The road less bicycled

The more I bicycle Ohio, the more I come to appreciate m home state–a place I longed desperately since college to get away from, did actually escape, and found myself back. Much like I can’t help comparing men I’ve dated to my late husband, I find myself often comparing Ohio to Colorado. It always seems to come out, as I’m sure my listeners would tell you, that Colorado beats Ohio every time in every story. I’ve become a droning, annoying snob who punctuates every story with, “Well, in Colorado…”

But I’m learning. Mostly that I am wrong about a great many things. For example, I thought when I returned to Ohio that I’d never find the challenge in cycling that I had in Colorado. Ha. Little did I know that Ohio–a state mistakenly perceived as flat, even by its own inhabitants–offers climbs in some ways more challenging than anything I’ve climbed in Colorado, if not in length, then in sheer steepness per mile. Ohio doesn’t have mountains, but it has lots of river valleys. In southern Ohio, large rolling hills surround roads and towns, reminiscent of the Appalachians Mountains of West Virginia. It’s another world down there from the part of Ohio in which I grew up.

A challenge can be found for riding in Ohio if you go looking for it. And beautiful scenery–the part I like most about cycling–is everywhere. This past Sunday I got the opportunity to explore more of Ohio’s hidden treasures when I accompanied my friend John (aka bAD dOG) on a route he designed from Fredericksburg–a town at the edge of the hill country where I did a road ride last year called the Fredericksburg Library Roll. This time, however, John was offering me on a new tour of the region, something a little different: Mounted on our Surlys, we were going to ride the unpaved roads, trails, and “I don’t know what this is but it’s rideable” paths that are unreachable on a regular road bike. I could hardly wait to get Beau’s wheels wet.

We started on a 15 mile stretch of the Holmes County Trail which is used by bikes, hikers,  and Amish buggies alike. The Library Roll used parts of this trail to Millersburg so I’d experienced it before; however, I’d never ridden the stretch into Killbuck. Being a multi-purpose trail, it was generally flat–a great warm up on which to test my knee, which has been giving me trouble since TOSRV, before heading off into the hilly madness that is Holmes and Knox Counties. I stupidly forgot to put on my knee brace (there’s always something I forget), even though I’d remembered to bring it, so I was slightly worried when we headed out. I suppose I should have turned around when I’d realized I’d forgotten to put on–we were only a few miles out at that point–but I was already in the heat of the ride and didn’t feel like wasting any time (even though we had all day). Fortunately, it seemed to hold out well on that intense stretch where we hauled at a nice 16-18mph pace.

At the end of the trail in Killbuck, an old–and poorly maintained–station house stands. As John pointed out to me, the sign on the building still displays the mileages to Columbus (south) and Hudson (north near where I live)–67 miles and 66 miles respectively, Killbuck being the midway point to the old line this rail-to-trail now occupies. I tried to imagine what the place once looked like as a living railway. It’s a shame The Powers That Be let the station fall to ruin.

The old Killbuck Station - 67 miles to Columbus, 66 miles to Hudson.

After we reached Killbuck, we headed off towards the hills on a lonely state route. I say “lonely” referring to the fact that not many cars passed us on a road that looked like it should be filled with much busier, faster traffic. A few miles out, we turned off the main route onto a dirt road that wrapped up a hill around a farm. I immediately felt the thrill of being on a road usually forbidden to me. It almost had the allure of doing something I wasn’t supposed to be doing–like I was riding on someone’s personal driveway or something. It had rained the night before, and this road was moist, but due lack of trees, there was a lot of exposure to the sun so passing along it was not incredibly difficult, other heart-pumping climb up the first real hill of the day.

It was pretty fun to say the least. Even though we were on an official road, we rarely encountered a car. It was easy to feel as though we were on a bike path and we could easily ride side-by-side. Some of the roads got a little muddier when we were in more shaded areas. Beau did okay in these sections, but I realized–too late–that I probably should have changed the tires back out to the 700c x 36 tires that came with the bike; I was using 32s, which were okay, but I could have used a little more surface area to bite into the mud. A mountain bike would have ate up those sections.

