Saturday, June 30, 2007
-We are currently at about 1680 miles on the UGRR route, and about 1835 miles actually ridden.
-Yesterday (Fri. June 29) we spent the day as a rest day in Conneaut, Ohio, and had a great, relaxing day. Got some extra sleep, did some leisurely walking around the marina, out the rock jetty around the marina, and along the beach. Then, in the evening, we went to the town carnival that opened for the weekend, and watched a couple of local talent shows, including one American Idol-styled singing competition. Lot of fun in a true small town Americana setting.
-Today (Saturday, June 30) we crossed over into Pennsylvania, and reached Erie in time for an early lunch. When we left the restaurant to resume riding, Joan found she had a flat tire..... the first flat tire on the trip! We replaced the inner tube with one of the spares we carry, found a bike shop here in town, and bought a new tube to replace the spare we'd used. The tire itself seems to be ok. One flat every 2000 miles..... that is a frequency that we can live with!
-Also notable is that about 30 minutes ago, we passed the intersection in Erie that marks the end of the 4th UGRR map section, and the start of the 5th section. This means we have now made it onto the final map section for the route!
-Now that we are up around the Lake, we are clearly in a different climatic area. The weather here is much cooler than what we've been used to ...... highs in the 70's and low 80's. It is like beautiful fall weather, clear, sunny, but with a crispness in the air. Makes us wonder a bit as to whether we've packed sufficient warm things to wear for further north in Canada. I guess we will find out.
-A note about the Underground Railroad and a learning that we've had on this part of the trip. I'd also thought about the UGRR as being primarily significant in helping people move from the southern states that supported slavery to the northern states that did not .... i.e., across the Ohio River. What we've been learning on our ride through Ohio, particularly northern Ohio, is how critically important the UGRR network was in the north as well. Escaped slaves were still in considerable danger even after they successfully left the "slave states", because slave trackers actively searched for them, and because the Fugitive Slave Act passed by Congress prior to the Civil War compelled people in the north to help return escaped slaves to their masters. This also helps us understand why Canada was such an important part of the equation.... it represented the only really true place of freedom for many of these people. We are finding that there was considerable danger and many serious incidents and confrontations between escapees and those that wanted to turn them in, as far north as the Canadian border. Hence, the safe houses and assistance throughout the north was a very important part of the UGRR.
Ok, that's it for now.... must hit the road again. We intend to make it to the town of North East, Pennsylvania by this evening. More later as we have the opportunity to post.
Friday, June 29, 2007
Joan is dwarfed by the hill that she is descending. This was just north of Malabar Farm, enroute to Oberlin.
Oberlin, OH. The Underground Railroad memorial on the campus of Oberlin College.
Oberlin, Ohio. This unassuming house served as a safe house during the UGRR days. There were secret crawl spaces in which people were hidden until they could safely continue their travel.
Oberlin, Ohio. We just happened upon this mural pained on the side of a small computer store building.
The Underground Railroad Quilt, made by senior citizens and kept at the Senior Center in Oberlin. Each panel was done by a different woman, and has its own meaning and symbolism.
Riding along a normal rural road, Joan noticed these very odd-looking animals in a field. We think that they are alpacas that have been sheared, but we still are not sure. Looks to me like something out of a Disney movie! (Susan K, what do you think???!)
As we reached the Oberlin area, the hills gave way to very flat expanses. Some roads ran straight as an arrow for 3, 5, even 7 miles. If you are lucky enough to have the wind at your back, you can just fly down these roads.
Covered bridge in Cuyahoga Valley National Park. This is a beautiful park located between Cleveland and Akron, OH.
Now this got our attention. The sign was on what was otherwise a very normal-looking farm. The young bull behind the building got very interested in us as we stopped to admire and photograph the sign, and came over to the fence to say "hi" shortly after this photo was snapped. We declined to come in and visit, though. (Click on this picture to enlarge so as to fully appreciate the sign! Then click your BACK button of your browser to return to the blog.)
