Car Less Ohio

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Tag Archives: Towpath Trail

Should you ride your bike to the mountain bike trailhead?

Should you ride your bike to the mountain bike trailhead?

The short answer is, yes.

Of course, as a driver and cyclist who promotes using your “car less,” I think you should pedal to the mountain bike trail whenever it’s possible and practical. Obvious situations where it’s not practical include “destination” mountain bike trails that are dozens, or even hundreds, of miles away from home.

Deciding when to ride to your local trail can involve a complicated combination of factors. The first time I rode from home to the trail was in the summer of 2010. I had just built a new 29er mountain bike, and was eager to do some exploring in my neighborhood and on some local trails.

At this point in history, the only truly “local” mountain bike trail was in the Cleveland Metroparks Ohio & Erie Canal Reservation (OECR). There was West Branch State Park, a 45-minute drive away; Vulture’s Knob and Mohican State Park, both over an hour drive away; or Reagan Park, local if you happened to live in Medina.

I  saddled up and headed out from my then-home in Twinsburg, made my way up to Alexander Road, then west to where it meets the Towpath Trail, then headed north up to OECR. It was about 16 miles before I reached the mountain bike trailhead. Maybe it was the mid-summer heat and humidity bearing down, maybe it was pushing my knobby tires on pavement most of the way, but by then, I wasn’t much in the mood the tackle singletrack. I did one obligatory lap of the 2.5-mile trail, then made the slog back home, resigning myself to not doing that kind of adventure again any time soon.

Fast forward to 2017, and the local singletrack options have exploded. The singletrack in the Cleveland Metroparks Bedford Reservation is a short 3.5-mile ride from my current home. The East Rim Trail in the Cuyahoga Valley National Park is literally on my way to work. The Hampton Hills Mountain Bike Area in the Summit Metro Parks is just south of work, and a short detour off of both the Towpath Trail and the Bike & Hike Trail. The Royalview Trail in the Cleveland Metroparks Mill Stream Run Reservation is a short 30-minute drive away.

There’s a group of local riders who, for the past couple of years, planned a day-long ride of over 100 miles that connects all of these local trails. They call it the “Solstice Ride,” since they plan it on or near the longest day of the year to maximize available daylight. On my bucket list for one of these years…

When I was looking to do some exploring and trail-riding on a cold fall day last Wednesday, most of the local mountain bike trails were closed. However, old reliable OECR is almost always open, so I hopped on the Surly Ogre to make my way up there. Sagamore Road is a nice low-traffic back road that takes you from the eastern side of the Cuyahoga Valley down to the Towpath Trail, near the Frazee House Trailhead.

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Ohio & Erie Canal Towpath Trail near Alexander Road

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Towpath Trail at the border of the Cuyahoga Valley National Park and the Cleveland Metroparks Ohio & Erie Canal Reservation, near Rockside Road in Independence

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Towpath Trail parking lot under Interstate 480

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Near the path up the to Canalway Center

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The OECR mountain bike trailhead

It ended up being 13 miles from home to the trailhead. The trail was in perfect shape. After my first lap, I still felt I had some trail legs left in me, so I did a second lap, which meant that would push me up over the 30-mile total mark by the time I got back home. Not bad for a cold fall day. And sometimes, when you hit a brick wall on some activity, some day, some way, you come back to it to turn it into a positive experience.

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Suspension bridge on the Towpath Trail in Valley View

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How to Run a Marathon

Back in 2010, I decided in the Spring that I would run a marathon that year. I looked up a training plan, but that’s about as far as it went.

I do the events and adventures that I do for my own enjoyment, not to impress anyone or prove anything to anyone. But I have to admit, I’d always wanted to run a marathon just so I could check that item off the list, and whenever the subject comes up, I could just sit back, breathe in pensively, and casually say, “Yeah, I’ve done that.”

Running is something I’ve done on and off over the years, just to mix it up and try to do some cross-training outside cycling. Getting back into running after getting away from it gets harder every time. The first few times I run, I think, “This sucks; this is why I don’t do this.” Then, I eventually get my running legs back, and start to enjoy it again, and the thoughts start churning again of, “Y’know, I bet I could do a marathon if I put my mind to it.”

