You may have seen mentioned that I live in Appalachia. You may also have noticed that I live in Ohio.
To some, Ohio is an ocean of corn, soybeans, and tomatoes, flat as a tabletop and probably just as featureless. Its endless fields are occasionally interrupted by a sprawling metropolis, but more often by a crossroads featuring a corner store, a gas station, and a one-room church. Citizens drive American-made cars, and buy their washing machines from whoever manufactures them in-state. And you know what? Those who think of Ohio and picture an Amish buggy holding up a line of twenty cars aren’t wrong. That Ohio is alive and well in all its blue-sky glory.
And I don’t live there.
I live in southeastern Ohio, the land of trucks and the sort of roads that make my sister-in-law car-sick. It’s what’s called the foot-hills of Appalachia. To be fair, we have no mountains in Ohio, but we make up for it with the ridges around here.
Picture this: you’re driving to a local hiking park for a lovely afternoon on the trails, in an attractive spot that you found on a map. First, you start on a state route. It has two lanes, a median, and a 55mph limit. The houses you pass are one-story ranches, surrounded by spacious lawns, featuring basketball hoops on their concrete driveways. All is well for your beautiful day.
Soon, the GPS points you to a side-road, and you turn onto it, signaling for all to see. This is a quieter road. The markings are worn; repaired pot-holes make for a bumpier ride. While you are still passing houses, more often the road is lined with trailers. Some are nice. Most are not, and the lawns have been replaced by trash-wood trees covered in grape-vines and creepers. Yet you are determined, and drive on. Your GPS indicates a turn ahead, and dutifully you follow.
The road, which has been hilly, becomes a steady up-ward climb. No longer is there a center line. Indeed, you are not even certain this road is absolutely two lanes. It is lined by ditches, because this road is clearly the choice drainage route for the ridge you are climbing. The only sign says “something-something Holler” and the trees are closing in overhead, blocking out the sun with dank green gloom.
At last you reach the top of the ridge. The GPS says turn. The only road around is half-gravel, half the remains of what happens when you dump tar over gravel. Do you dare?
You are more determined than ever. Onward you press, though the road has narrowed to single rutted lane. To one side: a sheer wall of sandy earth. The other: a nearly vertical drop two-hundred feet to the bottom of a ravine. Never fear, though; if you skid on the guardrail-less turn, you won’t roll all the way to the bottom because the enormous trees will stop you first! And yet you continue at a rocketing twenty MPH, hugging the right shoulder, your every fiber listening for the sound of an on-coming car. As the road begins to descend from the ridge-top, your foot hovers over the brakes as the incline becomes impossibly steep. The GPS assures you the trail is only two miles away! Surely the end is in sight! Your car is nearly in free-fall, your heart in your mouth as you hurdle around the last corner-
To find three feet of water covering the road ahead. (True story.)
Welcome to Appalachia. You’re in my backyard, now.