Promoting the bicycling lifestyle in The Buckeye State
Ask just about anyone, and they would say the soul of a bicycle resides in the frame. Tires, brake pads, chains, cassettes, and chainrings are worn and replaced. Shifters and derailers get upgraded as we experience component group envy. But the heart and soul of the bike remains the beloved and recognizable frame.
I would usually agree with this assessment, but my experience with some of my favorite bicycles over time tells a somewhat different story.
Early in my life as a “serious” cyclist, I obtained my first decent mountain bike, and a few months later, my first decent road bike. For a few years, I thought I had all the bases covered.
About six months into my career in the bike industry (around March of 2005), the snowy Northeast Ohio weather started to break, and I began to consider how I would commute to work by bike. Since the 7-mile route from my apartment to the shop was all on-road, my road bike was the natural choice.
The first day I rode to work, we happened to get a freak late-season snow shower (one of many to come that year). I saw how sketchy a 700×23 tire can feel with even a light layer of snow. I also quickly realized that even with a day’s worth of cargo consisting of lunch and a change of clothes, a pure road bike really sucks at hauling around any amount of cargo.
The next time, I tried my mountain bike. I handled varying weather and road conditions much better, and even with just a seatpost-mounted cargo rack, it was a little better at carrying stuff. But the wide, knobby tires just felt like such a drag, even for short trips. I ride real mountain bike trails on a regular basis, so constantly swapping tires wasn’t a viable option.
Any person who decides to live the “bicycling lifestyle” comes to the conclusion that you need a “practical” bike. A bike that is relatively light, but not too light so as to get noodly when hauling stuff. Something that can fit relatively wide tires, but not too wide. A bike that feels just as good for a quick jaunt down to the store as it does on an all-day slog.
At the time, my shop carried Bianchi bicycles, and one of the best-sellers was the Volpe.
The Volpe was marketed as a “cyclocross” bike, but in reality, it was more of a light-duty touring bike. Triple crankset, Shimano Tiagra STI shifters, 9-speed mountain cassette, and un-flashy but dependable Shimano Deore rear derailer. It came with WTB All-Terrain 700×35 tires, which rolled well on pavement despite their aggressive appearance, but also had enough tread to handle dirt, gravel, and other mixed-surface riding before anyone had ever come up with the idea of a “gravel bike.” With a tall head tube, the bike’s geometry provided an upright position for long days in the saddle, well before “endurance road” geometry was “a thing.”
The color of the bike was a pale green called “Dirty Celeste,” a riff on the traditional bright-blue Bianchi Celeste that said this wasn’t a thoroughbred race bike; it was bike that you could play in the dirt with. This bike was your buddy that you’d go have a beer with.
The Volpe proved to be the ideal commuter bike that I was after. To my surprise, though, it didn’t take long for it to become my go-to bike for any ride that did not involve being timed by a clock or somebody counting laps. That summer, I rode it on my longest single-day ride ever, 151 miles from Chagrin Falls to Pittsburgh. The fit and feel of the bike encouraged exploration, heading out when you never know where the road might take you, or where the road might even end. I ended up doing more bike commuting that year than probably any year before or since, logging many days of my 7-mile route between Chagrin Falls and Solon, sometimes going for two weeks at a time without getting in my car. I swapped those stock WTB tires out for Continental Gatorskin 700×28, which were a little more zippy for pure road riding, and adequate for unpaved trails like the Towpath.
Later that year, I rode the Volpe in my first Dirty Dozen in Pittsburgh. In 2006, I shipped it out to Seattle for a weekend mini-tour for the Adventure Cycling Association’s Leadership Training Course. I rode it in my first and only RAGBRAI. I rode it 120 miles to my mom’s house one day and back the next day. I borrowed a cargo trailer and rode it to Kelleys Island and back.
Following that trip to Seattle, I got to thinking that this bike-touring thing might be something I’d like to get more into, so I should get a bike that makes it easier to pack up and ship it across the country. In the fall of 2006, I bought a Surly Long Haul Trucker frameset and had it split in half and S&S couplers put on my Bilenky Cycle Works. I used that bike for several overnight tours over the years, but only ever ended up doing one long bike tour where I packed it up in its travel case and checked it on a flight (a 9-day tour in southwestern New Mexico in September 2007). The Volpe remained my go-to bike for long days in the saddle around home.
I originally built the Long Haul Trucker with a compact double crankset (50/34-tooth), but soon realized that carrying heavy loads, I’d need a traditional touring triple. So, I swapped the crankset, bottom bracket, and front derailer between the Volpe and the Trucker. The compact double was perfect for a light-load-carrying exploration bike like the Volpe. Other minor component upgrades came along: Salsa Shaft seatpost, Salsa Cromoto stem, and Salsa Bell Lap handlebar. At some point, I swapped the stock Shimano cantilever brakes out for Avid Shorty 4, not because the Shimano didn’t perform well (they did), but because I thought the black Avids looked better than the silver Shimanos.
