Tuesday, June 05, 2012

Magic In Cuyahoga

The start to a perfect day looks much like this scene in Peninsula, Ohio yesterday.

It's a funny thing riding south along a major river and watching it roll by you... ...to the NORTH? The Cuyahoga River Valley is a magical place, where a river runs north (the only one in the U.S., actually) and on a weekday in June, humanity is nowhere to be found. It's the only National Park in the Buckeye State, yet nobody seems to know about it. Just two hours north of Columbus it sits in forrested splendor waiting to be explored. I hadn't taken the time to do it solo, but with a soon-to-be-finalized divorce and nothing but time on my hands, I loaded up the truck and aired up the Kenda Kountach tires on my TCR Monday morning and hit the road. It's a short drive, really, in the great realm of National Park drives. What's two hours? It's longer than that to get to just about ANY of California's National parks..from ANYWHERE in the state. You spend two hours of your paid work day on Face-Space. Having packed light for a single night, I had more time invested in what cycling bibs and jereys to bring than actual clothing. Rolling in to the sleepy village of Boston Mill by 10 a.m., I wasted no time jumping into my XPEDO road pedals, resetting my SIGMA uber-computer, and heading out. Down the old gravel road from the irresistable front porch at Stanford House lies the Tow Path. It's 90% dirt. It's 100% fun on a road bike. It's a pretty common misconception that road bikes can't handle dirt. That would prove to be false as Saturday's ride would wind up being 65 miles long, with the vast majority of it being on dirt. Having taken a quick glance at a satellite image of the area, I had some idea of where I wanted to go...with my ultimate destination...no matter what..of hitting the waters' edge at Lake Erie. Within about a quarter of a mile from the B&B, you hang a fast and dirty left from Stanford Road 'round the bend onto Boston Mills Road. A couple of pedal strokes and you lean a bit more to the left at Hines Hill Road. Almost immediately I was choking on the acrid smoke billowing from the now-on-fire heart rate monitor as my pulmonary arteries began to beg for mercy. Crazy. A quick ascent led to a majorly false descent...that led into a wheelie-popping climb that made me glue my chin to the bars in order to keep from flipping over like a puppy begging for a scratch. Ouch...seriously..ouch. Thankfully, just as I was about to cave in, it relented and leveled out as I rolled east to the park's boundary. Just south of Brandywine Falls, the Ohio/Erie Trail opens up. Nice. This patch of old train-bed will guide me like a missile all the way north to Tinker's Creek Gorge.

It didn't take long on the TCR to reach Brandywine Falls..which sits right above and behind the Stanford House about a couple of miles as the crow flies. I'm gonna kill that damn crow, because he didn't have to climb Hines Hill. Bastard. It never fails...there are a million signs to keep all the dips**ts out of the lower falls area...but now for the third time in three visits I sat watching Park Rangers trying to arrest people with infants in the flood plain.

 Oh Charles Darwin, where did it all go wrong? Shaking my bulbous head, I rolled on to the north. The ride for the next few miles was pretty nice. Once in to the Sagamore Hills neighborhood, the trail gets broken up a great deal with bisecting streets..be careful..many of these are fast downhills below blind drops for drivers..you have to commit and pin it every time. Looming,  robot-like power line towers begin to straddle you as you ride the trail, images of Transformers filling your head. It wasn't long before the trail drug me to my first check point. Bedford Reservation sounded like a winery, so I was all smiles as I pulled into the park's long and empty road, fresh pavement making the bike instantly feel ten pounds lighter.

 I passed one single human..a lone woman walking what apperared to be a lycanthrope...the entire time I mashed pedals north and east past Great Falls and to the terminus of Tinker's Creek Gorge. I didn't want to stop, as the park was just stunning as a cyclist to ride through (take note, the bike path in Bedford Reservation land is awful..stick to the paved roads). Never finding the winery I had envisioned, I turned about and rode back out a short distance to Broadway Road. Noting on the sat image that this road cuts into Rockside Road and the small towns of Bedford and Maple Heights (making a straight line to Rockside Station in the river valley) I broke plan and went for it. Now...usually when I change routes it's with good reason. Historic spot..great vista...chili dogs..something...and at first it was working out pretty well. I rolled past the OLD cemetery in Bedford.

