The Little Miami Trail

Every year (except 2012), I will hike or bike The Little Miami Scenic Bike Trail, one of those old rail beds that’s been converted for bicycle and pedestrian use. Sure, it’s flat, but it’s away (mostly) from civilization. In the past few years, I’ve done the trail by bike. I may run the trail by sections in the next few years. After all, I’m doing the Flying Pig Marathon for my fiftieth birthday.

Some would ask what the appeal of a flat, paved hiker-biker trail would be. As I said, it’s away from civilization, following the path (mostly) of the old Little Miami Railroad, which became part of Conrail in its final days before being abandoned. They’re flat. They offer no hills or opportunities to climb. So why this?

Purple1Well, there are plenty of parks that challenge a hiker and a couple of trails that will test a cyclist’s stamina. And while I do the trail partly to get some exercise, in reality, it’s sort of a meditation for me. I walk/ride the trail because it’s isolated. The scenery is ever-changing, and not just from section to section but from year to year. I’ve have gone through trail segments that, when revisiting them the following spring or summer, look nothing like they did the year before. I start the trail in Newport, Kentucky and ride it through Berry Park on the Ohio side of the Ohio River and out to Lunken Airport, where it circles the air field. This is actually not part of the Little Miami Trail per se. Starting at the Newport on the Levee complex, you ride the Purple People Bridge (Yes, that’s what it’s called) over to where it joins the Ohio River Trail, following the big river out to Lunken. The loop around Lunken is its own trail and connects with Armleder Park now. In the next two or three years, a bridge will connect that park with the trail proper. For now, I just accept the gap and pick up at a park in Newtown across the Little Miami River.

morrow3This rest of the trail winds through wooded areas, occasionally emerging into small towns along the way. Sometimes, you happen on an area developed entirely around the bike trail. My favorite is in downtown Loveland. When starting or ending a segment in Loveland, I’ll stop at Paxton’s Grill for breakfast or a bowl of chili.

Another favorite stop along the trail is the Little River Cafe in this unincorporated speck on the map called Oregonia. I’ve stopped in often for a cold beer and one of their thick, juicy burgers and a bowl of chili. Good stuff, especially on a hot summer afternoon when you’ve already bike about twenty miles.

peters_twrIt’s in this section where the trail and the river descend into this steep ravine, part of which contains ruins from the Ft. Ancient civilization that inhabited the Ohio Valley up until about a century before the Europeans reached this part of the US. Further on up, as the trail approaches Xenia (Yes, the town where all the tornadoes hit in 1974.), there is a swamp nature preserve.

A few years back, there had been bear sightings in the areas surrounding the trail in Warren County. That summer, I worried about what to do if the bear decided I was a threat when I happened by. After completing the trail for a year, I was disappointed that I didn’t at least see the bear from a distance.

When I do the trail, I ride or hike it in sections, armed only with water and an iPod, and sometimes, not even the iPod.

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Put in Bay

Out in the middle of Lake Erie lie the Bass Islands. North Bass has a year-round population of about 25 and is taken up mostly by Vineyards. Middle Bass has a somewhat larger population, but exists primarily as a destination for people already on South Bass looking for something else to do. Why are they on South Bass in the first place?

Kevin Payravi, Wikimedia Commons

Kevin Payravi, Wikimedia Commons

Put in Bay is a tourist mecca that was also the site of a famous naval battle during the War of 1812. Commodore Oliver Hazard Perry used Put in Bay’s enclosed harbor to shield his fleet from the British, on their way to invade Ohio from Canada. As the British approached South Bass Island, Perry moved out and captured the fleet. Hence, his famous line, “We have met the enemy, and they are ours.”

Today, Put in Bay is one of Ohio’s best kept secrets. A summer destination, it largely gets ignored in favor of nearby amusement park Cedar Point on the mainland. It’s a quiet getaway with bars surrounding downtown, including the Boardwalk, which houses three restaurants, and two wineries. Being in the middle of one of the Great Lakes, Put in Bay has all the attractions of a tropical island (except the topless beaches), but without the heat or the huge waves.

