In the pre-dawn darkness of Friday, August 2, 2019, family and friends of seven riders gathered for a brief prayer and a few pictures at Paul Brown Stadium in Cincinnati. Then, at 6:00 a.m., it was seats in the saddles, as Dave Huff, Kent Keller, Brian Messer, Chad Settlage, Luke Williams, Scott Wright, and I navigated our way off the riverfront, past Lunken Airport, and onto the Little Miami Bike Trail to begin our Ohio to Erie adventure on Ernie’s Ride 2019. Months of preparation were now behind us and we settled into a joyful rhythm of conversation and anticipation for what the next 3 days and 320-plus miles would hold. Knowing that we had pledges totaling over $68 per mile, you wouldn’t believe how often the math was quickly done in the head of one rider or another, and the total raised to that minute would become a topic of discussion & motivation. Basically, on that first day, we knew that every 10-mile segment we rode was raising over $680.00. What we didn’t realize was, that before we were done, it was really over $700 for every 10 miles rode by all 7 riders.
The first leg of Ernie’s Ride is the longest, about 60 miles before a late breakfast stop, so we took a 15-minute breather in Morrow at the Drive-Thru Store just off the trail after about 38 miles. Around 10:30 we pulled into Slim’s Neighborhood Bar & Grill in Spring Valley. Great home cooking always hits the spot. Everyone took advantage of the break to touch base with family & check out the Ernie’s Ride chatter on social media!
We were back on the bikes by somewhere around 11:30 and took a short break at the IGA in South Charleston, 25 miles further up the trail. From there, it was only 12-13 miles to the trailside M&M Diner in London, Ohio. Late lunch found Brian in a familiar position (napping) and gave the rest of us a well-needed break from the saddle. Brian woke up and was full of life for the final 20 miles into our hotel on West Broad Street in Columbus. Along the way, we passed thru beautiful Battelle Darby Creek Metro Park where our photographer, Charles Hughes, got some of my favorite video from the trip.
Once at the hotel, we showered and, then, met to visit a couple of the restaurants within walking distance. We gathered our kits for the laundromat and retired to our rooms with full stomachs and full hearts for what we had accomplished so far: 117 miles ridden. Over $7500 raised for Elizabeth’s New Life Center and Community Pregnancy Center.
Day 2 dawned early, and we pulled out of our hotel just before 6:00 a.m.. The first hour or so carried through Columbus’ city streets and parks heading north through Westerville to our breakfast stop in Sunbury. The plan was to have breakfast 36 miles in at the Sunbury Grill. However, that seemed to be everyone’s plan in Sunbury, so we took a short detour to McDonald’s for McBreakfast, instead. After breakfast, it was about 10 miles of country road riding before we picked up the Heart of Ohio trailhead a couple miles southwest of Centerburg. Sixteen miles of smooth trail riding to Mount Vernon and the obligatory tower stop put us at Wendy’s for a light lunch.
With only about 40 miles left for the day, we jumped on the Kokosing Gap Trail through Gambier (Kenyon College) and on to Danville, where we took a breather in a Picnic Shelter and filled water bottles. The riders caught the Mohican Valley Trail northeast out of Danville and used the smooth pavement to roll through beautiful woods and farmlands to Glenmont. After a quick picnic shelter break, we were once again on the roads for 8 miles to Killbuck where we jumped onto the Holmes County Trail for our final 5-6 miles to our hotel in Millersburg.
Once everyone had a chance to clean up, we all hiked a couple blocks to East of Chicago Pizza for some light-hearted banter and some serious pizza! Dave Huff took care of laundry duty for the team and once everything was sorted, we hit the hay in anticipation of Sunday’s ride. With 220 miles for all 7 riders in the books, and now at over $70/mile, we were feeling good knowing that we had raised, so far, over $15,000 for ENLC and CPC!
I guess we were feeling a little of the cumulative effects of back-to-back century rides, because on Sunday morning we didn’t get rolling out of Millersburg until about 10 minutes after our 6 a.m. target. The first 11 miles passed peacefully on the Holmes County Trail into Fredericksburg. At that point, we hit the hilly roads of Amish country. On one, particularly steep, hill, we all experienced the cyclists’ indignation of being effortlessly passed by a young Amish lady in long dress & bonnet. OUCH! I will note, however, that her bike had a battery! Chad, Luke, and Dave kept us on pace, while Scott & I brought up the rear. Somewhere in the middle of use all were Brian and Kent (probably solving the world’s problems!) We were having a blast!
A short stop at a convenient store in Dalton served as our first break for the morning and then it was onto the Scippo Valley Trail for 9 rough miles into Massillon and, then, 10 miles that were even rougher on the crushed limestone of the Towpath Trail. About 47 miles into the morning, we climbed off the trail into Canal Fulton for a home-cooked breakfast at Grayce Ann’s Restaurant. The food (and the hour of relaxation) was welcomed by each rider.
After you reach Massillon, almost all of the Ohio to Erie Trail is crushed limestone. This definitely decreases cycling speed and increases cyclist tension. I think we had 3 punctured tires among us on Sunday. About 23 miles up the trail we reached Akron where I got turned around AGAIN! Every year, different detour, same result. I’ve grown to not like Akron. Anyway, after a short break followed by a little confusion, we were back on track for a late lunch at Fisher’s Café & Pub in Peninsula, Ohio. We were now within about 25 miles of Lake Erie and really looking forward to finishing. The air-conditioned café and some scrumptious burgers re-invigorated the team, and climbed back into the saddles for the final push.
Riding along the canal and the Cuyahoga River while in the Cuyahoga Valley National Park is very scenic. It is difficult to truly enjoy, though, when you are nearing the end of a 329-mile, 3-day, journey. We pushed ahead and found ourselves back on pavement with just over 12 miles to go to the Lake. At the 106-mile mark for the day, we all stopped for our ceremonial group picture at Script-Cleveland and the city in the background. But there were still a few miles to go.
Every year, the trail changes a little due to construction, new segments, and such. Cleveland added and changed their portion of the trail for 2019. Sometimes, these changes can cause confusion. Do you see where I’m going with this? With less than a handful of miles to go, I missed a turn. The distance we had to retrace wasn’t that great. However, it was ALL uphill! Ouch, again. Good news, though. We found the trail, again, and finished up the final segment on some beautiful tree-lined streets of the neighborhoods of Cleveland. It was through the final tunnel, and into Edgewater Park! The soft seats motorized transportation awaited us. We loaded our bikes into the trailer (Thanks, R&W Auto Sales!) and headed south on I-71 for a fun, yet fatigued, supper and the long drive home (Thanks, Andrew Shope!).
The final numbers showed that all 7 riders covered just over 330 miles (sometimes we have to get off the route for food & lodging) and had raised over $22,500.00 for Elizabeth’s New Life Center and Community Pregnancy Center! And on top of all that, the memories created will be with us forever.