Day 19 – Columbus to Dayton

A Night at the Races

It was a great evening to be out last night. Thanks to my warmshowers host Ben for getting me out to the Friday night crit. Fun to see they guys duke it out on the short track. Also one of those great warm midwestern evenings that I miss. I even saw fireflies – which I haven’t seen for years. And the crowd around the race was warm and friendly too. Steve, a local racer and I chatted for a long time about the races, and touring and he gave me some tips for Dayton. And I got to sample the local brats and IPA’s which, after the long day I put in, went down great.

Great crowd out to watch – plenty to make it fun but not crazy crowded

 

These guys were flying towards the finish. The pace is around 28 or 30 mph except toward the end the sprints get up to 40.

This morning I got up and out on the early side and Ben gave me an escort for the first couple of miles just to get me on the right course. Thanks for hosting, Ben! It’s been awhile since I “couch-surfed” but one of the perks of riding 95 miles is that I can sleep anywhere and the couch was fine.

Ben escorting me to my route. Ben did a cross country trip of 3800 miles in 38 days. Ouch. His advice; don’t go that fast.

I struggled today with logistics and priorities. How can I get to the museum in Dayton, and find a reasonably priced hotel and get back to Cincinnati tomorrow, and meet Kent in Dayton, and not ride too far, and blah blah blah. I booked a reservation and canceled it before I realized a way to make it work that would give us a pleasurable rails-to-trails ride tomorrow. But for a long time the pieces wouldn’t fit which distracted me from the day. Next time my mantra will be to ride less, make it easier, go slower and stop rushing things. I’ve said this before, I know. I can be a little thick sometimes with prickly issues. I’ll get there eventually, and then I will have it.

I’m going to need some of that patience for my next big adventure too. Remember that house that I mentioned way back before I started this thing in earnest? Well we got it and will close on Monday. That is exciting and a little scary too. That commits me to a big remodel project. I’m very excited about that but it’s a little intimidating because I’ve never done a construction job anywhere near this big. So I will have to go slow and I look forward to learning as I go. What a great opportunity – a gift really – to have the chance to learn new skills in life. I don’t know how other’s are content without continuing to learn new things. That’s something I guess I can work on too but I’ll save that for later. For now I’m just excited about all the new mistakes I get to make. It’s an odd consolation for me too that this house is such a beautifully situated POS that I could do nothing but make it better, even with only what I know now. Hmmm, Megan I don’t know if this counts for optimism. Sort of a pessimist’s take on optimism but I’m learning.

The ride today felt more like a chore than a joy. Guess I’ve seen enough barns and fields for awhile. I left early and had to cross through downtown and West Columbus, neither of which I wanted to spend any extra time in. We have a big midwestern drug problem, and a blight problem. I’ll leave it at that for now.

At this point I was happy to have downtown Columbus in my tiny little visor-mounted geeky cyclist mirror.
Rail cars of oil (or diesel?) as far as the eye can see.
Not the first big bike parade I’ve sent in the last 2 weeks. They are hard to do justice in a photo. You really need the audio to appreciate them.

The best thing about the ride was meeting other cyclists along the way. There are quite a few people out here making extensive use of all these nice trails. And I can see it’s bringing some tourism dollars to the towns along the way – that’s a positive trend. I got lots of questions about where I’m heading etc which is always nice. Oh and Xenia (little town at the hub of several trails) was giving out free bananas and hot dogs for cyclists. Let’s give them an A for effort but a hot dog is about the last thing you ought to eat mid-ride. I did anyway but with the diet I’ve had through the Midwest I’ve got an iron clad GI tract or I’d have doubled over a long time ago. What? TMI? Sorry about that but the reality of putting in 70 miles a day is that you got to take care of some unmentionables pretty carefully or you aren’t going anywhere fast (insert bathroom humor of your choosing here).

Oh Look! Farms, barns and corn! Fine me a $1 for sarcasm. It was worth it.
You couldn’t put together a prettier bouquet if you picked them out yourself.

