(Photos by Joseph Insalaco)
When I told friends that I was going to cycle across Ohio, I was met with skepticism, and asked questions like, “why”, or “couldn’t you find something more interesting than Ohio”. I am glad that I wasn’t discouraged by their comments. The Ohio to Erie Trail is a gem and well worth the long drive it took to get there from Virginia.
The Ohio to Erie Trail (OTET) extends 326 miles from the Ohio River at Cincinnati to Lake Erie’s shore in Cleveland. The OTET is made up of individual rail trails, canal paths, and some country roads and city streets. In addition to the 2 terminus cities, the trail goes through Columbus (the state’s capital), Akron, and numerous quaint small towns and miles of pastoral countryside. Even though the trail is named Ohio to Erie, we started at Lake Erie and cycled to the Ohio River. From there we cycled back to Cleveland. Our round-trip cycling journey totaled 650 miles. Many more trip photos, routes, and daily miles can be seen on our trip blog.. (https://our-2022-otet-ride.blogspot.com/).Joe, my long-time cycling friend and blog photographer, and I drove to Cleveland, arriving in the early afternoon. Needing to stretch our legs after 6-hours in a van, we took a walking tour of the city’s lake shore. There we saw an old steam ship, a more interesting submarine, a statue honoring Jesse Owen, the Cleveland Brown’s football stadium, and the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. The one site that seemed to elude us was the International Women's Aviation Museum. I wanted to see the museum because I read several non-fiction and historical-fiction books about women's role in early aviation. Ironically, Cleveland hosted early National Air Races but denied women access. Despite having phones with map programs and a separate GPS we could not find the museum that was supposed to be “next” to the regional airport on the lake shore. Even though males don’t ask for directions, we did, and were told to walk another half mile past the airport. But the only thing we saw was the lake and parklands. Eventually, we turned around and went inside the airport to ask for help, but instead we found the museum; it was not next to, but in the airport. Finding the museum was well worth our effort. Inside we learned about some very amazing women.
Cycling from Cleveland to Akron
Our ride began in a rain that lasted about an hour. The rain was just a minor nuisance and not worth the time to put on our rain gear. We traveled on city streets in marked cycle lanes until we reached the trail that led to Akron. For the first several miles along the trail, we saw Cleveland’s historical industrial area. While that maybe a turnoff to some, we found the dilapidated steel mills interesting and appreciated how the trail incorporated many of the industrial “castoffs” as trail art and educational sites. We stopped at the Steel Heritage Center, to look at a steel ingot (a slab) several inches thick and several feet long that was formed into a coil of flat steel. We also saw a massive railroad car used to transport the slag waste away from an iron furnace. Further along the trail, we stopped at a display depicting a railroad roundhouse and a bench made from the wheel assembly of an abandoned rail car.
We passed through many small towns and natural areas where wildlife abounded. The canal’s waters hosted blue herons and the path was often blocked by flocks of geese that blocked the trail. Despite our noisy efforts, the geese did not want to move.
We arrived in Akron in mid-afternoon. Not that we had lots of miles to cycle, but rather there was so much to see along the way and we made many photo stops. Akron was founded in 1825. Around the turn of the century, Akron’s tire manufacturing helped it become known as the “rubber capital of the world.” Other Akron trivia includes, the hamburger. It was supposedly invented there. Thomas Edison visited often (his wife was an Akronite). And, NBA superstar Labron James calls Akron home—and the Main Street was renamed “King James Way.”
Millersburg has a vibrant business district and we stayed in the Hotel Millersburg. The hotel is listed on the National Register of Historic Places and President Grover Cleveland reportedly stayed there on December 8, 1800. Besides hosting a president, the hotel also hosts quilter retreats and its halls were adorned with many intricate quilts.
Near the end of our walking tour of Millersburg, we stopped
at Troyer’s Sweet Shoppe were the Chocolatier, Verna provided us with some rich
chocolates. She told us that she was the third generation Chocolatier in the
shop founded by her grandmother. As we
wandered back to the hotel, we passed the Millersburg Creamery. After eating more chocolates than a healthy
diet would allow, we did restrain from getting ice cream at the very popular shop.
Millersburg to Mt, Vernon
After 20 years of cycling trips, our ride from Millersburg to Mt. Vernon was one of the nicest cycling days either of us could remember. Of course, we are old and our memories are disappearing. Really, we had great weather and fantastic cycling. (This is what my notes indicated, but as I write this story, I can’t remember any specifics.)