I had one crushing moment when I realized I had pushed myself a little too hard. We were climbing a long hill, muddy hill and John stopped behind me to check something on his bike. During this pause, when I stopped, I realized my heart was pounding–no, hammering–in my ears and my laboring lungs could not keep up with the amount of air I needed to take in. After standing for a few moments, I started to realize how light-headed and nauseous I felt. I panicked for just a bit, fearing I would faint, for in my experience, a fainting spell always begins with that feeling of light-headedness. I had to sit for a bit on a rock that was thankfully available next to a driveway and chug down some Gatorade. I don’t know what happened there. As many hills as I’ve climbed and pushed myself hard on, I’ve never felt light-headed or nauseous. It must have been the combination of climbing, battling the resistance of the muddy surface, and trying to keep my tire straight as it bounced on islands of little rocks that peppered the road. Or I was having a bad day. Perhaps wearing my new “She Loves Hills” jersey was a bit of a cocky move on my part. Though, it’s not making any statement to wear that jersey on a ride that offers no challenging hills.

It took about a half hour for me to shake the nausea, in which time I gave myself a mental beating for my failure to moderate myself enough to continue the climb. I had all day–it wasn’t about getting anywhere fast–it just felt like a slight failure of beating a challenge. At least I didn’t walk the hill, though; when I felt better, I continued the rest of the climb to a rolling paved state route.

Our next unpaved destination was the rustic Mohican River Valley Trail. The trail starts with Ohio’s longest covered bridge (or so they claimed–haven’t been on enough covered bridges myself) crosses the Mohican River to start another multi-purpose (Amish buggies, bikes, or walkers) trail. Unfortunately, due to the rain of the previous night, the trail looked a little less than enjoyable even for the Surlys because the surface was wet and soft. So we took the paralleling state route for several miles, and then got back onto the trail for the last couple of miles, where the conditions seemed better, just so that I could have the experience of having ridden the trail. It’s too bad the rain had softened a lot of the unpaved roads; John said when he’d done the ride a week earlier, the surface conditions were much different.

Me & Beau at "Ohio's Longest Covered Bridge" (or so they claim).

The trail ends in Danville and we stopped for lunch at a quaint little restaurant called Lulu’s where we were served a grumpy waitress who seemed annoyed that we’d picked to sit at a table set for 12 people (it was close to the window where we could watch our bikes). You know how rude we cyclists are… The food made up for the sullen waitress. I enjoyed my favorite–a tuna melt, which was served on big, thick, delicious bread. Our waitress  started to warm up as we ate, though not before she clucked in frustration when John requested some glasses for the pitcher of water we’d requested. Maybe she wished she were riding a bike instead of serving cyclists on such a nice day! (Whenever I encounter people in a nasty mood, I always think, “They should go on a bike ride.” It’s obviously my cure-all for whatever mentally ails you.)

After lunch, we headed back on a different return route (John, like me, prefers loop routes) that included an undefined path of some sort through the woods that John had found on previous explorations of the area. It was composed of soft mud, but was not in too horrible of shape, and it seemed to incline slightly upwards for the entire stretch we rode. I had trouble maintaining 9-10mph with the mud and the incline, though riding through the dense trees that lined each side of the path was really a treat. We only passed two other people–both going the opposite way on horseback.

Our last stretch back to Killbuck and the Holmes County Trail was several miles of a rolling, scenic road where I experienced some moments of childlike joy as I watched the scenery slip past (and was thus inspired to write the first few paragraphs of this blog entry). It was pretty fun rolling quickly down hills at 30+ mph and then pushing the last little bit to the top of the next hill. I was really enjoying more of this part of the ride than suffering. It was wonderful.

We stopped in Killbuck to refuel our water at a little market (where I almost bought ice cream, but decided to stick to my diet). It was getting mighty warm by this point in the day–I am sure in the 80s–and I was drinking like I’d never drank anything before. I think part of the reason I’d bonked on the one hill earlier had something to do with not drinking as much. It was a humid day, even from the start, so I probably should have taken more in (maybe should have taken my hydro-pack). I made up for it the rest of the day, though, drinking tons of Gatorade and water. We stopped to fill up on liquids twice.

