Day 17: 1,000 miles in – crossing the Ohio River

7/1/15: 83 miles, Milford, Ohio, to Sanders, Ky.

We rolled out of Milford on a hot and humid morning. There wasn’t much for showers where we camped, so we did a hobo-bath at the park bathroom across the river. We stopped in Newtown at the United Dairy Farmers (a convenience store in Ohio, Indiana, and Kentucky), which kicks total ass and has ice cream, by the way, and loaded up on food. A few folks came up to John and I asking about our trip. Suzie, a home-care nurse, wished us luck, as well as a guy helping a friend move. “Where’s the motor?” he joked, pointing at our bikes.

The OTE took us by Cincinnati’s Lunken Airport, and into downtown along the Ohio River. It was a warm Wednesday afternoon, and the Reds were playing an afternoon game. It was bumping downtown.

When I describe the dynamics of Ohio’s cities to people who don’t know Ohio, I usually say that Cleveland and Cincinnati are tough rivals in every sense: politically, economically, culturally, and in sports. But if you ask people from either city what they think about Columbus, they’ll say, “Yeah, it’s pretty cool,” and tell you about their brother or in-laws who live there.

In reality, in almost 30 years, I’ve never really spent much time in Cincinnati. And I have to admit, its riverfront park along the Ohio, as well as the routes in and around town, are the best in Ohio. Columbus’ path network is great, no doubt. But Cincinnati is very hilly, so the skyline is obscured unless you’re downtown or close to it. As I rode into town, the city peeked out and gradually revealed itself from behind hills until it all came together with the river, the bridges, and skyline all against a backdrop of Ohio River Valley hills.

It took John and I a while to find the entrance to the Purple People Bridge, the pedestrian-only span across the Ohio to Newport, Kentucky. Once we did, we stopped at a bar for a celebratory Rhinegeist beer before beginning what would be a week of climbing in and out of the Ohio River Valley.

The plan now was to follow the Adventure Cycling’s Underground Railroad route to connect with the TransAmerica trail in western Kentucky. But I realized I didn’t have the maps (Shit!) for this section on paper. Luckily it was loaded into my RidewithGPS. I was a bit annoyed that I’d have to stare at my iPhone for the next few days, but it ended up working. We just had to find our own places to stay.

The route:

We made the long slog up and out of Cincinnati and into Kentucky. A few cars honked at us as we remembered what going slow was like. Wound our way through suburbs that gave way to smooth, rolling farmland. What I’d heard about Kentucky was true: the edges of the country and state routes are lined with rumble strips, forcing us further into the road than we’d normally be, and the dogs. We must’ve been chased by about 30 dogs (more on that later).

John and I pushed on to about 8:30 p.m. and made it to Eagle Valley Campground in Sanders. Aside from some RVs already set up for the 4th of July, we were the only people there.

As I set up my camp, a Killdeer bird was squawking at me, doing its fake “I’m dying” kabuki death dance. John explained they do this as an act of self-sacrifice to distract predators from their eggs. I just thought the bird was crazy.


Day 16: To Cincinnati

6/30/15: 81 miles, London, Ohio, to Milford, Ohio

About 20 minutes after I woke up — just taking my first sips of coffee — John texted me and said he was in town. It was about 8 a.m. I was surprised, honestly. I figured the road would decide the man’s fate, and yet, he came out on top.

I packed up and we met here:

Had coffee and a bike shop inside. #ohiotoerietrail #Ohio #coffee #bikeshop #biketour

A photo posted by Nick Wright (@nwrighteous) on

This was the first coffee shop, and business for the matter, that catered to touring cyclists on the Ohio-to-Erie Trail. It had a guest book, wall of jerseys, and bike posters all over the place. It wasn’t all unlike a place you’d find on a more heavily traveled Adventure Cycling route. The owner, Mike, told us of his tours. John and I met in person, had a red eye coffee (shot of espresso poured into a cup of coffee). We went over the OTE maps and chatted, even though it felt like we knew each other from our conversations hitherto.

Unlike the ride from Cleveland to Columbus, the terrain from Columbus to Cincinnati is flat and entirely on a paved bike path. It’s awesome. I’d always wanted to ride across Ohio, where I’ve spent most of my life, and this path was the highlight for sure.

