Date: Thu, 26 Oct 95 13:39:00 UTC 0000
Copyright (c) 1995 by Caryl L. Bergeron - Distribution for personal use permitted. Distribution for other uses with written permission.
Chapter 6 - Oct 1 to Oct 13 Huntington, IN to Grantsville, MD - 2524 miles cumulative
Mailboxes!! I just can't resist and I don't want to hear any discussing the great American fascination with decorating mailboxes. It's amazing. It's as if that little box sitting out on the corner is some icon representing the great god of external communication and we have to appease the god by putting some elaborate decorations on and around it. Normally I wouldn't notice all the decorations if I was in a car, but on a bike I've got lots of time to look.
Mailbox decorating seems to come in one or more of three different types: base, stand, and box decorations. For base decorations people will stick the stand in the ground or a big flower pot, plant all sorts of real, plastic, or silk flowers around, and then sometimes add those odd plastic or wood figurines. I've seen flower surrounded mailboxes with dutch boys and girls, miniature windmills, lighthouses, barns, houses, wooded figures of ma and pa's rear ends as they pick crops, all sorts of small animals including deer, squirrels, chipmonks, skunks, ducks, chickens, cows, and whatever, even a whole plethora of Disney, Looney Tunes, and other cartoon characters. It's rather wild. There may be absolutely nothing in the yard except for a few trees and bushes, yet here is this elaborately decorated and tended little spot right around the mailbox.
Then there's the box itself. A lot of times the sides of the box are simply painted. They'll have some incredible paintings of farm scenes, horses, birds, flowers, fish, you name it it's been painted on a mailbox. Some folks even go beyond simple paintings and actually create an entire structure or creature. A favorite subject in the midwest is the tractor or barn. There even seems to be a tractor mailbox kit you can buy, or at least a lot of those green tractors looked a lot alike. We've also seen all sorts of critters; cats, dogs, cows, pigs, deer, etc. Complete with legs, antlers, faces, ears, and udders.
Finally, there's the stand itself. On farms these will often be composed of old farm machinery, the horse drawn plow is a favorite. There's also the welded chain which gives the appearance that the mailbox is defying gravity. Everyone knows a chain can't stand on its own. We've also seen a variety of human figures including ole Uncle Sam and a scare crow. Some of the more interesting are the attempts of artistic expression that more often than not end up looking like someone welded various pieces of a disassembled car together and labeled it art. Hey, if you happen to know anyone with a disassembled car (hint, hint dad) perhaps you can give them an idea of what to do with it. Some of these artistic pieces are so elaborate you almost wonder if the postman doesn't need a sign and arrow saying, "mail goes in here."
Last, but not least, one of the more creative box/stand combinations we've seen was a corn stalk. The stand was a bright green metalic rendition of a corn stalk and the mailbox a yellow plastic ear of corn. Perhaps it symbolizes a good crop. Whatever the means or subject mailbox decorating certainly adds a bit of color to our bike rides. And who knows, maybe it really does appease the great mail god and produce more good news from friends and relatives than bad news or bills.
The riding through Indiana and into Ohio continued to be pleasant and flat. Sidewinds and tailwinds were generally what we experienced. Yet we pushed fairly hard, trying to average 60 miles per day, because we knew the good weather was bound to shift toward winter cold before too long. We pedaled along flat corn country or river valleys lined with huge trees showing the first hints of fall colors. Each day the trees showed more and more orange, yellow and gold. The sunlight took on a golden hue as it filtered through the golden leaves. Leaves were starting to be prevelant on the ground and we couldn't resist kicking at them whenever we came to a pile. I suppose it's the rustle and crackle of dry leaves on the sidwalks and roads being blown about by strong fall winds that always makes me think of fall weather. A little frost on the leaves would reinforce that feeling, but Ohio was still pretty warm.
