Bike Tour 2011 - The Rockin' B-flat Rust Belt Tour

Jim and Tom's 14th bike tour


2011 has been a year of varying weather extremes. The winter was cold, snowy, and brutal. This turned into a cool, wet, and windy spring. While the summer has been very hot and humid, with the heat index exceeding 115 some days.

Who knows what weather Jim and I will bump into this year. Also, the federal government has reached a state of polarization not seen since the 1920s. They're all fighting with each other, and trying to avoid defaulting on our country's financial obligations. Although some of them seem to want default. What will happen? I DON'T KNOW! Our whole world could come crashing down on us any day now. Good time for a bike tour.

It turns out that neither the weather nor our dysfunctional government is the surprise for this tour. You see, there's this routine we go through before the start of a tour. Emails are exchanged and we decide what I'm bringing and what Jim is providing for this tour. The host (in this case Jim) always provides the maps.

Techo-Jim tells me there are no paper maps this year. Paper maps are so last decade. We will navigate using printed instructions (e.g., go 1.2 miles, turn left on Main St., go 2.3 miles, etc.). The maps are only accessible from our smartphones using the Internet. This year Jim used Google Bicycle Maps to plot our route.

What does it matter anyway since after the government defaults there will be riots and anarchy as the USA sinks into the depths of a 4th world country. So, we boldly go where no cyclist has ever gone before.

route map

Here's the map of our route.


Tuesday, July 26, 82 miles (Tom), Avg 11.7 mph (Tom), 7h42m riding time (Tom - includes walking distance)
Tuesday, July 26, 92 miles (Jim), Avg 12.8 mph (Jim), 7h47m riding time
Mercer, PA - Kent, OH


Familiar starting point (notice the stone cairns)

Early Tuesday morning we have breakfast and starting riding around 8:00am on a beautiful sunny morning with no wind. The temperature is in the mid 60s. The plan for our trip is to ride through an area that is part of what's called the Rust Belt.

First problem is that my smartphone is not getting a signal. This means we will only be able to navigate with Jim's phone when we need to access maps. As I like to say, technology always lets you down!

There are some nice downhills early. One is on Leesburg Falls Rd and another after we cross US 19 but still on Leesburg Falls Rd. We ride through some Amish country and see some horse drawn buggies near these haystacks:


Amish Haystacks

Soon we come to a great one-mile downhill that takes us into New Wilmington. Riding through more Amish country makes me realize that the Amish may not even be aware nor care that our dysfunctional government may soon default on their debt obligations and plunge us into Armageddon. At the moment, I don't care either.

The Dow Jones fell yesterday and the markets are not yet open today. The Amish are tending to their farms, and my smartphone is still not getting a signal.

We come across this old one room school house. Here I suspect they taught students to be responsible, to work out their differences with each other in reasonable ways, and to make good on their debts. None of our elected officials went to school here.


Tom looking


Here's the front view of the school with Jim.

Inside there was an old organ, a TV, and a blackboard with the description of a horse's face written on it.

We ride away and soon come to a 1.4 mile downhill that takes us into the town of West Middlesex. There is a pleasant smell of coffee that we enjoy, coming from a coffee distributor, the O'Neill Coffee Company. The Shenango River runs by here and we take a picture by the river.


Shenango River

The blue flowers are chicory, also known as coffeeweed. The roots can be used as a substitute for coffee.

There's a steep climb out of West Middlesex as we ride by an abandoned church. Maybe they were devil worshipers or something and run out of town - who knows? We get on Wanasack Hill Road and see a nice panoramic view of Sharon, PA. It's a beautiful day.


Sharon, PA

Some of the large buildings are industrial facilities, although most of Sharon's once vibrant steel industry has closed down, making Sharon a representative Rust Belt city.

My smartphone is still not fully functional. I can finally make a call but cannot access the Internet. Customer service at T-Mobile recommends I take the battery out of the phone for two minutes and then put it back in and start the phone up again. For the moment, all maps are only available through Jim's phone. He has Verizon.