Engineering Rant
(skip if design is not your thing)

You see these water towers all over the Midwest. They have fascinated me since I was a kid. Actually they bug me. Why?

Surely these, lit from below at night, are responsible for more than their share of UFO sightings. OK, what else is wrong with this picture?

OK, Jim, it’s a water tower. A cleanly designed one at that. One might almost say clever. Why would that bother anyone?

Because it is so wrong. Let’s start here:

Definition of unstable equilibrium. : a state of equilibrium of a body (as a pendulum standing directly upward from its point of support) such that when the body is slightly displaced it departs further from the original position — compare stable equilibrium(such as a pyramid sic).

This design is literally the definition of an unstable equilibrium. So what you say? Well at least two things bug me about it:

1) Some clever engineer somewhere is patting himself on the back. “What a wonderfully elegant design I’ve achieved! By placing something heavy and high above the city I have demonstrated how smart we are.” This is the same stupid school of thought that brought you tons of buildings in the 60’s and 70’s with tiny windows and lots of concrete walls. “We can add lights if we need light! We can add heating and cooling mechanically if we need it. Triumph over nature!”

BS. Nature always wins. Make a tiny lego version of this water tower and place it on a piece of paper. Move that piece of paper 1/4 inch to one side. Boom! Tower falls down. The designer makes the assumption that the ground doesn’t move and materials doen’t develop weak spots. This tower is 400 miles from one of the largest earthquakes in US history on the New Madrid fault in southern Missouri. This thing will be horizontal in 50 – 80 years. We’re still looking at the pyramids and the colosseum.

And perhaps more importantly:

2) Why did this design bug me as a kid? Even a kid can see that it’s precarious. Public structures should exist to make it’s citizens feel safe, inspired, happy, proud, creative – not like a gigantic ball of water-filled metal is going to tip over on them at any moment. A structure this size constitutes sculpture as much as serving a purpose. And this sculpture says the sky is about to drop on you.

[end rant]

Air Force Museum – Wright Patterson

I got to Dayton in time to tour the aircraft museum. You need more time to really see it but it’s a pretty amazing collection.

Much to see there
My favorite exhibit. They have a local collection of holocaust stories and artifacts. This violin was a beloved treasure hidden in a young man’s home as their family fled. After the war he got in touch with the building management and they tracked it down and returned it to him.

Tomorrow We Head Near Cincinnati

I’m excited about tomorrow because my good buddy Kent W joins for the day. The last adventure we did was to hike the Grand Canyon so he has a way of showing up for the important stuff. I also admire Kent because he has stuck with his dream of playing in a band and has now done so for many years – such dedication and hutzpah. I think there’ few things more nerve-wracking to me than playing music in front of people.

Day 18 – Millersburg to Columbus

Wow how was that 18 days? That’s significant to me because it means I’m more that a quarter of the time I think this trip might take. Seems like I just started.

Tonight i made it to Columbus and lucked into a treat. My warmshowers host, Ben,  is a bike racer and there’s a Friday night “crit” a few miles from his house that he’ll be racing in. That’s a criterium – a bike race where they do tight little laps on a closed course. It’s exciting to watch because they’re fast and they go by a bunch of times. But they’re often kind of dangerous (Lynda your queue to chime in with how many racers you patched together at the Davis July 4th crits. But it’s a warm night out in Columbus, folks are walking around enjoying the races, food trucks, bluegrass and beers.

Big day today but it wasn’t that hard. Two reasons for that I think; one is that I’m getting used to it and two is that today was all flat, rails-to-trails miles. Pretty easy, even though it was 94 miles.

Part of my motivation for going a little long today is that I’d like to make it to the Wright Brothers Museum on Sunday and to make it there, I needed to get a little ahead today. Thanks, Marv for the  suggestion.

Other good news is that my buddy Kent W is joining me tomorrow to ride with me  on Sunday. Looking forward to seeing him and catching up.