In mid May of 2017, my girlfriend and I signed up for the 10K run in the Cleveland Marathon. Following the race, as we sat in the beer garden and enjoyed a post-race refreshment, I watched as some half-marathon runners arrived, and later some full marathoners. The thought hit me again, “I want to do that.”

The Towpath Marathon is the perennial first-timers marathon. It’s on the mostly unpaved and flat Ohio & Erie Canal Towpath Trail in the Cuyahoga Valley National Park, practically in my backyard. It’s held the first Sunday in October. I made up my mind in early June and registered. So, I had roughly four months to train.

I Googled “four month marathon training plan” and came across something that looked reasonable. I printed it out, hand-wrote the dates for each week, and stuck it up on the refrigerator.

MarathonTrainingPlanThe plan involved five days of running per week. Fridays were rest days; cross-training with a different type of activity was suggested on Mondays. The longest run of each week was on Saturdays, with short to medium runs the remaining days. The length of the runs reached their peak during the 13th week, then tapered back down during the final three weeks leading up to the race.

I didn’t want to give up my cycling that much, so I figured I’d plan on running three or four days a week. Working retail, it usually wasn’t practical to do the longest run on Saturdays, so I’d typically do it on my mid-week day off, usually Wednesday or Thursday. I’d do a short run early in the week, and a medium run late in the week, and sometimes squeeze in and extra short or long run on one of the remaining days.

Most of the time, I ran on the Towpath, but sometimes on the streets in my neighborhood, or on some private trails in a housing development adjacent to my neighborhood. Once in a while, I ran on the Buckeye Trail near Peninsula. I like trail running; the non-paved surface does feel easier on my joints, plus it kinda has the same vibe as mountain biking.

The Towpath Trail provided the ideal terrain for training. I have been biking on it for fifteen years, and ride some part of it at least once a week, either as part of my commute to and from work, or just for fun. Name any two points on the trail, and I can tell you the mileage between them. This would help in planning my training runs. A coworker suggested that the Columbus Marathon would be a better “first” marathon. The Towpath has limited access for spectators, so much of the time, you’re running on your own. The Columbus course is also very flat, and being in the city, there are crowds to cheer you on every step of the way. The crowd support is not a big deal to me, and I never get tired of the Towpath scenery.

I still biked a couple days a week; not as much as in a typical year, but enough that I still felt like I was getting my fix. My girlfriend and I signed up to do RAGBRAI, so she was actually riding a lot more than I, often getting in long rides on her own. We rode our only century of the year on July 9, to Massillon and back on the Towpath.

Immediately after returning home from RAGBRAI week, I flew out to Nevada for a work event, so there was basically two weeks of ignoring the training plan, although riding about 60 miles a day for seven days straight across Iowa kept me in good cardio shape. I worked back into the plan somehow without falling too far behind.

Some people register for a half-marathon and train for it. My first half-marathon was just another inauspicious check-mark on the training calendar, and it came on August 17. It was a cool day for August, with a light misty rain. I actually felt the worst that I had ever felt on a training run; I think mainly because I underestimated the water and snacks that I’d need. I ran from home, with the plan to being to meet my girlfriend at the Rockside Road trailhead on the Towpath. I ran through a couple of the local neighborhoods, then hooked up with the Sagamore Creek Trail, which was more overgrown with weeds than I expected, so the required bushwhacking slowed me down a bit. I got on the Towpath at the Frazee House Trailhead. When I got to Rockside Road, I was still a bit short of the needed miles, so I continued north on the Towpath. I’ve biked that stretch dozens of times, and it seems to go in the blink of an eye, but running it for my last mile seemed to take forever, all the while as I was doing the mental calculations for when I needed to turn around to get exactly 13.1 miles. The upward slope of the first of the trail’s suspension bridges loomed before me, but fortunately, I reached my turn-around point just before I got to the base of the bridge. Back at the parking lot, it was 13.1 miles exactly when I reached my girlfriend waiting with her car.

In the later weeks of training, the medium-length runs were starting to get long enough that I’d have to get up extra early to do them before work. It was still dark in a couple of cases, although never enough that I had to resort to running on the Towpath with a headlamp.

I believe I hit my physical peak on the day of my training mileage peak. On September 13, I did a 20-mile run on the Towpath, and felt fantastic. I even toyed with the idea of just running an extra 6.2 miles and getting it over with.

