Days 19 & 20: A long 80 miles through the Cuyahoga Valley National Park and rest

The road out of Boardman offered me a reminder of riding through Ohio – long stretches of farmland on rolling hills. Even though I’m far north of my old stomping grounds further south, I definitely knew I was back in Ohio. It’s funny how each state I ride through has its own charachter that I can’t easily articulate but definitely sense as I pedal along. 

I eventually made it through Salem, and felt like I had an audience:

But once I put the ego in check I realized it was Memorial Day and the locals were just getting ready for their parade. I thought about crashing it by riding through it, but I had a long 80 miles to ride that day, and couldn’t afford the time. But eventually I’ll crash an event on this ride, I feel it.

After a Gatorade break I was back on country roads with wide expanses of farmland. It was peaceful riding, and relatively flat.

I was eventually taking county roads, which I noticed were in far worse condition than state routes:

These stretches were a bear to ride on. My panniers were bouncing and shaking as much as my tired bones for miles, and I tried to keep the aggravation in check. In the worst spots it wasn’t very safe for me to ride near the white line, so I had to take the lane. Luckily these roads weren’t too heavily traveled, so I didn’t get in the way of any car drivers.

The farmland would give way to tree lined stretches here and there, which made me a happy cyclist. The trees guiding my way brings an internal calm most welcome. They always do. 

I pulled off the road when I found a clearing that wasn’t private property to crush some raisins, and was in for a surprise:

An oil rig in Ohio??

The hills seemed to be increasing as I made it across Berlin Lake.

Seeing all the boats idling through the no wake zone brought back memories of all the time I spent in Lake Cumberland in southern Kentucky as a kid where my thirst for adventure took shape.

And then I saw the fuzz of the lake, plowing through the water to do whatever they do. They passed a broken down boat looking for help with their lights flashing. Hmmm…

Onward. Too bad I don’t need a haircut, because I’m sure an “LA look” would have upped my game:

And then the road took me to the quintessential photo of the day:

Pastoral landscapes and roadkill. I’m not trying to gross you out, but this is what I experience on the bike all day long. Taking it slow on the side of the road has made me see an enormous amount of dead animals. I’ve seen dead raccoons, deer, turtles, beavers, frogs, cats, squirrels, chipmunks, many different kinds of birds, and possums, all in various states of decay. It’s one of the more depressing aspects of my adventure, but it’s part of it all the same. I try not to think about it too much but the ride to the Cleveland outskirts provided too many dead animals to make me not constantly aware of them. I probably passed a dead animal every three miles.

I started rolling on a nice road for the first time on the day:

Plenty of room for me just right of the white line and rumble strip on super smooth blacktop. I’ve become a roadway connoisseur after all these miles, and feel the slightest difference in road quality at this point.
I was getting awfully tired as I made it to Ravenna, where I took a pit stop to get some water at a gas station with interesting inventory, including artificial urine:

And I don’t know what:

The best part though was the eight year old owner’s daughter telling a potential employee how to fill out her application. Her dad looked at me, smiled, and said “she’s the boss”.

A couple turns and I made it to the best part of the day, my ride through the MetroParks around Cuyahoga Valley National Park, and it started in Portage:

See, told ya.

I was off rough roads and on the kind of rail trail I love, complete with American Rust Belt ruins: 

But then…AHHHHH

The path was flat, smooth, and lined with trees that kept me cool yet allowed in just enough sun to bathe me as I rolled along in a state of bliss. Tired bliss though: I was roughly 50 miles into an 80 mile day.

The path opened up to a high school that looked like it was a Cancun resort or some authoritarian building from a nonexistent Blade Runner: Sunny Suburban Cut:

It was more imposing in person. 

The path changed names frequently:

And then I got detoured:

But I made it back to the trail, until I made it back to a towpath for the first time since Cumberland, MD. This time it was the Erie & Ohio Canalway.

Which eventually took me to an awesome bridge:

That gave a view of another more impressive bridge.

Rail trails and/or towpaths + bridges = YESSSSS.

And eventually I saw what I have been anxious about since I heard it was coming months ago:

Oh, the cicadas. 

Brood V has been waiting 17 years to assault eastern Ohio and West Virginia with their mating before sucking on tree roots for another 17 years. They’re starting to work their way out of the soil. 4 days of 64 degree soil, and things get biblical. I couldn’t help but realize all the cold I rode through in the east has kept them in the ground, and I wondered if I’d beat them after my rest day the following day.

Eventually the towpath had an extremely steep gradient and I had to get off to push the bike up. It was only 100 feet or so and I felt no loss in pride. It would have been tough with fresh legs and an unloaded bike.

A bit further and I was out of the trail system and into North Royalton, OH, where I would spend that night and the next.

My hosts were Pat and Don, my friend Kelsey’s parents. Kelsey and I used to work together in a bar and we’ve stayed in touch over the years. She has been a huge part of my support network since I started this ride, and while her cheerleading has been indispensable, she outdid herself by orchestrating this respite from the road.

Pat and Don couldn’t have been better hosts. I rolled up to their door just past 9pm with 80 tired miles behind me, and they fed me, gave me a bed, and did my laundry for me, all while not batting an eye at letting me stay to rest the next day and night. I had a bit of a food coma and dozed off as we watched Golden State take the NBA Playoff series with Oklahoma City.

*** *** ***

The next day was another for rest. The previous day’s on the bike had been a bit ambitious and trying toward the end. 80 miles is just too much to do in a day for me right now, depending on the terrain and the riding days surrounding it. 

I headed to the mall down the road to see “The Nice Guys”, which was competent enough to provide a mental break from the road. 

Back at the house I napped and caught up on HBO’s Silicon Valley, the only show I really keep track of anymore. Later on Pat, Don, and I had dinner and good conversation, which was a perfect way to cap off a day to restore my strength. 

A stroll through their gorgeous, wooded backyard brought allowed me to see a cicada emerging from the soul. It was a beautiful thing to see actually, but I felt bad that Pat and Don would be inundated with the world’s weirdest insects in a couple days.

After another amazing night of sleep in my old friend’s bed I said goodbye to Pat and Don, ready for the day ahead of me. I headed for breakfast in Brunswick, OH, to start riding towards Toledo. Little did I know it would be the most joyful, surprising, and beautiful day of the tour so far…


3 thoughts on “Days 19 & 20: A long 80 miles through the Cuyahoga Valley National Park and rest

  1. Jeff, we enjoyed meeting you and hearing about your adventure. I look forward to continuing to read about your travels. Just a quick update on the cicadas………they are worse.


    1. Ohh, Pat! I knew they’d be worse, but think about all the peace you’ll get once they fall back into the ground! Thank you so much for everything! You’ll hear from me soon in the mail:)


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