Favorite Road Trips: Bonus Letters

From day trips to cross-country treks, readers recall the joy, surprises, risks, and rewards of the college road trips they'll never forget.

three horizontal roads with cars and campers and trucks on a blue background

A continuation of Favorite Road Trips in our May / June 2021 issue

 

Groundhog Day Eve

We hope the snow-glazed roads of U.S. Route 322 won’t forget the brave Mercury Sable that took on its steep and dark nighttime mystique on a bitter winter night in February 2018. The car was brandished in Penn State football stickers and Massachusetts plates, and us out-of-staters were set on seeing, for us, what we’d only seen in newspapers and folklore: Punxatawney Phil.

On a biting Thursday night in February, the crew was at Champs Downtown and two of us realized: it’s February 1st. Tomorrow is Groundhog Day! Spontaneously, I proclaimed we were only 73-miles from Punxatawney, Pa. The crew was fired up. Instantaneously in-sync, Chris DeVito ’18 Bus, Garrett Hall ’18 Lib, Tommy O’Connell ’18 Lib, Cody Mosgrove ’18 Lib, and myself piled into the Sable. As designated driver that night, I’d be at the helm. 15-minutes into the trip, a treacherous snowfall blanketed 322 and turned our easy 90-minute journey into a four-hour, windy, and terrifying sliding sleigh ride. I can recall “Witchy Woman,” by the Eagles playing softly in the background as we laughed and crept along through the snowy woods of Pennsylvania.

When we finally arrived in Punxsutawney, though we weren’t greeted by Bill Murray, concerts, and fire pits bounded Gobblers Knob as Groundhog-goers sang and danced the 0-degree night away. Almost everyone of sound mind and body was rooting for an early spring, but with it being our Senior Spring, it was the only time in our lives we were rooting for six more weeks of winter.

Drew B. Reidy ’18 Bus
New York

 

Mapless Quest

New Year’s Eve 1994, a group of us decided to take a road trip to go skiing in Killington, Vt. We knew it would be one of our last trips together as students. A few days to ski, celebrate the new year, watch Penn State in the Rose Bowl, and take a moment to pose for this ridiculous picture (L to R: Kyle Reybitz ’94 Eng, Rusty Tucker ’94 H&HD, John Magee ’95 Lib, Steve Kave ’95 Lib, and Kevin Krueger ’94 Lib).

New Year’s Eve and skiing was awesome, Penn State beat the pants off of Oregon.

The road trip home was when the adventure began. We left Vermont in two cars on the evening of Jan. 5th to be back for graduation on Jan. 6th. No cell phones, no GPS, and we had left our only map back at the hotel. Sure, we could’ve stopped at any gas station for a new one, but we were pretty confident we could use the sun and the stars to guide us back to Dear Old State. It should have been about a 7-1/2 hour drive. 

The ride ended up being about a 13 hour road trip as we took the long way, side roads, and some roads that literally led to nowhere. It was quite a memorable trip with more tales than I can tell here. We eventually rolled into campus with plenty of time for the graduates to take a little nap, shower up, meet their families, and graduate!

We’re all still good friends today and enjoy sharing that memory and those stories 26 years later.

Steve Kave ’95 Lib
Quakertown, Pa.

 

Olympic Glory

My most memorable trip was to the 1976 Olympics in Montreal between my junior and senior Penn State years with my brother and a friend. It was a magical week meeting people from all over the world and rejoicing in a city that was as festive as any I have ever visited. Seeing world class athletes in everything from cycling to boxing to volleyball to wrestling to track to water polo and others was unforgettable. Still having the ticket stubs, the prices ranged from $2 (field hockey) to $8 (closing ceremonies). The owners of the Motel Rideau called us the crazy Americans because of our penchant for beer drinking late at night. There was a large Dutch contingent where we stayed who also thought we were nuts. At the closing ceremonies, we had standing room which was along the bottom of the lower deck at one end. Our plan was to arrive at Olympic Stadium very early so we could make a mad dash when the gates opened. We succeeded and were in the first row right along the track. After the event ended, the athletes converged on the infield for their traditional final celebration. We noticed there was absolutely no security along the track so we joined them. Can you even imagine that now?   

