My Town Monday: The Road, Nature, and History

Last Thursday, I blogged about courting burnout, and some things I did in an effort to alleviate it.

One of those things was to take time out to play. I’d only ridden my Harley twice all summer, which my husband had been giving me shit about. Part of the reason is because it’s just been too darn hot for much of the summer – riding in that is like pointing a blow dryer into your face. In other words, not much fun. But even when I had decent weather, it seemed I always had too much to do.

So I decided to blow it all off and ride. This is what my husband does to blow off stress – just hop on the bike and see where the road takes you.

The road took me up north of Dayton, to Huber Heights, and to Carriage Hill and Metropark. The park is a goodly swath of green land and undeveloped, uncultivated, natural prairie; hiking and horse trails; and picnic areas. It’s also home to Carriage Hill Farm, a historically-accurate, operating 1880s-era farm.

I remember going there on field trips more than once during my elementary school days. Mostly what I remember about it was the farm animals — sheep, horses, cattle, pigs, and chickens. It was a great experience for any suburban or city schoolkid. There were a lot of things there now that weren’t when I was in school – the surrounding park, for one, and also the restored windmill, and a separate museum building and store. I’m pretty sure they also didn’t have the functional steam-thresher, which people were demoing that day and was pretty cool!

I took my time just wandering around the place. Although I have to confess: I took a few pictures, so it wasn’t 100% not-work. But it was fun and relaxing, and that’s what counts. Also, I got to enjoy three of my favorite things: the road, nature, and history!

Does your hometown have anything like this, where city and suburban folks can learn about history and farm life? Have you done anything to just get away and have fun lately?

 

Click any of the photos below to see a slideshow.

My Town Monday: The Oregonia Hill Climbs

Motorcycles as far as the eye can see! The blue one on the left is mine.

Oregonia is a normally-quiet little hamlet just outside of Lebanon, Ohio. But every year on the second Sunday in October, it’s overrun with bikers, biker wannabes, race spectators, and people who just want to party.

The Motorcycle Hill Climbs have been held annually at Powell’s Farm (no relation to me) since 1948. The Dayton Motorcycle Club has hosted the event since 1973. Local lore says that when the original owner passed away a few years ago, the will stipulated to his heirs that the property would be made available to host the Hill Climbs for the next 50 years. As far as I know, the event has been cancelled only once in its history, due to rain. It was rescheduled for the following Sunday, (which has happened more than once), but this one also had rain.

A view from the bottom of the Devil's Staircase

The big draw, of course, is the motorcycles. Not just the dirt bikes in the race, but those in the parking area. Thousands of motorcycles, of every shape, color, size, make and model, from the most plush touring bikes and trikes, to battered, historical fixer-uppers that are barely roadworthy. My husband and I rode up with the guy my husband does funeral work for – who rode one of the special edition Harley Davidson police bikes, with the purple flashing light for funeral use. He got some long looks, LOL.

Beer is sold at the Hill Climbs by the cup – and by the gallon. Years ago, the gallon jugs were numbered. I’m not sure what the purpose of this was, but by the time we arrived, typically between 11AM and noon, people with single- and lower two-digit numbers were usually passed out, jugs in hands or nearby. I had my own, ubiquitous jug – of water.

The races can be pretty exciting. The Oregonia Hill Climbs is the last race of the year for the AMA Pro Hill Climb Racing circuit. Called The Devil’s Staircase, the dirt track goes up something like a 40 degree incline, which doesn’t sound like much, until you try to walk up it. Then imagine riding a motorcycle! The hill is stepped, which presents the greater challenge: the rider must get up enough speed to crest the first step, fifty feet up, then slow enough to not wipe out. If the first step doesn’t cause a rider to wipe out, the ones near the top of the 330-foot hill sometimes do. The winning bikes in the Unlimited and Extreme classes make the climb in seven seconds or less.

Sometimes dirt clods go flying into the audience. One time several years ago, a rider lost it and his bike went over toward the audience. Usually about one in ten participants either drops his bike, or breaks a chain (with the same result). One motorcycle caught fire yesterday as it crested the top of the hill. But not to worry – fire fighters and medical crews were standing by at both the top and the bottom. (The fire was extinguished immediately, and neither rider nor bike were hurt.)

A lot of bikers come to Oregonia on the day of the Hill Climbs and don’t even attend the races – instead, they party on private property, or go to the Little River Cafe down the road – a historic bar/restaurant with lots of outdoor seating. My husband and I usually leave after the first couple of racing classes, in the interest of getting out before the drunks do. It’s not unusual for someone to get hurt leaving the Hill Climbs – unsurprising, considering the amount of beer served. Law enforcement is always present, too.

