Having left southern hemisphere winter behind me for several weeks and made it to the US. We planned to go hiking for a week in the Appalachians in Pennsylvania. Unfortunately, my partner strained his ankle so badly that we had to bail. Instead, we decided to go on a little road trip. Road trips are a fabulous way to explore, especially the US: there are vast networks of roads, motels, restaurants, and grocery stores to secure the logistical side of such an endeavor, and of course plenty of exciting places to see and visit.
With enough time, we first decided to go north/north-east as this area we had yet to explore intensively together, and going this way would bring us away from the bad air caused by the heavy wildfires in Canada. Thick smoke was brought into the US by northerly winds the past few days.
To see more of the country and take things easy, we also decided to avoid highways and Interstates. This brought us into the rarely visited backcountry. It was extraordinarily interesting to see the scenery change and to experience also the changes in the people. Driving northwest from Maryland towards Pennsylvania brings you over the several ranges of the Appalachians, making their way in a grand, elegant curve from the south in Georgia towards the northeast into Vermont and on into New Hampshire and Maine. I have seen this curve many times from a plane and marvelled at its perfection. Not exceptionally high-rising, but crossing the ranges still takes a lot of up and down and through valleys. The valleys are dotted with little towns and Amish-run carpenter companies; but also quite some run-down-looking properties, lots of junk sitting in people’s front-yard, and the occasional flag supporting a former president. Making our way toward Vermont, New Hampshire, and Maine, the scenery became more rugged, pine trees substituted deciduous trees, and the MAGA flags eventually disappeared. We passed several paper mills sitting on bends of the area’s big rivers, telling stories of the area’s primary resource and putting the many towns‘ past in a golden light. It was interesting to look up the area’s history while passing through. Land was purchased from Native Americans with as less as a couple of furs, which obviously darkens that golden light in hindsight.
We stopped for a long-ish hike daily in one of the many State Parks along the way. Hiking infrastructure in the US is truly unique! Well-blazed trails, maintained paths, and even privies at trail heads make hiking in the US a real treat. Also, we stopped at State High Points, or the most prominent mountain of a State or whatever interesting hiking feature to tick off the list.
At some point, we decided to make our way back south. Continuing towards the coast in Rhode Island and Connecticut meant leaving the mountains‘ solitude behind us and passing through more populated areas. The closer we got to vast metropolitan regions such as Boston or New York City, the more fancy vacation homes we passed and the more traffic we met. Eventually, we hit the Atlantic Coast in Delaware, Maryland, and Virginia. I don’t know if stopping in Ocean City was a good idea. I had difficulty adapting my mindset to the hustle and bustle of a typical US-American beach destination. The beach was terrific though: vast, soft, and white, but the entertainment and hospitality options were overwhelming. The city’s boardwalk was full of people, music everywhere, laughter, cars, and rollercoasters. Too much for me, and I immediately missed the quiet of the mountains.
The long Atlantic beaches south of Ocean City are much more excellent; we visited one that is only accessible by bicycle or hiking on Chincoteague Island. Another highlight was waiting: we crossed the Chesapeake Bay Bridge Tunnel. In total, 28 Kilometers long, it connects the peninsula to Norfolk, the home of the world’s largest naval base and one of the two NATO’s Strategic Command headquarters. Crossing that bridge is a weird experience as you are on a bridge over more or less open water for quite some time, only interrupted by two tunnels to enable ships to also cross these waters. A last little highlight was visiting Caledonian State Park in Virginia. We hiked towards a viewpoint from where we had terrific views over the impressive Potomac. Being relatively short in length(405 miles), it is host to a lot of water, and it did not look like a river at all, more like an arm of the Atlantic.
We are happy to have explored regions we haven’t visited so far, done some exhilarating hiking, and seen the country beyond the usual tourist paths.