Saturday, October 4, 2008

Cuyahoga Valley National Park / Ohio & Erie Canal Towpath

This weekend I came to a few conclusions:

1) Summer is over, It's Fall.
2) The journey can be the destination.
3) Fun comes at any speed.
4) Crashes come at any speed.
5) These kick ass:

I struck out to Century Cycles in Peninsula, OH this morning with my lovely lady at my side - we rented some Electra Townie 3's ($8/hour, what a deal!) with plans to explore the Erie & Ohio Towpath through Cuyahoga Valley National Park. Century's Peninsula store is adjacent to the towpath and right in the middle of the park - ample parking, easy to find, and great to deal with.

I hadn't ever ridden a bike equipped with Shimano's Nexus internally geared hubs before, and now I wonder why I don't own a bike with one. Holy Fun. When you get on the bike, you find yourself immediately laughing as soon as you take your first pedal stroke - it's like you've been transported back to your childhood... I think Electra's "flat foot" geometry does a great deal to make the bike FUN first.

We set out northbound on the towpath and were treated to nature's fall fireworks show in progress.

Peak color in this area will be in a few weeks, but the maple trees have already started changing. About 10 minutes out on the ride, TK broke this one out of mental "storage":

Erie Canal

I've got a mule, her name is Sal,
15 miles on the Erie Canal
She's a good old worker and a good old pal,
15 miles on the Erie Canal

We've hauled some barges in our day
filled with lumber, coal and hay
And we know every inch of the way from
Albany to Buffalo.

Low bridge, everybody down
Low bridge for we're coming to a town
And you'll always know your neighbor, you'll always know your pal
If you've ever navigated on the Erie Canal.

We better get along on our way ol'gal,
15 miles on the Erie Canal

'Cause you bet your life I'd never part with Sal,
15 miles on the Erie Canal.
Git up there mule, here comes a lock,
We'll make Rome about 6 o'clock
One more trip and back we'll go, right back home to Buffalo.

That continued for about an hour... I continued our reversion into childhood with the "50 States" song where you sing them in alphabetical order. Yeah, these bikes were THAT MUCH FUN.

on our way north: you can see one of the locks at the end of the clip

We then started into a discussion about how damned fun it was to ride these bikes, and how we were glad that we'd left the helmets in the car... we certainly weren't being good role models, but with our speed averaging around 8mph we figured "what could happen!?"

We figured that one out about 5 minutes later. I was cruising behind her and went to smack her butt as I passed... I passed a little close, she freaked out a bit, and our handlebars struck... next thing you know I'm face down in the gravel with two bikes on top of me, and she's on top of both bikes. We're both happy that nobody saw it happen, though I'm sure it would be youtube gold. My stem was rotated around and the bike had a few new scrapes on it, but it was otherwise ok. I scraped up the palm of my hand, my knee and a couple knuckles, and tore some holes in the elbow of my baselayer (saves the day, every time!). TK was fine, having had the benefit of using ME to cushion her fall. I was kind of surprised nothing broke on either bike.

We rode in silence for about 3 minutes until the bickering started about who caused the crash. This would continue for quite some time. We kept at it for the next 8ish miles until we reached the Canal Visitor's center in Independence, Ohio. We stopped to check out a lock that NPS still uses for demonstrations on how the water could raise/lower barges... pretty cool considering that this was built around 1825, and that labor was paid with a jigger of whiskey and 30 cents an hour.

we make this lock look GOOOOD.

At the canal visitor's center we rode over to the Depot to board the Cuyahoga Valley Scenic Railroad which works with the NPS to provide cyclists with one-way fares of $2. With multiple stations along the towpath trail, this is a great option for individuals who may want to explore one direction by bike, but another direction by rail.

We hopped on the train for our trip south and bought sandwiches for lunch. The trip south took about an hour, though there were 5 or 6 stops where the train would sit for a few minutes to allow for bikes to be loaded/unloaded. The railroad offers tours through the valley, including Murder Mystery rides and "Grape Escape" wine tasting events.

the view from the train: the towpath trail goes through the wetlands in the distance via boardwalk.

Once at Botzum we hopped on the bikes and set out northbound to peninsula once again. Parts of the towpath in this section were very close to roads, and you could see that the locks had been destroyed to make room for the road to travel through.

We discovered a produce stand and corn maze about halfway there...

We stopped and were promptly attacked by giant spiders. Shouldn't have stopped.

Since we didn't have bike locks we didn't want to leave the bikes in order to explore the produce stand, so we kept moving. The remainder of the trail passed some very interesting areas between the farm and Peninsula, mostly areas where the canal's engineers had to deal with wetlands and streams bisecting the route like Furnace Run. Flooding was apparently a major problem and would destroy critical sections of the canal, but it was the railroads that destroyed the canal's business model.

In all we had a blast. I highly recommend the towpath for anyone who's looking for an actively lazy saturday activity where you can enjoy a beautiful day. The opportunity to learn something about the history of the area you're pedaling through is always a plus, too.

For anyone who's thinking about this ride, know that going northbound on the path is at a slight downhill, where southbound is a slight uphill... make your day easier and ride north, let the train take you back south. If you're looking for a workout, check out my posts on the Cleveland metroparks rides.


Tracy said...

no, YOU caused the crash! ;-)

that was such an awesome day.


Ragfield said...

If history is any indicator, I'm going to have to agree with Tracy here that you caused the crash.

My old commuter bike has a 7 speed nexus. I did like the ability to shift at a complete stop, but I never really got used to the extra friction in the hub. I don't really ride it anymore.