Bob Wolff ’77 Bus
Moorestown, N.J.

 

Tail Trouble

After I graduated I was living in State College with a handful of people in a converted fraternity house on South Allen Street across from the high school football stadium. Me and a couple of my housemates decided to go to the 1976 Mardi Gras. First stop Nashville to see a concert at the Grand Ole Opry. The next day we were in New Orleans. Three days of partying in the streets. A fun time. We headed home but with a stop to see a college friend in North Carolina.

It’s now nighttime and we are driving  through South Carolina in my 1975 Chevy Nova. We get pulled over by the South Carolina State Police. They put the spotlight on us. Here we are, three guys in their early 20s, long hair, beards, Pennsylvania plates. We are told that our taillight is out and we needed to get it fixed. We drive on and in about 50 miles get pulled over again. This time they lean into the driver’s window and in a southern drawl say, “You got a taillight out and that’s a moving violation in this state.” They again let us off with a warning. My friend says, “We’re only 20 miles to the North Carolina border. Let’s go for it!” I said no way.  We stopped at a gas station and paid 75 cents for a bulb and fixed it.

Gene Cyprych ’74 Sci
Spring Grove, Pa.

 

Storm Front

It was June 1972 when the Four Musketeers planned one last road trip before graduating. Jack, Lee, and Bob were my fraternity brothers at Alpha Kappa Lambda. Jack needed to make living arrangements for Duke grad school, so we’d detour there then shoot east to Cape Hatteras for fun and sun. In Durham, Jack met his landlady-to-be, whose son was a former Navy man. We said we were Hatteras-bound and his tone was grave. “No, negative, don’t go there!” he warned us. “A storm’s coming.” We thanked him effusively for the excellent advice and bee-lined for Hatteras, mocking him often along the way: “No, negative, don’t go there!” The early-evening weather there was fine and we pitched a tent near the beach, unfazed by how deserted it seemed. Black skies greeted us the next morning. The wind whipped up sand so hard outside the tent you couldn’t open your eyes. Then the rain started, so we headed north. To salvage the trip, we’d hit some Georgetown bars in Washington, D.C. Heavy rains followed us up the coast to D.C., where we found flooded streets, power outages, and closed bars.

When our pea brains realized this was no ordinary rainstorm, we flipped the radio from music to news. It was the worst rain in D.C. in more than 30 years (weren’t we lucky?), caused by a hurricane named Agnes that pelted us the whole way home. It wasn’t a total loss. We learned something: Never ignore a storm warning from an ex-Navy man.

Dave Cuzzolina ’72 Lib
Hollidaysburg, Pa.

 

Aroma Therapy

It was fall 1982, a Thursday night, three days before Halloween, and my first term at University Park. Just after dinner my Beaver Hall third floor neighbor Dennis Phillips entered my room and announced his nursing major girlfriend and her roommates at the Hershey Medical Center were having a party that night. He was seeking volunteers to make the almost two hour road trip down to Hershey in his spacious auto. I eagerly accepted as road trips are a required part of college life. But first, I obtained his pledge that I would be back at University Park in time to attend an afternoon class the next day, a pledge he had no intention of keeping and one I had no intention of enforcing. Shortly thereafter we were proceeding south on a darkened Route 322.  By the time we arrived at Dennis’ girlfriend’s apartment the party was pretty much over. However, one member of our group uttered an injustice and, as good sons of Pennsylvania, we executed a necessary action to correct the challenge to our Commonwealth’s honor. Mike Brown, from Fredonia, New York, vehemently denied our repeated claims that one can smell chocolate in downtown Hershey. So challenged we left Dennis behind and proceeded to drive to downtown Hershey. In the center of a deserted intersection we pulled Mike from the car and got him to admit he could indeed smell chocolate. Injustice corrected.

William Scruitsky ’86 Lib
Peyton, Colo.

