Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Bike & Hike Fall Ride - October 20, 2009

I must admit that this has easily been one of my most enjoyable cycling seasons to date.  Not only have I had the pleasure of making new friends on various tours, but I've also had the opportunity to cycle through some of northeast Ohio's most picturesque landscapes; from the aromatic, rolling hills of Geneva's wine country to the dramatic flowing river falls and cornucopia of vibrant Fall colors in the heart of Cuyahoga Valley National Park.

Today's ride involved cycling yet another new route for me...the Bike and Hike trails of Summit County.  Organized by friends Joe and Bonnie Sears, this short afternoon jaunt would take us, in part, along what used to be the old Akron, Bedford & Cleveland (ABC) Railroad line, originally built in 1895.  Back in the day, trains on this route would transport hundereds of Ohioians between the cities of Cleveland and Akron for a mere 50 cents!  (By comparison, 50 cents today wouldn't get me from my living room to my bathroom.) This now-paved path (one of the first "rails to trails" projects in the country) mingles with some of the area's most scenic locations.

With 16 cyclists in tow, we set out for our first (and only) stop on this cool Autumn day; Brandywine Falls.  Boasting a 60 foot water drop, the falls are some of the tallest in Ohio.  A long, wooden boardwalk switchbacks its way down into the sandstone gorge to reveal this spectacular treasure.

After a few minutes pondering nature, we hit the bikes once again.  The rest of the afternoon continued to showcase Fall's seasonal palette of beautiful colors.

But, as with all good rides, the cycling must come to an end.  And with this group, it can only end one way.  Margaritas!!  Yes, a little old restaurant by the name of Tequila Pancho's was calling to us, so after 15 + miles of riding, we drifted into the parking lot of Pancho's, locked up our bikes, and took our rightful places at table for fiesta!!  I even used this opportunity to down a new flavor of beer...Dos Equis.  When in Mexico...!

So, once again, another great ride in the books.  The group plans to have one more Bike and Hike ride next week, so I'm already saving room for another round of burritos.  I must, of course, give a shout out to my pal, Dave Manning; If it wasn't for his 2005 Corvette WITH attached bike rack (I will give you a minute to let that visual sink in)...I would have not made it to this event at all. Thanks, Amigo.

And thanks to Bonnie and Joe for getting us together to celebrate the great outdoors and our passion for cycling.

Until the next ride, "Stay thirsty, my friends!"

(PS - For more info on the Summit County Metroparks Bike and Hike Trails, check out, and for more on Brandywine Falls, check out

Saturday, October 10, 2009

Ponte Vino Giro 2009 (Part 2)

So, after a full day of cycling, freezing and falling, capped off with two and a half bottles of Grand River Valley 'River Rouge' wine, the Saturday edition of this year's Ponte Vino Giro came to a blurry-eyed close.  Sunday morning was still a good 8 hours away, but it already hurt.  As I lay in bed with the sound of cresting Lake Erie waves gently lulling me to sleep, I was confident that Sunday morning would bring with it glorious sunshine, warmer weather, and error free riding.  I forgot, of course, about God's wicked sense of humor.

When I arose at 6:30am Sunday morning, not only was there no sunshine, there was no power!  The alarm clock was dead and none of the lights would work.  Oddly, I could see the glow of hallway lights slipping in under the front door and through the door's peephole.  I opened the blinds on the rear patio door and saw that the poolhouse was also well lit.  What the fu...heck??  It was time to call the front desk, but as I made my way around the room by only the light of my cellphone, I could discern the chatter of lodge employees commenting on the accident that had occured in the middle of the night.  Apparently, someone had struck a power poll outside the property that knocked out the entire street, including the lodge.  Fortunately, the lodge had a generator for just such an emergency, which kicked in to power up essential hotel functions (guest rooms apparently not being on that list).  It is what it is.

Now, the night before, my new friends and I planned to meet at 7am for breakfast, so not wanting to let them think a trivial power outtage would cause me to miss the grand buffet, I dressed and packed, again only by the light of my cell, and made my way to the restaurant.  Impressively, the hotel staff was up and at 'em, working diligently to make sure everything was as normal as possible. They even had the entire breakfast buffet cooked, warming, and ready to go.  Kudos to them, for sure.  I was pleased...but not all was as it seemed.  Now, I am not much of a coffee drinker.  In fact, I'd rather suffer through intestinal flu then try and gag down a cup of joe, but for some people, the intake of the Columbian bean is a morning ritual not to be messed with.  Ever.  Unfortunately, with the power not scheduled to return till later in the day, electric coffee makers were not even pulled off the shelves.  As I sat peacefully in the corner devouring a dozen scrambled eggs, I could sense the natives getting restless at the thought of no coffee.  Suggestions like "boil some water" were being hollered about, and I knew a coup was only moments from erupting.  I quickly inhaled the rest of my breakfast and snuck out of the restaurant.  Only when I made it back to the safety of my room did it occur to me that my friends never joined me.

