Rochester to Perrysburg

Thursday 4th to Saturday 6th August – Stages 74 to 76.

Thursday 4th August – Rochester to Huntington (Stage 74).

Yesterday was a rest day & I did 3 things of note – got some of my blog posts drafted for use over the weekend, planned the next few days of riding & had a haircut. I’m sure wearing a cycling helmet for over 3 months has expanded my bald patch!! Thanks Syd, I love it. You did a great job with very limited natural materials!

We had another 70+ mile day in the saddle planned, so were on our way by 9am, passing the city’s water tower on the way to picking up the Nickel Plate Trail. This is another Rails to Trail initiative & the 40 mile paved cycle path connects Rochester to Kokomo via the old Norfolk Southern Railroad route.

I was interested in how the name came about & after a bit of digging around on the internet, I can now share a little of its history – it’s nothing like I was expecting. The railroad passed through New York, Chicago & St Louis (NYCL) & generated vast sums of money for each of those cities. In the 1920’s, the editor of the Norwalk Ohio Chronicle described the NYCL railroad as being nickel plated (meaning it was guaranteed to make money, as well as being a pun on the American 5 cent piece) & the name stuck.

We only rode the first 15 miles of the trail as far as Denver, but that was enough to see how much care & attention had be spent on making it just right. There were trail maps at every trailhead, so you always knew where you were. The path took us along the edge of farming land, small residential outposts & through small pockets of woodland.

I was looking forward to reaching Denver, as it would put us back on the Adventure Cycling Association maps that I bought before we started our adventure. However, Denver Main Street was no more, as construction was underway to relay 3 miles of tarmac. Luckily, one of the workmen told us how to detour round town & get back onto the road further along.

The skies had been closing in since we set off from Rochester & about 20 miles into the ride we felt the first spots of drizzle begin to fall. The temperature had remained in the mid-70’s, so we were happy enough carrying on riding in just our shorts & short sleeved jerseys as we continued on our way between the soya bean plants.

There were a couple of unexpected surprises, firstly we passed a Christmas Tree farm that appeared to be in the middle of nowhere & about 30 minutes later we spotted a house with a statue that looked like it was Birdman from Flash Gordon – needless to say we then did awful impressions of Brian Blessed’s character Prince Vultan shouting “Gordon’s Alive”, as well as singing the Queen theme tune. 15 weeks on the road has turned our brains to putty!!!

The ACA route recommended taking a side trip to visit the Dam on the way through Salamonie State Park. Fresh tarmac had been laid in the last couple of weeks & we fairly whizzed down the descents as we followed the river. The Salamonie Dam was constructed in 1966 by the US Army Corps of Engineers (you may remember that they also constructed the complex Locks & supports for St Anthony Falls in Minneapolis). The dam is 6,100 feet long & 133 feet high.

In 2012, Indiana was experiencing a severe drought & the Salamonie Lake receded, uncovering Monument City, one of 3 small towns sacrificed in 1965 to create the lake.

However, this wasn’t what held our attention today, interesting as it was – you may see some small black blobs in the railings in the photo above. There was a wake of 8 turkey vultures perched on the dam railing & they seemed totally unimpressed by 2 skinny Brits in cycling kit stopping to gawk at them.

Just a hundred yards or so along the dam, there were a few committees of turkey vultures with between 3 & 6 birds all congregating on the stones. We were just missing a kettle of them flying, but seeing so many birds in such a small area was a rare treat. A little known fact is that turkey vultures have feet that resemble chickens rather than other birds of prey. As a result they normally feed off carrion that has been dead for between 12 & 24 hours. In desperate times they will hunt small reptiles & rats, but this is quite uncommon.

We stopped briefly in the State Park Visitor Centre, where we learned that this is one of 3 interconnected dams & reservoirs that provide flood protection to the Upper Wabash River valley.

