I’m guessing because the Amish do so much physical labour – farming, manual cleaning, riding bicycles, churning butter, that sort of thing – they are more than able to cope with such starch laden fare as is put before us at the Essenhaus, without becoming immensely overweight.
Yes, I have discovered a new delight of the Amish – their food. Just west of Shipshewana, in the town of Middlebury, is Das Dutchman Essenhaus; a restaurant featuring Amish style family dining, which has had a packed car park each time we’ve passed by it, on our way in and out of Shipshe.
This time, given its perfect timing for dinner, we pull in and treat ourselves to the following family meal – fried chicken, broiled beef, cooked ham, noodles, stuffing, sweetcorn, mash potatoes and gravy, and for dessert, chocolate peanut butter and banana pie.
If I was eating this kind of food every day, I weigh as much as an elephant, Amish workload or not.
So yes, we spent another two nights in our regular parking spot in Shipshe, just behind Yoders market, where I finally felt overrun by the creativity and simple culture of the area and decided I wanted to learn how to crochet, so that’s what I did.
I found a helpful British lady on Youtube called Bella Coco who crochets both left and right handed. She makes very clear instructional videos, so I followed exactly what she did and voila – I made a Granny Square! If you don’t know what that is, it looks like this…
Because it’s the unwritten rule in life that mum’s must be given your handmade creative gifts (remember all those cards and keychains you made at school?), I promptly packaged my wares and posted them off to my mum in time for her birthday – Happy Birthday Mum!
I’m sure she probably wondered what on earth to do with a random small square of crochet, so I told her it was a coaster for her drinks, cause that’s really all it could possibly be used for.
I was pleasantly surprised by my foray into the world of yarn and needle, mostly because I’ve spent the past three years working on a cross stitch project of a photo I took on the AT and still haven’t progressed past the point of completing the skyline; whereas I sat down for one evening and managed to crochet something in about 3 hours that was actually complete – now that’s a sense of satisfaction! (My most recent ones I’ve completed in just under an hour – it gets easier once you have a vague idea of what you’re doing – and once I make about 100 of them, I will be able to stich them together and make a blanket!).
Anyway, back to Shipshe.
The following day I decided on a solo bike ride on the Pumpkinvine Trail that I had enjoyed so very much, and it didn’t disappoint the second time in the least – I saw a foal that was only a day or two old tottering around a paddock and looking pleased with itself, even trying a staggering trot which was very comical. I made another stop at the Cheese Factory to stock up on more snacks (but no more cheese – we still have a huge block in the fridge) and on the way back to the bus noticed a farm for sale – an Amish farm with a large pure white house complete with wrap around porch, a workshop and a barn for horses on about a ¼ acre of land. It took all my will power to not go knock on the door and ask how much they wanted for it. As per usual, I got a much exaggerated roll of the eyes from Loops when I told him about it…but I’ll keep trying.
Feeling refreshed and relaxed from our short stop in the country, it was time for us to cross the border once again and enter Michigan, returning to St Joseph for a couple of days with Ron and Dorinda.
This was once again a social couple of days – the first day taken up by Loops, Ron and Aaron (another Bluebirder with an old style 1986 bus – and yes I got a tour and it was a total 80’s decoration overload –wicked) who worked together to take out Belle’s straight pipe exhaust, the creator of much noise pollution, and to add a muffler to make her far, far quieter.
Ron and Dorinda as always were gracious hosts, full of banter and interesting conversations, but this trip they also had the marvellous idea to introduce us to something called the Big Boy milkshake – this is basically a delicious proper milkshake made of ice cream, but it comes served in a normal cup and then you also get the metal container it is made in with the leftovers, which is pretty much another whole milkshake. And then to top it off, you get the worlds widest straw to drink it through, it has the same width as about 5 normal straws wrapped together, which enhances the experience even more.
And now it’s time to head off into the unknown – leaving St Joe to voyage into the heart of Michigan. This is the first time where we will actually be traveling under our own steam since we started – with no plans, deadlines, people to meet or places we need to be. It’s exciting stuff! I feel like I’m on the Starship Enterprise – boldly going where no-one has gone before! (Well, except the entire population of northern Michigan and the Upper Peninsula).
However, with the excitement comes a tinge of bewilderment – how does one actually go about planning where to go and what to do in the face of such a vast open landscape? How do we choose areas worthy of our attention and shun those which we think might not offer up something ‘special’, but knowing full well we could be missing out if we get it wrong?
Well, this is where I step in.
While Loops I’m sure would be happy just to pull up his AllStays app – one of the handy applications on his phone which points out places we can camp (both free and paid) and just choose one in a northerly direction, I like to be a little better planned than that. I like to have a carefully prearranged agenda of places to see and things to do, especially as they relate to the state or region we are in.
So, I make a start by pooling our collective knowledge of the American States. After we’ve done that for about 10 seconds and we’ve both come up with nothing (I have far more of a defence here than Loops by the way), I then turn to the internet. I go with a general ‘Best of….’ search to see what the good people of this land feel their stand out features are. Sometimes a famous city will pop up or maybe something particularly historical in the area, a prominent natural feature or perhaps the region has an industry it is well known for.