The Volpe’s red logo accents tempted me to bling the bike out with all manner of other red accents. I resisted this urge until some time in 2007 when a co-worker gave me an old GT front mountain bike hub in anodized red. I searched eBay for a matching rear hub, and eventually one from Sun Ringle turned up (the shades of red weren’t exactly the same, but on the bike, it was close enough). I bought a pair of Salsa Delgado Cross rims and had them built into wheels, with red Salsa Flip-Offs skewers to top them off. More red followed … headset, bottle cages, handlebar tape, seat bag, and even brake pads. I had joined the Dark Side of color-matching weenies, and the green and red scheme gave the bike its nickname: Saint Nick. This is the best photo of have of the bike in that setup, with some, but not all of these changes:
I did my second Dirty Dozen Race in Pittsburgh with the Volpe in this configuration in November of 2007. The compact double crank was adequate for humping up all of those steep hills.
Some time in 2008, I had my eye on a Surly Cross-Check, because a few of my friends had them, and it just seemed like a cool bike. Another friend from looking at a new Bianchi Volpe. She test-rode mine and loved the fit and feel, but didn’t like the color currently available at that time. So, I took that opportunity to sell her my Volpe frame and fork. I took all the components and put them on a new Cross-Check frame. The color available at the time was Misty Mountain Grey, which I was kind of on the fence about whether I like it or not. The red stuff looked pretty nice on it, though. At one point, I even had some red fenders on it, plus the Surly provided the opportunity to use a red seat post collar.
The off-white and red color scheme made me choose a new nickname, the “Ghost of Saint Nick.” At this point, the only components that were original from the Bianchi Volpe were the Shimano Tiagra brake/shift levers and the WTB saddle. But, this bike took over duties from the Volpe without a hitch. Surly’s top-rated chromoly steel frame and fork provided the same comfortable ride for long days on the road the same as I’d come to know and love from the Volpe. So I regarded this bike as having the same “soul” as the Volpe.
Late in 2011, nearing the end of my first season of owning my Salsa Fargo, I found I was using the Fargo for touring, and the Long Haul Trucker was collecting dust. Meanwhile, with fenders on the Cross-Check, and usually a rear rack for hauling stuff around, the Cross-Check was beginning to look more and more like the Long Haul Trucker. So I figured, why not just swap all the components from the Cross-Check onto the Long Haul Trucker, and make the Trucker my “all day road rides” bike? So it came to be.
I had mixed feelings about the red parts on the blue frame … a little too much color. The bike was definitely comfortable, but it didn’t have the same “zip” as the Cross-Check.
Meanwhile, the Cross-Check got converted into a singlespeed:
This bike was fun; I did one cyclocross race on it, a long Towpath ride (Peninsula to Bolivar and back, about 120 miles), and some cruises around the neighborhood.
But I found that I was “missing” having a regular Cross-Check. In early 2013, I bought a Black Cross-Check frameset and put all the red parts on it. The Grey Cross-Check went on the selling block, and the Long Haul Trucker got converted back into a true touring bike (black components, triple crankset, bar-end shifters).
The new Cross-Check welcomed back a familiar feeling; I was happy on the road again, and the black frame murdered out with all the red parts really turned heads.
This iteration of the bike later saw upgrades to a Thomson stem and seatpost, Salsa Cowbell handlebar, and Crank Brothers Candy 3 pedals in red. Plus, just to show it can be done, a Shimano Deore LX rear derailer with RapidRise.
This bike saw many miles and long rides like its predecessors, including the century route on the Sweet Corn Challenge, the century route on another Bike MS Pedal to the Point, and the century route on the first Bike MS Buckeye Breakaway.
Come this year, the black Cross-Check still held a special place in my bike collection, but I found myself with a hankerin’ for something new, just for the sake of it. Basically, what I wanted was the Cross-Check with disc brakes. The Surly Straggler would have been the natural choice, but I thought, if I’m getting something different, it should be completely different. The Salsa Vaya was at the top of the list for a while; I really like the idea of the Vaya Ti, but it was out of my price range. I test-rode the steel Vaya a few times, and like the feel of it, but just wasn’t sold on the idea of it as a worthy replacement for the Cross-Check.
In reading one of the Adventure Cyclist magazines, I took note of one of Patrick O’Grady‘s bike reviews of the Traitor Cycles Wander. This sounded like just the ticket — disc brakes, long and upright “gravel bike” geometry, light touring capable. I got in touch with the guys at Traitor, and they were offering the framesets at a great price. I thought about it for a month or so until I finally pulled the trigger around mid-summer.
When I received the frame, I was a little disappointed in the color; the online photos made it appear more of a pure blue, but in person, it’s more of a greenish-blue or blueish-green. Still a nice-looking frame, though.
Instead of moving the red components and accessories from the Cross-Check, I gave my Salsa Fargo a facelift in red, and moved my blue parts from the Fargo to the Traitor Wander.I think the combination worked out well, and looks pretty sweet:
The first big test of the Wander was a 60-mile multi-surface loop covering roads, paved trails (the Summit Metro Park Bike & Hike Trail, and the Freedom Trail through Tallmadge), and the unpaved Ohio & Erie Canal Towpath Trail. I wasn’t disappointed in the ride and feel of the bike; it delivered the goods when it came to good balance of performance and comfort.
An even better test came when I took it on my second Bike MS Buckeye Breakaway, on the century route from Brunswick to Ashland. This may have been the easiest century I have ever ridden. Maybe it was a perfect storm of good things coming together–my fitness peaked for the season, and it’s a relatively easy route with not too much climbing, but I credit the bike for a large part of that as well.