As we left the State Park behind, we returned to farmland, with the familiar corn fields laid out in front of us like a patchwork quilt. Although the rain of earlier in the day was long gone, the humidity remained in the air & whenever we stopped to take a photo our arms seemed to leak sweat, as if an internal tap had been opened!

As we neared Huntington, we spotted a few more signs of civilisation & a number of the properties had lakes with fountains that appeared as if they may also double up as somewhere for the children to either swim or mess around in small boats. There also appeared to be a bit of competition between households, as each lake & fountain was slightly larger than the previous one!

We were still on the grid system of roads, so we could see there was a body of water getting ever closer. We were heading towards JE Roush Lake, another of the 3 flood protection lakes we read about at the Visitor Centre earlier.

We continued on quiet lanes all the way to Huntington, where we made our way across town to our motel for the evening. I stopped to add a new type of water tower to my photo collection.

We’re in a Super 8 motel this evening & the photo below gives an idea of the set up of some of the nicer places we’ve stayed. This one had a swimming pool & of more interest to us, guest laundry! There was a glorious sunset this evening, so hopefully that’s a good sign for tomorrow.

Stage Stats – 72 miles, 1,365 feet of climbing. Long straight roads for the majority of the day, with flocks of turkey vultures in Salamonie State Park.

Friday 5th August – Huntington to Defiance (Stage 75).

Huntington is where J Danforth (Dan) Quayle, the 44th Vice President of the USA, went to school & the Quayle Vice Presidential Learning Center (US spelling) is located here. He was Vice President to George H W Bush from 1989 to 1993. As we left Huntington this morning, we both saw a sign for the Dan Quayle Museum (the old name for the Learning Center), so I wanted to find out what his connection was, as he was born in Indianapolis & spent most of his childhood in Arizona.

Setting off at 8.30am, we retraced out tyre tracks for 5 miles to Bowerstown, then picked up new tarmac. We were joined by Chris, a local, who was out for a 40 mile ride. He was interested in where we’d been & where we were going, as he’s previously done some touring. Chris rode with us for about 15 minutes or so & then continued on his way & in next to no time he was disappearing up the road! He’s on the crest of the hill in the first photo below.

As you can see, we had the long, straight roads to ourselves again. Although the fields have had the same crops in them for the last week or so, the scenery is always slightly different & there’s always the possibility of seeing wildlife, so it hasn’t felt like a continuation of the same ride.

One of my favourite vegetables is corn on the cob & I’ve been watching as the crops have developed as we’ve crossed the USA from Montana to Ohio. We’re seeing some fields where the corn looks to be almost ready for harvesting. It’s common for plants to produce between 2 & 4 ears of corn in a season, depending on how well the crop is tended.

I’ve even cooked sweetcorn on a couple of occasions on my adventure – you can buy an ear in its husk for $1 in supermarkets & if you microwave it for 5 minutes, wrapped in a damp paper towel parcel, it’s ready to eat. You can have this cooking tip for free, although you may have to buy my upcoming book to find out how to brew coffee from a packet & make your own trail mix from peanuts, raisins and M&M’s!!!

I’m a fan of the colours purple, yellow & orange – now I’ve admitted this, you’ll no doubt notice (if you haven’t already) that most of my action photos have at least one of these colours in. Nearing the small town of Poe, I’d dropped back to take a photo of Sean against a yellow background, although from this distance I couldn’t tell what the plant was.

As I got closer, I realised it was a small field of sunflowers – I don’t know why, but they always make me feel happy & bring a smile to my face. When I ride in the UK, there’s a field near Lacock that is turned over to sunflowers every summer & I always look forward to riding past it – I may also enjoy the coffee & cake stop just across the road!

We reached the small town of Hoagland, where I was hoping to find a coffee shop. However, the shop no longer exists so we had a very disappointing stewed coffee & processed lemon pie (it was so rank I didn’t even finish it) from a gas station. I didn’t take a photo, as I didn’t want to break the lens on my phone!!!! To be fair to the gas station, they did let us fill up our bottles with ice & fresh water from the soda dispensing machine.