The last 15 miles were along the flat Holmes Country trail again where I felt a little less eager to push those high rpms. Our speed was a little lower than when we’d gone out (or at least mine was) with about a 14-15mph push. It seemed a little windy in that direction, or maybe that was my imagination. That’s why I actually like climbing hills better than spinning/pushing on flats. You always have to keep your legs moving without much room for rest, whereas on climbing you have moments of intense pushing followed by moments of relaxation as you fly down the other side of a hill. I wonder, too, if perhaps the reason my knee got so wacked up after TOSRV was due to the amount of time spent spinning on mostly flatish grade; I only started to feel a dull ache in my knee in the stretch between Circleville and Columbus when I was forced to keep moving the legs in the windy sections of the flat plains south of Columbus.

Anyway, we made it back to Fredericksberg at a leisurely 5:30 (4 hours plus a long lunch stop and two additional small stops). I only averaged 13.7mph, but that really wasn’t the point of this ride. We were just out enjoying a beautiful sunny day, after a week of rain and gloom, on the Jeeps of the bike world–our twin Surly Cross-Checks. We logged 71.5 miles which is just perfect for a day’s ride to me. (I like between 50-75 miles in a single day when I’m not feeling masochistic.) I truly did feel like a Jeep driver with all the stomping on dirt roads and paths. I’m looking forward to a chance at taking Beau out for another “wilderness” adventure.

Perhaps someday I’ll even try mountain biking…

New personal record: 4,000 miles

I have to say that I really couldn’t have attained this kind of mileage without all of my friends.


It’s not that any single friend rode 4,000 miles with me, but some people (like Michael) have done 2,500+ miles with me. Some people (like Diane and Jeff) have done as little 15 miles with me. It doesn’t matter how many miles a single person did with me; each one of you contributed by spending time with me. Just having someone to talk to while I ride or keep company with is enough to make a ride a hundred times more enjoyable than it would otherwise have been. You helped motivate me when you didn’t even know I needed motivation.

Sure, I’ve done a lot of rides by myself–commuting to work, the MS 150–and I don’t mind it at all on most days. I used to ride by myself all the time because I didn’t know anyone who wanted to do the miles with me. I thought I would always ride in solitude. Until I found my place with the Akron Bicycle Club. It was with ABC that I found more rides and more people to ride with. It really changed my cycling intensity. Some would say for the worst; I say for the better because even though I don’t look with my beer gut, I’m probably healthier now than I’ve ever been in my entire life. And I’ve gone places, climbed hills and done rides, I’d never even knew I could do.

XOBA was a real turning point for me this year. I’d never ridden the nearly 500 miles in one week that that ride required. I pushed myself 72 miles with a knee that was determined to inflict pain on me. But I did not give up. Ironically, that is the day that I rode alone and very well could have jumped the next SAG wagon without an ounce of guilt–no sidelong glances from a friend as he/she watched me quit. No, I found it within myself to push onward, to put the pain in a small compartment in the back of my mind. Determination. I think my life–all that I’ve been through–is proof that I have determination to surmount any pain, whether physical or emotional. Pain I never knew–never dreamed–I could survive.

Survivor. That’s what Mike used to tell me I was. And he was too. I never really fully believe that I have the strength I do until I push myself beyond what I think I can handle and then, when I come through okay, I am surprised. I like to test myself and push. I hate giving up. That’s what makes me a good athlete. If you can call what I do athletics. For some reason, I always downplay my riding. People have called me athletic and I’m aghast. My elementary school gym teacher–Mrs. Meers, that evil hag–used to tell me I was defective as an athlete. She wanted my mom to have my legs broken and reset to fix a problem I have where my legs splay out when I run. She told my mom I would never have athletic prowess. I wish I could see her now.

The girl without athletic prowess has run in more 5Ks than she cares to remember. The girl without athletic ability rode west to east across the state of Ohio–496 miles by her calculations–and she did nearly 100 of those miles on an injured knee. The girl who was told she never would do anything physically spectacular just rode a bicycle 4,000 miles in one year! Who doesn’t have athletic prowess now, Mrs. Meers?