Our morning started with an early breakfast that we found only 3 blocks from our hotel. We were surprised to find a restaurant that opened at 6 a.m. Afterward, it was only a short, downhill ride from our hotel to the trail. This trail is a continuation of the bike/buggy trail we came into town on the previous day. Our ride west was flat, straight, and fast. The trail only lasted 7 miles before it ended and we had to cycle on country roads. The roads could have been a continuation of the trail, because we did not see any cars. This section was also about 7 miles long and had gentle rolling hills that allowed easy cycling. Near the end of this segment, we heard the “clip clop” of horses gaining on us. We were going 12 mph when 4 buggies easily passed. They were filled with Amish families.
When we got to the next trail, the buggies were stopped at a trailhead picnic area. While they waved, we were not asked to join their picnic. So, we got on the trail and headed up the mountain. The trail was another buggy/bike trail on a former railroad right-of-way. We climbed for 3 miles on a gentle slope that allowed us to pedal at 10 mph with ease. Along the way, many more buggies passed us but we did not see any other cyclists.
As we crested the mountain, we saw still more buggies. Our descent on the other side of the mountain was equally as gentle as our climb. Thus, no screaming downhill ride. This trail ended after 12 blissful miles. We next transitioned through a small town and then got on our last trail for the day. No buggies were allowed on this trail but we saw lots of walkers and cyclists. Along the way, we cycled over the Bridge of Dreams, a 370-foot covered bridge located near Brinkhaven, Ohio. The 1920s bridge was built for the railroad and in 1998 was incorporated into the trail. Reportedly, it is the second longest covered bridge in Ohio and third longest covered bridge in the United States.
We stayed in the town of Mt. Vernon founded in 1805 and named after George Washington’s estate. We saw a historical marker indicating that the town was the location of Johnny Appleseed’s first orchard. The town was winner of Ohio Magazine’s 2018 Best Home Town award. The town was vibrant with restaurants and shops. We visited the Woodward Opera House, the oldest opera theater of its kind in the United States. The theater, after many years of renovation and restoration, had been transformed into a local cultural and performing-arts center.
Mt. Vernon to Columbus
We left Mt. Vernon early to beat the predicted rain and were successful. Our ride was easy but temperature and humidity combined to create a steam bath. The day’s “high points” were found between the 15- and 20-mile marks. The first was a marker that indicated we were at the highest point on the Ohio to Erie Trail.
We concluded that the rest of our journey would be easy because it would be downhill to the Ohio River. The second marker indicated that we were at the halfway point to the Ohio River.Near the second marker we met Dan, a trail volunteer assessing the trail’s condition after the previous night’s storm. He mentioned that he knew 2 of the founders of Bikecentennial, Greg and June Siple who were from that part of Ohio. Bikecentennial took thousands of cyclists across the United States in 1976 and led to the creation of the Adventure Cycling Association. The first part of Greg and June’s Hemistour from Alaska to Argentina was featured in National Geographic’s May 1973 magazine.
Columbus, Ohio’s capital city was entered by way of trails and marked cycling lanes on city streets. The first European settlers arrived in 1797. The city was named for Italian explorer Christopher Columbus and became the state capital in 1816.
Columbus to Xenia
The start of our day was hot and it got hotter as the day progressed. After about 7 miles of cycling, we found a place for breakfast. Actually, we had a “choice” of either McDonalds or Tim Hortons. Hum, American or Canadian fast-food breakfasts? We chose Tim Hortons because we like their muffins.
While we saw lots of people on the trail and had extended conversations with two. First, we met William Galloway riding a Catrike (a 3-wheel recumbent) and pulling a trailer.
He was on his fourth trip across the United States in four years. He was very pleasant and neat looking. William was in no hurry to move on, nor were we. He surprised us by saying that he was homeless but never without a place to stay. When he wasn’t in his tent or trail shelter, he was with friends or kind strangers. He said that he started his travels after recovering from a brain injury. Over all, he has cycled 37,500 miles and gone through 3 trikes and 5 trailers. The second person we met was Heidi. She was setting up a lunch stop for 11 cyclists on a Wilderness Voyageurs tour on the OTET. Her company is located in Ohiopyle, PA and provides fully supported bike adventures. Each day we carried our own gear and looked for places to eat and sleep. Heidi’s cyclists had their gear transported in a trailer to their next night’s lodging, breakfast and dinner in prearranged restaurants, and lunch provide during their ride. Heidi filled our water bottles and shared some wonderful Amish pecan cinnamon rolls.
