Sunday, August 16, 2009

Goodbye moose; hello elk

Thursday, Aug. 13 -- When I got up Thursday morning, all my gear was soaked with dew. Wednesday evening, I'd checked into the campground on the honor system at the state park office, which was almost a mile from the campground itself. As a senior camper in a tent, my fee was $16.50 for a campsite without electricity. I didn't have change, so I put a $20 bill in the registration envelope, stuffed it in the slot and headed to the campground.

When I got there, I found the tent sites were all soggy from a thunderstorm. I was going to abandon my $20 and go look for a motel, but another camper suggested I take a look at one of the RV sites on higher ground. I did and, since there were plenty of empty sites, I pitched my tent -- after all, I'd paid extra and I'd just recharge my laptop, not run an air conditioner all night.

In the morning I had stuff spread out drying on the picnic tables on three adjacent campsites when a rider on a BMW R1100GS zoomed into the campground to use the restroom. On his way out, he spotted my bike and stopped to chat.

Turned out, he had a cabin nearby and visited every year. He asked where I was headed next and I asked him to recommend a route. "You've gotta go down Route 155, the Elk Trail," he said. "You'll really enjoy that -- and you might even see an elk."

Was there a good place to stop for breakfast? "The Buttonwood Hotel, right down the road here in Emporium. Order the hash-brown omelet -- it's the best."

I was just buckling my helmet, when an SUV with Department of Natural Resources stickers on the doors pulled up at my campsite and a uniformed ranger climbed out. I thought I was going to be busted for camping in the wrong site.

"Mr. Flanagan?" the ranger asked.


"Glad I caught you," he said. "Here's your change." He handed me $3.50.

The waitress at the Buttonwood agreed the hash-brown omelet was the house specialty. It arrived hanging off both sides of the plate, filled with ham, hash browns, onions and peppers. I thought it would take an effort to finish. I was wrong.

It turned out, the route recommendation was also spot-on.

No more moose to worry about -- now I faced the prospect of colliding with an elk

You can get there from here in the Alleghenies, but there are no straight lines from A to B

It was a beautiful day to meander through the hollows

It doesn't get much better than this -- approaching State College, Pa.

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