Having already packed, it was time to 'pre-flight' my bike for another day on the road.  Although today's ride only called for about 42 miles, it was notorious for being a very hilly and challenging 42 miles, so I wanted the bike running smoothly.  I lubed the chain and filled the tires with air.  While pumbing the rear tire, I heard an enormous POP!  At first, I feared the coffee crowd had finally taken matters into their own hands, but then quickly realized the sound came from my bike!  The rear innertube just blew. Crap!  As if everything the day before was not enough to amuse my God in Heaven, now this.  Fortunately, I brought a spare innertube, and as I wheeled my bike into the well lit lobby to make the change, I thanked that very same God in Heaven that the tire blew here...and not out there.  Sometimes, it's the small things we need to be grateful for.

Having successfully changed the tire, my trusty steed was ready for action.  By this time, my friends had finally joined me.  After several minutes of sharing our morning horror stories, we headed outside.  The aforementioned sun was still buried behind menacing clouds and the wind was whipping around like crazy. Temps were easily in the low 50's...a repeat of yesterday.  Great.  All this and hills.  Bonnie, Joe, and Dave had left their bikes outside on their respective vehicles and now were preping them for riding. (I know what you're thinking...they left their bikes outside in the cold rainy weather all night, but I'm the one who gets the flat!  Yet another example of an omnipotent sense of humor at play.)

Finally, the crew all set, it was time to head out.

The intial start of the ride took us around the newly paved bike path that circled the property.  We coasted along the Lake Erie shore, which would have been breathtaking if not for the cold and wind having already taken our breath. After about three miles, we broke from the path and onto the open road.  The next 15 miles proved easy as we glided along side streets and through quaint little towns.  The sun had even managed to make an appearance, giving the changing Fall leaves vibrant color.  So far, so good.  Even the temperature picked up a bit.  As positive as all these signs were, the dreaded hills still lay ahead.  One of those hills occurs right before the first rest stop and is said to be a killer. Bring it on, I say!

We continue to cruise along, enjoying the landscape around us.  Then it happens...the hill.  What's most impressive at this moment is not the sheer climb of the hill itself, but the wicked downhill prior to it.  The first thing you see is that infamous yellow sign with the image of a truck on a steep incline.  They only post those signs when the hill is, well, steep.  The four of us tuck in and attack the downhill.  As we rapidly pick up speed, the road starts to curve and wind.  My bike's computer indicates we are screaming down at close to 40mph!  That speed would be even faster if not for the necessity of breaking occassionally around the tighter turns.  Let's face it, wiping out on a bike at these speeds could be disasterous, so caution must rule.  We roar down through a valley and over a small bridge when suddenly before us, the road inclines dramatically.  As we start to coast upward, our speed drops exponentially.  In minutes, we are struggling to maintain 5mph, grunting and grinding on the pedals in an all out effort to climb up the hill.  This is where a cyclist has to dig deep for that little something extra.  Dave crests the hill first, followed by myself and then Bonnie and Joe on the tandem.  Once at the top, we regroup and continue for another mile or so before reaching the first rest stop.  The killer hill, as well as about 15 miles of riding, was now behind us. 

At the rest stop, there were only a few other cyclists.  In fact, many had dropped out of the ride earlier in the morning.  Whether it was due to the prospect of hills, cold temps, or threat of rain, we will never know, but the crowd today was a third less then Saturday.  We were the diehards.

After a short reprieve, the four of us took to the road again.  We were now entering the heart of Ohio wine country.  It was here that the sprawling landscape revealed some of the areas most historic vineyards, all showing off their turn-of-the-century architecture and perfectly manicured vistas.  For miles at a time, the surrounding air was saturated with the fruity aroma of grapes.  Of course, not only were the views impressive, but so was the constant rolling terrain that intermixed high speed downhill coasting with grueling uphill climbs, making for some of the most exciting cycling of the year. 

One thing you notice about touring this type of terrain is that the miles click off in a hurry.  Before we knew it, the lunch stop at Harpersfield covered bridge sprung into view.  We departed the main road and headed to the pavillion.  As with every scheduled stop, the location was quite a site.  We even had the benefit of a classic car show taking place at the very same time.  In fact, about two dozen of them crossed the bridge and paraded around the pavillion grounds, right in front of if for our entertainment alone.  Then again, maybe they drove over out of shear curiosity to see what type of morons actually ride around on bicycles during cold, windy Fall days. Either way, sweet cars.

