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Days 27-29: Gambier and Mt. Vernon, OH

13 Sep

It had been 3 years since I’d returned to Kenyon – not enough time for Gambier to lose its familiar comfort and quirkiness, but enough time for me to completely forget about the street that led me up the hill to “downtown.” I pumped up the hill, which I remembered as a formidable end to every ride I took those years ago, but which was oh so much easier than the many rollercoasters of the morning outside Granville.

I had contacted a handful of key people at Kenyon before arriving, but things didn’t come together until the last minute. I had planned to visit a few farms near Fredericktown on Friday, but freak winds had blown through on Tuesday evening and left them with lost barns and too much of a mess for visitors. My cold had settled in with full force, though, so I didn’t fight the unexpected rest day. Ruth and I went down to John Marsh’s farm on the edge of Gambier, where Matt Riley gave us a tour. I’d heard of Matt – a friend of Aaron Zaremsky (in Yellow Springs), Matt’s a recent Kenyon grad who’s stayed in Gambier to tend this farm, as well as another he started at Wiggin Street Elementary School. This is the farm’s first year, and it’s mostly experimental. Matt and the others, including John, have a great piece of land, and plenty of hopes for supplying the Kenyon dining hall, co-ops, and local food banks with fresh produce. Right now, there’s just not enough man-power to harvest everything, and connections to get the food to people who need it are still not well-established, so lots of Matt’s efforts are focused on saving as much as possible from being tossed in the compost.

When evening approached, I headed over to the Parish House for a workshop with students from PEAS (People Endorsing Agrarian Sustainability), a student organization led by Sara Berman, my enthusiastic and reliable contact on campus.

A great crowd showed up, full of questions and enthusiasm and knowledge, and a couple of hours later I fumbled across the street with more yogurt than I had room to incubate. Disaster was averted, however, thanks to Ruth and Joseph’s fancy dehydrating oven.

Saturday morning opened chilly and gorgeous, and I was pretty near ecstatic as I pedaled into Mount Vernon on the Kokosing Gap Trail. Melissa Raines had published a piece about me in the Mt. Vernon News on Friday, so plenty of people came up to me having read that I would be at the market. The crowd was fantastic – all ages, and I nearly ran out of my samples, saving some for afternoon demonstrations back in Gambier.

I restocked on yogurt recipe flyers, then set up in front of Farr Hall right in downtown Gambier. I quickly gave away all of my goat milk yogurt, which was absolutely delicious, and met plenty of wary and very excited Kenyon students.

On Sunday I got to see the new Peirce dining hall – backstage! I met John Marsh, who owns the farm I visited Friday and is in charge of getting local food into the dining halls, to talk about the feasibility of making homemade yogurt in the kitchens. I was really looking forward to it – it’s just what I’d been hoping to do on this entire trip: inspire people to make their own yogurt. It’s pretty easy for people to taste the difference in freshly-made yogurt, even if the texture isn’t just what you like every time. And John understands. I’ve long been an avid cook, my love for farms was a major inspiration for this trip, and I’m now very much involved and invested in food distribution at Open Produce, but I’ve never worked in kitchens before, and I loved seeing all of the enormous machines arranged cozily in the surprisingly-small Peirce kitchen. Space is certainly lacking, John concedes, but that didn’t stop us excitedly re-arranging pots and pans to determine possible set-ups for the various stages of yogurt-making.

He has two enormous “kettles,” where milk could easily be brought to temperature. Then, eliminating one key observation stage, there is a handy “chiller” that can bring the milk quickly down to a certain temperature and keep it there steadily. After inoculation comes the incubation stage – and this is where things always get complicated. We played around with different ways to immerse yogurt pots in water, rest them on hangers in the heaters, or (if necessary) resort to using the very exposed pilot lights on the many gas burners.

I left hopeful, and John was excited about experimenting with the stability of hot water temperatures in the kettles overnight. I can’t wait to hear how they go, and I hope to hear that Kenyon students are eating homemade yogurt before the year is up! Does anyone have suggestions for yogurt-making on a semi-industrial (10-15 gallons/day) scale?