Have to keep it short tonight, looks like I ran out my keyboard batteries.  The pics will have to mostly speak for themselves.

 

When you stare at the road for hours on end, you notice things. My favorite, smooth, roads in Ohio are these with the iron deposits in them. See the iron oxide streaks?
I’ve never seen so many turkey vultures in one place in my life
I had about 5 miles on the dirt roads which left me pretty grimy
It’s clay and gravel road. Smoother than the pavement and it’s an old railroad bed. Easy to imagine how nice it would be to take a coach through these woods. Something truly civilized about that.

What are these? I first saw them today and then saw tons of them
Very cool space that I saw outside of Mt Vernon today. Factory converted to a performance space.
Part of that same complex
My host, Ben, and friends Kelsey and Aaron.

 

Day 17 – Kent to Millersburg through Amish Central

Today I was up and out early again – at least early for camping, it takes longer to get packed and go with the tent, and stove etc… I was looking forward to getting out of “Hidden Valley Bug Ranch” as soon as practical. I wish I had brought my rod though – the bass were slapping the water so hard you’d think they were dropped from planes.

Why do clouds look bigger and more dramatic in the Midwest? I’m fascinated with the dimensions of them.

Kent State

I was just outside of Kent so my first stop was to run by the campus. I was looking for the memorial, with they refer to as the “May 4th Memorial”, which, frankly seems a little sterile for what happened there. Very unoppionated – too much so in my mind.

The Cayahoga River as it passes through Kent. I crossed over the same river yesterday, maybe 60 miles north of here and it was a third the size. You know the deal with the locks, right? Their put on there by sweethearts – first time I saw it was on the Brooklyn Bridge where there are thousands.
Are photos of good architecture art? It depends.
I want to do a little post-processing on this – consider it a draft. Kind of suprised by this building when I stumbled upon it. Intentionally spartan? Or just kind of ignored?

If you don’t know the story you can actually take the audio tour remotely; just dial 330-672-6294. It’s narrated by appropriate activists from that time, like Julian Bond.

The field where activists were shot (actually some were behind me). The soldiers fired from atop that tree-covered hill, which wasn’t tree covered at the time. Looks just like any other quad…

The memorial itself is not much more than a granite bench overlooking the field where the tragedy occurred. They do have a good audio tour and descriptions in detail of the events that led up to the protests. Trivia question; do you know what the students did to protest Nixon’s invasion of Cambodia? A: They symbolically buried the constitution which they said he had killed by overstepping his authority as President. The shootings happened after the governor declared that these students needed to learn the meaning of “law and order”.  It’s a little hard to imagine how real that struggle seemed at the time. The authorities seemed to really believe that the students were going to take over, and perhaps destroy the school (although that seems like utter paranoia now). But clearly they felt threatened beyond any measure that the students intended. One of the victims was quoted saying something along the lines that they had no idea that the national guard would ever consider using real bullets. The protesters had no idea what danger they were in until it happened. Given the polarized state of affairs we have now, it seems like a particularly good time to look at Kent State, and make sure that the mistakes made there are not made again.

Today’s entry in “sculpture I don’t get”. A brain? And this symbolizes?… Again, great effort required to literally carve this brain from stone. I will think about it 🙂

Crossing Akron

After looking around Kent State, I hit the trail for real and quickly found my self crossing Akron. Akron is clearly another Ohio City that hasn’t weathered the recession well. I saw a lot of poor neighborhoods and closed factories again.

Steve, urban farmer, growing something where much of what surrounds is in decline.

One bright spot was meeting Steve and his protégés Javon and Nathan (sorry guy from Alliance – I missed your name). They were working in an urban garden (practically in the shadow of an old Firestone plant) where Steve grows veggies for a local vegan restaurant – Miss Julie’s Kitchen. Steve has bike toured before and recognized my setup as I went by as not a casual loaded-up bike. I really admire what he’s doing – quietly improving the world around him doing something that he’s passionate about. We spoke a bit about gardening and Steve was very knowledgeable about how the soil responds to different crops over time.