Because of our hard riding we typically found we'd just barely have enough time to pull into camp, set up, shower, cook dinner, clean, and get to bed. So having opportunities to converse with our camp neighbors became less and less frequent. In one campground, however, a group of kids ranging in age from about 5 to 10 found us and were absolutely full of questions. The oldest girl had perhaps some of the most insightful questions of all, more so than even her adult counterparts. Her questions included "How do you heat your food", "Aren't you worried someone will take your bikes", "Why don't you just get an RV", etc. And with each novel response her little freckle face would elongate into this great big "Oh my gawd" as she gaped at the answers. She simply couldn't believe that anyone would give up house, car, and job to ride bikes. I kept telling her even she could do it when she gets older. It was so refreshing to get more questions than just the usual "where did you start?" and "where are you going?"
Once in Ohio we headed north to ride through the flat lake lands around Lake Erie. Back in the last ice age the glaciers carved out a huge valley around the lakes and as the ice receded, an enormous lake was left behind. As time went on and the water level receded this one lake became the 5 great lakes. This region of Ohio, around Toledo, was still quite swampy until the 1830s. At that time they dug a series of canals for transportation which subsequenlty drained the swamps and produced extremely fertile farm lands. With the advent of the trucking industry the economic value of the canals dimished, however I would expect they're still needed to keep the water level from rising. There are some beautiful Victorian canal towns along the bike route and several state parks that provide excellent camping and picnicing.
At one park, Independenc Dam State Park, we happened across J&A's Taco Trailer. At long last after 2 months of only midwestern food we got our hands on some real Mexican food. Having spent 12 years in San Diego we've really been spoiled. Upon talking with the trailer's owner Able, born in Texas by the way, we learned that this was a guy that started his career as a fruit picker in Florida. He came to Defiance, Ohio when he was 16 to follow his brother who had a good job. Now, many years later, he has just 2 years left for retirement from Johns-Mansfield Co., has this trailer that he takes to faires and such, and even just bought his own restaurant. Something about good Mexican food, take it anywhere, set up a restaurant, and you'll do quite well. So his is a story of how an individual can be a success even from some pretty hmnble beginnings, as long as you're willing to try hard and not expect handouts.
We were wondering how in the world he ever managed to get the license to park his trailer in the state park. After all, this is the government we're talking about. "Oh I had a real hard time. Took me forever. Had to fill out a stack of papers this high and send them to all sorts of gevernment agencies. They wanted to know everything. I said Hey I'm not asking for money, I just want to make some." It figures. But I suppose if the government didn't carefully regulate who sets up concession stands in the parks pretty soon they'd be totally overrun with people selling everything from food and T_shirts to voodoo dolls.
We arrived in Freemont, OH after 5 days of sunny weather and good riding. But fatigue was beginning to take its toll. Brian was starting to suffer from back aches while riding and whenever we'd stop for a while I'd feel a sharp sensation of pain or fatigue run through my thigh muscles. These TREK bikes are sturdy little things but they're no touring bikes. It was getting to be time for a day off. We'd hoped to make it up to Put-in-Bay, but mother nature changed our minds for us. A day of soggy wet rain made us decide to take off earlier. After spending a day in the tent we rode the short 25 miles to Port Clinton to spend, as it would turn out, the next 3 nights.
Hurrican Opel hit Florida with great fury and rapidly raced up the eastern states to wreak havoc on Ohio. Winds were 30 mph with gusts up to 45 mph and the rain just absolutely poured. It was as if mother nature decided the east coast needed one good solid scrubbing down to make it clean. We sat in our tent for most of the day with only short forays to go to the john and to fetch toilet paper to wipe up the bit of water splashing up under the bottom edge of the rain fly. The wind beat against the tent and I couldn't help but wonder if the next gust would be the one to finally pull out the stakes and topple the whole thing. But our wonderful Hilleberg held fast and we stayed amazingly dry inside. Well we can now say that we've had this tent through both a cyclone and a hurricane.
