The Simple Life

Day 151 • July 30, 2012 •  York to Ephrata, PA •  47 miles

Leaving York this morning we rode a little more rail trail before picking up Route 462 across the Susquehanna River and through Columbia and Lancaster.  Yesterday on the trail I noticed that the closer we got to York, the more intact the abandoned rail we were paralleling.  Today we were startled to find ourselves facing a real live diesel locomotive bearing down on us.  At some point the line had ceased to be abandoned and I hadn’t noticed that the warning signs where the trail crosses the track had become more emphatic.  Words like “real, live, moving locomotive!” might have helped.

Our destination today was a campground that claimed an opportunity to experience the Amish and Mennonite culture prevalent here, but by the end of the day we’d experienced so much Mennonite hospitality that we had no need for the campground.  With only about three miles to go we stopped by a roadside fruit stand hoping to get some peaches.  We did and they were some of the best I’ve ever eaten.  With peach juice dripping from our faces, we chatted with the proprietors as a barn-raising was in full swing off in the distance.  Four or five strapping lads crawling all about attaching rafters and such.  Some more people wandered up, all Mennonite and very interested in our trikes and adventures.  Pretty soon the barn-raising had stopped and the men were now in the growing crowd around Zoe and I. Eventually it started getting dark and we still had to find our campground so I began the process of leaving.  Suspecting this might not be well received, I sheepishly asked the group if they would mind if I took a picture?  For our blog?  What was once a vibrant conversation turned to dead silence.  You could hear a pin drop.  Well, I probably offended everyone within earshot, but on the flip side we’d be on our way quickly.

At this point a man stepped up and asked if we’d like a bed for the night.  Was this a trick question?  Riding in the dark to find an overpriced piece of grass to pitch our tent vs. staying in a bed right here for free.  I asked him to repeat himself to make sure I’d heard it right.  I had and we quickly accepted.  He looked at me and ran his hand along his face, suggesting maybe I could use some cleaning up as well.  Fair enough, I was looking a little scruffy.  John was on his bike so he led us the short distance to his house.  Along the way he turned to me with a smile and said, “you know, it’s not that they didn’t want their picture taken, they probably just don’t know what a blog is.”  I don’t know—John seemed to know what a blog was and Janet, the woman who served us the peaches, seemed pretty aware of such things when met her again the next day.  But I was relieved that the reaction was probably more out of politeness than any real offense. 

John is an instigator.  In the short time he was in the crowd at the fruit stand, he asked us a barrage of questions, some fairly personal, making our little interview back in Kentucky look amateur by comparison.  He’s from a different Mennonite church than the family that ran the fruit stand.  As we were leaving with John, a member of that family smiled as she reassured us, “Don’t worry, we love John.  Except when we want to kill him.”   I’m paraphrasing here, the comment might not have been that dark, but that was the gist.

At the house John broke the news to his wife Ellen that they had guests for the night.  I’d think twice about pulling this on my wife but Ellen seemed used to it.  I’m guessing there’s never a dull moment with John.  This set off a flurry of activity including getting us set up for showers, preparing us dinner as well as a lunch for tomorrow, and booting one of their daughters out of her room so we could stay in it.  Meanwhile John hailed John Jr., who lives next door, to come over and check out the trike.  John Jr. took me up on my offer to give it a test ride, politely riding it around the driveway, but I could tell he wanted to do more.  Later in the evening I suggested he take it out for a real spin.  Still later I learned from one of his sisters that he’d been riding it up and down the hills on Hahnstown road at night, passing cars and generally running amok.  John Jr. is clearly not a timid guy and is quite adept mechanically—I was impressed and pleased that he survived unscathed on his second test ride of my wacky recumbent trike.

The family had already eaten so they sat and talked with Zoe and I as we ate some turkey sandwiches, vegetable stew, and watermelon.  I got a lot of grief about the amount of food I was eating, with Zoe and John leading the charge.  I offer no apology as Ellen’s food, particularly the homemade stew, was excellent and I was suddenly quite hungry.  After dinner, John hailed some neighbors who were natives of Ghana, West Africa.  Wow, I didn’t expect that.  I could tell these guys had John pegged—they were dishing out the barbs as fast as he was.  As the evening progressed I realized that John had a real passion for adventure travel and foreign cultures.  At one point he called his friend Rinker Buck on the landline and then handed the handset over to me.  Rinker is an adventurer who is working on a book that chronicles his recent traversal of the Oregon Trail by covered wagon.  John’s family helped him with some of the logistics, including horses.  We talked for some time about our various adventures, including Rinker’s transcontinental crossing by Piper Cub back when he was 15.  This is chronicled in his book “Flight of Passage: A Memoir.”

The more I watched John, the more I realized that communication—particularly the telephone—was part of what made him tick.  The family telephone seemed to be his communication hub.  This was interesting in that depending on what Mennonite church you belong to, technology like a conventional telephone may or may not be accepted.  I think the family running the fruit stand had neither telephones nor electricity.  John’s church allowed electricity and telephones, but not cell phones.  It’s not so much that Mennonites shun technology– John also has a tractor even though he prefers horse and plow. Rather it seems to me they use appropriate technology when necessary to achieve their goals rather than letting it dictate the goals.  As a “technology guy” I might find it difficult to live this way, but I think they have some things figured out.

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