Nita and I stayed in Put in Bay last summer for our anniversary. We stayed at the Put in Bay Resort, a recent addition to this tiny village. Open only between April and October (Do you really want to stay on Lake Erie in the winter?) We had to get around on golf carts as the island is not very car friendly. We were able to see the state park on the northern tip of the island and visit the Perry Monument, the 500-foot granite column commemorating Perry’s victory over the British. As the village is very much a summer village, a lot of bars are open air and have live music every night.

But if you’re looking for Starbucks and McDonald’s and Applebee’s, forget it. There’s a Subway and a Dairy Queen, and that’s it for franchise food. All the restaurants are local mom-and-pop places. Most are quite good. A couple left Nita and I a little flat.

The ideal vacation for me and Nita would be a week-long jaunt arriving Monday evening and leaving on Friday. Resort rates and condo and home rentals are cheaper during the week. Day two would be spent over on nearby Middle Bass bar hopping and sampling the local wine. There is the Motz Winery visible from the Jet Port Express Ferry that brings you into Put in Bay from the mainland, but part of the building collapsed. Motz now operates in Sandusky. Still, Middle Bass is a bit more wild than South Bass. There’s something about being someplace that’s on the very edge of civilization. The next island up, North Bass, has a village, St. George’s, that has only 25 permanent residents. Any children there or on Middle Bass are flown or ferried to Put in Bay for school.

The third day would be spent over on Kelley’s Island, which has multiple parks, a beach, and a number of bars downtown. Kelley’s is more like a mainland town than Put in Bay, which could double as Haven from Stephen King’s The Colorado Kid.  There’s also a winery. Kelley’s is where you go to live. Put in Bay is where you go to vacation. Which is where we would spend the final day.

If you’re going to go, leave your car in Sandusky or Port Clinton. The Jet Port Express will carry you from the mainland to Put in Bay for about $30 a person. While there, you can rent a golf cart to get around.

It’s not the hippest place to vacation, but it’s a great getaway.

My Annual Ritual

Every year for the past five years, I’ve embarked on a trek to walk or ride the entire Little Miami Scenic Bike Trail. It started in 2006, when the Newtown trail head opened. The first year, I made it as far as Morrow. The next year, I got further, up to Corwin, a little town halfway to Dayton. In 2007, I made it to Spring Valley, a town that’s off any major highway and still stuck in the 1930’s. 2008 and 2009, I came up short, but in 2010, I finally made it all the way to Xenia, where the Ohio Trail System hub is located.

I do this every year, walking the trail in sections, including some sections that haven’t been built yet. Last year, I started along the Ohio River Trail at Newport, Kentucky, crossing the bridge and walking up to Berry Park just east of downtown.  Last year’s walk included a little trespassing on railroad property and through a few fields as part of the Ohio River and Little Miami Trails have not been built or laid out yet.

This year, I had to start at Berry Park as I began my trek the same morning as the Heart Mini-Marathon, which cut off the Purple People Bridge and Newport-on-the-Levee.  Not a problem as the areas along Riverside Drive are now designated as a bike route. Sunday morning found me walking along a newly completed section of trail from Schmidt Field, a park along the Ohio River about a mile up Riverside Drive from Berry Park, to Lunken Airfield, where a walking trail already circles the airport.

Hamilton County is about to approve the final plans for linking the Ohio River Trail to the Little Miami Trail. So unlike last year, where I trudged through a muddy wildlife preserve where part of the trail will eventually be built, I’m going to walk a park across the Beechmont Levee from Lunken instead.

The tricky part is the section between Beechmont Avenue at the foot of Mt. Washington to the actual trail start in Newtown. This part of the trail has been laid out, but until it’s finished, it’s essentially part of Turpin Farms and several people’s backyards. So while I’m walking a section that hasn’t actually been built yet, I’m actually having to walk along the edge of State Route 32, through a field, along a railroad track, to a town park and across part of a public golf course.

Once I’ve walked that, it’s time to get the old battered Huffy out of the basement and start riding. That begins at Avacoa Park, also near Newtown.  I plan to ride to my favorite part of the trail and my favorite suburb in Cincinnati: Loveland.  Every year when I walk or ride in Loveland, I stop at the Paxton Grill for breakfast or for beer and a bowl of chili.

