I had a really awesome PA-centric Labor Day weekend roadtrip planned for this past holiday, gearing up to explore western/central PA, and four PA state parks I’ve had on my bucketlist for a while now.
What happened? I ended up essentially spending over 12 hours in the car, to spend less than 24 hours in Erie, PA. Most of this was in the rain.
The world’s a funny place though, because somehow it was still a good trip.
The original plan was for my brother and I to wake up early on Saturday morning, leaving by 5, and arriving in Erie sometime around 10, in order to maximize our day there. Our main goal was to explore Presque Isle State Park. We didn’t have any real set plans, but wanted to rent kayaks or paddleboards, visit the lighthouses, and relax on one PA’s only real beaches. We were going to depart Erie the next day, and drive to Kinzau Bridge State Park, where I hypothesized that we’d spend about an hour taking photos of the bridge, and hiking down, and the subsequently back up, the valley floor. We planned on camping that night at Cherry Springs State Park. We wanted to arrive while it was still light to set up camp, familiarize ourselves with the surroundings, cook some hot dogs on the fire, and then just take in the night sky. The PA Grand Canyon is only a 45 minute drive east, so Sunday was going to be a hike down. One of my friends went on her honeymoon there (cool idea, right?), and had recommended the Turkey Path. We planned this trip out back in June, and I’d been pumped to cross four PA-spots of my bucketlist.
Then this little guy called Harvey decided to visit. Now, I’m not going to whine about how the rain he brought north ruined my vacation. I realize the devastation Harvey caused down south. But, we were cognizant going into the trip, that Saturday and Sunday were now supposed to be very rainy. I kept my eye on the weather all week, and by Friday, the day before we were going to leave, forecasts said rain on and off all day Saturday, all morning Sunday, but clearing up for Sunday night. We could do that, we rationalized. We’d still be able to explore Presque Isle and Kinzua Bridge, we’d just have to take rain gear, and forgo sitting on the beach. Clear skies were crucial for Cherry Springs, and that was a go, and Monday was supposed to be a great summer day, perfect for hiking.
I woke up Saturday morning around 4, to the sound of a drizzle, rolled over, and checked my phone. Heavy rain until noon. I met Shawn in the hallway, coming from showering himself, and we mutually agreed that if the weather wasn’t going to be nice until 1ish, why rush to Erie? We decided on two more hours sleep and would leave at 7. The trip was already starting off on a positive note. I love sleeping in to the sound of drizzle, and by the time we got onto the road, it looked, and felt like a sunny fall day.
Despite being a rather boring drive through New York’s southern tier, it’s an easy one, wand though my brother and I live together (and do travel together quite often), we work opposite schedules, so being enclosed in a car for 5 hours is a nice chance to catch up. You know what else is nice? Randomly happening across a “world famous” cheese shop in the small hamlet of Cuba, New York. I may sound like I’m being facetious, but I’m not. We both threw down some cash for some of this world famous cheese, and although I didn’t try my purchases yet, the 12 year old cheddar my brother picked up is excellent. I have a wedding out in Cleveland this weekend, which will take us on this same route, and am planning on a repeat stop.
We arrived in Erie around lunch time, and I hate to say it, but both of us had the same reaction: Erie is bleak. Was the weather the blame? Absolutely. It was cold, windy, and rainy, and I’m sure the weather was keeping many would be Labor Dayers away. I think it might’ve also been our expectations. For some reason, we both thought that Erie’s waterfront would be filled with stores, restaurants, and bars that we could wander in and out of, even if the weather was shitty. But it’s really not. There’s a few, but in general it feels very industrial, and not the beachtown vibe we were expecting. We walked around a bit, and checked out some of the few restaurants there, but they also seemed a bit tourist trappy.
I’m going to give Erie the benefit of the doubt, and say maybe we didn’t find downtown, downtown, but the parts of town we drove around were desolate, also very industrial, and the kind of place that grown men didn’t feel the need to hide the 40’s they were drinking out of when walking the city sidewalks. We did have an excellent lunch though. We went to the Cloud9 Wine Bar, had some great lamb meatballs as an appetizer, and I had a beef on weck sandwich for my main course, which Wikipedia tells me is a western New York dish, known for it’s “kimmelweck bun,” a dinner roll topped with sea salt and caraway seeds. The bun was indeed delicious, and I’ve already googled ways to ship them to my home.
While the town didn’t wow us, even in the shitty weather, Presque Isle did. It’s a 4 mile peninsula jutting out into Lake Erie that has 13 miles of driving roads, 13 different beaches for swimming, 21 miles of trails, two lighthouses, a Coast Guard Station, bike rentals, boat rentals, and plenty of places to eat. It’s a legit beach haven all in itself, and I could see how it’d make an awesome vacation destination when the weather is solid.
We drove around the park, and stopped to walk around one of the beaches. The weather wasn’t great, it was raining off and on, so while we brought plenty of reading material, we didn’t want to put down our chairs and claim a spot. It looked like most other people there had the same idea, as the beach had a few other walkers. One family had claimed a spot on the beach. All four of them sat in a row, all with faces in their phones. We next stopped at the Presque Isle Lighthouse, which you can tour at specified times. If it weren’t Labor Day, and the tours weren’t booked for a solid 2 hours, I probably would’ve climbed up, but that being the fact, we declined.
