Stamatakis: Savor sunshine on a Pa. road trip

By Nick Stamatakis

The symptoms include a tingling sensation up the arms and legs and a strong desire to hula-hoop… The symptoms include a tingling sensation up the arms and legs and a strong desire to hula-hoop in public spaces. Other indicators include drowsiness, lack of motivation and craving popsicles — the disease is Pennsylvania sunshine, a mythical ailment that makes an appearance 10 days or so a year and sends students of the University into a damaging spiral of frivolous socializing and delayed term papers.

As a Pittsburgh native, I knew of the syndrome, and now that one day of sunshine has occurred, the rest of campus knows it, too.

But I am fully aware that many readers are oblivious to the existence of Pennsylvania sunshine, and many are probably caught by surprise. Some might not know what to do with themselves now that going outside doesn’t require three wool layers and an industrial-strength umbrella. For this reason, I am offering a suggestion on how to spend your nine other days of sunshine — a good, old-fashioned Pennsylvania road trip.

Many out-of-staters have likely not even considered such an option, as many are probably content spending the hours doing things like partying and hanging with friends on South Oakland porches. But considering that this state is actually one of the top 50 in the Union, I think it is a terrible wrong that more people don’t explore all that the countryside has to offer.

I recommend starting any Pennsylvania road trip by driving up Interstate 79 to Erie. While flipping burgers on the banks of Presque Isle State Park, you will feel sad for states that only have miles and miles of soft, white sand beaches with beautiful men and women playing volleyball. Staring out over the pale lake, you will experience the sensation of true freedom and happiness that these states could only dream of offering.

Once you have been properly enthralled, you should head east to the region of the state known as the Pennsylvania Wilds. This exotic region might not offer quite the Indiana Jones-level of excitement the name suggests, but the 12-county region still boasts plenty of attractions, including Pine Creek Gorge, known as the Grand Canyon of Pennsylvania. The area is perfect for people who love the other Grand Canyon in Arizona, yet don’t want the vistas to be quite as breathtaking, the outdoor sports activities to be quite as exciting and the contemplation about the meaning of life during a long gaze at the landscape to be quite as profound.

After a six-hour drive through miles of forest you will be in Scranton.

After Scranton, I would advise you to head south, because otherwise you will end up in New York and the adjacent Atlantic Ocean. You would be wise, however, to avoid the city known as Philadelphia located in the southeastern corner of the state. In addition to completely going against the countryside-theme of your trip, the locals in the area, while nice, are prone to unprovoked speeches about how their city is better than yours. Therefore, unless you want to hear an hour-long tirade about cheesesteaks, Benjamin Franklin and how the Flyers play “real” hockey, I’d recommend you avoid the City of Brotherly Love.

As you begin your journey back to Pittsburgh, enjoy one of the most quintessential scenes of the Pennsylvania countryside — an Amish family ordering Whoppers at a drive-thru.

Warmly embrace the lovely juxtaposition of old-world simplicity and new-world convenience. Like Lake Erie and an above-average valley, this scene could very well serve as the start of lengthy hours of self-contemplation.

Of course this tour could continue forever, as I have only highlighted the most exciting parts of the state. You could make a stop in the Ridge and Valley region in the center of the state, home to many ridges and valleys. Those even more ambitious can stop in Lewisburg, home to Bucknell University and a pizza shop where I once had — literally — the most average pizza in America. The only limit to the fun is how many potholes, hills and sharp turns your car can handle and how many children you are willing to sell for gas money.

However you ultimately decide to make this journey, just take advantage of all Pennsylvania has to offer when the sun is shining. Because even though the state lacks the superlatives enjoyed by many others — the best beaches, biggest mountains or best pizza — that doesn’t mean its many charms can’t lead to a wonderful summer.

Write Nick at [email protected]