To the north and south of US-30 however, are some of the most beautiful farm roads to be found anywhere. Amish farms rival those in Norman Rockwell paintings for immaculately maintained farm buildings, well groomed draft horses and mules, and flower beds where every petal and bloom is perfect. On summer weekdays, the biker passing down these byways will see black-skirted Amish women tending vegetable gardens, while tow-headed boys in straw hats feed chickens or race around on foot-powered scooters. The men are most often seen standing ramrod straight, balancing on the yoke on a plow or cultivator, holding five massive percherons in check with a handful of leather reins stretching 18 feet or longer.
On Sundays, riders passing through the area will find themselves sharing these roads with dozens of buggies headed for the Sunday meeting, held at an elder’s house. The front yards of these places look like buggy parking lots, with these rigs standing in orderly rows, while the horses run free in a paddock.
The events of this particular Sunday took place on a cold day in November, on the afternoon that would prove to be my last ride of that particular year. (The first light snow fell a few days later. While it would melt quickly, local municipalities cured the roads with a thick layer of salt. I will not submit my beautiful, black aluminum engine casings to road salt.) I was mounted on “Fireballs,” my trusty red, 1995 BMW K75. Fifteen years old at the time, the dated nature of this vintage Teutonic mechanical wonder felt somewhat Amish itself. I willingly admit that the K75 is an acquired taste, as the bike has all the classic lines of a cinderblock. Yet the proof is in the riding. The K75 is an incredibly stable, reliable riding platform, that easily breaks into and holds triple digits on the clock, when the spirit so requires.
This was one of the rare occasions that I was buzzing around by myself... Just an hour after dawn... In 25º temperatures... On a Sunday morning... Deep in the heart of the Amish periphery.
Riding around in Amish country in the late fall feels much safer than doing it in July. The reason for this is that nearly all of the roads are the paved version of farm roads that were laid out in 1682, when the reigning King of England at the time chartered all of Pennsylvania and Delaware to the Quaker pacifist William Penn, who systematically began the re-education of the Native Americans in residence. Since this area has been settled for so long, cultivated fields come right to the edge of the pavement. In many cases, the road is below the grade of the fields. When planted with corn, this makes it impossible to see any other vehicles, except tall trucks, approaching on the crossroads. You may find yourself charging along at 50 miles per hour, only to see a minivan driven by a pea-wit on a cell phone, pulling right into the parameters of the intersection before coming to a halt. I have had more than a few interesting moments making myself known to vehicles driven by mobile telephone operators in this neck of the woods. In the fall, the bare fields bring the light of day to the intersections.
Oddly enough, I have never had a close call with a horse and buggy. My policy for riding around Amish wagons is simple. Give them all the room they need. While the vast majority of Amish horses have more sense than a representative in Congress, they are not the most intuitive of animals and can spook at the drop of a hat. (This is true of Congressmen too.) Therefore, I do not advocate squeezing past them in the same lane when Amish teamsters swing to the right. Traffic on the roads where I usually encounter Amish buggies tends to be very manageable, and I swing to the far left (moving into the oncoming lane) and avoid doing anything really stupid (i.e. hitting my horn or jazzing the engine to impress the Amish).
One of the saddest scenarios I have encountered (three times) is to come up on a car and buggy pulled to the side of the road, only to see a stricken horse dead in the traces, the victim of some asshole who cut his passing too short. In one case, I saw two little Amish girls in tears over the dead horse. Had I been that Amish farmer, I would have stepped down from the buggy, removed the wheel nut from one of the hubs, and beat that driver’s face into raspberry pulp with it. (There are several reasons why I would not make a good Amish elder.)
There wasn’t much traffic on this cold, gray November day, Amish or otherwise. I had ridden into an area that was less cultivated and more forested, when I got the dreaded message from my kidneys. I have had two kidney “procedures” that required removing stones the size of softballs (and you can’t imagine where they inserted the chain and tackle to get them out). Since then, some things have been a little odd. For example, I never get a gentle reminder that it is time to drain the lizard... I get a 28-second tsunami evacuation notice. And considering my arthritis has instituted a 12-step dismount procedure that takes up 24 of those seconds, there isn’t a lot of time for fooling around.
A thermos of coffee can load a lizard right properly. And aided by the subtle churning motion of a motorcycle, the urge is nearly always urgent. I brought the bike to a screeching halt (that fully compressed the forks), and started counting backwards from 28. I had my step* out of the top case at the 24-second mark... I had it positioned by second #18... I was off the bike and hobbling on my cane into the bushes with 12 seconds to go.
The gentle reader can not believe my sense of panic. I didn’t waste a second removing my gloves nor my helmet. I got into cover, sucked in my gut, and shoved my jeans and insulated riding underwear down to my boots. Then I stood upright, raised my eyes upwards, and let go.
Now for those of you who never studied the wonder of male anatomy, nature has devised a clever physical reaction to guarantee the reproduction of the human species during time of glacial advancement. A certain part of the male anatomy is cold sensitive and retracts to a warmer position behind the lungs, when temperatures get around 25º, apparently.
So I stood there with eyes uplifted... And pissed straight down into my jeans.
I couldn’t believe it. I didn’t even have to stop the bike to get this result. Worse, though the steaming hot liquid hadn’t lost a degree of heat from its origin in the thermos, it was the temperature of the air by the time I got back on the K75. The ride home was the longest 57 miles I ever rode in my life.
* Jim Sterling of the Mac-Pac built a mobile step for me that fits into my top case. It greatly eases the mounting and dismounting from this tall seat.
Twisted Roads Day At Hermy’s Tire and Cycle
August 27, 2011... 9am - Noon
Got a great story you’d like to see as a guest author in Twisted Roads? The folks at Hermy’s BMW and Triumph, in Port Clinton are sponsoring “Twisted Roads Day” on Saturday, August 27th. From 9am to Noon, show up and have coffee and donuts with the publisher of Twisted Roads... Tell him your story and qualify for a valuable prize. The winner will be announced at 11:45am. Consolation prizes will be awarded to the first and second runner up.
Hermy’s is located on Route 61 (Southbound), Port Clinton, Pa. The shop is only 5 minutes north of the interchange with I-78 (Hamburg, Pa) and is an easy ride from New Jersey and Maryland.
©Copyright Jack Riepe 2011