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YONDER JOURNAL: APPALACHIANS, PA

To swim or not to swim? That is the question. In Part II of Yonder Journal's Appalachian adventure, the crew call an audible on their route, opting for fun over torment. Will they find their ideal swim hole? You'll have to read to find out.

DEAD RECKONING

PENNSYLVANIA AUDIBLE

The eponymously named State College, PA is a college that begat a city, and it happens to be located in what is quite possibly the most pastoral landscape I have ever seen. To the north and south, vast stretches of blue-green hills extend from horizon to horizon, looming tidal waves that have threatened the valley for millennia. The valley floor is a rumpled quilt of emerald and gold—it seems that everything can and will grow here, leading us to understand that this is no doubt a land of prosperity.

Our humble troop of adventurers arrived in town a few weeks after class had let out for the summer, and with the student body’s exodus to their summer jobs, internships, and three months' worth of late mornings spent “catching up” on their parents' couch, wandering around the city gave one the sensation of walking in a pair of shoes five sizes too big. What we felt was a vacuum, a void; what we felt was the uncanny, as if we were peering behind the walls of a movie set. Despite the vacancy, we were able to procure necessary supplies, namely a hacky sack, a bandana with a constellation print, and two trekking poles.

We left State College after ingesting a hearty breakfast of pancakes made of what felt like cement. Whereas the riding in Vermont had been windy and chilling (the sky periodically spitting down upon us), in Pennsylvania, we were riding in an old laundromat, humid and hot. At least it was a change. After a single climb and a single descent out of town, we were on gravel: slate gray and flecked with dark stones. These roads were smooth, and we maybe saw one car the entire day, giving us the impression that these were our roads.

There were riders in our group who had an intimate knowledge of Vermont and Virginia, but for State College, we had no native guide. Daniel had been here on a road ride a half decade ago, and Chris Tank (acting as our de facto local) had whipped up a course via internet resources that more or less followed our requirements: gravel, camping, and no more than 60 miles per day. On screen it looked great, but after getting into camp the first night at dusk, forced to miss out on an excellent reservoir swimming opportunity, the team gathered in the dark.

The conversation went something like this (definitive attribution is not possible, however it is fair to say that any one of these people could have been anyone of us, we were of a hive mind at this point, linked across the drift, participating in a neural network, our thoughts gelled):

Person 1: “Guys, I am tired and these hills are endless.” Everyone Else: “Yeah.” Person 2: “I mean; do we have to keep doing this? We can do whatever we want right?” Person 3: “Right, it’s our ride.” Everyone Else, “Yeah.” Person 4: “I don’t want to ride all day and get in at night, this isn’t a race, it’s a ride, plus we’re passing up some pretty sweet swimming spots.” Person 5: “You’re right, let's focus on getting to the swimming spots, stopping in little towns, taking the time to make photographs…” Person 6: “And let’s make it enjoyable.” Everyone Else: “Yeah!” Person 7: “Hey, I need to say something. There, I said it.”

So we called an audible, we threw the original route to the wind. All we knew is that we had reservations at a site on a lake and we wanted a piece of that lake. In the morning we cut down our distance, then stopped in a little town for bad pizza where we drank out of Styrofoam cups (I haven’t seen Styrofoam used with such abandon for years), from which we followed an Amish horse and buggy to a gas station/grocery store, where we lounged and napped in the shade of a tree in their “FOR CUSTOMERS ONLY” grass patch. We didn’t spend all day on gravel, but for the most part, the roads were rural and void of vehicles. The weather was pleasant, as if the windows of that old laundromat had been thrown open and a light breeze flirted with us as we rode.

Once at camp, we fulfilled our promise to swim and the water was cool and refreshing, the golden light warm and welcome. Dreamy right? It was. Later that night, our camp host, Judy, dropped off hotdogs, buns, and some firewood from her personal stash—all free of charge. We were just being us, and she was just being her, and everything was right. I don’t even recall having to worry about mosquitos. Everything was coming up roses, to such a fine extent that our crew wasn’t even plagued with the dread of waiting for the other shoe to drop. We were in lockstep with fortune, sailing downwind, easy-breezy.

On our third and final day, we may have gotten lost on some public/not-so-public roads, and one of us may have had to put an injured porcupine out of its misery, but that was the extent of it. And while there is no way of getting around the sadness regarding the porcupine, the public/not-so-public roads experience is part of running the audible game. Besides, it added a little thrill and anxiety to a day that was otherwise perfectly serene and enjoyable, a little yin to help highlight the yang. We even stopped for ice creams at some little shack shop across the street from a dairy farm, and we met a professor from Los Angeles who talked with our professor from Los Angeles (Prof. Moi Medina). She told us about a delightful little market we needed to visit on our way back into town.

The moral of the story here is that if you allow yourself to be flexible, with both your mind and your route, good things will happen—good things, like ice cream outposts and free stuff from your camp host. We’re not advocating that you audible every ride, only that you listen to your heart and the hearts of those around you. And if those hearts are saying “audible,” you audible. It’s like our saying here at Yonder Journal: “Don’t trust me, trust you.”