Unfortunately there was so much rain, the small drive next to our assigned tent site started to flood. That's when the campground owners offered to let us sleep in their rec room. Needless to say we jumped at the opportunity. We quickly baled out of the tent, taking everything we didn't want to get wet, and settled down into relative luxury for the night.
Ah, that rec room was so wonderful. We had a full size TV without having to worry about batteries running short, a bathroom, even pizza delivered to the door. Except for the fact that we slept on the floor it was almost like getting a hotel room for a mere $12. I must admit, living in a tent I tend to forget just how easy life can be when surrounded by modern conveniences. It's so nice not to have to struggle out of a sleeping bag, put on clothes, run across the campground to find the bathroom, and then do the whole thing in reverse to get back to bed. One could get spoiled real fast. The folks at the Tall Timbers Campground were absolutely wonderful to us and I can only say, if you're ever in Port Clinton, OH, it's a great place to stay.
We did learn something quite novel from the news braodcast. When such storms pass over the lakes and the winds are predominately in one direction, all the water gets pushed to one side of the lake increasing the water height by 5 to 10 feet. When the storm ends, the water goes back down.
The dead calm of the next morning told us that the storm had past and it was safe once again to venture out on the bikes. So we headed to the ferry to South Bass Island and the town of Put-in-Bay to see the Perry Victory and International Peace memorial. At 352 ft height this cylindrically shaped monument constructed from pink granite from Milford, Conn. is the thrid tallest National Monument in the U.S. I have no idea which are first and second, Washington Monument is probably one. It was built in 1912 as a joint effort between the U.S. Canada, and Great Britan to commemorate Captian Oliver Hazard Perry's Lake Erie battle victory and to honor the peace that has existed since then between the three countries. As you probably know the U.S. and Canada share the longest undefended border in the world.
Perry's battle occurred on Sept. 10, 1813. It lasted about 2 1/2 hours and resulted in a major turning point for the Americans in the war of 1812. Evidentally up until this point the Americans had sufferred terrible loses and morale across the young country was at an all time low. This victory boosted morale and was followed by more victories. Interstingly enough no one ever won the war of 1812. The U.S. and Great Britan signed a peace treaty which established the boundaries between Canada and the U.S. that exist today. A couple of well known quotes came from this battle; "don't give up the ship", and "We have met the enemy and he is our's."
Other than the monument, we found that most everything else on the island was closed for the season. There are only about 400 full time residents and they all close their shops in the winter. There were only 2 restaurants, one food store, and a hand full of gift shops open. I guess visiting these tourist spots in the off season is a bit of a two edged sword, there're no crowds but there are also no open shops.
We have probably met some of the nicest people in the Ohio campgrounds. First, there was the owner of the Broken Paddle, a short, crusty lady with curly brown hair, a penchent for smoking, and an air about her that said, "don't mess with me. I've been around the block and seen all the tricks." She drove us to the grocery store not once, but two times, when we were stuck in the tent waiting through a rain day. She was telling us a little about some of the people she's met while in the campground business. One woman showed up with an 8 man cabin tent claiming to have only two people. Turns out she was hiding 2 kids in the back of her truck. Well after getting haughty with the camp owners about being able to keep whoever she liked in her own tent, she was promptly kicked out. "I don't put up with this kind of nonsense, I'm too old for it and I don't need it." our hostess exclaimed.
Next there was Helen and her husband, owners of The Timbers in Port Clinton. Helen was a mom. She looked like a mom, acted like a mom, and talked like a mom. Short, kinda chubby, with bright red hair, chubby pink cheeks, and a habit for squinting, she loved to talk and we were easy subjects. She told us of how they bought the 46 acres of the campground 31 years ago when their oldest son was just 6 months old. Now 4 more kids, many grand kids, and a lot of labor and improvements later they've got an extremely nice campground. Like most campground owners in this area, they are open for only about 5 to 6 months of the year. The winter months they spend traveling around the country or taking care of their other home out on Catawba point. They not ony let us sleep in their rec room when Opel went through, but they also let us connect to their telephone to download our mail and she gave us a ride to the laundromat.