We continued on our way & as we reached Monroeville we saw our 2nd jet plane of the day (there was an identical one in Hoagland, but it had electricity cables in front of it, so I couldn’t get a decent photo). This F-84F was built in 1951 by General Motors & Republic Aviation & was eventually assigned to the 122nd Tactical Fighter Wing just outside Fort Wayne, Indiana. It’s now based outside the Monroeville Community Park & has pride of place.

As we left Monroeville, we joined State Line Road, which took us to the Lincoln Highway at the border to Indiana & Ohio. The Indiana photo is the one I used the other day when we entered the State & today we’re saying goodbye as we head into Ohio on our way ever East.

Crossing into Ohio, we immediately saw a windfarm – there are 152 turbines & when running at full power can provide enough electricity to service the equivalent of 76,000 homes. This is the largest windfarm in Ohio & farmers receive between $3,000 & $7,000 annually for hosting each turbine.

New tarmac had been laid recently & as we cycled along we could feel the road becoming more sticky, as the tar was still warm! As we neared the end of the new road, the road workers had finished for the day & were heading towards us. Baldwin is one of six ghost towns situated in Ohio, near to the Indiana border, but from later research there doesn’t appear to be much to see, so I’m glad we didn’t detour to try & find it!

As we turned onto OH500 heading East, we crossed into Ohio for real. The only obvious difference between Indiana & Ohio was the wind farm, as the crops continued to be corn & soya beans.

Heading towards Payne, farmland gave way to large residential properties, with equally large gardens – a recurring theme is how tidy the lawns are. We’ve seen many a person on their ride-on lawn mowers as we cycle in the mornings.

I also caught a fleeting glimpse of a white-tailed deer way off in a field. Just as I was getting ready to take a photo the deer was spooked by something & I ended up with an unexpected but very welcome action shot of the deer, mid-bound!

Some 10 miles on from the Indiana / Ohio border the wind turbines were still visible & some farmers must be doing quite well with their “good neighbour” payments.

As we reached Paulding we were both hoping there would be somewhere to stop for coffee & maybe cake. We spent 5 minutes looking round the Business District & eventually spotted Past Time Cafe.

The owner, Mike Iler, came over & asked us whether we were riding up / down the country or across it – he sees quite a few long distance cyclists & he welcomed us with open arms! In spite of him busy & needing to get to the bank, he stopped & chatted with us for about 20 minutes or so & was genuinely interested in our adventure – Mike, I know you’ll be reading this, as is Susan, so please pass our thanks on to your Team at the Cafe who looked after us.

We had a piece of cherry pie each & mine came with ice cream too – I need to keep up my calorie intake as I know people back home have been saying I look thin!!! The pie was delicious & I devoured the lot 🙂

Without exception, our interactions with people we’ve met as we’ve crossed the country have been positive & enjoyable occasions & they have really added to the experiences & memories that I’ll take home with me.

Leaving Paulding behind, we joined more deserted backroads that took us across more farmland. We were once more on the grid system of roads, where every corner was a right angle & the roads were at 1 mile intervals. It made navigation very simple & straightforward.

As we reached Junction, the road followed the course of the Auglaize River into Defiance, our stop for the evening. Defiance sounds like the name of a town that Jack Reacher would turn up in – we passed through Beyond Hope way back in Idaho & I had the same thought then!

The river is a tributary of the Maumee River, which it joins in Defiance. Hopefully we’ll see some of the Maumee on tomorrow’s ride. As far as today is concerned, we made our way across town & found our motel for the evening.

As it’s a Friday night, we found a grill/bar just across the road where we could relax & toast fellow Friday Beer Club members around the world! Apologies for the awful photo, we had red lights shining on us.

Stage Stats – 85 miles, 587 feet of climbing. Making friends over cherry pie!

Saturday 6th August – Defiance to Perrysburg (Stage 76).

