The Big Chicago Loop Leg 2
Cincinnati to Cleveland
My friend, Flaviu, met up with me for the ride to Cincinnati on the OTET, which is really a combination of many, many smaller rail trails, connected thanks to Rails to Trails, OTET, and the many local organizations taking on this huge endeavor. The entire route, 326 miles, is about 80% paved and 80% dedicated rail trails which means no traffic to deal with. Well an occasional turtle, ground hog, or chipmunk and in some sections Amish buggies and horses.
Day 1 Cincinnati to Waynesville, 54 miles
Flaviu’s Warmshowers host, Lou, was kind enough to personally guide us out of Cincinnati on the local bike trails and routes, as it can be somewhat confusing.
There is a section which I’d read about with no official detour. We met two other riders headed to Columbus on our same route; they selected a highway detour and we rode on, hoping we could walk through the construction zone. Luck was on our side, as even though work was in progress, the nice workers allow us to walk through the rocky/muddy area where they were working. For those of you traveling on OTET, you’ll likely read and hear about this section as a detour. The other two riders caught up to us with a report of the road riding conditions (no shoulder, high speed traffic); if you proceed slowly, you’ll likely get through also, as we did. At north end of the trail detour, there’s a barrier which only involves hike a bike around it with a bit of mud.
Arriving in Waynesville, our destination for the day, we were not successful in reaching the local law enforcement to ask permission to camp in a large open space area with shelters. Lesson learned. Officer “I Don’t Make The Rules” woke us about 1 am (thankfully after a torrential rainstorm had stopped) and told us we had to leave. No sympathy at all, considering it was in the middle of the night! We slowly packed up and by 2:30 am were on the trail. It was surprisingly pleasant, cool, and very quiet except for the bull frog chorus accompanying us for many miles. As daybreak approached, we reached a town, and we agreed if they wanted to kick us out of another park, we’d deal with it. We collapsed onto park benches to get a few hours’ sleep.
Day 2 Waynesville to London (and official campground), 44 miles
The London campground was fantastic, primarily for cyclists, right on the trail! Shelter, gravel tent pads, wi fi, tables, bike work station, charging ports, and bathrooms! Oh and a secluded, outdoor shower. We called the number posted to register, get the wi fi password, and password for bathroom. Considering the possibility of rain, we pitched our tents in the shelter to keep them dry. The local “host” came by to greet us and that was that! Wonderful quiet evening as we cooked up our dinners.
Day 3 London to Westerville, 47 miles
Back on the trail, we were challenged by navigating through Columbus. We did have a route map but wasn’t good enough. Thankfully, Flaviu was an excellent navigator using Open Street Maps’ cycling edition. He almost never got us lost! We encountered torrential rain, as predicted and were soaking (mostly just on the outside) as we approached the Columbus Visitor Center. We ran inside the building, had plenty of space to dry out and make our lunches; the employee welcomed us with enthusiasm.
As rain let up, we continued on to Westerville, where Flaviu had a connection of sorts with the local bike shop. He called them asking where we might camp and the owner of the shop offered his patio which is sort of hidden and off the street. There was a street fair going on so lots of people in the general area. I found a street vendor selling Haitian food and the beef stew and rice went down very well.
In the morning, people began arriving, mostly with the bikes, asking if Mason (the owner) was here yet. Since he wasn’t, we had some good conversations with the local cyclists while we packed up and they waited for Mason’s arrival. Mason gave me permission to mention his shop and “camp” to anyone riding through Westerville. So if you’re looking for a place to camp, call him at Westerville Bike Shop: 619.891.5654
Day 4 Westerville to Mt Vernon, 31 miles
Knowing we had a shorter distance today, we enjoyed chatting with the folks waiting for Mason to arrive then got a chance to chat with him for awhile, so we didn’t leave until around noon. The OTET goes right through Westerville, and even though it was a bit hot, we were sheltered by the canopy of trees as we rode entirely paved trail to…wait; a gravel road to next campground?!
Oh it’s only a mile. But it was so steep in places I had to walk. Often we couldn’t see over the next hill and there was a bit of traffic not expecting bicycles. After the longest mile of my life (since the last longest mile of my life in Missouri), we arrived at Rustic Knolls Campground. Busy Memorial Day weekend at this family style campground. We were the only tents and were assigned a nice primitive area away from most of the activity. Hosts allowed us to charge our devices in a little outbuilding. We got showers too!
