Monday, November 25, 2013

Pennsylvania Amish and Not-Stealthy-Enough Camping

Riding from Kennett Square, PA, to Lancaster, PA and beyond towards York, I was mostly in the middle of several interconnected Amish communities.  It was really a treat.  At first I was noticing lots of horses around, and healthy looking crop fields.  Then there was the distinctive laundry on clotheslines that seems to mark the homes like Tibetan prayer flags.  As soon as I first saw a yellow "horse carriage" traffic sign, I found myself catching up to a black coach pulled by a single horse.  We were going downhill, but as soon as we started going uphill, the horse had much more power than I did!  So I played this game on many roads, passing and being passed by one- or two-horse carriages, depending on the hill.  It got me brainstorming about a horse/wagon/bicycle caravan.  That's gonna be a fun adventure someday!

One small herd (most of the livestock herds were relatively small) of cows was grazing on the most luscious field of thick dark deep grass you could possibly imagine.  A few separate homes and barns were under construction.  I passed at least 3 schoolyards, or community buildings where there were young kids out playing - running, laughing, screaming.  Seemed pretty swell, and I got a lot of friendly waves and smiles.  One particularly kind smile from a red-bearded horse driver.  I was also happy to see that on any given road, there seemed to be many trades represented - leatherworker here, blacksmith in the next home, a wood mill in the next ....

When I got to Lancaster, I stopped in a swell new local foods store and cafe.  I forget the name now ... but i guess it's an up-and-coming town.  Took off quickly, because my destination was a County Park near York, PA, and I wanted to set up before it was too dark.  I got there shortly after sunset, and found that there were houses much closer than I would prefer to camp near.  To go further into the park was a steep steep hike, plus it was the beginning of hunting season.  So i stuck near the edge, maybe 50 yards from the road, and about as far from neighboring houses to either side.  Only behind me up the hill was dark woods.  Bright moon was coming out.

By the time my tent was pitched, the streetlights were on across the street, and it started to get chilly.  I hopped into my tent, head sticking out the top as I sat inside.  I made a phone call, but within a few minutes, I think I saw a flashlight shining at my tent!  I immediately stopped talking and got still.  Not much to be done except sit and keep quiet ....  A few minutes later, as I was lying still, I heard some very loud footsteps coming through the leaves just uphill from me, where I couldn't see through the wall of my tent.  The footsteps, which seemed like a person very uninterested in secrecy, stopped just behind my tent, about 10 feet away.  That's the moment that the heart starts beating really fast!  I knew for sure I was seen.  The footsteps started and stopped again right away.  Then, after a pause, ran off away and up the hill!

Now I was going to sleep with my glasses on and flashlight attached to me.  When the footsteps returned, with no flashlight, I was able to quietly sit up and stick my head out the screen roof.  The footsteps advanced, and got sufficiently close for me to go into defense mode - so I mustered the gruffest "hey!" I could manage.  And instant before I even made a sound, the footsteps started off up the hill.  This time I could make out a figure in the darkness, that looked about twice the size of a black house cat.  Very clumsy house cat.  That's more relieving than a person, really, though I had no idea what it could have been ....  The best guess the next day (Tim's guess) was a small black bear, which would have those loud heavy padded footsteps.

So between a person shining a flashlight at me, and a creature that could have been the Blue Devil for all I knew, I was a little on alert.  Some deer passing through had a familiar sound, but then a fellow walking his dog spent a long time looking my way.  It didn't seem that the park was supposed to be open after dark, so I stayed alert but dozing until probably midnight!  I spent the time transforming my fearful worried thoughts ("someone's going to sneak up and shine a light in my face and make me leave," or "someone's going to walk by and lift my bike," or "some animal's going to rip through my tent and eat my toes" ...) into rational easy thoughts ("Even if that person saw me, they probably don't care much that I'm here," or "those animals and people are more afraid of me, hidden in a tent, than I am of them" or "everything's fine, just relax and sleep").  Worked out fine.

Rain/snow was in the forecast, but it held off until morning.  And nobody bothered me, so it was a fine night all in all.  I got up well before light, so I could make it to York before the precipitation.  I found a nice coffee shop, got a mocha, and sat to write a blog entry before my cousin Tim came to meet me at 9am!  We were gonna do some good wholesome family riding for the next few days!  It began snowing just as I arrived, and then it let up before we got riding.  That's the next entry, though, I get ahead of myself ....  Cheers, -travis in Asheville NC

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