Monday, November 30, 2009

5. Weirton West Virginia Water Tower

4. Hopedale Ohio Water Tower

Best in Show

A few weeks ago I had the opportunity to volunteer with the Red Cross for a Dog Show. Over and over I kept thinking about the movie "Best in Show" due to all the similarities. The dogs were bored with the whole affair, the owners were obsessed, and the judges could not be more serious. I had a great time and they even provided free lunch.
For those of you who have not been to a dog show, here is how it works. The dogs are divided up by breed. Each breed competes in little caged areas. They walk around the edge of the pen. They stand still with tail held aloft. They run around. All while the judge watches. Honestly, all the dogs looked the same to me. But, somehow the judge picked the best of each breed. The best then proceeds to the next round.

The next round has the winner of each breed compete within their group. The groups are sport dogs, toy dogs, etc. The winner of each group then goes to the main ring for the selection of best in show. The whole thing took about two days. Luckily I was there for the last six hours, so I saw the crowning of the champion.

Unlike horses, I don't think dogs understand they are competing the they do not seem to care whether they win or lose. Mostly they are interested in the steady stream of treats handed out by the owners. The owners were extremely competitive though. They brought RVs to sleep in the parking lot and it was clear that this was just one step on the road to glory (Westminster). Having a dog that is ill behaved, I can appreciate all the time and effort that these people put into these dogs. That being said, I was happy to just be able to show up for a couple hours, hand out a couple band-aids, enjoy the show, and then head home.

Wednesday, November 4, 2009

Ohio to Erie Trail

Touring by bicycle has seemed like an interesting idea to me for quite a while. I like to travel, but in a car you tend to miss all the fun interesting stuff along the way. I love little towns, farm fields, community festivals, and wide open spaces. A few weeks ago I decided to give bicycle touring a try by riding from Cincinnati to Columbus on the first half of a trip across Ohio. The distance between the two cities is about 130 miles (though in my planning I messed up and assumed 180 miles).
I wasn’t sure exactly how long it would take me to cover 180 miles. I planned on three days, two nights, an average of about 60 miles per day. This is a bit slow, but I was not sure how much my body could take day after day. Certainly the third day would be much harder than the first. Elly was nice enough to drive me down to Cincinnati and drop me off next to the trail.

The trail starts out in a small metro park just outside the city limits about ¼ mile from the Ohio river. For the first 75 miles I followed the Little Miami Scenic Trail, most of which is built on an old railroad grade. I climbed the small elevation out of Cincinnati and immediately entered a forested area. The trees were turning gold, red, and brown and the air smelled like fall. I felt good, my legs were anxious to get moving. I had strapped quite a bit of camping equipment to the back of the bike, but it did not feel like too much of a burden.

The first town I came to was Loveland, Ohio. I was barely large enough to notice. The distinguishing factor was a large brick factory right alongside the trail that was abandoned many years ago. Little towns usually have the feel of a patient on life support. It is hard, but the young people leave for opportunity. There was a nice downtown that I quickly biked past. Some people sitting outside at a café pointed at me, it was fun to be mysterious and interesting.

I continued north, past King’s Island, a large amusement park very popular in Ohio. I did not see the park but I could hear the roller coasters. The trail was about 10 feet wide, paved, and in good condition. There were some people on the trail but there were long stretches when I had it to myself. After another 10 miles I reached Morrow, Ohio. Morrow did not have much to distinguish itself, but it did have a very nice public restroom right along the trail. Thank you Morrow!

Just north of Morrow was the largest collection of Harley riders I have ever seen. They were everywhere. A couple times I had to stop my bike and walk around great groups of rides walking slowly along the trail drinking beer. They made way for me but sadly no one offered to share any beer with me. A mile later I had the trail to myself.