#Xenia #Ohio #travelbybike #b&o #trains #station #ohiotoerietrail

A photo posted by Nick Wright (@nwrighteous) on

The Prairie Grass Trail shoots you west from Columbus to Xenia.

#Xenia #ohiotoerietrail #Ohio

A photo posted by Nick Wright (@nwrighteous) on

There, you connect to the Little Miami Scenic Trail to Cincinnati. I’ll say it here, loud and clear:

The Little Miami Scenic Trail is the nicest bike path in Ohio. It’s smooth, graded, straight, goes through small towns ranging from abandoned and sleepy to bustling and charming.

We ended up in Milford, a river town about 15 miles from downtown Cincinnati. We went into an outdoors store there, Roads Rivers and Trails. They told us for $5, we could camp in the leanto at the park along the river. Hell yes. Perfect. We grabbed dinner in town, then went to set up.

Then the beer fairy showed up. Ed, the brother of one of my best friend’s wife (all from Cincy), saw on Facebook that I was in Cincy, texted me and decided to come meet John and I. He brought a 6-pack for us all, so we went to work, joked around and listened to the cresting, swollen Little Miami River rush its way to the Ohio.

Tomorrow, we’d enter Kentucky.


Day 15: Ohio flattens out

6/29/15: 40 miles, Columbus, Ohio, to London, Ohio

A couple weeks ago, I’d received an email from a guy named John in Columbus. He’d seen my itinerary posted on the Adventure Cycling Association’s website, where riders can link up with others on tour. He said he was considering riding to San Francisco and asked if he could jump on my train. I told him sure, and that I’d be leaving Columbus on the 29th. We’d exchanged a few candid emails and had a phone call over the past two weeks, and seemed like we’d get along. You have to go over everything: experience, expected mileage, camping habits, if the person is flexible to take rest days and such, and conversely, if they’re into drugs and partying, and so on.

Today was the 29th, and when I talked to John, he didn’t sound ready. At first, I was going to wait. But what if he wasn’t ready to ride the next day? After all, I’d never met the guy, so I had no commitment to ride. It was raining that morning, and rain sucks, but it doesn’t deter me (which you’ll know from reading past posts here). I called John and told him I was going to head out of town, and that I’d be in London, Ohio, if he wanted to catch up the next day. No hard feelings, but I had eaten a ton the night before, packed up and mentally was ready. He understood and said he’d try to meet me the next day.

After the wedding weekend, Michelle and I spent Sunday night at the Buxton Inn in Granville where I went to college. Had dinner with a former professor and showed Michelle around campus (from the car, in the rain). She drove me to REI at Easton in Columbus for some last-minute odds and ends, food and more. And it was roughly where I’d left off on Friday. I made my way to the Alum Creek Trail, connecting to the Interstate 670 path to downtown Columbus and eventually onto the Scioto Greenway Trail where I’d be back on the OTE. I was soaked.

I rode the Greenway out of downtown and onto a road section that would take me out of Columbus’ west side. Thus began the worst stretch of road I’ve ridden then entire trip. For some reason, the OTE maps led me along U.S. 40 (Broad Street) for three miles. It was potholed, cracked, crumbled when it wasn’t under construction, giving me no room to jockey with orange barrels and rain-spraying trucks trying to get on I-270. I stopped to map my way off U.S. 40 down side streets, cut a corner and got away from the mess. Maybe Broad Street was in good shape at one time, but whoever is calling the shots for the OTE should reconsider this stretch. It sucks.

Then, of course, I check the OTE website, where I find this note:

“The printed map instructs people to use Broad Street, however until October 2016, it is under major construction west of I-270 and these conditions make an already challenging connection nearly impossible. Ohio to Erie Trail leadership provides the following alternative route which is 9.17 miles going from SW to NE.”

Face palm. I’ve gotten better at checking route updates online.

The rain kept up all day through the Camp Chase Trail, Darby Creek Park and into Madison County. I stayed at a $25 hostel in a carriage house behind the Alexandra’s B&B, where a guy named George let me in. The place was half-garage, half-hostel. George had a motor attached to some Wal-Mart bike, and it made the whole place smell like gas. I tried to keep air moving in the place. I was the only person there, luckily, so I spread out, turned on some fans, and listened to Marc Maron’s interview with Obama.

