Leaves were crunching underfoot, college football was being broadcast every Saturday afternoon, on 72 inch screens, in living rooms across the city, and Pumpkin Spice everything was hitting the store shelves. It was finally fall!
My alarm clock had started harassing me an hour earlier, and I was thankful for the snooze button. It was dark outside my window, there was a chill in the air, and my travel coffee mug was still full. We were heading 2 hours north, to Northside Train Station, in Akron. Fog was collecting in the dips and valleys of the Ohio landscape. Gradually, a welcomed sunrise was putting on a colorful show, over the fields of corn and Ohio Bicentennial Barns.
It was beautiful. It was early. It was worth it.
“Find your Adventure. . .” the Ohio & Erie Canalway tourism magazine instructs, “on foot, by car, by rail, by bike.” On an early fall weekend, when the weather had just begun demanding long sleeves in the early morning, 30 friends, and friends-of-friends, set out to accept that challenge.
We were on our way to bike along the Cuyahoga Valley Scenic Railroad. We’d ride north all day, then load our bikes onto the train and enjoy the 1 1/2 hour trip back to Akron. What was motivating us? #BikeYourPark Day. There was also the promise of building friendships, experiencing camaraderie, a chance to eat strawberry rhubarb pie at the farmer’s market, and craft beer at the end of our 27 mile route.
Adventure Cycling, based in Missoula, MT, promotes #BikeYourPark Day, as a way to encourage cyclists to plan local events, invite their friends, and get out. . . just riding around. We weren’t in a hurry, there wouldn’t be any medals handed out at the end of the day (I heard more than once that the medals were on back-order), and even the event organizer planned to sit down to a full lunch at the 14 mile mark.
There’s an Ohio connection to Adventure Cycling Association, which came to life in the early 1970s when 4 avid cyclists pulled together Bikecentennial 76, a series of bicycle tours across the U.S., on the TransAmerica Bicycle Trail, in the summer of 1976. This event was the first of its kind, and pulling it off required the skills, effort and long work hours of a large team of dedicated bike enthusiasts.
“In 1970, Dan and Lys Burden came to Missoula, Montana, from Columbus, Ohio, to attend the University of Montana. In 1972, they were joined by another Ohio couple, Greg and June Siple. The four had been planning for a number of years to launch a cycling expedition that summer that would carry them 18,000 miles from Alaska to the southern tip of Argentina. The trek was dubbed Hemistour. . . .”. This event planted the idea of something larger, which became Bikecentennial 76.
If you want to ride along the trail in perfect autumn weather, you shouldn’t be surprised by the crowds these conditions attract. The trail was busy, with groups of teenage long-distance runners, couples on rented bikes, families walking their dogs, and our large group of cyclists. We practiced proper trail etiquette, for the most part, wearing our helmets, calling out when there were upcoming obstacles, and signaling audibly before we passed the pedestrian traffic.
Bringing kids along was no problem! One family in our group took turns attaching a Trail-a-bike, allowing their daughter tag along, with her bike attached her parents’ bikes, pulling her own weight. If younger children were brought along, or older kids who were not up for a 30-mile day, that’s Okay! There are 8 train stops along the path, with points where cyclists can exit the trail and hop on the train, their bikes secure in the last car.
One cyclist in our group did just that, exiting the ride earlier than planned, but she wanted to experience the train ride back, with the group. She called a friend who lived nearby, caught a ride north to the Rockside train station, the northern terminus, and waited for our group. I learned on the Bike Aboard! website that the train can be flagged down at any of the boarding stations by waving both arms over your head. One arm is “just a friendly wave to the Engineer.”
“Bike Aboard! Family Style – the Mini-Version” was created by a park ranger. It’s a kid-friendly version of Bike Aboard!, complete with treats, and it’s a great way for the entire family to see the National Park by Towpath and train. (ohioanderiecanalway.com)
Oh, and the train staff was quick to remind us (rather sternly) that this was a family-friendly event. We weren’t entirely sure what prompted the warnings, but the passenger car reserved for cyclists does serve a selection of adult beverages. This might encourage some general shenanigans. . .
The folks loading the bikes on and off the train worked at an impressive pace, able to accommodate an entire train car full of bikes. As bikes were lifted onto the train, passengers were asked where they would be getting off, then paid the $3 train fee once they were seated on the train. Snacks were passed from hand to hand, drinks were raised in toasts, and stories of the day were shared with fellow riders. By the end of the long day, riders were ready to head home.
It was just on the cusp of sunset when we pulled away from the Northside train station, with bikes strapped to the trunks and roofs of our cars, or disassembled and stuffed into the back of the SUV. On the drive home from Akron, we turned the radio up when Joan Jett came on the 80’s station, belting out “I love Rock ‘n’ Roll; put another dime in the jukebox, baby! I love Rock ‘n’ Roll; so come take your time, and dance with me!” It was a good day!
And here are more images of my fellow cyclists, and our adventures that day, inspired by their enthusiastic participation in #BikeYourPark Day.
Join me on my next adventure,
Ohio’s Bicentennial Barns: http://www.ohiohistoryhost.org/ohiomemory/archives/2161
Adventure Cycling History: https://www.adventurecycling.org/about-us/history/
#BikeYourPark Day: https://www.adventurecycling.org/resources/bike-your-park-day/
Cuyahoga Valley Scenic Railroad (CVSR): https://www.cvsr.com/
Joan Jett: I Love Rock n roll: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=xL5spALs-eA