 

Still Friends

Fitz called it. “Road Trip!” It was winter 1984. Fitz and I were freshmen engineering students at Penn State. Both of us were in Navy ROTC and he wanted to visit some friends in upstate New York where he’d been in nuke school as a Navy enlisted. For some reason, I agreed. Sometime Friday afternoon we started out in light snow, heading north in his ’71 Ford Mustang (Mach I, 351 Cleveland, rear wheel drive). By the time we hit the New York line, it was dark. The snow was thick. The roads were slick. I felt sick. But … we kept going. Then we ran out of windshield wiper fluid. Then the wipers started to fail. Then we were stopping every 5 minutes (or whenever someone passed) to clean the windshield by hand. Fitz was behind the wheel – so I was supposed to clean the windshield. That’s how I remember it. But after many hours of driving in the nighttime snow, we made it. And amazingly, to this day, some 37 years later, Fitz (retired Navy Commander J. Steven Fitzgerald ’87 Eng) and I are still alive, and … still friends!

John Snyder ’87 Eng
Pueblo, Colo.

 

Big Easy

It was Dec. 26, 1978, and 16 friends/diehard fans prepared to hit the road to New Orleans for the Sugar Bowl against No. 2 Alabama for the national championship. We rode 12 in a Winnebago and four in a station wagon, rotating between the two because everyone wanted to be in the Winnebago, of course. It was only fair.  With one stop, in Tuscaloosa, Ala., to visit the enemy’s stomping grounds, the trip down was a breeze. The trip back, not so much. But even witnessing the most devastating loss in my life, to this day, in any sport, the trip was fantastic! New Year’s Eve on Bourbon Street, with ’Bama and State fans trying to out-cheer each other, Pat O’Brien’s, Preservation Hall, The Camellia Grill; what a great town. But even with the loss, it was 10 out of 10 on the Fun Scale. To those in the photo … Where are you now?

Todd Williams ’79 Bus
Pittsburgh

 

Small World

My best friend and fellow Penn State student, Cathy McCardle, drowned during Hurricane Agnes in 1972 while completing a landscaping architecture internship in Maryland. I was so distraught that I packed a backpack and started hitchhiking across the country—making it all the way to southern California and back to central PA safely. For several weeks, I stayed in a school bus located up in a national forest miles off the main road outside Breckenridge, Colo.  One day, as I was sitting outside enjoying the peace and quiet, I heard and then saw a white van drive by with “Penn State Cleaners” greyed out on the side. I thought that I must have imagined it but the next day I hiked further up and found three (or four?) fellow Penn Staters who themselves were on a road trip that summer. I visited for a while and said my farewells, never expecting to see them again. That fall I was back at Penn State and at a party at the Bluebell apartment complex, when much to my surprise, the guys from the van walked in! What a small world it truly is for Penn Staters.

Carle Dixon Fones ’79, ’81 MPA Lib
Harrisburg

 

The Pawnbroker

In the spring of 1965, my roommate, William F. Lee ’67 Com, and I had seen the movie The Pawnbroker starring Rod Steiger. We were so impressed by the movie we decided to drive to Harlem, N.Y., where the movie was filmed to find the pawn shop featured in the movie. We drove nontop from State College to Harlem with eager anticipation. But when we arrived, we were disappointed to find out the pawn shop wasn’t a pawn shop at all, but a boarded up storefront that was just used as the movie setting. We didn’t even get out of the car and drove all night to return to State College. But it was still a memorable journey after all these years.

Richard Spagnolli ’66 Bus
Irwin, Pa.

 

Frozen Four

On Nov. 26, 1977, Mike Byrne ’78 Eng, Chris Antosy ’78 Eng, Kurt Jeschke ’78 Eng, ’89 MBA, ’98 PhD Bus, and myself, Mike Waradzin ’78 Eng, set out from State College for Pittsburgh in 20 degree weather and snow for the Penn State–Pitt game; the journey begins Like a Three Stooges short; while napping in the back seat Kurt wakes me saying don’t look now but we’re about to be killed, as our car spins 360 down a snow covered highway. Unhurt, We end up off the road in a snow bank. We are able to pull it out of the snow undamaged and continue on our way. We get to the stadium and acquire Pitt student tickets; they wouldn’t let us in without a Pitt student ID so they told us to go to another gate, we did and then directed us to another gate, we did; then another. Tired of the runaround, as the attendant was distracted we ran up the ramp and we got lost in the crowd; to this day I still have my full ticket. We enjoyed one of the greatest games in Penn State Football history , a freezing, snowy 15-13 win,  that was decided on a stopped 2-point conversion on the game’s final play. We worked ourselves down to the end zone for that last play and ran on to the field in celebration as the game ended. A frigid, snowy, and victorious end to a game day trip and a memory that will last a lifetime!

