In every life some wind must blow… and blow…

Finally… the long anticipated blog entry…

“I Reject Sweetest Day” (aka “Heidi’s Hiram Headwind”) Ride

Rode with: Members of the ABC

Ride Mileage: 40 miles

Start & End Location: Tinkers Creek State Park (not to be confused with Tinkers Creek Road in the Bedford Reservation of the Cleveland Metro Parks)
The brave souls who decided to embark on my ride.
Mars Girl’s shadow is at the bottom of the picture (yes, Martians cast shadows).

Having had such a successful ride in Wayne County on Labor Day, I decided to take the reigns of ride leadership with the ABC yet again on Oct. 20th with the goal being a stop at my alma mater, Hiram College. When I scheduled it back in September, I had no idea what the weather would be like or if the ride would end up taking place. It’s hard to tell in Ohio at this time of year just what kind of weather you’re going to get — it could snow, it could be 80 degrees. I almost couldn’t have asked for better weather, as the temperatures were in the sixties and quite comfortable for fall riding. I said almost because the wind was HORRENDOUS. Thus, the alias title for my ride.

Eight riders enthusiastically showed up for the ride, with two of whom rode to the starting point at the park (which, I’ll admit, I contemplated doing myself, but I didn’t want to wear my hydropack and I couldnt figure out where I would stick the cue sheets). This is pretty decent rider turn-out for a novice ride leader headed into the largely uncharted territory of Portage County, Ohio, where every road encountered may be a pot-hole obstricle course. In fact, this is one case in which planning the ride requires riding the route by car at least once near the date of the event to ensure the conditions have not drastically changed since the last visit. Portage County roads are as unreliable as Northeast Ohio weather. As I once heard an ABCer say, “They don’t call it ‘poor’-tage county for nothing.” (No offense to the residents of Portage County… Its pleasant scenery is why I even attempt to ride out there, despite the hazards of road conditions and impatient drivers.)

I drove the route after work on Friday before the ride since I’d plotted it using mapmyride.com, which has failed me once horribly in the past, turning an innocent 63-mile solo ride into a 75-mile ride from hell. To my surprise, all of the roads I’d plotted on this particular route actually existed and did not appear pocked like the surface of the moon. It was just extra credit that these roads also turned out to be very scenic, many of them lined with trees exhibiting the best colors of fall. I also managed to keep the route off any significant hills (significant, mind you, by Cuyahoga Valley standards). It’s late season bicycling and I didn’t feel the need to torture anyone unless I’d warned them in advance.

The first half of the ride was with the wind. My route took us along Winchell Road from Aurora into cluster of houses, a church, and a cementary at a crossroads that calls itself Hiram Rapids. I have continued to receive the highest accolades about this road. I discovered it on accident during the aforementioned 63-mile ride. Lightly trafficked, Winchell is generally flat and meanders through farm land and tree lanes until it eventually dead-ends at St. Rt. 700. I wish I would have taken a photo at the cementary in Hiram Rapids; the image of the orange, red, yellow, and browning leaves across the gothic gravestones with the golden rays of the sun seeping through the tree branches awakened the excitement of autumn and Halloween in my body.

Why is it that autumn always seem to hold the promise of adventure and fun? Autumn heralds the four-month lockdown of winter — not exciting or fun at all. In pagan mythology, autumn (Samhain) represents the end of the year, time to remember those you lost and reflect on the lessons learned during the past year. It’s a very somber time and the accompanying rite, which I’ve witnessed several times in the past, is just as solemn. Like the leaves falling from the trees, autumn represents the most difficult stage in the cycle of life: death or a change from one state to the next.

Unlike our human lives, the earth’s ending cycling is a lot more theatrical. You cannot dismiss the beautiful blaze of glory in which the leaves depart their short existence. After a spring and summer of green, indistinguishable in color to the leaves on all of the other trees except by shape, each leaf erupts into a powerful orange, yellow, red, amber, purple that sometimes differs in hue even within the same tree. As much as I love the warm weather of summer, autumn’s colorful collage takes my breath away and fills me with an intense adoration for the world we inhabit.

