Deb and I traveled to Ohio to bike the Ohio to Erie Trail. The trail runs between the Ohio River in Cincinnati and Lake Erie in Cleveland, crossing the entire state of Ohio diagonally. The entire route is roughly 320 miles. Approximately 270 miles are on trails with about 50 miles on city streets and rural roads. The majority of the trails are paved, but there are some sections that are surfaced with finely crushed stone. The route is comprised of 22 local and regional trails that together form the Ohio to Erie Trail. The route primarily follows lands that were formerly occupied by railroads and canals.
Saturday, September 2, 2017
Day 1 – Cincinnati to Waynesville
Distance: 57 miles
We began our ride at Washington Park in Cincinnati. A city operated underground parking garage is located beneath the park. It’s staffed by attendants 24/7 and offered secure, covered parking for a reasonable $9 per day. Leaving the shelter of the parking garage, we began our ride in a light rain/mist with temps in the mid 50s. The high temperature today would only reach 68 and it was chilly and wet. We rode about a mile on city streets to get to Smale Riverfront Park, where the route officially begins. We passed Paul Brown Stadium, the home of the Cincinnati Bengals and the Great American Ball Park, home of the Cincinnati Reds. In 1869, the Cincinnati Red Stockings (later the Reds) became the first baseball team with a total of 10 players. As the first baseball team, the Cincinnati Reds always open their season at home. We passed the beautiful John A. Roebling Suspension Bridge. It was the prototype for New York City’s Brooklyn Bridge. When completed in 1867, it was the longest bridge of its kind in the world. John Roebling would later build the Brooklyn Bridge of the same design. We took a short detour from the trail to cross the Ohio River on the “Purple People Bridge” which connects Cincinnati to Newport, Kentucky. The bridge was built in 1872 and served as a railroad bridge until 1987. After a $4 million restoration, the bridge became a pedestrian walkway in 2006. It’s just over half a mile long and is open to walkers, runners, bikers, and in-line skaters. The bridge is wide enough that it’s used to host festivals and other events. We rode across into Kentucky, made a U-turn and returned to the trail in Ohio. We rode about four miles through riverfront parks and then another three miles in a bike lane along Riverside Drive. We rode a short distance on both the Ohio River Trail and Lunken Airport Trail. After another five miles on busy streets through an industrial area of town, we began riding on the Little Miami Scenic Trail. The trail runs along the banks of the Little Miami River in a wooded corridor on the old Little Miami Railroad right of way. We stayed on this trail the rest of the day. We stopped at Paxton’s Grill in Loveland, OH for lunch. About six miles north of Loveland, we passed the abandoned Peters Cartridge Company in Kings Mills. This large building complex was built in the 1860s. Before it became the Peters Cartridge Company, it operated as the Great Western Powder Works. They produced bullets and cannonballs for the Union Army during the Civil War. Peters Cartridge Company produced 1,500,000 cartridges per day in 1917 to supply munitions for World War I. Remington Arms purchased the Peters Cartridge Company in 1934 and expanded during World War II. Production of military ammunition ended in March 1944 and Remington sold the Kings Mills factory to Columbia Records. Columbia manufactured phonograph records at Kings Mills until 1949. Seagram distillers leased the buildings as warehouse space until 1968. There are plans to convert the historic buildings into apartments. We rode a short distance from the trail to the town of Waynesville where we would spend the night. We stayed at the historic Hammel House Inn. This remodeled stagecoach inn has served travelers since 1787. The original log structure was replaced with the current building in 1817. President Martin Van Buren was a guest here in 1823. Our hosts welcomed us with homemade pie, coffee and sodas. We spread our gear out to dry, got cleaned up and walked to the nearby Stone House Tavern for dinner.