Mike Waradzin ’78 Eng
Reading, PA

 

Snowy Return 

I drove to Daytona Beach with friends my senior year. I remember seeing a group of guys at a dance club that we used to see consistently at the ShandyGaff but had never actually met. So that’s where we introduced ourselves. And we hung out pretty consistently until graduation, only it was long before social media and we lost touch with them over the years. What makes the trip most memorable though is the blizzard we drove home in – this was the winter of 1993. The snow was falling pretty consistently by the time we reached Washington, D.C. It took nine hours to drive the last 200 miles. I was sure my old Nissan Sentra would never make it over Seven Mountains, but it somehow did. It wasn’t until we were safely back in our apartments that we learned that the governor had declared a state of emergency and the roads were actually closed. Every year, my friends and I still talk about that trip and how lucky we were to get home safely. The university closed for a few days, and since I only had lecture on Tuesdays that semester, I went to my parents for a second week of “spring break.”

Anne Louise Cropp ’93, ’99 MHA H&HD,’99 MBA Bus
State College

 

In Altoona, we were close enough to travel to University Park but, as underclassmen, transportation was sometimes tricky to obtain. My friend, Rob Hunsinger ’93 Lib, owned a lime-green ’75 Chevy Nova, so we packed six people in his car for a football game.

Things were proceeding well until one of our friends vomited on the seat. He ended up laying on the laps of myself and the other person in the back while windows were opened to alleviate the odor. Once we got to the stadium, the other three passengers left, leaving me, Rob, and Tony Sottile ’93 Lib to clean up the mess. Unfortunately, Penn State lost the game, and, to add insult to injury, Rob’s car had sprung a leak in the radiator. This was before cell phones, so Tony and I set out to find someplace to call a repair shop. We ended up in an all-girls residence hall which, for a couple of young men, was certainly better than trying to help Rob fix his car (not that we were going to be of help anyway). We were also quite hungry, so we asked lingering tailgaters if they could spare a bite to eat, which, of course, they did. Tony and I ate well, but, unfortunately, we saved only one hot dog for poor Rob, who, by this time, was covered in oil and dirt. The leak was fixed eventually and we got home around midnight, but Rob never fully loaded the Nova for a football game again.

Matt Weaver ’93 Com
Tampa, Fla.

 

Get to the Chopper

It was senior year and four of us drove down to Ft. Lauderdale, Fla., for Spring Break. After a terrific week, we started the drive back to State College. A road trip that took us 20 hours on the way down took 3 days on the way back due to the “Blizzard of ’93.” Storms with hurricane-force winds forced us to stop and spend the night at the Motel Six in Jacksonville, Fla., where tornadoes overnight took the roof off the Howard Johnson across the street. We trudged on, essentially following the storm up the East Coast. After so many days together, we were all ready to spend some time apart and see our boyfriends back at campus. After a long second day of driving, we were so excited to get close to the Pennsylvania border when we received news that roads were closed. We stopped at a Denny’s in Timonium, Md., (because it had a bar) and called the state police, whereupon a Maryland state trooper announced to us that “… about the only way you’re gonna get into Pennsylvania is if you maybe parachute from a helicopter!” And so we spent a pillow-fight-filled night at the Marriott in Timonium, finally arriving safely in State College after almost 3 days on the road. Becky said, “what I remember vividly is you driving in 70 mph winds with one hand on the wheel while smoking a cigarette. I was scared, but your driving skills were excellent, and we were safe!”

Andrea Phillips Peters ’93 Com
Smyrna, Ga.

 

Big Occasion

My spring break in 1960: I left State College early Saturday morning in my ’53 Plymouth for Montgomery, Ala. My brother, Frank Hills ’55 Bus was stationed at Maxwell Air Force Base and his wife was expecting their second child. I drove straight to Montgomery, only stopping for food, fuel, and rest stop. This was before the interstate highways, so it took me 23 hours. 

