Friday, May 25, 2012

Day 4 - Pure Dirt

As the poet and sage Charlie Sheen would say, today was filled with all kinds of “winning!!!”

The sun was bright this morning when we pulled away
from the hotel and headed southeast on 541. This stretch of pavement was somewhat familiar, as we had come this way a few days prior in the other direction. Well paved and chock full of long sweeping turns, we were on the throttle hard, enjoying the fresh, cool morning air.

Just past Plainfield we turned left onto a gravel road and once again found ourselves in pristine farm country and rolling green hills. We stopped to take some photos and have a quick drink of water before continuing on to what Steve had promised would be some of the best dual sport roads of the trip. As the road narrowed and the gravel turned to pure dirt, we knew that Steve’s advice was not going to let us down. This area was unlike anything we had traveled on over the past few days. The road was tight and relatively unmaintained with a mixture loose dirt and exposed rock. At times we’d be forced to ride the center berm, as to either side what was once tire tracks had become deep, rain eroded ruts. For a long while the only signs of civilization were power line towers and locked farms gates.  

Throughout this area both Dad and I were either standing on our pegs or way up on the front of the seat with our thighs clutched tightly around our gas tanks. The graveless dirt road allowed us to maintain high speeds equally thru the curves as in the straights. The tree canopy was very dense thru this section but on the top of a knoll we came to a wide-open area where large puddles and deep ruts made it clear this was an ATV playground. The puddles were wide and deep but I was able to skirt around them only to find myself on the large swath of land carved out by the power line. Cut into the woods on the far side of this expanse was a tight trail and I beckoned Dad to join me. We crawled along the trail as it was deeply rutted with muddy whoops. It dumped us out on the top of a large hill that dropped steeply to a tight valley with single-track trails running along its bottom. I was ready to drop in and test myself on the hill climb back up, but Dad was adamant that it was not within my ability, nor did I have the correct bike to attempt such a feat. We went back and forth on this for a little while, but in the end I’m pretty certain common sense prevailed and Dad’s cool head won out over my reckless abandon.

Lunch came early in Newcomerstown at April’s
Country Kitchen, which was a highlight in the article and a “must stop” according to Steve. Both of us were not quite famished enough to get the famous open roast beef plate and just had cheeseburgers, but the early meal gave us a good jolt of energy for the remaining miles.

From Newcomerstown the route took us under Interstate 77 and along the edge of Salt Fork State Park. On a small dusty back road we crossed over an old one lane wooden bridge and I suggested to Dad that this would be a good place for a water and photo break. When I dismounted the bike and looked up I found myself staring down a long straight corridor of freshly mowed grass flanked by a never-ending arch of low hanging tree branches. After taking some shots of the bridge, Dad took off down the “tunnel” and kept going, and going, and going until he was just a little orange dot that disappeared into the woods. I quickly mounted the bike to follow his tracks and felt as if I was traveling in a wormhole as, even at low speeds, the close proximity of the trees and lush green path underneath provided for a surreal experience. The “road” continued, straight as an arrow, for a mile at least, before popping out on a small paved road. We didn’t know quite where we were, and not wanting to lose our GPS track (which was giving us flawless directions) Dad followed me back down thru the tunnel once again. This was one of those little unique happenstances that will no doubt be remembered as one of the highlights of this trip.

The remainder of the ride returned us to the gravel roads we had become accustomed to over the previous few days and we ended up on 541 for the final leg back to the hotel. After only 90 miles both Dad and I were spent and we got off the bikes for the last time covered in Ohio dust.

I have been looking forward to this trip for three years
and it did not disappoint. I owe a great debt of gratitude to Christa Neuhauser and the folks at Road Runner Magazine for bringing this area to our attention as well as to Steve Mauk, our intrepid guide, for taking time out of his busy schedule to show us around. His knowledge of the area and generous hospitality made this trip all the more worthwhile.

Once again, however, I am thankful to my Father for making all these wonderful adventures happen. I greatly appreciate all of the time he puts into planning routes, booking hotels, finding restaurants, hooking up the trailer, strapping down the bikes… you get the picture. But most important are the great memories we will forever share of getting lost in the world on two wheels. I am well aware of how special it is we have this relationship and I don’t want it to go unsaid.

I’d come back to Eastern Ohio in a heartbeat. I know there are thousands of more roads and trails yet to be ridden and we have only scratched the surface of this area. Some of my oldest and closest friends are from Ohio (Cincinnati) and, although they no longer live there, they still have a fanatical pride about their home state. I never understood what was so great about Ohio until now. It really is “The Heart of It All.”

