Skip to content

Posts tagged ‘Amish’

not plain or black and white

We just returned from spending several days in Pennsylvania, visiting family.  I love riding there – quiet empty roads, rolling hills, Amish farms, horse-drawn buggies sharing the road, and cooler temperatures.  And at the end of the ride, a slice of my mother in-law’s wonderful pie – usually apple or “Shoo-Fly”.

While I promised certain persons I would not go on some blog-based rant, I can’t help but feeling concerned about the explosion of natural gas wells that are mushrooming up across the landscape – including one that  sits in a corner of my in-laws’ property, a beautiful 20-acre wooded and pastured piece of land in NW Pennsylvania where they have lived most of their lives in their circa 1800’s farmhouse.

It feels like a new century Great Gold Rush is taking place.  If you own any property, an enticing lease will come in the mail with the offer of thousands of dollars per acre to lease the land and then provide an additional flow of royalty checks for coming years.

In an area that has seen the loss of industry and jobs over the past several decades, where unemployment is high and new industry is scarce, where the tax base has eroded, where municipal services struggle and schools have been closed and consolidated – players in the gas and oil companies are positioned to move in and bring jobs and an alluring cash infusion to struggling townships and boroughs.

Lucrative gas leases are the talk of the town and everyone seems to want to jump on board and cash in.  Landowner groups have formed to negotiate for the best possible price.  Shell and Chevron, among others, are ready to invest billions in petrochemical facilities.  The local papers are full of stories of not only the Marcellus Shale, but the Utica Shale, the Medina Sands … we’re sitting on a gold mine!

If you’ve spent the last twenty years struggling to make ends meet on your old family homestead, finding a check for tens of thousands of dollars in your mailbox can certainly feel like you just won the lottery.

I understand the needs, the draw.  And I support the prospect of clean domestically-sourced energy – if we can come by it safely and sustainably.  But the issues, as always, are not so black and white.  I know that everything comes with a cost … And looking at the construction of the well on my in-law’s land, and wells on nearly every property along their road and beyond,  I ask myself:  at what cost, this?

The immediate and contentious issue  is “fracking”, or hydraulic fracturing – the process of drilling and injecting massive quantities of water combined with a toxic chemical “cocktail” (a proprietary recipe) deep into the ground to fracture the substrate along in order to release the trapped gas.  I won’t bother to  go into detail here, as the controversial issues – especially in regards to the eastern Marcellus Shale fracking – are all over the news and internet.  NPR recently did an excellent multi-part series about the issues at hand, called The Fracking Boom: Missing Anwers.  And of course there is the incredible award-winning documentary by Josh Fox called Gasland.

While I didn’t experiment and see if my inlaws’ water could be ignited and burst into flame coming out of their tap, I do know that their experience has not been without issues.  Recently, for instance, while they were out of town for several days, it was discovered that one of the pipes or fittings at the well had corroded to the point of failure, and that gas (and methane and probably heavy metals and proprietary chemicals) had been spewing into the air for an unknown amount of time.  My father-inlaw complained that “they must have used some really cheap pipe”.  I was thinking: you have no idea how corrosive the stuff coming out of that pipe really is –  (and you are probably breathing it, and possibly drinking it).

It bothers me – the possible (probable?) risks, borne from contaminated water and or air.  Multiply this by thousands – tens of thousands –  of virtually unmonitored well sites across huge swaths of land and cracked open beneath public water sources for millions, the unknown cumulative effect of widespread fracturing of the grounds below…  what will the cost be to public health and to the environment?

Extensive research on the effects has yet to be completed, the fracking cocktail recipes remain undisclosed to the public, and the big oil and gas players are moving as fast as they can with fists full of cash before time runs out and they face more stringent regulation.  Play now, pay later.  Only you know who will ultimately have to pay…

On the farms belonging to the Plain People, the Amish, I didn’t see a single gas well.  I saw their vegetable gardens, their windmills, their cabinet-making workshops.  We rode our bikes, they passed by us in their buggies.  I contemplate our progress.  And I don’t drink the water from my in-laws’ faucet.

among the Amish

visiting Pennsylvania

Spent last week in northwestern Pennsylvania, visiting my husband’s family.  We took our bikes, hoping for some nice riding on the rural roads with leaves turning and crisp temperatures.  Sadly, the weather did not want to cooperate.  Gusting winds, rain and temps in the 40’s (F) held little enticement for cycling …

Pennsylvania countryside near the Amish community of Atlantic

My in-laws live in a small community in rural PA; there are lots of Amish and Mennonite families in the area.  It’s an odd feeling to pedal along and approach (or be passed by) a horse and buggy.  Better than being passed by cars any day.

