The quickest way to get to New York City is to fly. The second-quickest way is to take the turnpike. Instead, we chose U.S. Route 6, a rambling road that offers vintage Americana as well as abundant natural beauty in exchange for your time.
We started our trip by zooming to Pennsylvania on Interstate 90, then hooking up with U.S. 6 near the border. Stretching from Cape Cod to Long Beach, Calif., U.S. 6 was one of America's first transcontinental highways, put together in bits and pieces in the 1920s and '30s. Now, it's mostly for locals and wanderers like us.
Once on Route 6, the rolling hills lull you into the rhythm of the road. You feel the whirring wheels in your mind slow down as the miles pass. This is a road trip, after all ó no obligations, no schedules and no reason to worry about what kind of time you're making.
If You Go
Call (814) 435-7706 or visit www. paroute6.com to order a free map of Route
6. Also, visit www.discoveringthe6.com
for a detailed account of one couple's cross-country journey on the route.
Sherwood Motel: 2 Main St., Wellsboro, Pa., 1-800-626-5802. Rates $62 to $85 per night. This is a clean, but dated, motel.
The Timeless Destination: 79 Main St., Wellsboro, Pa., (570) 724-8499. Good Italian food in a pleasant atmosphere.
Pine Creek Outfitters: located on Route 6, 11 miles west of Wellsboro, Ansonia, Pa., (570) 724-3003. Bike rental is just $5 an hour or $25 per person for an 18-mile trip with shuttle pickup.
The Dimmick Inn and Steakhouse: On the corner of Broad and Hartford streets, Milford, Pa., (570) 296-4021. Rates $70 to $140 per night. This is an elegant inn located at the crossroads of town since 1828.
The Melrose Hotel: 140 E. 63rd St. at Lexington Avenue, New York City, (212) 838-5700. Rates for standard rooms start at $239 per night (September through December, May and June) and $169 per night the rest of the year. You'll find light, airy, chic and meticulous rooms in an ideal East Side location.
In Union City, we spotted a sign for a livestock auction, every Monday at 1 p.m. We drove through Kane, the black-cherry capital of the world. We passed a storefront J.C. Penney in tidy downtown Coudersport.
Though the route offers its share of charming towns, you won't find the manicured perfection or the proliferation of gift shops that you would in such places as Niagara-on-the-Lake. To us, that's a good thing. You miss out on ticky-tacky trinkets and oveÚpriced restaurants, but not on small-town America. We stopped in a bar where the conversation centered on one fellow's new pickup truck. At a general store one morning, we saw a teen beauty queen, tiara and all, doing a live radio interview.
So real was the route that my companion made a game of spotting dollar stores. Family Dollar and Dollar General were in every other town, while Dollar Zone and Dollar Bazaar garnered more points on account of their comparative rarity.
There are big-hype attractions, but before you pull out the video recorder, remember that everything is relative. They are the biggest deals in this 11-county stretch. The first is the Kinzua Bridge, a mountain-spanning railroad bridge formerly considered one of the eight manmade wonders of the world. It's since lost that ranking, as well as its structural integrity (it's no longer used). About a 10-minute drive off the way, the bridge is still a neat sight for most, a wonder for railroad enthusiasts and a break to stretch your legs for everyone else.
Further down the route, near Scranton, interested parties can revisit the steam era of American railroading at the Steamtown National Historic Site or travel 300 feet underground to see how men worked on hands and knees at the Lackawanna Coal Mine Tour.
We spent our first night on the road in Wellsboro at the Sherwood Motel. It wasn't warm enough to swim in the outdoor pool, so we observed the local motel culture and followed suit, lounging on the plastic lawn chairs outside our room to read the paper. Two doors down, a couple was drinking, smoking and cooking dinner on a hibachi they'd brought with them. Kids played in the parking lot. Our stay wasn't luxurious, but it was relaxing, new to us and totally authentic ó the three basic ingredients for the town of Wellsboro itself is definitely one of the nicest along Route 6. We walked the block or two to the heart of downtown for dinner. The locust-lined streets are home to well-kept Victorian homes and storefronts, including Dunham Department Store, which has been selling everything from lipstick and men's shoes to small appliances for 98 years.
The next morning, we ate breakfast in town at the Wellsboro Diner and then backtracked about 10 miles to get to the route's No. 1 attraction: the Pennsylvania Grand Canyon. We rented bikes at Pinecreek Outfitters and set out for the 18-mile trip to the t"wn where we had arranged to be picked up by the rental company. The ride stripped us of whatever residual stress the road trip hadn't washed away. We pedaled along the bottom of a deep gorge parallel to the gurgling creek, with walls of green surrounding us. At the end of the route, there was a hotel with a courtyard for alfresco dining.
We spent the rest of the day en route to Milford, where we spent our second night. Though the road winds through several more quaint towns, the Poconos and plenty of forest, it often widens to four lanes and, in general, we preferred the stretch we'd traveled the previous day. Those not interested in traveling all the way to New York City might consider a long weekend centered on Wellsboro and biking or canoeing in the canyon.
In Milford, we ate and lodged at the Dimmick Inn, a charming bed-&-breakfast with a wide porch perfect for enjoying dinner along with a nice view of town.
We arrived in New York City around noon the next day. The biggest disadvantage of the trip is having your car in New York City, where you'll pay about $40 a day to park at your hotel. If possible, plan your stay so that you arrive in NYC during non-peak traffic hours.
The city can be jarring after rural Pennsylvania. But we stuck to the spirit of our road trip, walking for miles without an itinerary, stopping here for a slice of pizza or to sit outside and have a drink. Worn out by 5 p.m., we took a break on a bench in Central Park and let the sights come to us.
Nice as the trip out was, we did take the interstate home.