We discovered an alternative exit route, mostly paved; the rolling hills were much easier to navigate on pavement. If you’re planning on camping at Rustic Knolls, recommend you take second left off the trail, Pleasant Valley Road, instead of Keys Road, the first left.
Day 5 Mt Vernon to Bridge of Dreams, 24 miles
Another short day but somehow, with stopping, stalling, and riding slowly, we typically rolled in to camp around 5 or 6 pm, regardless of mileage for the day. We camped with permission at a shelter near the Bridge of Dreams, a restored covered bridge. We met several Amish families, either in their buggy “rigs” or on E bikes. The E bikes far outnumbered the rigs. We also met the local ATV’ers who were out for an evening of noise making. Camp was quiet after dark and we enjoyed a peaceful, undisturbed night.
Before arriving to our campsite, we stopped at a Walmart which was right off the trail, to get some fresh food and take a break. We were surprised to see the barn and parking for buggies and horses, complete with tiedowns, water, and straw on the surface. There was also a huge outdoor parking for the E bikes and other buggies. I asked an Amish man if they had a hand in setting this up. He said no, Walmart created this and does all the maintenance/cleanup.
Day 6 Bridge of Dreams to Dalton, 50 miles
I earned the reputation of not calculating mileage very well and some short days were not short at all. Thankfully Flaviu is easy going, didn’t abandon me, and continued to suffer along with me. Today was primarily road riding in exposed and hot and very hilly terrain. Low traffic made the suffering not quite as bad as it could have been. It was so hot that the tar on the road became sticky and adhered to our tires, picking up small gravel along the way. We climbed to the rhythm of click, click, click as the sticky gravel hit the road.
The local police in Dalton allowed us to camp in Greenway Park – toilets, water, and power outlets! Although a very large, well cared for sports complex, it bordered the busy highway and made for a not so good sleep that night.
Day 7 Dalton to Peninsula, Cuyhoga State Park, 54 miles
Long hot day today, but very little climbing. The paved trail has turned to crushed gravel but seems to drain well and very few hazards to deal with. We were mostly in the canopy and the rest stops/trailheads were top notch in this section…flush toilets, functional water fountains, and bike work stations.
Our destination tonight is Heritage Tree Farm, just about the only place to camp in the Cuyhoga National Park. In spite of not having water (one purchases gallon jugs in advance for delivery to campsites), it was a beautiful setting. Porta potties, the 20 or 30 camps are well spread out and each secluded somewhat.
I have two nights here while Flaviu waits for his ride tomorrow to return home in Columbus. Thanks my friend, for a memorable and enjoyable adventure!
Day 8, Cuyhoga National Park, Zero miles
My zero day was quite pleasant and I stayed very dry in the little hut in spite of some torrential rains during the night. Notice the photo shows a tarp, which can be secured over the front of the hut and even covered Stanley. I spoke to the owner/host, who told me the story of how they came to have camping here.
Her family has owned land here for many years and in the 70’s they were forced to sell some of their acreage for the creation of the Cuyhoga National Park. Time marched on, t
and they continued to raise Christmas trees. Oddly, there is no camping places in this national park; there was a small location at one time but it had closed. The parks people came to Heritage and asked them to create just 5 campsites. They did just that and over the years have increased that number to 15 amazing walk in campsites, with the possibility of even more someday.
More pix below...
The Big Chicago Loop Leg 1
Me and Stanley my Kona Sutra touring bike, took Amtrak to Chicago to spend a few days with my “tour guide”, Ellen, before beginning the Big Loop.
I left Chicago on the Lake Shore trail heading southeast with pleasantly cool weather. The first day, or any other, for that matter, never seems to go as planned. I missed a few turns and got bonus miles, repeating part of the route, but no need to stress about it, as I was riding on a network of bicycle paths. While taking a break, a nice rider offered me a bottle of Gatorade and a couple of tandem riders provided good directions to pass through a tricky part of town. Arriving in Dinwiddie, Indiana, I opted for a hotel as weather predicted rain/storms. Today’s mileage – 61.5; bike trails ridden: Lakefront, Burnham Greenway, Erie Lackawanna.
Dinwiddie to near Monterey, Indiana; 45.9 miles; bike trail ridden: Nickel Plate
Today’s route was on quiet farm roads, using Adventure Cycling routine for CHI-NY Map 1. The digital map worked flawlessly on my Garmin 830 but I'm glad I also bought the paper maps. I was pleasantly surprised to discover all these back roads are paved! And well maintained. The state park I planned on involved another 5 miles on a heavy traffic, no shoulder, pouring rain road (off route).
