Monday, March 01, 2010

Adventure Day: Lost in Amish Country

One night last week, Doc and I found ourselves looking at each other through bleary eyes. He hadn't written anything in three weeks and I hadn't exercised in three weeks. Life seemed dreary and pointless. As with any married couple who've been together as long as we have, we have our issues. As we pulled our heads out of the sand, we woke up to the fact that if we didn't do something to change things up, we'd start our journey into decrepitude walking together but not hand in hand.

One thing I've learned with our marriage is, if we don't do continual maintenance, the whole kit and kaboodle seizes up and starts to groan with neglect. Each member of the partnership starts to feel devalued and cranky. Silent cold wars start and the day-to-day tasks provide enough distraction that we don't take the time to halt the works and get to the source of the malfunction.

We worked a few things out, the likes of which I won't bore you with here. Ultimately, we decided we needed a family adventure. Doc was off this past weekend, which is very rare indeed. So we called his sister and her husband (Alicia and Rick) to see if they'd like to rendezvous at the halfway point between us called Coshocton, Ohio. They were game and just talking about the plans with them was the shot in the arm we needed to finish off the week in good spirits.

Saturday morning came and we packed up snacks, drinks and books and hit the road. We were going to meet Alicia and her family at the bowling alley at about 5:00 p.m. But I had learned of an Ohio Bluebird Association Conference in Wooster, Ohio that I couldn't resist. I could tell Doc wasn't completely hip to the idea, but in the spirit of adventure, he agreed to make it our first stop.

It took us an hour or so to get there and we were there in time to hear a speaker talk about Prothonotary Warblers and the bird houses he builds and sets up for them in Alum Creek. But we came to see what the Medina Raptor Center had to offer. Shortly after his speech was done and he reluctantly ended his slide show, we headed over to a small conference room and saw three amazing creatures: a barred owl, a barn owl and an albino red tail hawk. You can see the pictures I took here. It was incredible to be so close to such amazing creatures.

I have always admired owls and I've never seen one in person. I appreciate their association with Athena and wisdom and I have several owl things in my house. In fact, if I were to have a totem animal, I suspect it would be an owl. So to see one face-to-face was a powerful emotional experience for me. I couldn't look away. I stayed in the room as long as possible and kept near the barred owl, who I felt overwhelmingly drawn to. Eventually, we had to leave so that others could come in and the girls were a little bit spooked by the barn owl, who had lost an eye.

Still, it was a thing none of us would forget. And that's what I was hoping for with Adventure Day.

We stuck around for a little while and checked out the displays at the conference. We found a free book with a good set of plans for building bat houses. I'm hoping there are owl houses in there too. I'd like to attract some to our yard. When listining to the speaker earlier, he had said that bird watching was fine, but he preferred thrill of offering something to wild creatures and having them accept the gift to mere birdwatching and writing something down in a notebook. At the time, I thought he was unfairly slagging birdwatchers. But the more I think about it, the more I'd agree with him. It would be grand...

So, buoyed up by our close encounter with nature, we decided to hit up the Amish Buffet and stop at a cheese shop to kill some time. It was only 1:00 and we had plenty of time to get to Coshocton, which should only take about an hour. After stuffing ourselves and stocking up on goodies, we got in the car and I entered the address for the bowling alley on the GPS. And then it asked the crucial question, "How do you want to get there?"
  • Fastest time
  • Shortest distance

And I thought, let's do the shortest distance and stay off the highways. Of course, I didn't consult anyone on this. I just hit the screen and set our course. We called Alicia and let her know we were on the way and then we hit the road.

We drove out of Wayne County and into Holmes County, which is Amishtopia. We went through Berlin and a couple of other little burgs and hamlets, but we kept a good pace. Eventually, though, the GPS lady told us to take a right on Holmes County Highway 117. Sounds easy enough. But when I saw the road I began to doubt the wisdom of my impulse to take the scenic route in February.

