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Mecca to Maryland

Originally published in The Shepherd, February 1998, pages 30-31.

Our annual pilgrimage from Michigan to the Maryland Sheep and Wool Festival has become a finely tuned orchestration. With six years of experience under our belts (or in our case fanny packs) we have become highly focused machines as far as getting ready and on the road. The real surprise is that we keep doing it. Our travel journal, 'The Ewe-Hauls,' has become a bible for where to -- or not to -- stop for gas, food, and lodging, as well as travel times and mileage.

We learned much that first trip east, which seems so very long ago. We figured to drive about 8 hours and stop for the night, thinking that would be best for the sheep. Well, it isn't easy finding a place that welcomes a trailer full of sheep in western Maryland. In fact, never ask where you can get water for your sheep until you have the key in hand. By the time we found a place we were all the way to Frederick, about 25 miles from our final destination.
Letty Klein and Kelly Ward
Letty Klein (left) and Kelly Ward (right)

The next morning found us at the Maryland Sheep and Wool Festival, unloading a trailer full of very dirty and grumpy sheep. Our reservations for the rest of the weekend were at a real cheap motel just minutes from the festival fairgrounds. What a deal, right? That first night found us having to turn on the noisy old room air conditioner just to drown out the highway noises. Remember we are both country gals, and live on farms way off the road where the only night noises are the frogs, crickets, and the occasional scream of a rabbit becoming dinner. In our bargain accommodations the toilet wouldn't flush correctly and the tub faucet dripped, but that was nothing compared to the surprise that waited for us in the morning.

Our door wouldn't open. It must have been locked from the outside, no way would it open from the inside. Quickly we realized that there was no phone in the room, so we couldn't call for help. We tried banging on the walls hoping to arouse the neighbors, but the walls must have been soundproof. The sense of panic quickly set in. Kelly jimmied off the window screen over the air conditioner, cranked open the jalousie windows and wiggled her body through the small opening over the top of the air conditioner and out the back of the building. Luckily we were on the ground floor. The door opened easily with the key from the outside. Needless to say that was the end of our cheap accommodations. Our safety and comfort deserve something more.

Normally our route between Michigan and Maryland is pretty straight forward, I-69 south to the Indiana Turnpike, then due east on the Ohio and Pennsylvania Turnpikes to Breezewood, where we turn south on I-70 into Maryland and all the way to West Friendship. Someplace along the way we ritualistically try to figure the tonnage of sheep that we have on board. The scenery the first of May is always beautiful and refreshing, especially after one of Michigan's long dreary winters. The trees and hillsides seem a little greener the farther east we travel. The Redbud and Dogwood are usually beginning to bloom in Maryland. We never fail to marvel at the huge old Sycamore trees that line the roadsides between Mt. Airy and Ellicott City.

Once on the way home we were convinced by well meaning friends to try the new National Highway west from Hancock into West Virginia to Morgantown. While it was very beautiful, scenery is not what two old gals with their noses headed for home are interested in. Since we like to get on the road early, the pre-dawn fog in those hollows and lack of gas stations big enough to maneuver the pickup truck and 16-foot stock trailer was kind of scary. In contrast the toll roads assure us of the availability of diesel gas, a restroom, and food, plus it's easy-off and easy-on.

Some of the highlight entries in our 'Ewe-Haul' journal always seems to bring a big smile if not a chuckle. One rest area we encountered had short stalls; the walls to each toilet stall were solid brick to the floor and not very high. It was strange being able to see women's heads but not their feet. Then there was a restaurant with a waitress whose only comment concerning tasty-sounding items on the menu was "Oh well, I wouldn't recommend that." This was in direct contrast to the gum-chewing 'Flo-look-a-like' waitress whose reply to the same question erroneously was "Oh, just everything's wonderful."

It's important to choose a traveling companion with like temperament, taste, and size too. This wisdom sure came in handy when, on our first morning in Maryland, Kelly declared in horror that her panties were still neatly folded in a pile at home! Luckily I had purchased extra brand new, washed but never worn, undergarments just for the trip ... part of that finely tuned orchestration thing mentioned above. Another important consideration is the hair. As it happens we both have the same stylist, John; he gives us the "barn-do". You know just wash, shake and go. For some reason he cuts the gray ones out of Kelly's but not mine.

The Maryland Sheep & Wool Festival itself is a busy place, hectic in fact. Thank goodness for Natalie Glunz, she takes good care of us and even acts glad to see us. While we never really have time to shop or even look at the booths, we always take time to plan our eating strategy: you know, what type of lamb we'll have for breakfast, lunch and dinner. The serious buyers and inquiries come by on Friday. Saturday and Sunday bring crowds of people, all sizes and types, most walking but some in wheelchairs or strollers. And the questions, questions, questions, there's never enough time or space to work on your sheep. Every year there seems to be more familiar faces, that's nice.

When the Festival is over late Sunday afternoon and we're all loaded, tired and dirty we head for Breezewood, PA. There the Comfort Inn gets our praise for courteous and efficient service and has become our standard stay on the way home. They don't seem to mind an occasional baaing sheep or some accidental manured-straw in their huge parking lot. They even have a convenient outside spigot for water and will order you a pizza.

Revelations come to light, often suddenly, on the weary return trip. Once I was driving and listening to the radio as Kelly napped. She suddenly sat bolt upright and declared "I want the Bluefaced Leicesters." This staunch Romney breeder went and picked up the flock in Virginia the next weekend. This is the special quiet time when we are able to contemplate the last few days. We make our 'to-do' lists and add to our 'must-take-next-time' list. How well our sheep place in the shows or how many sheep we sell, really doesn't matter. What makes the trip worthwhile and brings us back every year is the people. We have made so many good friends, many who correspond throughout the year, and always stop by our sheep pens at the Festival to say 'Hi'.

The luxury of having a car phone has become a necessity for traveling across the country, but especially on the way home. With only a few miles left to go we can call our husbands and ask them to open the gate and pour the wine!

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