As we walk at our slow 3-4 miles per hour, the surroundings continue to change slowly and steadily. Walking out of Columbus, the vibrating inner city guts gave way to sullen, inhospitable concrete sprawl. The sidewalks slowly cracked under our feet, until they abruptly disappeared. About one day out of the city, we picked up the Ohio to Erie bike trail, which runs from Cincinnati all the way to Cleveland.
Outside of London, OH we met two kind gentlemen working on the trail. Gene and Jerry are both avid bikers, and they work hard to maintain and improve the trail for the public. They said that they had never met anyone hiking on the bike path, and gave us advice on where to camp as we moved west.
The landscape flattened out quite suddenly as we left the Columbus area. While it is a comfort and accomplishment to put the Appalachian foothills behind us, we now have to accept that very soon, we will be walking through the flattest, corniest regions of the country. Just as we walked through the blooming of spring, we are going to walk through growing season as the crops grow from fields of tiny sprouts to endless expanses of towering corn and bushy soybeans. Hooray, monoculture!
Out on a country road the next day, a nice man named Marvin pulled over to talk to us. We had a spirited conversation, but cut it short to clear the road for other traffic. We parted ways and moved west toward Yellow Springs. Just a few miles further, Marvin found us and brought us lunch. The effort he went through to give us some nourishment was absolutely touching.
Finally, we pushed into Yellow Springs. It was a bit out of our way, but many people told us it was worth stopping through. It is a small college town that has prided itself on resisting sprawl and development. We walked down the main drag, instantly feeling at home.
Thanks to the magic of couchsurfing.org, we found an awesome host for our stay in Yellow Springs. Lisa and Donn live just a few blocks from the main drag, and they welcomed us into their home. Couchsurfers all seem to really love travelling, and we shared stories of our trips abroad. We had scheduled a therapy visit the next day, so we caught up on laundry and showers while we could.
We headed over to Friends Care Community to spread some love. We met the activities coordinator, Todd, in the common room. He had changed his travel schedule to be able to meet us, and introduce us to the residents. Friends Care has had resident dogs and pet therapy programs for years. Just this February, their resident dog, Buddy, passed away and the residents were overjoyed to have some new faces visit.
After Todd left, an “off-duty” pet therapy volunteer named Deborah met us, and took us around to visit residents in their rooms acting as an ambassador of sorts. We met an amazing man named Robert “Bob The Beat” T., who joined our little caravan. Robert is a drummer and an artist, and used to play drums for the likes of Muddy Waters. His positivity and smile were infectious, and he was obviously well-liked by the other residents.
Friends Care is a really wonderful facility and community, and we were honored to meet the people who live and work there. With our hearts full, we wandered back out to soak up Yellow Springs. It’s a hip little town with tons of local businesses and eateries. Our only complaint was that it was not very dog-friendly – they couldn’t join us on restaurant patios or even in the head shop. Yellow Springs, that’s kind of a deal-breaker.
The redemption of Yellow Springs came served with our breakfast the next day. I asked Lisa for a recommendation, and she told me to go to Nora’s place. She drew me a little map, told me how to get there, and explained that it’s not really a restaurant – rather, it’s someone’s house where they cook and people come to eat and pay if they feel like it. Needless to say, we were intrigued.
Eating at Nora’s place was the single most inspiring breakfast experience of my life. We walked in and were greeted by an amazing spread of homemade casseroles, pastries, yogurt, and a menu of “if you don’t see it, ask and we will make it.”
Nora and Mark make everything from scratch, and offer it free of charge to all comers. There is a very patriotic and socially conscious undertone to the experience. Nora explained that people from all walks of life – people who wouldn’t otherwise cross paths – meet there and form lasting connections that spread out into the community. “People are tired of the government telling them what they can and can’t eat, or where they can or can’t eat it. Every time they come here, they are voting for what they want.”
Over coffee and apple pie, we communed with Yellow Springs residents. A man named Steve said that a neighbor had even reported Norah to the authorities, on the grounds that her breakfast operation was hurting local (overpriced) restaurant businesses. But since she isn’t really running a business, there isn’t a lot to regulate. What is more innocent and wholesome than cooking food for guests in your own home?
We left Nora’s place feeling energized, nourished, and totally inspired. I felt the powerful spirit of the American community in that kitchen, and met some truly amazing people. Thanks again to Lisa and Donn for being such wonderful hosts and introducing us to their vibrant community.