In Breeze­wood, find­ing your way around a way-sta­tion.

A Pa. cross­roads town, Breeze­wood, isn’t known for long stays or luxe ac­com­mo­da­tions. But it’s more invit­ing than it looks.

The Washington Post Sunday - - TRAVEL - BY ME­LANIE D.G. KA­PLAN travel@wash­post.com

I ex­pected to live my en­tire life with­out price-shop­ping for truck­stop show­ers. Then I spent the night in Breeze­wood.

The ad­ven­ture be­gan last Au­gust when my main squeeze James and I drove to Colorado. We passed through Breeze­wood, Pa., as do many driv­ers head­ing to the Rust Belt and beyond.

“What do you think about va­ca­tion­ing here for a week,” James asked. I laughed loudly and dis­missed the idea.

If you’ve been there, you un­der­stand why. Breeze­wood has been a travel hub for cen­turies. It was a stage­coach stop in the late 1700s and then be­came a stop on the Lin­coln High­way, Amer­ica’s first cross-coun­try road. The Penn­syl­va­nia Turn­pike opened in 1940, and thou­sands of World War II vet­er­ans ex­ited at Breeze­wood, stop­ping at what now is the Gate­way Travel Plaza to trade their unit patches for meals. To­day, Mo­torists driv­ing be­tween I-70 and the turn­pike are forced off the high­way and onto a con­gested halfmile stretch of ex­pen­sive gas sta­tions, fast-food joints, truck stops and mo­tels. That’s what peo­ple do in Breeze­wood, I thought. Get a quick caf­feine fix, then re­fuel and get back on the road. They don’t sleep there.

“I’m game,” I said last sum­mer, ac­cept­ing James’s chal­lenge. “But only for one night.”

By the time we fi­nally rolled into town last month, I was ex­cited about our ad­ven­ture.

I had learned about Pike 2 Bike, a graf­fiti-cov­ered, crum­bling sec­tion of the orig­i­nal four-lane turn­pike that was aban­doned 50 years ago af­ter the two-lane tun­nels be­came bot­tle­necks. We packed bike shorts and were ready to ex­plore. But on our first day, I was de­ter­mined to walk up and down the Breeze­wood strip, U.S. Route 30, to bet­ter un­der­stand this town peo­ple love to hate.

In the shadow of promi­nently placed no-pedes­trian signs, we set off sin­gle file, along the shoul­der — look­ing like ho­bos — and scut­tled across in­ter­sec­tions be­tween groan­ing semis.

Dur­ing our stroll down the strip, where 18-wheel­ers of­ten out­num­ber four-wheel­ers, James and I counted close to a dozen va­cant build­ings, in­clud­ing a for­mer Wendy’s and KFC. We wan­dered around an empty, weed­filled mo­tel lot; in­side a chain-link fence sat a pool filled with brown wa­ter. Sev­eral busi­nesses pleaded for work­ers. Taco Bell’s sign made me smile: “Need a job? Come taco bout it.”

Among the new­est prop­er­ties was the Hol­i­day Inn Ex­press, which sold in its lobby Hun­gry Man frozen din­ners, build-yourown six packs of beer and a snow globe of Penn­syl­va­nia cov­ered bridges. The busiest place (and our lunch spot) was Sheetz, in front of the touch-screen kiosks that fa­cil­i­tate made-to-or­der food.

At the Gate­way — where you can see dis­plays of the sol­diers’ patches — we popped into the gift shop, and I bought a minia­ture li­cense plate with my name on it, skip­ping “The Com­plete Veni­son Cook­book.” Up­stairs, we found a laun­dro­mat and ar­cade, and a quiet lounge for truck­ers that of­fered com­pli­men­tary Bi­bles in Span­ish.

Hav­ing passed Craw­ford’s Mu­seum many times, I was hope­ful about find­ing some cul­ture in town. Alas, we dis­cov­ered that the mu­seum sign is sim­ply a left­over from the build­ing’s days of ex­hibit­ing taxi­der­mied an­i­mals. To­day, it’s a sports sou­venir shop — of­fer­ing a frenzy of Pitts­burgh Steel­ers tchotchkes. Some of the an­i­mal dis­plays re­main, co­hab­i­tat­ing in this odd space. A Ko­diak bear stands on his hind legs in the sale sec­tion; some of his claws were plucked out over the years. An ele­phant’s head rests on the back wall, its ears splayed, tusks stretch­ing out over the base­ball caps.

Be­fore din­ner, we left town, driv­ing past farms and or­chards, and slow­ing for bun­nies scam­per­ing across the road. We stopped at a half-dozen cov­ered bridges just long enough for self­ies and found Grav­ity Hill, an op­ti­cal il­lu­sion that makes cars look like they’re rolling up­hill. (It was un­der­whelm­ing to one of us and de­light­ful to the other.)