Sunday morning my sister-in-law was making breakfast when she told my parents to take her to the hospital. Frank was on duty so I had to baby-sit my 3 1/2 year old nephew. My niece was born that morning, I made it for the big occasion. I had fun with my nephew.  We walked around a mall and played in the park. Later in the week my Dad and I drove back to Pennsylvania and the old ’53 Plymouth made it with only adding a couple quarts of oil.

Thomas Hills ’61 Bus
Darlington, Pa.

 

Off to the Races

It was my friend Kim’s idea; seems I was the only one up for the adventure. It was early May 1974 and the 100th running of the Kentucky Derby. With a borrowed tent and sleeping bags, we left Thursday evening in her VW Beetle. It was a long drive from State College to Louisville and the blinding rainstorm along the Pennsylvania turnpike didn’t make the going any easier.

We arrived Friday morning and managed to find a spot just outside Churchill Downs, lucky for us considering the eventual number of spectators. We pitched our tent and watched our little gathering swell into a sizeable village as the day wore on. It was a party atmosphere for sure. Saturday morning – race day – found us in the infield, crammed with 100,000-plus people. We had such a good time we were hardly disappointed at all that we saw only a brief glimpse of the race itself from the packed infield. The celebratory atmosphere continued that evening in our tent city. On Sunday morning, I distinctly remember the scene in the rearview mirror as we pulled away: A little trash fire smoldered in the street. It was a great road trip.

William Morin ’76 Lib
Seaside, Calif.

 

Championship Drive

During Penn State’s historic first national championship season in 1982 some of my tailgate friends and I decided early in the season that since we were all seniors, if the Nittany Lions made it to the national championship game, we would make the road trip. Two days after Christmas we all returned to campus and took off for the Sugar Bowl in New Orleans against Hershel Walker and the Georgia Bulldogs. The six of us, myself, Ernie Szoke ’83 Bus, Randy Davis ’83 H&HD, Sue Muth ’83 H&HD, Beth Studenmund ’83 Bus and Leza Cochran ’83 Bus, piled into my 1976 Buick and drove non-stop. We arrived on the 29th and immediately discovered “Takee-Outee” on Bourbon Street where take-out beer was the cheapest. The highlight of the game of course, was Greg Garrity’s catch to secure the win. The TV cameras show Garrity celebrating in the end zone and in the background is the sign we hung that had all our home towns listed on it. The sign can also be seen in the Sport’s Illustrated magazine photos. On the way back to State College the following day, hungover, we hung a “Luv Ya Lions” poster on the Welcome to Georgia sign on the interstate as we entered Georgia. Each of us chipped in $20 which covered the gas for the trip and we paid $5 a night to stay in a youth hostel. I’m certain our beer cost more than the trip itself. The trip remains the highlight of my college days.

Jim Cronauer ’83 H&HD
Portage, Pa.

 

A Foggy Memory

In winter term 1981, four (I think) of us ’82 meteorology undergrads (me, Rich Michalski ’82 EMS, Mike Hemler ’82 EMS and Don Allison ’82 EMS) piled into someone’s car to go view a weightlifting competition that our classmate Bill Schmidt ’82 EMS was in. This meant a drive from State College to Morgantown W.Va.  The most memorable thing of the trip was the truly dense fog on the drive north of Morgantown. We crawled along the mountain highway at 5 mphor so, with the driver and passenger both hanging out the windows, saying which way the center line and the edge line were curving (or not). I have no recollection whose car it was, (maybe I borrowed my parents’), who was driving, how Bill did, or how long the drive was. All I remember is the dens,  dense fog on the mountains and the white-knuckle drive.

Scott Lindstrom ’82 EMS/Sci
Madison, Wis.