Steve, Nathan, Javon and Alliance

After I left them I struggled with the route. Seems my nifty gps app didn’t get the “reverse route” so that it matched the one going the other way. So I ended up climbing some steep hills, avoiding roads closed for construction, and generally taking forever to get anywhere. Eventually I found the right route, on the “Towpath” of the Ohio Erie Canal (OMG how wide is the Erie’s influence?).  That led me out of Akron and into Amish Country again.

Finally found the Towpath trail. I think there’s a heron in the river if I remember correctly.
You could take 900 photos of white houses with red barns, American flags and green fields.

Into Amish Country Again

This settlement (near Fredericksburg and Millersburg) is supposed to be the biggest Amish community in the world. This group seemed to be more progressive than the settlement I came across yesterday – I even saw a couple of guys on bikes and a woman riding a gas powered lawn mower (oh god, that’s not progress!). What is it with the Amish and trampolines, though? Everywhere.

Kinda stole this one. Note lines from the carriage wheels and marks from horseshoes.

Right after this I was passed by another buggy moving really quickly – a single guy with a very minimalist buggy. Sort of buggy sports car – one seater. Anyway, the horse had a totally different gait where both front and back legs seemed to “walk” (L, R, L, R) but in opposition (Front right moves and Rear Left does). I think. It’s hard to get a bead on it going by quickly. Anyway it looked odd. Lynda is that a foxtrot? Or some other weird gait?

Then I got on another bike path/trail and the miles flew by. It rained some but that just cooled things off. Oh and got me absolutely filthy with road grime. I had to hose me and my bike off before I could check in to my hotel. Yay, hotel! It’s a cool one too and was built in 1847. Grover Cleveland slept here! I haven’t checked out anything but the shower yet but soon.

This trail is for buggies and bikes only! Suck it cars! (Not what the Amish guy said btw). One side was periodically marked “no horses this side” but horse poop abounded anyway. I’ll take it over fighting traffic.

 

Day 16 – Ashtabula to Kent OH

Wow what a difference a day of rest makes. I felt like new back on the bike this morning. To beat the heat I was on the road by 7:00 – a practice I’ll try to repeat. Those early morning hours are the best for riding. It was cool, still and the light that time of day is lovely.

I had two route options through Ohio – the one that Adventure Cycling gives and the one I got from Ralph. He has logged over 150,000 touring on a bike and he raved about his route so that’s the one I chose. Also, since he sent me the link on the “ride with gps” website, I could take his route, reverse it, and then I had turn-by-turn directions on my phone. Today’s the first time I’ve used that and it’s really nice to not have to stop and pull over, and read tiny print, etc.

The route started out on a bike path for the first 5 or 6 miles. So nice to not have to deal with cars. Then I spent the rest of the day on backcountry roads, most with little traffic and no breeze! It was still all day which makes the riding easier. Also there’s something that kind of wears on you when you’re in the wind all day. It starts to fray my nerves after awhile and it definitely dehydrates you faster.

So nice. Bunny count at seven when I had to turn off.

Speaking of bunnies – why the heck do they have white tails? It makes them so obvious when they run away. How is that adaptive?

Two covered bridges today!

Can you see all the little wildflowers mixed in with the grass?
C’est Moi
My new pick for US Mowing champ, midwestern region. There is a house at the end of that lawn.

My grandmother had one of these old hand pumps which always fascinated me as a kid. Born energy geek. This one still works and the water is just as “irony” as my grandmas.
there is a storm brewing and it’s here as I write this… Not a biggie though.
Such still water but I don’t think this one runs deep.

The route took me through the biggest Amish settlement I’ve ever seen (near Burton OH). I went through probably 10 miles of mostly Amish homes and farms. It was fascinating to me to observe but I didn’t take any pictures. Sorry but it just felt intrusive to me. So I just tried to observe it and left the camera on the handlebars.

