By the time we left Buffalo, the width of New York was starting to rival Texas in our minds. It wasn’t that we expected Pennsylvania/Ohio to offer anything revolutionary in the way new scenery, but you start looking forward to border crossings as mini-events in their own right. Even though the milage varies wildly between them, there’s some cumulative feeling of accomplishment as you take a picture in front of each new sign. I might start feeling like a burden soon though–I think I’ve almost depleted my repertoire of poses.
Still, we had just one more night in New York before we could add another notch to our belts, and we set off along the shore of Lake Erie, enjoying the novelty of a body of water that we couldn’t see completely across.
It started getting kind of rowdy out on the road though, being Memorial Day. Every township/county/municipality in existence has its own beach and corresponding contingent of drunk young people. (Also, any chance we can standardize these designations nationally? What does it all mean?! Mostly I just want to know ahead of time who’s going to be writing the ticket when they find us camped illegally in their park.)
Delaney had a MILD (mild moms, mild) near miss when a kid pulled his car to stop on the side of the road right in front of her, and just after, another kid yelled at me to get to the side of the road out the passenger’s side of his best friend’s ride. (As I ride a bicycle, I’m always on the side of the road.)No scrubs homie. For the record, I almost always gesture obscenely when people yell at me out of car windows, but no one ever wants to stop and talk about it. Hecklers have no conviction these days.
By any reckoning, it was time to get off the pavement, and we rolled into Evangola St. Park and were happy to see three other touring cyclists sharing a site in the campground. They were doing a circumnavigation of Lake Erie, and we had a good chat about bikes, gear, and touring generally. One of the three, Jeff, was getting ready to do the Great Divide Mountain Bike Trail and had one of the most lightweight setups we’ve seen on the road: fully ready for bikepacking with custom frame bags and the whole business. It was a little more extreme than I’d be willing to go for more than a few weeks, but I aspire to something similar. His site about the trip is here. We wish him luck–riding that route is certainly high on my list of future rides.
Despite the good company, Evangola epitomized everything that sucks about campgrounds: cars coming in and out at all hours, music, but worst of all, marauding raccoons. It’s not even the fault of the animals; people are just such a mess. Lawns flaked with a dandruff of trash, leftover food in the fire-pits, 80% of the time it’s gross and unpleasant. As darkness crept in, we looked up and noticed a fat raccoon treed just above our picnic table, waiting complacently for the opportunity to come down and scavenge. Rangers rumble by in F-250s on an endless loop. It’s hard to fork over $15 for the pleasure of this experience, and in the morning we found a dirt track leading into the woods and followed it out to the road. We’re pretty over feeling even the least bit sorry about the camp and ditch, but we cleaned up a lot of trash at Evangola and we’re calling it even.
We kept working our way west along the shore of the lake, using the intermittent rain storms as excuses to snack excessively. When the clouds darken, we eat Clif Bars. We had to keep stuffing ourselves for energy as the wind swung straight into our faces, but we slogged it out. For whatever reason, it takes so much more energy to ride into the wind than it does to attack hill. Sometimes all you can do is collapse into the grass and wait for some motivation to go on–usually forthcoming in the prospect of having to sleep on the side of the road.
With the wind, we plodded along, getting well-acquainted with the scenery on offer: Grey water to the north, corn and grapes everywhere else. Grapes thrive next to the lake because the water mass works like a giant heat sink to extend the growing season, and the region is known for its sweet wines.
We pulled in late to Erie, Pennsylvania, and scored a sweet campsite right on the beach next to Jeff, Brian, and Daniel from the night before. We downed a couple gift Yunglings and watched the sun set over a large body of water for the first time since we left California–a comforting sight.
We had a short day planned riding out of Erie, so we stuck around for the morning and rode around Presque Isle, a preserve that juts out into the lake, and the site of some major navel happenings during the War of 1812. Quick, someone name a significant figure from the War of 1812! Commodore Perry anyone? Well, you won’t escape education if you visit Presque Isle as there’s abundant signage celebrating Perry and his accomplishments, including a dubious winter spent with his ships solidly frozen into the bay while diseased men died miserably all around him.
It’s hard not to cast about the landscape with a suspicious eye as you stand reading these descriptions in bright sun, surrounded by verdant greenery. Who would suspect of the terroir a capriciousness capable of burying everything in sight under huge slabs of ice? Unsettling.
In the afternoon we rode out to Conneaut, OH to drop in on Calvary Camp–childhood summer retreat of our friends and former co-workers Sam Borkovic and Nicole Miller. Nicole is spending her summer there, so we got to catch up on the Camp Stevens news, and admire the baby garden she’s nursing at Calvary. (Don’t worry Nicole, based on a thorough survey, we’re pretty sure it’s impossible to fail at growing corn in your part of the country. So you’ll have that, at least.) We grabbed some beer and BBQ at a local place with Nicole and her coworkers, where I continued to be amazed ubiquity of certain San Diego microbrews. Green Flash and Ballast Point rep much harder than I would suspect having visited their tasting rooms back home (though I know GF has spread out into some bigger digs recently). Thankfully, they had some stuff we hadn’t tried and we got our first taste of Great Lakes Brewing Co., which stacked up well. We capped the evening with a cone of Whippy Dip, natch. It was good to see Nicole.
We only rode 40 miles or so the next day, because we wanted to hit the closest camping to Cleveland so we’d be perfectly set up to pass through the city in one full day. The destination was Lake Perry Township Park (Free camping for touring cyclists! Don’t mind the nuclear cooling tower!).