I originally put the bike together with a Thomson stem and seatpost, but I wanted to rob the stem for my fat bike, so I swapped over a Salsa stem on the Wander, and then a Salsa seatpost to match. The Salsa parts seem to fit the “working man’s bike” character of the Wander better than Thomson.
Since then, I’ve thought that I’d like to “un-bling” the bike even more. As I found when I had the red components on my blue Long Haul Trucker, I think colorful components work best on a black, silver, or gray frame, but a colorful frame should have black components. But I haven’t taken the time for any progress on that project, yet, other than to remove the anodized blue bottle cages and replace them with light blue painted cages that match the Traitor logo, which looks good.
Getting back to the original point of this post, I would normally agree that the soul of a bicycle resides in the frame. But, with the 12-year history of these bikes, beginning with my Bianchi Volpe, through two Surly Cross-Checks, and the Traitor Wander, I feel like they have all shared the same soul. As parts got swapped from one frame to the next, I used the bikes for the same type of riding — long, comfortable road and mixed-surface rides, carrying minimal gear, stopping to smell the roses.
Through all the parts swaps, transfer, and upgrades, two items still remain on the Traitor Wander from the original Bianchi Volpe: the Shimano Tiagra 9-speed shift/brake levers, and the WTB saddle.
Inspired by this article from Outside Magazine, we decided to have our own camp coffee smackdown to compare and rate the different methods of making coffee outside.
We planned to arrive just before sunrise at the Beaver Marsh boardwalk on the Ohio & Erie Canal Towpath Trail in the Cuyahoga Valley National Park. I drove to the parking lot on Bolanz Road and bundled up for the brisk (about 40 degrees) morning ride of about 1.5 miles down to Beaver Marsh.
I was the first to arrive, but Brent showed up soon after. We were both on our way to getting our water boiling when Chris arrived.
Brent had boiling water first with his MSR WhisperLite Internationale stove (but a comparison of camp stoves is a topic for a completely separate discussion).
My coffee contribution came from a GSI JavaPress and a GSI Camp Espresso Maker. Brent uses an AeroPress, and Chris brought a Moka Pot and some Starbucks Via instant coffee.
So, the verdict? My preference was my own GSI JavaPress, but mainly because I put my own effort into it, which always makes something more enjoyable, and it’s what I’m used to. A shot of espresso added made it even better. Brent preferred the AeroPress for mostly the same reason — he drinks AeroPress coffee every day. Chris preferred the AeroPress as well. He said his Moka Pot coffee tasted kind of bitter, but I actually like that, and made it my second choice. Personally, when you’re standing in the cold, any hot coffee tastes good, and I don’t have the most discerning taste buds to begin with. And, this wasn’t a blind taste test by any means.
Conclusion; if you’re looking for another definitive answer as to what makes the best camp coffee, you’re not going to find it here. I suggest you plan your own camp coffee smackdown to find out! Get out and enjoy the outdoors with some friends, which is what this is all about!
I followed up our coffee with a solo ride further south on the Towpath Trail to Clinton and back, for a total of about 52 miles, a nice casual day ride.
P.S. Is camp cooking legal in the Cuyahoga Valley National Park? Probably not…
In June of 2016, I checked an item off of my bike bucket list, and rode the C&O Canal Towpath Trail and Great Allegheny Passage Trail from Washington, DC to Pittsburgh, PA. I blogged about it for my employer; I’ve created this index to each day’s report so that people who follow this site can catch up on the trip if they don’t follow my employer’s blog.
I rode with seven friends (two old friends; just meeting the other five on the trip). We drove to Pittsburgh and met at the Amtrak station, took the train to DC, then rode the trails back to Pittsburgh. We toured “credit-card style,” i.e. staying in hotels and eating meals in restaurants.
All of these links will open in a new window or tab, since they go to another site:
- Packing List: Credit-card touring on the C&O Canal/Great Allegheny Passage Trails
- DC to Pgh Bike Tour Day 1 – Pgh to DC via Amtrak
- DC to Pgh Bike Tour Day 2 – Washington, DC to Harpers Ferry, WV
- DC to Pgh Bike Tour Day 3 – Harpers Ferry, WV to Hancock, MD
- DC to Pgh Bike Tour Day 4 – Hancock to Cumberland, MD
- DC to Pgh Bike Tour Day 5 – Cumberland, MD to Ohiopyle, PA
- DC to Pgh Bike Tour Day 6 – Ohiopyle to Pittsburgh, PA
It ended up being a solo outing for me. The weather felt more pleasant than the mid-40’s temperature and the gray sky would suggest. At least coffee outside alone is better than coffee inside, accompanied by the soothing hum of traffic on State Route 8.
Inspired by #LARiverCampCoffee (http://bit.ly/1NUfQlY), the movement for mini-adventures in Cleveland for when we don’t have time for real adventures continues!
#CLECampCoffee is a casual gathering for lovers of bicycles, camping, and coffee.
Arrive by bike, and use your camp-cooking gear to make coffee for yourself and to share, and enjoy conversation with your fellow campers.
The rules aren’t strictly enforced, so you can come by foot or car if you like, and you can stop for coffee at a (preferably local) shop on the way. Tea and hot chocolate drinkers are welcome, too!
When: Friday, April 29, 2016, 8:30am
Where: The Split on the Summit Metro Parks Bike & Hike Trail, near State Route 8, just south of State Route 303
Check for updates on the Event page on Facebook.