Toward the end of the week when the skies began to clear, we took a ride to the Conneaut Lake Park – an old amusement park that originated in the 1890’s that became a local area attraction in the mid-1900’s.  In it’s steel boom hey-day, it was a big draw to families employed by the railroad, as well as a convenient vacation getaway for people from Pittsburgh.  When my husband was growing up in the area, he and his brother and sister all had summer jobs at the Park.  Sadly, it has become one of those places largely lost to the past … although it still opens in the summer, it is barely able to survive any more.  It was kind of fascinating to walk around the largely deserted grounds, covered in falling leaves.

marshland ride-by

(can you spy my bike?)

along the boardwalk, Conneaut Lake Park

Even though we didn’t get to ride as much as we had hoped to, it was a good visit.  Nice to see family, good to feel the chill of the North, and great to have a slice (or two) of my mother in-law’s always-amazing pies.  😀

A few of the other pictures ….

my mother in-law and her famous Shoo Fly pie

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

day 1 and already behind…


buried (alive)

2010 has come and gone, and I wish all of my friends a coming year filled with happiness, good health, smooth pavement, and contentment and civility with passing motorists.  And so much more.  🙂

Took some time “off” (really, c’mon – the stuff I do in no way resembles “work”) to spend with friends and family, and do the annual Christmastime visiting.  Think: the classic holiday movie Christmas Vacation.  And this is my only excuse for behind so behind in posting.

The 7-state untold-number-of-miles roadtrip began with a few days in Chicago, my hometown, the place of my birth, my roots.  There is nothing as wonderful to me as Christmastime in Chicago – the cold and snow, the wind, the lights of the city, the food.  Oh, the food… !


bike delivery and messengers on the streets of Chicago

Downtown, I really only saw a small handful of cyclists (compared to what I had seen back in August).  Mostly messengers and bicycle delivery guys, the ones whose jobs made it necessary to be riding in the cold, snow, and slush.

My favorite bike encounter of the trip was Jack’s Bicycle Puppet Show.  Jack parked his puppet-theater-on-wheels along the holiday shopper-filled corridor of State Street, and for a small donation you would be treated to some music and the adventures of Puppet Cat.  Awesome.


Jack's Puppet Show Theatercycle ~ State Street, Chicago

We left Chicago and headed for rural Pennsylvania, to spend Christmas with Mark’s clan.  My father-in-law was kind enough to dig an old 3-speed Huffy out of the depths of his garage so that I could do some pedaling while we were there.  (I suspect they all knew I needed some kind of outlet to get me out of the house for a couple hours each day…)

There was a lot of snow (18+ inches?), and with the small rural back roads virtually empty of traffic and the occasional passing Amish buggy, the snow-riding was a blast!  Three speeds of happiness in the snowy and slippery landscape.  I couldn’t have asked for a better Christmas gift.


happiness in a borrowed bike - the trusty Huffy 3-speed in the snow (Pennsylvania)

a little slipping and sliding up the hill

a "trip computer" from another era ... or from the local Amish (?)

out in the open

kind of like getting a bike for Christmas

snowy happiness on an old Huffy

And so, to my friends (who are all more on top of things than I am – with full-blown statistics of miles ridden, events conquered, goals met and goals to be set) … thanks for putting up with my continued mindless ramblings, my lack of substantial contributions and goal-setting, and my silliness and lameness in general.  Maybe 2011 will bring a change.  But likely not.  Anyway, thanks for inviting me to the party, and wish you all the best for the next 365 days on the bike.

(And now … to sneak in a non-bike photo – because that’s the way I do things here.)


... kind of like the inner peace & serenity you find while on a bike (only trees can't pedal; I know)

Gee Creek bikamping

Packed up camping gear for a weekend trip to Gee Creek

Packed up camping gear for a weekend trip to Gee Creek

You can’t have much more fun than a camping trip by bicycle.

(I’m posting a few of my favorite pictures in this entry, but some additional photos/descriptions can be found in my Flickr set, here.)

Mark and I packed up the Xtracycle “twins” on Friday and headed out toward Cherokee National Forest, the Hiwassee River, and Gee Creek campground for a weekend of fun and adventure by bicycle.  It was a lovely ride over – although extremely “warm”.  Temperatures in the mid-90’s, and I couldn’t guess at the humidity.

We had only one mapping snafu.  We had mapped a back-roads route so that we could avoid traveling on one of the more major roads – a road that is often used by logging trucks heading for the paper pulp mill in Calhoun.  It was a good plan until the very end.  Near the small community of Delano, TN, we could not locate one of the unnamed roads that would take us through the Amish community.  We backtracked twice, looking for the connector, and finally gave up.  It still remains a mystery as to whether the map was correct, or if the road really exists(?).

