Season for Cycling
A veteran biker explores the beauty of Ohio and offers tips for navigating the Buckeye Trail.
Trudy E. Bell
To glory fully in the act of travel - and to experience Ohio with true intimacy - try touring by bicycle.
Motor vehicles cheat one of travel, reducing it to a series of destinations separated by so many hours. Windows block the scent of fall leaves or conversations with roadside residents. Engines power over interstates, bypassing rolling fields of cornstalks and pumpkins and azure lakes. At trip's end, you may even be left frazzled and glad it's over - a true pity in a state as gorgeous and varied as Ohio, especially during a season as fragrant and multicolored as autumn.
But when traveling by bicycle, each moment on the road reveals itself and every sense comes alive. Over the nearly silent wheels, the rustling of a woodchuck in roadside grasses or the babbling of a tiny brook captures your ear. Freed of window glass, breezes waft effortlessly, bringing with them the sweet scent of golden maples or stands of pines.
A bicycle journey becomes punctuated by people as well as destinations. Count on it: Other touring cyclists will wave or stop to chat about their own trips or sights ahead. Ask directions from local residents, and farm wives or freckled children may offer water or lemonade or recommendations for a shady picnic spot.
With two-wheeled travel, you'll also notice a gradual change within yourself. Whereas motor vehicles whisper the message that humans need assistance to get from point A to B, a bicycle encourages independence and self-reliance. With each day on the road, confidence in your physical abilities and a sense of anticipation grow. By journey's end, you'll arrive home a full-fledged explorer already planning your next bicycle adventure.
Ohio abounds in hundreds of miles of paved or crushed-gravel paths. But there's none quite like the Buckeye Trail. The 1,435-mile route is Ohio's premier hiking trail - the longest loop trail inside the borders of any one state, two-thirds the length of the Appalachian Trail. Best of all, at least half of it follows farm roads and multipurpose paths that are perfect for cycling.
Reassuringly marked by prominent blue-painted blazes on trees, the Buckeye Trail is a breeze for even the most map-challenged rider. Detailed section maps of the trail, including mile-by-mile recommendations about attractions and tips for locating water, food and campgrounds, can be purchased from the Buckeye Trail Association. Supplement those with pages from the DeLorme Atlas and Gazetteer, which offers information about campsites located off the blue-blazed route, as well as cycling routes where the Buckeye Trail departs from roads and heads off across farm fields or into forests.
Dayton to Cleveland: The long way
By vehicle, the distance from Dayton to Cleveland is a bit over 200 miles, each one whizzing by in a blur. Bicycling the Buckeye Trail between the two cities, however, stretches the journey out to more than 325 leisurely miles along quiet farm roads and bicycle paths by detouring via Napoleon and Defiance. This northwest quarter of the Buckeye Trail is ideal for first-time cyclists because the open land is largely flat to gently rolling, and three-quarters of the trail follows paved farm roads. Three weeks should suffice to pedal the full distance, especially if you wish to enjoy an occasional rest day exploring local attractions.
The Buckeye Trail can be pedaled in either direction, but the directions on the association maps are written for a clockwise circuit, making this trip commence in Dayton at the center of Ohio's Miami Valley. Indeed, the Miami Valley is a veritable cyclist's mecca, offering 266 miles of paved bicycle paths through nine counties. Riding north out of Dayton, the Buckeye Trail runs on or close to the Great Miami River Recreation Trail atop the levees paralleling the Great Miami River. Take special note when you cross the Taylorsville Dam at Tipp City and pass near Lockington Dam above Piqua - they are two of five mammoth earthen flood-control dams built after Ohio's worst flood in 1913, and protect Dayton from being similarly devastated again.
From Minster to Delphos, you'll be pedaling on or near the towpath of the Miami and Erie Canal, which in 1845 began carrying passengers and freight 249 miles from Cincinnati to Toledo. New Bremen is well worth a lunch stop: It's the home of the Bicycle Museum of America, with rotating exhibitions of century-old predecessors of your own steed as well as many early Schwinns. In a nearby parking lot, take a moment to contemplate Lock 1 North and other structures still holding water, as well as an endearing wrought-iron footbridge over the canal - Ohio's oldest bow string girder bridge. At St. Mary's, you may wish to make a detour to gaze over the vast blue expanse of Grand Lake, locally billed as "Ohio's Other Great Lake."