The Hubbard House in Ashtabula, OH. Code named "Mother Hubbard", it served as a terminus point on the UGRR. You cannot see it in this picture, but the house backs up to the shore of Lake Erie, where transfers of escapees to boats took place for their passage to Canada. The house now contains a museum which I expect is very interesting, but unfortunately is open only certain days of the week, and not the day we passed by.
And so here we are, on the shore of Lake Erie. We stopped here, somewhere between Ashtabula and Conneaut, to take stock, remembering dipping our rear wheels in Mobile Bay, and thinking about the full breadth of the country that we have covered to get to this point.
Conneaut is a very pleasant resort town on the shore of Lake Erie, and right on the Ohio / Pennsylvania state line. After 7 days of travel, we are choosing to make this our first rest stop since being back on the road. So today will be a day off, and we will resume traveling tomorrow (Saturday).
Yesterday, (Thu June 28), we left Burton early (after a very comfortable night in Annette's RV!), and rode some fabulous country roads through some extensive Amish communities. It threatened rain most of the morning, and by late morning we hit several bands of rain as the air turned perceptably colder. Later though, the clouds passed and the sun came out.
We then hit the Western Reserve Greenway Bike Trail -- a nice rail-to-trail path much like those in the Cincinnati area. This path took us to Ashtabula, Ohio, which has quite an UGRR history to it. A number of markers commemorating the UGRR events were placed along the bike path, and then our route took us near the "Hubbard House". This home was a terminus point for a number of the UGRR routes. It sits on the shoreline of Lake Erie, and would be used to stage fleeing people from where they would get transportation from sympathetic boat captains across the lake to Canada. The final part of the day we rode along the shore of the Lake to Conneaut.
The hotel we are staying at is called the Lakefront Motel. It is basic but clean, and has a great location, sitting atop a small hill overlooking the Conneaut marina and the Lake beyond. The proprietor arranged for us to have an extra large room with a kitchenette so that we would have room for our bikes. I think we will enjoy spending the extra day here.
Wednesday, June 27, 2007
As luck would have it, we found ourselves at Avoca Park, and took shelter in the bathroom building.
The worst of the storm passed, we were left with a morning-long steady rain. Here we model the rain gear we've brought with us..... the first time on the entire trip we've needed the full set of garb.
A short distance up the bike trail, we see unintended symbolism for the Underground Railroad Route! The bike path is part of the "Rail to Trail" network, in which old, unused railroad lines have been paved over to create the trails. (An outstanding concept and program, by the way.) Here the road has developed potholes which expose the railroad track that still lies beneath the asphalt.
Leaving Delaware, Ohio, we find unexpected construction along the route. But no mere road closure is going to stop us!! We were able to ride past the barricade, under the idle construction equipment's arm, over the semi-paved portion of road that had been worked on, but not yet completed, and on to the other side, where we were again on our way. (The alternative would have been a detour of about 10 miles!)
We spent Tuesday night, June 24, at Malabar Farm, near Butler, Ohio. This is a very innovative farm created by author Louis Bromfield in the 1930s, 1940s and 1950s, which introduced radical-at-the-time concepts of organic produce and environmental sustainability on the farm. It was publicized and quite famous at the time, to the extent that Humphrey Bogart and Lauren Bacall chose it as their wedding / honeymoon spot! It is now a state park, and is operated as a continued working farm by the Ohio Dept of Natural Resources. This is the livestock area that is open to the public.
Near the entrance to the farm, there is a produce stand, where veggies grown on the farm are displayed for sale. The stand is unattended. The produce is kept cool and fresh by cold spring water, and sales are done on the honor system.
Mike, filling his water bottle from the spring.