We also met Harvey and Marilyn at The Timbers. We were faced with the option of riding illegally over the bridge to Sandusky or retracing our route by about 35 to 40 miles to get around the bay. As we were packing to leave, Harvey offered to give us a lift, a ride that saved us a good day extra riding. Although supposedly retired, Harvey and Marilyn were very ective in creating craft items for sale. Marilyn creates ceramic objects and Harvey makes wooden rocking horses. Evidentally these items are extremely popular and they have a hard time keeping up with the demand.
And finally we pulled into the Willow Lake campground to find ourselves invited to a Thanksgiving dinner, an offer we couldn't refuse. In our week ride through Ohio the only "hostile" or unfriendly person we encountered was, of all things, another bike rider. As we rode through one of the more ritzy neigborhoods of Cleveland we stopped to ask a gardener for directions to Chagrin River Rd. When he didn't know, we tried to flag down a woman riding by on a bike. She not only didn't stop, but looked as though she was down right afraid to stop. We found it absolutely incredible that this woman had any reason to fear two people standing in front of a hired gardener, holding two extremely heavily loaded bikes. But, that goes to show what can happen whan you pay too much attention to the horror stories in the news. You lose the ability to judge what is and is not a threat.
The route around Cleveland was actually quite beautiful. We spent a good part of 2 days riding through what they call the Metro Parks or emerald necklace. The counties surrounding the city realized fairly early that the continued urban growth would eventually mean the loss of much of their greenery and natural areas. So, individually they started creating these parks or "reservations". As time went on these green parkways were combined creating an entire horseshoe around the city. So, as we found, you could literally spend an entire day within 25 miles of downtown Cleveland and never know you're in a city.
In one section we followed along the tow path of the old Ohio-Erie canal. Operated from 1827 to 1916, this canal along with the many others making up the Ohio canal system made the transportation of goods around and out of the state much easier. Up until this time Ohio was the poorest and least populated state. The canals brought significant prosperity. As with most canals, the introduction of the railroads brought about their demise. There is one restored canal lock in the park and we were fortunate enough to be there on Columbus day weekend when they were giving demonstrations.
Our journey east of Cleveland was wrought with difficulties. First my rear tire had developed a rather interesting bulge making for a real uncomfortalbe *whump whump whump* as I rode. It was getting worse and we needed to find a tire soon. A quick stop at a bike shop where the owner gave us a used tire for free which we strapped on the back, and we were off again. We immediately got lost which lead to the strange episode with the lady bike rider. It was not more than 10 miles after we got back on the route when I heard *BANG PSHHHHHhhhhhhh.......t*. I had one of those classic blowouts as my bad tire finally gave way. A quick change, we're starting to get real good at this, and we were off again.
The only problem was now we were riding through the eastern Cleveland area and the !Hills from Hell! We went through 40 miles of hills most of which had well over 8 to 10% grade. I am ashamed to say at one hill probably having well over 16% grade we finally had to walk the bikes. After 25 miles of these murderous hills I simply couldn't do this one. Just as the sun was going down and the temperature was dropping we finally dragged our tired and worn bodies and bikes into the R&R campground for the night. Even though we had a big plate of spaghetti for dinner, somehow it didn't seen to be quite enough.
Pennsylvania at last. The state we'd been pushing so hard to get to. One quick stop at Conneautville to pick up our mail and we finally left the ACA route and started heading south. We won't be back this far north again until next spring.
As we entered the state and continued along the route Brian and I started having a discussion, OK it was more of an argument, about our touring goals. Brian says he's getting bored with the midwest, "all the towns and corn fields look alike". Yet I say "But I'm really enjoying this area. It reminds me of Cazenovia and the fall leaves are so pretty." We went on for quite a while with me saying "What do you want to do, quit bike touring." And him responding "No, you're not listening, I just want to have the option to do something else for a while. After all Barbara and Larry (In "Miles term tourists we meet. Besides we've been pushing real hard to get east."
