For two years, I’ve thought about doing Out-Spokin’ Wheelmen’s Northeast Ohio Century (NEOC) ride. Not for any particular reason. Probably because it had a close start location–Newton Falls, about a half hour from my house–and I like not having to always drive far away to get to a good ride. I don’t know why I have never managed to make it to this ride; maybe it was the weather that year or a loss of interest in doing centuries by this time of the year. After completing MCBC’s RAM ride, I had decided I was up for one more century for the year, just to end my year’s centuries on a nice even number of 8.
I had no hope of catching up to Michael, who has 11 (!!!!) centuries, especially since he keeps ending up going on rides with me, increasing his number, and I’ve no hope of trying to find a ride when he’s already busy doing something else to try to out number him. So when I decided that this was the year to NEOC, and, since Michael had volunteered himself to go with me, I figured I mine as well do the ride on his tandem.
I expected the ride would be a little hilly, being that it was advertised as going through Portage, Trumbull, and Geauga Counties. I had thought perhaps it might go south towards Lake Milton, but it turns out we ended up in a lot of the same stomping grounds I have done on rides earlier this year or on my own: Hiram, Burton, Middlefield. The ride covered some of the same grounds also covered on Sunday in June, including unavoidable state routes with the lovely Amish buggy ruts, which know you all over the place, and the ride becomes a game of dodging pot holes that could swallow your tire whole.
The day started out pretty cold in the mid 40’s and we had to bundle up to start. I found I couldn’t ride with just my arm warmers and tights so I ended up wearing the fleece jacket I’d worn to the ride. Fortunately, Michael brought his rack pack so that we had somewhere to stow our cold weather clothes as we progressively stripped throughout the day. Which we did. By lunch, the temperature had increased to the mid-70s and I was down to my bike shorts and short-sleeved shirt. The manic-depressive temperatures indicate fall is definitely here!
The route was very nice in a lot of spots, though. Our first stop was at the park at Nelson Ledges, where I have not been for years. Michael asked about the hiking quality of that area and I told him with enthusiasm how much I enjoyed hiking around there in college. I still have a memory in my head of standing with my then-bf Scott atop an overlook that dropped significantly into a valley. Seems to me there was a great view there, but I can’t remember if that image is really from that memory or somewhere else I’ve been. This means it’s been a long time since I’ve hiked around there and I made a mental note to visit this fall when the foliage is in full color.
This ride boasted great cookies. Usually rides make this claim and you get a lot of cookies made ad hoc from a premade mix (sorry, ABC!). So we’ve come to not expect much by way of cookies on a ride. To my chagrin, despite some of the cookies being store bought, there were a great deal of homemade cookies of every type and they were delicious. I’m ashamed to admit how many cookies I ate on this ride. I know I totally invalidated my exercise here, which is why I did not partake in ice cream at the end of the ride with Michael. While sipping on a diet Coke, I watched him eat a Strawberry Chocolate Blizzard.
So from Nelson Ledges, we rode up Route 305. I’d always wondered what the climb into Hiram was like from that route–since on ABC’s Memorial Day Ride (which I now lead) and all other rides I lead through Hiram–we go down that hill. I thought it would be pretty bad because you can get some major speed off that hill (not that I would know as I’m always braking liberally), but it turns out the climb is not that steep. I’m serious, it really wasn’t that bad. I was actually kind of disappointed because some of the hills leading up to that hill, though shorter, were much steeper. Oh well. (Also, the hill on Route 700 coming into Hiram is harder–shorter but steeper again.)
I never wondered what The Wall on Route 82 was like. But I got to find out. I thought we were going to get to avoid it because we were routed down Route 700 towards Garrettsville, then up Pioneer Trail. Unfortunately, the route then turned us down Vaughn which drops you off–yes–right in front of The Wall. We climbed most of the way up to Sheldon and turned off it. I was kind of disappointed because I wanted to finish the climb. Michael and I got in a nice relaxed rhythm and the pace wasn’t too excruciating so, of course, I kind of liked it. I can’t say I’ve fully climbed The Wall yet since I didn’t make it to the intersection of 82 and 44 at Mantua Corners. So I guess maybe I should go back sometime and try to do it myself, eh?
We took Sheldon basically to Rapids Road where we climbed into Burton, went through the Square, and back down Route 700. I was a little nervous about the speed, but I let Michael captain his tandem without complaint as we sped down 700 and I tried not to cringe as we took the blind corners. They weren’t too sharp of turns and I felt strangely calmer than I should have. And the next thing I knew, I was kind of enjoying the speed. Whee!! We passed another single rider–which made me nervous because he was in the middle of the lane–and off we flew. It was fantastic. Michael said that we got to at least 42mph when I asked; upon checking the computer at the end of the ride, it turns out we hit 47mph!! Ssssawwweet! Now if only I will let myself do that on my own bike by myself!
