End Of The Trail

Little Miami Bike TrailA week and a half ago, I reached a park in Yellow Springs, Ohio while riding the Little Miami Bike Trail. This is the furthest I’ve gone in my annual trek up the trail.

It’s also the first year where I was able to connect all the sections from Newport, KY, across from downtown Cincinnati, to the trail proper. Because of an old fishing lane on the Beechmont Levee and a connection between the trail around Lunken Airport and a nearby park, I was able to ride from Lunken up State Route 32 to the southern end of the trail and about eight miles into it.

This was the first year I went past the Xenia Trail Hub. Xenia is a former railroad town between Dayton and Cincinnati famous more for a 1974 tornado outbreak than anything else. But Xenia is a decent sized city serving as a bedroom community for Dayton, a quiet little city. The trail gets interesting as it goes into Yellow Springs, a college town suburb of Dayton. It goes past Antioch College – literally across the street from it – and into downtown Yellow Springs where there are a bunch of bars setup to accommodate bicyclists. The trailhead in Yellow Springs is a park at the end of a spur that cuts through a cornfield.

I had a harder time of it this year. Part of it is that I was more out of shape than I was last year. Also, I think the battered Huffy, which I picked up at a thrift shop for $50 a few years ago, is not really well-suited for what threaten to become century rides in the coming years. I sense a graduation present on my horizon: A new bike. Maybe not brand new, but better suited for a more serious cyclist.


Bike Butt

Man in suit riding a bike

CC Bubba

This past weekend was Week 5 of my annual trek up the Little Miami Bike Trail, and this weekend, I rode the section known as the Loveland Bike Trail. This week’s segment took me 14 miles to a railroad town gone to seed called Morrow. It’s a trip I’ve made many times before. However, last week, my aging bike seat came apart as I returned to my car from Loveland. I probably should have replaced it when I had the bike tuned up this spring. But it was so comfortable.

Anyway, as the Loveland Bike Trail is part of one of the longer segments of my annual ride, I dropped the bike off to have the seat replaced, picked it up midweek, and was ready to ride. Right?

Wrong. During last week’s ride, someone pointed out that I needed to raise my seat, so I took care of that when I got the bike home. Not even 100 yards into the ride and my seat slid down to the frame. My bad. I’m not really handy with tools. One trip to the hardware store later, and I was on my way with my seat up where it was supposed to be.

Only the bike shop did not do their part of the job properly. Half a mile up the trail, and the seat had rocked back. Fortunately, I had my crescent wrench with me. That worked for raising and lowering the seat, so it should work for tightening the seat itself into place.

Loveland Bike TrailWell, no. No it wouldn’t. I had the nut tightened on the seat as hard it would go. About 10 miles up the trail, the seat had my nuts tightened. I later told Nita she no longer had to worry about me getting her pregnant. (She was not amused.) So what should have been a 2 hour ride became three because I had to periodically stop and adjust the angle of my seat.

I made the round trip – 26 miles in all. However, my ass felt like I’d sat on a metal bar for three hours. In Loveland, I headed over to Paxton’s for lunch and a beer. Along the way, I passed the bike rental place. The sign listed repairs. I went in and asked.

“We stopped doing repairs last season because we don’t have time to spend on it.” The bike rental place was always crowded.

“Oh,” I said. “I just need the seat tightened.”

“Really?” said the girl behind the counter, clearly younger than my stepson, who graduated high school two years earlier. “That’s two wrenches. Is the bike with you?”

Ten minutes later, the bike was comfortable and ready for another ride.

Too bad the bike shop didn’t get it right the first time (They usually do.) Sunday morning as I type this, even the recliner is giving me saddle sores.

Hitting The Trail

Abandoned rail signal on Little Miami TrailThis weekend, I start riding the Little Miami Trail, a different section each weekend. I began this ritual in 2007 when I would walk part of the trail. Took a lot longer since I could only walk so far, so I had to walk shorter sections. One afternoon, after walking into Loveland took longer than in previous years, I realized I’d be gone until evening if I walked back. There was a bike rental place in Loveland along the trail (which is one of that town’s biggest attractions), so rented a bike, through it in the back of our Santa Fe, and drove it back.

The trail is kind of a mental reset for me. I start in Newport, Kentucky, across the river from downtown Cincinnati. This is actually part of the Ohio River Trail, which has come together rather quickly. The completed section extends from the Levee, an entertainment and dining complex right on the Ohio River, to Lunken Airfield. In recent years, Lunken’s five-mile hiking loop has been extended to a park on the far side of the Beechmont Levee and also into a nature preserve across the Little Miami River.

There is a gap between Lunken and trail itself. I’ve improvised a route along the highway that runs between the trailhead and the airport. From there, the trail is 76 miles from suburban Cincinnati all the way to Yellow Springs, near Dayton.

The old Jeremiah Morrow BridgeIt’s been a year of change for the trail. One section is detoured in rural Warren County due to flood erosion. One of the trail’s most spectacular attractions, the 300+-foot Jeremiah Morrow Bridge, is being replaced with a new concrete bridge. One span is finished, and the trail was closed between Morrow and the tiny hamlet of Oregonia when the original northbound span was demolished. On a more upbeat note, Hamilton County has begun to extend the trail from the Newtown end to connect with another trail in nearby Anderson Township. Unfortunately, the date of construction on a section that would connect the existing trail to Lunken Airfield and the Ohio River remains “someday.”

