Sunday, April 18, 2010


In 1997, while Audrey and I were living in Toronto, we decided to go camping at a park close to Gettysburg and go tour the various battlefields and historical sites. One of the great benefits of living in southern Ontario was having more history and such within driving distance. Roller coasters too, for that matter, but that's another story. We both love history, and while Alberta's is rich, it's also a little, uh, let's call it recent, and having lived here most of our lives, we tend to take it for granted. I've rationalized my jealousy of those who live elsewhere as, "I spent part of my childhood in a century-old farmhouse in New Brunswick, and now live in a province where most of the buildings over a hundred years old are made out of dirt or animal skins."

Hanover, Pennsylvania, the closest town to our chosen campground, is only about 40 minutes from Gettysburg and about 10 hours drive from Toronto, so in May we strapped on the roof rack, loaded up our Tempo and headed out.

I've always loved travelling through the United States, especially by car, and not just for the lower gas prices either. I take great amusement in things that others, like, for instance, my wife, might find uselessly trivial. Those who know me of course realize that I consider very little trivia to be completely useless, but I do appreciate the myriad little differences between our countries and cultures, like the fact that you can purchase alcohol in a gas station or at a 7-Eleven. The different candy bars you see on sale there and yet never in Canada, and fast food chains as well. The increased amount of NASCAR paraphernalia you see in any store the moment you cross the border from New York into Pennsylvania. There is even a discernible difference in accent, which I suppose makes sense when you consider that the famed "Mason-Dixon line" that separated the North from the South in The War of Northern Aggression the U.S. Civil War, is also the border between Pennsylvania and its southern neighbour, the Commonwealth of Maryland. (The olde timey moniker is no mistake either; the official sport of Maryland is jousting, and they have one of America's coolest flags.)

At any rate, given our intention to meander and the inevitable border delays even pre 9/11, we entered Hanover after dark. Actually, early sunsets were something that had caught us napping in Toronto a couple of times as well, since the summer solstice saw our new home getting a full 90 minutes less sunlight than Edmonton, so going further south meant even more disorientation in this regard.

The borough of Hanover, in York County, is not very large; at a little less than 15,000 people, it is close to the size of Leduc, where I grew up. Like Leduc, a couple of significant roadways pass through the municipal area, and since none of them are big interstate types of affairs, the signage can often be described as undersized, quaint, colloquial or simply non-existent. Entering town on Route 94, I knew it should take me to Route 216, which went directly to the gates of Codorus State Park, where our campsite awaited.

The PA map showed Codorus State Park as being just a little ways out of Hanover, but as we got further and further away from the townsite, I started to worry. I knew there was a fairly decent-sized lake in the park, and thought surely we would have seen some sign of it by now. Besides, it had looked on our map as though Route 216 started out in or at least close to town, but now we were heading out of the urban area and into the unknown. We had already resigned ourselves to setting up our tent in pitch darkness, but after a long day of driving, we were anxious to have done with it so we could turn in.

Despite technically being a highway, Route 94 was a base model two-lane blacktop, with no illumination to speak of, so we kept our eyes duly skinned for the now mythical Route 216, for fear we might miss a poorly lit sign indicating where we should turn. We were relieved to see a well lit sign ahead, but imagine our surprise upon reading it and seeing:
Welcome to MARYLAND
Please Drive Gently
Mason-Dixon Line

In one voice, both Audrey and I exclaimed, "MARYLAND?!?" and no word of a lie, I locked up the brakes on our little Ford Tempo as though that sign heralded the edge of the world and the dragons that dwelt there might devour us. Pulling the car over to the side of the road, we pored over our maps until we found a map showing the Hanover region in a bit more detail.

It turns out that while on the Pennsylvania state map routes 94 and 216 appeared to be connected, they are, in fact, not, and we were forced to backtrack some 15-20 minutes into Hanover and turn onto Route 116, which then dutifully led us to Route 216 and the campsite.

Setting up our tent in the stark beams of our headlights, we took care to be as quiet as possible, but if either one of us should happen to say "Maryland?!", it was enough to set the other one into a fit of giggles. I mean, it is one thing to take a wrong turn, but to almost accidentally drive out of the state? That's something else entirely.

To this day, the word 'Maryland', or more accurately, that word spoken in tones of shocked disbelief, like a Jack Kirby character looking out from a comic book cover at an antagonist we can't (and aren't meant to) see, accompanied by a speech bubble reading, "(Gasp!) You?!?", is still enough to prompt a return of the giggles, like it did this morning when James began his sermon with, "I don't know if you have ever been lost.." and then recounted a tale of he and his partner getting disoriented in the fog in San Francisco and ending up 10 blocks away from their destination.

Audrey, of course, beat me to it, and leaned over to whisper, "Maryland?!?", which made me snicker and put a grin on my face so big that James inquired about it after the service. "There has got to be a story there," he asserted. "Oh, we have definitely been lost," I confessed.

Afterwards Audrey asked, "Would you really consider that being lost?"

"Absolutely," I affirmed. "What else could you call it? We were away from home, looking for a lake we couldn't see, and we almost drove into another freaking state! If that's not being lost, I dunno what is. Why would you not think we were lost?"

She shrugged, "Because we never needed assistance. All we had to do was retrace our path a little ways to get back on course."

"Sure," I said, "but what if we had been heading east instead of south? When would we have figured out we were off course, when we got to Interstate 83, or the Atlantic?"

Still, she raises a good point; if being lost just means having no or incorrect points of reference, in a lot of cases the distance between lost and found can be pretty short. And besides, being lost is one way to be sure you are going somewhere you've never been before.

Like Maryland.


  1. The way I look at it: if you're on vacation, you're never lost. All the real fun stuff happens unexpectedly or between the planned stuff anyway.

  2. The best way I know of to see a place is to get lost in it, and then find your way back again. I try to do that everywhere I live, or visit. You can see some very interesting things that way. Like following the narrow road hidden behind a cenotaph, and finding a little community on an island. In South Cooking Lake...