After making a last minute decision to take up my friend Peter’s offer to host me in Akron, OH, following my abandoned cross-Ohio and PA tour, I decided to set up day rides during my stay. On learning Bike Forums poster Homeybe was passing through Ohio on his way back to California, I contacted him and set up a time to go riding. Since he had a road bike, I searched for a suitable route. However, I was handicapped by my lack of knowledge of good roads in the area. Finally I selected Akron’s Bike And Hike Trail, one of the oldest rail-to-trails project in the state.
Homeybe arrived about 2 PM and we were at the trailhead about 2:30. Or so we thought. It turns out we stopped short of the entrance to the bike trail. So we headed a mile or so down the road to the next park. After circling it, we couldn’t find the trailhead. So after checking at the entrance we’d discovered we were still a little short. Another mile down Ohio Route 91 and we climbed onto the trail.
“Climbed” is the right word. Most rail trails have a flat or near flat grade. The Bike and Hike has rollers like I’ve seen on PA roads, but never on a trail. I learned the name “Akron” is derived from the Greek words meaning “high place.” The rail-trail designer had to have majored in Greek and excessive literalness. I had a hard time keeping up a conversation with my co-rider. After one climb I had to pull over. “I have to catch my breath” I huffed and puffed.
“It’s over there waiting for you” said Homeybe.
We resumed and coped with the trail, which uses a combination of rolling bike paths and city streets. I pushed myself pretty hard to keep up with Homeybe, who is an ultracyclist and veteran of RAAM and the Furnace Creek 508. It wasn’t only to stick with him, however. I’ve too often been described as someone who ‘tools around with a camera’ on rides, and I wanted to give my all to show people, including myself, what I was capable of.
At one point we stopped and talked about my physical condition. I was probably too apologetic about my weight, my back, my knees – I enjoyed my friend’s company, but I felt embarrassed to be riding with someone of his abilities. I don’t aspire to race, but I do want the stamina and ability one finds in an athlete. I know what I don’t have, and I work around it to make my goals. But I still know what I don’t have.
My friend assured me that HE was working when riding, that he wasn’t in prime riding condition at the moment, and he was enjoying the day. At one point he told me “there’s only one great cyclist out here today, and I’m riding with him.” I quickly scanned the trail before I realized he was talking about me.
And the ride resumed. Roller after roller. Finally we turned south on the homebound section of the loop. As we passed along a major Akron to Cleveland highway, Homeybe said “it looks like that’s the last of the rollers.”
We then crested it and saw more of them. I stopped and swore. But I got on again.
I was running low on water, and at one point I pulled over and sat down for a few minutes. I’d almost crested one more hill, but didn’t quite make it. After ten minutes we pushed on. Five minutes later I began to have dry heaves. The coughing made me dizzy and hurt my back. I stopped and dismounted unsteadily as Homeyba held my bike. I sprawled on a lawn, helmet off, rolling over on my side. The homeowner came out and brought me a pop – what in PA we call soda – as I tried to get myself together. The pop and some more water down, fifteen minutes later I was up and riding the final four miles or so back to the car. It helped there were only two serious rollers on the route. The final mile and a half back to the car I wound up walking near half of, since my legs were spent and I was still feeling ill. Homeybe took care of putting my bike on the rack while I sat in the car cooling off.
It was a mixed bag of a ride. The route gave both of us more of a workout than we expected. I’ll never say Ohio is flat again. I’m disappointed I failed to avoid bonking – since I do bike touring I should be able to recognize the symptoms before I redline. Yet, I still think I did OK. I may not be able to ride like a RAAM participant, or climb like Contador, but like them I’m able to give everything I have to the job. Now that I have straight legs and knees that function normally the task before me is to have more to give….