I like being out on the trail. At one point, I would load up the iPod and ride all day. Last year, I was happy just to ride without sound. Normally, I start my ride on Easter Sunday. This year, the weather did not cooperate.It was not warm or dry enough until well into May. So naturally, I waited until this weekend, when temperatures are predicted to top 90 degrees and scattered thunderstorms are forecast. Hey, life is nothing without an adventure. My goal this year is to get all the way to Yellow Springs. However, in two years, I plan to start in Yellow Springs early in the morning and ride all the way to Newport, all 76 miles, part of a birthday week celebration I hope will include the Flying Pig Marathon.

With maybe a stop at the haunted factory near King’s Island.

Peters Cartridge Factory

End Of The Trail. For Now.

rr_signalOn Easter, I began my trek from Newport-on-the-Levee, across the river from Cincinnati in Northern Kentucky, to Yellow Springs, Ohio, an annual ritual I’ve been doing by bike since 2010, mostly along the Little Miami Trail.

I’d hoped to tell you that this week, I made it all the way to Yellow Springs. The weather has not cooperated. I’d finish next weekend or the weekend after, but I really need to get started on the Insanity workout and get my weight back under control.

As you can see from the picture on the left, the bulk of the trail follows the former Little Miami Railroad. This year, construction began on the trails southern end near Lunken Airport. Eventually, this will connect with the current terminus at Newtown. The weather has been mostly good, though for the first three legs of the journey, it was unusually chilly.

What struck me this year was the amount of history along the trail. I rode last weekend from Morrow to Corwin, and on the way back was thinking, “This is part of where Lincoln rode to his inauguration.”

cannonThere is also a town farther down the trail called Miamiville, the site of one of the few Civil War battles to take place in Ohio. Union troops stationed at Camp Dennison (now an unincorporated village also along the trail) met John Morgan’s Raiders at Miamiville and drove them east. Morgan and his Confederate intruders were eventually captured near Cambridge, close to the West Virginia border.

Today, however, some of the trail is sad to look at. Morrow, a farm town north of Cincinnati, looks almost dead. Along the trail are several rundown multifamily homes that have more For Rent signs in the windows than curtains. A couple of businesses appear to be in business, but look abandoned when you look in the windows. My next stop on that leg of the trail was Corwin. I was disheartened to see a huge sign in front of the Corwin Peddler, an English-style restaurant, proclaiming “Business for sale to new owner.” I used to love stopping at the peddler when I did the trail. It’s not quite a pub, but the food was different, and it’s a great place to relax after you’ve ridden 14-18 miles, depending on whether you started or turned around at Corwin. I hope someone buys the place. I’d hate for there to be nothing at one of the major trailheads.

My favorite parts of the trail, though, are downtown Loveland, the Little Miami Gorge north of Morrow, and the nature preserve south of Xenia. Loveland, of course, is a quiet little town northeast of Cincinnati. I almost always stop at Paxton’s Grill whenever the trail takes me there. The Gorge boasts the Little River Cafe, this year, the site of something I’d not seen before. The Cafe does not open until 4PM (which is why I haven’t been there in years. One day, I’ll do the Corwin leg in the afternoon instead of the morning.), and this spring found the lot taken over by about twenty buzzards. Huge birds, though you don’t want to get too close to them. They’re ugly, and they have a bad habit of puking on anyone who gets to close. Yet I and a local from the town on that section of the trail, stood watching these birds scavenging the lot, mostly near the dumpster. On my way back through, they were gone as the Little River Cafe employees had showed up to prepare for the afternoon.

Also in the Gorge is the Jeremiah Morrow Bridge, currently being replaced. morrow6To the left is how the bridge looked about three years ago. Mind you, I didn’t realize I’d walked through a field of poison ivy when I took that shot. Thank God I’m still fairly immune to the stuff. This time, as I passed through, I could see the new southbound bridge under construction. It will likely open next year to northbound traffic while the current northbound span is demolished and replaced. Construction teams have done a good job keeping the trail open. They’ve limited closures to weekdays and to no more than an hour. Though when the existing spans are demolished, debris will prove an interesting challenge. It’s still strange to pass beneath the bridge and hear a semi 350 over your head farting its way toward Cincinnati or Columbus. Sometimes, it’s a little unsettling, too.

I still want to finish the trail this year, going all the way to Yellow Springs. However, my ultimate goal comes on my fiftieth birthday. That week, I want to run the Flying Pig Marathon, sort of proof to myself that I’ll be healthier at fifty than I was at forty (or even thirty.) But that’s one weekend. By then, the trail will be open all the way to the Ohio River (and if it’s not, I’ll have figured out a way to bridge the gap between Newtown and Lunken.) There is a hotel along the trail in Yellow Springs. I plan to have Nita drive me and my bike up on a Friday night, spend the night, and get us a hotel room in Newport, Kentucky. I’ll meet up with her after riding the entire almost-90 miles in one day. For now, I plan to take care of the last two sections of trail in July.

Mmm… Nice and hot.

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.

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.