I planned to have dinner in Corwin, Ohio then ride a few more miles until I reached the Frontier Campground. When I reached Corwin I was disappointed to see a lack of restaurants. This was bad news as I was out in the middle of nowhere and it was getting late. Ten miles to get dinner was not an attractive option. I was settling into the thought of eating my emergency packaged food (blah!) when I decided to call Elly to see if she could find anything on the internet. Problem solved, just ¼ mile away there was another town (Waynesville) with a pizza shop.

Anyone who travels with me knows that I have good luck in finding interesting things to do and fun places to eat. It takes me longer to get places, but it is a good time. Pulling into Waynesville, I could not believe my luck. That very night was the Ohio Sauerkraut Festival! There were about 200 booths all selling various sauerkraut items. I feasted on fried sauerkraut balls, fried oreos, and sauerkraut pizza. It was a great Festival and I thank Waynesville for the friendliness extended to the hungry, tired stranger on the bike who clearly did not belong.

My stomach full and my spirits lifted I sprinted the seven miles to the Frontier Campground. I should say, I sprinted to the place where the campground was supposed to be. Bad news, it was nowhere to be found. I kept riding up and down the trail looking but I never did find it. The sun was disappearing below the horizon and it was getting cold. I had lights on my bike, but I did not want to keep going, especially knowing that there were no other campgrounds anywhere near. I rode until I reached Spring Valley, Ohio. Spring Valley is a small collection of houses and a tiny main street with one store. They did have a nice big park though that I made my home for the night. I set up in a quiet, dark corner and tried to be as unobtrusive as possible. Lights out was 9pm and I was happy to snuggle up in my sleeping bag as I tried to ward off the 33 degree temperatures that night.

I awoke the next morning at 5am cold but in good spirits. My plan was to get everything packed up and get out of there before the sun came up. A minor bike repair took nearly a half hour in the dark, but I was on the road by 6:30, heading north. The trail consisted of long straight stretches through farm fields. It was cold and lonesome land, but it was beautiful. I rode the twelve miles north until I reached Xenia, Ohio. Xenia is a larger city as evidenced by the many fast food restaurants, a public library, and a profusion of banks. I asked a local where the best place to get breakfast might be. She recommended a biscuit and gravy place that sounded like heaven to my cold and hungry stomach. I put aside my vegan diet and prepared to feast. Horror of horrors, it was closed and I could not bring myself to eat in one of the fast food restaurants, so with a heavy heart I pointed my wheel north and continued on. One fun thing is that the local Chamber of Commerce was shooting a promotional video and I will be featured. Look for the hungry bicyclist in red riding past the Xenia Station. Pulling out of town I also saw a large Turkey Vulture that appeared to think I was going to be his nest meal.
About ten very flat and straight miles took me to Cedarville, Ohio. Cedarville is a cool little town with a great coffee shop. They accommodated my hunger and sent enough coffee my way to bring a smile to my face. The sun came out, it started to warm up, and life was good. Pulling out of Cedarville I realized there was nowhere I would rather be at that moment.

I continued on through the vast farm fields. I passed corn, soy, and wheat. There was a hog farm I passed outside of South Charleston that smelled so bad I started to have dry heaves. I rode fast and put it behind me. I kept going until I reached London, Ohio where I stopped for a short lunch and some time to give my butt a rest. At that point in the trip I started to feel the strain of the distance and my butt was getting uncomfortably numb. I also realized that I was close enough to Columbus to make the push to sleep in my own bed that night. A few miles outside London, the bike trail ends and it was all road riding the remaining 25 miles. Road riding is less fun. People in cars are rude, they yell and act like idiots. Someone threw a soda at me but luckily missed. I caught up with him a few miles down the road and stopped and stared long enough to make him feel very uncomfortable. It is best not to mess with someone who slept the night before in a town park in the frigid cold, then got denied biscuits and gravy.

I made it home in time for dinner that night. Overall it was a great trip and I am looking forward to part 2 of the journey up to Cleveland. I did manage to blow my knee out in the final ten miles and I am still suffering pain from that. My new touring bike was excellent and I am really happy with it. Next time I will pack less, plan to cover more miles, and get a new knee.