North of Delphos, the Buckeye Trail wanders on wooded rural roads generally paralleling the Auglaize River to Defiance, a town that attained national prominence last year with the release of the full-length feature film, "The Prize Winner of Defiance, Ohio," starring Julianne Moore. The 17-mile ride from Defiance to Napoleon is one of the trip's highlights, along a cool, shaded bike path following the Maumee River.
In Napoleon, the Buckeye Trail turns east toward Fremont, leading past fields and farms. One gorgeous exception is a 10-mile stretch along the Maumee through and north of Grand Rapids. Linger here to enjoy the majestic trees golden with autumn, while drifting down the Maumee on a mule-drawn restored canal boat. Arrive the weekend of October 20, and you'll be charmed by the antique bicycles in the annual fall swap meet at Memory Lane Classics. Around Pemberville, you'll enjoy another idyllic stretch paralleling the North Branch of the Portage River.
During the last 80 miles or so, the Buckeye Trail continues following farm roads east past Medina to Brecksville, passing through Findley State Park, which allows camping as well as swimming in Lake Findley. Enjoy coasting down into the forested Cuyahoga Valley National Park, where your tires will crunch along the finely crushed limestone towpath of the Ohio and Erie Canal north into Cleveland at journey's end.
Buckeye Trail Attractions
The Buckeye Trail passes near some of Ohio's notable natural wonders, along with a few man-made attractions worth checking out.
Bicycle Museum of America, 7 West Monroe St., New Bremen, 419/629-9249. www.bicyclemuseum.com. The museum is filled with bicycles from the 19th- and early-20th centuries, many on loan from special collections.
Grand Lake St. Marys lies along one of Ohio's major migration routes for water birds, attracting grebes, swans, egrets, loons, herons, cormorants, ospreys and bald eagles. Originally dammed as a reservoir to store water for maintaining the 5-foot depth of the Miami and Erie Canal, the 21-square-mile lake, completed in 1845, was the largest artificial lake in the world until the construction of Hoover Dam. Cycling around it would add more than 50 miles to your trip, but scenic St. Rte. 703 on the northern edge between St. Marys and Celina - part of which has a marked bicycle lane - is worth the detour.
Memory Lane Classics fall bicycle swap, Oct. 20â€“21, 24516 Third St., Grand Rapids, 419/832-3040. www.memorylane-classics.com. Arrive at dawn when vendors from a dozen states are rolling blue tarps off their wares, and the rising sun gleams off polished chrome. Plan to spend some time thumbing through antique books and even test-riding some of the oddest contraptions you've ever seen on two wheels.
Seneca Caverns, 15248 East Thompson, Twp. Rd. 178, Bellevue (about five miles off the Buckeye Trail south of Bellevue), 419/483-6711.www.senecacavernsohio.com. Visitors can descend 110 feet underground during a one-hour walking tour. The site also has an authentic mining sluice where you can pan for gemstones, fossils and arrowheads.
Ohio Bicycling Resources
The Buckeye Trail Association, www. buckeyetrail.org. Section maps are $4 each for nonmembers, $3.50 for members (annual BTA adult membership is $20). For the full distance between Dayton and Cleveland, you'll need to order seven sections (Troy, St. Mary's, Delphos, Defiance, Pemberville, Norwalk and Medina). BTA's paperback official guidebook, Follow the Blue Blazes, offers additional detailed reports on what stretches of the trail are on paved roads and which are on multipurpose paths.
The DeLorme Atlas and Gazetteer for Ohio is sold at most bookstores. Bicycling Ohio's Rail Trails: Where to Go, What to Expect, How to Get There by cartographer Shawn E. Richardson, contains helpful narrative and superb maps. Bicycling With Children: A Complete How-To Guide and The Essential Bicycle Commuter by Trudy E. Bell, offer additional tips for cycling enthusiasts.