We Leave the Interstate Behind.
Trip Start Sep 09, 2009
7Trip End Sep 18, 2009
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Driving an undulating ribbon of country road that crested small rolling hills and then descended into hollows often bisected by small streams, we were taken by the bucolic nature of this part of the country with its woods, fields, and pastures, many still green from a wetter than usual summer
And much to our surprise and delight as we drove along there were wildflowers everywhere. Because it was late in the season I did not expect this, but in among the corn fields were hillsides of goldenrod and along the road itself were waving clumps of black-eyed susans, chicory, and Queen Anne's lace. And, as we drove further into the heartland, yellow sunflowers were everywhere.
While we do not plan our trips in detail, this one was to include three "scenic driving trips" from a Reader's Digest travel guide. The first one was called "Scenic Southeastern Ohio." We were intrigued by this title as Ohio is generally viewed as rather flat agricultural land and devoid of interesting topography (as it actually is in the northern part of the state.) But the guide suggested that the southeastern part of the state was different and so that was where we decided to explore. Our route would take us south of Pittsburgh and then across the northern West Virginia panhandle before crossing the Ohio River into Ohio.
As the day wore on and we crossed into West Virginia, the hills gradually became steeper and more wooded, the hollows narrower and darker, the countryside less prosperous, and the driving much more slow going
And along the way we could see that the pickup ruled the road and graced most driveways. Red was the color of choice, too. Having left New York where vehicles come in tans and silver with a few black models, the bright reds really caught our eye.
Along with the increasingly torturous driving that came with West Virginia, we found that the signage deteriorated. Although, we were averaging no more than 25-30 miles an hour, it became difficult to follow the proposed map route and eventually we realized that we had missed an important turnoff completely. Moreover, It was clear from the position of the sun in the sky that we were no longer on our southwest course but rather heading east and into the heart of West Virginia. We also noted that the sun had begun lowering in the sky
We finally hit an intersection and discovered that we could go west again. I found the route number on the map and although it appeared to be an even more minor road than the one we had been on, much to our surprise the road was a actually a significant improvement over the twisty one we had just left. The paving was good and it had shoulders (always a plus!) We were able to pick up the pace and by dinnertime we were crossing the Ohio River into a flatter landscape and a more prosperous state where the road again improved becoming a dual lane highway. We realized that we now had a shot at reaching a campground in Marietta, Ohio before dark if we did not stop for dinner. This would position us to start our "scenic drive" first thing in the morning.
The road to Marietta followed the Ohio River and passed through the Wayne National Forest. It made for a lovely drive as the last rays of sun illuminated the West Virginia landscape across the river
Arriving in Marietta we attempted to find the campground listed in our guide. The directions to reach it started from an Interstate exit, an interstate that we were not on, which made it difficult to orient ourselves, but eventually we found the place which was on the local fairgrounds on the outskirts of town. Driving through the downtown area to reach it, we had found traffic snarled and the main street completely blocked off. Pedestrians everywhere! Friday night must be big in Marietta!
The campground was nearly full. We felt lucky to just end up with a patch of grass to park on. It turned out that Marietta was celebrating its annual river festival with music, river cruises, fireworks, and the like. Folks had come in from all over for the occasion. Ordinarily we would have jumped at the chance to participate in a local celebration, but that day we were too exhausted to get ourselves back downtown. Pity!
The following morning, though, we were up for it and drove into town for breakfast at a historic cafe/bakery and a small walk along the river. It was a charming town and probably worth another visit but we were anxious to start our first scenic drive, so after our short stroll we drove north out of town along the Muskingum River. Yes, we drove north! These blue highway trips are anything but direct!
In the mid-nineteenth century when river traffic was the main means of moving goods, a series of locks had been built on the Muskingum to smooth out rapids and make it navigable
It turned out that the locks were not just a matter of historical interest, but the lock mechanism was still very much operational. A single attendant was able to open and close the locks by means of an ingeniously-designed hand crank. As we walked along the outside wall of the locks (and I tried to get some photos of red pickups), a young couple on a waverunner came cruising down the river. They slowed as they reached the lock area then inched into the lock. After they were inside the lock, the attendant cranked the gate closed behind them and the water level began to drop. They bobbed around slowly, receding below us until the water level was that of the lower stretch of the river at the foot of the dam. Then the attendant cranked open the lower gate by walking in a circle pushing a bar in front of him. Soon they were speeding their way down the river again. I am not sure that the original designers ever envisioned waverunners in their locks!