Once I reach Newtown, I’m on the old rail bed of the former Little Miami Railroad, which I’ve blogged about before. You can still see bits and pieces of the old railroad along the trail.

But the trail is more than that. It’s quiet. The only noise comes from my seldom-ringing cell phone. During my ride last year between Morrow and Corwin, I stopped at one of the benches you find at odd spots far from any intersection with any road. It was a late summer afternoon, and I just stopped and sat and listened. For a mile in every direction was nothing but corn. The only noise came from the wind in the leaves, the odd car off in the distance, and an airplane buzzing overhead. I just sat and listened and thought about nothing.

There are more challenging trails. I used to enjoy walking the Old Man’s Cave Trail in Hocking Hills in a former life, six miles of hills and rocks. But the Little Miami is a place to unplug, unwind, and reset.

I do this every year over about eight or nine weekends every year. It’s become my meditation.

Random Friday Thoughts

  • Marillion should have a bigger American following.  They’re better (and less arrogant) than Oasis, less commecial than Coldplay, and about as good as Radiohead.  Hell, they sounded like Radiohead before Radiohead did.  Plus, they’ve got that great prog backlist with Fish as the lead singer.
  • I could take the Tea Party Movement more seriously if they’d stop letting in the jackasses who say things like “Keep the government out of Medicaid!”  Um…  It’s a government program, dumbass.
  • Likewise, the longer guys like Tim Pawlenty and and Bobby Jindahl are criticized by the GOP’s base as being “not conservative enough,” the faster the United States will become a one-party nation.  Lighten up, wingnuts.  You don’t have a monopoly on the truth, and you are being heard.  We’d just like you to quit screaming so we can hear what the other 80% of Americans have to say.  How about this?  The GOP jettisons the base and gets back to their real core principles, which, incidentally, bear little resemblance to the average wingnut’s manifesto.
  • I like flying Delta so much better now that Cincinnati Airport is now a hub in name only.  I’ll like CVG even more when they get Air Tran, Jet Blue, or Southwest to take over Terminal C.
  • Florida is a great place to be in October for those of us in the Midwest.  Even better in February.
  • Adam Lambert will likely be the next David Bowie if he ever puts American Idol firmly in his rearview mirror.  Thanks for the start, Simon.  Now get out of the way.
  • Why is it whenever the anti-gambling ads here in Ohio say “Fact!” they follow it up with a bald-faced lie every single time?  If opponents to Ohio casinos object to gambling on moral grounds, shouldn’t they also object to their own dishonesty on those same grounds?  Sure, it’s politics, but I’m used to candidates lying.  Those supporting issues should be held to a higher standard.
  • I switched my loyalty to the Bengals about three years ago (after living in Cincinnati for fifteen years).  Great to see that finally pay off this year.  Still don’t regret using my Ocho Cinco shirt to clean the condo with last year.
  • A couple of weeks ago at Starbucks, two Ohio State fans stood in line in front of me aghast that people in Cincinnati would root for anyone besides the Buckeyes.  “That’s cute,” one of them said.  “They think the (University of Cincinnati) Bearcats are going to a bowl game.”  His friend responded, “Yeah, no one will ever eclipse Ohio State.”  This week, Cincinnati is ranked 8th.  Ohio State?  17th.  And Cincinnati’s QB is a contender for the Heisman.  Monopoly’s over, kids, unless you want to lure Brian Kelly to Columbus.  Chances of that?  Slim, meet none; none, slim.
  • Ford:  No government money, rated better than Honda and Toyota, still in business.  GM:  Took the government loan, did everything they planned to do before Wall Street nearly destroyed capitalism (and they aren’t done screwing themselves yet), put out a decent line of new cars.  Chrysler:  WTF?  Maybe Fiat will keep Jeep alive.  Someone always does.
  • Winter sucks. It’s cold, wet, and dark.  Why couldn’t I have called myself “Sumner” or “Fall” instead?  “Spring” is too much like “Springer.”  Not happening.  Oh, well.  Too late now.
  • Heard about the controversy surrounding the Chris Farley clip from Tommy Boy in the DirecTV ad?  People, get a freaking grip!  It’s a clip from a movie used in a commercial!  It’s not like they turned Farley into a meat puppet to dance around on stage during Saturday Night Live.  Another example of the dumbing down of America.
  • Happy Halloween!

