So, this weekend I found myself in “Amish Country” – Holmes County, Ohio, for a meeting. From the meeting place to the house where I was staying is about seven miles, so I figured I would go ahead and run “home” on Friday. The only problem is… hills… they are huge, and steep! Over the last six years I’ve become a bona-fide flatlander. There are a few very small hills around where I live, but seeing how roads work, they aren’t really hills so much as little vague ups and downs in otherwise boring flatness.
Well, that wasn’t the only problem. There are lots of horse and buggies around there; I do mean LOTS of them. I guess my first clue was the horse and buggy parking shelter at Wal-Mart. Did I mention it was after dark when I did this?
Ok, so here’s the basic scenario… Huge hills, curvy roads, NO shoulder (except for an occasional “buggy lane” on the steepest sections), ruts from the steel buggy wheels and horse poo everywhere. In the dark. NO moon, overcast, streetlights are non-existent. REALLY dark, ok?
I’m game, I love a challenge!
I started running from a little teeny, one stop sign town. Thankfully I had my headlamp with me, otherwise it would’ve been game over before I got a quarter mile down the road. First, every time a vehicle came by I had to step off the road into the grass. Second, every other vehicle had their hi-beams on and about blinded me. The headlamp gave me just enough light that I was less likely to trip and fall on my face in front of a motorhome or semi.
I quickly got into a groove though and the hills were actually feeling good. The downhill parts were super-fast (by my standards) and the uphill parts gave my calves a nice stretch, I just ran them a bit slower than normal to conserve energy. All was good except my nose was running faster than I was (from allergies) and I couldn’t stop sneezing.
I clicked off two miles without incident, except a couple moments of panic when a car would crest a hill, momentarily blind me, and swerve wildly trying not to hit me.
Then two roads merged and all of a sudden it was like a horse and buggy super-highway!
The automobiles kind of thinned out on this portion of road, but the buggies were out in force. Oh, and the hills got insanely big. Those horses are tough, that’s all I can say about that. Intimidating too. When you see one of those sweaty things thundering down a big hill at you in the dark, dragging along a banging, clattering buggy, you’ll understand. They look and sound like snorting devil-beasts.
I never in my life expected that I would be trying to sort out Car/Buggy/Bicycle/Runner etiquette on a dark country road but that’s exactly what I had to do, and that’s where things got rather interesting for me…
There was a lull in traffic and I heard some voices on the road somewhere in front of me on an uphill. Eventually, I caught up with them and passed an Amish woman with a couple of her children pushing bicycles up the hill. I think I scared them as bad as the horses scared me.
I started down the hill before they did, and then I started wondering what I was supposed to do when they overtook me. I didn’t have to come up with an answer because they flew down the hill past me, the mother’s skirt making an amusing snapping sound in the wind. I caught them again near the top of the next uphill and was JUST passing them when a buggy crested the hill and was bearing down on us. I nearly tripped over the front wheel of the boy’s bike in my haste to get off the road. At that moment, a car also crested the hill and was pulling wide to miss the buggy.
All I could think was, “The car hits the buggy, the buggy smashes the bikes, they all smashes me.” I seriously think the buggy wheels missed the boy’s bicycle by a just a couple inches.
It was over in a blink and I stood there in the grass with my headlamp beam filled with dust and grassy bits of debris. The Amish family kept on pushing the bikes up the hill as if nothing had happened. I caught up with them and apologized for almost getting us run over.
The mother laughed and said, “Don’t worry, the horses are smart, they will never hit you.” After a short sneezing fit, I asked, “What about the cars?”. I could see the change of expression in an instant in the beam of my light “The cars we DO worry about… the cars are stupid, and so are many of the drivers! (Apparently buggies get smashed regularly!)
I tried to say something along the lines of “I understand”, but all that I got out was, “I un-ATCHOO!”
The boy looked from me to his mother and smiled knowingly as he said… and I only THINK this is close to what he said…”Vebin gilesmicht gootim”.
I must have been looking as lost as I felt, so she offered a translation as they mounted their bikes at the top of the hill to ride away, “He says it must be the horse dung in the air that makes you sneeze, you will get used to it, goodnight”.
So… In what was likely the most frightening run of my short career, I managed to avoid death by horse and buggy, but will probably die of inhaling pulverized horse manure. How poetic.