A quick recap of the last two days:
Yesterday (Tuesday, June 26), we started out by taking some time to see the sights around Oberlin. We spent the morning seeing the UGRR memorial on the Oberlin College campus, a private residence that had been used as a safe house in the days of the UGRR operation, and an absolutely fantastic quilt at the local senior center that was made in tribute to the UGRR and Oberlin's role in it in 1983. Well worth the time seeing these UGRR-related items, and just enjoying the feel of this nice little college town. We finally hit the road at about 1:30 pm, and made it only to Medina, OH by the end of the day..... about 34 miles. But that was ok. The morning was well-spent, and getting 30 miles behind us in the afternoon was good.
Today (Wednesday, June 27), we set out from Medina, heading toward the Burton area, actual destination unknown, but expecting to camp somewhere in the area. We planned to make fast time today, but our journey was interrupted (very pleasantly) numerous times by people we met along the way.....
-a group of workers at a high school, doing summertime maintenance;
-2 women on horses riding through Cuyahoga Valley National Park;
-a couple of bikers at a fruit stand in that park who had a great story: She just celebrated her 5th anniversary free of breast cancer, and she has just quit smoking. The two of them have now started biking to reduce weight. They were still going through the transition pains of all this, but were quite proud of their progress, as well they should be!
-a couple who have family in the area of Canada we will be biking through near Owen Sound, who looked at our route and said that it is a beautiful route to take, worth the hills of the Niagara Escarpment that we will have to deal with!
-a couple of park volunteers who travel up and down the Erie Canal Tow Path Trail on bike with bike repair and medical kits..... a nice service that we are happy exists, but which we are also happy to not need!
So, lots of fun and interesting interactions along the way.
Then, as we were just about to make our way up the big hill to Burton, tired after our 50+ miles and not certain still about where we would stay, a man (Don) in a pickup coming the opposite direction stopped when he saw us, and offered us a place to stay at a house he has in the area. However it was 3 miles in the opposite direction, and so we thanked him, but declined. We did not want to backtrack, and wanted to get the Burton hill behind us today. He then suggested a friend of his in Burton who has a yard we could use. He called her, and she said "sure, send the cyclists over". We made our way up the hill to the town, in advance of what appeared to be a threatening thunderstorm, found this woman's house, and she (Annette) could not have been nicer! Turns out that both Don and Annette are cyclists, marathon runners, and kayakers, and so had more than a little empathy for us on our current trip. Annette made the two of us, dropping in on her in such a peculiar way, feel so very welcome. We stowed our bikes in the protection of her garage. She has an RV in her driveway which she has made available to us, and we will have great accomodations in there tonight. Then she allowed us to use her bathroom to take showers. And it was fun just chatting and getting to know her a bit. Don and Annette, we really appreciate your thoughtfulness and hospitality!!!! Thank you!!!!
OK, that brings things up to date on the last 2 eventful and really positive days. Tomorrow we plan to bike about 60 miles to Conneaut, which is a town on the shore of Lake Erie, and right on the Ohio/Pennsylvania state line. Current thinking is that we will make that be the place for our first rest day since being on the road again. Will decide for sure when we get there.
More updates as we have the opportunity to make them.
Monday, June 25, 2007
One interesting point we just noted this evening.... in addition to having hit the 1500 mile point today, we also see that Oberlin is just about 10 or 15 miles from the shore of Lake Erie. Therefore, if our objective had been simply to ride across the country, south to north, we would be 10-15 miles from completing that now!
Here are a few snippets of interest to catch up on the last 4 days.
Friday, June 22: We left our house at about 6:30 am, with the objective to get through all the roads and onto the bike trail before the morning rush hour started. It was very strange to lock the door to our house, climb back on our bikes, and ride away!
