On The Road #22 – A Long State West

My timing sucked when it came to hitchhiking. The middle of December is not considered the best time to hitchhike from Southern California to Idaho and then to New Jersey, traveling the northern United States. It’s icy. Early March from New Jersey headed toward Maine was cold and wet and I did not have a tent. And when it came time to leave the Catskill Mountains of New York to head west across the Upper Midwest, Plains States and Rocky Mountains, wouldn’t it make sense to choose a warm summer month? 

Well, folks, when it is time to go it is time to go and the time to leave the Catskills for Idaho and California was November of 1970. 

November hitchhiking forced me to abandon my usual search for tiny roads through the backwoods. Beating the weather absolutely trumped the romance of meandering for miles on empty one lane roads. I was off to find an Interstate and, apparently, to immerse myself into watching a pot boil.

There are a few stories to tell about that 3,500 miles back to Hollywood and we’ll get to those. For now, what amazes me is how little I remember of the first 370 miles — 370 miles I call, “getting across Pennsylvania.” 

Heading toward an Interstate I must have gotten short rides over the narrow, winding roads through the hilly country on both sides of the Delaware River, but I don’t remember one wit of it. Once on the Interstate, probably I84 / I80 in Pennsylvania, I do remember a snippet of the newly constructed freeway taking dramatic swoops around forested hillsides while I enjoying a ride with a chatty young gal, probably a college student.  

There is one impression of this leg of my journey that is permanently burned into my brain and that is just how long Pennsylvania is. And I am not talking about how many letters are in the name.

The rides went on forever. Officially it’s 283 miles from east to west, about the same as crossing Southern Idaho. But Southern Idaho is the flat Snake River plane. Pennsylvania cuts across several Appalachian mountain ranges, through some of which I was traveling on country roads. Then miles of rolling hillsides where the freeway is adding miles as it weaves its way through. 

That’s some 300 miles of thinking the Ohio boarder must be within the next fifty of those miles. 300 miles of not knowing where the ride of the moment is going, since I knew none of the towns folks said they were headed to. And finally some 100 miles of pleading with the travel gods to let this ride take me past the other side of Pennsylvania! 

That was the end of my experience getting across one state. I’ve since learned Pennsylvania is far shorter than originally intended. When King George granted William Penn the original Charter in 1681, the Province of Pennsylvania was “all lands” west of New Jersey, north of Maryland and south of New York. I would have been in Pennsylvania all the way to the Oregon coast if it weren’t for Thomas Jefferson’s deciding enough was enough. His vision was for western lands to be divided into roughly equal sized States  and that is how Ohio put a western border on the great Commonwealth of Pennsylvania.

What does this have to do with watching a pot boil? Hitchhiking north from New Jersey it took me more than a month make some 160 miles to the heart of the Catskill Mountains in New York State. Some days there were no rides and that was fine. I was on the road for the sake of being on the road and the distances mattered not. But headed across Pennsylvania I was racing winter and wanted miles behind me. Having a goal sure puts time in the way.

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