In the fall of 2015, I did a 5-day bicycle tour on the Ohio to Erie Trail from Cincinnati to Cleveland. I have individual blog posts documenting each day of the tour, but I created this post to provide an easy-to-find list of links to each day’s post.
- Gear List: Credit-card Bikepacking the Ohio to Erie Trail (Sept. 25, 2015)
- Ohio to Erie Trail Tour: Prologue (Sept. 27, 2015)
- Ohio to Erie Trail Tour: Day 1 – North Bend to Cincinnati to Waynesville (Sept. 28, 2015)
- Ohio to Erie Trail Tour: Day 2 – Waynesville to Lockbourne (Sept. 29, 2015)
- Ohio to Erie Trail Tour: Day 3 – Lockbourne to Howard (Sept. 30, 2015)
- Ohio to Erie Trail Tour: Day 4 – Howard to Canal Fulton (Oct. 1, 2015)
- Ohio to Erie Trail Tour: Day 5 – Canal Fulton to Cleveland (Oct. 2, 2015)
I woke up early in the camper belonging to my Warm Showers hosts Ray and Dawn, and killed some time catching on on email with my smartphone. I went into the house and found Ray in the kitchen, and enjoyed a cup of coffee with him before I walked into town to get some breakfast.
If you’re looking for a traditional breakfast in Canal Fulton, with eggs, bacon, pancakes, and the works in generous portions, look no further than Sisters Century House Restaurant.
I came back to find Ray preparing his hybrid bike to join me on the first part of the final day of my ride. I met his wife Dawn, and she got a photo of us preparing to depart.
Ray and I rode onto the Towpath and headed north. From Canal Fulton, you pass through Clinton, then Barberton, then Akron. Just south of downtown Akron is the highest point on the Towpath Trail.
At the Wilbeth Road Trailhead, there’s one of the new do-it-yourself bike repair stations installed earlier this year by the Summit Metro Parks.
Just south of downtown, the Towpath Trail goes around, and sometimes over, Summit Lake on the floating bridge, construction of which was completed in 2009.
Right in downtown Akron, a new bike repair station that I had not seen before can be found near the Richard Howe House.
Arriving in downtown Akron, Ray turned around to head back home to Canal Fulton, after taking a picture of me against some Akron buidings.
I continued north, first crossing the bridge over State Route 59/Martin Luther King Jr. Boulevard.
The next segment contains the longest hill (about 1/2 mile) on the Towpath Trail (downhill when going north), through Cascade Locks Park.
At the Memorial Parkway Trailhead, you’ll find another of the bike repair stations installed earlier this year by Summit Metro Parks.
About eight miles north of Akron, the Towpath Trail enters the Cuyahoga Valley National Park at the Botzum Trailhead.
A couple of miles further north is the scenic Beaver Marsh, a restored wetland, where the Towpath Trail passes through on a wooden boardwalk.
When I arrived in the village of Peninsula, I had to stop to check in on my co-workers at Century Cycles. There are two major established bike routes that pass through Peninsula. In addition to the Ohio to Erie Trail, there’s the Adventure Cycling Association‘s Underground Railroad Bicycle Route. Thus, we see a lot of long-distance bicycle tourists stopping by, and we try to keep a record of as many as we can in our Bicycle Touring Photo Gallery. I was proud to finally become a member of the gallery myself.
My lunch consisted of a donut and a cinnamon roll, which they had brought in to celebrate my arrival.
About three miles north of Peninsula, I got my second and last flat tire of the trip. It ended up being in the same spot as the one I got on Day 1, and it appeared to be on the inside face of the inner tube, which I thought was strange. (I would discover a few days later that there was a sharp ridge on my rim that caused both flats, so it wasn’t glass after all.)
About seven miles north of Peninsula, the Towpath Trail passes under the Brecksville-Northfield High Level Bridge, which was the intended target of a 2012 bomb plot that was foiled by an undercover FBI agent.
About five miles further north is the Canal Exploration Center, which was recently re-vamped and renovated with all-new exhibits documenting the 19th-century canal era. Here, you can also find public restrooms that have sinks with running water, and water fountains (where I did the last top-off of my water bottles).
Two more miles up, near Rockside Road in the city of Independence, the Towpath Trail exits the Cuyahoga Valley National Park and comes under the jurisdiction of the Cleveland Metroparks. The trail is paved beginning in this area. There’s a small plaza here, with a Malley’s chocolate shop and two restaurants–Yours Truly for diner-type fare, and the more upscale Lockkeepers.
Completed in the mid 2000’s were two graceful suspension bridges that allow Towpath Trail traffic to pass over the busy intersections on Granger Road and Warner Road in the city of Valley View.
The Towpath Trail ends at Harvard Road about 5 miles short of downtown Cleveland. A left on Harvard, then a right on Jennings Road takes you to the Steelyard Commons shopping plaza, where the developers built an extension of the trail that runs through the middle of the plaza, as well as behind on the east side. From there, the trail loops through two tunnels and around a ramp leading up to W. 14th Street in the neighborhood of Tremont, where you’ll find A Christmas Story House.
I made my way through the streets of Tremont and stopped at the Abbey Avenue overlook for the best view of downtown Cleveland that I would have on the ride.