We woke to blue skies & high humidity, with a slight cross-wind. As we had a slightly shorter ride, we were on the road for about 9.45am. Leaving town, we joined State Route 424 where it becomes the Maumee Valley Scenic Byway. Throughout our ride today we would be shadowing the Maumee River as we head North-East towards the next Great Lake on our adventure.

The Jack Reacher theme continued this morning, as Defiance led to Independence – I can almost picture Jack riding into town on the Greyhound bus with just his wallet & toothbrush for company! Independence Dam State Park is on the Maumee Water Trail which runs from Lake Erie in the North East to the Ohio / Indiana border in the South West – at the State Park we stopped briefly & chatted to a Dad who was relaxing with his young lads as they all watched the local fishermen doing their thing.

We’ve noticed that our Genesis Tour de Fer bikes are real talking points, not because of the bikes themselves, but because they identify us as a rare breed of person – people who measure our journey by the experiences we have & people we meet along the way, not how quickly we reach our destination! We’ve been on the road so long that we now have stories to tell about places we’ve been, whereas 3 months ago all we had were dreams & aspirations of what we hoped to experience & places we hoped to visit.

The original wooden dam was built in the 19th century to provide water for the canal system. This was replaced in 1924 with the concrete dam you see below which creates a weir. The canals that connected the Ohio river with Lake Erie were created in the 1800’s, but were eventually usurped by the railroad & they fell into ruin. In 1913 a flood destroyed most of what remained, however, 7 miles of the canal are preserved between the State Park & County Road 424.

Although it was a Saturday morning, there was hardly any traffic on the road. As we continued along the side of the Maumee, the scenery around us continually switched between woodland & farmland. I’d asked Sean if he’s take an action shot for me & we managed to time it so we also captured 3 local cyclists out for their Saturday ride – they disappeared into the distance! We’ve learned to be humble & accept that with our steel bikes & touring kit we’re easy pickings for everyone else on a bike & trying to catch up or keep up only ends in tired legs & bruised egos!!!

Jimbo, don’t get ideas – I’ll be trying to chase you down at every opportunity when I get home!!! 🙂

Ohio has also re-introduced us to Historical Markers – in this instance we learned about Judge Alexander Latty & the Camp that was named after him. These are a great source of information & also help to understand some of the history associated with the local area.

Entering Napoleon (yes, it was named for the French Emperor of the same name in 1832), we were on the lookout for coffee & hopefully cake. After a brief hunt around the Business District we found Country Gourmet & they came up trumps – I asked the barista what she would recommend & went with her suggestion of a pumpkin & chocolate chip cookie, as well as a blueberry muffin & a black forest latte. It was absolutely delicious!!

As we left town we passed the Town Hall, so I grabbed a photo to remind me of our visit.

The river had been hidden from view since Independence, but it was worth waiting for it to reveal itself again. There were tens of pleasure craft ploughing their way up & down the river. We were cycling along the left bank, so we were overlooking the river & had great views in both directions.

I was aware that at some point today we’d be picking up a gravel trail, but I was still surprised (in a very good way), when we arrived in Providence & stumbled on the Miami & Erie Canal. Canal boats once carried goods & people the 249 miles between Toledo & Cincinnati. We got a sense of what canal travel might have been like along a renovated section of canal, complete with lock.

The horse in the first picture is pulling a replica of an authentic canal boat, while the historic Isaac Ludwig Mill preserve features of a mid-1800’s Ohio.

This was also our gateway to the Towpath Trail, which follows the remains of the Miami & Erie Canal towpath for 8 miles to Farnsworth Metropark in Waterville. Initially we were on a paved surface, but it soon became crushed limestone & gravel. We were both happy riding on the gravel today, me because I genuinely enjoy it & Sean because it gave protection from the fierce sun overhead!

Along the trail we passed through Bend View State Park with vast vistas of the river in both directions. As we reached Waterville & crossed the river, we could see egrets & blue heron fishing in the shallows below.