My food and drink plan for training runs was pretty simple. For any run over five miles, I’d bring a water bottle with a hand holster. I’d eat a packet of GU every 5 miles. Running on the Towpath afforded places to refill the water bottle, usually at the Boston Store Visitor Center and the Hunt Farm Visitor Center. Post-run, I’d recover using protein powder mixed in milk with some Hershey’s chocolate syrup to make it more palatable. I tracked my runs using Strava on an Apple Watch 2. I found that I only had any chafing issues on runs of about 8 miles or more. So, on those runs, I started using Body Glide. My shoes were a pair of New Balance 481 trail running shoes. I had a pair of Pearl Izumi eMotion Road M3 shoes for street running.

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I wasn’t training for speed; I just wanted to get the miles in. Occasionally, though, I would do some interval work by sprinting for about 50 yards every mile or two. My goal for the race was to beat five hours.

The final week prescribed the last training run of two miles, three days before the event, followed by two days of rest. I ran those two miles in the early evening on Thursday, October 5, and ironically, it was probably my second-hardest training run, after the half-marathon run. I picked up my packet and race bib number without incident on Saturday at Boston Mills Ski Resort.

20171008-towpathmarathon-bibRace morning was the typical routine. Wake up before the crack of dawn, eat some yogurt and granola for breakfast, get dressed and get in the car to head to the race. My girlfriend signed up for the 10K race, and fortunately, the start and finish for both the marathon and 10K were close to Boston Mills, so we didn’t have to deal with any funny business of drop one another off, or taking a shuttle before or after the race. We got there in time to park at Boston Mills, took our last-minute bathroom breaks, and walked a bit up Riverview Road to the starting area.

While waiting for the start, I had an interesting conversation with a pace runner. I don’t remember what pace the guy was setting, but he said he had run the Towpath Marathon a few times before, and this was his first time being a pacer. I asked him how he kept a consistent pace. He said that he set his GPS watch to show his pace as one of the data fields on the screen, and just keeps an eye on it to stay within range. He also said, though, that some experienced runners just have a natural ability to keep a chosen pace. He had a trainer that he worked with in the past, and she had this ability. She would say, for example, “Okay, today we’re doing eight-minute miles,” and she did not use any technological aids. Sure enough, following the training run, his GPS report would indicate that’s what he did, within a couple of seconds.

At the starting horn, we ran south on Riverview Road, turned left onto Boston Mills Road, then made a right onto the Towpath Trail. As I headed south, it seemed like the other runners around me were so serious and quiet, so as we went through the railroad tunnel about a mile north of Peninsula, I let out a bit “Whoop-whoop!” and a few other people chuckled and joined in.

The turnaround point was just a bit south of Ira Road. Along the way, I used the rest stops to top off my water bottle, and grab a GU, banana, or peanut butter and jelly sandwich. A couple miles south of Peninsula on the return, I hit the half-marathon mark and was still feeling pretty good (and that ended up being a personal best for a half-marathon).

I distinctly remember the point where I started to hit a wall. It was between the Ohio Turnpike overpass and the Boston Store Visitor Center, around the 16-mile mark. My legs started feeling tired; my feet started feeling heavy. I just thought, “10 miles sounds like a lot, but you can push through it.”

The northern turnaround was the trail loop under the State Route 82 bridge. As I approached the Station Road intersection just before that, I was happy to see my girlfriend there cheering me on. After her 10K, she had time to go home, shower, eat lunch, and get back to the course to see me.

Following the turnaround, it was about five miles to go to the finish. My pace had slowed considerably, but other than snack and bathroom breaks, I kept running the whole time. During the last stretch between Highland Road and Boston Mills Road, my “running” was barely a trot. I came upon a woman who appeared to be in her 70s, who was alternating between running and walking, but I couldn’t keep up with her.

I finally arrived in the parking lot of the Boston Store Visitor Center and crossed the finish line, making my five-hour goal with about 3 minutes to spare. My girlfriend was there and managed to get a cell phone snapshot.

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The finish was followed up by some recovery snacks and a celebratory beer, then a celebratory cake at home (my favorite, Boston Creme).

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The next day for work, I decided that yes, I would “be that guy” and wear the race t-shirt the day after the race.

