This is one of my favorite pieces, appearing in Midwest Motorcyclist September 2009. The story reinforces the importance of finding adventure and escape wherever you can- even in your own backyard.
Minimum Mileage, Maximum Effect
What a strange summer this has been for me. All plans for time on the bike seem to have been superseded by the needs of the many that make up my household. Don’t get me wrong, the Uly has not sat idly in the garage- it’s just that my time on the bike has been for reasons of function, not of pleasure. Local errands, the daily commute to work and weekends spent in a parking lot teaching motorcyclists the Basic Rider Course sum up the majority of my riding this year, and the cool temperatures have made even those rides less enjoyable than I’d like for summer. Where are my long, hot, soul-scrubbing, mental-flossing, attitude-adjusting cruises into the distance? The rides with little reason beyond simply The Ride? I’ve even got a standing invite to ride Nelson’s Ledges with FastTrax school that I’ve been unable to schedule (sorry Todd, I’m trying!), and I LOVE track time, bike or car. So frustrating, and I’m sure this situation applies to many of you the same as it does me. The kids are old enough to be involved in extracurriculars, but not old enough to get themselves to the events, and, as a parent, we want to be there to see the games/ concerts, etc. So, knowing our time with the family is fleeting (though there ARE those times when you wonder if the kids will ever grow up) we step away from our own need for escape and step up to our roles in our families. Certainly the right thing to do, but, in my case at least, the lack of a proper “vent” can lead to tension and severe crabbiness. The need for an alternative outlet was obvious, and a rare couple of hours between shuttling the kids led me to find it, literally, just down the road.
That morning, like all mornings, time was well scheduled and short- so I had to to get moving if I was to take advantage of this brief respite. I sent the Greyhounds of Hell out to run the yard as I geared up and did a quick check of the bike. Great weather, check. Bike good to go, check. Geared to roll, check. Camera, check. Directions? Uh… away from the house? Then it hit me. I could head for Indian Point, a Lake Metropark about 10 minutes south-east of the house, and loop back from there. I was hoping for a quick blast out and back from the neighborhood- I never expected a morning epiphany.
As I headed toward Indian Point, I was already considering the next stop, expanding the loop a bit further. I knew I really had only an hour or less to work with, so I was thinking in timed segments. Indian Point put me down along the river, among the bluffs and along a rutted dirt road- perfect for the Ulysses. Heading 5-minutes up from the river on a nicely graded dirt road, my next stop was a picturesque overlook of Paine Falls. A few photos and a quick search for interesting birds, and it was off to… Let’s turn right and continue about 15-minutes south. Now the road was paved, reasonably twisty and speed limited to 45-55, which was enough to keep things interesting without overly increased risk. Turning a few more degrees around the compass took me 10-minutes straight into downtown Painesville, the County Seat of Lake County. The area surrounding Painesville is typical city, but the square itself is a vivid mix of old an new. The original brick road passes by the courthouse and wraps around the park before dumping me back on asphalt and sending me as far north as I could go this morning: The beach at Fairport Harbor, a bit under 10-minutes away.
Fairport Harbor and Grand River are old port towns on Lake Erie, the shallowest of the Great Lakes. The original lighthouse that guided travelers to the lake safety of the Grand River still stands, now a Great Lakes Maritime Museum. The “new” lighthouse (built in 1925) stands at the mouth of the harbor breakwall, and can be reached by long walk along the easily traveled rocks. As I stood on the sand looking out at the lake, I remembered a friend telling me Lake Erie looked just like the ocean at his boyhood home on the west coast (except for the ice covering in the winter, of course!). My view this morning was in complete agreement with his observation, and that’s when it struck me: If you’re open minded, a good ride can be just around the corner, and my ride was pretty good indeed. In just under an hour, I covered about 40 miles that included natural beauty, sport-bike technical (mild though it might have been), metropolitan history and a stop at the beach before heading back to the hangar. Though my ride was much too short, the effect on my affect was amazing. I actually felt like I’d taken a bit of a tour, and all was, at least temporarily, right with the world. Since that first ride, I’ve run the same route backward and forward to change things up a bit, and noticed conditions change enough to keep this trek fairly fresh for a long time. I had found my “Escape Route”! Now I questioned just how this could affect readers in the same predicament.
I considered the locations of several friends and their proximity to a decent Escape Route, and I came up with something interesting in nearly every case. My buddy in Chicago has a beautiful lakeshore run heading north out of the city and back in. Sure, the traffic is a bit intense, but imagination can turn that into race traffic and keep things interesting. A friend in Poynette, WI has a wide selection of curvaceous farm roads to chose from, and another in Cleveland needs only to head slightly west to the Rocky River Reservation and connect the chain of Metroparks. A friend outside of Akron has the Cuyahoga Valley National Recreation Area to play in, and still another in Florida loves the ride around Lake Okeechobee and into the Everglades to clear his head when time is tight. The bottom line is, with a bit of creative planning we should all be able to find a route that clears the mental cobwebs while returning life and perspective to our daily grinds. Some may be more easily accessible, some more challenging and fun- but all an absolute necessity to help us keep our sanity. So pull out a local road guide, or, better yet, just set out on the bike to explore in 15 minute increments and see what you happen upon. A ride is always good, even if too short- but you may be surprised to find that a short local ride might even be great!
Be seen, ride smart, stay safe and I’ll see you on the road!