A few weeks ago I wrote about being rescued in Omaha by my brother who was kind enough to drive 2 ½ hours to fetch me from a hastily arranged backup airport. The ride from Omaha, NE to Ames, IA, actually I think the airport is in Council Bluffs, IA, was mainly across Interstate 80. I-80 in Iowa is kind of flat and fairly straight. Although it rolls along some gentle hills, you can see pretty far into the distance.
Once, when my brother was driving me to Omaha for an early morning flight, I asked if we were observing the sunrise as I saw an impressive glow in the distance. He quipped “no, here in Iowa the sun rises in the east” and explained that while we still had quite a lot of drive time remaining, I was seeing the lights of Omaha.
Last week, our daughter Faith and I picked up I-80 near Scranton,
PA about 1,200 miles east of Omaha, heading west toward Pittsburgh. As much as we like going to Pittsburgh, and as much as we like the flexibility, affordability and the luxury of packing anything you want when you drive to your destination, we hate I-80. I have made that trip dozens of times, and my wife has made it a few times. We all hate I-80. It is one tough road to drive.
I-80 is a favorite truck route, so it’s usually busy with traffic even if you manage to miss rush hour near Scranton. Yes, Scranton has a rush hour just like the big cities. We generally time our travel to avoid the rush at the Newburgh-Beacon Bridge over the Hudson. That means either leaving what I call early (before 6:00 am) or what Faith calls early (about 8:30 am). We usually sneak into the west side of the city, staying at the Fairfield Inn on Neville Island, so we don’t worry so much about Pittsburgh’s rush hour.
The first time I took Faith to Pittsburgh, it was a last minute decision when she discovered that she had a week of vacation time to either use or lose. I checked for a hotel near where we were heading and found this Fairfield Inn. Faith’s reaction was: “ooh, an island!” Then I informed her that Neville Island is an industrial island sitting in the Ohio River. Not quite Hawaii.
Unlike I-80 in the Midwest, the Pennsylvania portion is characterized by hills and curves. Actually, let’s make that hills, curves and hills that curve. You can’t really ever see too much of the road ahead, it’s more like 280 1-mile squiggly segments. It even makes it hard to take pictures because you don’t see that great shot coming for miles. Also, it’s entirely possible that before you get to snap the shutter, you’ve turned or started down again. Finally, your field of view might get interrupted by a truck.
I-80 is a rolling truck stop.
There are a lot of trucks on I-80 in Iowa too, but there’s a difference in Pennsylvania; Pennsylvania has those hills – and those curves. I’m not sure truckers are any different in the east or the west, but those hills and curves bring out the DRIVE in truck driver. You can have a line of 6 trucks heading up a long hill at 55 mph when suddenly, one of them realizes that he can go 56, and he will start to pass the other five. So, you spend a lot of time following a truck while slowly passing a bunch of trucks. The only thing that can make that worse is rain.
Did I say the only thing?
I forgot the other thing that can and usually does make I-80 worse. Construction. I’ve been driving I-80 through Pennsylvania since 1975 and it. Has. Always. Been. Under. Construction. It’s just one of those roads that never seem to be finished. They are always repaving a lane, rebuilding a bridge, clearing a landslide or fixing a few hundred feet of guard rail that was removed during the winter by someone rolling too fast for conditions.
The almost comical thing about all the roads in Pennsylvania is the signage. Some politician’s family must be in the sign business in that state, because there are tons of road signs. Our favorites are the “Bridge Ices Before Road” and “Bridge May Be Icy” signs. In CT, we might see one of these every now and then. In PA, you will see one before EVERY bridge, but it’s hard to tell when they choose one expression over the other. Personally, I like “Bridge May Be Icy” and I like it better than the expression they use in CT “Bridge Freezes Before Road Surface.” Warning signs shouldn’t take too long to read and they shouldn’t require any thought. I know what “Icy” means without thinking about it.
Most of the pictures are mine. You can click on them to see a larger version and read a little description. The picture of the chemical plant is one that Faith took while driving around Neville Island.