See you down the road.

Wednesday, May 23, 2012

Day 3 - Paved Paradise

After such an incredible ride with Steve yesterday, it felt like Dad and I were missing a riding buddy as we set off for day three of our tour. We’d be traveling south for the first time heading down 83 towards the Wills Creek area which according to the article provided the riders with less gravel, more dirt worthy roads. The air was once again crisp and the sky was still a little overcast but the weather forecast promised us much warmer temps and sunny skies by the late morning. Dad and I were both admittedly exhausted and promised one another we would not hesitate to speak up if we were feeling too tired to complete the entire route.

Turning right off of 83 into the Wills Creek area we were off the pavement once again and on to perfect gravel roads. They had clearly gotten some rain in the past few days as these roads were much less dusty and considerably smoother. I had my first hiccup on the bike as I was coming around a wide bend and my rear tire washed out from underneath me. It was a scary split second as I corrected and thankfully did not put the bike down, but I slowed my speed and got my focus in check.

The Wills Creek area was an apparent maze of well-maintained gravel roads forking off in all directions. I am pleased to say the GPS worked flawlessly all day and took us thru this area with perfect turn-by-turn directions. Unfortunately, however, it seems the abandoned road, which provided the riders of the article with mud puddles and other fun dirt obstacles, was not included in the downloadable maps and when we reached the town of Adamsville we wondered how we had missed it. I am hoping we’ll be able to reach Steve before we take off tomorrow as the last route looks rather short and I think we could add Wills Creek back in without adding on much mileage. It was probably for the best however as our tired brains and aching bones might not have fared so well on more challenging terrain.

In Adamsville, Dad stopped to take some photos of the charming post office and I went a block ahead to the gas station to try and get some tissues. I have been nursing an annoying cold since we arrived in Coshocton and the dust I was breathing following Dad was not helping matters. I purchased some antihistamine hoping to dry out a bit and we continued on down the road. This was easily the longest stretch we had done continuously on pavement as once we left Wills Creek we didn’t see dirt again for what felt like 50 miles. Even so it was a beautiful section of well-paved, empty roads along sprawling farms and winding rivers. The traffic was so sparse we stopped once in the middle of the road to watch a group of turkey vultures feeding on road kill and never saw a vehicle coming in either direction. I’m not sure if it was ominous or ironic that this road happened to be State Road 666 but either way it was exciting watching these large birds circle their breakfast.

Past Dresden we stopped along a back road for a “woods” break and I checked my phone and unbelievably had a signal for the first time in 3 days. I decided to take the opportunity to call home and spoke to my mom very briefly as the signal was quite weak. Let me inform anyone interested in doing this trip that there is zero AT&T coverage in and around Coshocton. The hotel thankfully has free wi-fi which has allowed us to video chat back home from the room each night.

Finally we found some more dirt on what appeared to be some government controlled land as there were plenty of small dirt roads darting off from the main artery but each was locked with a large orange gate. We stopped on the top of a beautiful hill next to the Airy View Orchard, which may have been mentioned in the article and took some picturesque, bike-next-to-tree photos before heading down into Frazeysburg to find some lunch. I asked a nice local fella if he knew of a good hometown establishment and he said the only one is only open for breakfast and closed a few minutes prior to our arrival. We were both too hungry to drive on and went to Subway.
It’s funny how these things have a way of working out as the guy working in Subway made a wise crack to me about Dad, who was spending too much effort parking his bike right next to the restaurant so it could be in the shade. Something about “It’s really important that KTM’s don’t get any unnecessary sunlight.” I’m pretty sure he was the owner of the franchise and he ended up talking to Dad and me about riding our entire meal, and all joking aside was a super nice guy. It’s always great to meet nice, friendly people in these small towns we ride thru and Subway seems to be as good a place as any.

I admitted to Dad after lunch that I was really feeling tired and we decided to play it by ear and cut the trip short if necessary. This last section took us back into Coshocton County and onto the endless gravel county and township roads. This area of the county was decidedly less hilly and the roads would at times stretch miles into the horizon. Normally I wouldn’t care much for boring straight roads, but these were like a child’s roller coaster with small knolls that would give you an expansive view and then drop you down for 100 yards before another short climb. It was fun to punch the bike up the knoll and let it coast down the other side. The gravel here was made up of slightly larger stones however and Dad and I were both struggling a bit with the front end of our bikes squirreling around.

