Thursday, August 27, 2015

2 Days+2 Bike Rides=4 Rivers

Loveland, OH and Pittsburgh, PA
August 24-25
We slip a Monday morning ride on the Loveland Bike Trail into our family visit to Cincinnati.  This is the location of our first bike ride together, and the location of our first bike club ride--our introduction to riding activities that we have continued to enjoy immensely over many years.    

The Loveland Bike Trail is built on the old rail bed of the Little Miami Railroad, running beside the scenic Little Miami River.  Most of our ride is through verdant woodlands, beneath a shady green canopy of trees, with peeks at the river through the greenery. 

New since we last rode the trail fifteen years ago is a marker calling our attention to a trail-side home that was once an Underground Railroad stop--the Quaker couple who lived there sheltered and aided fleeing enslaved people.

As we approach the Peters Cartridge Company, a landmark that traces its history from an 1855 powder mill at this site to military ammunition production in this building for both of the World Wars, we expect to find another historic marker.  Instead we find bulldozers and other heavy equipment crawling all over the surrounding hillsides, and fences blocking access.  Oops, it is now an EPA Superfund site undergoing remediation for copper, lead and mercury left over from its long ammo manufacturing history, but they don’t have a marker up to tell us this.

When we rode the trail years ago, it stretched just 13 miles, and today it is part of a trail corridor that stretches over seventy miles, with multiple side trail options along the way.
As flatlanders, we love this proliferation of trails built on rail beds--if a locomotive pulling a long string of loaded cars behind it can handle the slope, we surely can.

Which brings us to our ride around Pittsburgh the next day.  

Amazingly, Pittsburgh is sort of on the way from Cincinnati to Rochester, and our travel week perfectly coincides with Pittsburgh’s weeklong Bike Fest celebration.  We make it to Pittsburgh just in time to check into our hotel, change into our biking togs and ride from our hotel through Downtown Pittsburgh rush hour traffic to the starting point of a free “Bridges in the Burgh” three hour tour. 

Our guide promises that 85% of the ride will be on dedicated bike paths, and it is.  Most of the bike paths are converted from abandoned rail lines.   

We bike along a portion of the Great Allegheny Passage rail trail that runs beside the Monongahela River, stopping to learn about bridges and Pittsburgh history along the way,
sculpture made from pieces of the Hot Metal Bridge
eventually crossing over the river to arrive at The Point--the confluence of three rivers (the Allegheny, Monongahela, and the Ohio) where Pittsburgh was born.  
The Point
Then we bike a bridge across the Allegheny to see more bridges crossing that river, ending up at a beautiful old Heinz plant that is now converted to loft apartments.  
Our guided tour ends here, but we take yet another bridge across the river to get back to downtown Pittsburgh, which is very bike friendly, with lots of streets with bike lanes. 

The one thing they can’t control is terrain, and there are some wicked steep hills in this town--including the one we have to climb to get back up to our hillside hotel!  All the more reason to love those rail trails!
 A few more pictures from our tour of Pittsburgh . . .
switch-back bike ramp up to a bridge

Wednesday, August 26, 2015

Hartman Rocks!

Hartman Rock Garden
Springfield, Ohio
August 25, 2015
Ben Hartman had been a skilled mold maker at the Springfield Machine Tool Company foundry for almost 20 years when the Great Depression hit the company hard, and Ben was laid off.  Just 48 years old, he could not sit idle, and he put his skills to work in his own backyard.  First he built a fish pond, then he set to work building structures and molding figures to inhabit them, with a patriotic and a religious fervor. 
For twelve years, he built intricate structures and tableaus--historic sites like the log cabin where Lincoln was born, Mount Vernon, the White House, Independence Hall and the Liberty Bell, Washington at Valley Forge, and the Oregon Trail--featuring many varieties of cacti and Native American figurines Ben designed and molded. 

