Saturday, August 8, 2020

Vacation Biking

COVID19 has no doubt changed a lot of people's plans this year. The most recent plans to be changed for me were vacation plans. Our original (fairly elaborate) plans, which involved airline tickets and passports, ended up being cancelled, and so our backup became a camping trip in one of Ohio's state parks. Hey - no complaints.

We were at Salt Fork State Park, a couple hours' drive south of Akron, in the Southeast part of the state. And since we were driving, it was easy enough to bring some bikes with us. I brought my Specialized Sequoia, which has been getting a lot of use since completing its restoration, as well as my daughters' bikes. The hope was that we could go for some rides together, and they might be able to ride around the park.

That part of the state is pretty, though maybe not as natural for biking as the area I live in (at least not for road riding). In fact, I barely saw any cyclists anywhere, and found a noticeable lack of bike shops in the area. It could be the roads. It seemed all the roads I encountered were narrow, twisty, and extremely hilly, with high speed limits (55 mph was common) - or they were narrow, twisty, extremely hilly, and gravel

Did I mention hilly? Living near both the Cuyahoga and Chagrin river valleys, I always thought we had a lot of hills nearby. But in Southeast Ohio, you start getting into the foothills of the Appalachians, and the hills are non-stop. Around home, there are lots of long, steep, tough climbs, but there will be miles of relatively flatter roads in-between. Riding in Southeast Ohio, it's constant up and down, and it wears a person out! I found myself dreading the downhill descents because I knew that as soon as I reached the bottom, the road would immediately turn skyward again. No rest for the wicked.

Even within the boundaries of the park, the roads were so hilly that the girls weren't able to enjoy riding to the pool or the beach. We did get in some riding, nevertheless.

Not far from the park, in the city of Cambridge, there is very nice trail on a converted rail line that turned out to be a good choice for biking with the girls. At about 6 or 7 miles, the Great Guernsey Trail just might have been the longest stretch of flat/level pavement I encountered in the whole county. It was paved and also seemed to be well maintained.

A couple miles of the trail passed a wetland area that offered some nice scenery.

The sleepy town of Lore City sits near the other end of the trail. There didn't seem to be much to see or do there, but the town has a park, playground, and some porta-john facilities for trail users.

Downtown Cambridge features a picturesque old courthouse, and a large Civil War monument out front. We stopped in town to get some ice cream after our ride on the Guernsey Trail. Anytime I'm out traveling, I like to visit the local bike shops. There had been a bike shop in downtown Cambridge, but it was empty and looked like it has been closed for a while. I checked Google for others but couldn't find any listed. 

As mentioned already, the roads in the area were not ideal for biking. Narrow, twisty, and hilly - with big rig trucks, and massive diesel-spewing pickups (many sporting MAGA and confederate flag stickers) flying past, I found riding within the boundaries of the state park to be a less tense alternative. The roads were still narrow, twisty, and hilly -- but at least there was less traffic, and it moved a lot slower. And with the various roads within the park, it wasn't difficult to put together some loops for a challenging ride of an hour or two.

There was at least one ride outside the park I wanted to do, however. I learned there was an old covered bridge about 20 miles northwest of the park that I thought I'd like to find. With the ever-present hills, I thought a 40 mile round trip ride might feel like 60 or 70 miles. So I drove about half-way out, parked the car, and went exploring. 

After leaving the main road, I had about 6 miles of gravel roads to get to the bridge. It was a challenge because the fine-tread 32 mm tires on the Sequoia weren't really ideal for the loose surface. Downhills (which could get pretty steep) were nerve-wracking and I feared washing out in the curves, and climbs required staying low in the saddle to keep traction on the back wheel. It was awfully pretty to look at, though.

Often these old covered bridges are closed to car traffic. This one, built in 1855, is still open for one-way traffic -- though how much actual traffic it sees I couldn't say. I only saw one other vehicle on the road leading there and back. It did not disappoint.

On the whole, the vacation was pleasant and relaxing, even if it was nothing like what was originally planned. 


3 comments:

  1. Judging from the photos, it looks like wonderful country for "just riding" on a "country bike" to borrow Rivendell's nomenclature.

    I recall visiting my then-wife's parents back in Richmond, VA 20+ years ago, and noting the old, narrow, twisty, and steeply-hilled roads, likewise signed with surprisingly high speed limits and with little approach visibility compared to modern roads and no shoulders, just a 2" dropoff to the grass. I never did try to cycle there, but it did not look promising.

    Curious: What width of tire would you consider best for the gravel roads pictured? I had a frame built for drop-bar riding on our sandy, Rio Grande riverine soil, and found 60 mm the best compromise between float, Q, handling, and pavement speed (Schwalbe Big Ones; accept no substitute), but I've ridden my Rene Herse 26 X 28 mm (labeled 32, actually 27 and 29 mm on 2 different rims) tires on our roads when rain or cold weather has compacted the soil; to my eye, those Elk Passes would do just dandy on your Ohio gravel roads.

    Anyway, congrats on a pleasant vacation.

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    1. the roads you described, with no shoulder - and a drop-off to the grass - is exactly right.

      I'm not sure what would be best for tire size on that gravel. Most of it was really loose. Even if it had had some kind of base of tar under the gravel to bind it together, it would have been OK (but then it would be what we call "chip-seal" - and not nearly as bad). I kind of wished I'd brought the bike with 650b x 38 tires which might have been better, yet still good on pavement. 42mm would probably be better still.

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  2. I live 2 miles west of Cambridge on historic National Road US 40. We get a lot of cross country touring bikers passing through. The hills kind of taper off slightly as you go west toward Columbus, so this is where I do most of my riding as I get older. Salt Fork is brutal, but a fall bike ride during the foliage color is always worth while, plus the cooler weather in the fall makes those climbs easier. The many miles of dirt (gravel) roads within the park are nice for exploring, but the conditions warrant supple tires and caution at higher speeds. Glad you enjoyed your vacation in my neck of the woods.

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