Thursday, October 15, 2009

Marsh 'n' canals

Total distance: 823.4 km

By Sundance:

Part 1: Well, it's been a little while since we've had internet access and hence been able to update the blog, but more on that story later. So let me bring you up to speed.

After a few days in Cleveland, recovering from our epic long-distance ride into town, going to food markets, collecting extra camping gear, and the like, we headed out of of town and inland, along the Towpath trail. This is a bike and walking trail that runs from Cleveland to New Philadelphia along an old canal, through the Cuyahoga Valley National Park. As that description implies it was everything a bike trail should be - flat, smooth, devoid of cars, and quite scenic. The old stone locks from the canal are scattered along the length of the trail, and it also runs roughly parallel to the Cuyahoga river, so we were surrounded by parkland and marshes clothed in autumn colours the whole way. The first day we set out a bit late in the afternoon and got as far as Perimeter Depot before it became dark. We decided that the scenery was so nice that rather than pushing on into Akron in the dark, we'd stop and camp for the night and set off again in the morning when we could appreciate it.  We set out to ask some of the locals where we could camp. At first we came across an art gallery where the residents were having a jam session, singing "Peaceful, easy feeling" by The Eagles, which brought back many memories of camping trips I'd go on with my mother up the east coast of Australia. Despite their nice singing, they weren't very helpful about where to camp, and so we asked in a local pub, and the local police station, and eventually as we were setting off to head back up the trail to a  place we'd passed earlier in the evening, a couple in a car asked us how far we were going to be riding. It turned out they were keen cyclists and were quite excited about our little trip, and convinced us that the best thing was just to trespass onto the local Boy Scout camp. Well, we cycled out and tried to find the grounds keeper but there was nobody around to ask permission, so we just put up our tent and dozed off.

Part 2: Now it's siesta time in A-kron, O-hi-ooo!...
The next day we packed up our stuff, bumped into the groundskeeper on the way out of the Boy Scout camp, and headed south again.  It was a pretty uneventful day. We passed through Akron, circled around a bit tying to find a place to have lunch, and eventually headed off along the trail again to make nightfall in the town of Clinton. We found a caravan park, where the owner was very surprised to see anyone showing up, as they were almost closed for the end of the season. He actually let us camp for free, and some of the local long-term residents came over and insisted on being helpful, running an electric light to our campsite, bringing us firewood, lighting a fire for us whether we wanted one or not (with an impressive "whoomp!' of gasoline-and -oil-mix home-made lighter fluid), and pointing out the location of the taps, and the showers (which, being about seven metres from our tent, we may have otherwise missed!).

Part 3: Been spending most our night, camping in an Amish paradise...
The following day the hills began. We followed the Towpath trail down to the town of Navarre, and then headed off the trail, as we wanted to make our way westwards, towards Columbus. We were instant celebrities in Navarre - while I was in the local deli getting supplies, a woman started chatting to Yana outside, and convinced us to come into her favourite pub for lunch. She and her friends were amazed that we were travelling so far on our bikes, and couldn't stop talking to us, which was pretty nice. One of the great things about a trip like this is meeting locals and connecting with them. After lunch we headed out onto the road and the countryside began to get hilly, which slowed us down and sucked, a lot. We pushed on into Amish country, and into Winesburg by nightfall. Just south of there, in a little village called Trail, we were directed to an Amish family who have a cabin that guests could stay in. That was a true delight, and surprisingly high-tech. Solar-charged batteries running the lights and a fridge, self-igniting gas stoves, teflon frying pans, in fact everything but TV and an internet connection. Hence no blog updates.

By Yana:

Part 4: I for one welcome our new Ohio-bike-path constructing overlords...

As the Amish fellow who let us stay in his cabin had predicted, we were greeted with rain the next morning.  Not much we could do about that, of course, so we saddled up and headed onwards.  We had more lovely wet hills to deal with, and the road was curvy, with only a very narrow shoulder.  I shudder to think of the crashes that could have happened, but thankfully didn't.  The motorists apparently weren't too worried about hooning over the crest of a hill on the wrong side of the road, if it meant they were giving us a berth.  Anyway, I don't think either of us have ever used the low gears of our bikes so much.  Of course, our progress was frustratingly slow, and we ended up wearing plastic bags as socks in the name of keeping our feet dry.

We had only done maybe 25km by the time we stopped for lunch, in a vaguely cute little town named Millersburg.  Upon asking a random local, we decided to stop into the nearest Pizza place, and proceeded to gleefully stuff our faces.  The food was excellent, and restored our will to live.  We were actually still peckish afterwards, and the delivery driver actually bought us our second round of food, which was lovely of him.  We have certainly run into a lot of kindness and generosity here in Ohio, which has been very humbling.

After watching a pair of Amish boys duck in, purchase rainbow-coloured ice cream cones, and wander out again, we got up the gumption to keep moving again.  At least it had stopped raining, and we had also found out about another bike trail to keep us off those horrible roads.  The bike trail was exactly what we had gotten used to: flat, smooth, and scenic. Not at all like those crazy Canadian bike paths, which some genius decided should be surfaced with a layer of loose, medium-grit gravel! We can certainly applaud Ohio for its bike paths.  We forged ahead a little longer, and ended up in Killbuck.  We decided to push on a little further still, and when the clock struck 6:30, we ended up knocking on a random door on the side of the road and asking if they minded us pitching a tent in their backyard.  They were very nice about it, and even offered us a hot shower, though I concede that this may have just been a case of us looking and smelling like absolute hobos.  They also showed us photo albums of their own extensive travels, which was inspiring, to say the least.  We eventually crawled into our tent, and slept surprisingly well.

Part 5: But I would ride 500 miles... and I would ride 500 more...

Yet another rainy morning, with hills to look forward to.  After a long and convoluted packing process, we hopped on our bikes and did the old rinse and repeat of hills in the rain.  It was actually surprisingly hard to push on today, at least for me - I'm guessing I'm fighting off the beginnings of a cold, which I suppose isn't surprising.  No prizes for guessing who is plying herself with Vitamin C and zinc now.

Apart from the pretty but wet autumn colours, and the occasional Amish buggy, there's actually disappointingly little to report about today.  It's both amusing and saddening though to note that apparently the Amish just aren't as hardcore as they used to be.  I've seen quite a few of them hop out of cars and suchlike.  Oh well.  I guess they know best what the important nucleus of their way of life is.  In any case, we eventually found another lovely bike path, and stopped for a very late lunch that basically turned out to be dinner in the town of Mount Vernon.  On the grounds of my incoming cold, we have decided to do the Motel thing tonight, which helps a little with the gumption. The woman in the Mexican restaurant where we had dinner even gave us part of the cost of our motel room, so that we could stay in a nicer place. The people here really are wonderfully generous and kind. I think we'll remember Ohio for that, if nothing else.  

The progress in the last few days has been kind of woeful.  Well, at least we'll supposedly be out of the hills by the time we hit Columbus, and then it'll be flat.  But I guess that's where we'll have to hope that we don't get swept away by any tornadoes.  Though apparently a more likely thing at the moment is snow.  Yep, another thing to add to our intrepid list - we did, after all, ride through a bit of hail yesterday.

In any case, once again today Sundance got chatting with someone in a shop, who said that there was a bike path right along the way we wanted to go. Ohio, you've done it again! So we hopped onto the Kokosing Gap bike trail, and it was partway along that trail that we passed the 800 km mark, which we figured was not exactly, but close enough to the 500 mile mark (Google informs us that 500 mi = 804.672 km. Like I said, close enough).

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