It apparently takes energy to enter the last phase of the natural life cycle. The autumn winds fiercely blow the leaves from the trees and all around the streets and yards and forests. It’s as though Mother Nature is taking part in removing the dead parts of the trees to make room for the new leaves that will grow there in the spring, like cleaning the dead skin cells from a wound so that new ones can begin to take form.

Most of the time, the autumn wind invigorates me. Its destructive force seems to imply that all you need to do is push your problems away forcefully and start over on a clean slate, as nature does each year. The wind moves my hair around me, tickling my scalp seductively, and promises like an inflamed lover to take me somewhere else — to the place where the wind ends, the land where it has blown everything to. The wind is like the people I’m attracted to — impassioned, steadfast, energetic, full with life, and ready to move on to the next great adventure.

The wind is not quite as sexy when you are riding a bike. It becomes a force working against you despite all the effort of your pedaling. I spent the return ride from Hiram, hunched over my drops, trying desperately to become lower than the wind. It was difficult and I had trouble keeping up with the main group who had started to form a small draft line. Michael had tried to draft off me but my erratic movements (swaying with the bike as I pumped the pedals) caused our tires to rub at one point and he pushed out ahead of me for his own safety.

To make matters a little more challenging, the route past Hiram was a little more hilly than the route out. Hills plus wind equals a bit of a challenge. I thought about how much easier the ride would be (because, again, it wasn’t as hilly as it could have been) had I done this on a windless day. Many times on this ride, I felt my whole bike quake and I pictured myself being blown sideways off the road, wheels lifted above the pavement before slamming into the ground, as though some giant invisible hand just pushed me aside.

For the second half of the ride, I took the group from Hiram down Route 88 for about a mile until Wheeler Road. This is the location of the Hiram College Biology field station and a tour of my alma mater would not be complete without a ride past it. Wheeler ends at State Street (Route 82) in the bustling metropolis of Garrettsville (sarcastic snort). I then navigated us to 88 where we took the quieter Freedom Street, which later becomes Hankee. A slight jog onto Asbury Road (the road on which Camp Asbury, the summer camp at which I worked the summer before my junior year), passing the unpaved — boo! — Portage County bike path. We turned down Schustrich, and then jogged up Vaughn to Mennonite. Mennonite goes straight into Mantua and up a pretty intense hill at the center of town. I did get a little cursed out for that one. I remember when driving that portion of the route, I thought, “Oh… that one’s gonna be a little rough!” Especially since it was in a little bit of a trafficky street (yeah, in Mantua, of all places!) and the road was actually less smooth than it was approaching the town. This is probably why our recumbant rider, Ernie, got a flat.

Out of Mantua was a little bit rolling. We stopped a few times to collect our riders. Then, we went down Diagonal for a little bit (this is the same Diagonal I use on my Stow-Streetsburo-Kent loop I do from my house) to Barlett. Barlett to Page, and then basically ending up on Frost Road. This was probably one of my bad routing decisions as Frost is congested and has those annoying rain gutters on each side of the road which a rider can easily slide into and catch a tire on when trying to get back out of it. This is exactly what happened to me in Colorado when I had my first of two bike accidents that required me to be removed from the scene via an ambulance. That incident earned me stitches by my left eyebrow.

Throughout the ride, I worried that my riders would become disgrunted with the route I planned (which I purposely made longer to reach a definite 40 miles). But everyone seemed to enjoy themselves despite the spirited grumbling about the wind. (I can’t control the wind, so that one’s out of my hands!) Some riders offered suggestions for alternative roads to the two busy ones I put us on, so I have room to modify this route for later use. Overall, though the route was pretty easy-going and my riders were really good about making sure no one got dropped.

A good ride is one in which everyone returns unharmed. Despite two chain-popping incidents and the aforementioned flat tire, the ride was largely without incident. It was a sunny day and I got a good workout in… before going home to watch the Indians nose-dive in game six of the ALCS. But I won’t bore you with another diatribe about that!

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