Once I’ve narrowed down our selection to one or two county/city/town areas, I’ll then do a search for ‘Things to do in….’ which 9 times out of 10 leads me to Trip Advisor; where people handily review what they feel the top activities to try out are with links to specific websites with location, pricings etc. for further planning.
Once I’ve made my decision on what I think gives us a varied itinerary, then it’s over to Loops to work his magic and find us some places to stay along our route. Sounds simple, right? It actually takes HOURS of searching.
So, let’s see what my planning has in store for us….
Our first stop is Holland. And no, not Holland as in The Netherlands – but they do have windmills and tulips blooming in the spring as I discover during my research, so it’s a bit like it’s doppelganger. We’ve chosen to stay in yet another Elks car park (thank you Elks) while the lodge is closed, so the car park is both empty and quiet.
Loops is feeling a little worn out today (I guess from working on the bus the past few days), so I decide to strike out on my own while he takes a nap (or maybe he actually parties when I’m gone, how would I know?).
I get the Blue Bandit prepared, load up with water and snacks, map at the ready (I like to hand draw my own maps on these types of adventure) and set off through the local neighbourhood, my sights set on getting to the Holland State Park, 8 miles away.
As always the houses and their residents provide a great sightseeing tour all of their own, and today being the weekend, everyone is out mowing their lawn or washing their cars or doing something very Sunday afternoon-ish. I can smell the sweet fresh cut grass which always makes me feel happy and relaxed, and I wave lazily to a couple people as I cycle by.
It’s not long before I find myself in a picturesque down town area with a cobbled pavement to walk on and no cycling signs, so I jump off and push the Bandit through the streets before jumping back on as I reach the outskirts of town.
I reach the bridge that straddles Lake Macatawa and from here I can see the town windmill in the distance. I need to cross the road and notice an underpass underneath the bridge. As I cycle down towards it I stop and take note that the town planner was probably fired immediately after it was built, given the fact the underpass is lower than the lake level and has actually flooded, making it useless.
I pass through the industrial part of town, deadly quiet on a Sunday, and then things begin to turn more rural. The Bandit and I fly past an empty dog park, a skate park with kids practicing their tricks, a busy ice cream parlour and putt-putt golf course and a small local airport where I stop to watch two skydivers leap from a plane and descend to earth – listening to their screams as they fall turning to laughter as they float.
I’m beginning to puff a little as I rumble over a series of railway crossings (at least five of them – how many railway lines does one small town need?), before emerging at a large crowded marina and a line of traffic about ¼ mile long. It turns out this is actually the line to get into the state park, not that it makes a difference to me as I zip past all of the cars idling in the sun, which has begun to become rather hot now.
As I cruise into the park I am hit by the sudden sea of humanity, there are people EVERYWHERE. Families and friends, BBQ’s smoking, kids running around in their bathing suits carrying blow up floats three times bigger than themselves. Bright t-shirts, chairs, umbrellas and hats; a wash of every shade of colour imaginable. Chattering, yelling and laughter of people; chugging boats, rolling waves, cars ticking over. It’s a complete assault on the senses, but the overall mood is of happiness and joy.
I find myself in a state park on the edge of Lake Michigan, a sandy beach with a canal emptying into it, where boaters are sailing to and fro the lake. I spot a bench to plonk myself on and spend the next 45 minutes munching on trail mix, gulping down water and gentling sizzling in the sun. There are people from all walks of life here; I notice an elderly man sitting like me one bench over, a group of young Asian lads resting under a tree chatting merrily and what looks to be a youth leader of some kind marching over the sand with a straggle of teenagers following behind in a pied piper fashion. I do worry a little when I see a mother with a very young baby (like maybe a month or so old) heading back to her car, the baby flushed bright red from the sun.
Soon, the heat is becoming all too much for me, and I still have to re-cycle another 8 miles back to Belle and Loops, so I pony up. Before I peddle off, I stop by an information board and learn the following facts about Lake Michigan – the lake is 307 miles long north to south and 118 miles wide east to west, the world’s largest assemblage of freshwater dunes line the shores of the lake, the lake forms a natural cul-de-sac and it takes 100 years for the full volume water to cycle in and out and finally, Lake Michigan is the 6th largest lake in the world – there, consider yourself informed.
Upon my return to the bus I find that Loops hasn’t been partying at all, in fact he’s been doing something mechanical that has required him to splash grease or oil onto his shorts, which he is now fussing over and decides to soak them in Oxyclean in the bathroom sink.
I decide I’ve had enough movement for today and crash on the couch, only to leap upright when a shout comes from the bathroom. I dash in to find Loops with the bathroom sink doors open and a veritable waterfall pouring into the cupboard and out onto the floor. We empty out the contents of the cupboard and sop up the wet mess to then discover the problem.
It appears that the overflow hole on the sink is not actually attached to anything, meaning that when the sink is filled and say, shorts are then added to cause water to drain into the overflow, it simply pours into the cupboard below rather than into a pipe and into the waste tank. Well, wasn’t that an excellent engineering oversight by someone.
Just another something to fix and yet another normal day on the road!