2022 Erie Canal Tour: Wrap-Up

The 2022 Cycling Adventure on the Erie Canal is complete. Zubby, JB, and I had a great trip along the canal route. Even with some equipment issues (darned broken spokes!) and a little downtime helping Zubby de-bonk, it was fun. This was the worst weather I’ve done a bike tour in: 5 of 7 days in some amount of rain. Again, none of those issues detracted too much from a great week of unplugging on two wheels.

Touring with other people is good because you can watch over each other. It also brings along some tradeoffs. You have to compromise and decide when to do side trips, where to eat, and so on. I think this tour worked out very well and we did a good job of helping each other along. I enjoyed JB’s wanderlust that took us into the little towns along the way and the excursion through Syracuse to see the university and some of the local sights. Zubby is an eternal optimist who found a way to enjoy the trip even in the rain. My only regret is that we couldn’t somehow change our itinerary to accommodate Billy’s family covid situation. We’ll just have to get another option planned for 2023!

As I collect my wrap-up thoughts, first I’ll give my impression of touring the Erie Canal. It is one of the better developed touring routes in the United States. At about 400 miles from Buffalo to Albany, it provides a long ride with reasonably spaced towns for accommodations. Most of the route is on dedicated path, with some through-city parts on bike lanes or dedicated paths. There are a few stretches of on-road riding. The road sections were usually on either very quiet roads or on roads with generous shoulders. As an experienced road-rider, I didn’t feel too stressed by the road sections. If I were riding with young kids though, I would try to time the road sections for non busy times.

The surface for the path is a combination of paved and crushed limestone “stone dust” on top of packed dirt. I definitely prefer the paved parts, but the stone dust surface rides well when dry and drained well when it was raining. I recommend having tires with a little bit of width and tread in case it rains. The mud is slippery when wet.

The route of the Erie Canal Trail is good. Starting in Buffalo, then Lockport and all of the port towns west of Fairport provide some good variety of things to see. Some of the towns are too small to support restaurants, but others are great places to get food and water. Once you get east of Fairport, the towns are more sparse, with the exceptions of the bigger cities like Syracuse, Rome, Utica, Amsterdam, Schenectady, and Albany.

If I had to rank the Erie Canal Trail among other routes I’ve done, I’d put it in the middle. Definitely worth doing, but I prefer the scenery of the Great Allegheny Passage and the nearly all-paved Ohio To Erie trail is hard to beat. The Parks and Trails NY team does good job of marking the trail. There were only a couple of places where it wasn’t exactly clear where to turn. I had put together .GPX files for my Garmin to help and only used them in a couple of places. I have mixed feelings about the guidebook from the PTNY. It is useful but I think there should be a bit more detail with road names, especially in the Syracuse area. I do recommend buying it to carry with you, but don’t expect it to answer all of your routing questions.

We chose to do 7 days to minimize work vacation days. This pushed us to 65+ days 4 of the 7 days. I typically plan for ~60 miles when touring on my own and find that comfortable. I think this trip would have been better with shorter days. 50-60 mile days would have allowed for more sight seeing and accommodating mechanical and health issues.

If you’re new to bike touring, the Erie Canal Trail, or even just part of it, would be a good option to get started. It is gentle enough for medium-skilled riders and has enough scenery to keep it interesting.

Here’s a little bit about my equipment. Over time my cycling rig has evolved a bit. Here’s what I use today:

  • Bicycle: 2018 Specialized Sequoia Expert. I bought this bike at the end of 2018 and have been using it for touring since then. It is a good combination of robust build, comfort, and gearing. If I were to go cross country with lots of mountains, I might look for something with a wider gearing. I like that the frame has many braze-on lugs to easily accommodate a rack, fenders, and still have room for three water bottles. I don’t use the front lugs but could mount front racks if I wanted to carry more gear. I’m also a huge fan of disc brakes. This model has hydraulic brakes that are strong and sure no matter how wet they get.
  • Bike Add-Ons: I insist on fenders for touring. The rain and mud create quite a mess. I did two tours without fenders in 2010 and 2012 and will never do that again. I use a Blackburn rack, but I don’t know what model it is. I recommend one where the sides are long/wide to provide more support to your panniers and keep them out of your wheel area.
  • Tires: This is an area of passionate debate for cycle touring. I am a fan of Schwalbe touring tires, like the marathon plus. However this bike came with Specialized Adventure Gear Sawthooth 700x42mm tires. I’m still running the original Specialized tires and I’ve been very happy with them. They are a great tradeoff of tread for mud vs. rolling on smooth roads. I’ve got several thousand miles on them and only one flat. The tread is still in great shape, too. I will probably try to get similar tires again when it is time to replace these.
  • GPS: I have been using a dedicated bike GPS for many years. I currently use a Garmin Edge 820. I have a love/hate relationship with this device. For general ride tracking it does a sufficient job. For route guidance, I’d give it a “C” grade: I’ve needed to plot unknown courses like getting to the Rome bike shop and it does an OK job. However it is very slow when loading a premade .GPX files and the battery life is not great. I had to carry a spare battery pack with me and used it every day to charge up along the route. Garmin wants a ton of $ to replace the battery. Not gonna happen. I think when it is time to replace, I will look at a competitor’s unit such as Wahoo.
  • Bike Radar: Ok, this has become an essential piece of gear for me. I use a Garmin Varia RTL515 radar. This little device mounts on the back of the bike and has two purposes: 1) it is a brightly flashing tail light to get motorist’s attention, and 2) it tracks cars coming from behind and tells me where they are, how many are approaching, and how fast. This is displayed on my bike GPS screen. I really like knowing when a car is approaching. So I have both a rear mirror on my handlebar and this radar. I won’t ride without them at this point.
  • Panniers: Panniers are the bags that hook into the racks of the bike, kind of like bike luggage. I use Ortlieb “Bike Packer Plus” panniers. They are waterproof and have served me very well. They’re not cheap, but if you do a bunch of bike travel, you will find that you never have to worry about the contents getting wet with Ortlieb panniers. They also have a good rack-mounting system that locks the bags securely to the rack. There are many good and cheaper options out there, so if you’re just getting started, I suggest starting with a cheaper option and just pack your clothes in dry bags inside the panniers.
  • Camera: I purchased a GoPro Hero 7 on sale a couple of years ago so that I can take pictures while riding and not have to stop. I also have a love/hate relationship with this device. Somehow it manages to take pictures sometimes and videos others. I need to sit with some YouTube instructions to see the best way to operate it so that I can get pictures with my GoPro consistently. In the past, I have struggled to find a great way to mount the GoPro to my bike and think I cracked the code this time. I bought a well-reviewed off-brand Garmin style GPS mount, took the quarter turn off of it, flipped it upside down and used a genuine GoPro foam-tape mount to mount on the backside. It worked like a champ and allows me to remove the GoPro when I go into a restaurant. I’m really surprised nobody sells something like this pre-made. See my picture below for the mount. For my off-the-bike pictures, I use my iPhone. It takes great pictures.
  • Headlight: I have a rule to always carry a headlight. They tend to be heavy, but if you get stuck after sundown, it is really necessary. You can’t plan emergencies, but you can be prepared for them. I got stuck after sundown on the KATY trail a few years ago and will always keep a light with me now. I carry a Blackburn Central 300. It is bright enough to navigate with, but I’d recommend going even higher than 300 lumens if you can afford it.
  • Blogging Setup: I use a small Microsoft bluetooth keyboard that folds up. It works with my iPhone and allows me to touch-type at full speed. It doesn’t weigh much and takes nearly no space in my bag. I use the WordPress dedicated iOS app on the phone. You probably found some typos in the blog. I’m not trying to write a novel, so I am not quite as careful when blogging.

Thanks for following along. I always enjoy hearing from people who read the blog or ask questions that I can help with.

Here’s a link to each of the day’s blog:

This is my last big 2022 bike adventure. I’m already looking forward to 2023 and another grand time on two wheels. Not sure where I’ll ride next, but I’m already daydreaming of options.

Until then, Peace.
— Dcn. Matt

2022 Erie Canal Tour: Days 6&7 – Utica to Amsterdam, Amsterdam to Albany. Done!

I was much to tired yesterday to blog. And honestly, I am again today, but if I don’t get my notes down now, it probably won’t happen.

Friday, day 6, was an eventful day for our band of three. We left Utica early under a bit of a fog. The weather was cool but nice. No rain, and that was most welcome.