Actually, I hate T-Mobile as they really screwed me over once. It's too long a rant to go into here. Back in the dark days of the George W. Bush administration, all the wireless phone carriers gave the government access to all our phone records. All except one - T-Mobile. This is why I have T-Mobile. Now I hate T-Mobile. Since the financial world will end as we know it soon, I shouldn't have to put up with them for much longer.

The next road is State Line road and soon we cross into beautiful Ohio as we turn onto Chestnut Ridge Road. We are now on roads that Jim has never been on before, and the directions and maps become important. This is now officially "terra icognita."



Now this is my kind of yard.

This road is smooth with very light traffic. We turn onto Tibbetts Wick Rd and we must now ride single file as the traffic picks up. We ride into Niles, PA on Robbins Ave (OH 169) which is a nice downhill.

We stop at the library that has a splendid memorial to President McKinley.


McKinley Memorial

Here we meet Daniel who tells us about a bicycle path that starts in Ashtabula, OH and goes all the way to the Ohio River. Daniel also offers to take our picture.


McKinley Memorial on steroids


Jim and Tom (who needs McKinley)

Jim and I say farewell to Daniel and wish him well with the impending doom that awaits all of us. We explore an alternative way out of Niles. Nice idea but it doesn't work. This means doubling back. We get on a bridge with a steep downhill that crosses the Mahonig River and some railroad tracks. At the bottom we enter a more modest neighborhood that is "on the other side of the tracks" and turn right onto 3rd St. This leads us to Salt Springs Rd which we follow for some miles until reaching a DQ in Lordstown where we have lunch. Here in Lordstown I take my battery out of my smartphone, wait two minutes, and put the battery back in. This is called recycling the smartphone. I hope this works as I feel bad that Jim always has to be the one that consults the online maps on a smartphone in the bright sunshine. Alas, my smartphone is still not working.

After lunch we get back on Salt Springs Rd. Recently we've had some headwinds out of the west and they get a little stronger as the day progresses. We momentarily get on the wrong road because a street sign is twisted and fools us. It's not that bad as we figure this out pretty quickly and turn around and head into Newton Falls.


Falls Twisty Treat in Newton Falls

Soon there is a scenic canal with a waterfall.


Canal with a waterfall

Our route has us follow Bandor Rd and Windham St out of Newton Falls. Here is a place where Google Bicycle Maps lets us down. The directions tell us to ride to Butts Kistler Rd.


Who names a road Butts Kistler?

Notice the NO OUTLET sign. We just have to know where Butts Kistler leads us and we find out it takes us to a dead end. This property is an old munitions plant that is now a National Guard training facility. There's a ten-foot high fence with lots of threatening signs making us think they'd waterboard us if we even think about entering.

We reroute and ride OH 5 for five miles (boring, busy, bumpy) and finally come to Newton Falls Rd. This is a hilly road that gets busier as we approach the city of Ravenna. Here we stop for a Gatorade.

I turn my smartphone back on and the Internet connection starts working! Hooray, I have technology again. I can check the stock market and see that it fell again today. This is just in time too as Jim's battery is down to just 20% remaining. After recycling the smartphone, I think I needed to leave it on for several minutes before it was able to successfully connect to the Internet.


Downtown Ravenna from behind

We wind through Ravenna and I get a flat tire on a really rough road as I hit a ragged pothole. After fixing the flat we ride on and come to Kent State Stadium on Summit Ave. We missed a turn onto Cline Rd and have to pull up the maps on my smartphone and double back. We take Cline, Meloy, and Edison to get to our lodging.

After checking in, we decide to ride into the town of Kent to get some dinner and to see Kent State University. We leave our panniers in the room, but just to be safe, I bring a spare tube along. As luck would have it, I get another flat. And, it's really bad luck as the spare tube I brought along won't hold air. Jim rides 5 miles to a bicycle shop and buys me two more tubes and a new tire (since my current tire has bad mojo) that's suppose to resist flats. I start walking back toward our motel and Jim catches up with me when I'm within a couple of blocks of it. I put on the new tire and we eat a good dinner at a Mexican Restaurant across the street.

Here's hoping there are no more flats on this trip.