While the lock was being opened a group of bikers pulled into the car park and lined their motorcycles up along one end
The penchant for red trucks that we had noticed in West Virginia continued in southern Ohio (as did the stars on the houses). But, Ohioans did not seem to be wedded to pickups quite to the same extent as the West Virginians so we now were passing red sedans and suv's as well as red pickups. We even a passed a red U.S. mail delivery truck making its way along one of the back roads! Is this a political statement? Are the liberals on the coasts keeping up? Driving blue vehicles? I must remember to check when we get home!
We stopped for lunch at a state park. The park was rather neglected with few people around, but as we were eating our sandwiches beside the camper two guys on mountain bikes came riding along the road. We waved and they waved and then they slowed up stopping on the road in front of us.
"Excuse us," one of them began, "But do you know which continent is the largest?"
"We're having a bit of a disagreement here," added the other
Joe and I hesitated. "Hmmm. Asia?" "Yeah, it's Asia," we concluded. The two exchanged looks.
"Not Europe?" the younger one asked.
"No, pretty sure it's Asia....." The other smiled a bit.
"But Europe is big. And doesn't it include parts of the Middle East?" he continued.
"Good point. But Siberia is big and that is part of Asia."
"Yeah, but it's part of Russia and just where does Russia start being Asia?"
"The Ural mountains?"
We branched out. "How many continents are there?"
"Well, there's......" And so the conversation went.
The two of them were on a biking weekend and camping in the park's campground. They told us the area had some great biking trails. We described our own trip a bit. Joe asked how the economy was doing in Ohio. One of them had just been laid off but neither one seemed distressed about the future. They were both quite optimistic and did not express much concern about the economy. Turning to more mundane matters we asked them about the significance of the stars on the facades of so many of the homes. (Ask a local!) They had no idea. Just decoration they concluded.
We ended that day at a motel in suburban Cincinnati. Since we were hardly able to cook dinner in the van parked in a motel lot, we decided to eat at a restaurant described in the AAA travel guide. From the address listed in the guide it sounded as if it were very close by. We asked the young woman at the front desk if she could give us directions. She did not know of the place but happily entered the address in Mapquest. ( "Mapquest is my best friend," she commented.) Instantly we had a printout of directions to reach it and we set out into what turned out to be an American nightmare.
The address turned out to be somewhere in a mall parking lot but as we followed the road through the mall it only led to yet a different mall, with no sign of the restaurant. Then after a traffic choked intersection it entered a third mall before dead ending at a highway. We retraced our steps lost in the maze of malls and their curving pavements. Back and forth we went feeling like we were on another planet - one with no compass directions, only a formless miasma of curving pavement full of cars turning here, turning there in a landscape of commerce. We twisted and turned losing all sense of where we were.
Eventually we gave up and settled on dinner at The Fuji Steak House, a knockoff of the Benihana, which was a stand-alone building on the periphery of one of the malls' many parking lots. The hostess seated us, along with 6 other diners at one of the u-shaped stations with a chef in the middle. There was a family of four and a couple in their late 30's. The chef was chosen in part for his Asian looks. He went through the motions of entertaining us but it was clear that for him the thrill was long gone. And we all went through the motions, at least, of appreciating his antics with juggling knives and throwing oil on a stack of onion slices to create a flaming volcano.
When the couple we were seated next to had arrived, we greeted them but spent the meal in our own conversation. But, as in the case of airline travel when as the plane is about to land one will chat with one's neighbor, upon the arrival of the checks we started talking to them. We had assumed that they were childless as they were alone at an age when those with children would have them along at this type of dinner. We were rather surprised to learn then that their daughter was a freshman in college and living on her own. They were empty-nesters and looking forward to a quieter life, a new beginning. She was 36 and he was 40! They were literally a generation ahead of our own similarly aged children. And like the bikers at the park, they were very sanguine about their future. She was a hospice nurse at a V.A. hospital, studying for her R.N. He was in the process of buying an 8-unit apartment building to get started in a building management career. We talked a lot about our travels. She had once crossed the country. Drove from Nevada to Ohio in 36 hours! Three moms and three toddlers! He'd missed that trip! But, he loved hunting, bungee jumping, and maybe sometime he would try skydiving. She was getting ready to get certified for scuba diving. They were getting around.