For nearly 20 years, my father and I have traveled to North Central PA for a fishing trip. This year, our plans were postponed. It’s a special place to us, and missing out on that late May trip was weighing a bit on me. The air is so crisp, the mountains are distinct, and in many places, the trout are native. The region as a whole, remains a very wild place, despite the encroachment of industry.
My bud, Tim decided to organize a last minute trip to his camp, and I was pleased to get an invite. We’re kind of between seasons. A couple weeks before migratory pelagics of the Atlantic, fall lake runs, and several from the opening of bow season. All the really prolific hatches are over. Things are finally cooling down again after summer.
Door to door, it’s a 3 hour trip. An afternoon and evening with good friends, would be a good investment. I cleared my schedule for a night, loaded up the gear, and pointed the Prairie Schooner south.
My fishing rig is pretty spartan. The windows and floor vents provide air conditioning, and a Bluetooth speaker on the dash is the entertainment system. A recent upgrade to an electronic engine management system proved to be a great improvement in power and fuel efficiency. Part of the charm, is the clean air rolling through the cab while listening to the low rumble of a 390 big block, echoing through old school Flowmaster mufflers.
Things in the camper are clean and comfortable, but isn’t anything to brag about. The soft sided windows of the pop up top are delaminated just enough to be questionable during a driving rainstorm. The fridge and furnace are long gone. The fridge at least pulls duty as the pantry and bar. It’s secure cover, and well-fortified. On this trip, I discovered a hum emanating from the inverter.
I’m not going to win any land speed records, and you have to drive it. The steering and handling can’t be described as precise. You really have to “aim” it and make small corrections to run a straight line. Adequate distances are required to stop. In the end, it’s a real pleasure to travel in something as old as me.
About halfway there, on a long, slow, uphill pull, things got loud. Really loud. I parked it, popped the hood, and was greeted by wispy, little flames exiting the exhaust manifold. Not good. I know this run very well, and there was more than one shop to stop at, so the search began. The first was helpful and suggested an exhaust specialist 10 miles in the direction I just traveled from. That shop was closed. I went back for more direction and to see if he would let me use tools to try a Hail Mary fix. He graciously crawled under to look closer – no dice he said, you need a couple parts I don’t have. I limped to the next shop.
What good fortune. A total outdoorsman owns the shop, asks where I’m from, where I’m heading, and what the nature of the problem is. Inside of 10 minutes, the problem is identified, parts ordered, and I should be back on the road within an hour. All in, it’s 37 minutes, two $5.00 exhaust donuts, and a $46.50 bill. Never underestimate the kindness of strangers. We part with him telling me to catch a few for him. I thanked him, and replied that I would do my level best.
The rest of the trip down was rather uneventful. The total delay had moved my ETA out by 2 hours, which would be okay. The bright sun would be tucked away behind the steep incline, and not putting the trout off.
I made the usual stop at a summit to drink in the air, and a little sun. There’s a stillness at that summit. On this day, it’s bluebird. The eastern view is majestic and is a good visual of how remote this area really is. I took a few pics. This is also a point of communication with the outside world, and a place we have used to check in with the wives. Texted a pic to my Dad, told him I will never visit this region and not think about all the good times we’ve shared there, and that I love him. I’ve been on a couple trips solo here, and there is an emptiness when we’re not together. I know one day that will be permanent, and I’m sure that won’t be easy. I finished my moment and sun, and dropped out for the next 24 hours.
There are 3 ways to get to the meeting place with the guys. One is a long windy switchback, the second is almost a straight drop in, and the third is a state highway with equal distances down river and back. I approached the first, and saw a small detour sign, but didn’t give it much thought due to distance. The second had the same small orange sign, but no road closure sign. The third wasn’t an option with the lost time earlier in the day. Option No. 2 was chosen.
I pass some construction material, Johnny On the Spot, an excavator, and Road Closed barricade which is pulled off the road. Some logic applies, so I downshift to reduce speed, expecting there might be some work going, but the road is open. All these back roads are loose stone and dirt, and big consequences if a pair of your wheels drop off the well established single lane. About 3 miles down, there are construction vehicles and trucks blocking the lane, and this is clearly an active project with an impassable road.
The foreman and I had a spirited conversation where he acknowledges that barricade was moved. This changes nothing. With no place to turn around, the arduous process of backing up is started. It’s a slog. 200 yards in, someone else has made the same mistake I made. For added fun, he’s towing a trailer. We spit fire about this situation for a few minutes and formulate a plan. It’s a Father and Son doing what me and my Dad usually do. We chock the wheels, unhook the trailer, and cowboy it around. He backs all the way up, and all the way back down to hitch back up. Time continues to burn off the clock.
They thank me for my help, and agree to make sure I get back to the top in reverse. Then we head over to Road Option 1, and continue around the mountain. At their turnoff, we exchange pleasantries and wish each other well. My trip continues to the village without issue.
Our host and his friend were found at the ‘Can’t Live Without It’ store. It was good fortune to beat that seasonal closing time by 30 minutes to score a license. We went down to meet the Yinzers at the original meeting location. All told, this was an 8 hour trip today, but with that shiny, yellow, 3 day license, I didn’t have to sit out.
We all catch up, suit up, and hit the water with just under 2 hours of light left. The water here has a mix of holdovers and wild fish. They can be very large, and survive the low water summers with healthy blue lines putting in cold, clean water. The dog days are behind us by a couple weeks, and the main river has been replenished with some good storms, cool nights, and daytime air temps just breaking 70 for a few hours each day. Conditions were pretty good for the front side of September. The group split up, and we got to it. Cahills and ISOs made frequent enough appearances to keep things interesting.
At dusk, congress was reconvened in the lot, and we moved on to dinner. With everything going on, I had completely forgot to eat. With approximately an hour at the repair shop, there was time to to walk up to the gas station/sub joint for a turkey club sub and some ice. When I returned, the truck was parked outside and ready to go. I should’ve taken a few minutes to eat, but in my hast to get back on the road, threw it on top of the ice, where it promptly got soaked.
Tim knew a great spot for dinner, so we stopped. Classic PA – a wildlife decorated family restaurant on one side, a neon moon bar on the other, and a great selection of comfort food. We weren’t even subjected to karaoke. Camp was only a few miles away, no need to hurry. We dined.
Pulling in to camp felt like a big victory. It’s a cool spot with a flat plain separating some steep gradient mountains. Missing the campfire with the boys would have been a great disappointment. We bounced though a wet crossing, then got things set up. Wasn’t long before we were sitting around the fire, laughing our faces off at Uncle Bill’s hunting stories. With the light going away so early, what felt like a late night was really 10:30p. The bourbon would live to see another day.
I retired to my quarters. Before drifting off to sleep, the day was replayed. Helpful repair shop owners, and their willingness to help a stranger. Rallying and helping another Father-Son team. Reversing an old pickup several miles up a gravel, forestry road. The vista. Sharing time with good friends. Previous trips with my Dad. Leaves and brown trout showing some yellow. The atmosphere and the cold, lighter characteristics of autumn air. Bright stars visible through the roof vents. The possibility of hitting it early enough to get another shot before heading home.
We got out the next day too. Some of the guys stomped up the blue line. Tim and I fished the bigger water. Right before parting ways, we talked about this area and the special place it is – there’s just something about it.