Before long, to our surprise, we found ourselves approaching the Warsaw town square where we met Steve yesterday morning and knew the hotel was thankfully 10 short miles away. After hosing down the bikes and taking a look at the days pictures we got in the car and drove over to the historic Roscoe Village where we had dinner last night. I wanted to check out the shops and walk up and down the block looking at the old brick buildings. In many respects it reminded me of Old Salem in Winston Salem, NC. Even though most everything was closed, you could tell this was a destination for school groups to come and learn about how things were done in the mid-1800’s. There was a candle maker, and woodworker and other shops and professions fitting of the time period. Honestly we were both too tired to really build up any enthusiasm and thought it best to go to the Sports Zone and have dinner.

Steve recommended the Sports Zone and said he ate there with the Road Runner group twice during the initial tour. We had the fried pretzel bites and Dad ordered the meatloaf and I ordered the open-faced roast beef (a popular dish in this area it seems.) The waitress warned Dad that the meatloaf could feed an army but little did we know the plate could have been featured on Food Networks Man Vs. Food. The plate was an enormous 5 layered monstrosity with a piece of Texas toast on the bottom followed by two stacks of thick, deep fried potato cakes and slices of meatloaf. Dad came just a few bites away from finishing it and if there had been a t-shirt involved for it’s completion he probably would have had no problem polishing it off.

I’m looking forward to another good nights sleep to rest up and be ready for what every tomorrow brings. Sweet dreams.

Day 2 - It's Good to Have a Guide

            Woke this morning to overcast skies and significantly cooler temperatures, which, after the heat of yesterday turned out to be a nice respite. Steve Mauk, the guide and route planner of the original Road Runner article, called us shortly before 9am and made plans to meet us in the town square of the small hamlet of Warsaw, OH. After gassing up the bikes and getting our cameras and gear all dialed in we were on our way. The day promised to be better than yesterday as, at the very least, we’d be traveling the roads with a local.

Steve is a fantastic guy and the three of us immediately hit it off. We exchanged pleasantries and talked about the days travel plans, which was to try and follow the 2nd route of the Road Runner tour. Dad had the waypoints plugged into his GPS and we were going to see how far that got us. Steve did not remember verbatim the original route and his GPS uses a compass modem, instead of waypoints, where you plug in a destination and the device continuously points you in the right direction. If nothing else, he knew where he wanted to have lunch and plugged in a few of the landmarks we wanted to hit from the article.

Less than a mile outside of Warsaw we turned off on to a small dirt road with Dad in the lead and Steve and I in tow. There didn’t seem to have been any significant rainfall the night before and the dust was kicking up in thick clouds. Still, we knew this was part of riding the dirt roads and maintained plenty of space between riders. This first dirt section was fairly long and felt like it was about as much as we had covered on dirt in total the day before.

The hills seemed a lot steeper, the canopy a lot thicker and the roads a bit more challenging as yesterday the gravel seemed less squirrely. Our confidence was quite a bit higher however as we were a bit more used to the terrain and we knew we couldn’t get too lost with Steve as our guide. As we exited the early dirt roads and pulled up to a stop sign, Steve asked how we were enjoying the roads so far. As we were to later find out, he has done some guiding for other Road Runner tours and rides with people of various abilities. In true guide fashion he wanted to gauge early on where our comfort level was so he could know what sort of terrain we were capable of. I’m pretty sure that the giant grins on our faces was a fairly good indicator that he didn’t have to worry about where to take us.

In the small town (if you can call it that) of Walhonding is where the GPS route made its first major deviation. It was telling us to go left but clearly that road was not the direction we wanted to be heading. Steve plugged some coordinates into his device and we followed him for the rest of the day. He had warned us when we first met that he had a bit of a lead wrist and he wasn’t kidding.  He tore off like a rocket down the road and his confidence on the dirt made him much faster. Still, true to form he never let us get out of his rear view and always made sure we’d be able to see turns he was about to make.

Not too far out of Walhonding we turned off on to a very small barely used road that cut directly thru some farmland. This wasn’t so much off a road as an access point. We made a short but fun creek crossing and quickly found ourselves at the bottom of a very steep and deeply rutted incline. This was the infamous hill climb that was oft mentioned in the article and Steve got off the bike to check its condition. Steve was riding a KLR with primarily road tires as were the tires on my Dad’s KTM. My DRZ had full knobbies on it but I had put in about 28lbs of pressure for the pavement and would have had to of taken a significant amount of air out to confidently make the climb. After a short discussion we all agreed it was way too early for any of us to be doing anything that could lead to dropping the bikes or sustaining even a small crash and we turned around and headed back to the main road.