Friday proved interesting because we encountered more rain on this day than we did during the entire month traveling from Mobile to Cincinnati. We were 7 miles from home, just onto the bike trail, when the skies turned dark and ugly, lightning and thunder and winds started, and it was obvious we were in for a storm. At that point we were just passing a small park, and so we found a cinderblock restroom building, and took shelter there. We moved the bikes into the bathrooms, pulled out our rain jackets, and sat under the overhang and watch as the storm hit in all its fury. After about an hour, the worst of the storm had passed, but we were left with a steady rain, so we donned our full rain suits (jackets and pants) and started riding. The rain lasted for about 4 hours, and we were able to continue through it without much problem. It was pretty chilly, but as long as we kept moving, we were able to stay warm enough. We made it all the way up the bike trail to Xenia, OH, where we stayed the night. Total distance for the day was about 65 miles.
The other point to make about this day is that the bike trail north of Cincinnati is familiar territory for us, so this was traveling in a well-known area for us. It was a bit weird, we felt sort of like locals, and sort of like transitory travelers.
Saturday, June 23: Because we were still on bike trails and things were pretty flat, we decided to make this a long day. We traveled 81 miles, and ended in Delaware, OH for the night. On the way, we came across a local bike club conducting a bike ride event. We got to talking with some of the organizers, and they became kind of excited when they heard we were doing the UGRR trip. One of them had been tapped as a local expert rider by Adventure Cycling and had provided consulting when they were constructing the route, and then again helped conduct the Inaugural riders through the area when they came through. He actually gave us a few alternate route suggestions which we took.... not sure it was any shorter, but it was on some really nice, quiet, picturesque back roads. Lots of fun.
On this day, we also encountered two sets of cyclists on the bike paths who rode with us and talked with us at length about the trip. One was a single guy who wants to do long distance touring at some point. The other was a couple on a tandem bike who were on vacation and biking the paths of Ohio. Interesting conversations!
Once we arrived in Delaware, we called our son, Dave. We were about 30 miles north of where he lives in Columbus, so he drove up to see us and have dinner with us.
Sunday, June 24: When we left Delaware, it was again quite cold with some light rain. It never really rained much this day, but it kept starting and stopping, and we were never really sure what to expect. We put on and took off our rain jackets several times..... it was as if the rain czar was playing games with us!
We had reserved a room for this evening at Malabar Farm, which was originally (in the 1940s and 1950s) a very environmentally innovative, sustainable farm, and which is today a state park. VERY interesting place. To get there, though, we had to negotiate some serious hills.... the first we had encountered since the end of our Mobile to Cincinnati leg a couple of weeks ago. We've been spoiled by bike paths and flat land! But it came back to us, and we made it up and over ok. Total mileage for the day was 56 miles.
We spent the night at the farm in a hostel that is operated there. The person who runs it is Barbara Dolezal, and she could not have been more hospitable! It was a great place to stay, with lots of history and items of interest all around, and we'd like to come back some time and spend more time.
Monday June 25 (today): Left the Farm and immediately had a series of serious hills to deal with. If we were not sure we were back in the groove before, we know it now! Once we passed those large hills, we spent the rest of the day going through rolling hillsides, and traveling through Amish country. We saw many signs of the Amish lifestyle in the areas we rode through: horse & buggies, Amish men in their traditional dress out working in their fields, children playing in their front yards, laundry hanging out on lines to dry. Vegetable stands with organic produce and brown eggs for sale, and Amish-made furniture for sale. While stopped on the side of the road for a lunch break, we met a young Amish man who was walking by, and had a nice conversation with him.
So that brings us up to date. We are in Oberlin tonight, having done about 58 miles today. We are staying in a hotel across the street from Oberlin College. There are a number of UGRR related sites and points of interest here in this town that we have started reading about. But at this point, the major story is that we have been able to put some 260 miles behind us over the last four days, and feel like we are hitting our stride again, moving along in this second phase of our trip.
More to follow as we have other opportunities to update.