Today was the first day of the rest of the trip. In some ways, after taking time off the bike, I was beginning the trip over again. From here, the schedule was clear for me to get to the West Coast.

John texted me and said he’d try to meet me in London the next morning. I ate half of a stromboli from Phat Daddy’s Pizza and passed out.


Day 14: Arriving in Columbus

6/26/15: 55 miles, Mount Vernon, Ohio, to downtown Columbus, Ohio

I was due to be in a rehearsal dinner for my pals Dan and Brigid by 4 p.m. in Columbus, so I got out early. The Heart of Ohio Trail, another paved beauty, shot me south toward Delaware County, where I’d ride through Sunbury and into the northeast side of Columbus. My fellow Denisonian, David Strong, who lives in Westerville, and I made last-minute plans to meet up since the OTE went right by his house. As I got on the Westerville Bike and Walk trail, David headed north and met me to guide my through Westerville like a harbor master would at a port:

We hung out at his house for about a half hour, where I met his wife, kids, in-laws, and the rest of his bikes. David and I never really rode much at Denison, despite the incredible roads, paths and off road options. Alas, we were young and dumb. But we were getting our miles in now as grown men.

David rode with me to Schrock Road, a bike-laned road that connects to the Olentangy River path that goes through OSU’s campus and into downtown Columbus. I used to ride these routes when I lived in Columbus for the summer of 2007. Got nostalgic instantly. Especially when I saw the Budweiser plant, one of 12 major breweries for Bud. (Just kidding.)

I made it downtown to the Hyatt where we stayed for the wedding with an hour or so to spare in between a quick lunch at North Star Cafe, laundry, a shave and a stretch. Made it happen. Credit to my girlfriend for keeping me on my toes, otherwise I’dve been late like I usually am.




Day 13: Rain and hills through Amish country

6/25/15: 91 miles, Akron, Ohio, to Mount Vernon, Ohio

It was a long sufferfest across the midsection of Ohio, but one of the best — and hardest — rides I’ve had on the trip. From Akron, I followed the Ohio-to-Erie trail along tail end of the Cuyahoga Valley towpath to Massillon, a post-industrial town that reminds me of Hammond, Ind., a town I’ve ridden through from Chicago.

The OTE took me along the Sippo Valley Trail to Dalton, followed by jaunts along country roads through Wayne County. Eventually picked up the Holmes County Trail, which is double wide for cyclists on one side and Amish buggies on the other. Steady, cold drizzle fell, but I had the path to myself aside from three riders I met heading to Cleveland from Cincinnati:

That explains why I didn’t see many buggies on the road–many of them were on the trail. After chatting with a Boy Scouts group from Georgia that was on a tour up to Cleveland, I met Michelle in Millersburg and had lunch at a place called Bags to warm up and dry off. I didn’t accomplish either, but I had an amber lager from Millersburg Brewing Co. next door. I finished out the Holmes County Trail when serious hills in Knox County began. From Killbuck to Brinkhaven, I thought my knees were going to explode as I mashed my granny gear (the easiest gear I could ride in). Barely going walking pace, enough to stay upright. But the views across the rolling hills of this part of Ohio, which I’d never seen before, were a worthy payoff. The views always are.

I began the Mohican Valley Trail at the Bridge of Dreams, the longest covered bridge in Ohio, and was met with atrocious cyclocross conditions. Mud, gravel, horseshit, horseshoe prints, ruts…not ideal for heavy loaded touring. Better for an ATV:

Frustrated, I Google Mapped my way around the last two miles of MVT to Danville, where the Kokosing Gap Trail began. It’s a 13-mile paved rail trail, one of the smoothest and well-maintained, into Mount Vernon. The run abated and late afternoon sun peaked through the trees, drying up the path. Relief. The way to end the day. I stopped by Kenyon College in Gambier, the rival to my alma mater, Denison, for a quick heckle…

…and look around, before jamming the last few miles to Mount Vernon, where Michelle and I got a night at the Mount Vernon Inn. I was soaked, and setting up camp on wet ground was a tough sell, so we lived it up for a night.