That night at the Qual­ity Inn Breeze Manor, a tidy hill­top mo­tel, I found a walk­ing path to the truck-ser­vice sta­tion, which was lit up like a ball­field. One truck car­ried 10 col­or­ful Mini Coop­ers, an­other logs, an­other FedEx pack­ages. Stand­ing on a knoll, I watched the end­less pa­rade of trucks and was en­thralled while lis­ten­ing to their strange noises un­til bed beck­oned.

The next morn­ing, we en­joyed a large and healthy break­fast at the 1788 Inn, a newly ren­o­vated be­dand-break­fast just beyond the strip — but not far enough away to es­cape the con­stant din of rum­bling trucks. Fueled up for bik­ing, we drove to the start of the Pike 2 Bike trail and met Mur­ray Schroten­boer, a gray-bearded en­tre­pre­neur who runs Grouse­land Tours and has been rid­ing the aban­doned sec­tion of turn­pike for nearly 20 years.

Un­der over­cast skies, our small group set off. We ped­aled at a com­fort­able pace, with gen­tle climbs and de­scents, and Schroten­boer nar­rated a his­tory of the route start­ing with Wil­liam Van­der­bilt and a failed rail­road project. In the old turn­pike me­dian, weeds grew to shoul­der height and but­ter­flies darted around wild­flow­ers. Na­ture was re­pos­sess­ing its land. Lo­cals de­scribe it as post-apoc­a­lyp­tic.

We rode sin­gle file through two tun­nels — dank, foggy, pitch black stretches, one more than a mile long. Con­den­sa­tion made the in­te­rior drippy, in some places like a wa­ter­fall. Our head­lights shone cones of vis­i­bil­ity through the dark droplets of wa­ter.

“We’re 400 feet un­der­ground,” Schroten­boer said, re­mind­ing us that we were un­der a moun­tain. We pulled over in an empty as­phalt lot and he pointed to some trees. “This was once a Howard John­son and Esso Sta­tion.”

On the re­turn, we passed a dozen other cy­clists, in­clud­ing a fam­ily of six driv­ing be­tween York and Pitts­burgh. Schroten­boer, who stopped us of­ten for sto­ries, pointed out the spots where parts of movies “The Road” and “Zom­bie eXs” were shot. At one of the tun­nel en­trances, he un­locked a door and led us to the for­mer con­trol, boiler and ven­ti­la­tion rooms for the tun­nel. This sur­real steam­punk hide­away is ac­ces­si­ble only on Schroten­boer’s tour (al­though tres­passers have found a way in), and I con­sid­ered that alone worth the price. We walked by a fan the size of a jet en­gine, cov­ered in bright graf­fiti, and con­tin­ued about 150 feet into the gritty plenum, or at­tic, of the tun­nel. Echoes bounced eerily back to the en­trance.

Af­ter our five-hour, 17-mile tour, we were mud-splat­tered and sweaty. In­con­ve­niently, we had checked out of our mo­tel that morn­ing. The pre­vi­ous day, we had learned that show­ers at the Gate­way cost $14. (“Pricey,” I had mut­tered.) I sug­gested that we check out the less-spiffy Fly­ing J across the street. Sure enough, that saved us $2. I bought a shower pass from the cashier, walked to the base­ment and keyed in a code at the as­signed room. Easy as pie.

With that, our Breeze­wood ad­ven­ture was over. Driv­ing out of town, I saw Bob Evans, Shell, Best Western and a flut­ter­ing Stars and Stripes in my rearview mir­ror. In less than a mile, we were driv­ing through green, rolling hills. I thought about the world we’d made — the crum­bling fa­cades, the aban­doned high­way, the de­clawed bear — and watched trucks across the me­dian speed­ing to­ward a mo­men­tary stop in a strange yet ut­terly Amer­i­can town. Ka­plan is a free­lance writer based in the District. Her web­site is melaniedgka­plan.com. Find her on Twit­ter: @MelanieDGKa­plan.

PHO­TOS BY ME­LANIE D.G. KA­PLAN

FROM TOP: The Pike 2 Bike trail runs along an aban­doned sec­tion of the Penn­syl­va­nia Turn­pike in Breeze­wood. Ex­am­ples of taxi­der­mied an­i­mals are rem­nants of Craw­ford’s Mu­seum’s ear­lier in­car­na­tion. It now sells sports mem­o­ra­bilia. Gate­way Travel Plaza, open 24 hours, is part of a city that has been a travel hub since the 18th cen­tury. The cross­roads town is es­pe­cially friendly to truck­ers.

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from USA

© PressReader. All rights reserved.