Sunday, September 3, 2017
Day 2 – Waynesville to Columbus
Distance: 66 miles
After a generous breakfast at the Hammel House Inn, we rode back to the Little Miami Scenic Trail. The sun was shining and the high temperature forecast to be in the upper 70s….perfect riding weather. Fifteen miles on the trail brought us to the town of Xenia. We stopped at Xenia Station, a replica of Xenia’s 1880s brick railroad station. The station houses a local history museum and a meeting space. The building also has restrooms, vending machines and water for cyclists and hikers. The station is a hub for five regional rail trails, two of which are segments of the Ohio to Erie Trail. The Little Miami Scenic Trail terminates here and we began riding on the Prairie Grass Trail. The Prairie Grass Trail runs on the former Pennsylvania Railroad right of way. The trail is surrounded by natural prairie grasses and flat, open farmland. In several places, the trail cuts through huge fields of corn and soybeans. After riding 33 miles, we stopped for lunch at the Purple Monkey Pizza in South Charleston. Their pizza was awesome. Another ten miles down the trail we passed through the town of London and then rode the short seven mile Roberts Pass Trail. The route then continued on Camp Chase Trail. The trail is named for the Camp Chase Industrial Railroad it parallels. Camp Chase was a military staging and training camp for Union forces, and a prison camp for Confederates during the Civil War. All that remains of the camp today is a Confederate cemetery containing 2,260 graves in Columbus. We left the trail in Columbus and rode about two miles on city streets to the Red Roof Inn for our lodging tonight. We walked to a nearby restaurant for dinner.
Monday, September 4, 2017
Day 3 – Columbus to Mount Vernon
Distance: 64 miles
We navigated a few miles of city streets in Columbus to return to the Camp Chase Trail. After a short distance we connected with the Lower Scioto Greenway Trail which follows the banks of the Scioto River and offered great views of downtown Columbus. We continued out of town on the Interstate 670 Bikeway for a short distance before getting on the Alum Creek Trail. The trail follows Alum Creek, crossing it numerous times. There are many interesting bridges on the trail. It is a popular trail and was crowded with pedestrians and bikers. After exiting Alum Creek Trail, we used city streets and the short Towers Trail to connect with Hoover Scenic Trail. We remained on it for about eight miles before beginning a 12 mile section of rural roads at Gelena, OH. We had intended to eat lunch in Galena but missed the stop. By the time we discovered it, we decided to continue on rather than turning around. A few more miles down the road, we stopped at the town of Sunbury. They were having a big Labor Day celebration and the little town was packed with people. We ended up stopping at a gas station and bought some snacks to make due for lunch. Our road route connected with the Heart of Ohio Trail in Canterbury, OH. The Heart of Ohio Trail took us the remaining 12 miles into Mount Vernon. We stopped at the Ariel-Foundation Park which is located right on the trail. This 250-acre park was created on the former site of a glass-making factory. One of the most prominent features of the park is the Rastin Observation Tower. A spiral staircase coils around the industrial smoke stack that was used by the glass company. The tower is 280 feet high with an observation deck at 140 feet. The park features “The Ruins”……partial remains of the old glass-making facility. Brick facades, stair and elevator towers, as well as other structures are left standing in the park. Earthen terraces are constructed on the hillsides and several reflecting ponds sit beneath them. A “River of Glass” created with chunks of glass called “cullet” and crushed glass flows down one hillside. The Urton Clock House serves as a museum and event space. The Clock House was the building where the employees of the Pittsburgh Plate Glass Plant clocked in and out of each day. The park was quite beautiful and all the unique features made it well worth the stop. Another half mile on the trail brought us to the Mount Vernon Comfort Inn. Since it was a holiday, our dinner choices were limited. Only the major fast food chains seemed to be open. We made do with a nearby Taco Bell and then had desert at Whit’s Frozen Custard. Deb had a hot fudge sundae made with vanilla custard. I had their flavor of the day….”Buckeye” – peanut butter custard with chopped Reese’s and Peanut Butter Swirls.