It didn’t take long for the sun to dry up the fog and make for a beautiful and sunny day. We made a steady pace as we pedaled east. We stopped at several of the locks for a rest or pictures. Right about lock 18, we decided to watch a boat lock through.

The boat is named “Spontaneous”. We struck up a couple of minutes of conversation as they locked through. This couple was on their way to New Hampshire to deliver this boat to new owners. They have had some great adventures but just didn’t have the time to enjoy it any longer. We all decided that a great way to do this trip would be to cycle to one end and have a very relaxing boat ride back. It takes several days to travel the length of the canal by boat. They are restricted to low speed, so it is a relaxed pace.

As we began the day, Zubby just didn’t quite seem to be feeling 100%. By the time we reached the town of Canajoharie, he really didn’t feel well. Looking back, we think he “bonked” – a term that means you’re too low on calories and/or electrolytes and/or fluids. The brain just shuts you down. We got him into a local restaurant and he sipped a bunch of drink and cooled down. We hung out for about two hours. We had about 25 miles left to go, but Zubby decided he was done for the day. After a few unsuccessful attempts at Ubering and Lyfting, we got ahold of someone who was able to drive him forward to our hotel in Amsterdam.

So then there were two…

JB and I pressed on to Amsterdam without much further excitement. We stopped for a few minutes at the entrance to the shrine for the North American Martyrs. This is the site of the 17th Century Mohawk Village of Ossernenon, birthplace of St. Kateri Tekakwitha, and the site of martyrdom for three Jesuit missionaries. This particular shrine has importance for me because of some time spent here back in 2010 with my daughter and wife. We were running quite late after helping Zubby so we couldn’t stay long.

We finished our ride and arrived at the Castle in Amsterdam NY. This is an old armory that has been converted into a castle-themed hotel. It was a very fun place to stay and we enjoyed it very much.

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So that was the end of day 6. We all regrouped at the hotel. JB and I enjoyed a wonderful dinner at a local Italian place, Lorenzo’s.

That brings us to today. Last night, Zubby decided he was done for the trip. We had about another 45-50 miles to the end and he didn’t think it was good to continue. So we rearranged his Amtrak ticket so that he would stay in Amsterdam while JB and I finished the trek to Albany.

It was another fantastic, dare I say epic, weather day. Blue skies, temps in the low 80s and no headwinds. Can’t ask for better.

We decided that we wanted to try to find some donuts today. That was high on JB’s list. So we had a light breakfast at the hotel and then decided we would try to find some pastries or donuts in Schenectady. We eventually found a Dunkin’ Donuts and we split a half-dozen donuts between us. They went down really fast.

As we were making our way east, I saw a boat in the distance that looked familiar. We reached to the next lock, and sure enough, it was “Spontaneous” again. We had seen them yesterday and now again today. We said Hi to the owners and then went on our way.

The trail in Schenectady has some ups and downs to it. It diverges from the Mohawk river up and overlooks it, then goes back down to meet the river again. Felt good to do a little gentle climbing after so much flat riding.

The last few miles were uneventful, except that my Garmin had not been tracking my distance from when we left breakfast in Schenectady until we reached the northern part of Cohoes. Annoying. The track made it look like I was able to magically fly across the county.

We arrived in Albany with plenty of time to spare. We had to be at the Amtrak station on the other side of the Hudson by 3:00PM. So we went in search of food and drink. We found great little pub. I had a beer and a fish fry. It was extra delicious today.

After lunch, we made a quick trip over the Hudson to the town of Rensselaer. It was very easy to cross the bridge because it has a dedicated bike / pedestrian area away from traffic.

The Amtrak station in Albany is clean and nice. I took the opportunity to change out of my stinky riding clothes and into some street clothes for the ride home. JB did the same. We boarded the train without too much difficulty. Zubby had a ticket for the same train, departing from Amsterdam.

I had been warned that the Amtrak Empire Service could not handle very many bikes. We had pre-arranged and paid for shipping our 3 (4 originally) bikes. The process for loading was to let the conductor tell us which car had a rack open. We then wheeled the bikes in and hung them in the rack. Not too bad, but not nearly as convenient as the entire bike-friendly train car that I rode from Pittsburgh to DC a few years ago.

I got off the train in Rochester and my dad picked me up. I’m back at their place. Dirty clothes are all in the washer and I’m preparing to head back tomorrow to home. The three of us have decided that it was a very good tour, even with all the challenges that came our way. I will add one more blog post later with some thoughts and tips about riding the Erie Canal. Watch for that in the next day or two.

Until then…
Peace,
— Deacon Matt

2022 Erie Canal Tour: Day 5 – Syracuse to Utica with a lot of Rome(ing)

Our B&B yesterday was, well, interesting. The neighborhood was not great, the decor was a mish-mash, and I really doubt an electrician did the electrical work. On the upside, we were dry and had an uneventful night. The AirBNB hosts were good, but the property was not one of my favorites.

We wandered out for dinner and found some awesome burritos, and then came back to watch a movie before turning in. Zubby had never seen “Breaking Away”, so we watched that. I think we all enjoyed it. Fantastico Papa!

When we went to bed last night, we looked at the weather. It looked like we would have a nice day with only a small chance of rain. Today started out with rain. A good amount of the liquid sunshine came down to see us out of Syracuse. It was more than mere drizzle.

Riding out of Syracuse was much nicer than the last time I was here in 2010. They now have nice separated bike lanes for much of the route. I sure wish Lexington would take a page from this book.

After an hour or so, the weather finally cleared. We had an amazing and rare sighting: blue skies! The rest of the day was blue skies and warmer weather. Aside from the first part of the ride, the rest of the weather was epic.

We made our way east and stopped at a boat museum. It was closed, but there were a couple of nice guys who were taking a rest break there. We stopped and talked to them a bit.

As we kept going, JB broke another spoke! When we stopped for lunch, we looked over the maps to see where we could find a bike shop anywhere on the path for today. We decided we’d check out the situation when we got closer to Rome and decide what to do.

When we reached Rome, JB decided we would try the bike shop in Rome. One catch, it was about 7 miles out of our way north of Rome, and the mechanic had a hard-stop at 4:30. We used the Garmin Bike GPS to plot a course to the shop and started pushing our way there. The streets were a bit busy, but the shoulders were OK. About two miles later JB got a flat tire. Crazy, but true. We made it to Mike’s Cycle & Sport Shop with plenty of time to spare. The mechanic replaced his spoke in about 15 minutes and we were back on our way.

We stopped on the way back out of town for some drinks and snacks at a Circle-K. JB treated me to a cherry slushee. I didn’t realize how thirsty I was. I put down a good amount of Gatorade, the slushee, and some water. But the slushee really hit the spot.

Working our way back out of Rome took a bit of city-smarts for cycling. Nothing too scary, but had to be very alert as we made our way back to the trail. We reached the trail without incident. We stopped by Fort Stanwix briefly but it was closed. Plus we thought we needed to press on somewhat quickly because we were running late, so it was probably OK that we couldn’t go in.

We finally reached Utica and navigated to the AirBNB here. This place is really nice! It is a renovated apartment over a pub downstairs. We all agreed that this is the nicest place we’ve stayed so far.

After getting cleaned up, we wandered downtown Utica and found a good meal. For the record, I didn’t order the onion rings, and didn’t eat many of them…

We had originally planned for about 65 miles today. The extra miles through Rome made for a longer day but all went well. Hopefully we’ve seen the last of the broken spokes!

Tomorrow we head to Amsterdam NY. The weather looks like it will be a great day for cycling. I hope to rest well and be ready for the day.

Peace,
— Dcn. Matt

2022 Erie Canal Tour: Day 4 – Savannah to Syracuse, with spokes!

Our stay at the BnB in Savannah was comfortable and clean. I slept OK and woke up early to get packed and ready to roll. Since we needed to get to the bike shop in Syracuse, we wanted to get started early. Our host, Chip, did a nice job and made us feel welcome.

When we went to bed last night, we expected it to be a mostly dry day today. Well, that didn’t last very long. Mist, then drizzle, then light rain stuck with us most of the morning. It wasn’t too bad, but it sure would be nice to see some of the elusive Upstate NY blue skies during our tour.

We had several miles of roads before getting back to the trail today. The canal doesn’t have a bike path with it in this area, so the route takes you along NY Route 31. In this area, the shoulder is mostly a very wide area, and the traffic was generally well behaved. So although it wasn’t too bad, it felt good to get back on the path.

