Our 2018 Road Trip, Part 41: Tunnel Visions

inside Squirrel Hill!

Past a certain point on some road trips, you’re okay with not looking left, right, or up — only forward to the end.

Day Six would prove the least exciting day of the week. We were glad to check off two sites on our master list — Valley Forge and James Buchanan’s grave — but otherwise anxious to get through the rest of Pennsylvania and closer to home. We hit that same wall on every trip, when fatigue and homesickness begin to dampen our enthusiasm, when our meal budget is well over halfway spent, and when the impulse to make extra stops along the way loosens its grip on us.

We left a few attractions in store to ensure Day Seven wouldn’t be a featureless slog. But first we had to get Day Six over with.

Previously on Midlife Crisis Crossover:

Every year since 1999 my wife Anne and I have taken a trip to a different part of the United States and visited attractions, wonders, and events we didn’t have back home in Indianapolis. From 1999 to 2003 we did so as best friends; from 2004 to the present, as husband and wife. Normally we’ll choose one major locale as our primary objective, drive that-a-way, and concentrate on exploring the vicinity for a few days before retreating.

We crafted this year’s itinerary with a different approach. Instead of choosing one city as a hub, we focused on one of the motifs that’s recurred through several of our trips: grave sites of Presidents of the United States of America. Our 2018 road trip would effectively have the format and feel of a video game side quest — collecting nine American Presidents across ten presidencies, four states, seven days, and 2000 miles…

The four-hour span from Lancaster to Monroeville was mostly painless except the mountainside inclines that slowed our progress with their curvy steepness, but we’d planned for no specific, photogenic intermissions. We drove, and drove, and drove and drove and drove.

Gap clock tower!

Clock tower in the tiny town of Gap, slightly west of Valley Forge.

Strasburg train!

Farther west was Strasburg, where they really, really love trains.

Choo Choo Barn!

See what I mean. If you’re looking for your ideal railroad getaway, choo-choo-choose Strasburg!


Eventually we had to seek out this sign, not our favorite. This time the Pennsylvania Turnpike cost us far too many bucks.

Kittatinny Mountain!

Once again we plunged through the gaping maw of the Kittatinny Mountain Tunnel., viewed through a haze of bug guts and toll-paying machine, which wasn’t supposed to work but inexplicably kicked in once, back in Albany.

bridge and river!

By now we were far from the remnants of the Erie Canal, but it was still a pretty waterway moment.

We arrived in Monroeville, just east of Pittsburgh, right around dinnertime and thankfully with a bit of sunlight left. Our hotel was hidden atop a high hill in the middle of an otherwise flat commercial area. It was impossible to see coming from the east. We drove a half-mile too far, turned around, and spotted their Batcave-like entrance on the way back. We dumped our stuff and immediately fled to the nearest comfort food we could find that wasn’t a local fast-food chain.

El Campesino!

The winner: the well-rated El Campesino, which would’ve been in walking distance if not for the awkward hill and its surrounding trees.


We started with a classy appetizer of ceviche, one of those dishes we’d never heard of till we started watching Chopped full-time.

Mexican dinner!

The two dishes in front were their “Special Combination”. I may have overdone it and failed to leave room for dessert or breathing. Worth it.

…and then we collapsed in the hotel and anxiously waited for the clock to flip over to

DAY SEVEN: Friday, July 13th.

We checked out and hit the road. We had miles to go, more stops to make, two more dead Presidents to visit, and donuts to go fetch.

Wounded Warrior Project!

Down in the lobby, a charity event popped up from nowhere, tables all around.

Squirrel Hill Tunnel!

The Squirrel Hill Tunnel, another deep hole to drive through Bourne-style, the gateway to our next stop after breakfast…

Pittsburgh again!

…the city of Pittsburgh. Our third visit there, in fact.

I suppose we should pause a moment to cover the donuts, shouldn’t we? I mean, ALL the donuts. There’s an even better use for a hole.

To be continued!

* * * * *

[Link enclosed here to handy checklist for other chapters and for our complete road trip history to date. Follow us on Facebook or via email sign-up for new-entry alerts, or over on Twitter if you want to track my TV live-tweeting and other signs of life between entries. Thanks for reading!]

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