As I got closer to Lake Erie, the winds started picking up even more than they had been all afternoon. I proceeded into the west side neighborhood of Ohio City, and as I rode west on Lorain Avenue across W. 25th Street, a big northerly gust almost knocked me over. I continued to the Gordon Square neighborhood, which has a connector trail into Edgewater Park, the official end of the Ohio to Erie Trail. I asked a passerby to take my picture with Lake Erie in the background.
Mileage for the final day was 61.
The mileage for the entire trip was 365, give or take because of the computer issues I had earlier in the week.
The winds were coming harder than ever straight out of the east. I walked up onto the observation platform that extends out over the lake. As I leaned by bike against the railing, the wind caught it and it slammed against the railing with a CLUNK, and it was literally a struggle to pull it away. I had to time my exit from the platform to avoid the waves crashing over.
It was so windy that there were surfers on Lake Erie, something that’s not possible very often. I got this video to show the winds and the waves.
Here’s my route for the final day.
I’d recommend the Ohio to Erie Trail for anyone looking for a bike touring route that’s easy to plan, easy to navigate, and not too difficult terrain. For experienced bike tourers, it’s a nice short trip when you can’t make time for a major trip. For beginners, it’s easy enough, and there are many options for camping or hotels, whichever your preference.
After a delicious breakfast courtesy of my hosts Pat and Dick, I stuck to my usual schedule of getting back on the bike around 9:00am. I rode the short stretch from their house through the village of Howard back to the Kokosing Gap Trail and was on my way. Just a few miles up, the trail ends in Danville. I was confused at first and ended up heading out of town about a half-mile the wrong way. I stopped to re-check the map, and realized I was just reading it wrong, and headed back to get on the Mohican Valley Trail.
The Mohican Valley Trail is the first un-paved trail on the south-to-north route of the Ohio to Erie Trail. It’s very well packed dirt and crushed limestone, though. After several miles, you come to the Bridge of Dreams, the longest covered bridge in Ohio.
Just after the Bridge of Dreams, there is an Ohio to Erie Trail sign, indicating that you should continue on the Mohican Valley Trail. A short stretch further, I went through a short tunnel that appeared to go under a major road. Right after that, I came to this confusing sign:
I got out the map, and it just said to take “the Mohican Valley Trail to Route 62.” I assumed that the road I just went under was Route 62, but there was no direct access to it. The sign appeared to want me to cut through the grass to the left of the trail, but that didn’t look like a state road just beyond. There were tire tracks through the grass, though, so I followed the sign. The road was a local back road that led to State Route 62. I made a left onto 62, and looking back, saw the Ohio to Erie Trail sign directing southbound travelers on to that same back road, so I knew I was on the right track.
State Route 62 is a busy, narrow road with lots of truck traffic and a few rolling hills. Fortunately, the route only follows this road for about three miles before turning onto some smaller county roads. The length and steepness of the hills on these back roads get worse, though. The winds were picking up and coming out of the northeast, which wasn’t good, since that’s the direction I was mainly traveling.
Being my fourth day in the saddle, the miles were starting to catch up to me. On every long bike trip I’ve taken, the fourth day always seems to be one of the worst. My theory is that no matter how much I train for a trip in advance, it’s nearly impossible to get four long training rides on four days in a row. So, on the fourth day of the actual trip, my body and mind are experiencing a unique challenge. By this time, this concept has probably worked its way into my brain and become a self-fulfilling prophesy. Regardless, I switched from “enjoying the ride” mode to “let’s just get this done” mode for much of the day.
About 13 miles later, I passed through the town of Killbuck to make my way onto the (thankfully flat) Holmes County Trail.
Holmes County is the unofficial “capital” of Ohio’s Amish country, and the trail was built to serve the Amish community as well as the general public. You may encounter horse-and-buggy drivers on the trail, as well as the inevitable by-product of the horses. On autumn days when the leaves are falling, watch out for horse manure “booby traps” hidden under the leaves.
The trail ends 15 miles north in the town of Fredericksburg. I decided to stop here for some lunch, and went into the Fredericksburg Market right on the main corner, based on the “Lunch Specials” sign they had on the sidewalk. When I inquired inside, they said the lunch specials were sold out. My other choice was Lem’s Pizza next door, but I decide to just grab one of the pre-made sandwiches in the Market, since I was already here. I washed that down with a chocolate milk.
The next 17 miles felt like déjà vu, with steeply rolling hills and headwinds through Amish farm country. It was very scenic, and the sun finally came out, but I got stuck back in “get it over with” mode and found it hard to enjoy until I finally reached the village of Dalton and got onto the Sippo Valley Trail.
The Sippo Valley Trail is a mixture of pavement and crushed stone, passing through wooded areas, farms, and residential areas.
10 miles later, the trail ends as it connects to the Ohio & Erie Canal Towpath Trail just west of downtown Massillon. I recommend taking the sidewalk on the left side of the Lincoln Way bridge over the Tuscarawas River; that way, on the other side, all you have to do is make a hard left to get onto the Towpath without having to cross traffic.
As I got to the other side of the bridge, I stopped to take in the view of downtown Massillon. Not that I have any particular affinity for the city, but on this day it represented the beginning of home turf–the final leg of my cross-state adventure, and getting on the Towpath Trail, the bicycle superhighway beloved by cyclists of all types in Northeast Ohio.
Leaving Massillon, the Towpath Trail traverses a raised earthen embankment, with State Route 21 to the right and the Tuscarawas River to the left.
