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Texas Hill Country

Ease of Use

As much as I was glad to get through Cincinnati quickly and easily, I was a little disappointed how quick and easy it was. I never felt like I got to know Cincinnati. At the same time, it should be this quick and easy to ride through any town.

Bob, my host, had a stern demeanor at first impression, but was more of a gentle fellow. Like me, he likes to tell stories about things he'd done and places he'd been. He was particularly attached to his dog. As we drove through his neighborhood to the local park, and later to his favorite brewpub, he pointed out where people like the Taft family and Neil Armstrong lived.

The Ohio to Erie Trail is supposed to start in Cincinnati, but doesn't start in earnest until almost exactly where Bob lived. From there, it was almost a straight shot all the way diagonally across the state. And it's paved. The setting isn't quite as nice as the Katy Trail, but the ease of use and paved surface is hard to beat. Notably, it passes through a town more often than the Katy Trail, which more often passes near them.

At the end of the first day on my second trail, I wound up camping at an animal sanctuary. From what I could tell, the animals were either farm animals that had been injured and needed nursing, or else were exotic pets that had been abandoned. My favorite was the scarlet macaw named Merla, but I was also partial to the exceptionally affectionate cats, as well as the bunny that appeared to think it was a cat and likes sitting in laps.

Trevor is a competitive mountain biker who was planning to go on his first tour this summer, the Great Divide. I gave him some tips and showed him my Wild West video. He plans on using a gravel bike, as he has a lot more off-road skill than I do. Most of the knowledge he found most useful had to do with the mental aspect, rather than the riding. That part he's got nailed down.

Trevor is a vegetarian and whipped up some badass stir-fry. I need to get back into making it when I get home.

Either I happened to ride through all the worst parts of Columbus, or that town is pretty beat up. Even the campus area was unappealing, and the campus itself was OK by college campus standards. I stopped into an OSU gift shop and bought some buckeyes, a local treat. It's essentially a chocolate-covered peanut butter ball, or a better version of a Reese's. Later, I found out that grocery stores sell better ones at half the price. Oh well.

My host in Columbus, who answered to both Larry and Bito, was a big, affable guy. He'd only done so much bike touring, and was much more into guitars. I only got to know his roommates so well, and one of them was from Northern England. I liked her accent.

Larry is also on CouchSurfing and appears to be quite popular. Just the day before, he had hosted a French guy. I wish I'd been there to meet him. I don't get to practice my French often enough.

Instead, I got to meet Ethan, who had just graduated high school and turned 18 only about a month before. Ethan had never been anywhere but the East Coast, mostly New England, where he was from. He was spending his pre-college summer on a two-month road trip that would loop around most of the United States, beginning and ending in his hometown in Massachusetts. This was only day two. He'd done a lot of driving already. As he'd be passing through Austin and San Antonio later, I gave him some suggestions on places to stop and things to eat, particularly breakfast tacos, as well as kolaches from the Czech bakery in West.

Larry cooked omelettes for everyone in the morning. They were freaking awesome.

It was a short day the next day, and I knew my host wouldn't be available until mid-afternoon at the earliest, so I doubled back and went downtown to see the state capitol. Somehow, it hadn't registered that Columbus is a big city until I got there. The first thing that pops into mind when I think of Columbus is Ohio State University, and that gives me an impression that it's a mid-sized college town. It's got 800,000 people, which is more than all but a handful of cities in the United States. As such, it takes a long time to ride across it.

It took almost five hours to get downtown, see the Capitol building, then head north and leave the Columbus area. The Ohio to Erie Trail goes right through town, which is great, but also meant you had to cross streets frequently. It was slow going, but good going.

Once out of the Columbus area, almost half the day was done already. In the afternoon, I wound up having to take a few side roads, as the trail isn't quite finished across the whole state. Even so, the farm roads made for pleasant riding. You could do a lot worse.

Randy, my host in Mount Vernon, had to run some errands and take a few things for his sick mother-in-law. I chilled out on a park bench, did a small amount of grocery shopping, and just about finished my book.

Randy has done more bike touring than I have, and in nearly as many countries. That's saying something. He also has a marathon PR of 2:43, almost identical to my own. He doesn't run anymore, since it isn't kind to his knees, but is still an ardent cyclist. During his tenure as a professor at the local university, he organized annual bike tours with his students during their winter break. I'd love to do something similar at Wimberley High School, but the liability hurdles would be incredible.

The arrangements at both Trevor's and Randy's were for me to camp in the backyard. Not that I minded at all. I'd almost forgotten how much I like my tent. If I didn't like camping, I wouldn't do this at all.

Cemeteries are much more common in the eastern states than they are anywhere I’ve lived or previously toured. That makes sense; more people live here, and they’ve lived here for longer, so there’s been more time to have the bodies pile up. Also, many towns in the southwest have only been around for about as long as cremation has been common, so hardly any bodies have piled up at all, whereas in the east, the cemeteries were already there before burial became less common.

I had no particular set destination for the next day, but wanted to get to Pittsburgh in two days. Since I had a host in Pittsburgh, it would be better to do a long day first, so I could spend more time with a host.

Along the way, I dealt with the strongest rain I'd seen so far on this ride, as well as the most hills and the most Amish people. At one point, I helped an Amish guy clear a log off the trail. His kids stared at me; I imagine a guy in bike shorts looks pretty funny to them. Later, I saw multiple buggies clop-clopping down the highway in the pouring rain, causing a longer traffic backup then my bike ever has. It's surprising that it's allowed. I later heard from locals that they tend to cause a lot of accidents.

Evidently, some Amish are okay with driving cars, some are okay with bikes, and some only use buggies. There also appears to be a spectrum of how much electronic technology is allowed. Some of them even use social media. Most of the houses are white and very tidy. The hills in the area reminded me of Texas Hill Country, only a little more green.

I used my waterproof mittens and rain pants for the first time of the ride. I also used my third gear on a few of the hills, the lowest gear I'd used thus far. I'd like to get through the whole tour without using my very lowest.

12 hours and 182 km later, I wound up in a town called Hopedale. It wasn't much, but it was the largest town I'd seen in hours. I decided to find the fire station and ask if they knew anywhere I could sleep on the floor or set up a tent. After making a couple of phone calls, Captain Sean Delgado told me I could pitch my tent behind the station.

Once I had finished setting up my tent, Sean invited me inside for a shower, and a little later, he, along with another two firefighters named Rose and Megan, gave me a plate of waffles, a chocolate protein shake, and a "care package" full of popcorn and Little Debbies. Ten minutes ago, they didn't know who I was, and they did this just for me. I asked them if it was okay if we hugged, and they said yes. We hugged.

Jul 12, 2021
from Eastern States

I am a carbon-based life form.


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