demand during the week.
We’re very disappointed, but drive around the park until we find its “beach area,” a small part of the lake that has been roped off for swimming. There are at least a couple hundred people here — including families with kids (no school?) — but the thing that grabs my daughter’s eye is a building that houses Di’s Ice Cream, which promises 24 different flavors of soft-serve. She offers to buy us each a cone, and we spend the next hour wandering around the lake while licking like crazy to keep the ice cream from dripping onto our hands. Our disappointment about the boats fades as we laugh and talk and enjoy the sunshine.
On the way out of the park, I see a road sign for two nearby dams, the Loyalhanna and the Conemaugh, both maintained by the US Army Corps of Engineers. Thinking my daughter has never seen a dam, I suggest we go check one of them out. She reminds me that we’d taken her to the Hoover Dam several years ago, but agrees this might be interesting. We drive about 20 minutes before pulling into the parking lot for the Loyalhanna Dam, where there is only one other car. Hoping it’s not closed, too, we walk into the visitor’s center, but don’t see anyone behind the counter. I ask out loud, “Anyone here?” Down the hall to our right, a park ranger pops his head out of an office with a look of extreme surprise, as if he wasn’t expecting to see another human being all day. Once he recovers from his shock, he gives us some brochures and tells us about the fishing and camping opportunities nearby. I think we made his day just by showing up. We accept all his information, but all we’re interested in is looking at the dam and taking some photos. He says that’s fine and thanks us for coming.
As we amble down to the base, I exhaust my entire knowledge of dams in about 85 seconds, although I do get to use the word “sluice,” which doesn’t come up every day. We note that the water level is very low on both sides of the dam, no doubt because of the drought that has so negatively impacted the entire country this summer. When we climb back up to the parking lot, the ranger waves to us from his car as he calls it a day. We wave back and decide to do the same.
We drive back to US-22 and check into the Comfort Inn, where we hang out for a couple of hours before we’re hungry again. Opting not to have a big Italian meal at the place across the highway, we head up the road a couple of miles to Dean’s Diner for something simple. This place fits the bill. Its entire menu (burgers, sandwiches, meatloaf, and deep fried pickle slices!) fits on a paper placemat, along with ads for local businesses, including one that sells ice cream from the Penn State Creamery. I can’t help but wonder if the school should have changed the name after the Jerry Sandusky scandal — or have they added a new flavor called the Sandusky Shower Special?
After dinner, we head back to the motel, watch a little TV, and call it a night, knowing we have to get up really early tomorrow morning so we can finish the last leg of our trip before rush hour starts in New York.
Mileage thus far: 709.