A short stretch out of town you’ll find the Lake Avenue plaza, where you’ll find Ernie’s Bike Shop and the Blue Heron Cafe if you need a bite to eat. I stopped at the bike shop to fill up my water bottles and top off the air in my tires.
The sun felt warm and toasty as I rested a bit, so I took my jacket off, but as I took off back on the Towpath, I found that it was still deceptively cool, and stopped again soon after to pull my jacket back on.
An easy eight or nine miles later, I arrived in Canal Fulton. My hosts for the evening were another Warm Showers contact, Ray and Dawn, who lived just a couple blocks from downtown and the Towpath Trail. Both had prior plans, so I would be on my own for dinner, but I met Ray just before he left for the evening, and he showed me into the house for a shower, and into the camper in their driveway, where I would be sleeping.
My mileage for the day was almost 79.
For many years I had heard good things about V-Li’s Thai Cuisine in Canal Fulton, so tonight I would finally have the chance to check it out. I ordered the wide noodles with chicken and broccoli, and it didn’t disappoint, especially paired with a Smuttynose Pumpkin Ale.
No visit to Canal Fulton (by bike or otherwise) is complete without a visit to the Cherry Street Creamery, conveniently located at the intersection of Cherry Street and the Towpath Trail. A hot fudge sundae was my choice from among the many fine ice cream options.
Ray and Dawn’s camper was warm and comfortable as I settled in for the night.
After a home-cooked breakfast courtesy of my relatives in Lockbourne, I got back in the saddle once again on schedule right around 9:00am. My custom route off of the main Ohio to Erie Trail route once again took me onto State Route 665, a.k.a. London-Groveport Road. Thankfully, it was dry today, and this time of day also much more free from traffic. State Rotue 665 quickly becomes State Route 317, and from there I jumped onto a couple of more minor back roads to make my way over to Three Creeks Metro Park, to jump on the Alum Creek Trail.
Stopping here to get my bearings, my pre-printed directions said I should have had about 10-1/2 miles by now, but my computer only registered a little over 6. My suspicions from yesterday were correct; the rain had gotten into my bike computer and partially worn the battery down. Luckily, at the last minute before leaving a few days ago, I grabbed an extra 2032 battery and stashed it in my repair kit. I swapped out the battery in my wireless Cat Eye Strada computer sensor. My chain seemed a bit squeaky after all the rain, so I dripped some Tri-Flow on it. After a bathroom break, I headed north on the trail.
The Alum Creek Trail easily took me straight up through the east side of Columbus. It passes through a mixture of urban and wooded settings, with a couple of brief on-street detours around areas under construction. At one point, I reached a dead-end, but there appeared to be a new section of trail that continued, but it was blocked off with big “ROAD CLOSED” signs. It looked passable, but since you never know what you might come across later (an un-marked bridge out?), I took to the street, with a detour on Airport Road, then Sunbury Road through Ohio Dominican University, and then re-joined the trail a short bit later, where I saw the opposite end of the newly-constructed section with the same “ROAD CLOSED” signs. (I would later learn that this section of the trail was, indeed, complete–the grand opening ceremony was held the VERY NEXT DAY, and for all practical purposes, I could have ridden it.)
I went through a couple more park-like sections, including one with a long wooden boardwalk. I rode a short stretch of the boardwalk, even though it looked like it still might be a bit slippery from yesterday’s rain. When I stopped in the middle to take this photo, I ended up slipping on the soles of my shoes, so I oped to walk the bike the rest of the way.
Continuing north, I got to Schrock Road, where my route re-joined the actual Ohio to Erie Trail. Here, you have a choice of routes, either continue north on the Alum Creek Trail, or cut east on Schrock Road. I opted to head east on Schrock Road, following the sidewalk for the short stretch to the next intersection, where you cross Schrock Road to get on the Maxtown-Schrock Trail, a.k.a. the Westerville Bikeway.
At the corner of State Street and Cherrington Road, there’s a commemorative plaque for the Ohio to Erie Trail:
A bit after that, there is a bike station with restrooms, water fountains, and a do-it-yourself repair stand, with an air compressor pump (schrader valve compatible only).
When you finally reach this trail’s namesake Maxtown Road (a.k.a. Polaris Parkway), there’s a spur that goes behind the Home Depot shopping plaza and becomes the Genoa Trail. Just off the trail in the same shopping plaza is the Trek Bicycle Store of Columbus, where you can find free air (compressor pump with schrader valve head and presta adapter).
Around this time is when I should have looked for a place to get some lunch, but I just felt like I wanted to keep moving and make good time instead. One of the downsides of nice urban trails like the Alum Creek Trail and the Westerville Bikeway is that with all of the intersections and stop signs, it’s hard to keep up a good steady pace. I found myself now having been on the road for over four hours and having barely covered over 30 miles. I would learn later, though, that I should have stopped to get lunch here, because the options for food are limited on the next major portion of the route.
The Genoa Trail continues north, with another do-it-yourself bike repair station at the Genoa Township Fire Department near the intersection of Big Walnut Road.
The Genoa Trail ends just short of the village of Galena. In Galena is a local restaurant called Mudflats Bar & Grill that looks like it would be a nice place to stop if you had time to relax for a while. I continued on, following the good signage for the Ohio to Erie Trail on the local roads. I had hoped to find good eats in Sunbury, but didn’t see anything on the main streets through town (later, I noticed that had I ventured a block off the route, Joe’s Firehouse Tavern would have made an excellent choice).