UPDATE:  Aw, are Buckeye fans upset Cincinnati is ahead in the polls?  Too friggin’ bad!

Rambling On My Mind

Been traveling a lot lately.  Bcon in Indy last weekend.  Ocala, Florida for BigHugeCo this weekend.  It used to be I loved to travel.  But then where did I go?

Toronto.  New York.  Philadelphia.  San Francisco.  Chicago.  Places I not only love to visit, but places where I know people.

Indianapolis was great.  It’s only 90 minutes away, so I drove.  It was great to see people I hadn’t seen in years and reconnect with the writing community.  This week, I’m in Florida, which, for an Ohioan, is not a bad place to be in late October.  However, I’m not traveling alone, so no Sunday afternoon jaunt down to Orlando or Tampa to check out the sights.  No trip to the Kennedy Space Center.

Also, it’s been a while since I’ve traveled heavily.   Some things had changed.

  • My coworker, who’s about my age, is single and wanted to close a bar.  Around midnight, I’m usually unable to stay awake.
  • I can’t really write in hotel rooms anymore.
  • It’s hard to be a part time college student and a traveling adult.
  • I don’t drink as much as I used to.  A few beers, and I’m done.
  • It used to be I could go on a trip for several days and not worry about who I was leaving behind.  The previous spouse and I were just that disengaged.  (Might explain the divorce.)  Now, I really don’t like being on the road without my wife, especially with a stepson.
  • Airports simply annoy me.  Not flying.  I’ve learned to deal with flying.  I hate airports.  My coworker’s flying pattern is to get to the airport an hour ahead of the flight.  I don’t blame him.  Security is a hassle.  I always seem to end up on Delta, which I consider the airline from hell.
  • Frankly, I’m living a different life now, one where home is a destination, not a place to sleep while I ponder where to go or what to do next.

It makes me regret not becoming a writer in my twenties.  Of course, I would have been a horrible writer in my twenties.  But in my twenties, I would not have cared if I had to sleep on friends’ couches, could stay out til 2 AM on a night when I needed to be at work the next morning, and had few obligations or responsibilities.

That’s also a big reason I gave up on standup.  When you’re young, naive, and a bit arrogant, sleeping in roach motels, drinking all night, and living by the seat of your pants don’t seem like problems.  I’d probably have lived out of a carry-on bag in those days.

I might have even done my road trip, though I doubt I’d have caused as much havoc as Jack Kerouac.

Places I Want To Be: Hocking Hills

Trail at Ash Cave

Trail at Ash Cave

Ohio is either known for Rust Belt cities like Cleveland and Dayton, for WKRP in Cincinnati, or vast sections of flat farmland.  But its also home to the Appalachian Foothills in the state’s southeast corner.  About an hour outside of Columbus lies Hocking Hills, a large swath of forested wilderness that, while not quite mountainous, gives you the impression you are, in fact, in the mountains.  No surprise there.  The Appalachians of West Virginia rise only a a hundred miles east of here and, beyond them, the Great Smokies to the south and the Blue Ridge Mountains of Virginia further east.  Hocking Hills is where it all begins.

Now, if you need to have subways, bars open late, and the roar of a city, I suggest New York, Chicago, or San Francisco.  If you want to forget about the modern world for a weekend or even a whole week, I suggest Hocking Hills if you’re on a budget.

The highlight of Hocking Hills are the caves – or in most cases, the remnants of caves.  Among them, Old Man’s Cave is probably the most famous.  A ravine formed by the collapse of a large cave, Old Man’s Cave stretches for about two miles toward a reservoir and drops you fifty to a hundred feet below the rim.  Old Man’s Cave is linked by a 6 mile hiking loop to Ash Cave to the south.  Ash Cave remains a cave, but is this otherworldly place gouged out of the side of a former mountain that has eroded away over time.  Ash is linked to still another eroded cave at Cantwell Cliffs, a rocky, steep crack in the earth overgrown with lush forest.  In all, you can conceivably hike ten miles from the vistor center to Old Man’s Cave down to Cantwell Cliffs and back up through Ash Cave.  I’ve done the Ash-Old Man’s loop, about six miles.  So what’s harder?  Climbing the dam to the reservoir above Old Man’s Cave ravine or walking the cave floor?  I’ll get back to you.  I will say this.  In the state’s earliest days of white settlement, the trail at the floor of Old Man’s/Ash Caves was the main highway into the Ohio Country.