We went on like this for about 2 hours before coming to some conclusion. Basically, we need a break from riding. We've been at it almost nonstop for 8 weeks. So we'll still plan to have our 10 days to 2 weeks off in Alexandria, we'll go through an equipment review to get rid of some of our load at that time, then we'll head to Ft. Meyers, FLA mostly on the north/south ACA route. At that time we may rent a car for 4 weeeks to tour southern and central FLA, rumored to be some of the worst and most dangerous cycling in the U.S. We'll return the car to Ft. Meyers and continue from there on the bikes.
With this compromise Brian's mood for the rest of the ride dramatically improved, although mine got blacker. If we are to take time off from riding I would much rather just hit the beaches and rest rather than continue to travel and move around. But Brian is dead set on getting down to the Keys and Ft. Lauderdale to see his old hometown and haunts and not doing it on bike. I was not going to win this argument so I reluctantly gave in.
Within just a few hours of entering Pennsylvania we started encountering members of the Amish community at last. We'd been quite looking forward to seeing the horse drawn buggies, but were quite surprised with the final turn of events. While stopped in a small gas station/grocery store in Linesville, a slender young man with dirty, torn black pants and suspenders, bright red hair, and the curliest red beard I've ever seen started asking us about our trip. He spoke with an interesting accent that I could not quite place. But, before we left the store we had an invitation to camp out at his house. "It's not much, not fancy since I just built it. But you're welcome to come stay if you want."
Five miles later we rolled into the front yard of Mose and Fanny Schmidt's house, a young Amish family. Fanny is a small woman, about 5 ft tall, fairly slim, has blond hair and blue eyes. She wore the traditional plain homemade brown dress, black knee socks, black shoes, and white hat. Her hair neatly tucked up under the hat. She seemed so young, probably only about 23 or 24, yet she already had three young daughters, Kristina, Mary, and Suzy, ranging in ages from 4 years to 6 months. All three girls had light blond hair, dressed in identical grey/blue homemade dresses, black stockings, shoes, and cap. Even the baby had to wear the black cap. Considering how young she was, Fanny handled her role as wife and mother in a very mature manner. Perhaps the training young men and women receive in the Amish community teaches maturity at a much younger age.
Mose owned 60 acres of land on which he kept 3 horses, one for the buggy and two heavy draft horses, three dogs, and a variety of interesting things that he appears to have collected from all over. The house, though not yet finished, was very well designed and quite comfortable. You entered into one large "mud" room where in the winter you can get out of all your wet and muddy clothes. You then go up three stairs into the kitchen. It was a wonderful, large, old fashioned style kitchen that has lots of room for cooking and room for a large family to eat around a large table. Not one of those tiny breakfast nook type kitchens they have in most new houses. Modern cupboards and sink lined the wall. But the main certerpiece was this wonderful wood stove on which Fanny does her cooking. She tells us "Bought it at an auction for $100. We got a real bargain. New they cost $1200."
The next room was this large family/living room. Simply furnished, but warm and friendly. You could easily grab chairs and rearrange the room to meet whatever your current needs might be. There was also a big airless wood heater in this room and Mose told us that with the stove and heater going they are quite comfortable even in 30 below weather. I noticed some black clothing hanging in the room and I believe these were their best church clothes. Two smaller rooms in the back we never saw, but I believe they were Mose and Fanny's bedroom and a storage room for the kids belongings. The girls all slept in the family room.