The largest structure in the garden is a fourteen foot tall cathedral with many arched windows and little grottos holding many molded madonnas and other religious figurines.  A section named “God’s Gift to the World” depicts the life of Jesus from birth to crucifixion and resurrection.  Ben’s rock garden is a lasting testimony to his deep and abiding Christian faith.

Ben finally returned to his job at the foundry in 1939, but, sadly, he died just five years later of silicosis, an occupational lung disease.  His wife Mary did her best to maintain the garden for the next 53 years, calling it a “garden of love.”  When she died in 1997, the garden began to pass slowly away too.

We can thank the Kohler Foundation of Wisconsin--which has a particular interest in the preservation of significant American Folk Art sites--for purchasing and restoring this remarkable rock garden ten years after Mary died, as it was falling into disrepair.  And we can thank a newly formed group called Friends of the Hartman Rock Garden for maintaining it the way that Ben and his wife Mary did--neatly mowed and full of colorful flowers.  

Last, but not least, thanks to the Roadside America app for helping us find our way to out-of-the-way treasures along the way like this one.

A Weekend Filled with Family Fun

Cincinnati and Wyoming, OH
August 21-24

We catch up with our Cincinnati Glover family on Friday night, just in time to take the family to Graeters for ice cream, a great Cincinnati tradition that we try to uphold every time we are in town.  

On Saturday we meet daughter Jean and her husband Rod for lunch at a favorite Indian Restaurant.

A few hours later, we watch granddaughter Meredith’s first high school soccer game of the season (she is co-captain of the team).  It is an exciting nail biter, and the Wyoming Cowboys (we don’t think they call them Cowgirls, even though they aren’t boys) pull out a win with less than five minutes left in the game.

Afterward, we celebrate the win over dinner on the deck back at the Glovers’.  

Sunday morning we enjoy another one of our favorite traditions of our visits to Cincinnati--brunch at the Grand Finale with Dick’s daughter Megan. 
After brunch, the rest of the Glovers take us downtown to introduce us to the many urban improvements that have been implemented since we last ventured there--over ten years ago.  Over the Rhine, which was pretty much a slum, is on an uptick, anchored by a massive renovation to Washington Park, which we remember as a place where homeless people and drug dealers hung out right in front of historic Music Hall. 

Now children play in a big water feature, a steel drum band plays in a gazebo, while a woman doing hoola hoop tricks encourages bystanders to pick up a hoop and give it a try.  There is a man making six foot diameter bubbles right around the corner.   It is a festive fun place to be, but we have lots more to see.


We walk down to the riverfront--a spot that was not much more than parking lots for the stadiums when we moved away.  Now the riverfront is a big park with activities for families to do together. 
Since we had been walking around in the hot sun for over an hour by now, we really enjoyed taking a break on the swings overlooking the river.  

The Reds stadium is surrounded by a legacy park, including a rose garden, which we think is all about Pete Rose, but it is a stealth message.


We stop to cool off with frozen yogurt, then walk a mile to a gourmet popsicle shop in Over the Rhine.  By the time we get back home and everyone checks their fitness apps and fit bits, we find that we have walked over five miles in classic Cincinnati heat and humidity, and we had a wonderful time doing it! 

After a morning bike ride on Monday, we pick up Skyline Chili (something we must have at least once whenever we visit), and head over to the Glovers to do our laundry while we enjoy the gastronomic delight of a five way and a cheese coney. 

Then it is time to go to see granddaughter Molly run in her very first cross country meet.  There are over 100 girls from at least eight different schools participating.  The mass start is exciting to see.  Even more exciting is seeing Molly round the turn into the final segment of the race and sprint to the finish line.  She runs a great race, and we are very proud of her accomplishment. 

While we are here, granddaughter Natalie does not have any athletic events or performances for us to watch, but she did try out to perform in the Cincinnati Ballet performance of The Nutcracker.   We are very proud of her dedication and persistence in trying out, and hope that she wins a spot this year. 

After a brief stop back home after Molly’s race, we leave for Meredith’s second soccer game of the season.   We are impressed by her ability to place the ball strategically whenever she kicks it, and the way she directs play.    
As we leave the game on Monday night, it is time for good byes all round.  Tomorrow we leave Cincinnati to continue our adventures as we make our way east toward Rochester.  

