90,000 Miles to Me

27,917 Miles • First Sighting of Lake Erie

  • Sign: variable speed limit ahead — What does that even mean?
  • Sign on a restaurant billboard: “An edible experience.” — Is that supposed to be an endorsement? An advertisement? 
  • Business name: Fifth Third Bank
  • Street name: Girdled Road
  • Sign: God’s Country ATV Tours

Before I left Ohio, I wanted to see Lake Erie since it was so close, and since I’ve had the Erie Canal song stuck in my head since I saw the lake on the map a couple weeks ago. There was a period when, as a young girl, I sang the Erie Canal song far too much, like a record stuck on repeat, without really knowing what it meant. I just liked the tune. 

I couldn’t remember more than fragments of the lyrics, however, and looked it up later on the internet:  

I’ve got an old mule and her name is Sal
Fifteen years on the Erie Canal
She’s a good old worker and a good old pal
Fifteen years on the Erie Canal
We’ve hauled some barges in our day
Filled with lumber, coal, and hay
And every inch of the way we know
From Albany to Buffalo

Low bridge, everybody down
Low bridge for we’re coming to a town
And you’ll always know your neighbor
And you’ll always know your pal
If you’ve ever navigated on the Erie Canal

We’d better look ’round for a job old gal
Fifteen miles on the Erie Canal
‘Cause you bet your life I’d never part with Sal
Fifteen miles on the Erie Canal
Git up there mule, here comes a lock
We’ll make Rome ’bout six o’clock
One more trip and back we’ll go
Right back home to Buffalo


Oh, where would I be if I lost my pal?
Fifteen miles on the Erie Canal
Oh, I’d like to see a mule as good as Sal
Fifteen miles on the Erie Canal
A friend of mine once got her sore
Now he’s got a busted jaw,
‘Cause she let fly with her iron toe,
And kicked him in to Buffalo.


Don’t have to call when I want my Sal
Fifteen miles on the Erie Canal
She trots from her stall like a good old gal
Fifteen miles on the Erie Canal
I eat my meals with Sal each day
I eat beef and she eats hay
And she ain’t so slow if you want to know
She put the “Buff” in Buffalo


On the way there, I spent an afternoon at Cuyahoga Valley National Park, walking a bit of the extensive trail system in the park and learning about the history of the canal at the visitor center. I’ve really appreciated how informative many of the National Park visitor centers are. The ranger at this one was a wealth of information beyond the normally high standard, and I learned as much in 30 minutes with him as in a six part documentary (he spoke quickly). 

The Erie Canal was built to connect Ohio farmlands with New York markets to feed New York City when it was running out of food. The swelling population from immigrants, combined with the southern farming practice of never rotating crops, just moving on to new ground, left them with a massive food shortage. Ohio had plenty of food, but the terrain between there and New York City was so rugged, the best transportation before the canal system took 30 days on horseback with only what your horse could carry. The canals linked the many existing bodies of water, creating a water highway that enabled boats and barges to transport up to 60 tons of cargo to the city in about 10 days. 

Cuyahoga Valley is also home to Brandywine Falls. The waterfall is striking. Wide and intense. I kept watching the water falling off, trying to track little bits of water from the top all the way down, and it was like watching it in slow motion over and over. 

Directly opposite the falls was this tree, and I loved the deep green of her and her fellows as much as the falls.

I had dinner in the waterfall’s parking lot, looking out at the lovely scene of a marshy area filled with reeds. The area is apparently favored by male Red-Winged Blackbirds. There are lots of them here, landing on the tops of swaying reeds as well as the nearby tree tops, singing to mark their territories—or so my bird identification book informs me. I only saw two or three of the brown females.

The undergrowth around the falls inspired me to invent stories of gnomes that live in the rock formations and scramble through this mini-jungle, but only come out at night.

The next day I got my first sight of Lake Erie itself! 

At Headwaters Dunes State Park, in light rain, I walked down the boardwalk through the marsh and to the southern edge of Lake Erie. I walked on the sand beach a little, and even put my hand in the water which, a sign later informed me that due to the high bacterial content, I probably shouldn’t have done. 

But I’m really happy that I felt resourced enough that I could deal with getting out of the van, in the rain, walking through buggy marshland with lots and lots of mosquitoes and walking on the sand and even dipping my hand in the water. That was a lot of sensory stimulation and I actually felt okay with it. My nervous system was happy, and I am trying to recognize when it is happy and just let it be happy and not ruin it by remembering all the times when it wasn’t happy and reacting as if this were one of those times. 

This is a technique/philosophy/advice/whatever that a sensory therapist I’ve seen a few times would say to me. “When your nervous system is happy, let it be happy.” I’ve been trying to recognize what I’m actually feeling, not just what I anticipate feeling because I’ve felt that way many times before. If I’m not feeling okay, it is okay (and recommended) to do what I can to mitigate or leave the situation. But it’s not always that bad, and that has been important for me to recognize, too. 

It wasn’t a very pretty view of the lake, mostly because the lake and the horizon were so cloudy and so close to the same color that neither was distinctive. That effect was enhanced over lunch by a light gray, pale brownish fog that made the colors blend even more.

Also, a little flower fell on my windshield in the rain and captured my attention.

Right by the entrance to the state park is the Fairpoint Mine location of Morton Salt Company. I’m not quite sure why I find this so interesting, but I really got a kick out of seeing the home of this much salt. I’ve been eating their salt all my life. Through the fence I could see bags and bags of salt piled up high along the roads, like sandbags waiting to be deployed. So many tons of salt! It turns out it comes from a subterranean mine below the lake.

From there I headed east into Pennsylvania and spent the night at the Walmart in Titusville. I’m getting better at not pushing myself to drive as far as planned for the day when I’m tired or want to see something else or just don’t feel like it. I’m feeling a lot more relaxed and enjoying the trip more without this pressure to stick to the original plan. Yay, personal growth.

And wow, a lot of places in Ohio and Pennsylvania have Roman or Latinized names: Senecaville, Titusville, Rome, Cincinnati, and lots more. 

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