We were mostly on path again once we reached the town of Jordan. I remember this little town from my tour here in 2010 with my daughter. I recall taking a picture with her at the flagpoles, and I also remember the beautiful gardens just east of the town.

Eventually we made it to Syracuse. The new route into Syracuse is much nicer than the one I remembered from before. Back in 2010, we had to route through the west side of downtown through some so-so neighborhoods. Since then, they have now completed a trail along the lakefront that is very nice. Good pavement and some wonderful views of Onondaga Lake.

There is a new biking/walking trail into downtown that runs along Onondaga Creek. We picked that up and used it to get to the central part of town. We then used the Garmin bike GPS to take us to the AirBnB. We dropped our bags and quickly made our way down to the Mello Velo bike shop to get our bikes fixed.

We briefly stopped at Clinton Square and continued along our way. Clinton Square is where the canal used to run through downtown. It was an area for commerce and banking, supporting trade along the canal.

Mello Velo is an awesome little shop. It is a cafe and bike shop. We walked in about 12:20 and they immediately prioritized our repairs since we were on our way through. We had lunch while we waited. The food was a little pricey but my Turkey Club was really delicious. Hand-carved turkey, not deli lunch meat, fresh bacon and lettuce with aioli on it. YUM!

It turned out that my bike had not one, but two, broken spokes. I will be getting this wheel completely re-laced with new spokes when I get home. Something is suspicious about breaking spokes on it, for sure. They had the right parts to fix JB’s broken spoke. And Zubby had them check out his bike. It needed some repairs as well. I usually do all of my own bike mechanics work. Talking to the guy who fixed our rides, I was happy and felt very confident in the repairs. Huge kudos to Mello Velo and I highly recommend their shop.

While wandering around, I was clearly tempted. Some people say the devil is a “woman in a red dress”. For me, today, it was the signature blue-green Bianchi in the corner. Exactly what I would buy if I won the lotto. At $6K today, no chance of taking it home, but man, it sure was beeeautiful.

After the bike shop, we decided to do some touring around Syracuse. We wandered and made a route up to Syracuse University. I’ve been on campus a few times and sort of remembered some of the highlights of the tour we did 7 or so years ago when my youngest daughter was looking at schools. After that, we just meandered around the city at a slow pace to enjoy the sights.

Back at the BnB, we scrubbed up and threw a big pile of wet slimy clothes into the washing machine. Extra time on the scrub cycle. Time to go look four some dinner! I think it will either be the Dinosaur BBQ or a Mexican restaurant nearby. Hmmmm.

Until tomorrow, may the Lord bless you and keep you. May He make His face to shine upon you and give you peace.
— Dcn. Matt

2022 Erie Canal Tour: Day 3, Spokes? Nah, who needs ‘em

We spent yesterday evening at my parents’ house. It was about an extra 13 miles each way, but I think we all agree that it was very well worth it. Mom and Dad took great care of us. Food is one of Mom’s “Love languages” and she loved us a lot. Mom fed us a huge portion of pasta with her marinara sauce, home made meatballs, zucchini, salad, fresh corn on the cob, and then home made cherry tarts for dessert.

After dinner, I took JB and Zubby to Wegman’s – the local grocery store that is famous in this area. The one in Webster isn’t even one of the nicer stores, but I think they got a good dose of what a nice grocery store could be like. I went to get some snacks for the ride, but especially because I had given some Benadryl to a cyclist in Buffalo who had been stung by a bee. I wanted to replenish my supply.

Today’s weather was really good for cycling. Cool and comfortable. We started by riding south from Webster back to Fairport and had a nice tailwind to push us along.

The ride east from Fairport was uneventful. We met a few cyclists, saw some canal locks, and enjoyed the scenery. The surface was largely dried out from the rain and it was much easier pedaling.

We passed through Macedon and when we arrived in Palmyra, we wandered into town to look around. When we stopped to get a drink, I went to get my wallet and noticed that my top-tube bag, where I usually keep my wallet, was missing. After a minute of panic, I found the top tube bag in my pannier. Whew.

A few more miles of trail and we reached Lyons and then Clyde. Along the way, we saw this dry-dock. Several barges and a couple of tug boats were in the dry dock.

Dry dock

We stopped in Clyde for a late lunch / early dinner because there isn’t much of anything else nearby. Just before the west side of Clyde, my tire felt spongy. As I was noticing that, Zubby said “your back tire looks flat”. Sure enough, flat tire. First one I’ve had on this bike. It was starting to mist a little, so we found an awning and pulled under it. I removed the rear wheel and prepared to replace the tube. As I was removing the tire, I heard a “twang” sound. Upon further inspection, I discovered a broken spoke. Ugh. I’ve only broken two spokes in 12 years (and tens of thousands of miles of cycling), both are on this bike. This spoke must have been fatigued enough that it was just about to go. We got the wheel put back together and decided that I’ll just get it fixed tomorrow in Syracuse. There’s a wobble in the wheel, but not big enough to cause a major issue. I called a bike shop in Syracuse and they said they’d be happy to get it fixed up right away and get us back underway tomorrow.

After dinner, we finished our last few miles to an AirBnB in Savannah. Along the way, JB said “Hey, my wheel is wobbling now, too!” Sure enough, JB also has a broken spoke. The odds of two of us having broken spokes seems awfully low. Nonetheless, that’s the situation.

So we’re here at our AirBNB. The house is very comfortable and has a wonderful yard overlooking a small lake. After a good scrubbing, we convened in the back yard to enjoy the cool air. Fall is coming, for sure.

Tomorrow is a short day as we make our way into Syracuse. We expect about 40 miles or so to the bike shop. We’re going to try to get out early so that we can get the bikes in early and get them fixed asap. The weather report for tomorrow looks full of … drizzle! Hopefully we can get done before it gets too wet.

Peace!
– Dcn. Matt

2022 Erie Canal Tour: Day 2 – Drizzle

The word for today was: “Drizzle”. Say that word a few times – it’s kind of a funny word, really. We had a lot of time and inspiration to consider the word drizzle today.

As we began our ride, it was wet from the very start. We looked over the weather and decided it really didn’t make sense to wait. We had a long way to go, and no matter how long we waited, it wasn’t going to get better.

Leaving the B&B, donning rain coats.

Our B&B was a couple of miles north of Albion, so we rode back to the trail and headed east. The surface of the trail in this section is finely crushed stone on top of dirt. When it is dry, it rolls well. When it is wet, it is like riding on peanut butter. Today was like chunky-peanut butter. The worst part is that it takes a bunch more energy to push the pedals through the mud.

One random thought: is drizzle an onomatopoeia? It doesn’t really make a sound, so probably not?

Although it rained the entire day, it was a generally fun day. The wet conditions did not put a damper on our day. We stopped under bridges a couple of times to get a snack and take a little break.

Snacks under the bridge

This section of the trail, from Lockport to Fairport, is probably my favorite section. Lots of little towns to go into and check out. Most of them are on the south side of the canal, so you go over a lift bridge to get to the town. We checked out most of the towns today, but with it being Labor day, most places were closed. We went into Brockport, hoping to find a brunch. The only restaurant we found was a diner. The line was out the door, so we decided to go to the next major town and see what we could find.

So, what is the difference between drizzle, light rain, sprinkles, and spitting. We debated these options and thought that perhaps drizzle doesn’t leave ripples when it hits the canal water.

When we reached Spencerport, we went into town to find some lunch. Again, most everything was closed except for Subway. So that was lunch.

Spencerport

I didn’t take many pictures today because of the rain. Stopping to take out the phone was a bit inconvenient. That’s a bit sad because the scenery in this area is really nice.

Drizzle… Good or bad? Drizzles of BBQ sauce – good. Drizzles of chocolate on ice cream – good. Drizzles of rain – questionable. Better than hard rain, but kind of annoying after 5 hours.

After making our way through the west side of the city, we got to Genesee Valley Park. We had toyed with taking a side trip up into downtown Rochester, but with the rain and slow riding, we decided to skip the side trip. I did take the guys up to my alma mater: the University of Rochester.

Eastman Quadrangle at the University of Rochester

You don’t see locks between Lockport and Rochester. Working east from here they count down to zero. We rode past a few today. Here’s lock 33.

Lock 33

We rode through Pittsford and arrived in Fairport. This is where we exited the canal path for today. We’re staying in Webster, about 12 miles north. After a little snack break, we meandered our way up to Webster using county roads.

Fairport, NY – Mules like this used to pull the canal boats in the old days.