Day 26: Granville to Gambier, OH

9 Sep

I’ve been waiting for this day for a decent while now – my first return to Gambier since graduating in 2007. I also knew it would be the hardest day of riding yet, and I wasn’t looking forward to compounding that with a weary cold. Per Bill’s wise suggestions, I took Hwy 661 north out of Granville, and was promptly stopped in my tracks at least 3 times by terrible Ohio hills.

It’s oh so gorgeous, though, if I weren’t sniffling and pedaling a hundred-pound bicycle rig.

See those fall colors emerging??

I visited Scarlett Payne’s goat farm along the way, ate lunch next to a cornfield, blew a spider out of my nose and into my handkerchief after much painful sniffling, and decided to explore a detour on my way up to Mt. Vernon. Since this was Ohio, I was hopeful…but after a mile or two of struggling through patches of gravel, I returned to the busier, but much smoother, Hwy 661. And I was rewarded! – with beautiful Knox County barns.

Before the last push up the Gambier hill, I pulled off the beautiful Kokosing Gap Trail at the Brown Family Environmental Center for a memorial photograph and brief doze by the fishpond in the butterfly garden.

Hello Kenyon!

Days 24 & 25: Worthington to Granville, OH

8 Sep

I left Worthington on Tuesday with a hint of a cold, a new spoke in my rear wheel thanks to Baer Wheels – open on Labor Day – and a good night’s sleep with Paul and John in their fine house, which holds the most books I have ever seen in one home.

The ride out of Columbus was surprisingly pleasant, and I made it to Alexandria for a “picnic” lunch in front of a storefront I found myself strangely coveting.

Midwesterners are so patriotic.

I arrived in Granville in the mid-afternoon, marveled at the picturesque town center, and drank hot tea until the farmers market started at 4:00. Larry, the market coordinator, kept apologizing for the sparsity of the Tuesday evening market, furthered by its being the end of the season, but I was happy to be there after the size of Dayton’s Saturday market.

Gil, who sold produce with his wife June, was my biggest Granville fan – he spent years running a big dairy farm, and he told me some incredible stories about his time in Biarritz and on trains throughout Europe during the war.

Storm clouds threatened for the entire time I was there, and the wind picked up as the hours passed. I left a little early, afraid I was going to get caught in early darkness or rain, and pedaled weakly up the hills to Bill and Kathi’s house. I had been warned the driveway was steep and gravel. I had not, however, counted on loose gravel on a curving driveway, and thunder rumbling ever closer. I started pushing my bike up the hill, but my feet just slid down with each step I took. I made it about 30 feet up the hill, gave up, and turned my bike perpendicular to unfasten the cart and do it in two turns. It was hard enough to drag both parts of my rig up the hill, but I made it, and less than two minutes after I had brought all of my gear in the front door, the skies opened up and the rain poured down.

Wednesday I woke up in the thick of a cold. Good thing I had planned for a rest day! I did emerge for a couple of hours in the afternoon, however, to do some demonstrations on the Denison campus. I had tried to contact their sustainability office, but had no response, so I decided to test my luck like I had at Earlham.

I was told, with both sympathy and threats, that security would be forced to ask me to leave campus because I was not sponsored by a campus organization.

I had biked all the way up that enormous hill, more ominous than Gambier’s, only to ride down again. I blew my nose a few times and began the descent.

Day 22: Yellow Springs to Columbus, OH

5 Sep

Riding 50 miles and then eating Mexican food is not such a good idea. But I did it, and most of the day was on bike paths, again! Hooray for Ohio!

Mary Beth made absolutely delicious blueberry pancakes for breakfast, and Dad and Gary and I set off on the road, covered in long sleeves to guard against the cool autumnal morning.

Gary led us through Clifton, home of the admired Clifton Gorge, which we did not visit, and this quirky “garage” next to the Clifton mill, which we did visit.

