There is one thing above all others that attracts me to cycling as a sport. The bicycle is a tool that unlocks adventure. I might have stumbled into mountain bike racing, a niche that I enjoy immensely. But, my initial bike rides involved meandering the bike paths, roads and trails in the community around me – exploring my environment at a leisurely pace that allowed me to stop and sample the local culture from time to time.
With that in mind, I try to go bike touring at least once every year or two. I load up my bike and head out on an adventure. I’ve ridden across New York from Buffalo to Albany along the Erie Canal. I’ve traveled from Pittsburgh to DC and DC to Pittsburgh along the Great Allegheny Trail and the C&O Canal Towpath. Each trip has filled me with a sense of accomplishment and memories that I’m very proud of. I’ve discovered local communities, art, cuisine and landscapes that I would never have stopped for if I was driving my car along the interstate.
This year, because I wanted to keep the budget lower and take fewer days off, I decided I wanted to keep my adventure a little closer to home. I left from home just north of Columbus, Ohio and biked up to Cleveland along the Ohio To Erie Trail. The trail is a mix of roads and paved and unpaved bike paths, many of which are Rails-To-Trails paths – old rail lines that have been converted to bike paths. The paths tend to be flat, while the roads, especially in Amish Country, tend to be hillier – 9000 feet of climbing total.
This Could Get Awkward
I traveled with my friend Dan Fausey, who is the president of Combo, the Central Ohio Mountain Bike Organization. I met him through his blog, Mountain Bike Trailer Park. …another mountain bike blogger. Guess what we talked about when we were riding? 🙂 (Email Dan and tell him to write his version of the story)
Dan and I had never spent this much time together, so I wasn’t sure what I was getting myself into. Would he be a good companion or more like a creepy uncle? I figured it could go either way. Worst case scenario: I could ride ahead and pretend not to hear him for a few hundred miles.
When you have 34 hours in the saddle along with multiple restaurant and beer stops, there is plenty of time for talking, not just getting to know the details of each others lives, but also plenty of ponticating about the meaning of life. With that much time together, you need a good riding buddy, and it turns out that Dan fit the bill perfectly. He had a great attitude and was up for any stop or side adventure I could dream up. Just don’t ask him how he feels about horses.
Slow With a Purpose
I think Dan had visions that I was planning on going a lot faster than we ended up going. He knows me as “Racing James” – a man willing to eat beets to shave 4 seconds off his race time, but he had never seen me as “Adventure James” – a man willing to eat beets because they go well with pretzel-flavored beer. I predicted 11 mph and our final average speed was 11.2 mph. That may seem slow to some folks, but when you are traveling for 4 days straight on heavy, loaded bikes with sections of unpaved towpath, it can be difficult to go much faster. We could have pushed it on day 1 & 2, but we would have paid for it on day 3 & 4. Plus, the whole point is not to be in pain and miserable the whole time. We wanted to have fun and see the sights, to take pictures with Bigfoot statues and drink Old Milwaukee with a waitress named Flo.
This was a vacation. We didn’t have time goals because we wanted to be able to stop and take pictures with a 6 ft chicken if we happened to find one – which we did – or taste some locally-made corn whiskey on the distillery’s first day in business – which we also did. The trip was a success, not because of the amount of miles we logged, but because we were able to make time to appreciate the quirks we found along the path.
We logged about 375 miles in 4 days. That is definitely the most miles I’ve ridden in a 4 day period. Dan had just finished TOSRV, so he had about 600 miles in 8 days – what a monster. I had actually underestimated the mileage when I was planning the trip. I was looking for about 60 to 70 miles a day, but we ended up over 90 a day – with two 100+ days. This really cut into our beer-drinking time – which is both a good and a bad thing. I would have been fine with making it a 5 or 6 day trip with more stops, side-trips and goofing around.
Is Anyone Thirsty?
I had planned the trip as a cross-state brewery tour. There are 10 to 12 breweries within two miles of this section of the Ohio to Erie Trail. The first night we had fun hanging out at the Millersburg Brewing Company. This was the first brewery we came across. They have been open for two years and just started canning their products. We ordered a flight of every beer they serve and split it while we recovered from 85 miles of riding. Dan ordered enough food to feed all of Amish Country – which we would explore more of the next day.
That night we slept in the historic Hotel Millersburg, the third oldest hotel in Ohio. Grover Cleveland once stayed there. Woo-hoo!
The next day we hit Thirsty Dog Brewing Company for lunch. Once again we ordered a flight of every beer they had, only this time we still had 60 more miles to ride. The beer tasted awesome, but did made us a little sluggish when we started riding again. This is when the brewery tour started to go off the rails.