I continued on out of town where the route goes on Hartford Road to the tiny village of Hartford. This road is long, straight, and mostly flat, and some pretty serious headwinds were starting to kick up. In Hartford, there are really no food options available, and by this time I was beginning to realize how REALLY hungry I was, so I pulled off to the side of the road to eat a Clif bar.
Battling the headwinds on the rolling farm roads to Centerburg, I jumped at the first opportunity for food that I saw in town, the Subway. I enjoyed my tuna sandwich and chocolate chip cookies at a picnic table outside, next to a small local park with a water fountain.
Just a couple of short blocks from downtown Centerburg is the beginning of the Heart of Ohio Trail. I made my way over and stopped to call my hosts for the evening to let them know I was on my way.
I had originally planned to spend this evening in Mount Vernon. I logged into Warm Showers a couple of weeks ago and found a local man named Randy who was willing to be a host, but because of issues going on with his house, he only had space for me to camp in the yard. Since I was packing light without a tent, I looked for another option, and Randy told me about a couple that he knows in Howard that have built a biker cabin near the Kokosing Gap Trail there. They are not on Warm Showers, but he gave me their email address, so I got in touch with them, and they agreed to let me use the cabin.
The Heart of Ohio Trail follows a fairly typical path through secluded woodlands until it reaches its end in Mount Vernon. Just before reaching Mount Vernon, I passed by this tall tower that looked like an old smoke stack, but now was surrounded by a spiral staircase. I thought it looked like a can’t-miss attraction, so I wheeled over, locked my bike to the gate, and began to climb the stairs.
The tower is called Rastin Observation Tower, and is part of Ariel Foundation Park. It’s a former industrial site, and the tower was just opened to the public on July 4, 2015. I seem to get more afraid of heights as I get older, but I figured self-supported bike touring is all about overcoming your fears, so I should also take advantage of this opportunity to overcome more fear.
The Heart of Ohio Trail ends just short of downtown Mount Vernon, The on-street route through town is clearly marked with Ohio to Erie Trail signage, leading to the start of the Kokosing Gap Trail.
The scenery of the Kokosing Gap Trail is very similar to that of the Heart of Ohio Trail. Passing through Gambier, you can see a historic steam locomotive, coal car, and caboose:
A few more miles further, and I reached the trailhead at the village of Howard.
Mileage for the day was about 76-1/2 according to my computer:
But being shorted before I replaced my sensor battery this morning, the online route shows a more accurate 82-1/2 miles.
I called my hosts to let them know I’d arrived. Dick showed up in his pickup truck just a minute later; we put my bike in the back, and he drove me back up the road (probably less than a mile) to he and his wife Pat’s house. I took a shower right away, and they invited me to join them for dinner. We were joined by their friend Randy from Mount Vernon.
As it turns out, Dick, Pat, Randy, and a couple other friends were the ones who originally conceived of the Kokosing Gap Trail over 25 years ago. They recognized the potential of the former railroad right-of-way, formed the non-profit group to support the construction of the trail, and continue to help with the trail’s on-going maintenance. To this day, the Kokosing Gap Trail remains the largest, paved rail-to-trail park in the United States maintained solely by donations and volunteers. This is hard and often thankless work, so if you’re reading this and you’re a fan of bike trails (even if you’re not in this area), I encourage you to support their efforts with a donation. Go to www.kokosinggaptrail.com for details.
The biker cabin is located on Dick and Pat’s property, but is easily accessed from the trail. It was completed earlier this year. Dick and Pat hired Amish builders to construct it; the day they arrived, they had it done in three hours. It’s a rustic cabin with no electricity or plumbing; there is a port-o-potty outside. There are two lofts with foam mattresses, and a folding cot on the main level. The floor has space for more guests if they have their own sleeping pads.
To inquire about the availability of the biker cabin on the Kokosing Gap Trail in Howard, Ohio, send email to:
I woke up in time to put on my clothes and walk up the street soon after the 7:00am opening of the Village Family Restaurant. I order the breakfast Combo #1, which included everything (eggs, bacon, hash browns, and toast), and decided to add an a la carte pancake. This ended up being way too much food, and I couldn’t finish it all, but it was all good.
After heading back to the hotel, getting dressed to ride, re-packing everything else, and checking out, I ended up with the same start time of 9:00am as I had yesterday. There was a light, misty rain when I got started. I initially took this as a good thing, thinking “Oh, that will keep the heat and the beating sun away.”
I rode back through downtown Waynesville and the short stretch of road to the village of Corwin to get back onto the Little Miami Scenic Trail. A few miles in, I passed a male-and-female couple that appeared to be bike-touring, heading in the opposite direction. We didn’t stop; we were probably both thinking it best to keep moving and not stand around in the rain, but I later regretted not stopping to chat and get their story. Were they also on the Ohio to Erie Trail, or were they headed even further on the Underground Railroad Bicycle Route?
I confirmed that the re-calibration of my bike computer that I did last night was successful. The trail is marked in half-mile increments, and the distances indicated by these markings seemed to be spot-on with my computer.
I came to the end of the Little Miami Scenic Trail in Xenia, the hub of Southwest Ohio’s bicycle trail network, where five different trails converge at Xenia Station.
