Tuesday, July 14, 2015
At the previous day’s briefing, Joe had said that this would be our first foray into Amish country and also the first day of the “real hills.” He described the terrain as “rolling,” but as he said this he was moving his hand up and down in really big arcs, and we knew by now what that meant. So off we went, up the big climb out of Coshocton, heading for our rest stop at New Bedford. We had been promised that this would be the tour’s “Bakery and Cheese Day,” and it did not disappoint.
Before this trip, I had had no direct experience with the Amish. There are a few scattered communities in Michigan, but outside of seeing a few buggies, I only knew what had been represented in books, news stories, and “reality shows.” It was in New Bedford that my eyes were first opened. This was a real Amish town, with people arriving on buggies, bikes, and by foot. They were not there as some sort of “tourist attraction,” but rather were just people going about their daily lives while forgoing many of our modern conveniences. It was not at all as though they are trying to live as they did in the 19th century, but rather that they are just trying to preserve aspects of their family-oriented, agrarian way of life.
Heading north out of New Bedford, we encountered the typical narrow, rolling rural roads of Holmes County. Seeing as how I am watching the Tour de France on my DVR as I am typing this, I feel like a real wimp to keep commenting on the hills while the riders are heading for Alpe-d’Huez, so I’ll keep this to a minimum. As you might see from the Garmin elevation chart, the hills after New Berlin at the 15-mile mark were not very high — maybe 100 ft each or so — but they seemed to occur one after the other for miles. This was a tough stretch, but also fun and filled with pastoral scenery.
Holmes county is 80% Amish and Mennonite, and the country was full of buggies, horse-drawn farm equipment, women in bonnets, and barefoot children. An example of acceptance of some current conveniences was a woman in a bonnet and Amish dress pushing a power mower in her front yard. All were friendly, waving from their buggies as I passed on the road. I certainly felt welcome in their territory the whole time we were there.
Getting back to the important matters of the day, I bypassed a side trip to Miller’s Bakery, and instead headed straight for Herschberger’s Farm and Bakery, which was not all that far from our destination. It did not disappoint, although it was geared more for selling packaged bakery goods by the dozen or so instead of having individual items for sale. But I did get to try one of the region’s famous fry pies, which are similar to what I would call a turnover: fruit filling wrapped in pie crust dough. In any case, it was good and I resisted the urge for a second one. While I was there, other riders such as Paul and Connie as well as Andy and Christine came in. The longer, 45-mile route took a loop through Millersburg that looked interesting at the cost of a couple of “significant” climbs, but bypassed this stop.
Approaching the Berlin area, the route went from the state highway onto quieter county roads. But to get to our hotel from our direction, we had to go past it on the west and then loop around to come in from the north. This included our first rerouting due to roadwork. Joe had reloaded the Garmins that morning, so all we had to do was follow the directions. This also led to the steepest grade that I encountered during the week, as a low-lying county road ramped up steeply for a junction with a raised-up state highway. It was short but very steep, and the last grade rating that I recall seeing on my Garmin before giving up and walking the last 50 feet was 12.5%.
Regardless of my bonking on that hill, I felt a real sense of accomplishment when I pulled in a few miles later at the Berlin Grande Hotel, which is the newest and finest hotel in the area. It was two or three hours before the hotel’s official check-in time, but I was fortunate to be one of the few who got into their room right away. Since I had not eaten anything other than rest-stop snacks and a fry pie, after unpacking and showering I headed right out (on foot!) to explore the town and find a restaurant. This was very easy to do since Berlin is the tourist center of Amish country and is where people stay when they come to the area to experience the Amish culture while shopping for antiques, furniture, and the delectable baked goods. I ate at a popular diner-type place with Amish women (i.e., with bonnets) working in the kitchen and young Mennonite women (i.e., not wearing bonnets) waiting tables. A real slice of Holmes County life.
Back at the hotel in mid-afternoon, the day’s excitement was not yet over. The promised thunderstorms were definitely approaching from the west and I enjoyed sitting on the balcony of my 4th-floor room while watching the approaching cloud bank.When the rains finally arrived, I had to retreat into the room as things were getting wet in a hurry. This was followed a few minutes later by the warning sirens going off, followed in turn by a hotel employee knocking on doors and requesting everyone to gather in the lobby. So we all had an impromptu meeting while waiting just a few minutes for the all-clear to be declared.
BCR was buying dinner that evening, which was at a restaurant next door to the hotel. We were able to order off the menu or go for the buffet, and I then topped it off with a great slice of pie — a local specialty of course.