WILSON: A disease I wish was contagious: Wanderlust

I have a disease that has afflicted me for a half century. I wish it was contagious because I would do my best to infect as many people as possible. It is known by various names, but is often known as Wanderlust.

Not too long ago, I was having a conversation with a very good friend about experiencing parts of the country that most people just drive by as they hurry off to wherever they are headed. We have had several conversations about such things and the one thing that struck me was that I often preface my comments with, “I stumbled upon this place by accident.”

It is my preference to take the long way to wherever I have to be. Back when I pretended to work for a living, if I had a conference or meeting in a city just a few hours away, I made sure to give myself several extra hours of drivetime, just to see what I might see. Most of the amazing, quaint, and/or interesting places that I have encountered have been because I enjoyed the adventure of taking the road less traveled.

On one such adventure, I had to be in New England for an important meeting. The expedient method of travel would be to fly into Boston’s Logan International Airport, rent a car, pay a lot of tolls (and mumble a lot of swear words) while driving north on I-95, ending up in Dover, New Hampshire — total travel time, around five hours. Instead, I chose to leave a couple of days early, drive through the grandeur of the Allegheny Mountains in Pennsylvania and the beauty of the Finger Lakes region of New York. My preference has always been to avoid Interstate Highway travel, enjoy the flavor of local eateries, and stay at inexpensive mom and pop motels (as opposed to cookie-cutter, over-priced “Interchange Village” hotels, offering breakfasts that taste like cardboard covered in flavorless gravy paste).

On this voyage, my travels took me along US-20 (fun fact: US-20 is the longest highway in the country, running, coast to coast, from Boston, Massachusetts to Newport, or — I have traveled most of that route). Stopping for gas and a cup of coffee in Seneca Falls, New York, I casually asked the young lady behind the counter, “Where are the falls?” Her blank stare assured me that she was completely unaware of her surroundings and had no idea as to what I was talking about. Undaunted, I drove around looking for the namesake of Seneca Falls, but it was nowhere to be found.

Seneca Falls is near the north end of Cayuga Lake, a glacier gouged water feature that is nearly 40 miles long and only 3.5 miles at its widest point.

Intent on discovering something resembling a waterfall, I veered off my easterly travels and meandered south along SR-89, following the shoreline for miles (and miles, and miles). Eventually, I approached the south end of the lake, where I stumbled upon (remember that phrase?) a small, brown, roadside sign that read, “Taughannock Falls.” The sign was so small and unassuming that I almost drove past before realizing what I was about to miss.

Stomping my foot on the brake pedal, I made a quick right turn onto a two-lane county road. A half mile up the forested trail, I encountered a small gravel parking lot with, perhaps, enough parking for a half-dozen cars. Surrounded by trees that obscured my vision, I exited my vehicle and heard a thunderous, deafening roar. A small footpath led through the trees to a stone and concrete landing (built by the WPA in the 30s) that looked out over a massive gorge with walls towering 400 feet high. At the far end of the gorge, the Taughannock Creek cascaded 215 feet into an awaiting pool — a drop 33 feet taller than Niagara Falls (it is the tallest single-drop waterfall east of the Rockies). This adventure added about six hours to my drive, but what a great way to use those six hours.

The road is calling, and Wanderlust is upon me, once again. By the time you read this, I will be somewhere else, seeing what there is to see. When I get back, I’ll tell you all about it.