I love a good adventure and if it involves travel…sign me up. I have teamed up with my bike trip partner and we have decided to take a road trip by car through different States than on our previous bike trip…read my first blogs…you will love the stories.
We have a few spots in mind that we want to see and so we roughly map out our 2 week trip. As always, I am so excited to hit the road.
We head out from North Bay, Ontario and head South, planning on crossing the border at Fort Erie, Buffalo. We leave early so we can cross the border and make some good mileage once we hit the USA.
Our first stop is in Gravenhurst, Ontario for a quick visit and a coffee with some friends. Gravenhurst is a really pretty town, in what is known as cottage country, because it is surrounded by lakes and is situated on the shores of Lake Muskoka and Gull Lake. Originally named McCabes Landing, the name was changed to Gravenhurst by a post master who had read a book of that name and thought it would be a good idea…always good to follow your hunches, right? It was a steamboat hub in the 1860’s and in 1940-1946 it housed Camp 20, a Nazi Prisoner of war camp. Apparently it was rather easy going at the camp as the prisoners had the ability to swim in the lake, work for pay and many of them befriended the local townsfolk. This resulted in numerous marriages. Gravenhurst was the home of the famous surgeon, Dr. Norman Bethune and his birth place home is preserved today as an historical site. Worthwhile little town to visit if you are going by.
Off we go after saying goodbye to our friends, and only make a short stop outside of Toronto, Ontario for some lunch. Things almost ended here as we were very closely hit by another car as we were about to pull into a lane to pass the car in front of us. This car came flying by us, at a very high speed, full well knowing we were indicating we were pulling out and were already moving to the other lane. It was close. After much adrenaline finishes coursing through our veins, we carry on.
We are soon at the Fort Erie border crossing…and I actually have a current passport this time…(read my first blog series to see why that is even something worth mentioning). We cross over without any issues and we are now enroute to wherever we end up…sounds like a solid plan.
We travel through Buffalo and into Pennsylvania…oh my…what a spectacularly beautiful state this is. Lush forests and mountains…I love it.
Pennsylvania was founded in 1686…it was inhabited before that but it officially became Pennsylvania in 1686. It became officially Pennsylvania when a land grant was given to William Penn by Charles II to pay an outstanding debt of 16,000L that Charles owed to Willams’ father. Charles chose the name, although William was embarrassed by it, feeling everyone would think he was vain and naming it after himself…what humility he shows. There are a lot of interesting events that occurred in Pennsylvania such as; the Declaration of Independence was drafted in Philadelphia, Edwin Drake first person in American to discover oil in Titusville and causes a boom…to name just a few.
Pennsylvania is home to many Fortune 500 companies such as Hershey …mmmm, chocolate…and Heinz. The top products that it produces are oil, potato chips, pretzels, mushrooms, apples and Christmas Trees…I didn’t know that one. It is home to the first World Series Baseball game where in 1903 the Boston Pilgrims (now Red Sox) played the Pittsburgh Pirates on their home field. Numerous famous people come from this State; here are a few: Kevin Bacon, Bradley Cooper, Grace Kelly, Jimmy Stewart, Andy Warhol, Mark Cuban, Kobe Bryant, Taylor Swift, Fred Rogers, Lee Iacocca, Betsy Ross, W.C. Fields and Arnold Palmer.
We are taking a nice backroads highway, which allows us to travel quickly but still enjoy small towns and gorgeous views…most times there are mountains rising up to the skies on either side of the road…breathtaking.
One of the first larger towns we pass through is Bradford. Founded in 1879 due to the oil boom, it is the home of the famous (to racing enthusiasts) Kendall Racing Oil Refinery. It is also the home of Penn Motor Oil which many of us are familiar with. And the Zippo lighter factory is here as well as a subsidiary of Zippo, Case, who manufacture hunting, fishing and pocket knives. A small town but it certainly provides a lot of employment for folks.
I must let you know that we are now driving through the Allegeny National Forest…what a beautifully dense forest this is. Protected finally in 1923, this is a 514,000 acre forest of primarily second and third growth black cherry, maple and other hardwood trees. Due to over forestation from the settlers and from timber manufacturers prior to 1923, this forest has lost much of its original tree growth and many of the animals as well. It has regenerated itself to become very full of vegetation again and the animal population has increased, primarily black bear, deer, wolf and cougars. This is a great thing. One interesting thing about this land is that although it is owned by the Government, they did not purchase the subsurface mineral rights, which are owned privately, mainly by oil manufacturers. This is causing a great deal of litigation to occur as the oil manufacturers set up on the land to access their rightfully owned minerals, but they are in effect trespassing and breaking the preservation laws of the National Park. It is interesting to watch it play out. Lets hope that the park is the ultimate victor in these battles.
