Ohio to Erie or Bust (Part One)


It seems impossible anyone could be so glad to see Cleveland.

My friend Paul said he was going to ride the Ohio to Erie bike trail from Cincinnati to Cleveland. Again. Last year, he did this ride self-contained, meaning he hauled all his clothes, camping gear, food, and clothes on his bike. I went with Paul when 11 of us rode the Allegheny Mountain Gap ride self-contained in 2019. It was the hardest physical thing I’ve ever done. (“See the beautiful mountains! Ride in the rain for three days!! First 25 miles are uphill! Learn to love sleeping in a tent that is growing mushrooms inside!”) Three of these statements were NOT in the brochure. It was memorable, I’ll give it that. So naturally when Paul suggested another daunting ride, I said sure. This one was going to be (relatively) easy. One rider’s wife agreed to be our SAG wagon. I don’t know what SAG officially stands for, but what it means is that this good woman hauled our luggage in her van the entire route. We agreed we’d stay in either hotels or B and Bs, so no camping. Three hundred and thirty miles in six days. Chip shot, as Paul would say.

The tradition is to dip your bicycle’s rear tire into the Ohio river at the onset of the ride and to dip the front tire into Lake Erie at the end. We got just a slight taste of the perils of the trip right there at the river. The ramp was covered with, as I believe the technical term is, goose poop, and the concrete was like a very nasty ice skating rink. On day one, of course, we were full of determination, not to mention energy. We came, we slid, we conquered. Dripping green goo from our rear tires, we were off.

One great thing about riding across Ohio is the interesting people you meet. Our first day (Cincinnati to Xenia) was pretty calm. We couldn’t find the hotel in Xenia but I knew where there was a local brewery. Finding a local brewery became a recurring theme on this ride. Gotta stay hydrated. Another thing that became a recurring theme was the bike GPS that failed every time we entered a town. Even when we were in the outdoor seating area of the brewery, the GPS insisted it was somewhere else. Not being able to find the right street is one thing. Not being able to locate beer is something else entirely. Undaunted (but hydrated), we began what became our routine for the next week. Find our hotel, drag bikes inside, get luggage from van, shower, then reconvene for dinner. This timing meshed nicely, as it allowed a hazmat team to decontaminate the showers while we were out. It was in the mid-90s all week. We were on the bikes up to seven hours a day. Anyone with an intact olfactory system gave us fairly wide berth. Mornings shaped their own routine: pack your duffle bag, haul it and your two-wheeled steed to the van, pump up your tires, and get on the bike.

Next leg was Xenia to Columbus. The path was beautiful and shady and much less crowded than the weekend. We stopped in London for a break and asked a local walker where to go for lunch. With no hesitation at all, he pointed across the path and said, “Right there.” “Right there” proved to be the London, Ohio Senior Citizen Center, which gave the non-seniors among us pause. The local insisted we’d be welcome just as long as we could pony up the astonishing sum of five dollars for a full lunch. Chicken, mashed potatoes, broccoli, fruit, iced tea, and cake were being served and the crowd ranged from sedate to downright feisty. One woman insisted she owed an extra quarter for a take-out box. Her friend insisted she had already paid. This went on for some time, holding up the line. Things became more heated (not the food…the food was cooling right down) and mashed-potato man tried to referee. He asked them to calm down, which was the exact wrong thing to say to a woman trying to make things right with a quarter. Eventually we made it to Columbus, where the bike GPS promptly lost its head and us. We ended up riding down a cobblestone city street, turning mashed potatoes into churned potatoes.

With a resurgence in Covid, we never knew what the hotels were going to offer for breakfast. The one in Xenia gave us a juice box and a crinkly-wrapped little Little Debbie that was aging rapidly. The hotel in Columbus provided fruit, breakfast sandwiches, and yogurt which was not so much a step up as a giant leap.

Next time: Onward to Holmes County, Amish country, where we traded goose poop for horse.

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