Thursday, June 21, 2007
I don’t think that I would have written such positive words at the beginning of this journey! Our first 1-2 weeks were tough and I wasn’t so sure that this was going to be a good experience. Traffic, heat, hills, and the daily grind took its toll – especially on me. In addition, I struggled with the discrepancy between Mike and me. Mike was stronger, could carry more weight on his bike and still pull the hills. Mike was braver and sped down the hills and past trucks as quickly as a carefree child. I, meanwhile, made my way down steep hills in a more cautious manner, braking carefully and thinking all the time about my children, who still needed me, I was sure! I quaked when large semi trucks blew by us as the force of their air would literally shift my bike sideways. Mike had the energy at night to check over the bikes, capture his mileage statistics, and write in this blog. Some nights, all that I could do was take a shower, check in with my clients/friends/family through email or phone calls and collapse into bed. As a rather independent and physically fit woman, these differences rattled me a bit. But, I pretty quickly came to accept his lead on this journey – and to appreciate his strengths, patience, and willingness to accept the added responsibilities. And to love him even more for it.
For all the challenges incurred on this trip, there have been an even greater number of benefits. We have been able to see a side of Americana that many never have an opportunity to experience. The local people are so interesting to talk with and almost all demonstrated warm small town hospitality – especially those in the South. And I know this because I conducted a very scientific experiment from my bike. When a car would pass me on a back country road going in the opposite direction, I would lift my fingers from the handlebar in a “wave”. I “waved” to 10 cars in a row, taking note of how many responded to my sign of friendship with their own return wave. I also distinguished between men and women. In the South (Mississippi), 9 out of 10 drivers responded favorably while further North (Kentucky), only 7 out of 10 drivers showed a positive reaction. More men than women waved in both states. I hope to continue this experiment as we make our way further north. So, you see, I have my own mental games to help pass the time!
And, so, we begin again tomorrow. I am eager now to get back on the road. It feels awkward here in Cincinnati. I can’t be a good friend/mother/daughter/social worker with this trip incomplete and hanging over us. We look forward to the simplicity of road and to the challenges ahead. I no longer feel so much like an imposter as a cyclist. We have earned our stripes and feel comfortable on our bikes (even though I still don’t think that we could repair a chain or true a wheel! Sorry, Tony!). We have a routine now and feel much more confident in our abilities and roles. Neither of us has walked a single hill and our goal is to complete this hilly 2000+ miles riding all the way. When locals ask us where we have come from and where we are going, their amazement and words of “Yer going to Canada on them there bikes?” makes us puff out our chests and ride a bit taller in the saddle (at least until we get around the next bend in the road!). We accept these accolades even though we are fully aware that what we are doing is NOTHING compared to what many others have accomplished in their own physical feats – our friends in the Antarctica marathon group are testimony to that. But it feels good and we feel healthy, and I’m perfectly happy “bringing up the rear”.
Sunday, June 17, 2007
All has gone well with the myriad of things we needed to take care of here at home this past week. We will be in Washington DC for a day this week to celebrate with Mike's mother as she receives an honor for volunteer work she does (way to go, Mom!), and then will return here to load up our bikes and hit the road again.
We expect to be leaving our house on our bikes on Friday morning, June 22, and will rejoin the northbound UGRR route in Milford, Ohio (approximately 10 miles from home).
Let me briefly recap the route that we will follow. We will begin by largely following the great network of bike trails that exist in Ohio, angling northeast through the state. The route will pass west of Columbus, go between Cleveland and Akron, and will hit the shores of Lake Erie at Ashtabula. It will then follow the lake shore east through Erie, Pennsylvania, to Buffalo, NY. In Buffalo, we will cross over the Peace Bridge into Canada, and will follow the Niagara River on the Canadian side of the border past Niagara Falls to Niagara-on-the-Lake (on the shores of Lake Ontario). The route then heads west, following the shore of Lake Ontario past Hamilton, then turns north and northwest, eventually reaching Owen Sound on the shore of Lake Huron. The total route is about 800 miles (1275 km) long, with about 275 of those miles being above the border in Canada.
Here is the list of all the cities and towns that we will be passing along the way. (Click on the document to enlarge it, then hit your BACK button on your browser to return to the blog.)