The rest of the day passed in tailwinded, perfect-weather pedaling, completed FINALLY by a long-awaited ice cream stop at Dairy Queen on the outskirts of Columbus.

Day 21: Dayton to Yellow Springs, OH

4 Sep

What luxury to ride bikes in Ohio! Dad and I rode almost the entire 32 miles today on nicely paved off-road bike paths, and we couldn’t have asked for better weather.

We started the day at the only farmers market I could find in Dayton, the Wright Dunbar Farm Market, which consisted of one truck from Stubbs Family Farm, loaded down with beautiful produce and meat and baked goods from their farm and an Amish friend’s farm in Indiana. Not quite the bustling Urbana market, but I did talk to a few people. Like the 61st Street Farmers Market in Chicago, the Stubbs take EBT cards, and this farm stand is one of the few sources of fresh food for neighborhood residents. They’re in their first year, and while Dayton is evidently a difficult municipality to convince of the value of markets, hopefully the success and popularity of the Wright Dunbar Farm Market will lead to more much-needed markets throughout the city.

And, it was across the street from the Wright Cycle Co, home of the Wright Brothers’ famous bike shop!

And, across from the studio/gallery of Willis “Bing” Davis, an incredible artist, ambassador, and bringer of life and inspiration to Dayton and the Wright Dunbar community. The neighborhood was burned down after Martin Luther King, Jr. was assassinated, and left to rot until Bing Davis took initiative a few years ago, got some local resident contractors and construction workers to team up with students at the nearby vocational school, and reconstructed the building that now houses the Ebonnia Gallery. It’s no ordinary gallery, though – it’s a school, a youth center, and the heart of many initiatives run by Bing and his wife to promote the arts, culture, and history of Dayton. He has truly transformed the Wright Dunbar neighborhood, so that riding our bikes across the river in the morning, I remarked at the spirit of the place – it really shone above the surrounding, languishing residential areas, and meeting Bing makes me certain that he is to thank.

We got on the road in the early afternoon, with no fears of overheating after such a chilly morning. Dad took some videos on the road, complete with lots and lots of wind noise. See if you can hear anything we’re saying.

We were lucky enough to stop for a little drag racing outside of Xenia…a perfect addition to the county fair and baseball game of the previous evening.

Yellow Springs is a beautiful town. I liked it even before we’d reached the center of the village, thanks to this sign.

After a tour through this beautiful, perfectly chill town and a delicious, long-awaited pizza dinner, I sat listening to Aaron play piano while the parents chatted around the fire circle in the backyard. Yet more wonderful people I’ve met on this trip, which should be inspiring to all those timid souls who think America’s country roads are full of crazies.

Day 20: Brookville to Dayton, OH

3 Sep

It was wet and cold when I woke up in Brookville, OH, on the outskirts of Dayton Friday morning, so I waited out the bank of clouds in the library and got on the road for perhaps the best half hour of biking of my life. The wind was at my back, I was on a beautifully paved rails-to-trails path through cornfields, and the morning showers meant everything smelled fresh of autumn.

I reached the edge of Dayton, and the bike path disappeared. I asked at the gas station on the corner, and they finally realized that what I was asking about was the wide sidewalk along the side of the road “right through the ghetto.” It was pretty neglected, but it did get me downtown to the river.

I bounced over cobblestones for the last couple of blocks, and minutes later met up with Dad!!

For the last day or two, I’d been passing signs for the Montgomery County Fair, and I was excited to visit. I’d thought the Fairbury fair was impressive, but it was nothing compared to Dayton’s – beautiful old white barns reminiscent of Walker Evans photos, countless booths selling fried foods of every kind, and hilarious rides that make my stomach turn just imagining.

The best part, though, was the 4-H show goat judging – the setting was one of the most beautiful barns at the fair, with bleachers on two sides and pens of goats, sheep, and llamas in the back. Kids of all ages dragged stubborn goats out in the ring, and a critical, nurturing older man with a magnificent mustache and hat silently inspected all of the animals as the poor kids struggled to hold onto the stubborn goats.