The walls were unfinished, the floors bare, but the house was full of family love. We were invited to dinner and during this time Mose's business partner Rudy, his wife and daughter, 4 kids from Moses's brother's family, and Mose's father, Emanual, all arrived. This made for one full, and chaotic house and we thought it was wonderful to see how close this extended family was. They shared what food they had with us and we were at least able to contribute some hot dogs we had purchased. But the portions seemed more like enough to feed a family of four, not this group. There was a small bowl of potatoes, lettuce with dressing, radishes, meat, a loaf of bread, and one large pot of tomatoe sauce and noodles. As we sat with this family who are all too willing to share what ever they have with perfect strangers I couldn't help but contrast that with the woman biker who wouldn't even stop to give directions. It does often seem that the people who have the least to give, give what they have the most freely.
We were real curious about the Amish way of life and Mose, Emanual, and Rudy were real curious about the space program. They asked us questions like "Do magnets work in space" and "Did man really land on the moon or was that just a NASA ploy". We wanted to know just how much of 20th century technology they were permitted to use.
We came away with just as many questions as answers. Their lives seem to be a strange set of contradictions. They can't drive, but can hire some one to drive them. They can use gas driven motors to pump water, but we wonder what's the difference between a motor to pump water and a motor to turn wheels. They have flashlights for use outdoors but have to use Coleman type lanterns in the house. He's got a solar powered electric fence but uses a push mower and Scotts lawn fertilizer spreader. The kids dress in plain, drab clothes yet play with bright colored plastic toys. So where do they draw the line? Who's to say what has too much modern technology and what doesn't? I guess the church elders have that right.
We came away feeling quite privileged at having the opportunity to share dinner with them and only hope they got as much out of visiting with us.
The hills of western Pennsylvania are unbelievable. We'd been riding hard for 5 days straight since Cleveland and the hills continued to get worse and worse. I was still set on riding the whole way to Cumberland, but Brian was getting discouraged. The conflict finally came to a head at the Yogi Bear Campground near North Washington when the campground owners told us that these were just the foothills. The mountains still lay east of here. Well Brian decided he wanted to rent a car and somehow get us, bikes, and gear over the mountains to Cumberland. I still wanted to ride but just take the route in smaller chunks. Skip the 4 national monuments we'd planned to visit and use the allotted 7 days to get to Cumberland. After about 3 hours of discussion and arguing I finally agreed that we should rent a car. But I was not happy about it because I felt it was, in some way, admitting defeat and giving up.
Something was wrong here. In the past 3 days we'd had two pretty major arguments and that is something that rarely has happened before and certainly not this extreme. It was clearly evident that we needed rethink the objective of this new lifestyle if we were going to both continue to enjoy the travel and bike touring. So we came to a new set of goals and agreements dealing with how we'll handle bike touring. We'll start fresh with these in place and see how it goes from here.
Appendix A - Route
I'll continue to list towns. Huntington, Bowerstown, Zanesville, Poe, Monroeville
Payne, Paulding, Junction, Defiance, Florida, Napoleon, Grand Rapids, Tontgany, Bowling Green, Scotch Ridge, Pemberville, Rollersville, Millersville, Fremont, Port Clinton, Sandusky bridge, Bloomingville, Berlin Hgts, Florence, Birmingham, Oberlin, Grafto
Rt 198 east to Conneautville South to Linesville, Conneaut Lake, Sheakleyville, Sandy Lake, Henderson, Kilgore, Wesley,Harrisville, Murrinsville, Boyers, Whiskerville, North Washington. Travel by car to Uniontown. East on Rt 40 to Cumberland
Appendix B - Camp sites
Private campground near Paulding ($), Mary Jane Thurston State Park ($), Broken Paddle near Fremont 2 nights ($), Tall Timbers Campgrounds Port Clinton 3 nights ($), Willow Lake Near Brunswick ($), Motel in Bedford ($), R&R Camp near
Mose Schmidt's yard, Kozy Rest Campground at Harrisville ($), Yogi Bear's Jellystone campground North Washington ($), New Germany State Park Md 3 nights ($)
($) indicates fee camping
Copyright © 1995-2011 by Caryl L. Bergeron - Distribution for personal use permitted. Distribution for other uses with written permission.