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And now…a word from our pilot

October 18, 2009

AvOn this maiden voyage Paul handled the great majority of camera work and documentation, which left yours truly with little else to do except drive.  Which is, of course, the main point of the trip.  After all, what our website aims to celebrate is the experience of the road both literally and figuratively.  While I’m positive that Paul enjoyed the cruise, I had the more visceral experience.  I was the one truly connected to the road.

And why is that?  What in the world am I talking about?  At the root is an interesting psychological phenomenon.  It stems from our propensity to personify.  We human-beings love to project human-being characteristics and emotions upon, well, practically everything.  Cars certainly are included.  I’m willing to bet money, actual physical money, that everybody who has ever seen the front of a new Mazda 3 immediately thought “Smiley!” at the least.  Probably even going further and imagining it as a gleeful little child of a car.  Newsflash:  It is plastic and metal (albeit probably a very deliberately smiley-face-like collection of plastic and metal).  But guess what, we often take this concept a step farther with our cars.  Example:  “He hit me!”  This would be the first thought in someone’s head when they get dinged.  Notice it is not “He hit my car!”  Again, I would be money on this.  Not only do we personify cars, but we often treat them as extensions of our self.  I could give more examples, but I think I need to bring this tangent back to the subject at hand.

More plus photos after the jump…

Those of us who consider ourselves driving enthusiasts take this psychological connection between man and machine and we run with it.  We feel the road through the car, and the experience is amplified.  Adrenaline surges as well as fuel when the gas pedal is crunched.  We wince when our car hits a pothole and clunks in protest.  A long sweeping curve of open highway imparts a sense of peace and calm.  The start of our drive on the Pennsylvania turnpike filled me with energy and anticipation.

Unfortunately, the weather served as a depressant.  The stretches of highway surrounding Philadelphia and out to the Carlisle exit are quite familiar to me.  Paul has already given a more technical review, so I will focus on my experience as the driver.  Those first couple hours were not the thrill ride we would hope for.  Most of the pike is uneventful, excepting two sweeping S-curves out in the Lancaster area.  Also, I must say that the area around the Valley Forge exit is superb driving now where the construction is completed.  We hit that stretch and the light-moderate traffic opened up concurrently.  I goosed the throttle a bit and settled into the new asphalt on a nice new sweeping curve.  Good luck catching that area in light traffic though.  We lucked out at 7:30 on a Saturday morning and it served as a boost to our flagging morale.

Despite the road not being super-interesting, and the weather being uncooperative, we were in pretty good spirits.  My girlfriend was concerned that this drive would be undertaken at triple digit speeds, screaming like banshees as I powerslid and drifted through the Pennsylvania Turnpike.  She made sure to elicit promises from me on no less than 3 occasions to “drive safely” and not like a maniac.  It was hard to explain that this trip was not about speed, but the road.  At this point we were cruising on relatively boring highway in the rain, but we were loving it.  It was just a calm love, not an adrenaline-infused love.  As we journeyed past Carlisle and on towards the climb through the mountains, this feeling persisted.  We were driving hundreds of miles for no real reason except to be on the road, to be free, and it was great.

At this point I should mention that I have driven the Turnpike between Carlisle and Ohio exactly 1 time, and it was pouring rain…and I was driving a 15 foot Uhaul.  So my knowledge of the road there consists solely of memories of desperately trying to stay alive.  So when Paul was priming me with tales of “America’s Autobahn” I could only imagine what he was talking about.  Unfortunately the rain persisted through the climb and the plateau, and our mood did begin to sour.  We had a moment of true serenity on the plateau section where the road, the greyness of the world (the rain had lightened up temporarily) and the music we were listening to all gelled beautifully, but the descent out of the mountains was coupled with hard rain and growing dispair.

Then…we cleared the storm.  We were almost out of the mountains and back onto a more sedate section of road on the approach to Pittsburgh.  The road was reminiscent of the eastern end around Philadelphia, two lanes and slightly curvy, but in better shape.  Our spirits lifted, we passed Pittsburgh, and soon found ourselves turning around to head back.  Then I got to see what Paul had been talking about.

We ascended into the mountains again, and out jaunt past Pittsburgh had given the rain time enough to get the **** out of our way.  I put in a mix of more intense music and I quickly was having a blast.  The highway was 3 lanes, curvaceous, well banked, and in good condition.  Most importantly, there were few cars and trucks.  I got to enjoy this remarkable stretch of road without having to brake for slow cars timidly passing slower trucks.  Add to this the now shining sun illuminating nature’s fireworks all around us.  I mean it, the trees in those mountains were spectacular.  This was what we were seeking, pure driving bliss.  I can assure you that neither of us were at all concerned with the stresses of life at this time.  Heaven.

We concluded our drive through familiar roads and neither of us could possibly say that we wasted our day by driving hundreds of miles across Pennsylvania only to turn around and come back.  As I’ve mentioned in a comment on another post I wish we had time to stop at my favorite brewpub for dinner (Victory…would have been appropriate!), but that isn’t a serious regret, merely a facetious one.  The Turnpike was an excellent venue to explore that psychological connection between man and machine and the joys it can bring, and I can assure you that there are sections that will entice that feeling from even the most disconnected driver.

Until next time, enjoy the road!


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