Monday, August 24, 2015

36 Hours in Horse Country

Lexington and Georgetown, Kentucky
August 19-20
“That is the most unhealthy meal I have ever seen you order,” says Dick, as my lunch is set before me at Ramsey’s, a home cooking institution in Lexington since 1989, now boasting four locations around town.  
He is so right--the plate is piled high with fried chicken livers, with a big old ear of parmesan fried corn on the cob balancing on the edge, a pile of fried green tomatoes nearly buried beneath the livers, some pasty chicken gravy for dipping and a piece of corn bread providing the finishing embellishment.   His chicken salad plate delivers at least two cups worth, so he isn’t on the diet plan either.

No clean plates here--not even close.

After lunch we visit the Mary Todd Lincoln house, which sits smack in the middle of downtown development, across the street from the Convention Center.   There is just one other couple on our tour, and our guide is knowledgeable and enthusiastic, encouraging questions and dialogue. We climb the stairs grasping the same banister that Abraham Lincoln held many a time.  Lots of the furniture and accessories are authenticated possessions of the Todds, used in the house when Mary lived there, and when she and Abe visited in later years.  The vast difference in the stations of log cabin Lincoln and his sophisticated highly educated socially prominent wife is very clear.   The Todd family did not approve of the marriage, but I guess he showed them.
After contemplating the ethical and moral dilemmas of Oak Ridge yesterday, today our thoughts turned to the dilemmas of a house divided--literally.  Like so many other families in Kentucky, the Todds were divided, with at least four of Mary’s brothers serving in the Confederate Army, while Mary and one of her brothers who was too old to enlist stalwartly stood behind the Union cause.

The base of operations for the rest of our visit is Georgetown--a ten mile drive through rolling hills and limestone outcrops, bordered by endless miles of the classic black or white wood fences of horse farms.   The grazing horses all look as if they were freshly groomed just minutes ago.  If there are any emaciated, fat, or seedy-looking horses around here, they don’t put them out in a pasture you can see from the road.   

The Lexington Visitor’s Bureau has a driving tour map with the notable and famous stables marked on it, but it is too difficult to drive and read the map, more enjoyable just to admire the details--dry set stone fences so old that tree trunks are growing around them, stately homes with barns to match, elaborate landscaping with ponds and fountains and winding roads, and just a few rustic old tobacco barns and elegant ruins.

Kentucky Horse Park in Georgetown was developed to give visitors to the region a place they could go to get close to horses, and be inculcated with the culture of the horse and the reverence for the horse that permeates this region, without disturbing the valuable pampered horses of private farms.  

 It would be easy to spend a whole day here, but we just spend a morning, beginning with a ride on a horse-drawn trolley to get the lay of the land.  In the Police Horse barn, while strolling the stall and petting noses, we come across Pumpkin--the horse who played Sea Biscuit’s calming companion in the movie.  We learn this, and lots more about these big horses while chatting with their groomers. 
At the Hall of Champions presentation, famous horses who have earned millions through their racing winnings and stud fees are paraded around a small ring and stop frequently for photos, while an announcer tells their stories and shows videos of their peak performances (on the track, not earning stud fees).   The most famous of the group is Go For Gin, who at 24 is the oldest living Kentucky Derby winner. 


Our favorite show features horses of different breeds from around the world, ridden by riders costumed to match the horse’s cultural origins.  Music from the country of origin plays while the announcer tells the story of the breed.  An American mustang, culled by the Bureau of Land Management from a western herd just last year, seems remarkably tame and well trained as his cowgirl rider puts him through his paces.  The next horse looks like a little Clydesdale, and we learn that it is a Gypsy Vanner horse, bred by Eastern European gypsies to pull their wagons and be ridden.   The rider of the Andalusian rode side saddle in nineteenth century riding attire; the rider of the Appaloosa wore Indian attire--honoring the Nez Perce Indians who developed the breed-- and she rode in with her arms spread wide and the reins free. 
 Our favorite horse was the Akhal-Teke from Turkmenistan, who glowed golden in the sun.  At the end of the show, the horses all came to the edge of the ring, where we could pet them and talk to the riders.