We arrived at my parents’ house and decided to hose down before getting into the house. We had quite a bit of the Erie Canal towpath stuck to us, our bikes, and the rest of our gear. A hose did the trick. A thorough rinse down, a shower, and laundry made us good-as-new.

Muddy Bike before wash down.

We could have let the drizzle affect our spirits. But it didn’t. It did slow us down, but we had a great day. 66 miles, probably 55-60 of them in the rain, er, drizzle.

We had lots of time to contemplate light rain today. We decided that drizzle is a kind of rain, but not the same as sprinkles. And besides, sprinkles belong on ice cream, not bicycles.

Peace,
Dcn. Matt

2022 Erie Canal Tour: Day 1

A few months ago, some friends and I thought of a few different bike tours to do and we decided to ride across New York along the Erie Canal towpath. I have some experience with the Erie Canal path from my younger days when I would ride sections of the path near where I grew up. The Erie Canal was also my first experience with bike touring back in 2010.

My very first bike tour in 2010 was a self-supported tour with my then 13-year-old daughter. I had no idea how to do a bike tour, but we figured it out. With the support of my wife who SAGd (Support And Gear) for us, we made it across. Since then, I have done a self supported bike tour every year. I’d consider myself a somewhat well seasoned bike tourer.

When we originally planned this year’s tour, there were four of us planning to go. Sadly, a few days before the tour, my friend Billy’s wife spiked a 104 fever. The dreaded Covid-19 screwed up our plans. Billy rightly chose to stay home to care for his family. So now there are three of us: me, JB, and Zubby.

We started out in downtown Buffalo, staying at a hotel. Last night we enjoyed a couple of beers with dinner and got our pre-tour excitement going. We looked over the plan for today and I slept very well.

MMmmm beer.
The Start of the Ride: Me, Zubby, and JB

We found our way to the Shorline Trail that runs along the Niagara river just west of Buffalo. We rode along that trail all the way up to the start of the Erie Canal trail in North Tonowanda. It’s a really pretty ride along the riverfront.

Once we made it to the Canal Path, it was mostly straightforward rolling up to Lockport. It is a combination of path and surface streets, but nothing aggressive for traffic.

Once in Lockport, we decided it was time for a real breakfast. We were just starting to discuss our options when someone looked over at us and said “You want to go to Tom’s across the canal over there!” We decided the local recommendation was good. As we cycled over, a nice older couple pulled up next to us and rolled down their window. The husband used to do long distance bike touring in his younger days. We talked for about five minutes. Great people. They also recommended Tom’s. So that’s where we went. The food was good and the environment was fun.

Hash and Eggs at Tom’s

After breakfast, we began our trek east. The trail is mostly a finely crushed stone surface in this area. It is a slightly slower surface, but very comfortable when it is dry. We passed several little towns before we arrived in Medina. We rode into town and found a lunch/dinner stop.

Our last stop for today is our AirBnB just a couple miles north of Albion, NY. We checked in and got cleaned up.

Today’s ride was just over 65 miles. The weather was cool and overcast all day. A little misty rain early, but nothing too bad. We did have headwinds most of the day. Hoping that won’t keep with us. Tomorrow’s forecast is calling for rain most of the day. We’re hoping that changes overnight.

Until tomorrow…. May the Lord bless you and keep you.

Peace, Dcn. Matt

2020 Bike Tour: 3 Buds On Bikes – Day 6 – Journey Complete

Our day started with a well prepared breakfast at the Bright Morning B&B. This is one of the nicest B&B’s I’ve stayed in. The owners do a superb job of keeping the place clean and comfortable. The breakfast was really good, too. I had advised them of my dairy allergy and they took special care to make me a hearty breakfast of oatmeal, watermelon, and toast … but I admit that I was a bit jealous of the home fries and eggs on JB and Billy’s plate. It was definitely the best breakfast of the trip.

We finished breakfast quickly and made our way back to the trail. I planned a short day today so that we could have some time do to a little sight seeing in Pittsburgh before packing up and driving home.

We had another gorgeous weather day. We made quick time to McKeesport and stopped for a quick snack.

Heading west, once you reach McKeesport, the trail becomes much more urban. There are several bridges that cross the river or train tracks to help navigate all the way into the city. This particular bridge was built in 1891 for trains to cross the Monongahela river (frequently called “the Mon”) and has been converted for the bike trail. No matter how many times I cross these kinds of structures, I enjoy thinking about the history of it and wonder whether the people who built it had any idea that it would become used for recreation. I guess none of us really knows the legacy we leave behind. What starts off as hard work might very well be the source of joy for others who we never meet on this side of heaven.

The trail continues for a few miles on the south side of the Mon and passes the few remaining steel mills on the river. We paralleled these active train tracks the whole way into Pittsburgh. I didn’t know before this trip that JB really loves trains. We stopped a few times along the way to watch the trains go by. Billy joked that our train gawking was like city folk who’ve never seen a deer before when they come to the country.

Once again we came back to the Hot Metal bridge and crossed to the north side of the river to head back into downtown. We stopped for the familiar view of downtown.

Downtown Pittsburgh viewed from the Hot Metal Bridge

JB and Billy wanted to go back again to PPG Place, so we made a quick side trip there. When we arrived this time, we saw these three neat dinosaur sculptures in the entrance way to the main tower. I especially liked the Heinz ketchup bottle dinosaur. Pittsburgh is the home of Heinz.

Finally we made our way back to The Point, which is the end of the Great Allegheny Passage! 300 miles from Pittsburgh to Confluence and back.

The Iconic Fountain at the Confluence of the Three Rivers

We stayed at the point for a few minutes. Billy and I soaked our feet in the fountain and JB took a rest laying on the side of it. It wasn’t picnic table, but he decided it was comfortable enough.

Since we still had plenty of the day left, we rode across the Allegheny river to visit the Mr. Rogers memorial and the WWII memorial. The Fred Rogers memorial is neat – it has a great sculpture of him. Standing in the archway, you can hear a recording of him. We need a bit more Mr. Rogers and quite a bit less of cable TV news, I think.

Finally we crossed back over to the hotel where we left our cars. We got cleaned up in the restroom, and packed up our bikes and gear for the trip home.

Diamond Elite Bike, for sure

I had told JB and Billy about this place called “Bicycle Heaven” just a couple of miles away. It is a museum of bikes and other neat stuff. We decided to go spend a little time there and walk around. I’ve been here once before a few years ago. Last time I was here, I stumbled across the exact make and model of the bike my first 10-speed that my mom & dad bought me when I was in 6th or 7th grade. It’s the orange bike in the picture below. It had a simulated suede seat with matching handlebar tape and a rear disc break – something way ahead of its time! I put many miles on that bike. I easily found the bike again because it was still in exactly the same place it was when I visited a few years ago.

After a nice long visit to the bike museum, we decided we needed to get on the road and head back to Lexington. It’s always a little bittersweet to finish a bike trip. The riding is fun, but eventually you have to get back to the real world.

JB was very insistent that we get a good meal on our way home. Good food has been somewhat elusive this trip due to COVID-19 and the Labor Day holiday. So we stopped at a steak place on the way out of Pittsburgh. It did not disappoint! 12 ounces of ribeye with steamed veggies and a salad hit the spot. I probably could have eaten two of them.

We arrived home around bed time. I was very happy to see my family. My dog was happy to see me, too. She’s getting a bit old and doesn’t like to be away from me too much anymore. She’s been following me around all morning today.

This was a very relaxing bike trip. I especially enjoyed being the tour guide for Billy and JB. Since I’ve been on the GAP several times, it was like riding through a familiar neighborhood for me, but for JB and Billy it was all new. We also found that our touring styles are very compatible. We each do things a bit differently, but we worked well together.

Hopefully next year we won’t have the gloom of COVID hanging over us. I’d like to find a new place to explore by bike. We’ll see what the future holds!

Some simple stats from our ride (including side trips and sight seeing):

Riding Time: 23 Hours, 33 Minutes

DayStartEndMilesMinutesPedal RevsPedal Strokes
1Pittsburgh, PAConnellsvile, PA62.36283          21,828           43,656 
2Connellsville, PARockwood, PA48.48242          18,175           36,350 
3Rockwood, PACumberland, MD45.44193          15,064           30,129 
4Cumberland, MDConfluence, PA64.03284          22,681           45,363 
5Conflucence, PAWest Newton, PA55.13227          18,137           36,275 
6West Newton, PAPittsburgh, PA39.09183          14,296           28,592 
TOTAL  314.531412        110,182         220,365 

If you’re interested in learning more about the Great Allegheny Passage, check out their web site or feel free to drop me a note. I’d enjoy hearing what you’ve got planned.