Tuesday, September 5, 2017
Day 4 – Mount Vernon to Millersburg
Distance: 42 miles
It rained overnight but had cleared by morning. Due to lodging availability, we had planned a relatively short mileage ride today. Our longest mileage would be tomorrow with almost 70 miles, so today would be a semi-rest day with only 42 miles to ride. We began on the Heart of Ohio Trail, which connected to the Kokosing Gap Trail after only about a mile. The Kokosing Gap Trail is built on a former Pennsylvania Railroad line. The trail passes through forests, wetlands, and cropland. In the town of Gambier, a 1940 steam locomotive, a flatbed car, and a 1924 Chesapeake & Ohio caboose sit on display next to the trail. After 14 miles we arrived in Danville and began riding on the Mohican Valley Trail. Cyclists share this trail with Amish horses and buggies. It was evident from the amount of horse manure on the trail that it was heavily used by the Amish. The rain last night made the manure pretty squishy and our bikes and touring bags soon became splattered with it. Near the town of Brinkhaven we arrived at the Bridge of Dreams. It’s a 370-foot covered bridge, the third longest in the United States. It was originally built in the 1920s as a railroad bridge. The railway line was abandoned in the early 1990s and was later developed into the trail it is today. When the trail was in development, the most ambitious aspect of the plan was to cover the railroad bridge. Skeptics doubted enough money would ever be raised to complete the project, which led backers to adopt the name “Bridge of Dreams” for the project. The “Bridge of Dreams” was completed in late 1998. Shortly after crossing the bridge, the trail connects to the Holmes County Trail. This trail was newly paved, only completed a few days before we arrived. We later found out that the trail wasn’t even officially open yet. A construction barrier partially blocked the trail, but we saw many bicycle tracks so we continued on. Our alternative route would’ve been about 15 miles of road riding if we hadn’t taken the trail. We encountered work crews on the trail installing fence barriers where there were steep drop offs. The trail gradually climbed for about three miles and then we had a great downhill section. We coasted downhill into the town of Glenmont where we had lunch at a local tavern. From Glenmont, we rode about eight miles on curvy, hilly roads. In Killbuck, we connected with the Holmes County Trail again. Another six miles on the trail brought us to Millersburg where we would stay tonight. We had a short ride on city streets to our hotel. We stayed at Hotel Millersburg, a historic hotel built in 1847 that originally served as a stagecoach stop. In 1864, the hotel was expanded during the Civil War. President Grover Cleveland was a guest at the hotel in 1900. It’s the third oldest operating hotel in the state of Ohio. We visited the taproom at the Millerburg Brewing Company and admired the historic buildings on the Holmes County Court Square, all within walking distance of our hotel. The beautiful Holmes County Courthouse was built in 1885. The old county jail is located next to the courthouse. It predates the courthouse, being built in 1880. We had dinner at the hotel restaurant.
Wednesday, September 6, 2017
Day 5 – Millersburg to Akron
Distance: 68 miles
Today was our longest day so we tried to get on the trail a little earlier this morning. We got back on the Holmes County Trail and rode about ten miles to Fredericksburg. At Fredericksburg, we began a 17 mile stretch of road riding. It was a hilly ride through beautiful farming country. We passed many Amish farms and saw an Amish man plowing a field with a team of horses. We arrived in the town of Dalton where we had planned on stopping for lunch. We weren’t hungry, so we decided to continue on. We connected with the Sippo Valley Trail on the outer edge of Dalton. The trail had both asphalt and crushed stone sections. We continued on this trail into Massillon and then onto the Congressman Ralph Regula Towpath Trail. Congressman Regula sponsored a bill which was passed by Congress in 1996, designating the Ohio & Erie Canalway as a National Heritage Area. We finally stopped for a late lunch at a biker bar on the outskirts of Massillon called the Towpath Cabin. We parked our bikes out front where posted signs read “Bike Parking Only”. I think they meant motorcycles, but we didn’t think they’d mind. Some of the bikers were outside admiring our bikes as we were leaving. They asked a lot of questions and appreciated how well made they were. We continued on the trail which was surfaced with crushed stone. We soon connected with the Ohio & Erie Canal Towpath Trail. The trail followed along the canal and is the path where the mules walked to pull the boats. The Ohio & Erie Canal was built in the 1820’s and 1830’s. It provided an invaluable link from Lake Erie to the Ohio River. The canal took Ohio from a struggling frontier to one of the richest and third most populous states in the nation. The canal was primarily built by hand by German and Irish immigrants. Towns and businesses sprang up along its banks. Real-estate values rose 1400% in 37 canal counties by 1860. The railroads eventually led to the decline of the canal. A great flood in 1913 left most of the canal destroyed and eventually abandoned. We would stay on this trail for the rest of today as we rode to our hotel in downtown Akron. As we neared Akron we began seeing locks on the old canal. We stayed at the Courtyard Marriott and walked a short distance to Luigi’s Italian restaurant for dinner. When we walked into Luigi’s we knew we’d picked a good restaurant. The place was packed and a long line of people were waiting to be seated. The line moved quickly and we were soon enjoying some great food. Luigi’s has been operating since 1949 and has been an Akron landmark for over 60 years.