I decided to continue on to Rising Sun Campground. What a wonderful, old-style, family campground with a large community room where I was able to set up my “camp”. Heavy rain continued through the night and I was thankful to be inside the building.
Rising Sun Camp to Peru; 53 miles; bike trail ridden: Nickel Plate (goes right through Peru)
The day started dry, except for the dampness of the dense fog. The miles logged quickly for the first few hours, then it got really hot when the fog burned off. I met a nice local couple, Jim and Rayne who rode with me to Peru. I called local police and was given the OK to camp in the River Walk Park in Peru.
Peru to Tipton 32 miles; bike trail ridden: Nickel Plate
It got hot very fast today and while on the Nickel Plate, I enjoyed some shade and views of the vast farmlands stretching to the horizon in every direction. I expected wind today but not this. Winds were 28 and gusting higher, almost on the nose and it was very hot. By this time, I was on Highway 19 but the few cars/trucks were so very kind and respectful. I began to struggle to keep moving forward, stopping often, drinking both water and electrolytes. I took a break at the Macedonia Christian Church and had a chat with the pastor and his wife, recently arriving from Florida. Back out in the very miserable wind which worked really hard at knocking me and Stanley over, in spite of his weight of 70 or so pounds.
I saw a gentleman hitting golf balls from his yard into the wind, stopped for a chat and spontaneously asked (begged?) for a ride to Tipton, about 6 miles on. I was just so done. Don and his wife graciously complied and in the short ride to town, I learned a bit about the area, including the fact that in one week, 20,000 pounds of pigs are sold by a guy with a 1000 acre ranch. That’s a lot of bacon!
Tipton to Indianapolis, 44 miles; bike trails ridden: Hazel Dell Parkway, Monon Trail
Yay! No wind today. Weather was threatening severe thundershowers but knowing I’d be in more urban areas, I could easily find shelter if I needed it. I did start out in heavy rain, but traffic was light on a Sunday morning. Rain subsided and I reeled in the miles. Passed through Northridge population over 75K, with two farmers’ markets going on, so traffic and people were everywhere, but the beautiful historic neighborhoods I rode through compensated. I took a break in Carmel, which looks like a brand new town, but with “historic” buildings. It’s a very wealthy suburb of Indianapolis.
Arrived at my WarmShowers hosts, Nathan and Liz, in Indianapolis and was greeted by Charlie the black lab and their two cats. They live in a wonderful historic house which has been renovated and modernized inside but retained its historic charm. Liz works for an non profit organization called Historicorps.org, recruiting and placing volunteers to restore historic public buildings. Fascinating stuff. Check it out!
Days 6 and 7
Indianapolis to Greenburg (54.6 miles), Greenburg to Cincinnati (63 miles)
I created this route, as I could find no guidance. From Indy to Greenburg was pretty good in spite of the fast-moving traffic. Thank you Indiana drivers! You are respectful and never once seemed irritated to have to wait to pass me. One woman held up a line of traffic so she could offer me water. Passing through Shelbyville, established in 1822. Most of the little towns I rode through were established around that time and I often checked cemeteries (there are plenty of them) for the oldest graves. Greensburg is partly famous for a tree growing out of the courthouse tower. I couldn’t find it as I mistakenly rode west instead of east, again acquiring some bonus miles.When I left Greensburg for Cincinnati it was actually cold enough to wear my leg covers, jacket and long fingered gloves, something I didn’t expect but glad to be prepared.
I took a break at the Heartland Events Center of which the building was a former covered bridge, arguably the longest in the US in the early 1900’s. The owner, Angie, gave me a tour and some of the history. A massive river flood knocked the bridge off it’s pilings, and moved it intact, down river. Into another county. A battle ensued as to who had salvage rights. Once settled, it was purchased and built into a building which hosted community events, square dancing, and more. Angie’s father purchased it and eventually Angie did and it’s now a popular wedding venue. While I was visiting her crew were cleaning up after an unexpected tornado which came through a few days earlier. On the day of a wedding. Somehow they worked around it and the wedding was a great success.
The last push into Cincinnati was not pleasant as my route took me to the “heights”; beautiful area but a couple of hills so steep (6%) that I had to walk. Walking a 70 pound bike up hill with no shoulder and heavy traffic – not even type 3 fun! I have a zero day today to eat and sleep then tomorrow I begin the OTET trail, Cincinnati to Cleveland, with my friend Flavia. Of the 326 miles, I’m told 90% is off the road! Stay tuned for Leg 2 updates...