If you live in the area, have you ever been to the Hill Climbs? If not, is there an event like this in your hometown?

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My Town Monday: The Waynesville Sauerkraut Festival

Continuing last week’s homage to our area’s German heritage, let’s take a look at one of the biggest food festivals in southwest Ohio: the Sauerkraut Festival in Waynesville. And yes, it’s huge: according to the Sauerkraut Festival website, the event drew around 350,000 visitors last year, who ate seven tons of sauerkraut!

Last year's Sauerkraut Festival

Situated in the very northeast corner of Warren County, about 15 miles or so southeast of Dayton, Waynesville is known for its small town charm, and is considered the “Antiques Capital of the Midwest(sm).”  The festival started in 1970 as a feature dinner for a sidewalk sale, which quickly became the main event. Subsequent years brought more and more vendors as well as a steadily-growing attendance, and included unusual items like sauerkraut pizza, sauerkraut donuts, and even sauerkraut ice cream! I can’t help wondering if the ham and sauerkraut pizza is as good as Marion’s. For those who don’t like sauerkraut, there are plenty of other offerings, including perennial festival favorites like funnel cakes, deep fried candy bars, pulled pork, burgers and hot dogs.

image of sauerkraut ballsOne of my favorite foods, which we typically only have during the holidays, is sauerkraut balls. My grandparents went to the Sauerkraut Festival once in the mid-seventies, just to get the annual festival cookbook. With no Internet and limited bookstore offerings, it was the only place she knew she could get the recipe for sauerkraut balls. Even though I was a kid at the time, and like most kids, didn’t like kraut, those kraut balls were awesome! Grandma’s no longer with us, so if we get them now, it’s up to me. They are a lot of work, but some years I still make them, they’re so good. One of my coworkers makes the festival a must-go every year – his wife goes to shop for crafts, he goes to eat. The kraut balls are one of his favorites. He was disappointed in last year’s; said they must’ve used a different recipe. If this years’ kraut balls aren’t the good ones, I might have to make some to take in to work and share.

The Sauerkraut Festival is held every year on the second weekend in October, which would be the 8th and 9th this year – next week! I will admit I’ve only been to the Sauerkraut Festival a couple of times, and a long time ago at that. I do sometimes pass through on the way to and from another event that’s always held on the second Sunday of October, which we’ll visit next week: the Motorcycle Hill Climbs in nearby Oregonia.

What are some of the fun food festivals in your area? Are there any foods you specifically look for there – and maybe learned to make because of it?

More at the My Town Monday blog

Festival photo via official Sauerkraut Festival website, sauerkraut balls via allrecipes.com 

My Town Monday: The Holiday at Home Parade and Festival

Ever since I can remember, Labor Day has always included the Holiday at Home parade and festival. I grew up in Kettering, the south Dayton suburb where it’s hosted, and remember setting out lawn chairs to watch the parade a few times when I was little. Other times, especially when it was really hot or rainy, we watched it on TV.

Dayton History had a nice showing in this year's parade

So I knew the event had  been around since at least the early 70’s. Curious, I looked up the official website to find out when it all really began. Initially called Kettering Day, the first event was held in 1959 and hosted by the Kettering YMCA for a membership drive. Community leaders got involved and encouraged the Y to add a parade and program of events, and it was so well-attended it was a foregone conclusion it would become an annual event. Eventually, a contest was held to find a new name, and community leadership chose Holiday at Home because it encourages residents to stay home and have fun around here, rather than travel. Although it’s centered in Kettering, all are welcome, and many other south-side communities are involved.

The Millennium Falcon was the coolest float in this year's Holiday at Home Parade

Public events begin the day before Labor Day, when the festival begins. It includes an arts and crafts show with vendors all around, food, and live entertainment.

The parade is the capstone event, and begins around 10 AM on Labor Day. The Holiday at Home parade is the largest in the Miami Valley. Area residents stake out parade-watching spots as early as the day before by setting out lawn chairs (which amazingly, as far as I know, don’t get stolen). The parade attracts an audience of over 10,000 people, and that’s not counting those who watch on TV. School and community marching bands, veterans’ organizations, civic groups, nonprofit organizations, and local businesses participate, with floats, performances, or vehicles in the parade. My husband’s AMVETS chapter’s riders’ group rides their motorcycles in the parade.

What's Star Wars without the Cantina? Jabba the Hut's in residence, enjoying a live jazz band from Fairmont H.S.

After the parade, which ends around noon, the festival goes on, with more food, arts and crafts, and entertainment. There’s also a fantastic classic car show, which is by invitation only and includes some sweet rides you don’t always see at the cruise-ins throughout the summer.

