It takes us two days to pootle over to the Indiana State Fairgrounds, which includes another overnight stop at the Camping World in Indianapolis where we previously stayed, putting us within a stone’s throw on the fairgrounds for the next day.
The ride north took us through winery country (great for booze tours), past a real, active drive-in movie theatre (I didn’t know these still existed), through Paoli ski area (I like to see ski runs with no snow on them) and randomly past an elephant spa located in the middle of no-where (where you can apparently pay to watch an elephant have a spa – I kid you not).
The one and only state fair I’ve ever been to was four years ago as Loops and I were hiking through Vermont. I remember I was having a pretty hard time of it as I had just realised that the timing of our hiking meant we weren’t going to complete the whole trail, so I was bummed out to say the least. It just so happened that evening that I met two amiable chaps in a hotel lift and they told me about the state fair happening the next day, and invited me to come along and watch one of their son’s in the tractor pulling race. We had a marvellous and uplifting time; I was bowled over by the scale of the fair itself and the range of events, activities and food stuffs.
So obviously I was in a state of excitement and anticipation to see what Indiana (my newly adopted state) had to offer. I studied the program and duly noted the animal events I wanted to attend in the morning and the live vet surgery they were doing in the afternoon. It was probably this eagerness that was the cause for my extreme anxiety, which quickly turned to frustration and then softly boiling rage, when we found ourselves not leaving our parking spot in the morning until 10.30am, then Loops insisting we stop for fuel (another 45 minute delay) followed by having to check into the state fair campground (a half hour drive followed by another 45 minutes of wandering the site after Loops declined several of the pitches to find one he liked), then he insisted on eating lunch before we left for the fair.
It was 1.30pm before we actually entered the fairgrounds by which time I was like a ticking time bomb about to explode – not the way I wanted to spend my day. But me being me, I just couldn’t seem to let go of the annoyance to find the happy, so I just plonked myself on a bench for a while and insisted Loops could just wander the fair alone. And there I sat in my unhappy state, simmering gently, when these two folks happened to come along…
I have no idea who they were, but it turns out I had sat on a bench in front of the local music stage, where old time musicians where coming up and doing their bluegrass strumming and singing. These two started in on some jolly tunes about Indiana, the countryside and farming, and people in the audience started head bobbing and toe tapping and pretty soon, so was I. As the music sank in it lifted my spirits and gave the grump a good stomping on and pretty soon I was ready to enjoy the fun of the fair.
I strolled off to look for Loops, who hadn’t gone far at all, he took my hand and we looked around the Pioneer Village together checking out the wood and beeswax crafts on offer, and if we actually had the space in the bus for it, I would have bought a whole new beautiful handmade dining room set; with lots of polished wooden bowls that of course I’d have no actual need or use for, but they were all so stunning to look at.
As we exited the barn, we came across The Pig. This pig….
Yes, it’s a great big pig on wheels, who follows people about in a bit of a creepy, intimidating and yet hilarious manner, asking them in a very low tenor farmery voice, ‘Aww, pet the pig’. This provided a good half hours’ worth of entertainment as it crept up on people, or stood very still and quiet as people approached it for a photo when it would suddenly ask to be petted. Most people would then be freaked out and stumble away, at which point the pig would come to life and start to follow them, begging to be petted. Cue faster running and maybe a scream or two while those of us loitering around burst into laughter.
As we continued on our way we popped in and out of the buildings hosting different exhibitions or demonstrations – mostly to do with farming. I looked at displays explaining the farming industry in Indiana, the numbers of people involved, the crops grown, how GM crops are produced and a talk by a family of farmers who had been farming the same land for continuously for 149 years!
I strolled through a herd of bison, and tried wrestling with one to show it who was boss…
We visited the Department of Natural Resources building and learned about invasive species that are dangerous to the environment and the species of fish that can be found in the lakes state wide, including a fascinating video about how they farm fish, breeding Walleye (from mixing milked egg and sperm, to developing embryos and then as they hatch into fry) to release into lakes to be fished for sport.
Loops felt it was important that I go and meet a police officer who was at the community policing stand to try and assure me that they weren’t scary just because they carry guns, but it didn’t really convince me to be honest; he looked pretty intimidating but I did find his hat rather interesting with the weird strap that holds it to his head which I asked about. Frankly I think he just thought I was a little bit special.
