Ohio to Erie Trail: Biking Across Ohio, Part 3

Looking for the beginning of this adventure? Try here.

After a hearty breakfast at Bob Evans, I pedaled north on the Westerville Bike and Walk Route in the morning sun. It was day four of my ride. Soon I passed one of several bike maintenance stations on the trail. This one had a pump, tools, water and even a wash area. Very nice and thoughtful. Bouncing between trail and short sections of road there were some nice views of Hoover Reservoir. In Galena, the route went strictly on road to Sunbury and beyond for over twelve miles, my longest road stretch to that point. With no steep hills and little traffic, the road was actually a nice change of pace until I picked up the Heart of Ohio Trail, or HOOT.

I had been looking forward to stopping at Pizzaburg in Centerburg for lunch, but had ridden too fast for my own good. It was still before 11 AM and they had yet to open. I made do with some roller food at a nearby gas station and pressed on. Although the trail was paved between towns, many of the cross streets were not. I was definitely in the country.

Mt Vernon was a fairly major town with restaurants, businesses and interesting parks along the trail. I wished I had held out a little longer for lunch. Right downtown, the route jogs onto the Kokosing Gap Trail (KGT). Keep your eyes open for the turn. Following the scenic Kokosing River, the KGT travels through forests between towns that sit about five miles apart. At the Gambier trailhead, an entire train was on display. At Danville, I caught second lunch/early dinner and picked up drinks for my planned camping a few miles up the Mohican Valley Trail.

The Knox County Park District allows bike travelers to camp near the parking lot at the Bridge of Dreams, an impressive covered bridge over the Mohican River. Camping is “primitive.” Basically, it’s a flat spot by the river close to a portalet and a parking lot. The reason they provide it is because there aren’t other overnight options in the area. The reason I was planning to stay there was because it would be after 58 miles and my planning showed they were right; no other options nearby. Upon my arrival though, it was still before 3 pm, the area was obviously buggy and three guys were hanging out that looked like extras from an episode of Breaking Bad. I certainly didn’t feel unsafe, but wasn’t about to spend hours sitting there wondering how safe I’d feel if I still had company after sundown. I pressed on.

I soon hit the brand new Holmes County Trail. I wasn’t even sure it was open yet due to signs of ongoing construction, but saw that the asphalt had been marked by horses and buggys. If it was ready enough for the local Amish to use, I figured it was ready for me. The trail itself was one of the hillier bike trails I’ve been on, but I’m sure it saved me from even bigger climbs on the road. Other than one construction worker, I went the entire eight miles without seeing another person. From Glenmont to Killbuck there were eight more miles, this time on rolling roads. On that stretch, I was not passed by a single car. I was certainly not going fast, there was just no traffic. After several more miles on trail, I reached my new planned stop for the night, the Millersburg Comfort Inn. There were a few rooms left and a bit of daylight as well. I’d traveled 80 miles, by far my longest day ever on a bike.

This definitely threw my planning out of whack. My planned stop for the next night was only 36 miles away and I was having trouble finding either camping or a motel near the trail a full day’s ride north. Luckily, the “Holy Rollers” were also staying at the Comfort Inn and suggested I try for a room at the Akron Marriott, right by the trail. It looked to be around 65 miles. After 80, that didn’t seem too bad and I made a reservation. That evening, the last remnants of Irma finally caught up to me and it rained through the night.

In the morning, it was still raining. After breakfast, I walked outside to survey the situation first hand and met one of the preachers doing the same thing. He told me that he was praying that the rain would stop and about ten minutes later, it did just that. Hmmm, perhaps I should stick near that group for the rest of the ride?

When I got ready to leave, the group was waiting for one member to visit a nearby clinic for a bad back that hadn’t responded as well as the weather did. I took off on my own. The Holmes County Trail had been nice and wide as it was designed to handle the width of two horse drawn buggies. On the down side, the rain had spread some of the gifts left on the trail by the aforementioned horses. There was a bit of weaving as I pedaled.

Much of Amish country is picturesque and at one point I stopped to take a shot of a small herd of cows along the trail. A word of caution: bike shoes have little traction on a wet, grass covered slope. Me and the bike ended up in a heap by the pasture fence. Interestingly, the cows all walked over for a better look at my mishap. I couldn’t tell if they were concerned or just wanted a front row view of the morning’s comedy.

I was unhurt (other than my pride) but my attempt to stay upright resulted in me yanking the seat cover partway off its frame. I couldn’t repair it, but adjusted the seat position to be as comfortable as possible. My continued pedaling was a bit tentative there wasn’t much holding the cover on the seat and any further issues would result in serious discomfort.

After ten miles of flat, empty trail I made it to Fredericksburg and the longest road stretch of the entire route. The seventeen miles of rural road had some significant hills, but again, little traffic. About halfway through that stretch I met a biker heading the other way who asked if we were on the Towpath Trail. I had the unhappy task of telling him that not only were we not on that trail, we were no where near it. Sharing my map with him, I figured he had made a wrong turn over 15 miles back. It was even worse as it appeared that he wasn’t on a recreational ride. I was guessing his overloaded bike was his only transportation. He declined to turn around so I showed him a highway option that might shorten his reroute. On the plus side, the day remained cloudy and cool, pleasant for pedaling.