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So, yes, I learned that if I put my mind to it, I CAN run a marathon. Of course, I also learned that “putting your mind to it” is the real trick in the process. Running a marathon is easy; it’s training for a marathon that’s hard.

Towpath Trail Fat Biking

Conditions were perfect today for riding a fat bike on the Ohio & Erie Canal Towpath Trail in the Cuyahoga Valley National Park. Mild temperatures in the 30s and 40s made for crunchy, grippy snow, and foot traffic made most sections packed and fast.

Video: Fat biking on the Towpath Trail

A 5-second time-lapse video of riding fat bikes in the snow on the Ohio & Erie Canal Towpath Trail in the Cuyahoga Valley National Park.

A Towpath Century

It’s been a lower-than average mileage year for me; by mid-August of 2013 I had three century rides under my belt for the year, but I had not done one at all this year until today. A day off with fine fall weather (summer sun with mild early fall temperatures) beckoning took me to the Ohio & Erie Canal Towpath Trail with my Salsa Fargo.

Other than a short ride to work one day, this was the first test of some new upgrades on the Fargo. I had purchased a pair of Velocity Blunt rims that I found a good deal on a couple of years ago. They are 36-hole rims, so I figured they’d make a good pair of heavy-duty touring wheels someday, and was I saving them until I settled on what hubs to use. A couple of friends of mine started using generator front hubs, so I jumped on the bandwagon to try out being self-sufficient with power while on the road. I went with the Cadillac model of hub, the Schmidt SON28, and likewise for a dynamo-powered headlight, the Busch & Mueller Luxos U. For the rear hub, I went with a Shimano Deore XT.

The Luxos U headlight has a handlebar-mounted switch with a built-in USB port. During the daytime (when you’re not using the headlight), you can plug in your smartphone or any USB-powered device to keep it running and charged. With my phone in my top tube bag and the USB cable running between the phone and the light switch, I was good to go.

Occasionally taking the phone out to snap some pictures of the scenery along the way didn’t post any additional challenges.

Trunk sewer line near the Towpath Trail just south of Portage Path in Akron.

Trunk sewer line near the Towpath Trail just south of Portage Path in Akron.

Floating bridge over Summit Lake south of downtown Akron

Floating bridge over Summit Lake south of downtown Akron

Towpath Trail bridge over Pancake Creek a mile north of the village of Clinton

Towpath Trail bridge over Pancake Creek a mile north of the village of Clinton

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A dike separating the Tuscarawas River from State Route 21 near downtown Massillon

I noticed there were a few more sections of pavement on the Towpath compared to the last time I had ridden down this far south. One part included a section just south of the Summit/Stark county line. I suspect this may have been done after the repair of some flood damage from storms that we received in Northeast Ohio in the spring of this year.

Downtown Massillon is currently the only unfinished section of the Towpath Trail in Stark County. The trail ends when you reach the Lincoln Way bridge. I usually just detour through downtown–it’s quicker and less complicated–to make my way over to the Walnut Road bridge, where the trail continues south. Instead, today I decided to follow the posted detour just out of curiosity. It takes you over the river on the Lincoln Way bridge, then along a convoluted series of back streets, glass-strewn alleys, and paved local park paths until you reach Walnut Road. However, I noticed this not-yet-open extension of the Towpath Trail extending under the Lincoln Way bridge:

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When I got to Walnut Road, looking north, I could not see where this new stretch connected to continue south. So, I’m not sure when this new trail will open, and if and when it will complete the continuous trail through Massillon.

UPDATE Nov. 30, 2014 – Apparently, there was a dedication and ribbon-cutting ceremony for this new section of trail on November 12.

Since my goal was to do 100 miles today, I continued south of Massillon until my cyclocomputer hit the 50-mile mark, which happened to be this spot about a quarter-mile south of Wooster Street in Navarre, on another stretch of new pavement:

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I had a Clif Bar snack before turning around and heading back north. I stopped at the Cherry Street Creamery in Canal Fulton for some lunch (chili cheese dog and a soft pretzel).

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Beaver Marsh area in the Cuyahoga Valley National Park

Beaver Marsh area in the Cuyahoga Valley National Park

Usually, when you do an out-and-back ride to reach a specific distance, the margin of error makes you end up a little over or a little under your target mileage. Surprisingly, in this case, the moment I arrived right at my car back at my starting point in Peninsula, my cyclocomputer turned over just 1/100th of a mile over 100 miles.