Wednesday, July 27, 74.2 miles, Avg 12.5 mph, 5h57m riding time
Kent, OH - Cleveland

There's a lousy brunch at our motel that consists of mostly cereal and orange juice. The clincher is that there's no milk this morning! Like what? The guy at the desk says, "We're out of milk, sorry man." Pathetic!

We start riding about 8:15am and it's even cooler this morning than yesterday. Sweet!

We take OH 43 north a short distance and then head west on Howe Road. At the moment there is no traffic, the sun is shining, and it's a calm day. This is nice riding weather. We miss our turn (easy to do without maps) and have to backtrack. We decide to ride through a neighborhood as we make our way to North Avenue. This takes us to the main circle where we loop around to Southwest Avenue.

It's harder to navigate in some of these towns as the direction have you turning after going short distances. This means we have to stop often and look at maps on our smartphones.


Tom Navigating

The navigating becomes: go a short distance, turn onto Eastland, go a short distance, look at maps on smartphone, go a short distance, look at maps on smartphone, turn onto Eastwood, go a short distance, and then take Hazel, and then take N Arlington, look at maps on smartphone. All of this takes us about one mile. We are riding through a working class neighborhood here and miss another turn (I'm navigating). We double back and come to this nice Orthodox Church.


Orthodox Church

We find Exchange Avenue and take it because it's a designated bike route that's headed in the right direction. Soon we come to the Football Stadium for the University of Akron.


Akron U Football Stadium

There's also a big crane here.


Crane with a worker changing the sign.

Soon we come to the campus itself and take a quick tour. We stop for a rest and some snacks.



Akron U Campus


Campus Clock

We leave campus by riding on Market St and see the striking Art Museum. A little farther down Market St is a striking mural.



There are a lot of Cadillacs beneath the Mural. We get on Aqueduct Rd which is a nice brick road.


Brick Road

Then it's Marriman Road which turns into Riverview (keep on checking those maps on the smartphones). This area has some very fancy and expensive homes. There's also a really good downhill that takes us to the Ohio-Erie Canal Towpath Path. We ride on this nice path along the canal.


Ohio Erie Canal

This path offers some good views of the canal. Eventually we get back to Riverview Road which goes through the Cuyahoga Valley National Park. There's some nice riding here with great scenery. Then, just as everything is going great, I get another flat tire.


Flat Tire number 3

I thought this new tire was supposed to resist flats. There's a nasty gash in the tire and I have to put in a boot.

We leave the park by going west on OH 303 and come to a big climb. We decide it's time for lunch at the DQ. We check our smartphones for a nearby bicycle shop and find one that is pretty close. A phone call reveals they are on vacation this week but will be open tomorrow - which doesn't help us one iota.

Next we get on Miller Road and come across an area (Whiltshire) where the houses on a golf course are all identical. Why do some people want every house to be identical?


Identical Houses in the background (take our word for it)

Here's the entrance to Wiltshire.



We don't go in there though. Instead we go north on Barr Rd (fresh tar) and then west on Edgerton. This road is quite the downhill for several miles (fun). Near the bottom we turn, but end up turning the wrong way on Lake-to-Lake Trail. There's a big climb and we go about a mile out of our way. Finally, realizing we're off track, we stop and check the maps on our smartphones again.

We double back and get going the right direction. The Lake-to-Lake Trail becomes Bridle Trail and this is where Jim's pannier falls off his bike rack when he hits a bump on the trail.

We follow this Cleveland Metroparks trail for about eleven miles and it's beautiful. This trail is a wonderful find. It's rush hour but there are not many cars around here. At one point we stop at a bike shop because I want fill up my tires but this shop doesn't have a pump for a presta valve. It's a bit of an oddball shop. I do buy some more tubes - seems like I need them.

Next we come to this nice Old Mill with a falls.


Old Mill

After the mill there is this striking rock formation along the path.


Bike Path Rocks

Then we come to some scenic waterfalls.


Water Falls

And here's a picture of the Rocky river.