You urbanites may have the same questions Dad and I did – what is 4-H? Google to the rescue, and the 4-H website tells us a bit of history:

The seed of the 4-H idea of practical and “hands-on” learning came from the desire to make public school education more connected to country life. Early programs tied both public and private resources together for the purpose of helping rural youth […] Adults in the farming community did not readily accept new agricultural discoveries. But, educators found that youth would “experiment” with these new ideas and then share their experiences and successes with the adults. So rural youth programs became a way to introduce new agriculture technology to the adults. […] A.B. Graham started one such youth program in Ohio in 1902. It is considered the birth of the 4-H program in the U.S. […] 4-H has as its goal the four-fold development of youth: Head, Heart, Hands and Health.

But the goats were just the beginning. We went on to feed some of the laziest pigs I have ever encountered, watch the hair on cows’ behinds get blown around by fans as they watched the wooden walls of their pens, and listened to a barn full of poultry crow and gobble and squawk endlessly.

Highlight of the poultry barn? Easily and confidently, Dad and I both agree it was the chick incubator WITH a merry-go-round. No kidding. Check this out:

And then, as if the day couldn’t get any better, we had delicious BBQ for dinner and went to the Dayton Dragons minor league baseball game in Dayton’s fantastic downtown.

Days 16, 17, 18, 19: Indianapolis, IN to Ohio

2 Sep

I’ve spent a lot of the last two days on Highway 40 – the historic route across the country built in 1806, according to the many signs I’ve passed. The days on the bike are starting to blend together – the riding itself is no longer the major event of the day, although it is certainly consuming. Perhaps it’s a sign I’m breaking into a rhythm.

This should give you an idea of why I so prefer nicely-paved roads, and why a lack of traffic is such a wonderful luxury, and a hint of the change of scenery since reaching eastern Indiana:

In any case, the towns I’m passing on Hwy 40 are all historic, all-American towns, each with its own post office and library, and a LOT of antique stores, and as I approached Richmond a spattering of motor-lodge style motels cropped up, most of them (sadly?) abandoned. But the highway runs through the middle of town, lined with American flags, and many of the buildings are being repainted and cleaned up, and I’ve enjoyed stopping for water and snack breaks under the trees and at local shops.

My stop in New Castle, IN, was a last-minute, lucky one. Deb was a fantastic host, welcoming me into her home and even getting me an interview with Rachel Sweeney, her next door neighbor and long-term reporter for Richmond’s daily paper, the Palladium-Item. And as I left Richmond on Thursday morning, the woman who made my sandwich at the Lemont Hotel said, “You’re the yogurt lady!” and pointed out the article that had appeared in the paper that morning.

I arrived at Earlham College in Richmond, IN, at noon on Wednesday, and I navigated the swarms of students heading to lunch, and soon I was set up in the middle of the Heart. Unfortunately approval delayed my set-up until after the lunch rush, but I talked to a handful of curious, enthusiastic students during class changes, and I was surprised by how many already made yogurt, as well as beer, sourdough bread, and kefir.

Then I headed to the Clear Creek Food Co-op in downtown Richmond – a sleepy Rust Belt downtown with plenty of potential for great pedestrian street life but unfortunately no pedestrians. Clear Creek was a great storefront, recently moved from a much smaller location, and I met a couple of local residents but spent most of my time waving at people staring at me as their cars slowly glided by on the street.

My hosts of the evening were also generous to accept my last-minute couch request, and Mark, his wife Hopie, their daughter Lena and exchange student Janeen were so kind and comfortable. Mark even took me on a ride on his amazing electric-assist bike, which Hopie, Lena, and Janeen can all ride together, coasting up hills with barely an effort. Pumping my legs struggling up the smallest hills, and anticipating more hills in the weeks to come, it was thrilling to coast up hills at the slightest turn of my thumb.

On Thursday, climbing past the Interstate and up a long, slow hill into the bright morning sun, I finally passed into Ohio! Oh, and as of Thursday night, in Brookville, OH, my total mileage for the trip has reached 531 miles.