Finished with lunch, we crossed the Harpersfield bridge and immediately had to climb one bitch of a hill.  It was not as long as the one from earlier, nor as much fun, but it was steep!!!  The good thing was that we hadn't been on our bikes for the last half hour and were well rested.  The bad thing was...we hadn't been on our bikes for the last half hour and were well rested!  Needless to say, the expletives rolled off my tongue as I struggled up the insane climb (and I'm sorry, but screaming swear words DOES help).

The rest of the ride went smoothly, and after a few more rolling hills, the road began to level out.  This was a clear sign we were nearing the end.  Finally, after 42 miles, Bonnie, Joe, Dave and I pulled back into the lodge exactly the same way we left it earlier in the day...cold, but together.  We quickly stowed our bikes, checked in, and headed to the bar to throw back some cold beers.  The 2009 Ponte Vino Giro was now history.  Raising our glasses, we toasted to a great ride and new friends.  It was truly a wonderful cycling experience and I look forward to many more adventures over the historic covered bridges and scenic rolling hills of Ohio's wine country.

Thanks to all!
(And a special thanks to Bonnie Sears for all the Day 2 photos on this post.  Now I know why Joe had to work so hard on that tandem! JUST KIDDING.)

Tuesday, October 6, 2009

Ponte Vino Giro 2009 (Part 1)

After several dozen years of serious cycling, I was hit with an interesting revelation this past weekend. When it comes to riding, it's not always the challenging terrain or long distances that separate the men from the boys (or the women from the girls), but the weather! In mid August, I rode a two day tour under a scorching sun with 90 degree temperatures relentlessly draining bodily hydration faster than I could refill my water bottles. Not exactly the most comfortable of conditions, especially over the course of 150 miles, but you push on. By contrast, I participated in another tour a few days ago wherein I experienced the exact opposite conditions; two days of riding under NO sun with 50 degree temps and relentless headwinds smashing in from seemingly every compass point, all while mocking sprinkles of rain threatened to explode into biblical storms around each turn. But, once again, as tough as conditions like this may be, you push on.

Either way, count me in!!

So, what were these crazy bike tours I felt so compelled to ride? Well, the first was the MS150 'Pedal to the Point' tour, of which I cycled in for the last 14 years, but since I already wrote about that ride in a previous post, I'd like to chat up the second; the Ponte Vino Giro!

The PVG is a young tour, having only just completed it's fourth year, and draws roughly 100 riders, give or take. The challenging route starts and finishes each day at the beautiful Geneva-on-the-Lake Lodge, winding its way along the breezy Lake Erie shoreline and through the rolling hills of Ohio wine country.

I arrived at the lodge late Friday afternoon. The partly cloudy skies and cool temperatures were just the first indications of the kind of weekend it would be. After checking in, I decided to walk the grounds. A newly paved bike path encircled the property, affording great views of Lake Erie, and proved to be a pleasant, if not chilly, way to pass the time.

Later that evening, a simple meet-and-greet had been set up by the ride organizers, and it was here that I met Bonnie, Joe and Dave, accomplished riders and the people I would hang with the rest of the weekend. Now, it should be noted that, for whatever reason, this particular tour seems to draw a much...uhhh...older crowd than other tours I've been on. For example, the Pedal to the Point tour will have cyclists ranging from rambunctious teens to the Buckeye Card crowd. Even the night rides I participate in have a good smattering of youthful riders. However, of the 73 cyclists in the Ponte Vino Giro, I was considered, at the ripe old age of 43, one of the young whipper-snappers!! Now, if you're thinking my chest swelled a bit at this fact, think again. I can assure you that any cockiness I may have revelled in was quickly and embarrassingly squashed the next day as I discovered my apparent 'youth' was no substitute for experience, and some of those 'old timers' handily left me choking on their dust throughout the weekend!

But I digress. ;)

Saturday morning started off with my new friends and a hearty breakfast. We contemplated the 62 miles of flat to gentle rolling terrain that awaited us, looking forward to an easy day. Both Bonnie and Joe had cycled the PVG before (riding this year on a tandem bike) and assured Dave and I that today's ride would be uneventful. Had they only known.

Once outside, the howling Fall winds and cool lakefront temperatures were already stirring the pot, and the overcast sky threatening to break open at any moment further depressed the mood. Bundled up in layers of clothing and a wind breaker, I started out on the course solo. All seemed to be going well...until the first rest stop. Now, it is customary on long tours to provide riders with maps, or cue sheets, to guide them through unfamiliar territory. More importantly, however, are the arrows painted on the road at each necessary turn. Most riders use the arrows exclusively as trying to read a cue sheet while pedalling can be difficult and distracting. Sometimes the arrows at each turn are bold and plentiful. Sometimes they are not. (Do you see where this is going?)