The next few hours were a bit of a blur as we covered a lot of ground constantly turning on and off gravel roads and hardly ever seeing another vehicle of any kind.  This was ideal riding with cool temps and beautiful views and unlike yesterday we spent much more time moving and less time stopping to look at maps. With Steve’s compass GPS, he would slow down, take a look at a road, determine if it was possibly interesting and either take it or leave it. In most if not all instances this led to great roads, but without specific waypoints we at times found ourselves either backtracking or doing a loop past familiar farmhouses and landmarks. It became a bit of a running joke as the afternoon wore on that we really weren’t covering any new ground and that Steve was just taking us in circles. Thankfully, he took our prodding all in good humor.

Some of the prettiest riding of the day was northwest of Coshocton in the Mohican State Park area. The topography here was much different than our home base with less farmland and much denser forest. It is clear that the Mohican River is a vacation destination as evidenced by the large amount of very touristy campgrounds and signs for canoeing, fishing and zip lining.  One small loop, which took Steve a few circles to find, took us on a very narrow, steep dirt road, that was unlike any thing we had done so far. Even though it was short it was well worth it for the adrenaline rush of flying down a steep, rocky incline under a thick canopy of trees.

The time had come for lunch and one of the highlights of the article that Steve insisted we try was the Malabar Farm Restaurant.  When we pulled into the parking lot I quickly became aware of just how dirty and disheveled we all must have looked, as this place was clearly more fancy than a burger joint. It was actually a wonderful place and we were welcomed as road weary warriors. I was starving and had a delicious chicken salad sandwich and one of the best bowls of French Onion soup I’ve had in yearIs. Steve had a soup and salad and Dad had the meatloaf. All of it was locally raised farm fresh and simply outstanding. We had great lunch conversation, talking less about motorcycling and more getting to know one another. Seems that we have all had similar paths of spending the better part of our youth moving around before settling down with families.

After lunch we took a quick trip up Jeez Hill just above the restaurant and had a spectacular view of the surrounding valley overlooking Malabar Farm. The Farm was built in 1939 by Pulitzer Prize winning author Louis Bromfield and after coming down from the overlook we made a quick stop at the visitor center and walked around the grounds admiring the goats, cattle and other farm animals.

By the time we left the Farm we had clocked close to 100 miles since leaving Coshocton and knew that even though we’d be taking a more direct route back to town it would still be a long ride home. As the next two days our plan is to ride south of Coshocton, there were still two major landmarks we wanted to see in this northern quadrant. One was the covered bridge and the other was the painted barn. Steve plugged in the coordinates and we wound our way back south occasionally taking dirt roads but sticking mostly to pavement. On the plus side, following Steve all day boosted Dad and my's confidence considerably and we were able to keep up with him on the dirt with no problem.

It was a very welcome sight when we saw the sign informing us we were entering Coshocton County as Dad and I were both exhausted having been in the saddle for between 7 and 8 hours. We took a short photo break at the Covered Bridge and made our way in the direction of the painted barn which was one of the article highlights that was a must see. Steve took a right at an intersection that took us out of Coshocton County and I could tell that both Dad and I were worried that Steve had made another wrong turn and our tired butts and brains were beginning to fail. Shortly after the turn however the barn clearly came in to view with a huge mural of the Beatles staring at us. The barn was truly a work of art, with all sides representing some of the greatest rock and country musicians of the last 50 years. It was really very cool and well worth suffering a few more minutes on the bike.

The last leg took us all on pavement right into the historic area of Roscoe Village on the edge of Coshocton. Burgers and beers were definitely in order and we ate at The Warehouse, which Steve had been raving about all day. We were not disappointed and enjoyed more great conversation and wound down after almost a 180 mile day.

After gracious thank you’s and exchanging all our various contacts we parted ways with Steve at the restaurant and promised to keep in touch. Thankfully the hotel was less than a mile away and Dad and I did not waste any time locking the bikes up and getting to the room to relax on the bed and FaceTime our girls back in NC.

Without a doubt this was one of my favorite days I’ve ever had on a motorcycle. The incredible roads, variety of terrain, lack of virtually any traffic whatsoever and wonderful camaraderie made this a day I will not soon forget. Dad and I are both indebted to Steve for taking us on such a great adventure and I am certain that without him this trip would not have been as memorable.