On to one of the two horse museums at the park, where walking up a spiral walkway you can trace the history of human interaction with the horse from pre-historic cave paintings on cave walls showing horses as hunted prey through our taming of horses, deifying them in images of gods, using them in war, in various forms of labor, and in leisure pursuits, like racing and hunting. 

 After several hours we agree we have gotten our money’s worth and need not visit the other museum and the other barns around the grounds.  But, we can’t leave without paying our respects to Man O’ War, perhaps the greatest thoroughbred racehorse of all time, who lies beneath a life size sculpture of himself in a memorial garden area fit for a ruler of state.
The start of the Legacy Trail--a paved path connecting Georgetown to Kentucky--lies right next door to the Horse Park, adjacent to the Park’s campground.  We change into our bike togs in a campground shower building, fill our water bottles with a big cold bottle of water from the camp store, and head out on the trail.

The trail winds through rural rolling hills with bucolic farmland views, crosses over a major expressway, passes the Lexmark  office campus, and a University of Kentucky Research Center.  It ends at a Lexington YMCA.   Markers along the trail provide interesting information.  Ironically, one of the first markers points out a trailside building--the international headquarters of the Asphalt Institute--and extols the many virtues of asphalt, the substance upon which we ride.   About five miles later, the trail surface changes for a short segment, and a marker there tells us that we are riding on a “pervious surface,” preventing the environmental damage of run-off that occurs when we cover our earth with too much asphalt.

There are lots of murals painted on the pavement.  (None on the pervious surface.)


A marker tells us when we are riding over a field where the winner of the first Kentucky Derby grazed.  

On the way back, we accept the invitation of a trailside sign to take a side trail up to Spindletop for a cold drink of water.  Spindletop was once the forty bedroom home and Thoroughbred horse farm of Pansy Yount, who built it with money from a Texas oil well in 1935 and left it about 20 years later, after it became clear to her that the Kentucky blue bloods were never going to accept her into their society, regardless of the size of her farm and the luxury of her home.  She sold it to the University of Kentucky, which maintains the home as a private club.   Dick has been inside, visiting the club with his then mother-in-law, who was a member.  He wants to go inside again, but I demur, believing that in our sweaty biking attire, we might not be especially welcome guests.

Round trip, our ride is a little over 17 miles, the rolling route a good microcosm of Lexington’s legacy--horse farms, UK, and growing corporate influences on Bluegrass traditions.  

Saturday, August 22, 2015

Good Old Rocky Top?

August 19
Rocky Top, Tennessee
On our way north from Oak Ridge, we drive through Rocky Top, Tennessee, which until this moment we have only known through the lyrics of the classic Bluegrass sing-along song named for the town. The town is not so great as the song might lead you to believe.  

Our perceptions are highly influenced by the one stop we make in Rocky Top--at the Leach Cemetery, where, high on a hill, victims of the worst mining disaster in Tennessee’s history are buried in concentric circles around an obelisk commemorating the tragedy. 

On May 19, 1902 a miner’s lamp ignited methane, causing an explosion in a mine in the nearby town of Fraterville, and 216 miners were killed.  The town of Fraterville was suddenly left with only three men living--it became of city of widows supporting over 1,000 children.   Other towns in the area suffered terrible losses, as well.

It is raining as we walk up the hill to the monument listing the names of the 184 men they could identify from the catastrophe.  The gravestones of 89  of them encircle the monument.  As we get nearer to the central obelisk, we realize that a massive wasp’s nest is covering the coal shovel carved on the monument, and wasps are actively flying in and out.  So, we never do get close enough to read those names, but we walk the circle of miner’s headstones-- so many, so young.

Life in Rocky Top was not then--and is not now--so carefree as the song would have you believe.