By the time we got to Cleveland that night we had logged over 100 miles. As we pulled into town, there was a construction detour that pulled us away from our planned route. We ended up overshooting the Great Lakes Brewing Company, Market Garden Brewery and Nano Brew Cleveland by 1.5 miles, which felt like an insurmountable distance at that moment. It was getting late and we decided to head to our hotel first. By the time we checked in, changed out of our biking shorts and unpacked a few things we were exhausted. We “Ubered” to Great Lakes to celebrate our arrival, but after dinner there and a beer at Market Garden Brewery, we were ready to call it a night. After all, we had 106 more miles to ride the next day.
By heading back to the hotel early we missed out on 4 potential brewery stops, but probably also saved ourselves from a wicked headache in the morning. Next time, I think I would probably add a day to the journey to just hang out in Cleveland or Akron and sample more of their awesome foamy beverages.
The next day, we were hoping to stop at Trailhead Brewing Company near Akron, but once again my poor planning prevented us from completing the mission. We arrived at 10:30 am, but the brewery did not open until 2pm. We had a lot of miles before we reached our hotel, so we couldn’t afford to sit around and wait. Although at this point in the journey, sitting still sounded like a great idea. Instead, we took a picture outside of the brewery and had lunch on the side of the trail.
By the time we got back to Millersburg it was getting late. We ended up going to Bags Sports Pub instead of the brewery just because they served food and the brewery didn’t. It felt weird not to hit the brewery again, but we really needed sustenance in our bellies to recover and fuel our final day of riding.
On the final day there were no breweries planned and we marched slowly home along the roads and trails we had hit on day 1. 4 breweries in 4 days. Not exactly a brewery tour. That’s okay though. There were plenty of other things that made the journey interesting.
Horse & Buggy Country
For me, one of the biggest highlights was riding through Amish Country. I did not expect to get a big kick out of this, but I did. There was a steady stream of horse-drawn buggies puttering along the roads and bike paths. It was interesting to witness this unique culture. This wasn’t a tourist-trap apple orchard with hay rides. This was the real deal. These folks were going about their lives – farming, working, doing laundry, going to church, playing volleyball, and even riding twisty skateboards (called “caster boards” or “waveboards”). Here we were, tethered to our iPhones and Garmin GPS devices, and they were using actual horse-power to fuel their lifestyles. It was amazing to see how differently they live their lives.
Another highlight was riding through Cleveland. This city has an industrial past and, like a lot of the Rust Belt, had hit a rough patch in recent years. The route into the city takes you past the Cleveland of the past, present and the future. There was evidence of industrial decay, but we also saw a very active port city, with huge ships floating under drawbridges. In some neighborhoods, boarded up offices and manufacturing sites were being converted to condos and hip neighborhoods. The area around the breweries was bustling. These are things you can see in a car, but for some reason, it seemed to have a bigger impact when I was viewing it from the saddle of my bike.
Reflecting on Escape
When you are talking about a trip like this it can be hard to put your experiences into words. We saw wildlife, like muskrats, deer, snakes, toads, birds. There were beautiful landscapes with wild flowers set against bucolic farmhouses. There were quirky pieces of public art and friendly locals. Each experience on its own may have been mundane, but as a whole they made a journey.
I took photos to try and capture the magic. We were two men doing a very simple thing – riding our bikes. This is something that 5 year olds do every day. However, children have boundaries set by their parents. We’ve grown up and been unleashed, yet we still choose to do the same thing, although now I think we appreciate it much more. We pedaled. We explored. We got tired. We slept and ate. We did all this with the Ohio countryside as our backdrop. Even though we were close to home, it was still an escape.
Who wants to do Columbus to Cincinnati with us next year? We’ll pick you up on the Olentangy trail on our way out of town. Message me.
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Dan & Jimmy’s Stats (According to GPS)
***My Garmin was turned off for about 3 hours or 30 miles of our adventure, so these stats underestimate the trip. The “corrected stats” are in parentheses.
- Distance: 355.58 miles (375)
- Elapsed Time: 31:42:58 (34 hours)
- Moving Time: 26:17:02 (29 hours)
- Average Speed: 11.2 mph
- Average Speed Day
- Max Speed: 41.6 mph
- Elevation Gain: 9029 ft.
- Calories: 14,875
- Avg Temp: 63.8 degrees F
- Day 1 – Average Speed: 11.5 mph – Distance: 83 miles
- Day 2 – Average Speed: 11.4 mph – Distance: 106 miles
- Day 3 – Average Speed: 11.0 mph – Distance: 106 miles
- Day 4 – Average Speed: 10.9 mph – Distance: 80 miles