By Suzan Davis
From behind the window of a freshly scrubbed farmhouse, twelve questioning eyes study him as he rests on the edge of a field that evaporates into the horizon beyond the road. Running his hand through the moist soil recently turned by the team of horses that pulls the family plow, he takes in the distinctive smell of the earth and newly mowed hay. Cautiously, the mother and her five barefoot children emerge from the house and draw near “The English.”
“Why you doing that?” the three-year old blurts, looking down at the traveler’s encumbered feet.
“Because it’s fun,” he answers.
The woman quickly pulls the child behind her 19th-century dress as if to say, “Don’t talk to strangers.” Richard Barnet’s inline skates have made him more than a stranger; they’ve cast him in a foreign century.
Barnet is one of 25 participants of an inline skate tour of Pennsylvania’s Amish Country that commences in Lancaster County known for, among other things, a town called Intercourse, located next to a village called Bird in the Hand. It’s three days of visiting one of the most unusual parts of the country and seeing it from an even more unusual perspective: on wheels.
Inline tour companies, once non-existent in the United States, are rapidly emerging in a number of diverse and unexpected places. Alaska’s Inline Adventures now offers tours of Anchorage and The Wheel Thing Hawaii offers tours of Honolulu and the surrounding countryside. On the mainland, Zephyr Inline Skate Tours offers trips in the United States and Europe, including treks to Florida’s Gulf Coast, Pennsylvania’s Amish Country, Nantucket and Martha’s Vineyard, Minnesota and California’s wine country. In most cases, participants are required to bring their own blades, pads and helmets.
At first, Barnet frets that his fifty year-old body may not be up to the several hours of skating each day. But his fears are dispelled as people of all ages, body types and physical conditions gather for the adventure of skating through Intercourse. The group soon learns that the tour provides routes accommodating beginning, intermediate and advanced skaters. A support van tags along and folks “in need” get tips on braking and other techniques by International Inline Skate Association-certified instructors. One guide for this trip is also Amish and will happily answer questions about his culture.
Skates are buckled on, helmets and pads are in place, and before taking to the streets, Zephyr tour organizer Allan Wright reminds the skaters to enjoy the scenery and ask permission before snapping a close-up picture of the Amish, who embrace an austere lifestyle, shun technology and ride in horse-drawn buggies.
The days fly by and so do covered bridges, massive white farmhouses, restored colonial homes and cows lazing in the sun. When silos silhouette against twilight, a home-style Amish meal awaits the rollers. In the evening, accommodations are in Doneker’s Guesthouse in Ephrata.
The last tour day falls on Sunday. After church lets out, dozens of horse-drawn carriages progress slowly onto the roads. A short time later, Barnet realizes he is sandwiched between two lines of carriages–twenty ahead and thirty behind. This caravan expels no car exhaust or radio bass booms. Together they flow forward over the noise of squeaking wagon and humming skate wheels. Barnet no longer feels different because he is on skates, but leisurely rolling along beside the horses and buggies, he senses a connection to the Amish people and their unhurried way of life.
“The music-like sound of two hundred horse shoes on the blacktop roadway as children strained to see The English with rolling shoes shall forever stay with me,” explains Barnet. After all, it’s not every day you can skate through Intercourse.
U.S. SKATE TOUR OPERATORS
Zephyr Inline Skate Tours
3208 Lake Street West, Suite 102
Minneapolis, MN 55416
or (612) 285-1999
Tours in Florida, Pennsylvania, Nantucket and Martha’s Vineyard, Switzerland, Netherlands, Skate Camps, Minnesota, Europe by Night–Paris, Berlin, Amsterdam.
Alaska Inline Adventures
David and Nola Lowe
P.O. Box 103372
Anchorage, AK 99510-3372
Offers tours of Anchorage with food and lodging included.
The Wheel Thing Hawaii
fax: (808) 625-7626
Saturday skate tours of Honolulu and other surrounding areas.
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