This "highway" was probably some form of dirt or gravel road and was plowed and covered in ash. I gazed upon its snow covered slope that went straight up for about 800 feet and worried. I wasn't sure Mr. Lawrence (my car) was up to the task of climbing this Alpine avenue. And sure enough, when we got about two-thirds the way up hill and I went to downshift; it was enough to kill any forward momentum and we started to slide backwards. I turned to Doc and said, "This is the point in our story where the gringos get it."

But we backed up and made another run for it. This time, I gunned it and we had just enough oomph to get over the top. And this is how it continued for the next hour and a half. We would dare to climb each hill, slipping and sliding and then race down again until we were deep into foriegn territory. The farther into the hills we went, the more Amish we would see. And they were lovely on their bikes or on foot. In their buggies and on goat carts. They smiled with their ruddy faces and waved to us as we tripped through their territory.

We saw several Amish school buidings with the girls and boys bathrooms out back. We saw lots of farms and businesses that tended to the needs of today's buggy drivers: harness makers, horse shoers, and buggy repairmen. We also saw many homes with laundry hanging out to dry. And this struck my whimsy right in its heart. To see colorful cloth hanging from lines in the middle of winter was just delightful. We finally passed the house featured in my new banner and Doc pointed it out to me. I stopped the car and turned around to get a good shot of this and a heron that was living in a stream across the street.

Once I was done taking pictures, we climbed back into the car to complete our journey. And it was very strange. I really had no idea where we were. We didn't have a map to get our bearings by. All we had was this calm, feminine voice telling us to turn right then left. There was a distinct otherworldliness to our journey. I remember going up one very steep hill that had six to seven foot snow drifts on either side of it and snow on the road. Looking through the windshield, all I could see was snow and gray skies and I had this instant of feeling like I was on another planet, maybe on Hoth. It was distinctly disorienting. But we crested the hill and were back in Ohio.

The novelty of this adventure began to wear off after about my fifteenth "Holmes County Township Highway," especially when my fuel light went on. We were low on gas. In the middle of nowhere. Among the Amish. And no clue as to where we were. The kids began to freak a little bit and so did I. The territory wasn't completely Amish; there were modern farmers there too, who probably would have helped us. But this would move the adventure farther into unknown territory than I wanted to be in.

Almost two hours after we started on this trek, we found State Route 83 and were booking it into Coshocton. When I stopped for gas, I took a look at my car. It was almost completely covered in mud. So we sprang for the two dollar car wash, and in the spirit of Douglas Adams, decided that it was better to be one hour and five minutes late and looking good rather than one hour late and a complete mess.

We had a grand time with Alicia, Rick and my nieces and nephew. We bowled and had pizza. We laughed and carried on. But I couldn't shake the tension I'd taken on during our off-the-beaten-path adventure, even though we had come out of it without so much as a scratch. Eventually, we went back to Alicia and Rick's house, played a good game of Quiddler and I was able to relax again.

Two days later I'm still savoring every moment of our trip. We laughed, we learned and we scared the pants off of ourselves. A good friend of mine, ERR, always says that it's good to test your limits sometimes. I think we did that and are better for it. And I'm looking forward to doing it again soon.


  1. What a great trip, and your pictures are wonderful.

  2. Adventures are not adventures unless you are living on the edge, in whatever relevance that is for you, so well done. Now if you can learn to enjoy even the tense moments, than you just might turn into an adventure junkie.

  3. Reminds me of the time I found out, on the Uncompahgre Plateau in SW Colorado, what the hollow grey line means in Rand McNally - it means the road isn't paved. Fortunately, it wasn't snowy yet in late September, but it was full of washboards and also herds of cattle. My tour partner was driving and the shortest route took us about two hours to go 50 miles.

    Go you for driving! EG and I took a trip to WV last week. It was a tense, snowy trip for the last couple of hours and he drove us safely there. God bless him, and the Jeep with four wheel drive.