By Enzo Fatigati
First of all, I want to apologize to all serious cyclists that may read this article because I understand that riding from Massillon, Ohio, to Westerville, Ohio, on a bicycle is not a great feat. Also, my lack of preparation for it may not be appreciated by serious Bikers.
The idea of doing a long bike ride popped into my head in early spring as a result of conversations with friends who were training for a marathon. Knowing that my family and I intended to travel to Westerville, near Columbus, to spend Easter weekend and celebrate my birthday with relatives, I thought — intent meets opportunity! I decided that I would ride to Westerville on Saturday to meet my family there. And doing it on my 59th birthday seemed to add a little interest to the adventure. Remembering that I had done this exact same bike ride 27 years earlier, pretty much with the same level of preparation, the idea of doing it again really intrigued me.
To get started, I took my old bike to be serviced. As I began planning the trip, I became slightly concerned about having enough daylight to finish since it was during the shorter days of early spring. That aspect forced me to be a little more diligent about planning. I decided to break up the ride into four sections with four logical interim destinations roughly the same distance apart, anticipating that with the worst case scenario, each leg would take about three hours. I knew from my previous ride 27 years ago, from driving the route a number of times to visit my sister and from not wanting to take the highways that the middle part of the ride was going to be the hardest with long hills and some pretty steep ones near Mohican State Park. My idea was that the last part of the ride was going to be the easiest because the terrain flattens 20-30 miles from Columbus. Perfect! Well, things don’t always turn out as expected.
Biking through Mohican State Park to Columbus
So, here is the plan: (1) Massillon to Wooster – about 30 miles; (2) Wooster to Loudonville – about 30 miles on Rt. 3; (3) Loudonville to Mt. Vernon – about 30 some miles on Rt. 3; and (4) Mt. Vernon to Westerville – 46 miles mostly on Rt. 3.
I left Massillon on Saturday around 7:30 am. It was a nice, cool morning – perfect. The first hill out of Massillon, about 1 mile from my home, my heart was pumping, breathing just a little harder and I thought, “OK … This is just the beginning, long way to go.” I think 20 miles or so into the ride, somewhere between Orville and Wooster, the exhilarating feeling of being alone on a bike some distance from the destination started to sink in. It was probably a combination of feeling unplugged (as unplugged as one can be while carrying a cell phone) and maybe self-reliance, in the sense that reaching the destination is up to you and your bike. It’s a feeling that has always drawn me to long bike rides, or long hikes, or similar challenges.
Arriving in Wooster ahead of schedule, I headed out of town to Rt. 3 which I would follow all the way to my destination. The ride from Wooster to Loudonville was more of the same; rolling farm land and very green. Somewhere between Wooster and Loudonville, my daughter passed me (she was driving to Westerville ahead of the rest of my family) and pulled off the road. After we visited for a few minutes, I ate a protein bar, drank some water, and got back on the bike. I arrived in Loudonville ahead of schedule thinking about what was still ahead of me; some long hills and a few very steep ones. I welcomed the challenge. Riding hills is definitely engaging.
As I rode, I occasionally recognized a farmhouse or views. Things look different from the seat of a bike than they do from the seat of a car. Some sights were the same as I remembered 27 years ago, while others had changed. One landmark in particular that I was looking forward to seeing was a very large oak tree on probably the steepest hill of the entire ride. I still remembered stopping under the shadow of that giant oak tree on my previous ride to take a break from the hill climb and to write a note in a journal that I carried with me in my saddle bag. I actually found the journal and here is the entry form May 6, 1989: “ I am sitting on the grass, under a large oak tree, on Rt. 3, about 10-15 miles south of Mt. Vernon. Rt. 3 is a pretty ride, thru open country, farms and wooded hillsides. I am thinking of a lot of things and I am thinking of what else I could write, but the only recurring thought is that I want to continue biking, even with the hill in front of me.”
As I started to climb the hill, I looked forward to stopping under that same tree. But as I made my way up, I realized the tree was not there and the only thing that remained was a very large stump. Feeling a sense of disappointment, I didn’t stop. I looked at the stump, rode by it and kept climbing the hill. As a van carefully passed me, the driver stuck his hand out of the sunroof and with a supportive gesture and a gentle horn, sped away.
After negotiating some detours, I arrived in Mt. Vernon where I stopped to replenish my water, have another protein bar and get back on my bike. My next stop was Centerburg–the geographical center of Ohio and a nice creek side park that I planned to stop at for 15-20 minutes to rest for a bit. I stopped at the park, refueled, rested for a bit and then back on the bike for the last leg of the ride. Up to this point the ride had been enjoyable even with the hills. Anticipating that the last quarter of the trip would be the easiest because of its flatness, I got an unwelcome surprise of a fairly strong headwind
The headwind made the last 30 some miles very challenging. As I rode into it, it was taking its toll on me. Out of some combination of necessity and desperation, I decided that I needed to change my “relationship” with the wind or it was going to win out, so the wind and I became mortal enemies. I actually had conversations with the wind, not very kind conversations, but it became a game, a competition that helped me to continue to ride against it. The last 10 miles or so were challenging, but we made it in eleven hours, my bike and I.
While I know that a trip like this would not be considered a great accomplishment for a serious rider, for me it was. It gave me a chance to reflect over the numerous years that had passed since I traveled those same roads but more importantly, it made me realize just how capable I was to complete that same trip 27 years later.
Biking through Mohican State Park To Columbus