THE ATHENS COUNTY VISITOR’S BUREAU IS GIVING AWAY MAPS OF SOME OF OHIO’S BEST MOTORCYCLE ROUTES
By: Jeremy Hill
Motorcycle riders rejoice: the Athens County Visitor’s Bureau has your next ride planned for you.
“Ohio’s Windy 9” is a group of nine backcountry routes curated by Athens locals and the Athens County Visitor’s Bureau aimed at bringing motorcycle riders to Southeast Ohio. The ACVB distributes a free, detailed map of the routes that can be picked up at several locations in Athens, printed from the web or mailed to your home.
The routes feature more than a thousand miles of twists and turns through the Ohio Valley, and each route has its own character. “The qualities of each of the routes are different — they vary in how easy or difficult they are to ride,” says Paige Alost, executive director of the of ACVB.
Routes like “The Triple Nickle” — named for State Highway 555 — feature tight turns and elevation changes that experienced riders might find thrilling. By contrast, the 94-mile “Southern Dip” route is more tame, a jaunt along the Ohio River.
A team of locals, including the late Chris Wolf, former owner of The Smiling Skull Saloon, developed the map prior to its first run in 2016.
“They had both been coming to us and saying, ‘hey, we really need to make a map, because I have to keep making maps for people who want to come ride in the area,” Alost says.
Once the routes were chosen and measured, the ACVB partnered with RoadRUNNER, a motorcycle magazine, who designed the map itself. It features lodging and lunch recommendations, as well as roadside attractions.
Riders have taken note.
“It’s been, I’m not going to say a surprising success, but I wish we had done it a lot sooner,” says Alost, adding that people have come from states away to ride the routes.
“We may not have the steepest mountains, we may not have the widest rivers here, but by far what people tell us is what matters most is the quality of the road,” Alost said.
Alost and her team hope to encourage groups of riders to make Athens their home base while they spend time exploring the routes, and one group is already planning to do it: The Vulcan Riders, a national association of Kawasaki Vulcan enthusiasts, will hold its east coast rally in Athens in July. They’ll be there for four days.
At least two Athens hotels are offering deals for “Windy 9” riders.
7:30 a.m.—As street lamps finish their midnight shift and flicker off one by one, the double front doors of the Pomeroy Post Office hold back the only visible light source on a sleepy 2nd Street.
For 31 years, Jim Pullins and Jan Davis have been the first people to wake up and greet Pomeroy. Some might say that the two know better than anyone how a misty dawn feels in Southeast Ohio—including if anything is amiss in the city they serve.
Destined To Deliver
The veteran postal service workers shuffle into their individual sorting stations as they begin putting their route’s packages, magazines, letters—although fewer than ever—catalogs and bills in order. Both move with a coolness and ease that only comes after perfecting this routine for more than three decades.
Davis, who is 61 years old, has been delivering mail to rural homes on the outskirts of Pomeroy ever since deciding her nursing assistant career wasn’t enough to pay the bills. Davis became the first female full-time rural carrier in Pomeroy at a time when men were the face of the U.S. Postal Service.
The granddaughter and daughter of seasoned mail carriers, Davis might have been destined to take a career with the U.S. Postal Service. Even as a little girl, she delivered mail from the passenger seat of her dad’s mail truck.
Pullins, now 72, traded his military uniform for the navy blue U.S. Postal Service uniform in 1969.
“We’re going out together, right, Jim?” Davis says over the noise, referring to their unknown retirement dates.
The mail-moving duo shoot the breeze and throw their humor and wit back and forth across the busy room as they have for so many years.
More Than Letters
“I’m in good health, thank God. I like to work. I like people,” Pullins says. “I like to help people. If I can help them, I’ll do it.”
Aside from being two of the most familiar faces around the community, that’s what Pullins and Davis do—help people.
“People talk to you. They’ll talk to you and share with you what’s going on in their life. I always check with people, ‘How you feeing? You know, what’s going on?’ And they’ll tell me,” Pullins says.
Carriers have been unsung neighborhood watchdogs for as long as the service has been around. They will check in on the elderly and those living alone if mail ever begins to pile up.
As for actual dogs, the long-sworn enemy of mail carriers, Pullins and Davis have dealt with their share. But no number of angry canines, slippery ice patches or heavy packages could stop the two from completing their routes.
