Not long ago the idea of a dual-sport Shamrock Tour took root when Steve Mauk, a long-time off-road rider, ignited my imagination with tales of scenic gravel roads and trails winding through the overarching canopies of hardwood forests in his native Eastern Ohio. We collaborated on choosing a home base for this shamrock (Coshocton, Ohio) and the riding areas, and we scheduled the trip for mid-June when the roads would be dried out from spring rains and all of the plant life would be in full bloom.
The Plain People
Day 1: NE Quadrant
Eastern Ohio is well known among many motorcyclists for its challenging two-lane tarmac, but fewer people know that the Buckeye State also is a great dual-sport destination. Coshocton, Ohio, our home base, lies nestled in the rugged foothills west of the Appalachian Mountains.
On Tuesday morning, we fire up the five bikes and head out. I'm riding my orange KTM 450 EXC; Christa is trying out my red Kawasaki KLR 650; Manuel is piloting the BMW 650 XCountry; Florian is rarin' to make tracks on the red Honda XR 650L; and Steve leads the way on his Suzuki DR 350. Cool temperatures and an overcast sky greet our journey into Ohio's Amish Country, northeast of Coshocton.
Gleaming white Amish houses and barns dot the rolling landscape. Instead of cars on the serpentine gravel roads, black, horse-drawn buggies are the primary form of conveyance for this Protestant religious sect that has forsaken most modern-day conveniences. (Be careful not to spook the horse when you pass an Amish buggy.) Even buttons are too ostentatious for The Plain People, who prefer to use pins or hooks to fasten their garments.
Arriving in Millersburg somewhat chilled, we break for coffee at Norman's Bakery & Deli, housed in a building that dates back to 1878. Looking out the large front windows with steaming coffee in hand, we gaze at numerous examples of classic, nineteenth-century Victorian architecture along a street scene that resembles Bedford Falls, in the film It's A Wonderful Life.
KTM EXC 450
Suzuki DR 350
BMW 650 XCountry
One of the best things about touring in Amish Country, is Amish home-style cooking. Miller's Dutch Kitchen in Baltic is one of many restaurants in Holmes County offering menu items of roast beef, mashed potatoes, noodles, chicken, ham, various types of gravies and other scrumptious delights. And after ingesting such a bountiful lunch some of us consider increasing the pre-load adjustment on our rear shocks.
The sun finally breaks through the clouds as we ply one unpaved back road after another, following burbling creeks that meander through heavily wooded terrain. Our motorized reverie continues for hours until finally the hotel comes into view around 7 p.m. There's just enough time for a quick shower before enjoying a marvelous meal at the Olde Warehouse Restaurant in Roscoe Village.
A Road Less Graveled
Day 2: NW Quadrant
Wednesday starts out cooler than Tuesday, but its moderate humidity promises comfortable riding in our off-road gear and flawless conditions for photographing the day's adventures. Steve leads us through a water crossing to Stone Quarry Road. Calling this un-graveled, deep-rutted, overgrown, slippery incline through the forest a road is really a stretch too. Before tackling this obstacle, Steve suggests that Christa, Manuel and Florian, on their heavier bikes, might want to forgo this gnarly piece of real estate.
The Neuhauser's are considering their options as Steve takes off, making the ride up Stone Quarry Road look rather effortless. I immediately peel out after him, but soon find myself stuck in a deep rut with my spinning rear tire launching debris down the hill. I finally extricate the bike and, after surmounting numerous other challenges, make it to the top. Steve and I both conclude that Christa and her sons, after seeing (and hearing) my difficulties, would probably decide not to try the climb.
We hurriedly take an alternate paved route back to the bottom of Stone Quarry Road to meet up with them, but find no one there. We say to each other almost simultaneously, "You don't think they actually tried it on those big bikes do you?" So that we don't get inextricably separated in a remote area that doesn't have cell-phone coverage, I quickly reverse course to head them off at the top, while Steve climbs the hill yet again. After regrouping, I learn that Christa had gotten stuck in the same rut I did, but otherwise the trio made the ascent without incident.
Later, while crossing Pleasant Hill Dam, an extremely large can of Red Bull welded to the top of a diminutive Mini Cooper seems to be following us. Florian and Manuel, with their eagle eyesight, notice that this mobile energy drink is being piloted by two attractive young women and they promptly flag them down to request free samples. After exchanging pleasantries with them and consuming something like a week's worth of caffeine in the process, we finally depart for a well-earned lunch at the Malabar Inn Restaurant.