May the Lord bless you and keep you.

2020 Bike Tour: 3 Buds On Bikes – Day 5

Yesterday’s ride was long and tiring. Not in a bad way, but in that way where you feel accomplished and deserve a great night’s sleep. Which I did.

We decided to get up and get moving by 8:15 this morning because we wanted to have time to stop and see the sites around plus we wanted to have a real breakfast in Ohiopyle. We couldn’t find much of anything that we expected to be open in Confluence for breakfast. Ohiopyle is the next real town heading westbound on the GAP.

As we left the BnB, it was very foggy and cool. It made for some interesting backdrop of the ride. Within about 30 minutes, the sun had risen enough to dry everything out and the fog disappeared.

Much of the trail looked like this today. Tall canopies of trees with some rock walls occasionally. When the sun is just past rising, it is bright green and beautiful.

We took many breaks today. Mostly just to absorb the beauty of the day, plus get a snack or water. Mid way towards Ohiopyle, we saw an opportunity to park our bikes and walk safely down to the Youghiogheny river. We sat on the rocks of the river for probably 15-20 minutes and just listened to the water. Very relaxing.

We pulled into Ohiopyle mid morning and set about looking for breakfast. We were all very hungry. Ohiopyle was much quieter today than when we were here on Sunday. We pretty much owned the town. We rode around the main streets and asked some locals where to get breakfast. Every place they suggested was closed. Ugh. We struck out again!

We finally settled for breakfast sandwiches. They were good, but it wasn’t quite the big breakfast we had all been hoping for.

The fact that we’ve struck out so many times on finding food has become a running joke. Every place I’ve recommended is closed. So tomorrow, the other guys get to choose the place.

The Yougiogheny river passes through Ohiopyle in a horseshoe shape, several miles across. One side of the horseshoe is right across from the main part of town. We walked over and sat for a good long time. JB went upstream a bit. I went straight over, and Billy went his own direction. JB and I took our shoes off and soaked our feet in the cool clear water. I did that for about 30-45 minutes. I called my family and did a FaceTime video call so that they could get a small taste of the wonderful views and river sounds.

It was nice not to be rushed today. We spent much more time enjoying the river and views than we did on the previous few days. This has been the most relaxing day of the trip so far.

Eventually I called out to the other guys and we decided we’d better get moving before we decided to sell everything and move to Ohiopyle.

We pressed on at a good clip for most of the rest of the day. As we passed through Connellsville, we stopped to get some water and cool down a bit. The sun started to get a bit toasty. JB has a penchant for laying down on picnic tables and resting. This one wasn’t concrete, but he seemed to like it well enough.

Pressing on, we came to the memorial for the Darr Mine disaster. It is the worst mining accident in Pennsylvania history. In 1907 a massive explosion occurred, likely triggered by hitting a large natural gas pocket along with the miners’ open flame headlamps. The blast killed 229 men – perhaps many more that were never recovered.

A few more miles and we reached our destination for the evening: West Newton, PA. We’re staying at the Bright Morning B&B. This place is right on the trail. It is beautifully restored and spotless. I’m really impressed so far. Let’s see how their breakfast goes in the morning!

After a very soapy shower, we regrouped and went down to The Trailside (again) for dinner. We ate well and then went back to the BnB to sit outside and talk for a while before turning in.

It is only 8PM but I’m really tired. I guess the riding is catching up to me. As soon as I finish my blog and Evening Prayer, I’ll be calling it a night.

Tomorrow we finish up our journey. I planned a very short 34 mile day so that we can be to Pittsburgh before lunch, do a little sightseeing, and then get home before bed tomorrow night. I’m looking forward to seeing my family.

Until tomorrow, may the Lord bless you and keep you.

Peace.

2020 Bike Tour: 3 Buds On Bikes – Day 0

Tomorrow I will start riding an out-and-back along the Great Allegheny Passage.  I’ve ridden the GAP several times before.  It is a wonderful bike trail.  It stretches from downtown Pittsburgh, PA to Cumberland, MD.  Along the way it winds through some beautiful countryside.

I was hoping to explore some new routes this year but chose to do the GAP instead.  With all of the COVID impact, I was a little concerned that I could have trouble finding accommodations on an unknown route.  Then I was talking with a couple of friends from work after a long ride we did and they started talking about riding the GAP “someday”.  I told them that I’ve done it a few times and described how nice it was.  They were hooked.  We very quickly planned out an itinerary and cleared it with our wives.  In very short order, we went from no plans to having a full tour planned.

I’m packed up and ready to go!  We drive to Pittsburgh today, overnight, and begin our riding tomorrow.  We’ll be taking 3 days to go to Cumberland, and then 3 more days to return to Pittsburgh.  Weather looks really good so far.

I am so excited to be getting away for a few days.  I’ve been working from home for 6 months now.  It will be nice to be out on the bike, riding through the woods, and enjoying the company of friends.  I’ll introduce you to JB and Billy in tomorrow’s installment.

More tomorrow!

Peace.

#GreatAlleghenyPassage

#BikeTouring

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2019 Bike Tour: Kentucky to Lake Erie (KY + #OH2ERIE) – Day 9 COMPLETED: Independence OH to Cleveland OH (16 Miles)

It was wonderful to have Stephanie and Maura meet me last night.  We had a room at the Embassy Suites in Independence OH.  Rockside Road goes right from the bike path trailhead to the side road where the hotel is located.  There is a sidewalk on the south side of Rockside Rd. that you can take the whole way up.

We had a nice dinner and turned in for the evening.  I got up early in the morning so I could complete my ride and give us plenty of time to drive home.

Today’s trip was very short – only sixteen miles.  I could have easily put these miles in yesterday and finished up yesterday, but I wanted to arrive in Cleveland during the quieter traffic hours of the weekend instead of during rush hour on Friday.

I packed up my things and loaded the bike back up.  I felt the strong need to carry all of my things with me instead of just dumping them in the car, so I carried everything that I brought on the trip with me as I completed the journey.  I guess it felt to me like I needed to finish the whole trip self-supported.  So my panniers went with me.

Leaving the hotel parking lot, I could make out downtown looking north.  The construction porta-potty is just a nice backdrop, not the subject of my picture…  You can see the skyline off in the distance.

The air felt absolutely amazing this morning.  It was cool and crisp.  I needed a light jacket for the first few miles.  A very slight breeze was blowing.  It felt and smelled like fall is coming.  What a stark contrast to a week ago where the sun was beating down upon me with high in the mid 90s.  I love this kind of weather.

After riding about a mile east on Rockside Road using the sidewalk, I rejoined the canal path heading north towards the city.  The path winds through some very nice parks and the outskirts of downtown Cleveland.  As you get closer to downtown the heavy industrial areas emerge.

The towpath ends unceremoniously at Harvard road.  The last time I was here, there was a very small trailhead.  It was under reconstruction when I arrived yesterday and the signage was gone.  I assume they’ll bring it back when the trailhead is finished.  Here’s about where the sign used to be:

I had been warned that the path through Cleveland was disrupted with construction, but I did not have any trouble at all.  I’ll have a brief description and map of my route at the end of the blog today.

Steelyard Commons is a shopping center built on the site of a former steel mill. This is a rail car that was used to haul molten steel to different parts of the manufacturing process.  The tank of the car is lined with bricks to provide insulation for the molten steel.

Leaving the Steelyard Commons I followed the towpath up the hill west for a block to the 14th street roundabout.  From there I took 14th street northbound with only a small side trip.

The house from “A Christmas Story” is very close to the route. It wasn’t open yet so I just took grabbed a picture and resumed my route. The house is only a block or two out of the way off of 14th street, so why not?

Returning to 14th street, I continued north all the way towards downtown.

14th street ends at Abbey Avenue.  One of the Cleveland script signs is in a small park at this intersection, so that’s a good landmark and seemed like a great place to take a picture overlooking downtown.  There are several of these script signs around the city and they all provide a good photo opportunity.  I found two of them on my route.

About 100 yards east of here, there is a new bike trail that takes you along the edge of downtown and westward.  When you get to the end of the trail, it is an easy ride west on Franklin Road and then Franklin Avenue to get to 65th street.

Taking 65th street north to the end puts you at the lakefront.  A nice bike path winds through Edgewater park.  The path goes along the lakefront to the beach area.  I decided that this is where I would dip my tires into Lake Erie!  To my very pleasant surprise, Stephanie and Maura were waiting for me at the beach and caught a picture of me.

