Day 15: Madison, Virginia to East Berlin, Pennsylvania
I have now entered the “Yankeedom” region of America, according to a map from Tufts University, which divides America up into eleven sections (this is a fascinating read if you've moved about the US at all, or interact with people from different regions). In Pennsylvania, everything is different: the houses are stone and much closer to the road, built in a time when no one anticipated cars. They have multiple stories and are thin and compact. The landscape as a whole is settled and tidy. Fields of browning cornstalks are strangely beautiful in the September sun.
It was a four-state day, and I crossed the Potomac River, the Appalachian trail and the Mason Dixon line.
Day 16: East Berlin, Pennsylvania to French Creek State Park, Pennsylvania
I wore a sweatshirt on our walk this morning for the first time, and although it’s supposed to be hot today, there’s a promise of cooler weather ahead.
After four days of being entertained by others, Chesky has lost our routine. He’s got a wild look in his eye and has been misbehaving any way he can. I fled to a dog park in York County, PA. It was the best dog park yet: three vast acres with plenty of open spaces to run and trees for shade.
Along the highway, I noticed dying brush on either side of the road. It wasn’t the normal browning of fall; it was too early in the season and the brush was dying in a perfect line. It looked as if a tanker had come by and sprayed Round-Up, creating a fifteen-foot high swath of dead and dying foliage. This went on for miles in both York and Lancaster counties. I wondered what brought the counties to such drastic measures. I hope there is a very good reason.
Day 17: French Creek State Park, Pennsylvania to East Stroudsburg, Pennsylvania
I grew up in Yankeedom, and was reminded of the paranoia, of the immediate leap to worst-case scenario that some people here have when I stopped at a hilly dog park in Nazareth, Pennsylvania. There was no water there, so patrons brought gallon jugs to refill a white plastic bowl in the grass. A woman of an older generation told me she was a regular to the park and always freshened the water when she arrived in case someone had poisoned it. Apparently someone who lived at the edge of the park had complained about the dogs barking.
Driving through PA was pretty, but stressful: lots of winding, poorly marked roads through deep forest. Steinbeck would shake his head at me for driving with a trailer. It really is not the best way to do this.
The sun is noticeably lower in the sky here, and the weather friendlier. The temperature still hit 90, but only for an hour or so in the early afternoon. I stopped at a grocery store and ran in and out in six minutes. Chesky barely noticed I was gone.
Day 18: East Stroudsburg, Pennsylvania to West Point, New York
The shivering of the Vizsla has begun. When he is moving, Chesky puts out heat like a furnace, but standing still, he gets cold quickly. It was 60 degrees in the trailer when we woke up this morning, and Chesky shivered while he waited to go for a walk, while he waited for breakfast, and in general until I wrapped him in a reflective Army blanket like an exhausted marathoner.
Internet is more of a challenge than I anticipated. I thought Starbucks were everywhere; they are not. I am passing mostly through rural areas and there are no Starbucks, no internet cafes, no sign of modernity. It feels like much of what I am seeing is the same as it would have been in 1960, only on a larger scale.
I drove through the Delaware Gap national recreation area today, and then the Poconos, which seemed tired and depressed. Maybe just because it was the end of the season. People driving in this area seem irrationally hostile. I could see them cursing me through their windshields, affronted and made rancorous by my presence.
Day 19: West Point, NY
At the West Point dog park this morning, a tight-lipped young couple with two huskies and three children under the age of six arrived a few minutes after Chesky and I. I tried to engage with them, but neither parent was feeling sociable. I could guess how they felt: with five creatures depending on them for every need, these poor parents had nothing left to give to a stranger.
The oldest child, a girl of about five or six, was scolded for fighting with her brother and went to be by herself in a far corner of the park. Chesky tried to play with the huskies, but they weren’t interested in chasing him. He gave up and patrolled the outskirts of the park with me.
When we passed the little girl, she approached with the fearlessness children who grow up around dogs have. I watched Chesky carefully, but he likes kids and treated her respectfully. She joined us on our walk around the little enclosure, loquacious and friendly. Chesky liked the girl and began to do a play-dance with her: he gets down on his elbows and throws his butt in the air and waggles his body from side to side with mouth agape and tongue lolling. It is the universal dog invitation to play, and Chesky will do it for cats, frogs, turtles, other dogs, and young children.
“He wants you to chase him,” I explained, and demonstrated. I held my arms out wide and swept at Chesky, yelling “raaarrrwwwr!” He pretends to be afraid and races off, only to return for more immediately, his whole body wiggling with glee.
The girl understood right away and spent the next ten minutes chasing Chesky around and yelling “raaarrwwwr!” while Chesky pretended to be chased. The parents smiled and it wasn’t until the huskies came over with worried looks that the fun broke up. I don’t know if the dogs were jealous or just uncomfortable with the little girl yelling, but they decided it needed to end.
Day 20: West Point, New York to Sturbridge, Massachusetts
Just after sunrise, I crossed the Palisades bridge over the Hudson River, a soaring metal structure that has stood since 1958. The lady at the toll booth told me she liked the trailer.
I sat in the sun on the waterfront in Cold Spring, taking pictures of Chesky and watching some crabbers pull in cages over the side of the pier. They had heavy local accents and rough edges, and they kept up a cheerful banter. The two crabs caught were deposited into buckets on the dock and made a racket as they thrashed their claws against the plastic.
I went for a hike in the Hudson River Valley with some friends and then set off again for Massachusetts.
“NO TRAILERS NO CAMPERS” the sign read. It was very clear, unmissable even, and well after the turn onto the ramp. I thought about backing up or trying to turn around, but there was no room. My mind raced. Was it dangerous? Was the parkway so winding and twisty that I was going to get stuck, or jackknife the trailer?
With no other option than to forge ahead, I rolled down the ramp and entered the wide, two lane highway. I quickly realized that the “no trailer” rule was to keep traffic flowing, not a safety or accessibility issue. Still, my heart was pounding and I constructed my defense for when I was inevitably pulled over: Officer, I was past the point of no return.
Passing New Yorkers expressed sympathy for my plight by honking effusively and waving their fists. Perhaps they were just expressing support for the trip. I exited at the first opportunity and wound my way through back country roads to the Interstate, which was only a few miles away. If I had got a ticket, I would have argued entrapment: they shouldn’t put a sign after the turn saying not to make the turn.
Day 21: Sturbridge, Massachusetts
It was 35 outside when I walked Chesky this morning. We were camped on a pond and steam rose off it in the early morning light. I am loving the cold.
Because there are no dog parks within 90 miles, I took Chesky to a nearby conservation area and he ran off into the woods for almost thirty minutes. I didn’t know where he was and it was scary and frustrating. Massachusetts does not have very many dog parks, and is the first state where I’ve really had a difficult time exercising him.
I went into Southbridge today and saw a densely populated town with a lot of young people hanging out in drugstore and gas station parking lots. Maybe it’s a product of Ben Affleck movies about poverty-stricken Massachusetts, but I didn’t feel safe. The conservation area I hiked in was beautiful and the landscape is nice, but this town seems afflicted by something harsh and dark.
The states this week, in two words:
West Virginia: Quick corner
Maryland: Like Virginia
Pennsylvania: Compact orderliness
New York: Rocky woods
Massachusetts: Crowded hills