Rocky River

We climb out of the Rocky River Valley on Puritas Ave and enter Cleveland. We follow Puritas, Bellaire Rd, and W 105th St and pass by a memorable church tower. The architecture is quite interesting. Next we follow West Boulevard to Lorain Ave. This is a pleasant urban riding experience. We like Cleveland. Oh yeah, the stock market fell again today. The end is near.

Our ride down Lorain shows some closed store fronts but most stores look interesting. A quick trip down Abbey Ave and then Columbus Rd where we cross a huge old lift bridge that spans a canal. There's a steep climb into downtown Cleveland and we arrive at our hotel at 6:15pm. That evening we groove out visiting the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame Museum.


Rock and Roll Hall of Fame Museum.

Thursday, July 28, 72.8 miles, Avg 13.2 mph, 5h29m riding time
Cleveland - Ashtabula, OH

We wake up to rain (sometimes heavy) this morning. A good excuse to lounge around, read the newspaper, and eat a leisurely breakfast. We also decide to use the hotel computer and print some maps of today's route. It's easier than looking up the maps on our smartphones.

We start riding about 10:30am and there's still some light rain. With the light rain, pictures are real inconveniences. We ride Hamilton Ave (enjoy light traffic road out of downtown) and turn onto E. 56th St which turns into Marginal Rd. This follows Lake Erie to Lake Shore Blvd bike path. The bike path goes for about one mile and then we get on Lake Shore Blvd. Soon we see some huge mansions along the lake. The traffic here is still quite light. This eventually becomes more commercial with a wider road and more traffic. There are occasional glimpses of Lake Erie.

We come to Euclid, OH where we see some large apartment buildings overlooking the lake. The light rain has let up. We decide to put on some sunscreen. The road keeps getting busier but the road is also wide. We turn onto Erie Road and follow it to a fishing pier.


Lake Erie Fishing Pier

We ride out of the pier and go by a power plant. The security guard there looks like he is about 85 years old and not much of a deterrent to anyone wanting to break in. We ride through a small neighborhood and get back on Lake Shore Drive. Here is where I get my fourth flat tire.


Flat Tire Number 4

I put a second boot in my tire as there is another tear.

The weather is starting to get a bit muggy but we have a nice 10 mph tailwind. We ride through Willoughby to Reynolds Rd. Then we get on the Coastal Ohio Trail and head towards Lake Erie.



Coastal Ohio Trail

We stop for a custard cone treat at Mentor-On-The-Lake. Then we ride to a nearby park on the lake.


Lake Erie

We make our way back to Lake Shore Blvd and start to move away from the lake, where we come to the town of Painesville.


Painesville Courthouse

There's a fairly steep downhill on Madison Ave as we head out of Painesville. We notice the street signs have disappeared. This causes us some angst and consternation as we have no idea if these roads we are passing are the one we are looking for. There are signs telling us we are still on Madison. Well, we manage to find Ridge Road eventually after a big uphill. This road is rough with a narrow shoulder and fast traffic. It's five miles of less than pleasant riding, but we make it. The road is lined with nurseries and truck businesses.

Finally we turn left onto Wood Rd and head north, a flat stretch that leads to Lake Erie. We meander along roads that roughly follow the shore and eventually head north on Bennett Ave. This leads to Lake Rd, which is under construction. Fortunately one lane is paved and we head east to County Line Rd, where we head north and go back toward Lake Erie. Here we rest for a bit and watch some people swim at a beach.

We ride through Geneva State Park (about the only natural area we see today). The park setting is a refreshing change. After the park is the resort town of Geneva-On-The-Lake where we down a Gatorade. We stop at a bicycle rental place to see if they have a bicycle pump we could use, but the clerk says, "I don't know" as she looks at me with a blank stare. I guess no one has ever asked her this question before.

We ride through town which feels like we're riding through a state fair without a Ferris wheel. Everyone here seems to be having fun and totally oblivious to the impending doom that awaits them. The stock market fell again today.


Geneva On The Lake

There are many motels, followed by many trailer homes, at the other end of town. We ride OH 531 out of town and get some nice views of the lake. We arrive in Ashtabula.


Ashtabula Bridge

Here we call a local bicycle shop but get a phone machine that says they are closed for inventory and will open again in March. Now that's one long inventory process.