Ok, I am totally wiped out. Can’t wait to do it again tomorrow.

Monday, May 21, 2012

Beautiful Landscapes, Bad Maps

Three years ago I read an article in Road Runner magazine about a 4-day dual sport ride in and around Coshocton, OH. The time was never right to make the trip north but after a trip to Colorado did not materialize this spring, Dad and I decided to seize the opportunity and go roaming around Eastern Ohio. We have chosen to try and follow the Road Runner routes as closely as possible and are looking forward to rolling hills, pastoral landscapes and Amish buggies. Our home base is the Coshocton Inn and Suites recommended by the article. Dad is on his KTM 500EXC and I am on my Suzuki DRZ 400.

Day 1 - Beautiful Landscapes, Bad Maps

Started my morning off with a short run right out of the hotel that went along the old locks of the Ohio & Erie Canal. The fog was swirling off the river and the sun was rising behind the trees and it was perfection. After breakfast, Dad and I began getting the bikes prepared for the day’s ride. We made an easy decision to follow the first route laid out in the article, which would take us northwest of Coshocton towards Millersburg. By 9am the heat was turned on and we were itching to get on the bikes and cool off. Shortly out of town we turned off on to an empty back road and within a few miles found our first stretch of dirt. The cool crisp air and nuclear green spring foliage made for a spectacular start and we knew we were in for a fantastic day.

We were clearly in a very remote area and before long Amish farmers began to dot the fields with their families, tilling and working the land. When Dad and I would ride by, fully geared out on our noisy dirt bikes everyone in the field would stop what they were doing and stare at us like we were riding flying unicorns. We’d all wave to one another as we continued on, climbing over low ridge tops and dropping down into low farm valleys all the while darting under tree canopies hanging over the road.

There was a lot of dirt in the early part of ride and I began to get very excited that this sort of riding would make up the bulk of the day but unfortunately we began to run into problems on the outskirts of Millersburg.  The routes plugged in to the GPS did not match the reality of the roads and we found ourselves turning into driveways and pulling over to the side of the road often trying to determine our position and where we needed to go.  Unfortunately neither of us had a decent map (which had the smaller township and county roads) but we knew the general direction we needed to head and so we just started winging it. The GPS would occasionally get back on track and we’d follow it for a few miles and then lose the tracks again before too long. Still, the day was beautiful; the traffic minimal and driving thru Amish country was at times otherworldly.

Just before noon we found ourselves in the small town of Baltic and recognized Millers Dutch Kitchen as one of the outstanding local eateries from the article. Being tired, hot and a little lost, we figured the time was right to take a break and fill our bellies.  Millers was short on atmosphere but more than made up for it in the quality of the plates. Dad had a simple Chicken Salad sandwich, but on our waitress's recommendation I had the open-faced roast beef sandwich with mashed potatoes smothered in gravy. It was full of goodness and primed me for the rest of the day.

While paying for lunch I spotted a map of local back roads and purchased it thinking it might be a good alternative to our failing GPS tracks. We made a loose plan to get out of Baltic and wind our way back towards Coshocton.  Just like the Amish, forgoing modern technology and using a good old map might have been the best decision we made all day. Within moments of leaving town we were back on dirt roads, climbing small hills and rolling through the lush countryside. The roads were very dry and following Dad was at times like being behind a moving cloud of dust. I’d often drop back two-tenths of a mile just to have enough visibility.

Our last stop of the day was under a shade tree and I took my armor off and laid down on the freshly cut grass. It was cool and smelled of spring and I was in heaven. Dad got some pictures and I think he let me take a 5-minute nap, which was just what I needed to get us back to town.

We covered just under 100 miles our first day. When it was all said and done I’d say that roughly 75% of it was tarmac, but seeing how we were having trouble with our GPS tracks, staying on the more prominent roads kept us from getting too lost.

Earlier in the week Dad was able to contact Steve Mauk, who was the guide of the original Road Runner trip. He called our hotel room and we have made loose plans to meet tomorrow and he will take us on the day 2 tour so even if we get lost, at least we’ll do it with a local.

All in all our first day riding eastern Ohio was a success. We got lost and I ate a lot of dust, but we saw some beautiful countryside and ate some great local faire. Tomorrow looks to be considerably cooler and having a guide with knowledge of the area can only mean good things.