Eventually I made it to the town of Dalton, where I had lunch at Wendy’s and caught the start of the Sippo Valley Trail. The packed gravel path wound through field and forest for around ten miles before reaching the major city of Massillon and Towpath Trail. From there, I rode along the Tuscarawas River on a trail that varied between gravel and asphalt. My tires worked pretty well on either, but the damaged seat was still “a pain in the ass.” Luckily, on the north side of town is a major trailhead where Ernie’s Bike Shop sits. I showed one of the staff my seat and he popped it right off the bike to attempt to repair it. After that failed, I chose a similar seat off the wall and they had it on my bike in a couple minutes, quickly putting me back on my way.

Leaving the Massillon area, the trail continued following both the river and remnants of the Ohio and Erie Canal. In the next town, Canal Fulton, the canal has been refurbished with a working lock, canalway center and canal boat rides. Most important for me was the handy, right on the trail, location of the Cherry Street Creamery. There I got some of the best ice cream ever and a sugar boost to power me ever farther north.

Closing in on Akron, it was obvious that the area was becoming more urban and industrial. However, the remnant of the canal kept the natural atmosphere. Turtles and heron were a common sight and a deer even popped out of a small woodlot. Eventually the trail turned to boardwalk and the adjacent waterway opened up into Summit Lake with several spots for a rest break and to enjoy the view.

Despite entering an industrial area, the trail itself remained impressive with high end fencing and lighting. Once in Akron, there was mileage on city streets, but still a separate, well marked lane. As I rolled down a large hill on the north side of town, a sidetrail took me almost to the door of my day’s destination, the Akron Courtyard by Marriott.

Another former lock was on display near the start of my last day’s ride. In addition, the trail (and the old canal) began to follow the Cuyahoga River Valley. Just a few miles north of Akron, the Towpath Trail also reached Cuyahoga Valley National Park. For the most part, the trail remained in the park for the next 20 miles. As with all National Parks, the trail and surrounding land was beautifully laid out and maintained. Since 1880, there has been a railroad through the valley. Since 1972, the Cuyahoga Scenic Railroad has offered a relaxing way to see the park. They even offer Bike Aboard, hauling you and your bike along the route. https://www.cvsr.com/

The path pleasantly meandered through the park, passing several of the old locks. One long boardwalk crossed a stretch of wetland. A break in the park was the town of Pennisula. A train depot, National Park Store and a couple restaurants are all right near the trail and just right for me to pick up a mid-morning snack.

A few miles further was the Canal Exploration Center with some great displays on the canal and its history. I couldn’t linger too long though, as I had arranged for a ride to meet me at Lake Erie at noon.

Once out of the park, the surroundings quickly became more urban, but the ride was still pleasant. Over a couple major road intersections there were truly impressive bike/pedestrian bridges. Eventually the trail reverted back to an industrial road for a short spell before some trail alongside a steel mill and the Steel Heritage Center.

By now I had less than 5 miles to go and had several glimpses of downtown Cleveland. I had to really keep my eyes on my immediate surroundings though as most of the rest of the way was on city streets, some of them fairly busy. At last I made it to 65th St which was my last stretch of road and heading straight for Lake Erie. A short winding path took me under busy Rt 20 and directly into Edgewater Park. I was at the shore in no time and done. It was a beautiful day. Boats were out on the lake and the nearby beach had a few folks on it. I had ridden 40 miles and beat my noon deadline by 15 minutes. Working on my surviving snacks and drink, I just enjoyed the surroundings and the day.

A little after noon, I noticed my truck drive by the park up on Rt 20. A quick call confirmed Michelle had missed that entrance to the park, but was at the next entrance. So, I slid my helmet back on one last time and rode ½ mile to the park’s overlook, which was a great spot. You could see the park’s shoreline, downtown Cleveland and complete the scene with a large Cleveland sculpture.

All that was left to do was ride back to Cincinnati. However, a late lunch buffet in Amish Country would be a required stop. It’s a pleasant drive back across Ohio, but I-71 reveals little of the beauty and adventure awaiting those that delve deeper into the state on two wheels on the Ohio to Erie Trail.

Ohio to Erie Trail: Biking across Ohio, Part 2

To get to Part One, Click here.

Once I finished a big breakfast at home, it was back on the bike. While my second day on the trail would be a clear and cool morning, the long term forecast was a bit more iffy. What was left of Hurricane Irma was slowly churning north from the Gulf of Mexico and I had decided that I might be able to outrun it. However, riding would be a bit slower as the bike was loaded with panniers full of clothes, a tent, sleeping bag and pad, plus snacks. With two water bottles full, I was still carrying less than a twenty pound load.

