Sunday, April 29, 2007

Web Links to Articles on the UGRR Trail

For those of you interested in reading more about the Underground Railroad bike route, see these links:

Adventure Cycling News Release:

Yahoo News:

USA Today:

Similar articles have appeared recently in a number of other newspapers. We've seen copies from papers in Cincinnati, Richmond VA, and Pittsburgh PA.

Thursday, April 26, 2007

The Route (Part 1): Mobile Bay to Cincinnati

(Click on document to enlarge) -->

Here are the towns through which the Underground Railroad route travels between Mobile and Cincinnati. As you can see, this will be an exploration of true, small-town America!

Note that the bike route crosses the Ohio river 3 times, once from Kentucky into Indiana, just west of Louisville, a second time back into Kentucky from Madison, IN, and finally north again from Kentucky into Ohio east of Cincinnati, near Ripley, Ohio. The main reason for this is that the Ohio River was the dividing line between "slave" and "free" states, and major Underground Railroad activity occurred all along this corridor in the 1850s just prior to the U.S. Civil War. The route tries to incorporate as much of this historically-important area as possible. Obviously, individuals seeking their freedom just crossed the river once!

As it approaches Cincinnati, the route doesn't actually go into downtown, but stays east and goes into the Cincinnati suburban town of Milford. However, a "spur" map is provided that riders can follow into downtown Cincinnati to visit the Harriet Beecher Stowe House and the Underground Railroad Freedom Center. From Milford, the primary route will continue from Milford up the Little Miami bike trail to Xenia and beyond. (We will worry about this part of the route later!)

Wednesday, April 25, 2007

Photos from our Training Rides

Here we are, with our bikes fully loaded as we plan to have them configured on the actual trip. This was taken on April 20, during one of our training rides. We encountered a nice fellow rider on this road who offered to snap the photo for us.

And below are a couple of "action" photos we took of each other.

Monday, April 23, 2007

Initial Posting - Reason for Establishing this Blog

As many of you have known, Joan and I have been planning another major adventure, this time a ride by bicycle across a significant part of the country. Since I just recently summarized this in an email message to someone the other day, let me extract some of that for this first posting, to give some background on what we are doing.

Evolution of the Plan:
Our initial thought was to ride across the U.S., Pacific Ocean to Atlantic. In fact, this was the plan, sort of, for when I retired and had the time to do such an extended trip. However, now that the time is here, we decided we do not have the time (with Joan's continued work commitments), nor possibly the energy, to take that on. However, we are going to more modestly cross the country south-to-north.

The Underground Railroad (UGRR) Route:
Some of you may have seen an article recently in your local newspaper (similar articles have appeared in a number of cities) about a new bike route being inaugurated by the Adventure Cycling organization, called the Underground Railroad route. It goes from Mobile, Alabama to Owen Sound in Ontario, Canada. Total length is about 2100 miles (3360 km). Starting on the street corner that was the slave market for Africans coming off the boats in Mobile Bay in the early 1800s, it follows the path that so many took north in search of freedom, passing key historical landmarks along the way. Owen Sound is the northernmost settlement founded by freed/escaped slaves, and is celebrating its 145th anniversary this year. So, this seemed to be an inspiring and a sufficiently-challenging objective for what we had in mind. And if we enjoy it enough, then maybe there is a lateral cross-country trip sometime later in our future, who knows.

Our Plan:
Cincinnati is a little past the midway point on this route, with the Freedom Center being one of the key attractions. So our plan is to rent a van one way, leaving here on May 10, drive our bikes down to Mobile, turn the van in there, and essentially, ride home. We figure it will take about a month to get back to Cincinnati. We would then stay here for a couple of weeks, give Joan a chance to catch up with some of her clients, and then, assuming we still have the wherewithall to do it, we would get back on the bikes and complete the northern section.

Along the southern section, we have plans to meet up with some friends of ours from Huntsville AL, and a couple of them will ride with us for 3-5 days. Similarly, I have a cousin in Rochester NY, and he and his wife may ride a day or two with us, but if not, hopefully will at least be able to come and meet up with us at one or two of our stops. So those will be nice events to look forward to along the way.

Our Bikes, Our Training, and Logistics:
For those of you who may not be that familiar with the bicycling hobby, we ended up getting new bikes for this enterprise. We got touring bikes (Canondale T800s) from Jim's Bike Shop (an excellent shop!) in Cincinnati. Touring bikes are designed for longer distance riding and carrying loads. We did change the gearing from the standard gears that normally come with these bikes to lower gears that will enable us to handle hills more easily. They come with rear racks, and we bought panniers (like saddlebags) that will hold our stuff. Because this is an unsupported ride, we don't have group organizers to haul our things, so we have to carry whatever we will need.

Now that the weather has finally turned nice, we've been able to get out on the roads around here and do some practice rides. Over the last few days, we did two trips, each of about 45 miles on real roads, with our bikes loaded as we expect to have them loaded on the trip. We actually traveled on the roads that the UGRR route will follow as it approaches Cincinnati, so it was as good a test as we could get. We were a bit tired at the end, but felt really good about the quality of the bikes under the load, on the hills, etc. We also got a bit more comfortable riding in serious traffic. Although Adventure Cycling has directed the route to follow largely rural, low-traffic roads, there are still times when riding in traffic cannot be avoided, and that actually is our number one concern about the trip, riding safely in those situations. But it helps as we increase our confidence level in our bikes and how they handle.

What we will take with us:
The one other point I'll mention is that the process of deciding what we are going to take with us has been interesting! Figuring out how to live for a month at a time on just what you have on the back of your bike, and then figuring out how to keep the weight of that stuff to a minimum, has indeed been a challenge. We took our first shot at what we thought was a really aggressive effort to go light, piled it all up and weighed it, and then started chucking more stuff out! I was feeling like a payload specialist for NASA, trying to optimize a payload down to the fraction of an ounce! We are pretty close to what we think will be workable now, about 25-30 lbs of stuff on each bike, which trust me, is not a lot of things. Besides clothes, this includes a tent and sleeping bags (because we cannot be guaranteed there will be hotels where we're going), first aid kit, bike tools, camera, maps, etc., etc. I guarantee that our wardrobe on this trip is going to be pretty limited!

OK, so that is an introduction into what we are planning to do, and where we are in our preparations at this point. We will try to keep this updated as best as we can with our progress once we start. Note that we WON'T be traveling with a computer, and we don't have email-capable cell phones, so we will be able to update things only as we find public libraries to get access to the internet along the way. So, if you don't see anything new here for a while, don't worry, it's just because we are somewhere out in the middle of nowhere! And of course, if any of you are so inspired to add comments to this blog, or to send us an email, we'd love to hear from you!


P.S. Ken and Carol Lyon from Cincinnati did a cross-country (Pacific-to-Atlantic) bicycle trip over 10 years ago. Joan and I met with Ken and Carol in our early planning stages for this trip. The practical experience and advice they shared was very helpful to us. They also kept a journal during their trip. This was in "pre-blog" days, but the communication objective was much the same. Their journal.... their "ramblings", as they call them, is still available at their website, and offers interesting perspectives on bike touring, as well as a good story to read.
See it at: