For a number of years, back into childhood really, I’ve traveled in the summer months to various locations. As I’ve grown older, that has meant varied locations, further distances from home, and doing a lot of driving on my own or with friends.
Several months ago a long time friend proposed a trip connected to our early summer job grading Advanced Placement US History exams in Louisville, KY. “Let’s drive,” he suggested, “And if we do, we must go to the Altoona Curve. No, not that one – this one. I hemmed and hawed, didn’t fill out my paperwork in time for the grading, finally got it done and here we are having completed phase one of this trip. We’re resting up just outside of Wheeling, WV and I’m reflecting on yet another roadtrip.
The first trips I remember, I actually don’t remember. It’s one of those classic examples of misremembered personal history when you’re show pictures of an event enough times and it is described to you so you begin to believe you have a memory of the event itself. It’s not unlike the concept featured in last year’s film, Inception. At any rate, one of these first trips was to Canada. There’s pictures of me in the backseat of a 1970 Plymouth Valiant and apparently I have just painted the driver side passenger window with an ice cream cone. Ok – I was about one at the time and while my memory is good, it’s not that good. So maybe we won’t count that fully as a roadtrip memory because most of it was ‘implanted’ later in life. But – perhaps the experience was an important one as it led to more trips (sometimes called mystery rides in my family) to all kinds of locations including Tanglewood, Mt. Desert Island, Bennington Museum, Fenway Park, grandma and grandpa’s house, etc.
Once I was driving on my own, the trips were usually connected to concerts or sometimes random wanderings up and down streets of summer beach communities with no particular purpose in mind. We didn’t think much about things like the price of gasoline (generally .87 to .99 a gallon near where I was in school) and we certainly didn’t consider the amount of time/energy used in keeping the cars in working order. Occasionally, these trips would morph into something bordering on legendary and sometimes it was my car, not me, that was directly involved – see, for example, a trip to Freeport, ME involving a large number of my choir friends, the Maine state police, L.L. Bean’s and a beach in York I believe.
One of my favorite road trips was one that never occurred. A plan was hatched to travel to Graceland in the spring of 1990. The only problem was a lack of a car but we believed we had solved that problem by finding a car rental agency that was ok with renting to someone below 25 provided that the car stayed in New England. That’s a problem because – well, as most of you recall, Graceland is in Memphis. So we decided we could cover this problem by claiming that we drove to Caribou, ME and back twice during the rental period. Hmmm…
Then there were some fantastic trips to Canada that I do remember, several long range drives either across the country or across vast portions of the country, and a long move of my entire family and dogs from California to North Dakota to Massachusetts – but I digress and these memories will have to be raised at another time.
Today, my friend and I began the drive to Louisville and as promised visited the famed horseshoe curve at Altoona. Along the way, we stopped in Scranton and enjoyed some Ocean Water at Sonic. The curve was designed to help the Pennsylvania Rail Road get trains over the mountains on their way from Philadelphia to Pittsburgh. Getting to the base of this engineering marvel that opened in the 1850s, is not too far out of the way when traveling to Louisville via car. Otherwise? It’s kind of out of the way – though we did see State College prior to arriving. The football stadium there rises out of the hills and farmland like an Imperial destroyer.
At any rate, the curve is an interesting stop – in the future, I’d definitely check a train schedule to see when an actual train is headed through the curve which causes the vehicle to look like it is looping back on itself. I should note that the preceding video was taken some time ago – as my friend pointed out, the trees have grown up so high around the curve that it’s hard to see the right of way. But still, standing at the top of the viewing area, watching a repair truck go around the tracks and looking back over the reservoirs, it was fascinating to think about the imagination that led someone to think about building tracks to hug mountains and fight elevation in a different manner.
This road trip is not over yet and we’ve found out you can buy all sorts of stuff at places called Sheetz and that Hoss’s Steak and Sea in Wheeling isn’t open on a Tuesday after 9:00. We’ve missed out on Chik-Fil-A thus far which is a disappointment, but we’re hoping to rectify that situation on day two.