I’m very curious about how they decide  which modern things are OK to adopt and which aren’t. If anyone knows, please let me know. I know that they are very strictly Christian but it’s beyond that. Some houses had signs selling various things – donuts, eggs, barrels, pallets, etc – all with very simple modest signs. One or two of those said “no Sunday sales” which I get. But some of the other choices are odd. For instance I saw Amish men and women driving an occasional minivan (modest styling) but most yards still had at least one buggy too. I saw a man threshing hay with a mechanical thresher drawn by two horses, and I even got to see the quinticential Amish barn raising. But in this case they were using a compressed air nail gun. Many, and I mean many, of the houses had a trampoline out back, just past the lines of laundry hanging to dry on the line (all blues, browns and whites – very muted). The oddest thing to me was the bikes. I saw several children on these “bikes” that were kind of like huge scooters – they had 16 or 20″ wheels, and metal frames, spoked wheels and handlebars – but no seat, no pedal or chains – you just kick yourself along. Now I just can’t imagine the rule set that determines that scooters and trampolines are in, and pedals are out. I got the sense that it’s all kind of designed to make things difficult, but not too difficult. I have to say though after being in the environment for awhile, it has a real honest simplicity to it that i admire.

All the Amish men wear long pants or overalls and men and boys about 10 or older wear straw hats. All the girls and women were wearing long skirts, with white aprons and bonnets. (Hmmm I haven’t heard of any bonnet bans anywhere – how is that different from a hijab?) Also, with the exception of a few children, everyone I saw was working. Actually some of the kids were working too – I saw a kid no bigger than nine hauling a single bale of hay down the road on a wagon he was pulling, and I saw more than one little kid mowing the yard with a push mower. The yards were immaculately groomed, the houses mostly, or maybe all white, men, women and children were, more often than not, working together, not alone. I saw two small lumber mills where groups of men were milling raw timbers into boards for construction, and one group of women working together on some project under a canopy (I couldn’t see what).

So here I am, in full cycling kit, with my phone gps and my bike that charges my phone, and suddenly I start to feel like I’m the odd one. It was a little bit like one of those dreams where you wake up and you accidentally went to school in you underwear. Except, today I’m pedaling down Amish Main Street in my underwear. Yup, that happened.

The rest of the day was an easy pedal to my campsite. It’s about 6 miles out from Kent Ohio, home of Kent State which I’ll swing by in the morning. Now I’ve got to figure out how to get a meal cooked out of the supplies available from a “Sheetz” the local version of a quickie mart. Otherwise it’s a 12 mile round trip for groceries and I don’t think I’m up for that.

 

Day 15 – I’m an Ashtabulan for a Day

I woke up tired and bone sore and immediately “called an audible” to take the day off. My body was speaking loud and clear from multiple spots so I listened.

It was another laundry day to start off – feels good to have clean togs again. After a few days in the sun, the “on the bike” gear especially needed it.

So what do you do on your day off in Ashtabula? Go for a ride of course. I considered a movie or something briefly but that’s not really why I’m doing this trip. After laundry I wanted to see the town a little and the bike is a perfect way to do that. Without the bags it feels ridiculously light and nimble – I’d describe it a almost squirrelly really. In a mostly flat town like this, its’ amazing how little effort it takes to get around if you’re patient and seeing the sights as you go.

The lunch combo at Tony’s. Those are “ribbon fries” in the back but they’re basically potato chips made just for you. This is considered a single serving. “Those are for me?”

These boys stopped and asked a lot of questions about my bike; “are the tires skinny so it’s more aerodynamic?” Well, sort of but I thought these were my fat tires. Not compared to their BMX bike though. I feel sorry for the scooter guy – he’s having a hard time keeping up.