Of course, I know that there are many people who do a lot more miles than I do. Some who do a lot more miles in a single ride than I’ve ever done in a day. My accomplishment looks minor to some and impossibly huge to others. I don’t care what anyone else thinks. I ride for myself. I ride because I like it. I ride because I can. And for me, 4,000 miles is a personal accomplishment. I’ll take it. Everything happens in baby steps. I remember when I didn’t ride more than 100 miles a year. I remember the first time I did the MS 150 (on a mountain bike, ugh!) and only completed the first day of 75 miles. Back then, 75 miles was a major accomplishment. I never knew I would become a total bike-a-holic and complete not only one 100 mile ride–which was something I thought I would do once, someday–but eight in one year. Who knew?

I still contend I could not have done this many miles without friends. Besides my injury day, I had friends riding with me throughout XOBA. I had friends riding with me all year. If I didn’t have the many options of rides to attend in Ohio or with my bike club every week, I don’t think I’d be as inspired to ride because I’d be tired of all my own routes. And I’d be somewhat lonely. It’s nice knowing that on a day when I feel kind of like riding, I’ve got some friends whom I can join. It’s nice that when I get to the top of a really hard climb on a ride like the Fredericksburg Library Roll last week, I’ve got a friend waiting for me at the top. I can do a lot of riding and I can do it alone but it’s nice to know I don’t have to.

So thanks, everyone! Thanks for keeping me going! Here’s to many more great miles!

By the way, it was Beau who pulled me over to 4,000 on this very chilly Wednesday night. Whew-hoo!

Meet Beau

I picked it up today. My dream, my obsession, my passion–the Surly Cross Check. Ah, how I awaited the moment! I was picturing what it would look like in my head based on the base model I saw at the Century Cycles shop a few weeks ago and my brief flirtation with a Long Haul Trucker to try bar-end shifters, which I ended up not liking, and to check the size I would require for a Cross Check since I guess the builds are similar between the two models. These Surly bikes feel so sturdy, strong, and stable. After riding the Long Haul Trucker last week, I felt the fervor and took the plunge: I told Derrick to give me a quote on a Cross Check.

It only took the length of the weekend for us to go back and forth on the appropriate components for my dream bike. My goal was to make a nice touring bike, something I could take on and off road. Better than my hybrid was, but for similar use purposes. I wanted fenders (oh, how I dreamed of fenders for those wet fall and spring days). I salivated over thicker tires. I wanted STI shifters. I wanted a combination of road and hybrid and I got just that!

I was so excited when Derrick brought the bike out. I was prepared to like the way it looked, but I didn’t think I’d fall instantly in love. I used to think fenders kind of looked dorky on a bike… but when I saw the bike for the first time, I thought that the fenders actually complimented it! It probably helps that the bike is black, thus matching the fenders. But still. On a bike like this, fenders just seem appropriate.

So. The ride. After chatting excitedly with all my CC peeps, I donned my new steed–whom I christened Beau about half way through the ride–and headed towards roads that I knew were particularly bothersome on my Giant.

First stop: that road that goes in front of Hale Farm. (According to Google Maps, this is Oak Hill/Buckeye Trail — but we’re not talking about the part of Oak Hill that even good cyclists fear to climb.) This road is usually pretty bumpy and crappy and filled with potholes, especially when you get north of Hale Farm. For some reason tonight I had trouble finding potholes (yes, I was looking for them) but then I wondered if maybe the road feels more lumpy when you’re on a road bike. I seem to remember riding through there a few times and feeling unnerved by a lot of broken road. Well, I didn’t find any of that tonight.

I passed the Everett Road bridge and decided to take this photographic opportunity to snap some pictures of Beau.

And a close up shot: forget the bridge and look at my pretty bike!

By this point, I was seriously in love with this bike. Despite the fact that the bigger wheels probably make it a little slower than a spin on my Giant. But, I remind myself, this bike was built for comfort, not speed. If my Giant is a low-end sports car (like an Acura RSX Type S), then the Surly Cross Check (at least the one I had built) is the Cadillac of road bikes. I could tell this fact right away. It felt cushy, absorbing the road shock and two passes over railroad tracks with grace. And I’m so glad I picked that shock-absorbing seat post!