Now this next little place has quite the story for me to share with you. So, we are travelling down the road and decide its time to stop for a quick beer…its almost 5:00pm and we have been driving all day. We come to a little place right on the highway called Tack Inn…sounds inviting to me. This is a restaurant/bar/convenience store and beer and liquor store/bait and tackle/hunting shop…way to cover all of the bases Tack Inn.
We sit at the bar and order our beer…the nice bartender asks if we want singles at $2.25 each or 6 cans for $8.00….I will let you figure out what my decision was. We start up a conversation with some of the guys at the bar…they are prison guards, just coming off shift and stopping in for a cold one. They work at the McKean Prison just down the road behind the Tack Inn. They told us that it is a medium security prison, but there is a section that is minimum security, with minimal guard interaction and no fences, housing about 70 inmates. They said it was like a club med for these guys, and that there was an airport runway nearby that allowed certain celebrity families to fly in to visit with them. You see there are some famous people doing time here…one being Wesley Snipes. Well…who would have thought that a little place like this could have such a high profile big house. We drink up and head back out onto the road.
Next we find ourselves in Wilcox, which actually had a road sign that said to watch for blind pedestrians…hmmm…must be quite a few that live here? Since we did not purchase beer at the Tack Inn, we decide to make a stop at a little sign that said beer store. What a different place this was. You literally pulled in behind what looked like a house…and you are in a drive- through for the beer store…yes…I said drive-through. The nice man standing amidst the cases of beer asked us what we wanted, got our goods and once we gave him cash, he hands it over. I don’t know if this was a legit beer store or not, but it certainly is a unique one, and he gave great customer service. Score one for us.
Back on the road for only a few minutes, we hit a detour…which doesn’t bother us because its an opportunity to see things we hadn’t planned on…lemonade out of lemons theory at play here. The detour was on a gorgeous road through the mountains named Bootjack Road…I thought the name was really cool…I could live on a road named Bootjack. The detour took us to a really pretty town called St. Mary’s…very picturesque. We figured we had better tour around for a look see and saw many restored homes and historical buildings. Just lovely. Founded by largely those of Bavarian decent, this little city is full of architecture that reflects just that. It is the home of Straub Brewery, the 3rd oldest brewery in the USA, and it is still run by the Straub family to this day…7th generation…impressive. St Mary’s is home to wild elk and the smallest chapel in the USA…Decker Chapel…it is tiny and really cute.
We continue on our detour which has us exit St Mary’s and going through a little place called Squab Hollow…ok…this makes me feel like I am truly in the USA…I don’t think we have Hollow’s in Canada…am I right? Finally we end up back on the highway we had been travelling on and come out in a place called Ridgeway. At this point we are needing to find a place to sleep and some food…it’s almost 7:00 pm and we have been travelling for hours. We continue on and finally end up in Dubois, Pennsylvania.
Dubois is a little town, and we didn’t spend much time exploring it because it was so late in the evening. I did find out that it was the home of the Dubois Brewery, founded in 1897. Fun fact…the brewery created a brand call Dubois Budweiser. This led to a 60 year fight with Anheuser-Busch, who brews Budweiser. The brewery was sold in 1967, to the Pitsburgh Brewery, as there were no heirs to keep it running. The brewery itself was torn down in 2003.
After driving around the town for a bit (and seeing a huge car and bike show happening at the Harley Dealership…nope, we didn’t check it out), we find the Hampton Inn…a lot more expensive than we were looking for but we needed a spot so we took a room. Dinner was conveniently across the parking lot at the Italian Oven…and then it was back to the room for a drink and to plan where we were off to tomorrow.
It was then that I had an epiphany for the next day while I was in the hotel room…well, actually it happened in the bathroom. Now, as many of us do, I was reading while…you know…and I happened to be reading a ‘what to see and do in Pennsylvania’ brochure that was in my room. I flipped through and saw the usual things and then I saw it…and I yelled…”Oh my God…We need to go see this tomorrow. Its not that far away.” Of course, I had now peaked the curiosity of my travel partner and so upon my exit of said bathroom, I shared what had made me so darn excited. Punxatawny Phil, the famous groundhog who predicts the end of winter for the USA, resided in close proximity to where we were…and damn it…I was determined to go see him. In retrospect, I need to thank my travel partner for his never ending support of my crazy ideas…this definitely being one of them.
And so we settle down for the night…the plan for the next day is set…and I am sure I dreamed of Punxatawny Phil all night.
Tomorrow, we head out…do I meet Phil…do we get lost? Please stay with me on this adventure where all will be revealed in my next blog post.
Live Your Life…Jan