I had the opportunity to see the best of the best when it came to growing massive fruits and vegetables and there was even a section for people growing bonsai trees, which I didn’t really understand, but found out they are simply miniature trees; maintained in size by keeping them in small containers, limiting their growth. Up close, they are absolute perfect copies of the larger tree, scaled down drastically; making me feel rather like I was a giant wandering through a tiny forest or that I was in the presence of magic that had somehow shrunk them, it left me with a wildly surreal sensation. I’m now considering one for the RV.
I was much taken with the community of Indiana Beekeepers on site and had a bit of a chat with them to find out some of the differences between the methods in the US vs. UK and even more wonderful, there was a bees poster competition that kids entered and all of their posters were on display with prize ribbons for the winners – I was shocked at how many children took part and felt that boded well for the future of beekeeping in Indiana.
After so much wandering we felt our feet needed a rest and spent time watching Fred the Bread Guy teach us how to make a simple loaf, and then pass around samples with cheese afterwards for taste testing – that’s the sort of demonstration that I enjoy! Following on with the cheese theme, we turned the corner and there was the Cheese Lady, famous for her sculptures of cheese. That’s right, she carves huge 1400lb sculptures out of Indiana dairy goodness (making me feel at odds with myself, on one hand it’s really creative and a work of art, on the other hand, she wasting some good eating cheese there…)
Loops and I are starting to flag now, our energy levels need a bit of a boost, so we decide on a food stop after a quick detour through the art exhibition building, which contains entries for judging from some very random categories. There are the obvious arts and crafts – knitting, woodwork, painting and sculpture – but you can also enter things such as antiques for instance, to try and gain a prize, but that’s a bit unfair I think because it’s not like the person made the antique unlike say, a painter or photographer who enters their work – you get what I mean?
Anyway, with Loops’ stomach rumbling we head for some proper fair food – something fried! We follow the sweet smells and our noses lead us to a food truck offering funnel cake. I’ve never seen or tried a funnel cake but now I have, here’s my description and opinion of it – it’s like a flattened donut in a spaghetti format, ours came dusted with powdered sugar but you can also buy them with fruit and chocolate and other toppings on them. It was hot and tasty, but as with everything food related in America, it was way too much, half a dozen bites and I’m done, feeling like I’ve gained half a stone.
Time to walk off the fat and we continue further round the fairgrounds, bypassing all of the fair rides like the spinning top, the pirate ship and the death drop, all of which would ensure my funnel cake made a hasty, non-welcome re-appearance.
Instead I thought we should try and see some animals on display, but sadly as we walked through the barns, there were only a scattering on offer to view as all of the competitions and handling had taken part in the morning, which we obviously missed. However we said hello to a couple cows, goats and, my new favourite, mules! Now in case you were not aware, as I wasn’t, a mule isn’t simply another way to refer to a donkey; a mule is actually a cross between a male donkey and a female horse. This gives them a cross of characteristics and a unique look – the ones we viewed seemed to have come out with long donkey ears, the short cropped coat of a horse and the trademark cross marks across their shoulders and back. Because they are technically a genetic cross and have an odd number of chromosomes, mules are actually unable to be bred themselves – each one is unique and cannot pass on its genes. Aesthetically, I enjoyed them, and as I’m no equine expert, I can’t say more than that really. Oh, and we also said hello to some miniature Mediterranean donkey’s – which were far friendlier than the ones I had to work with at college (as I’m sure my colleagues would back me up on, nasty little blighters they were – the donkeys, not my colleagues…).
And with that, we had pretty much tuckered ourselves out with 6 hours of walking and watching. The last order of the day was to ride the tractor shuttle which basically did a full loop around the grounds, so we got to view everything briefly all over again as it all passed by, while resting our worn out dogs (that’s American lingo for feet apparently).
Back at the bus we lean over the maps and decide on our shortest and easiest route back into Michigan. Loops has received word that the new muffler that he ordered has arrived and he and Ron are going to fit it when we get back to St. Joseph, no more obnoxious Jake break – finally! (Feel free to check out our hideous brake in the video – crank up the sound to full and it kicks in at about 15 seconds)
And well, it seems to use the faster route back seems to happen to pass through…Shipshe! Hurrah for more cheese and biking with the Amish!