 

Utility Van Life

After graduation in June 1973, the four of us Sigma Pi brothers, Thompson Harner,  Kevin Reynolds, Larry Henry, and myself, Terry Medovitch, embarked on our cross-country trip.  Our transportation for the trip was a Ford utility van, courtesy of Harner Farm. We took turns with sleeping arrangements with two guys sleeping on a plywood platform in the van and the other two in a pup tent. The van had “three-on-a-tree” transmission, no air conditioning, and the engine box sat between the two front seats. They were definitely not luxurious conditions, but we didn’t care. We drove the whole trip with the windows down in that hot summer.  We were on the open road. Stops included the Badlands, Yellowstone, and Glacier National Park, followed by stops in Vancouver and Seattle, and then a beautiful drive south along the Pacific Coast. Our landing spot was Westwood, Calif., near the UCLA campus. We rented an apartment there for about six weeks, enjoying college bars and frequent trips to the beaches in Venice and Santa Monica as well as a day in Disneyland. The highlight of the trip home in September was the Grand Canyon. In the days of .39-cent gas and $4 camping fees, a few hundred bucks went a long way. After that summer, we all agreed that we would do this again. But as life brought careers, marriages, and families our way, another trip like this as a group was not to be.

J. Terry Medovitch ’73 Bus
Kissimmee, Fla.

 

Canada Here We Come

At the end of a weekend cabin/ski party to Wellsboro, Pa., and Denton Hill, Pa., with the Brothers and Little Sisters of Tau Phi Delta in 1979, someone suggested that we stop by the nearby Grand Canyon of Pennsylvania before heading back to State College. After some car swapping with people who had to get back, six of us headed for the Canyon overlook. Still not ready to go back, suggestions were flying around of where else we could go. A map came out. Niagara Falls, shockingly, was top contender. Ed Crow ’80 Agr was driving his trusty Scout. The rest of us, Cheryl King, Kirk Galley ’79 Agr, Andy Kyle ’80 Sci, ’82 Agr, and Brian Warner, were all squeezed in, with the back of the Scout packed floor to roof with weekend gear, some belonging to people who had swapped out of the car. We came to a stop sign. Ed was driving and had the final decision: turn right: State College. Left: Niagara Falls. He turned left. We whooped and cheered and then took stock: we had one credit card between all of us, and $16. Can’t remember if there was food. No cell phones in those days. Several hours later, we called the house to check in from a pay phone with the roar of Niagara Falls in the background. It was glorious. Not done yet. With Canada right there, we crossed the border. Border guards didn’t question us, and we got a motel room for six for the night with Ed’s credit card. The next day crossing back, we weren’t questioned either. Probably a very good thing that they didn’t. In the back was a partial keg, leftover from the weekend, which may or may not have been revisited on the way home by some passengers. Also, unbeknownst to us, one of the bags that belonged to a brother who had swapped out of the car contained a pistol used to target shoot that weekend. Fun, glorious, and very lucky trip. This road trip remains one of my fondest memories of my university days. Not causing an international incident was a bonus. 

Mary Ellen Schutz Gutknecht, ’80 H&HD
Buffalo, Minn.

 

Hold the Kielbasa

Fortuitously assigned as freshman roommates, Andy Baraniak ’00 Sci and I celebrated the completion of our senior year by driving 6,000-plus miles around the country in a 1997 Ford Escort I purchased two days before our departure. In addition to visiting five Major League Baseball parks, seven National Parks, and 17 states, we managed to lose our pillows which blew away after we left them atop the roof of the car in downtown Chicago, watch our tent blow away while sheltering inside the car from gale-force Wisconsin winds, soak all of our luggage by failing to plug the drain of our cooler filled with melting ice, Mountain Dew, and kielbasa, coast on fumes into a gas station at the base of the Black Hills after carelessly ignoring our parched gas tank, discover an almost unsettlingly therapeutic public restroom in Wyoming with a refreshingly glorious canyon-based updraft, sing loudly along with Lynyrd Skynyrd while driving shirtless with the windows down through the snow-covered Rockies, see an agonizing total of zero moose and zero bears despite spending several weeks meandering through spectacular wilderness with our “moosecam” and “bearcam” poised and ready, test the structural integrity and weight limits of the rickety medieval torture device which transports riders to the top of the St. Louis Arch, and eat probably-toxic kielbasa that had changed color several times over the course of many days of varying levels of cooler refrigeration. Thankfully, we pulled back into Pennsylvania with a bundle of cherished memories, a permanently fortified friendship, and a lifelong aversion to kielbasa.

Chad Oberholtzer ’01 Sci/Edu
State College

 

 

A continuation of Favorite Road Trips in our May / June 2021 issue