We are really looking forward to this, more than we thought we would. We had half-expected to get home, and not even want to look at our bikes again! But instead, we feel like we have left a task only half-completed, we miss the days and the adventures out on the road, and we feel a real energy for continuing. Especially while we have all of our traveling "systems" well-honed now and fresh in our minds, and the callouses on our rear ends still in place!
As before, we will do our best to update this blog with our status as we have the opportunity to do so.
Saturday, June 16, 2007
Hubbards Landing Campground -- where we camped on our first night of the trip. The owners were delightful and very supportive. The Inaugural Ride members had told us they were treated very well there, and so were we.
May 13, Day #2 of our trip. On recommendations from the campground owners at Hubbards Landing, we fill our water bottles at Red Hill Spring, north of Stockton, AL. Water flows at the rate of 60 gallons per minute. The plaque is inscribed: "Dedicated to the wayfarers who, for unknown generations, have passed by this way and refreshed themselves with a drink from this spring, and to those yet to follow".
Coffeeville Campground, outside of Coffeeville, AL. Our campsite was on the banks of the Tombigbee River, and we enjoyed watching a few barges work their way past us, leaving artistic-looking ripples in their wake.
Coffeeville Campground, May 15 -- our tent's mosquito netting works! This interesting bug was on our tent screen when we awoke that morning.
Coffeeville Campground, May 15 -- a crow greets the early morning a short distance from our tent, with the mist-covered Tombigbee River in the background.
Through the deep south, we saw all types of houses. Stately mansions, with land still being worked, well-kept remembrances of the old South.....
.....abandoned reminders of by-gone generations and departed families from a different era......
.... and new lake-side dream homes that baby-boom retirees are building in increasing numbers.
Being a fan of the Beatles, I thoroughly enjoyed this billboard in Aliceville, AL.
Aliceville was the site of a large Prisoner of War camp during World War II, and was "home" to thousands of German prisoners at that time. A fascinating museum chronicles this time period, and has a tremendous amount of memoriabilia, as well as videos of first-hand accounts by towns people and former prisoners. Ann Kirksey, director of the museum, was very nice and informative, and posed with Joan for this photo as we were preparing to leave.
Also at the historic cemetery in Aberdeen, this row of graves were all children of the same parents. They span a period of about 25 years, and each had died at an age that ranged from a few days to perhaps 3 years old. Those were hard days back then, but you wonder what the full story on this was.
This sign just struck us as funny. The road ends in a sloping public boat ramp on the Tennessee River.
In the Land Between the Lakes National Park, which straddles Tennessee and Kentucky, there are herds of buffalo in the fields along the road. The next day, in Grand Rivers, we feasted on buffalo steak, a common delicacy here.
Many times along the route, we would just be taken with the picturesque scenery on one side of the road or another. The green, undulating hills here grabbed my attention.
No, this is not a medieval tool of torture. This is a hay rake. We saw many being pulled behind tractors, raking cut hay into long rows so that it could then be gathered into the rolls you see in the fields.
The ferry that operates on the Ohio River between Kentucky and Cave-in-Rock, Illinois is the only means of travel and commerce between the two states at this point along the river. We are standing in Kentucky, looking across at the town of Cave-in-Rock. It was so named for a cave that served as the central point of operation for a band of river pirates here in the late 1700s.
One of the beautiful things about traveling by bike is that you have time to stop and read the roadside historical markers. This was in Northwestern Kentucky, near where Abraham Lincoln lived as a child, before moving to Illinois. Some fascinating stories are captured this way.
Cloverport, KY, June 3. We were invited to camp by the town's mayor on property he owned, right on the banks of the Ohio River. Late afternoon sunlight lit up the surface of the river. It was a beautiful spot.
Joan on the road, in the rolling countryside near Wolf Creek, KY.
Joan, working her way up a hill. A bend in the road gave me the unusual opportunity to catch her photo from the side.