It wasn’t immediately clear at this place where to check-in since all these local places have their own system. We loitered around in the park a little, and then made a move toward the campground. We were waking our bikes through the entrance when a woman popped out of snack bar with a annoyed-sounding “where ya going?!” After letting us sputter for a bit, she got around to telling us where we could camp and that it was free, but she didn’t seem too gracious about the whole thing. As we were getting over that interaction, the clouds started rolling in, and it seemed like we were going to be in for it again that night, and all through the next day. The forecast didn’t disappoint, and we woke up sopping with the prospect of more of the same.
Ever since turning west, for me at least, there’s been some anxiousness about coving ground, and both of us really wanted to avoid just sitting around for the day, but the weather was just too stormy. Figuring we could do worse than a covered pavilion in a free campground overlooking Lake Erie, we sat and watched the waves explode into foam against the sea wall and golden eagles quivering over the spray, still hunting in all the turmoil.
Sometime in the afternoon the snack-bar lady returned, and we realized that she wasn’t mad at us the night before–just hard of hearing and prone to shouting a bit. She felt bad that we were sitting out in the weather and made us a couple hotdogs. I regretted my inner-monologue from the night before and am trying to remember the lesson that people are almost always trying to be nice/helpful. We had good reinforcement just the next morning when an older biker who done some touring previously insisted on picking up our check for breakfast. Me: “Wow, that was really nice.” Laney: “Damn, I should have ordered orange juice.” (Background: Delaney still isn’t totally used to getting up as early as we do now, and often she’s blindsided at breakfast. Drawn in by descriptions of pancake combos and exotic side-dishes (wow, scrapple!), she sometimes forgets that the first question from a waitperson is always, “Anything to drink for you?” This leads to a dilemma, as orange juice is her breakfast drink of choice, and as we all know, depending on whatever the place is calling orange juice that morning–on the Tang to fresh-squeezed scale–your average Lrg. OJ can set you back anywhere from $1-5. Usually too embarrassed to fumble through the menu under the impatient eye of the server, Laney generally does some mental calculus, the vagaries of which I still don’t completely fathom, and either gambles on the orange juice order, or not. Something about the diner that morning (they had a salad bar? the waitress had bedazzled jeans?) stayed her hand. It’s out of my power to explain further, but feel free to contact her directly if the exact equation would be of some use to you. Editor’s Note: The facts of this previous passage have come under some dispute, and fairness demands that we mention the subject contends, “[she] always searches for the price of orange juice first,” but, “sometimes can’t find it before a drink order is demanded.”)
We started the ride through Cleveland
in a dry headwind with traffic starting to pick up as it always does on the outskirts of a city. Suburban traffic is the worst–relatively heavy number of drivers, most of whom don’t see bikers regularly. The best cities to approach have greenways leading into the heart of them: Nashville, Roanoke, Chicago; Cleveland just had suburban arterials leading to the lakefront, though there are some trails along the shore. I’ve noticed that we almost always ride through at least one really affluent neighborhood when approaching mid-to-larger cities, and I think it’s due to the correlation between wealth and less traffic. The unfortunate coincidence is that due to lack of density in these developments, the areas where the fewest people bike and walk as their primary means of transportation have the best streets for it. For me, the architecture of these neighborhoods–frequently very beautiful–has a sadness built into it. They feel empty of people (excepting the landscapers) and more like a showcase of exquisite little fortresses and their grounds. Good riding though.
Just before downtown Cleveland, the pavement turned into something resembling an ice-flow: contiguous from a distance but riven through with cracks and holes. And thus, Cleveland snatched the the crown and left Albany to fight it out with that service road outside of Yuma.
Downtown Cleveland, or at least the parts we rode through, has a pleasing industrial-center-all-grown-up look about it. We weren’t planning to stay the night, but we did manage a pretty surgical chili and beer excursion. Apparently Cleveland’s inner city is growing faster than its suburbs, which is unusual for many urban areas interesting in a lot of ways. All we can personally attest is that the Market Square area has impressive brewery/pub density. Would visit again.
We couldn’t linger because we’d arranged to stay with a couple outside the city. They were offering dinner which is always a treat, and more intriguing this time since I’d confirmed we “had no dietary restrictions.” Sam and Susan pulled into the driveway with groceries just after we arrived and we commenced feasting almost immediately. Beautiful cheeses and dried fruit, simple and delicious grilled chicken, asparagus and pork tenderloin. When Sam started pulling cooked chicken fat off the meat and sandwiching it between baguette and thin slices of parmesan as little umami bites, we knew we’d found our people. But it’s not even about having a meal really, just being a guest is so refreshing sometimes, once you settle into it–letting go of the constant maintenance of your situation that accompanies every moment of extended travel in unfamiliar places. And then there’s the real joy of having conversations that go beyond the description of what the hell we’re doing, which we give multiple times a day and has solidified into a bit by now. We’re just very thankful for the ability to slip into this alternate universe every once in awhile; and, if the universe happens to accommodate falling asleep with a glass of port while watching the latest Sherlock, so much the better. Many thanks to Sam and Susan for so consummately crafting that little bubble for us, and for all our hosts along the way who’ve each taught something about how to do it graciously.
I feel like I’m approaching a second theme for this post beyond windy corn: the constant generosity of people we meet on the road.
Going above and beyond, Sam saddled up the next morning and let us ride his wheel 20 miles out of town, giving us a bit of a head-start on yet another day of thrashing directly into the wind through corn and soy fields–a fairly apt description of the remainder of our time in Ohio.
On our last night in the buckeye state, we couldn’t find camping anywhere and ended up cozying up to the wall of a building in a city park to watch a giant red moon rise over the Methodist church and empty baseball fields.
3 tips for this kind of camping: Loiter inconspicuously in the park until night falls and everyone leaves; try to set up in front of a backlit obstacle (large bush/a building, etc); get up early.
Indiana to follow.