Monday, August 25, 2008
This road stops making sense
NEW PARIS, Pa. – For some old-fashioned fun, turn off your GPS tracker in Bedford, Pa., and stop in this quaint town to ask for directions to Gravity Hill, where the law of physics takes another road.
It’s imperative to visit the Bedford County Visitors Bureau on business Route 30, where the staff is “trustworthy, loyal, helpful, courteous, kind of obedient, cheerful, thrifty, clean and irreverent,” the guide to this kooky hill indicates.
“I think I’m pretty clean today,” the young woman at the desk says after I ask whether she showered this morning.
“What do you think of the hill?” I ask.
“Oh, it’s a quirky place that we took on,” she replies. “It worked. Tour buses go there, so has Science Magazine.”
She then opens a hot pink and black brochure to its page with directions to this destination, instructs me to stay on Route 30 west and make a right at the only red light in Schellsburg.
“Are there signs?” I ask.
“Oh, no. That’s why it’s important to follow these very detailed directions,” she says.
US Route 30 in Pennsylvania dates to 1913 and is near or sometimes part of Lincoln Highway, the first paved coast-to-coast highway in America. In the Bedford area, however, the road is dwarfed by the nearby Pennsylvania Turnpike, which opened in 1940 as the nation’s first rural highway.
I'm en route to New Paris that has a population of 214 people unless someone died since the 2000 census.
The 8-mile trip on Route 30 takes in cow pastures, a goat farm and several beautiful old stone farmhouses. Another four miles along Route 96 north leads to a narrow and winding couple of miles on Bethel Hollow Road and a right turn to the famed Gravity Hill Road, where turning around in a driveway is strictly prohibited.
Save for a lonely tractor pulling a hay wagon, no one else is on this road today. I pull out the official guide, where it instructs me to “look for the GH spray painted on the road. Go past the first GH about 1/10 mile and stop at the second GH.”
It goes on.
“First, you need to stay calm … put your car in neutral (after checking in your mirror for oncoming traffic, of course) and take your foot off the brake.”
Now, everything about this road tells me that I am traveling downhill. After following said directions, my well-oiled Ford pickup begins to drift backwards at a good clip. This is freaking me out. Yep, the truck seems like it’s being pulled uphill by a giant magnet.
I also know in my mind that physicists have already been here with scientific measuring tools that confirm that this hill is among many such optical illusions across the globe. The horizon line and tilt of the trees and slopes all come together to trick the eye into believing the law of gravity has been suspended.
Regardless, this gem offers one of those precious thrills in life that does not come with the steep price of a day pass to a theme park.