Falltum In America’s Rust Belt

Is it fall? Is it autumn? Don’t be silly, it’s Falltum. Considering my present affection for both sides of the pond, I’ve made a UK-US seasonal term compromise, and hereby introduce: Falltum. Gosh I’m diplomatic. Someone make me Pres-Minister already.

Passing through through Indiana, Ohio and Northern Pennsylvania during Falltum is a delight. It’s like the trees are having a party (not in their pants) and everyone’s invited. Well except the Evergreens. They, evidently, missed the memo. And remain stubbornly clad in their verdurous robes as surrounding neighbours partake in a slow summer-end striptease. Of course we have turning leaves in the UK, but nothing quite like the US. In the US, trees pop. They erupt. They explode in a multitude of colours, the likes of which I’ve just never seen before in shrub form. It’s stunning at best, and intriguing at worst. Fall in the North-East US is one thing about which you should definitely believe the hype.

So, aye, it’s cold. Aye, I have to check the weather on an hourly basis and dabble in days of rain and wind. But who gives a Badger’s nadger about that when there’s a chance you’ll get blue skies and sights like the below? Not I, for one.

LOU ANN, THE STORYTELLER

In the midst of my Falltum tour, I came across a profile on cycle hosting website Warm Showers which (in part) read: “... I live in a hundred year old house in a lovely mid-western town. I am a writer and a story teller, hang my laundry out in my garden!… Folks are often found sitting round in my living room listening to music and telling stories.

Well. Isn’t that the profile of a woman you simply have to meet? I thought so. Luckily I was in town on the one night that Lou Ann could actually host a vagabond. When I arrived there was no one about, but a kindly neighbour showed me indoors and I texted to notify her that there was now a Lycra clad stranger in her living room. A reply came quickly back – “Am out galavanting. Back soon”. Marvellous. I think the world would be a far better place if people galavanted just a little more, or in fact at all. I for one, plan to galavant much more on my return to the UK. Life’s just to short not to.

Her house is a marvel in itself. Brimming with trinkets, theatre posters, instruments and photos – it is a ‘real’ home. One that’s an extension of the owner’s personality. Enough with the minimalist, clean surfaced, clinical spaces, I say, give me a cosy cave any day. There was even a ‘welcome wall’ with quotes an signatures from previous guests – Something that made me feel as if I were creating a little piece of history, just by crossing the threshold.

Once Lou Ann returned, we got to chatting. And I slowly pieced together the rich tapestry that is her life. With each paragraph came a new activity, passion or contribution to the local community. She’s a storyteller by trade (a rare art), and when not touring the country, spends summers on Oracoke Island – off the coast of Virginia, telling ghost tales of the legendary Black Beard, who sunk nearby. She’s also a professor at the local university, writes and performs community plays, hosts seasonal and themed parties in her living room and contributes a weekly column for Northern Indiana newspapers. To further warm your heart, she rides her shiny Trek bike (a Mother’s day present) everywhere around town, and is perplexed by those who don’t use two wheels instead of four “I did 12 errands on my bike today. It just makes good sense. I don’t know what it is about being on a bike – that feeling you get. I can’t quite describe it…

Lou Ann is a gem, and one of life’s true characters. As a friend of mine recently wrote, no matter how abrupt and transient our modern day Tweet/Facebook/Email exchanges become – there’s always space and indeed a human need for a really good story. It’s food for the soul, and at this – Lou Ann is a Masterchef.

NIAGARA FALLS

This wasn’t my first meeting with Lady Niagara. I was lucky enough to visit the falls as part of a Toronto school netball tour, at the tender age of 16. Experience tells me that American readers aren’t familiar with netball. It’s like basketball, but you don’t move. Yes it’s silly, but were really rather good at it. This time, things were different. This time, I wasn’t dressed in ‘shants’ (why? Just why?), nor was I listening to, and achingly sympathising with the plight of Blink 182. No, no this time – I was making my Niagara assault from the US of A.

I cannie lie to you all, visiting Niagra from the US side isn’t especially scenic, and that’s putting it kindly. The only way for me to describe it is as … Industrial. I was working my way across what is affectionately known as ‘The Rust Belt’ after all. Comprised a of towns and cities that formed the backbone of the 19th century engineering boom – Like Detroit, Michigan (once an automotive hub, now a shell of its former self) and Gary, Indiana (contender for scariest place on earth to ride a bicycle). Henry Ford produced the first Model T on this belt and the cities within it were the greatest casualties when the US economic depression hit in 1929.

But let us not judge Niagara by her rusty surroundings. She is a rose amongst thorns. And no matter how many people tell you that the US side isn’t worth a detour, it’s nothing short of spectacular.

Of course, I’m not the only daredevil to make it to Niagara. I’m not a daredevil at all, it seems, when you consider the Niagara thrill seekers of the 20th century. Many of whom decided that encasing oneself in a barrel and throwing oneself into a watery abyss was a good way to pass some time. Evidently there was nothing good on tele that weekend (probably in-between Made in Chelsea seasons). Sixty-three year old Annie Edison Taylor was the first to take the perilous plunge in 1901. She was followed by a succession of others, in barrels, kayaks, or just… diving in. Predictably, many perished, like George Stathakis – although you’ll be pleased to know that the 105 year old pet turtle he took in the barrel with him made it out alive (quite suspicious – I smell a murderous turtle with blood on its… paws).

STATE 25

I’ll confess my week on the rust belt has been a bit of beast, averaging 90 – 110 mile days for the most part to take advantage of good weather and the flat plains. I’m now steaming across the rest of upstate New York, hitting substantially more hills and gearing up to cross into state number 25 tomorrow – Vermont. If we could all pray for the weather Gods to hang on to their winter motherloads for a few more days until I make Maine, I’d be much obliged.

Pics are up on Flickr again, so get your Falltum fill here

See you all next weekend then, once I’ve hit the Atlantic coast, and Maine – gulp!

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