As Nancy and I have aged, traveling has become increasingly difficult. Flying is a hassle and, if we fly, we can’t take our toys such as bikes and kayaks.
For many years, driving has been our first choice. However, for a variety of physical reasons, long days in an automobile are no longer acceptable. It may be a function of old age but it seems like there are more crazies on the highways than there used to be.
When we recently decided to visit our family in Michigan for the first time since prior to the pandemic, a goal was to make the trip as palatable as possible. A primary objective was to limit driving time to four or five hours a day while avoiding commuter traffic. After studying cycling guidebooks, riding bike trails each day seemed an ideal way to claim a respite from driving while simultaneously getting outdoor exercise. Exploring new trails would be an added benefit. A plan was in place. Instead of taking the most direct route on major highways, we’d meander from one trail to another.
Our first destination was Ashuwillticook Rail Trail, a 12.2-mile paved bikeway located in Adams, Massachusetts. After surviving Interstate 95, the second half of the five hour drive was a very pleasant cruise through the scenic Berkshires in the western part of the state. Beginning in the revitalized downtown area, we rode south on the Ash along the Hoosic River and then the shore of Cheshire Reservoir. The entire ride is in the shadow of Mount Greylock, the highest mountain in Massachusetts. A hot humid day, the descent from the reservoir on the return to Adams was an exhilarating relief.
After spending the night in nearby Albany, New York, we drove a short distance west to Niskayuna to bike the Mohawk Hudson Trail. A superb paved trail system, it follows the Mohawk River to Schenectady. A rail trail, an old depot station is located at the upscale trailhead. Following our refreshing excursion, the five hour drive through the hills of western upstate New York on the lightly traveled I-88/86 corridor to Olean was quite pleasurable.
The quiet town of Olean was well-positioned for us to explore Clarion-Little Toby Trail, which is situated about two hours south in the mountains of north central Pennsylvania. Beginning in the erstwhile mining town of Ridgway, the hard packed dirt rail trail follows Clarion River and Little Toby Creek south to the town of Brockway. The guidebook implied the ruins of two ghost towns could be observed. Alas, we found nothing but signs.
Another two hours of motoring southwest brought us to the southern terminus of the Allegheny River Trail in the west Pennsylvania town of Emlenton. The paved rail trail closely follows the Allegheny River north for 30 miles to Franklin. A long tunnel provided a unique aspect to the ride. Since I failed to carefully read the guidebook description, I neglected to carry a headlight. The tunnel, which bends in the middle, exceeded a half mile in distance. Struggling to ride in total darkness, I reluctantly acknowledged that walking was a far safer alternative. Following our two Pennsylvania rides, we found lodging in nearby Grove City.
Our fourth day on the road began with a short junket north to Goddard State Park in Sandy Lake, Pennsylvania, where the Oliver Loop Trail circumnavigates Lake Wilhelm. The twisting, turning, hilly gem was pure entertainment. After completing the 13-mile paved ride, we traveled west into Ohio and found a room south of Toledo.
Our fifth day began with a short jaunt south to the quiet bedroom community of Bowling Green, where the northern end of the Slippery Elm Bike Trail begins. In contrast to the recent mountainous terrain, the Slippery Elm locale was almost flat. We counted a wide variety of birds while cycling through farmlands and enjoyed a visit to the tiny town of Rudolph, which claims to be “The Deerest Little Village in Wood County.”
Departing Bowling Green, Detroit and Lansing were avoided by traveling west for a couple of hours to the sleepy community of Howe, Indiana, where we spent the night in a favorite hotel. Howe is located an hour south of another outstanding rail trail, Kal-Haven Trail. A red caboose marked the beginning of our ride that starts on the outskirts of Kalamazoo, Michigan. The trail connected several rural communities as we journeyed west towards South Haven on Lake Michigan.
Another hour driving north brought us to Grand Rapids where our family resides. The first outdoor activity during our visit was a bike ride with our granddaughters!