Thursday, August 20, 2015

The Secret City

August 18, 2015
Oak Ridge, Tennessee
It seems an impossible task--seizing the farms and rural homesteads of people living in a 60,000 acre swath of Tennessee hill country, giving the property owners just a couple weeks to evacuate, building a city of over 70,000 from scratch on the seized land, recruiting the people to build and populate it without telling them where they will live or what they will do there--and accomplishing all this in just two years.  Thousands of the people here are doing work that directly supports the development of the atomic bomb that will be dropped on Hiroshima, but most of them do not understand the meaning of the dials they are watching and the knobs they are turning in doing their jobs. 
They can’t put the pieces together, because they are prohibited from discussing their work with anyone--even a spouse.  It is the fifth largest city in Tennessee, with the sixth largest bus fleet in the country and 300 miles of roads and 55 miles of railroads, but it doesn’t appear on any map.
We have read about this place, and wanted to actually see it for quite some time.  We are devoting today to learning more through a visit to the American Museum of Science and Energy and a three hour bus tour of Oak Ridge.

We are disappointed, but should not be surprised, that little of the original city remains.  After all, they were putting up prefab houses every 30 minutes, and trailer homes even more quickly.  The houses were simple and small.  And, despite federal policies prohibiting racial segregation or discrimination, the housing for black people, called “hutments,” were segregated not only by color, but also by gender, were heated by stoves and had no glass windows or indoor plumbing--bath houses were shared by 24 or more people.  A reporter for the Chicago Defender, visiting Oak Ridge when its gates were opened at the end of the war, wrote, “It is the first community I have ever seen with slums that were planned.  The concept in the back of the planning and operation of this small city is as backward sociologically as its atomic bomb is advanced scientifically.” 

Those hovels were surely the first to be ripped down, if they didn’t fall down first.
The T25 Uranium Enrichment Plant, once the largest building in the world-- 44 acres under one roof--was erected by 12,000 workers in less than two years, but sadly, there is no longer any evidence that it ever existed. The nuclear research sites are taking far longer to deconstruct than they took to construct, but many are in the process of being carefully and safely leveled.

We did tour a no longer active graphite reactor, which has not been destroyed, evidently because it was not difficult to make it safe, and it has a very good story.  We felt almost as though we were in the scientific version of a shrine.  This reactor was the first to:
·         Produce small quantities of plutonium used in developing a nuclear weapon (the bomb dropped on Nagasaki),

·         Produce a radioisotope for science

·         Produce electricity from nuclear energy

·         Enable studies of health hazard of reactor radiation (we are wondering if this was an accidental or planned health hazard study)

·         Produce a radioisotope used to treat cancer (carbon -14)

·         Other stuff to complicated to get into

Our biggest surprise of the day was that Oak Ridge remains a secret city.  It has two of the world’s most intense neutron sources, and scientists the world over come here to do neutron scattering research. 
The world’s largest computer resides here. As does the world’s largest stockpile of enriched uranium. And, there is a Homeland Security outpost in an area of the complex where we are instructed that we cannot take pictures.
What might they be working on in these places, and in other areas of this vast complex where our bus failed to take us?
Today we are looking back almost three quarters of a century in amazement at what our nation was able to accomplish here under the cloak of secrecy.  We can’t help but wonder what people touring here in another few decades might be saying about research going on here now. 
On a lighter note, we can’t leave Oak Ridge without mentioning Big Ed’s Pizza, which our guide on the bus tour told us is the one place in town that the Oak Ridge staff always take visiting scientists and dignitaries.
Hearing this, we had to go there ourselves.  The menu is on a 4”x 6” card.  All they serve is pizza, beer and a bunch of other non-alcoholic beverages.  No salad, no breadsticks or chicken wings or calzones.  Just really good pizza served in a big dark noisy room lined with a crazy mish mash of historic, sports and celebrity memorabilia.  We waited almost an hour for our pizza, but it was so worth it.  It might have been our most authentic Oak Ridge experience.