Somewhere along the Hiwassee River, near Calhoun, TN

Somewhere along the Hiwassee River, near Calhoun, TN

We arrived at Gee Creek campground in the early afternoon and had our choice of campsites.  We unloaded the bikes, set up camp, and spent the remainder of the hot afternoon relaxing in the shade, trying to stay cool.  Early in the evening we set out again to have dinner at a resort we had read about, Black Bear Cove.  It was nice to enjoy a leisurely dinner in the air-conditioned lodge.

On Saturday morning, we set out early for the Amish community and market that was a nearby.  We had been to the Amish market several times before – by car.  They have just-picked-that-morning produce directly from their fields outside the market building.  They also have some wonderful baked goods – from sorghum sugar cookies, to whole wheat bread, to killer sticky buns.  We decided to have the sticky buns for our breakfast! 🙂

We rode through the community on some of the small gravel roads that meander around, in part trying to see where we had missed our mystery connecting road the day before.  It was pastoral, picturesque and lovely – similar to some of the other Amish areas we have visited in Lancaster, PA, and Holmes County, OH.  There is no electricity, no motorized vehicles or equipment. Tidy farms, tidy fields, windmills, horses and buggies.  It can sometimes make you stop and question the benefits(?) of modern progress…

tractor-less farming

tractor-less farming

not a bicycle, but still non-fossil fuel transport ...

not a bicycle, but still non-fossil fuel transport ...

despite the fact that the community is spread out, everyone walks

despite the fact that the community is spread out, everyone walks

it was a lovely area to explore by bicycle

it was a lovely area to explore by bicycle

As the afternoon heat escalated, we decided to head for the Hiwassee River.  We rented a kayak and had a nice, cooling trip down the river, snacking on a sweet watermelon we had picked up at the Amish market.

cooling off on the HIwassee

cooling off on the HIwassee

Saturday evening proved to be … well … let’s just say an interesting and colorful local experience.  There is a small local winery in the area, and they were hosting an evening concert in their “pavillion”.  The Goose Creek Symphony (YouTube). I’m not sure what I was expecting, never having heard of the group.  The winery staff described them as “putting on a really excellent show, not exactly country, not exactly bluegrass …”.  I kind of envisioned a neat bluegrass-y/mountain music kind of event, maybe a glass of the vinyard’s wine. Uuhhh …. not exactly.

Let me just say, the “Symphony” was actually pretty talented – for that type of music (not really my cup of tea, thanks).  Maybe you’ve heard the song that begins, “Oh Lord won’t you buy me a Mercedes Benz …”?  Yeah.  Ok.  Well, that’s Goose Creek.   The Symphony may have had talent, the crowd on the other hand, was, well,  quite a different story.  I’ll just leave it at that.  Mark had joked about visiting a place up the road called the Hillbilly Bar.  Well, this may have been a winery, but the description could have fit just as well.

Sunday morning we packed up for the return home.  We had really packed fairly lightly, but it was still impressive to see how much gear we were easily able to stow on the bikes – with still plenty of room to spare – and not any messing with panniers, trailers, etc.  I love the versatility of the Xtracycle slings.  The gear/cargo size and shape doesn’t matter – there are no constraints to deal with when using the slings (unlike panniers).

As much as I loved nearly all of the miles we put in, there was one stretch of county road that we covered that was paved with large, loose gravel/rock.  It wasn’t the nice finely crushed and packed gravel of the Amish roads – it was just nasty chunky stuff.  Without a major detour – or spending a few miles on the logging truck road – we had to use this road.  It wasn’t more than a couple of miles, but without knobby mtn. bike tires, there was a lot of wasted energy pedaling uphill, and a lot of teeth-rattling, sketchy sliding action on the downhill.  I didn’t love it. Yuck.

the gravel road I did not love...

the gravel road I did not love...

... and my thumbs-up return to pavement!

... and my thumbs-up return to pavement!

Arrived home in time to relax a bit in the afternoon (it was Father’s Day, after all).  It was really a fun adventure.  We logged some lovely and scenic miles and explored some back roads I would like to return to some day.  The Xtracycles, as always, proved to be amazing vehicles – easy to haul our gear, easy to ride.  The perfect machine.

So – get your bike out and grab your tent and sleeping bag.  Have an adventure on two wheels.  It doesn’t get much better!

home again ... Father's Day 2009

home again ... Father's Day 2009

Additional photos on Fickr.