If you’re asking yourself, “Why don’t the locals do this,” there’s probably a good reason.
I moved to Jefferson from Boston just a month ago; so far, the transition hasn’t been as hard as people seem to think. Boston isn’t the hub of cynicism and unfriendliness in the way Ashtabula County natives seem to think, just as Ashtabula County itself absolutely cannot be reduced to poverty, cornfields and “nothing to do except watch the cows go by,” like I was warned in Boston.
I tell my friends back home, “Yeah, there’s more to do here on the weekend than most of the places I’ve ever lived! And the local community isn’t dead, like it is in so many of the rural Louisiana towns I’ve ghosted by and lived near. And, hey, at least in Ashtabula I don’t have to worry about getting shot for misjudging a property line.”
Those friends from Boston came to visit me on a recent weekend, and I found myself asking the question, “Why don’t the locals float down Mill Creek with inner tubes,” so the four of us devised a plan to conquer Mill Creek with $5 floaties. I sure don’t have money for a kayak right now.
We devised a budget-friendly solution: We’d park Emily’s Subaru by the Jefferson Lanes, and then we would park Isaac’s Scion all the way down by the Mill Creek dam near Lampson Reservoir; the plan was to float from one spot to the other on a sunny, beaming afternoon. We figured that 4 miles on a floaty can’t take more than two hours. We’ll be home by supper.
We lower ourselves into the creek from an overpass near Jefferson Lanes as the nationwide heatwave smiles down at us from above; we tumble and fumble into the brown waters of Mill Creek, surrounded by bright green treetops, sunken tires, and friends unfamiliar with the pace of rural life. The floating was immediately pleasant, but Alec noticed quickly that we weren’t moving downstream. He spins his plastic tube around in a circle to face us, his bottom sagging from his Dollar Tree floaty to brush the rocks beneath him - “You guys, if we’re going to get all the way to Lampson, you might want to paddle.”
So, we flop on our stomachs and begin to wade and splash with an intensity that would make my old hound back home blush. Every few hundred feet, we roll off our tubes, pick them up, and walk. It’s called a creek for a reason; the depth is less than four inches for large stretches at a time.
Okay. This is still fun. We’re having a great time. I look at Emily, her pink, heart-shaped sunglasses flashing the summer’s heat my way, and smile. She looks back to me, then to her feet. We’d been floating for maybe 30 minutes. Her eyes widen and she looks up to face the group.
“Uh. Guys, I don’t want to alarm you, and please don’t panic, but there are hundreds of leeches all over my feet and legs.”
It had not occurred to me, not even for a second, that there might be leeches in the beautiful creek I pass by on my way to the office every morning. “Oh my God, you’re kidding. You’re joking. Leeches? Leeches?”
She floats to me and spreads her toes. Between each one is a plump, red, blood-sucking slime tube. I look at my own legs to see a sight equally terrifying. Every one of us was covered.
Thirty minutes later and I’m finally calm. Isaac rubs my back, “Just think, you can tell your coworkers on Monday that you got yourself covered in parasites.” My breathing finally slows down; it’s time to make a plan to exit this creek immediately.
Isaac checks his GPS; dark clouds swirl above us with an intensity unforeseen by today’s weather report. His face flushes red. “Guys, everyone come look at my phone.” We realize very quickly that, an hour and a half in, we had only floated half a mile. Four to go, and the leeches showed no signs of letting up.
We very quickly devised a new plan: Get to the Subaru as quickly as possible. A nearby landmark – an abandoned shack in the middle of a field - indicated that there was a lot of work left to be done to that end.
Isaac points to a rusty toy truck at the creek’s bed. “I think there’s a path there, you guys, but, uh, the closest road is half a mile through this corn field.” The clouds only looked angrier by the minute, and we knew our options were either continue down leech-filled Mill Creek for three more hours or suffer through a cornfield. And hey, I don’t mind corn so much.
But, I did come to mind the two-ton cow feces that soon squelched between my toes and coated the soles of my feet. I look up at my friends and sigh. “Well, guys, we really are in Ohio. It’s really a lot more rural here than it seems from the road.”
We used our inner tubes to push the 6-foot-tall grass down in front of us; we also used them to cover the many, many thorns that filled our paths.
Eventually, we found the farmhouse at the end of the field. Isaac’s leg dripped blood from the 3-inch leech he pulled from his calf. All that remains of Emily’s tube was sagging plastic. Alec’s leg was covered in bloody thorn gashes. As for me, I was just ready to disinfect the open wounds on my leg, but only after scraping the cow waste from my feet.
The four of us walked straight toward the farmhouse as afternoon dust swirled around our tired feet. We looked like horror movie protagonists ready for slaughter; many cars honked at us as we walked through pouring rain alongside Route 46 back to our car.
Adjusting to a new region, a new job, and a new life rhythm has been difficult, but I can’t say it has been boring!
ED. NOTE: Collin Hall graduated from Gordon College, in the Boston area, and is now employed by a newspaper group in Ohio.