All that remained was for us to make our way across to Perrysburg, where we would be staying for the next 3 nights. To celebrate another 3 adventure filled days we tucked into chicken alfredo, washed down with a Nordic IPA from Schell’s Brewery. As Saturday Beer Club was in session, we stayed for a 2nd pint too!

Stage Stats – 57 miles, 384 feet of climbing. Following the Maumee River, then the Miami & Erie Canal.

South Haven to Rochester

Monday 1st & Tuesday 2nd August – Stages 72 & 73

Monday 1st August – South Haven to La Porte (Stage 72).

It was another 70+ mile day today, so we stuck with our tried & tested routine of getting on the road for 9am. However, one hurdle to overcome was a rather meagre breakfast offering, which when we’re riding for 5 or more hours a day, on multiple days, isn’t ideal preparation for the day ahead! 2 bits of toast & a bagel was all that was on offer, so we agreed to stop at the first opportunity.

It was a challenge getting onto the Van Buren Trail State Park this morning as the trail was being resurfaced & the workers didn’t offer any advice of how long it went on for or where we could re-join it! We were only on this Rail to Trail for about 5 miles, but it was still a beautiful place to ride, once we found our way onto the trail!

As we picked up the Blue Star Highway we briefly passed through the Van Buren State Park & we were hemmed in by woodland.

As you can see from the photos it was an overcast day, but that just meant that when we saw Lake Michigan for the first time today the green-blue water stood our even more than the last couple of days. I had a 2 minute walk from the deserted road to get to this beach, while Sean waited patiently for me to do my thing with my camera.

I try to take as many photos as possible while we’re on the move, but there are times when I need to stop to get the shot I want & Sean’s been patience personified whenever I’ve stopped. Hopefully seeing the photos on these posts make some of the waiting worthwhile!

The Blue Star Highway (Highway M63) is part of the Lake Michigan Circle Tour – a route that takes in the complete coastline of the lake, as well as the designated Highway 10 crossing of Lake Michigan by the SS Badger. We hardly saw any traffic in the first 25 miles of our ride today, so had plenty of time to look out for unusual follies in gardens.

You may be thinking that I said in the first paragraph we would be on the lookout for a stop & here we are 25 miles in, with no mention of coffee & cake. That’s because we were still looking & were feeling very hungry, but up ahead was the town of St Joseph & over the river there was a chance of at least a gas station.

St Joseph had more than a gas station – it had Chocolate Cafe, which specialised in…..delicious chocolate cakes & acceptable coffee. In spite of being starving, this was the only occasion on the adventure where I was unable to eat everything! It was just to rich for me finish, but it was a fine piece of cake.

As we left town via Lakeshore Drive, we saw a huge fountain down by the lake with loads of children playing under what was now a blue sky. We also passed a poignant monument remembering all the people of St Joseph who served in the armed forces & never returned from active duty.

At Lookout Point we had a last view of Lake Michigan for a while as we headed slightly inland.

Heading towards Stevensville we crossed under the Interstate & passed through Shoreham (a reminder of my summer holidays as a schoolboy, as I used to visit a place by the same name in West Sussex when I stayed with my Aunt in Littlehampton). We then skirted the edge of Grand Mere State Park, where we saw 2 other long distance cyclists heading West as we headed East.

At various random points I’ve had “eureka moments” of what a huge adventure we’re on & seeing a sign for Chicago was one of those moments. Others include the first time we crossed a State Line (Washington to Idaho) for the first time after 21 days of cycling, when I had a 5 minute crisis of confidence on our 4 hour climb of Powder River Pass & when we visited Mount Rushmore & I realised we were now more than halfway through out adventure.

We continued to shadow the Interstate, with corn fields on our right, while trees separated us from the cars & lorries to our left. We headed towards Lake Michigan as we approach New Buffalo, heading through woodland that protected us from the sun overhead.

Our final view of Lake Michigan reminded me of the French Riviera with its stunning turquoise water, sandy beaches & distant coastline – it’s hard to believe this is an inland lake! I’ve really enjoyed my two & a half days tracking the USA’s largest body of water that lies entirely within its borders, but I’m also looking forward to seeing more large lakes before the adventure ends!