After a four mile ride into the Little Miami River valley, I once again joined the Little Miami Scenic Trail, right where I had left off in Morrow. The valley is fairly deep as the trail parallels the Little Miami River. After a few miles I rode past Morgan’s Canoe Livery Campground. Nearby, Ziplines crossed 200 feet overhead. A steep side trail led to Ft Ancient, a massive set of earthworks constructed by prehistoric Hopewell People. Another, more modern landmark was the new, twin bridges that carry I-71 over the bike trail and the river. At 239 feet over the river, they are the highest bridges in Ohio. A few miles further on, another of “the bridges of Warren County” did not look quite as modern. The Corwin Nixon Covered Bridge on Middletown Road is worth the short side trip. Other points of interest on the beautiful morning included a couple deer crossing the path and several herons fishing on the river. All too soon though, the trail left the by now, really little, Little Miami River and turned a bit east towards Spring Valley. Slim’s Neighborhood Bar and Grill is about a block off the trail and they open at 7 AM for breakfast. After 27 miles, I had missed that, but was getting pretty hungry for lunch. Pulling in, There was already a group of eight other cyclists settled in with menus. Turns out, it was a group of preachers that annually make the ride up to Cleveland. These “holy rollers” sounded like they were on the same basic schedule as me, though they’d be using hotels each night. That was a plus as my planned camp spot in London wouldn’t accommodate more than a few tents.

Lunch was still fresh in my stomach when I rolled into Xenia, a major trail junction for southwest Ohio. Here I left the LMST and picked up the Prairie Grass Trail, heading east. This trail was also a former rail line, but with no river valley to follow, was straight and often exposed as it travelled along large farm fields and signs of agribusiness. Normally, a westerly wind would help push you along on this stretch, but the edge of the monstrous low pressure system that was Irma had already reached me and created a significant headwind.

With the wind against me and the trail on a seemingly endless slight incline, I was starting to wear down. At Cedarville, a pharmacy is right by the trail and I stopped in for a Gatorade. Standing at the register still wearing bike shoes and a helmet, I resisted the urge for a smart ass reply when asked if I was riding the trail. A candy bar and sugary drink were just the prescription I needed and was soon back out, against the wind.

Eleven tough miles later I hit South Charleston. Like many towns, the old railroad station had been rehabbed into a trail rest stop. Often these stops also have a railroad car on display, typically a caboose. There were two cabooses here. I assume the railroads got a nice tax deduction for donating these no longer needed cars, but it makes for a nice atmosphere. I’d planned to stop at a grocery to pick up dinner, but saw nothing along the trail and pushed on.

Reaching the Madison County line, the trail surface was fresh and smooth. Additionally, the incline finally appeared to be over for the time being. I got my second wind and pushed a good pace in toward the town of London, my destination for the night. 

At a park right on the trail and at the edge of town, an extremely nice camping area had been set up for those traveling the OTET. I’d made 58 miles (62 counting the distance to my house). There was room for a few tents, and I had my choice. A picnic shelter, water and a restroom were all on site. A map of town showed where various restaurants, stores and services were located. After setting up camp, a half mile ride got me to Subway for a sandwich and Speedway for a cold drink and I was set for the night. As I sat in the shelter with dinner, Dave, from Madison County Parks stopped by for some pleasant dinner conversation. He also confirmed my route through town in the morning.

Other than a few trains on a nearby, still active line waking me, I had a restful night with the area to myself. By the way, this great spot is provided without charge, donations accepted. Make a donation.

In the cool, cloudy morning, I rolled through town, stopping at McDonalds for a high calorie breakfast. While in line, I ran into Dave again for a short chat. On the east side of town, it was back onto former rail line. Roberts Pass Trail, then the Camp Chase Trail headed due east through some major farms to Battelle Darby Creek Metro Park nearing Columbus.

The trail changed dramatically at that point. No longer straight and flat, the route wound down to Darby Creek and was even a gravel path for a bit before a stretch on a park road. Soon however, it was back onto a rail line. As the line was still active though, the path ran beside it with noticeable undulation.

The area was becoming more industrial as I passed under I-270, Columbus’s circle freeway. That was confirmed as I then spent a mile on Industrial Mile Road before returning to Camp Case Trail for a bit. Side trails in this area can be a bit confusing. After another mile on road I reached the Lower Scioto Greenway which followed its namesake river all the way to downtown.

Near downtown Columbus, the route travels through a nice, well maintained greenway park until turning north through town on city streets. Keep an eye out for the turn. I never saw it and continued on the wrong trail for at least a mile before realizing my mistake. Not sure exactly where I made my error I turned to my phone for directions to Nationwide Arena, where I knew I could meet back up with the OTET. After my detour of several blocks, I was back on the now well marked route heading northeast. Less than two miles of road got me to the I-670 Bikeway and the safety of separation from traffic. Despite another missed turn, I soon reached the Alum Creek Trail and conditions changed significantly.

In park like surroundings, the trail meandered along and often over Alum Creek. There were boardwalks and several really cool bridges. There were numerous places to stop and rest, but each time I did, rain caught up to me. I spent the afternoon on the leading edge of some showers, but managed to make it out of the I-275 loop relatively dry. Just outside the loop, I entered Westerville and made it an early day at the Red Roof Inn; perhaps ½ mile from the trail. Forty five miles of riding took me nearly five hours with my detours. Several restaurants and a Kroger were within walking distance and I was warm, clean and dry as some heavy showers later rolled through.

Part 3 continues here.