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The generator hub coupled with the USB port on the headlight worked perfectly. After running the Endomondo app on my phone during the entire 8-hour ride, I ended up with a fully-charged phone.

Legends of the Beer Ride

Whether you’re in an urban, suburban, or rural area, every group of cyclists has their own set of traditions for the “Beer Ride.” But for the uninitiated, I provide for you here a step-by-step guide to planning your own Beer Ride.

Step 1. Select a date. Under ideal circumstances, the Beer Ride is spontaneous, i.e. “Hey, let’s do a Beer Ride tomorrow night.” But, this is the real world, and folks need time to get permission from their significant others and/or employers, so a week or two advance notice works best.The beer ride is often a recurring event on or near a national holiday, as in the case of my group’s original Beer Ride, as well as this latest one, Cinco de Mayo.

Step 2. Publicize your Beer Ride on Facebook or some other accessible place on the Interwebz. “But,” you’re asking, “Won’t that mean there will be a bunch of whackos showing up for my ride?” Well, yes, but that’s the whole idea–making new friends and having a good time. Worst-case scenario, you’ll have a good idea of who to leave off the guest list for the next Beer Ride. Plus, when some wet blanket hassles you afterwards about not getting an invitation, you can tell them, “It was a public event. You didn’t need an invitation.”

You’ll have a core group of “founders” who started your Beer Ride tradition, and a handful of others who rotate in and out on an ongoing basis. For each ride, one of the founders will have a lame excuse for backing out at the last minute.

Step 3. Choose your bike. Any bike will do, although if you’re the type of person whose bike collection is up in the double digits, you’ll have a bike dedicated just for Beer Rides. A Surly makes a nice choice, as it did for over half the people on this ride.

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Step 4. Choose a starting location for pre-ride beers. A local bar, your local beer-friendly bike shop, or someone’s house makes a good choice. In our case, it was the house of the guy who backed out of this ride. If there’s anything better than raiding somebody else’s beer fridge, it’s raiding somebody else’s beer fridge when they’re not home. The pre-ride beers might get so out of hand as to force everyone to forego the actual ride.

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Step 5. Take photos to share the debauchery during the ride. The photos will get progressively more blurry as the night goes on, either because of the pre-ride beers, or the increasingly dark conditions in which cell-phone cameras don’t work so hot.

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Step 6. Choose a destination. You can vote as a group, either ahead of time or the night-of, or as a founder, exercise your authority to choose when you organize the event. A place with food and a good selection of beer is a good choice, such as Mr. Zub’s Deli in the Highland Square neighborhood in Akron.

An off-road route, like the Ohio & Erie Canal Towpath Trail, is nice, but not necessary. A few on-road connections are unavoidable, including a hill or two like Merriman Road or Portage Path to separate the women from the girls.

Lock your bikes up, especially if you’re riding to a place like Akron. Not everyone will remember a lock, but as long as you have about one lock for every three bikes, you should be in good shape. Sitting by the front windows where you have a good view of the bikes helps as well.

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Step 7. Enjoy your meal, mid-ride beers, and the ride back. You may want to add more bars to the route–this is where group cohesion usually breaks down, as ride fatigue and beer fatigue catches up with some riders and not others.

Fellow bar-hoppers will notice your group on bikes and make some comment like, “Hey great idea; don’t have to worry about getting a DUI.” While technically, you CAN get a DUI while riding a bicycle, in our experience, The Law will leave you alone as long as you’re not acting like a jerk.

Inevitably, one rider will somehow get lost on the way back and end up at the corner of Steels Corners and Hudson Roads, nowhere near the actual return route.

Public input sought for Towpath Trail route in Tuscarawas County

The Akron Beacon-Journal reports that the Akron-based Ohio & Erie Canalway Coalition is holding two public meetings on January 24, 2011 to solicit public feedback on proposed routes for the segment of the Ohio & Erie Canal Towpath Trail between Zoarville and New Philadelphia. The first meeting is at 6:00pm in the pavilion at Tuscora Park, 161 Tuscora Ave, New Philadelphia. The second meeting is at 7:30pm in Memorial Hall, 410 N. Wooster Ave, Dover.