The eagle-eyed of you will notice that I’m wearing a different jersey in the selfie above & the one below. Well done if you noticed! There’s a simple explanation, the photo below was taken when we left Indiana a few days later! We crossed from Michigan to Indiana on a deserted lane between me taking the first & third photo below, so there wasn’t a “Welcome to Indiana” sign. We did visit Indiana though, honest!!!

Our long, straight road intersected with a long straight railroad track & it wasn’t obvious from the bridge whether the rail or the road would deviate first! La Porte has about 10 to 15 lakes in the near vicinity & we passed a couple of them as we headed to our motel. The day had started under grey cloud, but ended in glorious sunshine – another brilliant day exploring in the saddle!

Stage Stats – 75 miles, 2,057 feet of climbing. Saying goodbye to the Lake & State of Michigan, as we say hello to Indiana.

Tuesday 2nd August – La Porte to Rochester (Stage 73).

A recurring theme as we’ve headed East is the ubiquitous presence of water towers that indicate the name of each town before you reach it. The La Porte example here is one of the better ones that we’ve seen. We made our way across town & within 10 minutes we had found the first of the day’s long, straight, farm roads – we would be on this one for about 11 miles without ever deviating off due South!

For most of the first couple of hours we were between fields of corn & soya beans, so when I saw a single, lonely sunflower I had to stop & capture the moment.

The straight roads, with right angle corners continued for more than 2 hours – this is something you never experience in the the UK & it took until mile 34 for our first non-ninety degree corner! That was just shy of half distance on today’s ride & only 2 miles short of our coffee stop…..

North Judson is home to the Fingerhut Bakery – I looked up a coffee stop in advance to make sure there was one, as we’re on remote roads all day. The bakery has been open for 75 years & on my limited taste test of their apricot & pineapple cakes, they’ll be here for another 75 years! The selection of cakes was out of this world & the people working in the shop had a real passion for what they did.

After I’d eaten 2 cakes Sean literally pushed me out the door before I settled in for the day!

As we joined the North Judson Erie Trail & it was clear that bikes would be welcome! The trail follows the old JK Line Railroad for 9 miles between North Judson & Bass Lake. The good news for us was that we would be cycling the entire 9 miles! Whereas once upon a time the railroad would have demanded right of way, the cycle trail gives way to traffic, so there are gates to slow cyclists down as they approach each of the roads.

As we were cycling along chatting to each other, we startled a huge contingent of birds of prey that were sat quietly on the ground. To this day I don’t know for sure what they were, as they were up in the air before we had a chance to have a good look at them. I shot some video footage of them, but I still can’t work out what they are, although I don know there are a lot of them!

We struck a rich vein of wildlife as no sooner had we left the trail than we spotted 3 deer, as they spotted us. They kindly stayed in place long enough for me to get a photo, then they turned around & pranced off into the distance. This is a sight I’m going to miss as we continue east.

We were still on deserted, straight roads & we couldn’t remember when we last saw a car. All through Wisconsin, Michigan & now Indiana we’ve passed cemeteries on the outskirts of small towns. Some had as few of 5 or 10 headstones, while others like St Anne’s Cemetery outside Monterey had hundreds of memorials & headstones.

We stopped in Monterey to top up our water bottles & enjoy a cooling coke in the air conditioned bar. As we returned to farmland we gave way to an Amish horse-drawn carriage. We were hot on our bikes, but that was nothing compared to how hot it must have been for the people we saw working the fields dressed in traditional clothing.

As we continued towards Rochester on the final long, straight road of the day we passed a couple of examples of the type of houses we’ve been seeing for the last couple of days. The gardens are always pristine & the buildings are also kept in perfect condition.

Stage Stats – 78 miles, 689 feet of climbing. Our fourth day on the trot of cycling over 70 miles. An indication of how our fitness has built over the last 14 weeks.