Here I am at Lake Erie!  It’s official – I’ve crossed the state, dipping my tires in both the Ohio River in Cincinnati and Lake Erie in Cleveland.

I wanted to finish at the Cleveland sign in Edgewater Park.  We didn’t see it anywhere so I asked and some people who pointed me up a path west of the beach.  I jumped on the bike and rode up to the top of the path.  Here it is… the end of the journey!

I was very pleased to have both Mr. Hamster, the international traveler, and Ms. Bug, the new member of my riding team, along for the last 16 miles.

Today was a fantastic end to a wonderful journey.  The short trip today felt a bit like a victory lap since it was such an easy ride.  It was definitely fun and Cleveland has some nice bike paths!

After getting the last pictures at Lake Erie, we loaded up my bike and I changed into regular clothes.  We drove home at a very nice leisurely pace, stopping by Canal Fulton for lunch and Massillon to show the church and shrine to Stephanie and Maura.  After a few more stops, we made it home late in the evening.

This morning felt very strange.  I felt like I was supposed to be out riding.  It feels odd not to be heading somewhere on the bike.  I think it will take a couple of days to get back into the normal rhythm of life.

 

My grand total milage for the trip is exactly 450.00 miles.  I found it amazing that it was exactly 450 miles according to my GPS logs.  I will have one more blog post in a few days with some lessons learned, a few thoughts on the trip, and a gear review of my bike and other equipment.

Thank you to all who have sent me words of encouragement along the way.  It has been great to share my trip with you.  Thank you especially to those who gave me a place to sleep on my trip.  I appreciate you kindness.

Below is a description of my path through downtown Cleveland if you’re reading and preparing for your own OH2ERIE trip.

St. Dymphna, Pray for us!

Peace.

 

Navigating to Lake Erie / Edgewater Park from the Towpath:

This is my GPS track from my ride yesterday.

  1. When completing the towpath, exit onto Harvard Road.  Turn Left (W).
  2. Cross the railroad tracks and turn right on the path which parallels Jennings Road (N).  This path will veer to the right and go behind Steelyard Commons.
  3. Continue behind Steelyard Commons to where the path goes under Quigley Ave. It will curve to the right and back westbound as you parallel Quigley Ave.
  4. Quigley Ave ends at 14th street.  Turn right (N) onto 14th street.
  5. Travel north on 14th street until it ends.  Near the end it will veer to the left under interstate 90 / 71.  14th street will end at Abbey Avenue.
  6. At the Abbey Ave / 14th intersection is one of the “Cleveland Signs”.  On the north side of Abbey Ave, go right (east) about 100 yards to pick up a the bike path.  It will circle back to the left and take you along the river.
  7. At the end of the bike path, turn left (S) onto Columbus Road and take an immediate right onto Franklin Avenue.
  8. Take Franklin Avenue to the end, and turn left (S) onto 25th street for one block.
  9. Turn Right (west) onto Franklin Blvd.
  10. Turn Right (North) onto W65th Street.  This will take you to Edgewater Park
  11. Follow the bike path into the park.  The trail will eventually lead you to the beach.
  12. If you want to go to the Cleveland sign, continue past the beach up the hill to the west.  The sign will be at the west end of Upper Edgewater park.

Cleveland Road Route

2019 Bike Tour: Kentucky to Lake Erie (KY + #OH2ERIE) – Day 8: Massillon OH to Independence OH (60 miles)

I decided that I would take a bit later start today so that I could attend 8:15 mass before leaving. Father asked me to assist at mass. He made me feel so at home that I could not say no.

This is Paula. She works at the parish and was so helpful to me and gave me a lot of the background about the shrine.

This is Father Ed. I so enjoyed my time with him. He is a wonderful and devoted pastor. I wish I lived closer – I would enjoy spending more time with him.

One last picture before leaving St. Mary’s. Let me introduce this year’s ride mascot: Ms. Bug. My daughter has a knack for crocheting wonderful little critters. Ms. Bug has been with me the whole trip and reminds me of home.

I finally got on the road, or more accurately the trail, about 9:15. I looked back and could still see St. Mary’s as I rode away to the north. I’m sure I’ll be back.

The weather today was nearly perfect. Temperatures were in the mid 60s and lower 70s through my whole day. Skies were blue and clouds were puffy. But unfortunately, I dealt with strong headwinds the entire day.

I saw several deer today. This one was so tame that she just watched me a bit and ate. She did not scare off until I put my phone back away.

From Massillon all the way to the south side of Cleveland I will be riding on the Ohio and Erie Canal path. This path is mostly crushed limestone, with a few paved sections. It iss quite a bit slower to ride on than the pavement of the last few days.

The canal path varies in scenery a bit, but most of my day looked like this:

I arrived in Canal Fulton and went in to town to look around.

This is Mike. As I was passing through one of the trailhead parking lots, he called over to ask me about where I was from and heading to. We talked for a few minutes before I went on.

Mike warned me that there was some construction on the path north of here. He was right. About 2 miles up, the trail was blocked. No detour posted. It looked like work was stopped for lunch, so I went under the caution tape and walked my bike. A worker emerged from his equipment and told me “Path Closed!” I asked if there was a detour. He said no. “Path Closed means Path Closed!” I asked nicely if he could recommend an alternate route and he just sternly said “no”. I decided to continue walking. The construction was less than 100 yards long and then I continued on my way. I usually try to follow the rules but I sized up the situation and did not see any good alternatives.

The canal path passes through some very beautiful wetlands as it makes its way north.

I really needed food and decided that I would look for a good meal when I reached Akron.

Akron was an absolute complete and total mess on Main Street. They have the entire length of Main Street torn up for construction. I was able to navigate the sidewalks for a while then had to find my own way.

I spotted this deli and decided it was worth a look. This picture was after lunch. Before lunch, the line was out the door. I decided that was a good sign! I really enjoy corned beef sandwiches, and theirs was definitely yummy.

Navigating my way out of Akron was tricky but not terrible. The main OTET route was messed up by the construction. I mostly navigated by feel and eventually found my way out of town.

On the north side of Akron, there is a lengthy detour that has been in place for years. It goes around some sort of major construction project. It has some climbing, surface streets, and then descent back down. The climbs are a little steep, but not too bad.

A few miles later the canal enters into the Cuyahoga Valley National Park.

This wetlands section is really neat. It is a huge area that was created when beavers dammed up a local waterway which then flooded this area. There is a long boardwalk that goes right down the middle of it to allow the canal path to continue through it.

As I moved on, I was treated to more beautiful scenery.

In the Cuyahoga park, the parks service has a few educational centers where you can learn about the canal, history, and ecology of the park.

I eventually arrived at my stopping point for the day about fifteen miles south of Cleveland. Tomorrow I will finish my bike trek by going to Edgewater Park at the Lake Erie beach in downtown. The canal path ends a few miles south of the lakefront, so I will be taking surface streets for the last few miles.

I decided to stop a few miles short of downtown Cleveland because I wanted to avoid the surface streets during Friday rush hour. So instead I will be leaving very early tomorrow to finish up early Saturday morning. Stephanie and Maura will then meet me at the park to pick me up and we’ll drive back to Lexington.

Overall, today was a great day. I am looking forward to being home and sleeping in my own bed tomorrow!

Peace!

St. Dymphna, pray for us.

2019 Bike Tour: Kentucky to Lake Erie (KY + #OH2ERIE) – Day 7: Danville OH to Massillon OH (65 miles)

I was able to go to bed at 10 and slept until about 6:15 this morning. That’s the longest night of sleep I’ve had on the trip.

The owners at the B&B made me a breakfast sandwich and I supplemented with an energy bar to get me going. I was on the road at just after 7:00. I had a more firm schedule today because I wanted to arrive in Massillon early in the afternoon.

The B&B is on a very nice vineyard and I was greeted with a wonderful view as I left this morning. The temperatures were nicely cool. The air felt like rain might be coming, but the skies were still friendly.

I went back into Danville to pick up the beginning of the Mohican Valley Trail. This trail took me to the Bridge of Dreams – the longest covered bridge in Ohio. I stopped to get a picture and enjoy the view.

The last time I came through here, this is where the trails ended and country roads began. Since then, the route has changed. The Holmes County Trail now picks up right at the end of the Mohican Valley Trail and goes into Glenmont. That is a huge improvement – the prior route took me over some very aggressive hills. This new route is much nicer.

