I have been fortunate to have spent time working in Akron (Ohio) on several occasions. I have some wonderful colleagues (who are more like friends), so I get to enjoy the odd BBQ in the back garden. We watched fireflies drift past like the dying embers of a nearby bonfire. I saw a ground-hog too.
I have hired bikes from several places, including hiring a road bike from Eddy’s and spending a whole Saturday riding around the Cuyahoga National Park. However, on this journey I only had one evening to myself, the last night before returning to the UK. I drove over to Centruy Cycles in Peninsula on the Ohio / Erie Trail, where I knew I could rent a ‘comfort/hybrid’ bike for $9/hr.
The Ohio / Erie Canal (or Portage) Towpath Trail is a safe and flat path through the Cuyahoga Valley National Park according to the advertising bumf. To quote their own website (which is in the US version of the English language):
The Ohio to Erie Trail spans the state of Ohio from Cincinnati to Cleveland following lands formerly owned by railroads and canals. When complete, this trail will connect four of Ohio’s metropolitan cities, a dozen large towns and numerous small villages – all done on easily accessible, paved trails, that are completely separated from highways and automobiles. Along the way, the trail passes through rural areas, farmlands, nature preserves, and regional parks giving the adventurous a hearty helping of nature’s finest. At the metropolitan perimeter, meadows and woods give way to exciting urban centers, affording the traveller a contemporary taste of Ohio’s culture and arts. Bicyclists, hikers, equestrians, and other groups such as bird watchers, cross-country skiers, and nature lovers have the opportunity to explore the natural beauty of Ohio as the trail weaves its way across the state.
It was five in the evening and the sun was still shining brightly as I picked up the bike and took to the trail. I chose to cycle south first, towards Akron. I knew that in jeans and a t-shirt on a warm evening like this, on this sort of bicycle, I wasn’t going to get far. So instead I settled into the grin of a simpleton; simply taking the time to enjoy the dappled sunlight playing through the forest leaves onto the track. At first the path follows the river, but shortly leaves and spends more time next to the rail-road tracks.
Intermittently there are broken and dry remains of locks from the old canal. Each lock is numbered and has a short storyboard giving more details. They are impressive, huge dried stone structures, and potentially hazardous for those tempted to get too close to the edge.
On this beautiful evening I was surrounded by runners and cyclists. I made sure to slow right down and give a gentle ring of the bicycle bell so as not to startle any of the pedestrians; a fast moving cyclist can really make a runner jump by passing too close or too fast. Spaced out along the trail are ‘Trail Head’ points, these are car parks with toilet facilities, perfect for anyone local who wants to load their bikes on the back of the pick-up truck and drive down to the path for a lazy Sunday afternoon with the family. In Peninsula, where Century Cycles are based, there are plenty of low key pleasant looking restaurants and bars. Basing a ride around a lunch stop there would be a nice idea.
As I had been cycling for 45 minutes I came close to a section of rail-road with no barriers (or forest) between us just as I heard a whistle behind me; stopping and grabbing my camera quickly I caught an image of this massive locomotive trundling past me. The driver waved to me and I returned the greeting. I think there is some form of bike ‘n’ ride scheme which uses this service. The train, seen from below the level of the track was huge, the weight of the engineering which goes into moving this around staggers belief. And the locomotive engine itself is so evocative of American culture; totally different to the historical British designs and the Victorian culture we are used to at home: this train oozed ‘wild west’!
I turned and headed back the way I’d come, the trail is an out-and-back affair so there is no need to rush, it was just a matter of finding a place that felt like a turn point, so the trail-head car park I’d reached was good enough for me. I retraced my tyre tracks and then kept going; in the other direction to see what the route had to offer heading north. North bound from Peninsula, the Ohio/Erie Trail follows the river and dried canal path more closely. Again the dappled sunlight was on my path but also, shining in my eyes was a glittering sunlight off the fast flowing river surface.
The Cuyahoga river has eroded a deep sided valley, and in places has cut vertically through the rock. The river bank is kept in repair to stop the Cuyahoga bursting through and flooding the wrong routes, as the canal itself is in ruins.
There are sections of board-walk too – these are about 50cm above the lily ponds. Bright lilies and purple flowers, reeds and birds teemed around the paths creating a meandering wooden path above the nature park.
It wasn’t too far to the Tourist Park and Visitor Centre, which was closed. Given it was now 6:30pm on a Thursday evening I’m not surprised it was closed. I have been here on a Saturday to find delicious ice-cream on sale and plenty of shaded benches to sit and enjoy the refreshment.
I have enjoyed all my cycling in Ohio. I find the motorists careful and considerate. Traffic is moving no more than 45 mph and drivers like to give cyclists plenty of room on these quiet back roads. As I drove back to my hotel, to pack for the journey back the UK, I saw several ABC (Akron Bicycle Club) members out soaking up the last of the cooler evening sunshine. Everyone was smiling.