“I like the fact that you would come in here, get your work done, then you go out and no one is breathing down your neck,” Davis says. “You’re on your own. You’re out in the country. You get to see nature.”
Smitten With Hand-Written
The role of the postal service worker is important in neighborhoods around the world. However, America has created a special place in its heart for the timeless, romanticized image of a smiling mail carrier pushing through a foot of snow to bring letters from loved ones right to the front door. It is a cherished human interaction in a booming digital age.
“We used to feel important. We had so much First Class Mail. Now so much is sent through email,” Davis says.
So while delivering the growing number of large Amazon and eBay packages keep the two in better shape than most 40-year-olds, Pullins and Davis say customers are missing intimate hand-written letters more than ever.
“Letter mail, you can sit down and put down your deepest thoughts on paper and communicate them with someone else through the mail,” Pullins says.
4 p.m.—Pullins’ route is complete and he has logged another seven or eight miles of walking. He turns in his keys and heads home to his wife of near 50 years. He will see Davis in the morning, and they will head out onto Pomeroy’s streets once again with the same toughness and enthusiasm they have kept all these years.
The first horse Rachel Bendler rescued on her own from a slaughter-sale was Red. In 2007, Red was penned up at a horse auction waiting to be sold. Instead of meeting his demise over the border in Canada where horse slaughter is legal, Red met Rachel who bought him for $10 that day.
It was the beginning of what is now Bella Run Equine, a nonprofit organization in Athens County dedicated to “responsibly rescuing, rehabilitating and rehoming slaughter-bound horses.”
Husband and wife, Zack and Rachel Bendler co-own the nonprofit. In addition to rescuing and rehoming horses, their farm serves as a halfway home for other abandoned pets as well.
Rachel & Zack
Having spent her childhood riding horses and then her time after school as a barn manager, Rachel is without a doubt a horse person. Zack gushes just talking about her.
“How Rachel is able to break through to animals that have been done wrong by humans, cover up bad memories with positivity — it’s a gift,” he says.
A true Western man, Zack wears his cowboy hat and country button-up like he never left his native Oklahoma. Experienced in traditional ways of breaking horses, Zack came to Ohio looking for a less harsh alternative.
Like the horses she so loves, Rachel saw a kindred spirit looking for a home when she met Zack at a horse barn in Athens. After Rachel won over Zack’s support for rescuing horses, Rachel and Zack were on their way to falling in love, getting married and starting Bella Run Equine.
In 2014 Zack bought the land he was leasing. And what started with Red, grew into what is now around 30 horses.
Horses, Dogs, and Ducks
The Bendlers have a network of friends who help out at Bella Run. Both Zack’s brother Ethan Bendler and Rachel’s best friend Trisken Emmert both volunteer. Emmert, a live wire, and local school teacher feels at home when she is giving a voice to the voiceless.
“There’s a lid for every pot — I hope somebody told ya that — we say that all the time,” Emmert says. At Bella Run, they use the saying to describe the notion that every animal has a good owner out there, but the key is finding a quality fit for both.
Emmert is passionate about the horses. She describes Monarch, a beautiful 14-year-old bay thoroughbred, and Enzo a Palomino pony, and the Seven Sisters, and on and on without even taking a breath.
The zeal for rehoming animals does not stop with the horses. Bella Run also works to rehome dogs with their Farm Dog Program. They rescue dogs that are either abandoned by owners or at the end of their time in kill pounds.
Tanky Tank, who was once a troubled mutt at Bella Run, is Emmert’s favorite puppy success story. With tireless training, Tank became an adopted certified rescue dog.
In addition to horses and dogs, Bella Run has a few other lost creatures finding refuge on the farm. Kevin and Patrick, the rescued ducks, call Bella Run home as do a few goats and sheep.
Rachel and Zack use realistic decision making, sound budgeting, a great support system and untiring effort to keep the farm on track. They emphasize rescuing horses with high adoptability potential so that future adoption sales can help fund the purchase of the next rescue.
For these animals to have a home is paramount to Zack and Rachel.
“The world needs your attention and they need it right now. Let’s making caring cool again,” Zack says.
And with their nonprofit Bella Run Equine, the Bendlers are doing just that.