September was fast approaching. It’s my favorite month of the year for traveling and I was looking forward to backpacking around Lake Tahoe with my brother. Unfortunately, he was not feeling it in the same way and decided the trip wasn’t for him. After getting over the shock how anyone would not want to be in the Sierras in September I began thinking about other options. Without a long lead time, and a shortage of hiking friends, I was looking at a solo trip. After solo hiking several longer trails (Colorado Trail, Long Trail, JMT…) in the last few years I was ready for something different. How about a bike ride? That could be interesting.
Running from the Ohio River at downtown Cincinnati to Lake Erie near downtown Cleveland, the Ohio to Erie Trail runs 326 miles through the heart of Ohio. Most of the route is off road and there appeared to be enough camping or lodging available along the route to make a feasible ride for an older (read slower) cyclist. In addition, the trail runs near my house so logistics were straightforward. Looks like I had my September trip!
My first stop was at the local bike shop to see if my aging “hybrid” bike had what it takes to complete the journey. I was told it would be “like driving a Cadillac,” but apparently not in a good way. Slow, but comfortable was the way the other mechanic described how my trip would go. I was good with that. With significant mileage on packed gravel, my race bike with narrow tires seemed like a poor choice.
Using maps from the Ohio to Erie Trail (OTET) organization and their website, I put together a plan to travel the distance in six days, using a combination of camping and hotels. Averaging around 55 miles per day seemed doable even with the slow Caddy loaded down and powered by a nearly 60 year old engine.
Utilizing a borrowed pair of panniers and my lightweight backpacking equipment I was able to keep the load well under 20 pounds. That included a change of clothes, rain gear, camping gear, a couple spare tubes, a few tools, snacks and water. Looking at the route, it appeared I could get nearly all of my meals as I traveled.
The first stretch, from the Ohio River to my house near Morrow, looked like it had some of the worst on-road riding of the trip. While there had been some additional trail built in the last few years, the official trail still took riders down Rt 50 (Wooster Pike), a busy four lane road, for six miles. As I drove that road down to the start at the river, it became an easy decision for me to stay away from Wooster and take the new, nearby trail.
Parking near the Ohio River in downtown Cincinnati, it was easy to hop on the trail and pedal to the start near Great American Ballpark. It was a beautiful fall day and I got started heading east along the Ohio River a bit after 10 AM. This meant missing, as planned, the morning rush hour on the sections of city streets. Rolling through Sawyer Point Park and Friendship Park, the path was flat and scenic. A 2 ½ mile section on Riverside drive wasn’t bad as a separate bike lane was well marked. Some more park/trail and a shift to behind a septic treatment plant kept most of the route off road until I reached the popular bike trail around Lunken Airport. The wide, smooth path was sandwiched between Wilmer Road and a number of airplane hangers. Once past the airport, the OTET route continued onto Wooster Pike.
After looking at that route earlier that day, I made the decision to go rogue. By turning east onto Rt 125 (Beechmont Ave.) I pedaled less than a mile on a busy road, with a reasonably good shoulder, and crossed the Little Miami River. From there, taking the first exit onto north Rt 32 put me immediately onto a new section of the Little Miami Scenic Trail (LMST). It was a pleasant few miles through neighborhood parks until the official OTET route rejoined me by Avoca Park. Getting to this point took well under an hour. In checking with the OTET organization, neither the City of Cincinnati or Hamilton County will allow them to designate Beechmont as a bike route. The official route (and the one you should follow) will remain Wooster Pike for the time being. Either way, the rest of the day and beyond would be off road on the LMST.
Much of the LMST is constructed on an old railroad line. As such, there are no steep hills along its entire length. While the lack of elevation change can be boring for some, the trail is often within sight of the pretty Little Miami River, which in 1968, became Ohio’s first National Wild and Scenic River. In addition, there are numerous small towns with plenty of great places to stop for a break or to buy a snack or enjoy a meal. Not that I would notice, but there also seemed to be a plethora of bars alongside the path on this, and other, stretches.
As this is my “home” section of trail, I made pretty good time through the morning. Much of the trail is a green tunnel with possible stops after a few miles in Milford, a few more miles at Miamiville, or six more miles at Loveland. The trail is an integral part of Loveland and you pass right by a canoe/kayak livery, bike shop (where I had my ride checked out) and numerous restaurants. I could recommend several of them, but stopped for lunch at Bike Trail Junction, which is literally feet from the trail.
After a relaxing lunch, I stepped out of the place and right onto my bike. Loveland is quite possibly the busiest spot on the entire route, but on a weekday afternoon in September, I saw just a few other bikers as I continued north. The afternoon remained sunny and pleasant with ongoing views of the Little Miami. Several miles up the path is the interesting historical site of the Peters Cartridge Company, a major producer of munitions for the Allied forces in both World Wars. The remaining building is planned to be converted into retail and apartments in the not too distant future.
A short 14 miles after lunch I rolled into Morrow, my endpoint for the day. I traveled 39 miles up the OTET route and had 4 miles of country road yet to travel to get to my house. Without a convenient, comfortable spot to get dinner and my own bed, I would have traveled a few more miles to a riverside campground operated by Morgan’s Canoe Livery. As it was, I was home by midafternoon, plenty of time to get a ride to retrieve my truck that I’d left downtown.