I will never complain again about the condition of I-75.

But if hiking’s not your thing, there are plenty of cabins and lodges to stay at, most of them without Internet and nearly all of them cell phone inaccessible.  If you truly want to get away from it all, may I suggest Ravenwood Castle?  Built about 10 miles south of the state park, Ravenwood, a castle built atop a wooded hill, sits on several acres of isolated forest just north of McArthur, Ohio.  Accomodations range from roughing it in one of the camper-sized wagons to primitive comfort in the fairy tale cottages – former campground huts in a small meadow below the castle to the Celtic village, where you can stay in fully equipped and furnished cottages ranging from a small loft to a house big enough for you and ten of your closest friends.  Or you can opt for the luxury of a room in the castle.  I’ve stayed in the meadow, the cottages, and the castle, and the difference depends only on your mood.  Breakfast, part of your nightly rate, is a fantastic buffet of just about anything you’d want, including home-made granola and pancakes made from scratch.  For an extra fee, the castle also serves dinner nightly (reservations required).  Even if you’re not a guest of Ravenwood, you can still make a dinner reservation.

Hocking Hills is not where you go for the history of the Rock Hall or the Liberty Bell, the bustle of Times Square, or the tourist traps of Fisherman’s Warf.  You turn off your cell phone, forget there’s an Internet, and tune out the rest of the world.  You’re never so glad the modern world can’t intrude.

And never better prepared to face it than when you get back.

Places I Want To Be

Yesterday, I talked about the travel budget being shot to hell for the foreseeable future.  Nita and I, though, have talked about places we’d like to go next year.  Jamaica has been discussed, as has been Florida, Savannah, and the Tennessee or West Virginia mountains.  One place I talk about a lot, though, is the Lake Erie Islands.

Last year, I got to go to historic Put in Bay for the first time.  Both as a place to waste time in bars and a tourist trap, I loved Put in Bay.  Out in the middle of a large inland sea, it stays cool from breezes off the water.  You get around South Bass Island – where the village of Put in Bay sits – mainly by golf cart.  They have a winery, the Perry Monument, where you can see clear to Canada or back to the Ohio mainland and Cedar Point Amusement Park.  Most of the island is a state park, and the island is a place to party.  Plus, Put in Bay has one of the largest marinas in the state.  It’s a great place to dock the boat while you go out to eat or just chill on the beach.

Kelley’s Island, closer to the mainland, is more “suburban” than Put in Bay.  While Put In Bay shows signs everywhere that hardly anyone lives full time on the island, Kelley’s looks more like a small town out in the middle of the sea.  It, too, has a terrific state park, great for hiking, and a winery that fully admits all Lake Erie wines (and Ohio wines for that matter) are sweet because you can’t age the grapes there more than a year.  (A certain nameless winery on the afforementioned island suggested they’re bullshitting you in California.  Kelley’s Island suggests you try Napa Valley for the dryer wines.)  The odd thing about the Kelley’s Island WInery is that it’s more like a bar.  I sat having wine and cheese at the Kelley’s while watching the Nationwide NASCAR Series.

Kelley’s is a fully functioning town with its own school and a working rock quarry.  While tourists pack the island from April through October, there are 367 people who call this place home.  Like South Bass, golf carts are the preferred mode of transportation for visitors.  However, most of the bars are clustered near the marina on the eastern side of the island.

My one visit to Kelley’s involved bar hopping.  After spending the morning exploring the island, I started out at one bar at the beginning of an Ohio State football game and worked may way over to the island’s sole brew pub and back to The Caddyshack for the end of the game.  It was late fall, and the tourists were fewer in number.  All in all, a cheap weekend away while the ex enjoyed Cedar Point on the mainland.

Ziggins and I talk about having a boys weekend out on the lake, starting in Sandusky and boating over to Kelley’s Island, then Put-in-Bay, before heading back to the mainland.  There’s something these tiny, isolated villages in the middle of the water that’s irresistable.