It doesn’t take long to leave the metropolitan corridor that connects Washington DC and New York City. These roughly 250 miles are full of highways, interstates, interconnecting routes, and you never really know where a city ends, and a new one begins. Downtown becomes outskirts become settlements become industrial areas become shopping malls and downtowns again. Workspaces, businesses, and outskirts are lined up like on a pearl necklace. In between, there is surprisingly much greenery. However, when you leave that corridor, you find yourself in a scenery of rolling hills, dense woods, groomed parkland, a bit of agriculture, and all dotted with one-family homes in between.
Driving northwest brought us eventually to rural Pennsylvania. I noticed a subtle change in architecture as churches are suddenly made out of brick and resemble those massive buildings that host churches in Europe. Also, houses vary in their style, and roofs are more pointed. The area suddenly felt quite familiar. Also, the layout of streets is not that straight anymore; the form of properties feels more random. Whenever we drove past the occasional town cemetery, I could spot German names on some tombstones. Some businesses have German names. Pennsylvania is the state in the US, where most of the early settlers from Germany found a new home. They brought elements of familiar architecture, their names, of course, and set up things like they were used to back in the old world.
But, something else we also noticed: many people stated their political preference by putting up flags in their front yard. Most of them were voicing their support of Trump and Pence in the 2020 election. Some of them expressed how much they dislike the current president. It was very startling to drive through the backcountry.
I understood how deep politics are rooted in US-American society and to which extend politics is part of people’s identity. It is one thing to have a political opinion, but it is another thing to state by a flag in your front yard how much you disapprove of a government. I tried to imagine how it would be like to live there and have a different political opinion. I suddenly felt scared. I doubt that the land of the free would feel so free for everyone all the time.
Eventually, we arrived at our destination that was the Parker Dam State Park. The trailhead of the Quehanna Trail, a 71-mile-long loop through Moshannon National Forest, starts here. We planned on hiking that trail in the coming days. However, as already having had an eye on the weather forecast, we were aware that something might come our way. And it did! After our lunch break on day two we got the news that hurricane “Ida” was also headed towards central Pennsylvania. 112 mms of rain within one day was forecasted, possibly causing flash floods. We decided to play it safe and bail (good thing we did, as the hurricane hit the Mid Atlantics hard with a lot of rain, caused the state of emergency in Philadelphia and NYC, and left behind a lot of damage).
So, with a couple of days on our hands, we decided to go north to avoid the bad weather front and visit Niagara Falls and, along the way, stop by Lake Erie. The falls are awe-inspiring, and it was pretty neat to tick them off the list. However, it felt odd that we couldn’t just cross over the Rainbow Bridge over Niagara River and check out the view from the Canadian side as the land borders were still closed between the US and Canada.
On our way out of Niagara to Fingers Lakes/NY, we witnessed many fallow industrial plants and decaying neighbourhoods in areas that were once probably bustling and critical industrial regions. This is one face of shifting production to elsewhere in the world.
While road-tripping further through New York, we learned about the devastating impact of “Ida” in PA, which affirmed our decision to leave the trail for now.
This trip turned out quite differently than we anticipated: instead of thru-hiking a nice little trail in Pennsylvania, we ended up road-tripping towards the Great Lakes, explored two States a little further, ticked off some things from our list, added new locations to the to see-list, and I got to see different shades of the country again.