There is a water fountain to the right of the Xenia Station building, so I topped off my bottles. To the left is a do-it-yourself bike repair station, with a pump (presta and schrader compatible) and an assortment of tools. I took advantage of it to top off my tire in which I had replaced the tube late in my ride yesterday, plus made an adjustment to my rear derailer, which had been shifting a little wonky since the start of my ride yesterday.
The Ohio to Erie Trail continues from this point on the Prairie Grass Trail. From Xenia Station, you turn left onto Detroit Street, then make an immediate right onto Hill Street, then an immediate left onto the trail. However, there is a telephone pole on Detroit Street just before the corner of Hill Street, and there is a sign for the Ohio to Erie Trail on this pole. The sign has a two-part arrow on it; the first part goes straight ahead, then the second part of the arrow leans slightly to the left. (I wish I had taken a picture to better illustrate it.) Now, this sign might make sense if you were standing on the opposite side of Detroit Street and looking down Hill Street, but there is no street or trail coming from that direction. The sign makes no sense at all coming from the direction that people would be naturally coming from Xenia Station. This was one of only a couple of times where I found the Ohio to Erie Trail signage to be confusing and misleading. Now that I’ve done it, the correct way is obvious, and I could do it a hundred more times and it would obvious every time. But any sign is obvious if you already know the way; signs are supposed to be most helpful for those who DON’T already know the way.
Anyway, as I continued on the Prairie Grass Trail, the rain started to come down a little harder. I passed through the town of Cedarville, which looked like it would be a nice place for an overnight stop should you find yourself in that location at the right time. There’s a local restaurant right on the trail, a couple of coffee shops nearby, the local public library is right on the trail, and the Hearthstone Inn & Suites located right next to the trail, where they had a sign saying “Welcome Cyclists” next to a free water fountain (where I topped off my bottle once again).
The open plains of this part of the state make for some of the longest, straightest, and flatted sections of bike trail that I’ve ever seen.
The Prairie Grass Trail continues through the village of South Charleston with a brief on-road detour. I stopped at the trailhead for a bathroom break and to refill my water bottles once again.
As I made my way through town, I passed a group of cyclists near a van with a trailer attached. It looked like a supported touring group, so I stopped to ask them what they were up to. Turns out, they were a church-affiliated group doing a fund-raising ride to build an orphanage in Ukraine. I told them I was headed home to the Cleveland area on the Ohio to Erie Trail. They were doing a loop of their own creation between the Dayton and Cincinnati areas. Their organization is called Ends of the Earth Cycling, and you can find out more about them at: endscycling.com
There were four riders in the group that I stopped to talk to, plus their two support drivers. They told me to keep an eye out for the eight other members of their group on the trail, heading the opposite direction from me. When I got back on the Prairie Grass Trail, I did see them soon after.
Before seeing this group of cyclists, the day was starting to wear on me. I usually don’t mind traveling alone, but the solitude was getting me down a little, plus the continuing rain probably didn’t help, either. Chatting with them gave me a second wind and much-needed mid-ride pick-me-up.
The Prairie Grass Trail ends in the town of London, which I chose as my lunch stop for the day.
At the trailhead, there was a convenient map listing the restaurants and other amenities in town. I chose Ronetti’s Pizza, as it seemed like a nice local option, located on Main Street near the center of town and on the bike route. I locked my bike up to a railing near the curb, and planted my soggy self at a table near the front window. I chose a fish sandwich, washed down with a Sweetwater 420 Extra Pale Ale. The service was cheerful and efficient.
Back out in the saddle, the rain wasn’t showing many signs up letting up. I followed the Ohio to Erie Trail signs for the on-street connections, which led a few blocks to the Roberts Pass Trail. About halfway between London and Georgesville, this trail becomes the Camp Chase Trail. I came across this reminder of the journey still ahead of me somewhere along the way:
My journey on the Camp Chase Trail ended at the Battelle Darby Creek Metro Park. The Camp Chase Trail continues northeast from there, and nearby, the Darby Creek Trail goes north. I would be taking neither of these options, though, and going off-route from the Ohio to Erie Trail, as my destination for the evening was relatives’ house in the small village of Lockbourne, just outside of Grove City.
I had mapped out the route at home a week earlier, and had a hard-copy with me. I retrieved the printout from my trunk bag, folded it up, and put it in my jacket pocket. I hoped it would stay dry enough long enough to be useful for navigation.
The 14-mile route was a combination of lesser-traveled back roads and a couple stretches of very busy roads, mainly State Route 665, a.k.a. London-Groveport Road. This road is very narrow with very little shoulder, with lots of fast car and truck traffic. Add in the limited visibility with the rain, and needless to say, it was white-knuckle cycling.
The feelings about bicycling in the rain are kind of like the Five Stages of Grief. When I left Waynesville this morning, it was like Denial, or “Oh, this will be a nice change of pace.” By now, I had reached the Acceptance stage. When you are totally soaking wet, there’s no point in worrying about it any further, because you can’t get any more wet.
I reached my relatives’ house much to their relief as well as amusement at seeing my soaked self. My mileage for the day showed 68 miles. I suspected that was a little light; maybe the rain had gotten the sensor on my bike computer a little water-logged and worn the battery down a bit.
The online route map shows about 72-1/2 miles. Either way, a hot shower, a home-cooked meal, and laundry were a welcome relief. Later, I peeled apart my other map printouts and route notes and laid them out on the garage floor to dry.