Saturday, June 7, 2014

The first full day of the trip featured a route that would take us inland to visit some of the small towns of northern Ohio. The short route was 36 miles, but most of us opted for the longer, more interesting 55-mile route. Both would first go to Milan, with the longer route continuing on to Norwalk and across to Bellevue before returning to Sawmill Creek. The weather outlook was very good and this turned out to be the warmest riding day of the tour with temperatures rising through the 70s and sunny.

The Ride

Another steady easterly breeze

Sawmill Creek had an excellent breakfast buffet that didn’t open any too early, so it was between 8:30 and 9 before most of us got started. I elected to ride alone instead of waiting for the informal group led by one of the tour leaders and headed out about 8:45. Following the route was not an issue because the tour directors had again gone beyond the call and paint-marked the routes, which I did not expect on a ride with only 16 people. Additionally, they had provided GPS route files that I was able to download onto my Garmin 800, which then prompted me with turn-by-turn directions.

This was my first taste of the kind of roads I had been looking for, as after passing through the town of Huron the route turned onto a local road featuring gentle curves and rollers as it wound its way through typical Ohio farmland. Just outside of Milan we had our first rest stop, followed shortly by our arrival at the birthplace of Thomas Edison. Edison was only 7 years old when his family moved from here to Port Huron, Michigan, but the original house is in an excellent state of preservation.

Thomas Edison birthplace
Historical marker

These small midwestern states each seem to have their own “signature” look to their small towns, to the point where you could almost be set down in an unknown town and be able to guess whether you are in Ohio or Indiana or Michigan. In Ohio, the look is classic small-town America centered around a neat, green town square with a war memorial dating from the Civil War prominent in the center. Facing the square is a town hall or courthouse of late 1800s vintage, a white-steepled church or two, and storefronts dating back to the early 1900s. We went through a number of these in these first days of the tour.

The next town on the long route was Norwalk. It’s a busy place, but we got through it easily using various side streets and crossing yet more railroad tracks. I might mention that they might as well call this the “railroad tour,” as tracks and trains are everywhere in this part of the state and throughout the day I was always hearing train whistles somewhere in the background.

North Coast Inland Trail

A little past Norwalk we left the pavement for an 11-mile stretch as we went onto the North Coast Inland Trail — a rails-to-trails project. The surface was crushed gravel; it was rideable with road bikes and especially no problem with my 700x28c tires. There was actually an active rail line paralleling the trail, but on a Sunday it looked like the trains were shut down. The trail cut right across large tracts of fertile farmland where we could see the scattered houses, barns, and silos looking out on the freshly plowed and planted fields. Come back here in a few months and you’d probably be riding past fields of tall corn.

An active rail line runs nearby
Iconic farm setting on this eastern edge of the grain belt

We finally returned to the pavement at Bellevue, instantly picking up a few mph on the smooth asphalt. Bellevue is another good sized town and features –what else — a lot of railroad tracks as well as a railroad museum. I actually would have liked to have spent some time there, but it didn’t open until noon and at that point I was more interested in getting some lunch. Jenny’s Amsden House on the main street hit the spot, and after chowing down some comfort food I was ready to finish the final 25 miles or so of the route.

We finally returned to the pavement at Bellevue, instantly picking up a few mph on the smooth asphalt. Bellevue is another good sized town and features –what else — a lot of railroad tracks as well as a railroad museum. I actually would have liked to have spent some time there, but it didn’t open until noon and at that point I was more interested in getting some lunch. Jenny’s Amsden House on the main street hit the spot, and after chowing down some comfort food I was ready to finish the final 25 miles or so of the route.

The railroad museum had both indoor and
outdoor displays.
A good way to draw a crowd of cyclists was to park your bike in front of a good restaurant.

The long route eventually rejoined the shorter one and I again picked up the markers and continued north toward the finish. Approaching the shore area and the last few miles back to the hotel, we turned onto Bogart Road for a repeat of yesterday’s finishing stretch. There was almost no traffic this time, but the headwind was certainly still there! Rolling into Sawmill Creek, it had been a bit hot the last few miles but I was still feeling great considering my minimal training and was not as tapped out as I had expected to be. There were a couple hours left before the daily reception which I mostly spent relaxing out by the pool.

OK, my first and only selfie of the week

The Wrapup

Our wine and cheese reception was in a meeting room at the far end of the hotel, but featured the same good selection of wine, cheese, crackers, and beer. Afterwards there was a “sunset cruise” on Lake Erie on the schedule before we were to be on our own for dinner. It’s hard to say something is a “sunset” event when it’s at 6PM and the sun doesn’t set until after 9PM, but in any case I opted out and just drove down the road for a very good meal at a Mexican restaurant.

Afterwards I tried to relax in my room while fretting about the next day’s forecast, which had definitely not been looking good and was getting worse…

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