The Ohio to Erie Trail is the overarching name and is comprised of many trails with their own names. About half our day cycling to Xenia was on the Prairie Grass Trail. It was freshly paved which was nice. However, the trail lacked much interest. We saw mostly farm fields but we enjoyed the diversions through the small towns along the trail. One of the towns, London, founded in the early 1800s, as a Methodist community. Next was Cedarville where we passed the Cedarville Opera House. Finally, we arrived in Xenia which was founded in 1803, the same year Ohio was admitted to the Union. Xenia was once a safe haven for enslaved people traveling to freedom along the Underground Railroad.
Xenia to Cincinnati
Again, we left our hotel without breakfast. We had a long day ahead of us, so an early start was necessary. What we failed to factor in was the impact of previous night’s severe thunderstorm. Our first hour on the trail was in the dark, and we encountered 20 miles of downed branches and trees obstructing our passage. It would have been a difficult obstacle course for us even if we had waited for the daylight. Along the way we cleared paths, cycled around debris, or lugged our bikes over fallen trees. Our clean-up stops were met by hungry mosquitoes and Joe ended up with a poison ivy rash on his legs.
The OTET has several internet sites that list trail construction and related detours. Our first major detour took us off the trail and required us to climb a mountainous road to get around the closed area. We survived the climb and stopped at the top at a Starbucks for some cold water. Burt, the barista, filled our bottles with ice and cold water. In that heat, it was a wonderful treat. While Burt was filling our bottles a little boy, in line with his mother, kept asking his mother about my cycling attire. He wanted to know what was on my arms (sun sleeves), on my hands (gloves), and on my head (helmet with sun shade). Mom kept trying to quiet the boy, but I gladly answered all his questions. As you can guess, my cycling attire is not the typical stuff seen on road cyclists.
As the morning progressed, the trail was bordered by large trees providing a canopy cover of coolness to the day’s increasing heat. As we entered Loveland Ohio, we quickly transitioned into the bright sunlight and a radically different trail. We first saw a tropical drink stand just a step off the trail. The barista was dishing ice into tall glasses that would soon be followed by bright colored syrups. Next to it was a café with outdoor seating with umbrellas providing shade to its many customers. We then saw an outdoor picnic area with overhead misting pipes cooling off hot cyclists and hikers. Looking further down the trail we could see restaurants, a bike shop, and hundreds of brightly colored canoes and kayaks ready for an adventure on the Little Miami River. Loveland is a resort town, appropriately nicknamed “Little Switzerland of the Miami Valley”. It was no surprise that the town was full of people. We cycled through lots of towns on this and previous rides and wondered why more communities didn’t make their “trail-town” a unique destination.
When we got into Cincinnati’s metropolitan area, we had about 10 miles of urban cycling. While the traffic was ok, the roads were in poor condition making the day’s end even more challenging. At our hotel Joe looked at his phone and saw that it was 97 degrees with a “feels like” temperature of 111 degrees. Despite the heat, we walked to another Triple D recommended restaurant, the Taste of Belgium (https://www.flavortownusa.com/locations/738/taste-of-belgium). It was about a mile from our hotel. The food was excellent but the walk was not.
Cincinnati to MasonLeaving Cincinnati was more pleasant because of the cooler temperature and getting started before the morning rush hour traffic. Once we got back on the rail-trail we saw lots of people out for their morning exercise. A group of roadie cyclists pulled alongside of us and inquired about our journey. One woman, a self-confessed competitor, decided that I was slow, so she moved up next to Joe. Joe is not one to decline a challenge and they were off to the races. Eventually, we all ended up in Loveland, OH, where we joined the roadies for coffee. During our conversation, we learned that some of the group had already done the complete OTET and planned to cycle the Great Allegany Passage (GAP) trail in Pennsylvania, the Chesapeake and Ohio (C&O) trail in Maryland, and the New River trail in Virginia. Since I had cycled all of these trails, I shared my thoughts and wished them great rides in all their travels.
After the previous day’s 70-mile ride in the heat, we were thankful that we had planned to cut our trip back to Xenia into two segments of about 35 miles each. The town of Mason was the best we could find with lodging. However, it required us to cycle 5 miles off the trail for a hotel. We were surprised to see a large amusement park called Kings Island and a stadium along the way. The hotel in Mason did not have a guest laundry so we took advantage of the hot weather and hung our wash on a clothes line strung between our bikes in the hotel parking lot. The sight generated lots of smiles and comments from other guests.