We eventually ended up in Middlefield. Lunch was a simple sandwich spread with lunch meat options or PB&J. No cookies at the lunch stop (thank God, for I would have eaten more for sure) but bags of chips to help bring the salt content back up in the body. Okay, I admit it, I’m a bad eater. Anyway, they also had some of those fancy-smancy gel packs that feel like a sugary goo in your mouth but all the sport-minded folks seem to think they are great for energy so I grabbed a few for later. Little did I know the flavor was kind of weird–vanilla orange.
Somewhere after lunch, we got to some rolling back roads in Trumbull County which were fun. Michael was making me do a lot of standing on the pedals to crest the top parts of some of the steeper hills which awakened a new set of muscles in my legs (quads?) because I don’t stand so much on my own bike very often. I probably should, it would help me get up some nasty steep hills without even thinking of abandoning the climb. It’s just so hard for me to maintain for any length of time, which probably means I need to work those muscles more. I’m not good at the whole pain and strain thing you need to do to beef up muscles… I need to work on perhaps extending myself a little more for improvement.
We passed through Mesopotamia (who knew there was one in Ohio?), West Farmington (which I recognized before I saw the sign thanks to Andy K), and Parkman. There was on weird moment along Route 88 where we crossed 608, which was the road the 62 mile route was using to get back to Newton Falls. It was kind of weird to see a bunch of cyclists going that direction down the road, knowing they were from the same ride, and not taking the urge to turn. We did stop to look at our map and we realized that our route did cross theirs.
Unfortunately, we were forced to continue down Route 88 all the way into Garrettsville. It’s not a horribly trafficky road until you get into Garrettsville. It’s not all that scenic either. But this is the second time I’ve spent so much time on Route 88 on a ride, Sunday in June being the other time, so I suppose it’s the only option for getting around in that area. As we approached Garrettsville, though, the motorists became increasingly unpleasant–definitely not a bicycle friendly community–and we even were greeted by one of the residents with the one-finger salute as he passed (in his rusty ole pickup truck, of course), even though we were trying to be the least intrusive on the road as possible, riding the white line respectfully. Whatever. Some people can’t stand waiting behind anyone for thirty seconds to pass them.
Our last rest stop was at the Garrettsville library where there were more delicious cookies to taunt me. I had one–white chocolate chip macadamia nut, my favorite–and a chocolate-covered pretzel. It was quiet; I heard the volunteer mention that only about 30 people were doing the 100 mile route, which really isn’t that unusual for the century option on a smaller ride like this. As a comparison, the MS 150 in Toledo, which normally has about 1,000 riders, only has about 75-100 riders doing the 100 mile route on the first day. This indicates to me that there’s only a small population of insane cyclists out there. At least amongst those of us who do all these registered rides (because we’re too lazy to write our own or do self-contained trips).
From Garrettsville, I was surprised that the route took familiar roads that I use myself for my rides out that direction–Hankee to Asbury to 303. So this part of the route was very familiar to me. And there was a certain justification in my route being “officially sanctioned” by a registered ride. These really are decent roads for the area and–dare I say–scenic. It’s all about the scenery to me. I enjoy pleasant rolls down pretty, low-traffic roads more than anything.
Back to busy roads as we took my most disliked Route 303 all the way through Windham to head back to Newton Falls. Mental note: If I decide to reroute the ABC’s Memorial Day ride to Newton Falls, as someone suggested, I will have to find some prettier, more interesting routes.
Our ending mileage came up about a mile short of 100 miles, so Michael and I took an additional ride through some side streets in Newton Falls. Our tragic mistake is that we did not push the speed, for little did we know but we were, at that time, just under 6 hours in ride time. Had we pushed the speed just a little faster, we would have had 5 hours and fifty-some minutes; instead, we ended with 6:01’47. One minute and forty-seven seconds separated me from having my first ever finish in under 6 hours. Damn. Still, this was the best ride time I ever had on a century, my second closest being the Flatlanders Tour with Sue and Hubert where I finished 108 miles in 6:37’12 (16.3 average). I also finished 100 miles in 6:17’30 (16.1 average) on the first day of the MS 150 this year which was a personal best as it was a windy day and I did not have anyone to draft off of (and would probably have refused any invitations, had there been any).
All in all, it was a fun ride. A little disappointing in that it went through a lot of familiar territory. But then, the benefit of doing this ride was, to me, not having to drive very far to get to it. Besides, I kept the map so that I could find some of these side roads again to use them for routes on my own rides in the future. I’d do the ride again, weather-permitting.