September 7 to October 1, 2017
In my youth, which seems a lifetime ago, Pennsylvania played a major part. It’s where I developed my love of the outdoors with endless forests, rivers, fields and streams to run and play in. My dad was born there and trips to visit nanny and pupup in Indiana, PA remain a warm and happy place in my memory. I can still envision those fall days filled with wood and coal smoke, apple cider, birch beer and trees painted in red, orange, yellow and evergreen. I hadn’t seen a fall in the East since I left to seek fame and fortune in the West way back in 1974. So it became my mission to again witness Autumn and all the associated smells and colors as I continued my journey back into Appalachia.
My first basecamp was a level spot next to a barn in a field at Steve and Janet Goodyear’s nursery/farm west of Marysville, PA (outside of Harrisburg, PA). And my first bucket list item was to see a Penn State football game again at Beaver Stadium and visit my old Alma Mater. Boy, the brain cells I both broadened and burned in this happy valley back in the 70’s. Brother Jim and I hooked Big Mo up and drove to Centre Hall County Fairgrounds and the official Penn State RV campground they established. Pure Nittany heaven it was! Blue and white, beer, wine and loudness everywhere and the pre-game party lasted all night long. Jim, who graduated two years before me had been back many times so I asked him to give me a guided tour of campus (the place looked like nothing I remembered back then). First stop was a beer at the Rathskeller followed by a long walk through campus. Had to stop for a Peachy Paterno cone at the PSU Creamery. Best in the world! Everywhere I went I felt the spirits of Wiggins past.
After a superb dinner at Duffy’s Tavern in Boalsburg and a rowdy night in camp it was Game Day! The unbeaten Lions were to face the Panthers of Pitt who beat them in their house last season. Revenge! Have you ever been to a sporting event with 109,000 other crazy, screaming fans? I guess it’s BIG Beaver stadium now (having gone through two or more expansions since I was there). The tradition. The pageantry. The 50 yard-line seats. I was stupefied with joy. A great game with our Boys putting a deserved beating on the poor Pittsburghians. Final score was 33 to 14. The only thing that could make it better was an authentic Philadelphia cheese steak at Bradley’s.
Back to Goodyear’s farm, Brother Jim departed off to begin his blissful retirement. I dug in for a few fun weeks with Steve and his most lively and hospitable family. We toured the lovely property, tucked in a small valley at the junction of two forested creeks which feed his lush nursery of native plants, trees and shrubs. Steve has built a successful wetland restoration company (Aqua-niche) that rebuilds land and habitat lost to development. Good stuff. His sprawling 100+ year old stone house is up a hill next to a killer sledding hill he made for his four charming, forest-tested, mountain-forged kids. I’m down the hill, hidden by the bat barn in a sweet spot by the old ball field. Perfect.
The last days of summer were a pleasant blurr of fun, friends, great dinners with pre & post happy hours, concerts, a ball game and a wilderness camping trip in a way I’ve never experienced…
One major event was a dinner that Steve & Janet planned for a group of friends I also knew. One dear friend and indisputable character by the name of Frank Grattola had reminded me of someone I knew well but hadn’t seen since the “submarine” days in Boulder (living in the basement of 723 Marine St – 1974-1978) by the name of Jim Mixon. He had his cell # so I called him with an invite. Long story short he came (all the way from New Hampshire) with his lovely wife and we laughed, drank and acted 23 again. I thanked Jim for being my connection to others such as Tom & Dick (see earlier post), Karle Seydel (Father of Coors Field), Cindy and more. I love rekindling old friendships!
Next funtime was a concert in Hershey, PA – Ailson Krauss with David Gray. Cool old hall made of hardened chocolate (j k). But that next weekend came a high point in this saga – bicycle camping along Pine Creek inside the “Grand Canyon of Pennsylvania”. Steve was a veteran of countless spring canoe trips when it is more of a river. Even acted as a rogue outfitter for AWE! when we sent him a few paying clients back in the 80’s. Now the canyon is pathway to a Rails to Trails route for more than 40 river miles (we just did 20). Absolutely gorgeous scenery…. and all downhill if you shuttle a vehicle to the end. We loaded down our bikes with panniers, coolers, sleeping bags, pads, tarps and camp chairs, hooked up with old friends John and Betsy who I met canoeing the Buffalo River in Arkansas years ago and pedaled off. Camp was 8 miles downstream, across the river, down a 30′ cliff which presented a logistical challenge but Steve’s ‘eagle scout’ son Patrick proved to be an able bodied Sherpa. Plenty of cigars, beer, steaks and whiskey around the fire took away all the aches. Next morning dawned sunny. I was hoping for fall colors but the warm weather seemed to delay the show.
Back at the farm we had a ball game to attend (Baltimore vs Tampa at Camden Yards – Birds lost) and one more concert scheduled… Storm Large and her band (you have to see her if she ever comes round). October was just around the corner and I was expected in yet another paradise… Kentucky. So I bid my hosts many thanks, packed up Big Mo and pointed my rig south and west to the land of bourbon, bluegrass and horses…. Part Two of this adventure to follow, stay tuned.