I went by the local museum which, since it wasn’t Fri, Sat or Sun, was closed. From there is the best view of the port, the main feature of which is this big coal-transport bridge (below) that used to take coal from one side of the river to the other. While there I met a guy who grew up here in the 50’s and he confirmed that the town used to be vibrant while he grew up here. That bridge, when they first put it in, “scattered coal dust all over the town and made the whole town black.” So they covered it and cleaned up the town (heavens how many people breathed in that dust?).

His thought was the jobs all “blew away” and then the town was taken over by drugs. Can’t say I’ve seen drug use – who knows. He also said that the coal mines were “opening up again”, which I don’t think is true but you can guess how he voted. I asked him “oh? Which ones?” – not trying to be combatitive but its a fair question and if it’s true I want to know about it.

This guy was exactly who Trump’s campaign was aimed at – aging white guy, worked at a bunch of formerly successful industrial sites doing machining, repair, etc. He’s seen the success of the boom days, has seen the jobs go away, and we wants back the old days. I knew he was out here and now I’ve met him. Actually I’ve met three retired guys like him that all more-or-less line up with that storyline. There were two guys I biked with briefly back in Erie – one retired construction, one retired metal plating guy. I guess if you mosey around at 11:00AM on a Tuesday, you’re going to meet some retired folks. And all these guys seem to think they just made it under the wire to retirement and their kids are not as lucky. I was curious too if he made a connection between the lack of jobs and drug use but he was on his way.

Kind of a pretty shape if you don’t think about it too hard

At the museum I saw a “Hulbert”. This is a big steam powered contraption for scooping up coal from a barge and loading on the land for trains or trucks to pick up, named after, well Hulbert of course. He grew up 20 miles from here back at Conneaut. Kinda tells you the importance of coal to this place.

PART of a Hulbert. This is a small fraction of the whole thing – the operator sits in the cab

BTW I checked and the local coal-fired power plant (that I passed yesterday) closed two years ago. “FirstEnergy Generation Corp. subsidiary plans to make operational changes at certain of its smaller coal-fired units in response to the continued slow economy and lower demand for electricity, as well as uncertainty related to proposed new federal environmental regulations.” Note that in their announcement they make sure to tie the economic downturn to environmental regulation which is a BS argument. Stepping down from soapbox now…

I took neighborhood streets through town back down to the old part of town by the water. After awhile of just following my nose, cruising through the neighborhood, coasting often, pedaling when I needed to, I started to get the feel of the place. Near the old part of town there is a clear sense of things having been much more alive here at one time. It has a bit of a ghost town feeling in places. Although there are a few restaurants and stores taking root in the charming downtown area and I hope they make it.

I wanted to give a sense of the neighborhoods here which are quiet, old houses, and nothing fancy. It could be anywhere USA

Brick and limestone are everywhere in the old port
Hubbert’s are important enough to get a street.
The “Sons of Italy” Lodge (on Columbus street of course). I’ve seen a lot of lodges since Buffalo. Almost all of them look like they’ve seen better days.
Who could pass up this iced tea and tomato start stand?
On second thought I like this one better

Sorry for the crummy exposure. You know the joke, right? AIR MAIL. Ha! Ha Ha. Uhem. Does “air mail” even have a meaning anymore? Probably nobody under 30 gets the joke. I’m just astounded at how many people go to the bother to make it. This is not the first one of these I’ve seen on this trip. Maybe I need to chronicle them? Or put up signs – BEWARE LARGE BAD JOKE AHEAD.

As I headed back to the Edge-o-town, some of the familiar smells of growing up in Missouri came to me, and the memories tend to rush up with them. Something about smells triggers my memory like nothing else. They seem so brief and precise in a way that seeing photos isn’t. With photos you might remember a era or a time. With smells it seems like I can remember a particular moment. Once this afternoon I passed an unmowed field, full of weeds, with the full sun shining on it. It was humid and this smell perked up from the weeds that put me right back in Rolla in 1970-something walking across a field to pick blueberries in a field that isn’t even a field anymore.

"If I had my druthers, I'd ride a bike" Jim's low CO2 trans-am cycling trip