After arriving at the first rest stop, I checked the cue sheet to see what lay ahead. I had ridden 15 miles, with another 35 to go before lunch. Satisfied, I tucked my cue sheet away safely, hopped back on the bike, and started on the next leg of the ride. Within minutes, and completely unaware, I blew right past the first turn arrow. It would prove costly. After fifteen minutes of riding in a straight line, a little red flag suddenly went up. Immediately, the voice in my head started saying things like, "Where the @$%# is everyone?" and "Why haven't I seen any @$%#ing arrows on the road yet?" I've learned over the years that this voice is very wise, so after 3 1/2 miles of going the wrong way, I turned around and headed back. I prayed to God I would find the proper turn before the 'old folk' caught me in this major cycling faux pas. How do you live that down? Seven unintended miles. Unfortunately, I caught the turn at the same moment a gaggle of riders was coming the other way. Awkward. I kept my head down and blew past them, hoping cataracts and the lack of any short-term memory would prove my ally.

Not far from this turn, the ride began to reveal some of it's hidden treasures. In addition to this being a tour through wine country, it also passes over some historic covered bridges. The first of those was a beautiful wooden bridge in what I learned was Ashtabula, Ohio.

Continuing on, I began to settle into a rhythm and enjoy the countryside views. Although the wind was still stiff, the temperatures began to warm slightly as the sun had managed to peak out from the clouds. This was enough to brighten my day. You see, unlike the Pedal to the Point, which brings in over 2,500 riders, the Ponte Vino is a small tour, with significantly less riders. What that means to a cyclist is that much of your day is spent alone. Miles and miles of empty road can click by before you encounter another human being, so on a day like today, even the rays of sun can be a welcome friend.

After another hour or so of riding, the second rest stop crept into view. By now, the clouds had started to thicken again and the temperatures began dropping to their early morning lows. As I pulled up to the rest stop, the unthinkable happened. There was one girl working the stop and about three riders getting ready to head back out onto the road. I began to dismount my bike, recounting at the same time my adventure of the Unwanted 7 Miles, when suddenly the horizon started to tip rapidly. Yep, you guessed it, right in the middle of retelling my already embarrassing story, I committed the second greatest biker's faux pas, The Big Fall. For some reason, my left foot would not release from the pedal cage, and as my right leg was already swinging around off the bike, I had no support or balance whatsoever. I slammed into the ground with all the grace and majesty of a giant redwood unceremoniously chopped down in the bowels of Yosemite. I lay in the street in front of four dumbfounded onlookers, wishing a giant semi would just roar by and end it all. Fortunately, being the aforementioned youthful 'whipper snapper' I was, I quickly recovered, cracked a joke, and carried on the conversation as if the fall never happened. Saving some face, I needed to continue on.

Around 12:30pm, and after 57 miles on the bike (the last 20 miles error-free), I arrived at lunch. Interestingly, this stop was also the location of the next historic covered bridge, and it was a big one. In fact, it was actually on this bridge where lunch was served. So, starving, cold, and still shaking off some residual embarrassment, I headed in for a well deserved break. Moments later, I was joined by my friends Bonnie, Joe, and Dave. This was the first time I had seen them on the route and was glad to be "reunited". We sat and chatted about the day's ride thus far, and I told them all about the thrill of getting lost. I conveniently left out the part about The Big Fall, knowing that too much laughter at my expense might damage what little reputation I had.

We devoured lunch, anxious to get back on the road as there were only 10 miles left to ride. After a few minutes of snapping off those obligatory pictures of the area (including one of my new cycling friends), we rode off as a group towards the finish. It was during this final 10 miles that all of my "old-timer" comments came back to bite me in the ass. As I mentioned earlier, Bonnie, Joe, and Dave, although being several years my senior (but not old by ANY means...hee), are very accomplished riders, and I found myself struggling on several occasions just to keep up. At no time was this made more apparent then when I had passed up Dave on an overpass and made the humorous remark, "Out of the way, Old Man." Within moments of uttering those ill-advised words, Dave was but a small dot in my vision as he, along with Bonnie and Joe, tore past me as if I were walking on stilts! When I eventually did catch up again, I politely recanted my remarks. A hearty laugh was had by all and the first lesson of the day was effectively driven home. It's people like this that make biking such a trip!

By 2:30pm, we finally arrived back at the lodge. Thanks to my unplanned detour, I clocked in at exactly 70 miles for the day. We hit the showers and spent a few hours recovering in our rooms. As part of the package deal with this tour, the organizers planned a nice pasta dinner for us at Debonne Vineyards, about 30 minutes up the road. We (and by we, I mean 16 of us) jambed into a large mini-van, looking not unlike a gang ready to illegally cross some foreign border, and headed out for the winery. I must say that the dinner was delicious, and the combination of great food, great company, a party-like atmosphere, and multiple bottles of wine was a great way to cap off a long day of riding.

But Day 2 was just around the corner, and that's when the real riding would start!