All in all, it’s a good time, and sure beats driving through Labor Day traffic.

If you live in the Dayton area, do you go to the Holiday at Home festival? Or watch the parade on TV? If you’re from elsewhere, what do you do on Labor Day weekend – does your community give you a reason to stay home?

 

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My (Friends’) Town Monday: Schmidt’s Sausage Haus in Columbus

The other day, my husband, daughter and I rode our Harleys up to visit some friends in Columbus, and had the chance to partake in some tasty history there at Schmidt’s Sausage Haus. Located in historic German Village, Schmidt’s is a well-known foodie landmark, thanks in part to the Travel Channel’s Man vs. Food. This is what led us there as well.

We arrived at Schmidt’s around 2PM, hoping such an off time would result in an easy in. We had a half hour wait for our party of five, so we went and checked out Schmidt’s Fudge Shop, across the street, where an integrated paging system would alert us to our table being ready. Once we were seated a half hour later, to the minute, we learned that a half hour wait time at any time on a Saturday was short. Our server told us the typical Saturday wait time, even at 2pm, was two hours!

DH and I pose in the photo frame stand outside the restaurant

However, once we were seated, the wait time was almost nothing. My husband, daughter, and both our friends chose the Autobahn Buffet, which featured four types of sausage, sauerkraut, chicken, potato salad, and tons of choices for traditional salads. The latter was especially appreciated by one of our friends who, in a twist of irony, is vegan. She’d insisted it was no problem to go to Schmidt’s, when we asked, as she’d figured she could get a side salad then something at home later, if need be. No worries – she found plenty to fill up on in the salad bar! Schmidt’s also has Mountain Dew, which is always a plus for me. 🙂

To my surprise, my meal arrived just a few minutes after the others had loaded up their plates at the buffet. I had the Hoffbrau Schnitzel, which was pork tenderloin with mushroom gravy. Yum! But the best part was dessert – our group minus my vegan friend split two of Schmidt’s legendary half-pound cream puffs, which were featured in coconut that day – my favorite! There were four impending food comas afterward, which we managed to shake off by going bowling. Good weather, good ride, good time, good friends, good food. Can’t ask for a better Saturday!

There are a couple other restaurants in Columbus that have been featured on Man vs. Food, which is one of my family’s favorite shows, so we plan to visit those in the future. Dayton has yet to be featured on a show like this. Has your hometown had any local eateries featured on a national TV show, and if so, have you been there?

Blessing of the Bikes – a Blending of Motorcycles and Faith

For once, it wasn’t raining, I didn’t have a migraine, and I didn’t have tons of other stuff to do yesterday. And, it was the Blessing of the Bikes , rescheduled from last week due to – surprise! – rain. I finally got out my Harley for the first time this year (see above as to why) and took off with DH and a bunch of our AMVETS friends.

This was the 11th year for the Blessing in Dayton, and the third time I’ve gone since I got my motorcycle five years ago (last year, it rained, and the year before that I wasn’t feeling well). My husband has been going almost since it began.

Every year, there are thousands of motorcycles there. It seems to get bigger each year. In addition, there are food apparel, and accessories vendors, live entertainment, and a custom bike show. This year, there was a Shriners group with historic Shriners bikes and an antique paddy wagon on display – very cool! I tried to get them to arrest my husband, but they wouldn’t take him.

The main component to the event is, of course, the blessing. It begins with a series of prayers, asking for divine protection and a safe riding season. They’re Christian, but people of all faiths are welcome at the event and no one seems to mind. Then, priests walk up and down the aisles of motorcycles and toss holy water on them and the riders. My husband asked for – and got – an extra splash – appropriate, considering his often crazy job of leading funeral processions.

All they ask for this is a $2 donation. Here in the Dayton area, that goes to two worthy charities: Ambucs, which provides scooters and trikes to people with mobility impairments, and A Special Wish Foundation, which grants wishes to terminally-ill children.

Afterward, a lot of people head out to after-blessing parties. DH and I went shopping for yard stuff, then home. Curious, I looked up the blessing. It turns out that the first Blessing of the Bikes happened in New York City in 1999, and was for bicycles. (It was held in a cathedral, so that might have been a problem for motorcycles.) Like our current version in Dayton, the blessing was conducted by Catholic priests, but the event was open to riders of all faiths. There are now blessings held world.

Do they hold the Blessing of the Bikes in your home town – and is it for motorcycles, or bicycles? Or if you live in the Dayton area, did you attend? Or if you don’t have a motorcycle, would you if you did? Got any info on other fun motorcycle events DH & I should check out this summer?