Mason to Xenia
We cycled back to Xenia on a clean trail. The maintenance crew did a fantastic job of cleaning up the storm damage we encountered when we left Xenia several days earlier.
Before I left home, Helen (my wife) said that we should embrace our return ride because it will give us a different perspective. We did see a few things that we missed on the way south so they were added to our trip’s photo gallery. When heading south we were focused on dodging all the trail debris and failed to appreciate that we were cycling along the Little Miami River. While the water was muddy and high from the earlier storms it was a packed with canoers and kayakers. We wished that we had planned a day on the river. It would have been easy to arrange because we saw lots of canoe and kayak rentals facilities along this section of the trail.
Xenia to Columbus
There is not much to see when you leave the hotel at 5 a.m. and cycle on a tree covered trail. But then we didn’t care. Our focus was to get an early start on a 60-mile day before the temperature got hot. We pushed for 30 miles to reach London, OH where we stopped for breakfast. There we met another cyclist who said his trail name was Speedy. Speedy endorsed our choice for breakfast, ignoring the reality that the nearby M&M Diner was the only place to eat. Speedy was on a new carbon fiber bike taking his initial shake-down cruise. Speedy told us that he cycles about 14,000 miles a year. With that kind of mileage, he deserved a new light-weight bike.
Nancy, Joe’s wife urged Joe to get out of the hotel and see Columbus, the capital of Ohio. So, after cycling nearly 60 miles we took a 5-mile walk. Our first destination was Columbus’ German Village. We were hoping to find a German restaurant for our dinner but only found a German coffee shop. Next, we headed to the Ohio Statehouse that was begun in 1839. After that, we headed to the Flat Iron Grill for our dinner and beers, both of which were excellent; and fortunately, the Grill was near our hotel.
Columbus to Mt Vernon
We cycled 12 miles on the trail to reach our breakfast stop. We knew that we picked a good place because it was packed with customers. After a hardy breakfast we took an alternate route that took us off the OTET and went around Hoover Reservoir that is more than 10 miles long. The nice thing about this route was that it was no longer than staying on the OTET. Mostly it was on urban trails and roads with little traffic. The only downside was that we were exposed to the gusty winds blowing across the reservoir. After 24 miles, we were back on the OTET and continuing to climb to its highest point, 1,285 feet. While that may seem high, we reached this point over 3 days of cycling on 1 and 2 percent grades. We were easily able to cycle 12 mph most of the time. After we crested the high point, our speed increased to 14-15 mph. Near Mt. Vernon we saw lots of storm damage on the trails. We were told that 2 tornados had gone through there a few days earlier.
We arrived in Mt. Vernon only to find that George Washington was not there. But we are sure you knew that. We celebrated our day’s ride with a stop at a frozen custard shop (the first of the trip) and indulged in a cool treat. We took another walking tour of Mt. Vernon and found that on our earlier visit we missed a whimsical dog fountain.
Mt. Vernon to Millersburg
We had a short ride ahead of us, so we lingered at our hotel breakfast in Mt Vernon. Then we lingered on the trail, and finally we lingered in Millersburg waiting for our room to be ready. We should have lingered longer before leaving Mt Vernon because it was a cold 47 degrees in the morning. Needless to say, we were bundled up with extra clothes that we had to strip off as the day warmed up. There was not much to see on the trail except for a jogger, who in full stride, was juggling 3 balls as we passed him. We were impressed.
Millersburg was still cleaning up after the tornado went through the area. The trail into town was full of debris, and some of the restaurants did not expect to open for a few more days. Also, it was a Sunday and the ice cream shop, candy shop, and brewery were closed. We are thankful that we had a place to stay.
Millersburg to Akron
We left Millersburg very early because of the planned 70-mile ride and projected rain. However, Joe discovered a short cut that saved us 14 miles of trail cycling. The trail made a big “U-shaped” curve that we decided to cut straight across on a county road. Unfortunately, the short cut had one very long and extremely steep hill that we had to walk. So, our 70-mile day became 54 miles (we don’t know what happened to the remaining few miles). Not much rain but very cool temperatures. We got into Akron at noon, checked into our hotel, and had our lunch/dinner.
Akron - Cleveland – Home
Our final bike ride to Cleveland was uneventful. Both of us wanted to get home. After nearly 40 miles of cycling, we loaded
Joe’s van and headed east. We arrived at
my home in Virginia mid-afternoon and then Joe continued to his home in New
York state, arriving in the evening.