The Mohican Valley Trail was a very steady low-grade climb for a few miles. Not very challenging but you can feel it. Then it declines at about the same pace for a few miles. I really liked that trail, especially compared to the previous route I took the last time I rode the OTET.

When I arrived in Glenmont, the town was still very quiet, but I did see one person: the guy I rode out of Sunbury with! I yelled over to him and we chatted for a few minutes. It was fun to compare notes. After a very friendly handshake, we said goodbye and I continued on.

From Glenmont it was an easy ride on Route 520 right out to Killbuck. Route 520 does not have a shoulder in this area, but I only counted five cars that passed me in the eight mile stretch. It was a beautiful ride, but I really would have liked a little bit of a shoulder to ride on.

The weather continued to be beautiful, with low misty clouds filling the valley.

A few miles later I was finally in Killbuck. Killbuck is a tiny town and a has fun feel to it. There are not many services for a rider, but you could get water and food if you really needed to. I was still well stocked on water so I slowly cruised my way out of town.

At the north side of town, I picked up the Holmes County Trail for roughly fifteen miles. The trail parallels the Killbuck creek and some beautiful wetlands. For some reason, I did not stop to take any pictures of the wetlands.

When I arrived in Fredericksburg, I saw a couple sitting by the rest area and we chatted for about fifteen minutes. They have done bike touring in the past so we were comparing some fun places to ride and dream trip ideas.

When I checked the weather throughout yesterday evening and again this morning, I was expecting to be hit by rain. A few minutes outside of Fredericksburg, it caught me. The good news is that I had my rain gear ready. At the first sounds of rain, I put on my 9 year old weather-resistant jacket. I was warm and did not want the thickness and non-breathing of my good rubberized coat. That was a huge mistake.

The rain came on hard and furious with the kind of drops that sting the skin when they hit.

This is when I discovered that my 9 year old jacket is no longer water resistant at all. I’ve not had to use it in the rain for a while, and in the mean time it has no water repelling properties left. I was absolutely soaked nearly immediately. I was not cold, so I was not worried about hypothermia. So I just gritted my teeth and rode the five miles up to Fredericksburg with water running out of the sleeves of my coat like a fountain.

I knew there was a pizza place with an awning in Fredericksburg, so I decided to go straight there and get out of the rain while I addressed the situation.

I went in to order a cheese-less pizza and then went back outside while it cooked to get dry clothes on. I went into my stinky clothes from yesterday and swapped my jersey for a dry one. I also pulled out my really good raincoat. Lesson learned: always go with the better raincoat when the sky looks dark.

I shook as much water as I could out of my other clothes and bungeed them to my rack for the rest of today’s ride.

The rain eventually subsided about the time I left. I only had a few sprinkles on me the rest of the day. Leaving Fredericksburg, the OTET takes some rolling hills on country roads for a long stretch of about 16-17 miles. None of the rollers were terribly bad, but I was in my lowest gear at least a couple of times. I think this is probably the most challenging section of the OTET if you don’t like hills.

Once I reached Dalton, I picked up the Sippo Valley Trail. This trail is mostly paved, but has a section of crushed limestone that was definitely slower to ride on. That is a bit of a preview of tomorrow for me – tomorrow will be nearly all on crushed limestone, I think.

I exited the Sippo Valley trail in Massillon. I started to feel a bit of excitement as I came over the bridge into the town. I could see the tops of the bell towers for St. Mary’s church. That is the destination I’ve been working towards all week.

I navigated by sight to reach the church. As I approached from a few blocks away, I was struck by how close I was to my goal, but I was also impressed with the size of this building. I expected a small town church. This is a massive building.

After arriving, I had a few minutes of prayer before knocking on the door of the rectory. I was greeted and shown to my room, where I showered quickly and returned. I was given a very nice tour of the church and the shrine within the church for St. Dymphna.

The history is fascinating, but I’ll keep it brief. For many years the shrine was on the grounds of a hospital that also dealt with those having nervous or mental health issues. A few years ago that chapel needed to be closed, so the chaplain of that chapel brought the relics to this church and had a shrine built within the nave of St. Mary’s. He is the pastor here.

The shrine is very well done – you can not really tell that the shrine is not part of the original design for this magnificent church. It is located on the left side wall about half way down the nave.

St. Mary’s had a terrible fire a few years ago in the right-side bell tower. The fire was contained to the bell tower, but the smoke damage through the church was catastrophic. The church was closed for 18 months for cleaning and reconstructing. The 4,000 pipe organ was completely disassembled, cleaned, and put back together. The inside is quite beautiful now, for sure.

I sat and carefully recollected my trip and slowly offered prayers for each and every person by name on my list.

This statue was commissioned to show St. Dymphna holding out her hand to help you. St. Dymphna was much younger than portrayed in this statue when she died, but it still works! In her face I kept seeing a mixture of joy and sorrow. Very appropriate for her ministry.

After I spent a while in the church, the pastor returned and we became acquainted. His devotion to ministry, his parish, and the ministry of St. Dymphna is so inspiring. I really enjoyed our time together today. We talked for a while, then went to get a simple dinner at Wendy’s.

Laundry done. Blog done. Time to kick back a bit.

So part one of my trip is now complete. But I still have my secondary goal to go: to reach Lake Erie.

Tomorrow I will leave Massillon and head north along the old “Ohio & Erie Canal” towpath. I will most likely stop a little short of Cleveland tomorrow and finish on Saturday morning. I don’t want to go through Cleveland during rush hour on Friday.

Until tomorrow, may the Lord bless you and keep you. May His face shine upon you and give you peace.

St. Dymphna, pray for us!

Mary, Queen of Heaven and Earth, pray for us!

2019 Bike Tour: Kentucky to Lake Erie (KY + #OH2ERIE) – Day 6: Westerville OH to Danville OH (55 miles)

Last night the weather forecast showed rain for early this morning. Between that and a shorter planned ride, I decided to take a more leisurely pace to getting ready.

I had a simple breakfast with Dean and Robin at their home, said goodbye, and headed out. I had to briefly deviate from the OTET route to get to their house, but their home was less than a half mile off of the Alum Creek trail. I couldn’t have asked for a better situation. The OTET diverged from the Alum Creek trail, but when I continued on the Alum Creek for a very short ways, it led me to an east-west path that took me right back to the OTET. The Columbus area certainly has a great set of bike routes.

Once I departed from the Maxtown Road area it became much quieter. I took the Genoa Trail which parallels route 3 and ends around the north side of the Hoover Reservoir. The reservoir was pretty to ride next to. A older guy on a nice road bike zipped up next to me and asked where rode from and where I was going. I told him, he gave me a very enthusiastic handshake and wished me well with some encouragement before he zipped away. That made me smile.

The next town north on the route is Galena. I was told of a good restaurant there, but when I got close I decided that I was not hungry enough to eat my second breakfast yet. I knew that Sunbury was only about three miles further. I had eaten at a great diner there last time I came through.

Sunbury is a neat little town. It has a traditional town square, with a brick road. Shops dot the edge of the square.

In the middle of the square is some sort of government building or museum – but I did not take a good look. I did find a statue of Johnny Appleseed there, though. The plaque says he was a frequent visitor to Sunbury.

After making a slow loop around town, I decided that second breakfast was in order. I went to the Sunbury Grill and sat in exactly the same place I did last time. I ordered up a BLT and home fries. It was deeeelicious.

As I was waiting for my food, the music was playing a song by the Eagles. I was reading news on my phone and didn’t realize I was singing along to myself. The waitress payed me a compliment and said I should sing louder. It was funny since I had not realized anyone could even hear me.

Leaving Sunbury I had about ten miles of surface roads before connecting to the next trail. When I turned onto the first main road out of town, there was another cyclist going up the hill about a quarter of a mile ahead of me. At my normal pace, I caught up within the first mile and we struck up a conversation.

He is a plumber from Cincinnati and “got a wild hair to ride to Cleveland.” Without much notice or preparation, he just packed up a tent and a few belongings last week and started riding the OTET north. He’s never ridden farther than about 65 miles from his home. He’s on a single-speed bike which gives him some trouble on the hills. We rode together for the full distance to get to Centerburg – roughly thirteen miles. It was a very comfortable and relaxed pace.

The next town is Centerburg. It claims to be the geographic center of Ohio – hence the name. My riding buddy went off in search of water and food. I decided to try to find the rock in the town that claims to mark the center.