We ride over a bridge and get a great view of a marina, river, and rail yards. Once again the roads are not well marked (or could it be us you might wonder) and we miss a turn for Columbus Ave. When we get to our motel the proprietor won't let us keep our bicycles in our room because he's afraid the carpet will get dirty. We have stayed in about 50 motels and hotels on our trips and have not run into this before. There's a first time for everything. The Ashtabula motel owner will let us keep our bikes in his garage. This means we need to have dinner before we shower as the nearest restaurant is a short ride away.

After a great Mexican dinner we bump into a curious bicycle rider who tells us we should start riding at night with lights, camp, and take showers at the marinas. If we ride all night and sleep during the day, what will we see? This guy is also a talker. He talked and talked and, even though we are patient guys, we are getting bored and antsy. Finally he left planning on riding all night along a trail toward the Ohio River. I assume this is the trail that Daniel told us about back in Niles, OH at the McKinley Memorial. Some people I just don't get.

Friday, July 29, 79.6 miles, Avg 14.6 mph, 5h27m riding time
Ashtabula, OH - Mayville, NY

We rise to the threat of some serious thunderstorms heading our way. This motivates us to start riding quickly. We start riding as fast as we can at about 8:00am toward Pennsylvania. We're riding along US 20 on a smooth road with a nice tailwind. It's cool and cloudy and looks like it will start to rain at any minute.

When we cross into PA some guy on the side of road yells at us, "it's going to rain on you." I guess he thought we didn't know that. And, sure enough, a few miles later we stop in the town of Girard and wait about 30 minutes for a shower to pass by.

We ride on US 20 again and get to the outskirts of Erie, PA. This is a bit of a reroute for us but we take a few miles off of our route since it's feeling so rainy. Here we get on the Seaway Trail and head northeast into Erie, PA. In Erie, we get on Lake Rd and it gets suburban and then urban. Next we take 6th St into downtown Erie and see a fountain we saw the last time we were here in 2006. We thought about taking a picture but it starts raining again. We stop for some lunch to wait out the rain.

After lunch we head south to 16th St and then to 18th St which eventually turns into Buffalo Rd (US 20). This road is rough and narrow and it starts raining again much harder. This is an industrial area but there's a school where we can wait inside one of the side doorways.

After the rain stops we start riding and are now heading away from Lake Erie. We turn right on Depot Rd and start to climb. We turn onto the reasonably quiet Belle Road and climb some more. Soon we come to some vineyards and realize we have to take some pictures.



We do have a nice tailwind as we continue to climb. We turn left onto Cole Rd and soon come to a gravel road. Time to pullout the smartphones and try to reroute.


Jim trying to find a signal

Jim gets enough of a signal for us to determine there's no other route to take from here. So, we head onto the gravel road and play the cards life dealt us. What the heck, the world as we know it will end soon anyway, once the government defaults. Fortunately it's a short stretch and we get onto Cty Rd 3, which is a smooth paved road. Here again we have a nice tailwind.



We turn left onto Sulphur Springs Rd and start riding some good hills. There are 3 to 4 climbs a mile on this stretch.


Hilly Road (hills are more pronounced in real life)

We come across some of Jim's favorite girlfriends along this stretch.



Alas, along the several miles of hilly riding Jim gets a flat tire. At least I'm not the only one. Between us this is five flats in four days. It's a beautiful afternoon though. The sun is shining more and it's not too hot and the countryside is very pretty.

We continue on NY 430 which takes us to Mayville (though Google Maps failed to mention we needed 430).



We ride to our hotel and eagerly await the end of the world as we know it.



Total Miles Tom: 309

Total Miles Jim: 319


Well, the weather turned out to be pretty good, and the government did not default (barely). A rating agency lowered the USA credit rating from AAA to AA+. The stock market continued falling, Europe is a mess, and the government is still dysfunctional. I guess the world didn't end as we know it. I recommend watching the movie Mad Max to prepare for what might still happen. I just hope we can get in at least one more bike tour next year. But, I think I'll print some maps on paper. Reading a map on a smartphone in the bright sun is too hard.

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