Tuesday, January 28, 2014

In Which I Spend Way Too Much Time Analyzing the Roads and Weather of Southeastern PA

It has been hard to explain what life is like here in our village/township to our family/friends out West, especially if they have never lived in the Eastern states (New England) for a time. It's not that different, but there are a few things that just don't apply to Western geography/geology/meteorology/all-the-ologies... 

For example, we do not live in a flat area. There are not mountains like the ones in Utah [although we do not live too far away from the Poconos. However, the Poconos are not nearly as large as the Rockies, as the elevation doesn't quite reach 3,000 feet (Mt. Timpanogos near Provo is just under 12,000 feet)] but there is also not a flatness to the valleys, either. It's really hard to survey the area because of the constant rolling hills! There are very, very few places that would be considered "flat;" even our house is on a sloping grade. 

Next, we have trees. Trees that probably dominated the area for thousands of years before our country was born, trees that still dominate and cluster together to form barriers to prying eyes and exploring feet. It's interesting to me because there are places where the trees have been cleared to make fields or homes with yards (and the reason the trees are cleared? So in ice storms, the branches and trees won't fall on the houses and people) or businesses, but in places where they don't need to clear them, there are literal forests. Everywhere. Forests surrounding homes. In fact, it reminds me of the Seattle/Tacoma, WA area, where it felt like everyone just built around the trees. In fact, I used to think that's what they must have done, but now I realize that Utah is --clearly --just a desert. The trees in Utah grow by the rivers or up in the mountains. Most of the trees in the valleys have been planted. Here, they are like a separate organism that lives and hovers around us, protecting us. I often think, "It may be hard to see distances, now, but just wait until all the leaves are back on the trees!" I may become claustrophobic! [Not to mention how I can't tell which way is north, anymore! I'm using the sun, Utah friends, and it's just not as reliable as my mountains...] 

This brings me to the most interesting phenomenon I've encountered here, and it's the roads. The roads! Sure, we have main highways for traveling to big shopping centers, malls, or long distances (we live closest to the Baltimore and Wilmington Pikes), but our main roads for travel are on (what seems to me) country roads. Except we're not really in the country... but sort of... See, our roads have no sidewalks here. None. Not only do they not have sidewalks, there are no bike lanes or running lanes --there are no shoulders. If you get stuck behind the garbage truck, then you're stuck, until you come to the crest of a hill and can see if you can pass them. If you run on these roads? Good luck to you. If you bike on these roads? Same. A few people do it, and I'm very careful not to run anyone over, but I don't think I could do it. Precarious at best! There are also no two-lane (technically four lane) roads except on the highways. Why? There's simply not room. 

Why are there no sidewalks/shoulders/four-lanes? Trees, people. Trees. Hills, people. Hills. I'm sure it was hard enough to build the roads --why in the world would they add that much more cement? 

[Oh! And also, because of these hills and trees, you have meandering roads --lots of turns! Do not read in the car while driving on these roads. It will be imminent car sickness!] 

So, this presents some conundrums when it comes to weather and exercise. There are a lot of parks with walking trails on them, a lot of forested areas with hiking trails through them, and people walk/run on their dead-end streets where the traffic is less. 

As for weather: when it snows and gets icy, I want you to imagine all of these roads on hills with no shoulders. I want you to see cars sliding down hills when they try to go up them, and when they try to go down them. Add in the humidity (today it's only at 48%, but because we're at around 400 feet in elevation and only an hour from a beach, we get a lot of humidity), and it can get pretty icy pretty fast. 

Another phenomenon: we don't get snow every year (so I've been told). It comes every 2-4 years, and so there's no reason to employ hundreds of people to plow/sand roads that may or may not be sanded every 2-4 years...  

THIS is why we have so many snow days. When we get dumped on, it is very dangerous for people to be driving! I've never seen anything like it. Utah has snow all winter long, but they get it every year, so they expect it. Plows/sand/salt are out within minutes, so we rarely had snow days. We also didn't have any humidity, so ice wasn't quite as scary unless temperatures dropped significantly (which they would), but the problem was already solved: sand/salt. We had shoulders to shovel the snow into, we had flat roads to drive on and very few hills to slide down (except up on the bench. Even in Grandview, the plows would get the two hills first). It's so different here! People can't even get to work, here, let alone school! People get stranded at work or church. Remember this post about our first PA snowfall? That was just the beginning of what our winter has brought us. Now we are bit smarter, thank goodness, but we're getting used to it. 

Last thought: 
8 degree weather here feels so much colder than 8 degree weather in Utah because of the humidity. It chills you to your bones! People said it was so much colder, but it's really not. We haven't gotten below zero even once, I think, but when you are out in it at night, it is definitely frigid. Biting is the best word. Utah cold is cold, but wowee! It has nothing on this. But you know what? I'll take a few days of 8 degree weather here with a week of 40 degree weather and back and forth to the constant below zero weather of Utah/Idaho any day. 


FoxyJ said...

The summer before my senior year of high school my family moved from California to southeastern Maryland. We'd only ever lived in the West and it was so disorienting to us! All the reasons you listed--like you can have a junction of 3 highways that are all labelled "south" and are all going different directions. My only winter there was a really unusually severe one and we had two different times when we had an entire week off school. My parents grew up in Wyoming so they thought this was a little crazy, but given the state of the roads and the hills, it's understandable.

cheryl cardall said...

My last area in my mission was in the city where we walked or had our trusty SEPTA passes to ride busses or subways. I was there from October to February. I have never been so cold in all of my life. We used to wear thermal garments, two pair of tights, wool skirts, wool socks, boots, heavy coats etc and still be frozen! I'm shivering just thinking about it! Have you had a good ice storm yet?

Cheryl said...

Cheryl, not yet! We did have freezing rain once (and we postponed church because of it), but it didn't stay cold for long.

Lisa said...

I think I was prompted to come to your blog. I clicked on your name when you left a comment at Segullah today, and it brought me here. We are getting ready to move to Pennsylvania after living our entire lives in the West, mostly in Utah. We are excited, overwhelmed, and nervous all in one. I will definitely enjoy looking through your blog for posts and comments about PA. Even after our two day visit a few weeks ago, I can relate to what you wrote about the hills and roads. I have never been so easily lost as I was during those two days, not even when I was on my mission in Kansas, where there are also no mountains.

Cheryl said...

Lisa, that is great! If you want, email me and I can answer any questions you have! happymeetscrazy at gmail dot com

Lisa said...

Thank you, I can't think of any specific questions right now, but I will be sure to get in touch with you if I have any. We are going to be in the north central part of the state, so not near where you are.