 I had to stop and take a picture of the sign at the entrance. I half chuckled thinking that, utterly alone and with my closest family member three thousand miles away I may well end up in this very Bone Orchard before the ride was over. Haha. Funny. Or not. Rolling out, I came to Bedford's quaint little Main Street area. The obligatory light-pole mounted flower pots and city-sponsored cloth banners flapped in time with the thousands of American flags found in small towns here. Making the left onto Rockside road was hell on wheels. Seriously..how my wheels held up on what had CLEARLY been a Viet Nam war practice range for B-52 carpet bombing missions is beyond me. Worst road ever. Tijuana has better roads. Thanks to Mavic for making a wheel that held up under my girth and the abject garbage that was Rockside Road. Thankfully, I had a way out...a plan B. Making a left on to Dunham Road, I BLASTED through the small Burg of Maple Heights. That led to a right turn onto Schreiber Road and a face-sizzling sixty-plus mile per hour descent into the Cuyahoga.

To say I was apprehensive after the beat down the wheels just took would be an understatement....but what do you do? Hit the brakes? Not so much. Finally reaching the Tow Path Trail, I dutifully pointed the front wheel north towards Lake Erie. There are shorter ways to get there for sure..but none more scenic..or safe..than the trail. The route north of Rockside Station gets less and less scenic, however, and becomes a concrete and steel industrial wasteland as the lake draws ever closer. Not much to discuss here really. The trip back with the wind at my back was nice. Like a horse coming back to the barn to eat, I knew I was on the way home and my legs lightened a bit.

 The huge span bridge at Rockside Station is always a pleasure to see. The river flows quickly here..NORTH...and the roiling water looks great with the bridge behind it. It isn't long before the historic Frazee House comes in to view. Built in 1826, it still stands alongside the path and is now a visitor center. A road detour into Brecksville Station was a nice change. The train bridge and bike bridge here, coupled with the infamous "Hell's Half Acre" lock make a great place to inspire your sun-ripened skin to push on.

The ride from here back to Boston Mill is stunning. Huge horseshoe bends in the river give way to a dead-flat sprint into the old Visitor Center. It's only a quarter mile back to Stanford House now..and a much needed cup of coffee and shower..maybe at the same time...I was too tired to care at that point. Sleep came early Monday night.

The sun was up early Tuesday, and I had a fun albeit shorter ride planned before racing back and loading for home. Heading south towards Akron on the Tow path is my favorite ride in the park. The wooden swamp-bridges, tunnels, marshes, the old quarry, covered bridges, farms and Deep Lock in Peninsula are all fabulous.

 It's a pretty fast run to Akron that early on a weekday, so I stopped to hang out at the beatiful Everett Road Covered Bridge to take a picture or two. Young corn was beginning to sprout in the fields in front of me...and I could sense the temperature drop and see the clouds darken. Time to go. Flying back up Riverview Road, I was glad to be heading back north from the Continental Divide (the whole reason the river flows north) to Stanford House and the helpful and accomodating staff there.

 A well earned shower and change of clothes (driving home in a chamois-butter-infused pair of bibs for 140 miles is less than ideal) made me happy. Stopping for a splash of gas I drove back to CBUS...and into a hot cup of Luck Brothers coffee. Another min-vacation in the books. It was different to do it alone, but fun. I even met a park employee who had been to Dana Point once. Crazy. To book a room..or the whole house..call 330-657-2909, extension 119. Room rates go from $50 to $150, and breakfast/linens are included. Time for margaritas...and a nap.:)


At 2:39 PM, Blogger Sharpie said...

Thanks to writer Wendy Bowman-Littler for the amazing edit job!

At 3:12 PM, Anonymous Sunriver said...

Thanks for the awesome photo journey. What more could you want than 2 wheels and some beautiful country to cover. Thanks for the share!

At 8:45 PM, Blogger The English Rose and the Georgia Peach said...

That's sweet, but I didn't have to do hardly anything! Great piece! Made me wish I had been there!


Post a Comment

<< Home