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I rag on Ohio. A lot. I’m always frustrated by the weather, the lack of mountains, the less than healthy attitude towards food and exercise. I miss the rugged mindset of Colorado–the “can do attitude” where my bicycle commute to work of 20 miles was seen as a normal thing, not an anomaly as my 15 mile commute is seen here in Ohio. I miss businesses with showers, allowing people to commute to work by walking or bicycling or to exercise at lunch. I miss the endless sunshine. I miss drivers who expect to see cyclists on the road instead of ones who shout at you to get on the sidewalk.

I miss all of this.

And. Yet. I don’t know. I think I’ve found a warm spot amidst all my disappointments with Ohio, this state in which I was raised: the Cuyahoga Valley and Akron.

The Cuyahoga Valley National Park is one of those places not a lot of people really know about to appreciate. It’s pretty small by national park standards. I don’t know that many people go out of their way to visit. But Northeast Ohio locals appreciate it, coming to hike along its many trails, bike along the scenic towpath, catch glimpses of bald eagles and Great Blue Heron nesting. Road cyclists enjoy the two roads that loop the valley as well as the multiple choices of challenging climbs. I’ve always said that if you can do multiple climbs up some of those hills, you’re more than ready to ride out west where the slope of the road tends to be longer but more gradual.

Riding yesterday through the valley, I started to think about how much I appreciate this park and its surrounding areas. I love feeling as though I’m on vacation even though I’ve never left home. On a sunny day, the valley is full of light and pretty. The Cuyahoga River winds beside the roads, sunlight sparkling on its water, and though cities surround all sides of the valley, for awhile, you slip into another place.

Akron, to the south, is a really cool town I’ve come to appreciate. It offers a lot of the same things as Cleveland–restaurants, culture, theatre, local events, summer concerts, baseball in the form of the Akron Aeros–but everything is at a much smaller scale. Which general translates to cheaper, if you’re talking about events, at least. Unlike Cleveland, it seems to be less of a sprawling metropolis, and there are places downtown where people actually live.

I like that you can take the towpath into downtown (and, in fact, you can go further south than Akron). I’ve done this before to catch an Aeros game; Crow has gone to a beer fest by bike. I am imaging a few bike escapes to my favorite restaurant this summer–The Lockview–and perhaps some other cultural events. Though the motorists are not too happy about it, you can easily commute Akron by bike. And, for some reason, Akron is less intimidating to me than Cleveland.

There are at least three health food stores in the area that I can think of. The neighboring Fairlawn has every store you can think of (except Kohl’s!!! *shake fist!!*) plus a movie theatre and restaurants. And yoga studios, which I’d like to check out.

Akron also has a great metropark system. A lot of the parks straddle the Cuyahoga Valley, making the valley seem even bigger, but some of the other parks are located right in the middle of busy suburbs. Regardless of where the park is located, you are seemingly transported into the middle of the natural world. I gladly pay my property taxes knowing a portion of it goes to these parks. If I could, I’d allocate all my tax money there. (Okay, yeah, I know… the schools… I get it.)

As I think about all these things, I realize I really like where I live. I know why I came right back to this area–despite the bittersweet melancholy of  memories with my husband–after I moved back from Colorado. This is home. This has always been, to me, home since I started dating my husband. Home is the one thing Colorado never became for me, despite my extreme desire to make it so. I guess home is not necessarily the place where you choose to lay your hat; home is the place in which your heart decides you belong.

I can’t stop thinking of the lyrics to the Depeche Mode song called “Home” and how they relate to my own experience:

I thank you, for bringing me here
For showing me home
For singing these tears
Finally I’ve found that I belong here...

It’s been a long journey finding this place… But I think–at least for now–I’ve arrived.