Day 5: Stow, Ohio (90.98 miles, 386.41 total miles)

I got a late start today. Exhausted from the mountains on Friday and the slog through the rain yesterday, I slept in till about 8:45 a.m. By the time I got breakfasted and repacked my bags (I had taken everything out to launder and dry the contents), it was 10 o’clock.

I headed across the street to the gas station to check the air in my tires and proceeded to deflate my back tire because the pump wasn’t actually on (though air initially came out of the hose, which is what confused me). With tires filled up and everything ready to go, I headed out down the road. The hotel was atop a large hill, but itself in a small depression on it, so my first ride was up a hill before getting to coast down the large hill I’d biked up the evening before.

The Ohio River

I went through downtown Monaca and turned north to take the bridge that crosses the Ohio. The weather was nice and a little warmer than it’d been the previous day. I rode along route 51 north and the terrain eventually turned into a steady incline as I headed away from the river. It was nothing bad and the grade was nice and not too steep. The ascent leveled off in the town of Chippewa, where I took a short break.

Welcome to Ohio sign

Continuing on the terrain gradually leveled out, though it had occasional ups and downs, but neither was terribly dramatic. Around 12:20 p.m. I crossed into Ohio. I went through a town called East Palestine, which was curious because, as far as I could tell, there was no West Palestine, or just Palestine, other than the original one and that was far to the east of East Palestine. The town had a small hill in it, but it was becoming clear that the hills of northeastern Ohio were not going to cause me much trouble. I mean, once you’ve biked the Alleghenies, it’s hard to get worked up by an elevation shift of a hundred feet or so.

After days of heat, mountains, and rain, today was a day of cool temperatures (it was cloudy most of the day), flat terrain, and dry. Perhaps, at long last, an easy day?

But no, it appears that God does not want me to have an easy day. The winds blowing out of the west were strong and I had to pedal extra hard even on flat terrain. About 30 miles into the trip, I stopped at a convenience mart and restocked my water supply and picked up some chocolate milk, a Cliff Bar and a snickers. I sat on the lawn in the shade of a very small tree for a few minutes, rehydrating and resting my legs. There were a few motorcyclists nearby at the air pump. One of them looked at my bike parked next to theirs and said, “This guy’s got bigger saddlebags than I do!” I said, “I might be going farther than you are,” and he agreed.

I headed back out but now the clouds were thicker and the wind stronger. It made for a chilly ride, which in and of itself was not a problem. I certainly don’t mind temperatures in the 60s or 70s on a long ride. But when the sun went away, the wind picked up and the wind was really slowing my progress.

At one point, my My Maps app on the phone quit and wouldn’t relaunch. When I finally got it up again, I’d missed a turn. I looked at the maps and plotted a way to get back to the road I was supposed to be on. I took a series of rail straight roads that ran perfectly north-south or east-west. I’d seen these kinds of midwestern roads on maps, but now here I was biking them. When I traveled north, the effect of the wind was diminished, but as soon as I turned west, the effect was powerful.

I kept making my way west and even took the Mill Creek Bikeway, a nicely paved bike path with stone mile markers and everything. But as this bike path was going more north-south, I was on it only for a couple of miles before having to turn west again. The sky was much cloudier now and the temps were chillier. But I pressed on.

bike path

Riding down a long stretch of road, it occurred to me that my later departure had changed my eating schedule and that I’d only taken a shorter break but not a lunch. Unfortunately, I was on a long road through farmland and some residences, but there was nothing else. I came across two people out for a walk and asked them where I could find a place to eat. The woman recommended a gas station convenience mart that she said was only three miles off my course. I figured I had about an 80 mile trip today and to tack on a 6 mile round trip off course wasn’t worth it. It also occurred to me that three miles sounds a lot less problematic to someone with a car than someone on a bike. So, I continued on my route.

I eventually wound up taking a road that paralleled I-76 and traveled due west. The winds were still strong and I was getting pretty demoralized at this point. At one point, while shifting gears, my chain jammed up. I pulled off to the side of the road, removed the packs from the bike, and flipped it over. As I was struggling with the chain, I heard a voice over my shoulder, “Do you have all the tools you need to fix that?” There was another cyclist standing there. I had only seen one or two other cyclists that day and here, suddenly and serendipitously, was another one. His name was Stan and he helped me free the chain and make an adjustment to my derailleur so that it wouldn’t happen again. So, add Stan to the list of helper bicycle angels of which Aaron was also a part.

Later, on a different road, I suddenly came across a “Road Closed” sign and had to take a detour. The detour was somewhat disorienting but it deposited me at an intersection at which there was a McDonald’s. Now, I don’t eat at McDonald’s regularly. In fact, the only time I do is on these bike trips when I’m burning 5,000 calories a day. Hungry and in need of a rest for my legs, I stopped at the McDonald’s and grabbed a bite to eat. I also used the opportunity to rest up and recharge my phone battery. Given how many turns there were in my route, I needed to have the phone working.

Portage Hike and Bike Trail

So, around 6 p.m. I set off for the remaining 15 miles or so. By this time the sun had finally come out and it was a little warmer. The wind was still there but was not quite as strong as it had been. My route eventually took me onto something called the Portage Hike and Bike Trail, an old rail bed converted into a biking and hiking trail. The initial stage of the trail was dirt, but that was fine. I had considered traveling the remaining distance on surface streets along the road, which may have been slightly more direct, but being able to travel on a trail without stoplights or cars and trucks was definitely worth it. At one point the trail ended and I took a wrong turn but was able to reconnect with the trail when it reemerged later. I was glad to have recharged my phone because I certainly needed it to find my way. When I picked up the second part of the trail, it was paved and made for fast and easy cycling. In fact, you can see a brief snippet of that ride, filmed by my stem-mounted phone (I apologize for the vertical filming, it’s just how the phone is mounted):

Eventually, the bike path met up with a road that would take me directly to my hotel. It had a few inclines, but, again, nothing troublesome. It was more that by this point in the journey, my legs were utterly exhausted. Finally, I came to my hotel. Upon check-in, I asked the clerk if the hotel had a pool and if it had a whirlpool pool as well. The answer to both questions was yes. And so, after getting cleaned up in my room, I grabbed my copy of A Game of Thrones and headed downstairs. I sat for about half an hour in the warm, bubbling water, allowing the jets to work on my tired legs and then just lay on one of the chaise-longs reading and relaxing. After getting dinner, I stopped by the Sheetz across the street where I bought a banana and some more ibuprofen (the secret formula for refreshing exhausted muscles). Once I got back to the hotel, I mapped the route and discovered that I had gone 90.98 miles on this trip—10 miles more than I had thought, and three miles farther than my longest trip (Day 1 of the Albany trip).

That puts the total miles biked thus far at 386 miles, which is more than 20 miles more than the total of my longest trip (the Albany trip). So, I’ve reached the halfway point in terms of days and miles, and set a personal record (which I’ll break tomorrow). I was nervous about setting out on a trip of this length, but it is proving to be doable. Now, let’s just hope tomorrow is wind-free.

The map of today’s trip, with elevation.

-Originally posted using BlogPress from my iPad