CAROLYN'S COMPOSITIONS

July 22, 2008

HIKING THE LINCOLN HIGHWAY Part 1 of 2


What better way is there to celebrate summer than to hike the entire Lincoln Highway (route 30 through Pennsylvania), which extends from New York City to San Francisco.

One man did that a few years ago. I caught up with him as he entered Laughlintown, PA., after descending Laurel Mountain. After interviewing him, the story of his adventures was published in two parts in the Lincoln Highway Journal. Below is the first segment.

HIS DREAM
Andy Olson yearned to take a long walk—somewhere. But where?

“I was in college, age 20-21 and was driving on the Highway when I heard a Woody Guthrie song, ‘Hard Travelin’,” he said:

“I’ve been a walking that Lincoln Highway,
I thought you knowed.”

The red-headed 26-year old, who grew up in a town of 10,000 in Carroll Islands, Iowa, very near the Lincoln Highway, now had his goal. He would walk the highway from New York City to San Francisco.

“It’s been a dream of mine since then. But didn’t know if I’d carry it out…”

HIS MOTIVATION
Andy is concerned about diminishing United States history. Americans and their communities are melding into a one-experience-fits-all as people tend to sacrifice regionalism by burying the past, he said. He wants to touch base with the country before the culture merges together.

“Lots of regionalism is lost due to exposure to mass media,” he said. “Where I grew up in Iowa, towns were settlement towns, eg. German Catholic. For most of my grandparents English was a second language. It was not uncommon then. I want to experience the remaining remnants of past history.”

Andy also wants to recapture the authenticity of American people, to “find out what people are really like,” and to renew his faith in them.

“I came from a world where I was cynical about people,” he said. “A media based negativity surrounds us. People are convinced the world isn’t as safe as it is.”
So far, he’s experienced little negativity.

“I haven’t met the crazies,” he said, although one trucker on Laurel Mountain, seeing Andy ascend on foot carrying a 50-pound backpack in the heat, called out to him “you’re crazy.”

Observing people in their day-to-day lives fascinates Andy and is reinforcing his view of people’s nature. “People in general are very positive, generous and hospitable,” he said.

“I guess what I find interesting about people is that it can be anyone—old young, every specter, nationality. I personally find people fuel the fire (of his walk) quite a bit. I get lots of waves from motor bikers, and I seem to talk to lots of kids.”
 
He said people are very quick to categorize others.

“But each has a certain aspect of uniqueness. We need to get to know people and their motivating factors.”

Usually it’s the other person who initiates conversation. He has, however, increased his own willingness to approach strangers, identifying those who want to talk by their reaction to seeing him walking along the road with a backpack.

He’s also discovered the generosity of Americans. If he has a need for anything, from directions to housing, people are willing and want to help out.

HIS JOURNEY
Andy began his journey in April by riding with a friend to New York City, where he stayed with another friend for a week and a half.

Following a detailed map he obtained from the Lincoln Highway Association, Andy’s walk so far has taken him through the urbanized eastern end of the Lincoln Highway to the rural Laurel Highlands region. He said southwestern Pennsylvania is “highly reminiscent of the south.”

He started out at Times Square where route 30 begins, he said.

On May 9 he caught a ferry on 83rd St. He landed in Weehawkins, New Jersey and began walking. Lincoln Highway or Route 30 signs were few and far between on the local streets, he noted.

At Trenton, New Jersey, he took a train to Philadelphia, Pennsylvania.

“I didn’t walk because it was so congested,” he said. “I’m not caught up in walking everything.”

He found Philadelphia’s “community-based” culture interesting—it’s a place where kids are involved in music and art and adults have interesting careers.

“They chose interesting non-conventional life paths,” he said. “I really appreciate this in people. Generally people try to direct you in life.”

From Philadelphia he walked to Downingtown, where he met an older, active couple in their 70s, who knew lots of local history.

“I felt like I needed conversation and it was nice to have a pleasant one,” he said.

Next came Amish country, a new experience. He tried to interact with the Amish but discovered they are pretty shy.

“I respect them for their strong sense of community and the fact that they still make a living and prosper in agriculture, and they are hanging onto farmland,” he said, adding that he hates to see their land sold to city people for housing. “It’s a shame the farmland has to be lost.”

Andy met a couple at a restaurant outside Evanston, Pennsylvania, who offered him housing for a night.

“There was a bad storm, and it was five miles either way to a motel,” he said, noting the spontaneity of how things happen.

He stayed four days in Elizabethtown, Pa., with Swedish relatives who’d moved there from Iowa. While there he decided to purchase flowers to plant at their home as a thank-you gesture. He asked a man on the street for directions to a nursery. The retired Ukranian stranger drove him the round trip.

“Then he gave me a Russian Bible that had his telephone number in it,” Andy said. “He said he knew a lot of people on my route, and not to hesitate to call him if I needed anything.”

After crossing the Susquehanna River, Andy spent several days at Gettysburg. There he met a man bicycling from there to his home in Florida. The man had lots of interesting life stories.

After this the terrain became hillier and increasingly mountainous. The highest elevation he crossed was 2900 feet at Bald Knob Summit, the location of a former ship motel that was destroyed by fire.

“This (the mountains) was by far the most challenging part of the trip,” he said. “The time it takes—it seems like I should make better time. It’s not that easy coming down, it jars the knees and the backpack pushes down. The backpack weighs 52 pounds…”

Visit my site on Thursday evening to read the conclusion of Andy Olsen’s story on walking the Lincoln Highway.

Additional reading:

THE ICE CREAM MAN

BEAR STORIES ACROSS THE NATION

FLASHY MOON EXPLOSIONS

SOUTHWESTERN PENNSYLVANIANS DRINK MOXIE: Do They Like It?

LOGGING IN MAINE AND ON THE PERU-BRAZILLIAN BORDER

BLACK FLIES AND OTHER INSECTS: Then and Now

OF FIREFLIES AND LIGHTNING BUGS

THE ICE CREAM MAN

KEEPING PEACE IN SOUTH AFRICA Part 1

KILLED STRANGELY: A NEW ENGLAND MURDER STORY

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