Laura and I both bought cheap bicycles when we were living in Mayfield Heights. I don’t remember if we got ’em from Sears, Wal-Mart or Target, but it was one of those. Total bill for both bikes: roughly $200.
A hundred bucks doesn’t buy you a titanium alloy frame or fancy suspension or Shimano shifters. Actually, Laura’s bike does have Shimano shifters, which I’m told is a good thing. Still, the bike got me to and from work quite a few times, and it was good enough to ride the towpath from Valley View to Peninsula on a fairly regular basis throughout the summer.
The Ohio & Erie Canal Towpath was once used by mules and horses to tow coal barges from Akron to Cleveland. It has been converted to an excellent riding and running trail, and the trip from Valley View to Peninsula and back is somewhere in the neighborhood of twenty-five miles. In a brilliant marketing move, someone decided to put a bike shop right next to the trail in Peninsula with the express purpose of parting me and my money on every single trip I made. I bought a fender, a toolkit, a rearview mirror, a bell (yes, a bell) and some other accessories over the span of several trips to Peninsula. In the first summer I had my hundred-dollar bicycle, I spent approximately two and a half times its original value on accessories (such as aluminum pedals and an electronic speedometer) and necessities (a helmet).
Unfortunately, I haven’t ridden my bike much in the intervening years. I could probably generate a laundry list of excuses, but it all boils down to laziness and lack of motivation. The bike has spent the last few summers hanging upside-down from the ceiling in the garage. I took it out to the towpath once last summer (or perhaps it was the summer before), but that’s been about it in four years or so. I keep saying that I should start riding again and the bike still hangs in the garage.
Well, the tires are on the ground now.
Bob and I went out for our first ride late Saturday morning. Rather than driving to Valley View (which is about 30 minutes or so from my house), we opted to start at Bob’s house and ride the nearby Metropark trails. Well, that was the plan. We did make it to the Metropark trail, but the amount of distance we covered on the trail was somewhat less than inspiring.
At the heart of the matter is this: the change in elevation between Akron and Cleveland is slightly less than 400 feet, and there are 44 locks along the way. Coal barges were raised approximately 9 feet while passing through each lock. This makes for a fairly level towpath. Oh, there are a few dips and rises along the way, but nothing especially daunting.
The distance from Bob’s house to the Metroparks trail is approximately two miles. Straight up. Approximate change in elevation: thirty-six bajillion feet.
I used to think that this part of Ohio (and most of Ohio, for that matter) was relatively flat. I was unaware that Bedford Heights is actually smack in the middle of the Adirondacks. When ticking off potential risks for the Saturday morning ride, I had not included high-altitude pulmonary edema among them, else I might have put a few vials of Diamox in my toolkit.
Okay, so I’m exaggerating a bit. The truth is that it’s a little hilly between Bob’s house and the bike path, and the path itself is very similar terrain. For real cyclists (who we were deathly afraid of being spotted by), the grade isn’t terribly difficult. One such cyclist was somehow managing to go faster up a hill than we were going in the opposite direction. I suspect that it wasn’t his first time out this year.
Bob might well have been happy to press onward when—at a measly 3.1 miles from his house—I requested that we head back. Really, though, I’m hoping that his demeanor was a clever facade, and that he was as desperate as I to return to an air-conditioned house and a gallon or so of ice water. (Did I mention that I didn’t have my water bottle with me? Oh, yeah. I didn’t have my water bottle with me.)
The ride back proved to be considerably easier than I anticipated, be it due to improved shifting efficiency or a net decrease in altitude. Whatever the case, my overall condition at the conclusion of our journey was considerably less pathetic than it was at the midpoint. I was somewhat dismayed to find that I was no more “ripped” after our ride than I had been before it. The six-pack abs and defined pecs I was expecting were conspicuously absent.
Yes, it was an inauspicious start, but it was a start. There was talk of doing it again next Saturday morning, though I suspect that our total distance traveled will be slightly less. Towing a portable defibrillator isn’t going to make climbing those hills any easier.