After googling a bit, I still was not exactly sure where to find it, so I rode into town, and rode around and around looking. I found someone and asked. They had no idea. So, I just found a park and there it was!

The park was east of town a bit and turns out to be right on the side of the trail. If I’d gone back to the trail, I’d have found it easily.

The plaque on the rock says it is the center of Ohio. There ya go – it must be official.

The weather today was nothing short of perfect. It was overcast all day, just a few very minor sprinkles, comfortable temperatures, and I even had a bit of a tailwind for most of the day. That never happens.

I had seen this tower last time we came through but we did not stop to investigate. I had since read that it is part of the “Ariel-Foundation Park” built on the former site of a PPG factory. You can climb the 224 steps to the observation deck that is 140 feet above the ground. I decided I had to do it.

I’m not a huge fan of heights, but they usually don’t bother me. I will admit that about half way up, looked down at my feet through the grated steps and started to lose my nerve. But then I thought about how some kids I know with anxiety feel and I decided I would conquer the heights.

For people who deal with anxiety, everyday things that seem safe or easy can cause panic, fear, and real physiological effects. I knew there was no way I would fall through the steps, but it made me a little fearful and my heart raced. That’s the closest I can come to trying to understand what anxiety must be like: a perfectly safe situation felt very unsafe.

So I climbed and climbed to the top. The view of the surrounding area was breathtaking (for real). So after looking around and taking a couple of pictures, I decided to very slowly and deliberately climb back down, holding the handrail.

Overlooking the surrounding area of Mt. Vernon:

I can’t see it very well, but my bike is locked up directly below my feet one hundred and forty feet below.

Safely back on the ground, looking up:

The Heart of Ohio trail continues past the park and just south of Mount Vernon. I was planning on going into Mount Vernon, but the street traffic was feeling very aggressive and I was starting to run behind schedule. So I decided to just move on. Next time, though!

One of the very few signs that shows Cleveland – 148 miles to go!

Leaving Mt. Vernon, I picked up the Kokosing Gap Trail, named after the Kokosing River and the railway that used to run in this area.

The trail runs through the edge of Gambier, the home of Kenyon college. There was a very well restored steam train on the track there:

Right after taking this picture, I must have accidentally dialed my mom. I thought she had dialed me. We had a nice conversation for a few minutes. I think she has been a bit nervous about my solo travel, so it’s good to connect. Love you, mom! Yes, I’m being careful. (And yes, I’m talking to lots of strangers)

My next stop for the night before going to my B&B was to get dinner in Danville. The Kokosing Gap trail ends here. I stopped at “The Hangout” and got myself a steak, peaches, a salad and some fries. It was deliciously bad for me and I enjoyed it thoroughly. Going back to watching my diet is going to be very disappointing when I get home.

The last stop was the trip up to my AirBnB: Taigon Hills vineyard. I had to do a bit of climbing to get to it. My legs have been doing so much flat riding the last few days that it hurt to get back to the climb.

The owners decided to buy this property sight unseen in a bank foreclosure. They felt called to put in vineyards even though they did not know anything about grapes. This is their fourth season and things are starting to take shape.

They are also breeding Taigon dogs – a very rare breed and decided to name their vineyard after the dogs.

After a very heavy scrubbing, I’m settled in and I am going to bed early tonight!

Tomorrow I have a longer day, with a lot of hills. Weather looks to be rainy all day, too. Every pilgrimage has its challenges – just the way it is supposed to be!

I will arrive in Massillon tomorrow afternoon and complete the first major part of my pilgrimage, arriving at St. Mary’s church where the relic of St. Dymphna resides.

More tomorrow!

Peace!

St. Dymphna, pray for us.

2019 Bike Tour: Kentucky to Lake Erie (KY + #OH2ERIE) – Day 5: Cedarville OH to Westerville OH (67 miles)

Backtracking to yesterday evening… Around 7:30PM, I was feeling hungry again. That’s a good sign since my stomach has been yucky for a few days. I went to the local Subway to get a sandwich for second dinner. I planned on eating just half of the sandwich and carrying the rest tomorrow. That was until I ate the whole thing. It’s good to have my appetite back. The Prilosec worked its magic.

I had planned on leaving the hotel at an early hour today to grab breakfast up the street at the diner. But on the way through the lobby, I ran into a bunch of people who were all riding together.

I sat down and enjoyed some hard boiled eggs, a bagel, and fruit with my new friends. About forty minutes later, I have some new buddies. I’ve been invited to join their GAP ride next year – and I might just take them up on it.

So I was a little later getting started, but was treated to some nice views. Once again, I had the path to myself. I rode east on the Prairie Grass Trail, through South Charleston, all the way to London.

South Charleston has some cool cabooses and is a good place for a photo op with the bike. It is a nice little town – the kind of place that would be fun to retire into.

A few miles later I passed through London. This is a larger town and has lots of places for food and water.

Outside of London, the route continues through the farmland for 13 miles on the Roberts Pass and Camp Chase trails. These two trails take you to the Battelle Darby Creek park.

By this time, I was facing some headwinds and the sun was getting warm.

The Battelle Darby Creek Park is a nice diversion from the trail. A crushed stone path takes you through the wooded park and alongside the creeks. I stopped, took a few snapshots, and enjoyed the cool shade. The respite from the sun was most welcome.

Upon exiting the park, you rejoin the Camp Chase Trail to take you to the outskirts of Columbus on the southwest side. The quiet farms are replaced with suburbs and then with commercial and industrial buildings.

I really needed something cold to drink, so I stopped by Amy’s Donuts. I stumbled across this place last time I rode through here and decided it was worth another stop. I picked up a Minute Made Orangeaid and a sweet tea. Huge calories in those two, plus I needed the liquids. It certainly did not hurt that it was air conditioned while sat to enjoy my drinks.

Getting from the end of the Camp Chase trail into and through Columbus is a bit tricky. I had a GPX file on my bike computer, so I didn’t have any issues at all – I just let the computer tell me where to turn. But as I was going, I kept looking for the Ohio Route 1 signs wherever I was supposed to turn. There were not very many. I think they could do a better job of marking the turns.

A few miles later I was about to go through downtown Columbus. Here’s one of the better views I had before going into the heart of the city.

The OTET takes you right through downtown on some main streets. There were bike lanes and all of the traffic was very friendly. I did not have any issues at all and felt very comfortable.

If you are considering riding through Columbus and you do not like city riding, you might want to time your trip for a Sunday morning to avoid traffic. Not everyone has the same comfort or skills for traffic, so do what works best for you! Just be safe (duh!)

After getting through Columbus, you eventually take the I670 bike route connector up the east side. That will then connect to the Alum Creek Trail. This is a very wonderful trail that stretches many miles from Columbus up to Westerville. It is not a high-speed bike path because it winds in and about the woods. The Alum Creek trail has many neat bridges and hugs the Alum Creek. I stopped a couple of times to go check out the creek itself.

By the time I reached the east side of Columbus I was nearly out of water again. One thing they could use more of on this trail: water fountains. I did finally happen across one and happily drank up. I sat in the shade for a while and enjoyed watching some kids playing in the park.

I had arranged for a place to stay with a brother deacon in Westerville, but he needed to be at work until after 4:00PM. I was far ahead of that schedule, so I took a very slow and leisurely pace up the Alum Creek Trail. I took plenty of pictures and stopped to do my evening prayer on a bench along the way.

When I was finishing up, this guy came riding up on his well-worn machine. He sat down next to me in the shade and we talked for probably over forty five minutes. He lives very frugally out of necessity. This bike has thousands of miles on it and he just gets replacement parts off of abandoned bikes he finds around Columbus.

He rides and camps all over the area and was very knowledgeable about the various trails that I have been on.

It was quite the juxtaposition of having his well-used department store bike next to my new rig. Kinda humbling to see what he makes due with and enjoys. Goes to prove that it isn’t the equipment that makes the experience!

I timed things perfectly to arrive at my destination right about 4:00PM. Just as we pulled my bike into the garage, it started to rain a little bit.

Truthfully, I probably would have enjoyed the rain on me throughout the day. It would have helped break the heat. On the other hand, I have to be careful what I ask for. Tomorrow’s forecast is calling for rain throughout the day. Hopefully it isn’t too bad.

Now it is time for bed. I’m exhausted.

Tomorrow I head to Danville OH on a mix of roads and trails. I am hoping to arrive early in the afternoon and take a leisurely evening to relax and perhaps get caught up on some reading.

Peace!

St. Dymphna, pray for us.