From the Everett Road bridge, I moved on up Riverview Road to Major. Hey, I had to take a climb, right? Try those granny gears…? make sure they work…? okay, I like climbing hills… But, actually, the main point of heading in that direction was so that I could ride down Stine Road, which is currently a bit torn up, though I forgot that the torn up part was on the side you would climb, not the side you would go down. Oh well! All’s fair in giving a new bike a shake-down.

The trip up Major was what I would expect: it was a climb. I was pushing a little harder than I normally would just to figure out if I have to work harder on this bike than I do my Giant. But since I was pushing harder than normal, I failed to accurately assess the results of that test. Suffice it to say, I felt just as good as I normally do climbing Major. Which really isn’t that bad, it’s not that hard of a hill.

Going down Stine, however, I was filled with a false sense of security due to my big thick tires. I took the downhill with a little more momentum than I do on my Giant and the Cross Check felt incredibly stable the whole way down. Of course. I mean, it’s a steel frame on 700x37c tires!

Next, I decided to really test the bike by taking it off-road onto the towpath (since I didn’t have any other off-road alternatives that I know of in the valley). I turned down Riverview and floated down the hill to Boston Mills toward the Boston Store. I purposely took a trip through the grass to get to the towpath. Why? Because I could, dammit!

The towpath was in all loveliness. Which I forget because I’ve spent so little time on it once I converted myself to a high-mileage road junkie. Because it was evening, there were not a whole lot of people on it, either, which was nice. The few people that were on it, I passed with my high pedaling cadence. Beau the Cross Check ate up the towpath like it was pavement. Ahhhh, fahrfegnuggen.

I stopped by a nice pull off by the mighty Cuyahoga River which was raging with rapids.

See? My new bike can do rugged! Can you see me with the bike tripped out in panniers and rack pack as I head off onto some wilderness bike trail? Well. Beau is ready! Beau likes backpack riding!

I took a moment to get a few gratuitous close-ups of Beau’s lovely make and model information. “Surly” is also printed vertical down the front fork and back stays. Which makes my Giant very jealous.

The towpath brought me back to the Lock 29 area and Century Cycles. But the shake-down wasn’t over yet! I decided I just had to go down to the unpaved stone quarry known as the Lock 29 overflow lot because I particularly hate it when I have to ride my Giant out of there.

Oh, but Beau don’t care about no stinkin’ rocks; Beau just runs right over them as though they were pavement. Nervous? Ha! No need to be nervous on Beau!! He’s strong and steady. “Unpaved” is Beau’s middle name. I had fun riding around the lot fearlessly as though I were riding my Giant on the smoothest of pavement. Ha! This is good because the ABC club rides start at Lock 29 in the fall and throughout the winter and often I’m stuck in the overflow lot. Now, I will have no fear (except for pre-season when I’m still riding my Giant).

And a view from the top…

I even rode over a few parking blocks just for fun. Yeah. I wanted to see how he held and he passed the test. I felt like a driver at a monster truck rally, purposely driving over objects and seeking rough road. But that’s what one does on a shake-down. It was Beau and me getting to know each other.

Anyway, I returned to the Century Cycles parking lot with much excitement. It was too bad they were closed because I was glowing with happiness and just itching to shout my enthusiasm to the world. What a great bike! Beau’s going to be quite happy in his new home. And the Giant–my Black Beauty–doesn’t seem too intimidated.

My only sobering thought is I might need to buy skinnier tires/wheels at some point so that I can change out these bigger ones when necessary for a little improvement in speed performance. I don’t know if I necessarily need these big of tires on TOSRV but I definitely need the comfort and fenders. But maybe I’m just being picky. I’ve got to put it out of my mind that I need to have a 16mph average to be a good rider. As it is, I did fine on this test run with a 14 average over 18 miles. It’s not outstanding, but it’s not horrible.

But I’m satisfied. The bike looks great and rides better. Sometimes you just gotta splurge. Even when you know you should be splurging on something else. Like, say, remodeling your house…