And in between the stops at the Cracker Barrel
And forty movies with Will Ferrell
I need some way to occupy my time
So I’m writing you a road song
I sure hope you don’t mind

Cherry Springs State Park in north-central Pennsylvania is an exceptional place. It is the only International Dark Sky Park in the United States east of the Mississippi. It is located in Susquehannock State Forest about 2,300 feet above sea level and has an exceptionally dark sky that has drawn astronomers and sky watchers for years. There is a typical state park campground there but also a wonderful astronomy field with a no-lights policy, where people set up telescopes and enjoy a great view of the sky, weather permitting.

They hang like grapes
On vines that shine…

The Astronomy Field at Cherry Springs State Park

Cherry Springs has been on my radar for a few years, so when I needed to take a trip out to Minnesota I decided to go a bit out of the way and spend a night there. I timed my trip to coincide with the Perseids meteor shower and spent hours staring at the sky, barely blinking for long stretches. I had brought a folding recliner chair, as well as my MSR hubba-hubba tent. I spent most of the night in that chair and although I didn’t get treated to a 50+ per hour meteor show I did see some of the best meteors that I’ve ever seen. One, in particular, I may never forget. (No exagerration. I remember the four best meteors I’ve ever seen.) I was also treated to one of the best views of the Milky Way that I’ve had. I’ve spent nights in the mountains at altitudes as high as 18,000 feet but it was usually cloudy or I was sound asleep in a tent, so I was usually short changed when it came to sky views.

The night at Cherry Springs and the ride up Route 44 through the state forest and the town of Coudersport provided a restorative break from the threat of COVID-19 and the growing worry I have about the upcoming election. More about that here.

The escape was short lived as I drove past far too many Trump signs, not just in northern PA but other states as well. Over the course of my 2,700 miles, I would guess that Trump signs outnumbered Biden signs about 10 to 1. The Trump signs win in the enthusiasm category, too. They tended to be much bigger and creative, such as Trump’s name spelled out with large white rocks in southern PA, which I saw days later.

And as I walked on
Through troubled times
My spirit gets so downhearted sometimes
So where are the strong?
And who are the trusted?
And where is the harmony?

As I travelled westward, the scenic back roads became the broken concrete highways of Ohio and Indiana. The Interstate Highway System was one of the great public works achievements of the federal government. The condition of the roads was a reminder that many of the systems and instituions that helped build this country are being misled, gutted, or dismantled. The Coronavirus highlighted the deficiencies of our health care “system.” The CDC, once a model for the world, headed by a Trump appointee who immediately cut its budget, stumbled badly at times in dealing with the virus and is now being sidelined by Trump. The unemployment systems in many states were unable, perhaps by design, to handle the millions of applications from people who lost their jobs due to the pandemic. The electoral system, always in jeopardy in many states, is being undermined by restrictive and discriminatory voter ID laws, and by sabotage of the postal system, which itself is being gutted from the inside by a Trump appointee (Louis DeJoy), who, along with his wife (Aldona Wos), has millions of dollars invested in XPO Logistics, J.B. Hunt, and the UPS, all U.S. Postal Service competitors.

From the Monongahela valley
To the Mesabi iron range
To the coal mines of Appalachia
The story’s always the same
Seven hundred tons of metal a day
Now sir you tell me the world’s changed
Once I made you rich enough
Rich enough to forget my name

Along the way I passed the wonderfully monstrous Gary Works steel plant in Indiana on the shore of Lake Michigan. Opened in 1908, Gary Works was the world’s largest steel mill for many years. It employed 30,000 workers at its peak but it’s down to about 5,000 today. The plant is a reminder of both the heyday of U.S. manufacturing and the impact that deindustrialization and capital flight have had on the rust belt states. Manufacturing isn’t coming back but there’s no good reason why the Amazons and Walmarts of the world can’t pay a living wage.

I drove through the Chicago/Rockford area hitting a bit of harsh weather the day after 13 Derecho-related tornados inflicted some damage. Two days later, a tornado warning in Minnesota would send me and my kids scurrying to the basement for shelter, this just a short while after I had read that the town was largely destroyed in 1886 by a tornado that killed 44 people. It was okay though, there were a lot of billboards along the way telling me I could trust in Jesus.

There was also this one greeting me as I drove into St. Cloud:

By the way, there really is a place called “Ashtabula.”

I’ll look for you in old Honolulu
San Francisco or Ashtabula
You’re gonna have to leave me now I know
But I’ll see you in the sky above
In the tall grass in the ones I love
You’re gonna make me lonesome when you go

I think it was about 500 miles into my trip when I finally saw a few windmills. Along the whole 2,700 miles I only saw three sites that might be considered “wind farms,” and the only one that was substantial was in southern Pennsylvania. The other two sites only had about 3 to 6 windmills. When I saw the first windmills I immediately thought of the trip I had made to Germany in 2008. On the three hour bus ride from Frankfort to Leinefeld-Worbis, every few miles I would see dozens of large windmills (carcinogenic, according to Trump) on the distant hilltops. I remember that it made me feel that there was hope for cleaner energy and grateful that Germany was taking steps to fight climate change.

I didn’t get that hope on my 2020 road trip. And to top it off there was the TV Ad for Trump I saw claiming that Biden wanted to ban fracking and it would cost Pennsylvania 600,000 jobs. Trump, no more bullshit. Yeah, right.

Last point. It may be quaint or outdated to some seasoned travellers but I’m impressed with the Pennsylvania Turnpike. In the past, on trips to Indiana, I’ve gone via Route 80 but on this trip, on the way back, I took the Turnpike. Much of it is only two lanes each way and the road is winding and hilly, which slows you down, but those tunnels are very impressive. I think I went through four of them: the Allegheny Mountain tunnel, the Tuscarora Mountain tunnel, and the Blue Mountain and Kittatinny tunnels. They range from about four thousand to six thousand feet long and are a great example of what government is capable of doing for the development of the nation. I’m not saying build more highways, but put this kind of effort into a Green New Deal, a Climate Conservation Corps, some sort of 21st Century New Deal that modernizes our water supply system and upgrades the power grid, and we’d make some real progress in healing this nation.

In the words of Jacob Hacker and Paul Pierson “America’s infrastructure was once the envy of the world, but in an era of government-bashing, it has been allowed to crumble.”

OMG, that lame Joe Biden campaign slogan fits right here … but I won’t say it.

The Tuscarora Tunnel in Pennsylvania

Knowledge is power… not much, but ... actually, power is power.