One of the most random, and one of my favorite finds, was Horseshoe Pond, a small bay in the park filled with lifeboats. We had absolutely no idea what or why they were doing when we drove by, but did stop and take a couple pictures. Having returned home, I found some reading on them here or here. It’s a cool concept. Our last stop in the park was the North Pierhead Lighthouse, which sits on the end of, you guessed it, a long stone pier. As mentioned earlier, I could see easily spending several days here on a nicer weekend, but after our three stops, we were a little chilly, getting pretty wet, and ready to go check into the hotel.
We had dinner that night at Sneaky Pete’s, a very delicious restaurant, with a very strange atmosphere I highly recommend. The website touts Sneaky Pete’s as a “speakeasy,” and true to form, it looks just like a house, and has no real advertisements on the outside. Inside, to me at least, didn’t have that 20’s speakeasy vibe, but reminded me of an old school Italian place, in that Frank Sinatra was playing, and I felt like I was in an older relative’s living room. The food was excellent. I wish I had a picture, but I think I ate too fast. We had a appetizer of chorizo and Manchego, and then I had surf in turf in the form of filet medallions, and crab cakes. Usually I’m not a big crab cake believer. Like, they’re fine and all, but I’ve never got excited about a crab cake before. I got excited about these.
We were back to the hotel, as planned, pretty early, although I didn’t end up getting any reading done. Instead, we got sucked into a Catfish marathon on MTV. I’ve never actually watched that show until last weekend. It can also be bleak.
So all and all, Saturday was a rainy, but good day. I went to bed Saturday night excited about the prospect of sleeping under the stars at Cherry Spring the following night.
Sunday are when things really went askew. We woke up on time, ate a quick continental breakfast, and started driving towards Kinzau Bridge. The weather was abysmal. About an hour into our drive, my brother’s car notified him that the tire pressure was off in his rear passenger side tire. I saw the notification come on, but didn’t think anything of it, me not driving and all. He said he felt it pulling, so we got off the highway at some godforsaken western upstate NY hamlet to put some air in it.
I never got the name of that town, but I hate it.
We pulled into a convenient mart, and the tire was flat. Looking back, I’m surprised it didn’t blow out on the side of the highway. He put some air into it, but you could just hear it hissing right back out the whole time. So we unloaded our trunk, got out his donut, and set to work removing the lugnuts, which proved to be the workout I didn’t know I needed. I’ve changed a few tires in my day. I could get a spare on in about 15 minutes. It took us about that much time just to get the lugnuts off. We started getting the car off the ground via jack when the rain decided to come back full force. We we’d almost got the car up though, so let ourselves start soaking through, thinking the task at hand almost finished. The twist here? The tire was corroded onto the car, so we took shelter under the convenient mart awning, and waited as the downpour unleashed itself. Then, we had to run back into the rain when we realized our hiking shoes were getting soaked. Then again when we realized the same thing about our tent. The convenient store clerk was nice enough to come check on us during this period. Not to see if we needed any help, mind you. Rather, to ensure that we were planning on “cleaning up the mess we made” a la the contents of our trunk laying on the store sidewalk.
I’m not going to pretend like I knew how to get a corroded tire off of a car, but Google informed me a rubber mallet would be helpful. While my brother waited with his jacked up vehicle, I ran over to the grocery store across the street to see if they had one. Not seeing a hardware or automotive aisle, I asked a woman at a nearby cash register. The conversation went something like this:
Me: Excuse me ,but do you have any rubber mallets. I then went on to explain the situation.
Woman: This is a GROC-ER-RY store. Why would we have car parts for sale?
I decided not to explain that my local Weis did have tools and automotive supplies. I instead asked if anyone in the store happened to have one.
Woman: This is a GROC-ER-RY store. We don’t carry those.
Man in line behind me: I can’t believe you don’t have one. I always carry mine in my trunk.
Woman in line behind man: I have one sitting in my trunk right now. She neglected an offer of help. I asked if anyone knew where to find one. I was informed that the Home Depot was three miles away, but that without a car that’d be a long walk.
This is why I hate that town.
Luckily the “variety store” next store had rubber mallets for $1.99. Unfortunately, they also had a $10.00 minimum on debit cards, so I ended up getting a few off-brand 5-hour energies as well.
The mallet, I’m happy to report, did the trick after some vigorous pounding. That tire falling off might be the most excited I’ve been over anything that’s happened this summer. The rain hadn’t let up at all.
We ultimately decided to can the rest of the trip and drive home. We couldn’t find anywhere open to purchase a new tire, and both Kinzua and Chery Springs would’ve required driving over 150 miles on a donut, on backroads, in the rain. It wasn’t worth the risk. We hopped back on the highway, and my brother drove us home slower than normal.
We might’ve been the recipients of some divine intervention though, because that night I was in bed asleep by 7:30PM with a massive bout of the flu. I don’t think I would’ve been enjoying staring up at the stars in my sleeping bag with a 102 temperature. And I don’t think my brother would’ve enjoyed a PA Grand Canyon Hike with the separate bug that infected him the next day.