Thursday, September 7, 2017
Day 6 – Akron to Cleveland
Distance: 59 miles
Leaving our hotel, we got back on the Ohio & Erie Towpath Trail. We stopped about a mile down the trail to visit the restored Mustill Store and butcher shop, now a museum and visitors center at the Cascade Locks Park. Next to the store is the restored Mustill House where the family lived. Canal boats frequently stopped here to shop or trade at the store. Three generations of Mustills ran the store until the late 1880s. A city utility construction project forced us to detour off the trail for about a mile. We rode residential streets and then rejoined the trail, continuing north along the Little Cuyahoga River. About seven miles north of Akron, the trail enters the Cuyahoga Valley National Park, one of the most visited National Parks in the country. We would ride for a total of 20 miles on the towpath through the park. We took a short break at Szalay’s Farm & Market to admire their produce. We also stopped at the Boston Store Visitor Center along the trail. The building was built in 1836 to house the Boston Land and Manufacturing Company Store. Since then, it’s served as a warehouse, store, and post office. Today it serves as a visitor center with exhibits that show how canal boats were built. We passed many locks along the trail. Some sections of the canal were dry and some held mostly green water where turtles sunbathed on logs. On the north edge of the park we stopped at the Canal Exploration Center. Once used as a tavern, a general store, and a residence, the historic building now features many interactive exhibits about the history of the canal. The trail exits the north end of the park and continues into Cleveland. We stopped at the Steel Heritage Center next to the trail and viewed displays explaining the history of the steel industry Cleveland. A modern day steelmaking facility, ArcelorMittal, could be seen across the railroad tracks from the trail. The Ohio to Erie Trail is not developed all the way to Lake Erie at this time. We used the trail as far as we could and then continued on city streets in our quest to reach the shore of Lake Erie. We took a short detour to visit the Christmas Story House. The 1895 Victorian house was used in the exterior scenes of Ralph Parker’s house in the 1983 film A Christmas Story. The house was purchased by a private developer in 2004 and has been restored and renovated to appear as it did both inside and outside in the film. A gift shop and museum are also part of the complex. The house is even available for fans of the movie to spend the night in Ralph and Randy’s beds. Overnight guest have use of the private third floor loft for the entirety of their stay and the use of the whole house from an hour after closing until 9:00am the following day. The house can accommodate up to six guests per night. The rate for bookings begins at $395 per night and varies with the season. Holidays require a two night minimum stay. If you want to stay December 24 -25th, it’ll cost you $1995. After leaving the Christmas Story House, my route called for us to cross a pedestrian bridge that would take us over the Medina Freeway and 12 lanes of fast moving traffic. When we arrived at the bridge, we found the entrances at both ends blocked by several closely placed steel posts. There was no way we could roll our bikes around them. We were forced to take all our touring bags off the bikes to lighten them. We then had to lift and turn the bikes sideways to pass them through. We had to repeat the process on the other end to exit the bridge. I’d also made two other routing errors, taking us the wrong direction on one-way streets. We were forced to ride on very narrow, uneven sidewalks that were littered with broken glass. There were also several homeless people along the way……it was NOT a good neighborhood to say the least. To make matters worse, Deb threw her chain and we had to pull over to fix that. The chain was wedged tight beside the small chain ring. We had to remove the chain guard, then use a screwdriver to pry the chain loose. This took about ten minutes while people kept walking by and staring at us. Finally, after about four miles of riding through scary areas of town, we made it to the shore of Lake Erie. We took some photos to commemorate our accomplishment and then continued riding to get to our hotel. We still had quite a distance to ride as our hotel was near the airport in the suburb of North Olmstead. We rode another five miles on busy city streets before reaching the Rocky River Reservation. The Valley Parkway Trail runs through this huge park along the Rocky River. We rode the trail for ten miles through the park before diverting onto city streets again for the final leg of our ride. It was sprinkling and nearly dark by this time. My tail light battery died and Deb’s headlight was packed away. I told Deb to stay right on my tail…..I was the headlight and she was the tail light in our little train. It was almost 7:00pm when we got to our room. We were never so glad to finish up a ride and were grateful that we survived our ride through the hood!
We finished with a total of 356 miles. The next morning we picked up a Ford Explorer we’d rented for the return trip to Cincinnati. With the rear seats folded down, it holds our two trikes and bags perfectly. It was about a four hour drive back to Cincinnati to pick up our vehicle.