Cuyahoga Valley National Park
I officially moved into Betty on September 30 after a crazy week of moving out of my apartment with my brother. However, before hitting the unknown road I spent some final days in Madison visiting friends and saying goodbyes, a night in Chicago with friends, and lastly a few nights back in the Detroit area with family. I didn't start for Ohio until October 9 and was beyond ready. It had been 100 days since I left my job to travel the U.S. in my van, and I'd yet to start that journey.
I began on day 101, leaving the metro-Detroit area for another infamous Midwest city: Cleveland. Right outside Cleveland is Cuyahoga Valley National Park, upgraded from a 1974 national recreation area status to a national park in October of 2000. Because of it's location and easy access for hiking, biking, and camping it's one of the most visited national parks in the United States. Having a few good friends in Cleveland, it made a good introductory first stop.
It's a short drive from Detroit to Celeveland, so I was able to hit the road late, have 2 hours in the park, and still meet up for dinner with my friends Paul, Lindsay and her husband Greg. I planned to stop at the visitor center for recommendations on the park, but my route had a road closure with a detour that would've placed me at the visitor center after it closed at 5pm. So I took planning into my own hands and with Google's help created a mini agenda for the next 24 hours.
My original path to the visitor center placed me right at the Blue Hen Falls trailhead. A little way beyond Blue Hen was also the Buttermilk Falls. So I figured seeing those two was a good place to start and that maybe I could also get a mountain bike ride in nearby at a trail I'd found on the MTB Project app. That was my first mistake of many in October, getting overly ambitious with fitting things into a single day.
The trail to Blue Hen Falls was a 5 minute walk from parking, so the "hike" was a little underwhelming. The waterfall was a single 10' cascade over the lip of a greenish-gray slab of rock, overhanging a crescent wall of darker rock below. The sun was lightly visible through the clouds, which made the leaves in the woods brighten without being overpowering and gave a nice contrast to the brown that had started to coat the woods' floor. I went down from the lookout to explore the river and bottom of the falls more before figuring out how to get to the Buttermilk Falls.
The trail ended at the Blue Hen Falls with a sign that said "End of Trail," but beyond the sign you could see the clearing of a path. There was no sign for the Buttermilk Falls, which I knew to be further down the river. Seeing this social trail that seemed to follow the river gave me hope, so I passed the "End of Trail" sign and started for Buttermilk Falls. The trail followed close to the river most of the time, only occasionally distancing itself from the banks. I couldn't be sure it was correct, but felt adventurous and confident enough to keep going as the trail crossed over the river three different times.
The first time I crossed the river, I needed to descend a fallen tree trunk to some barely submerged rocks. it was slippery, leaving me straddling the tree with a sore butt and concerned about the integrity of my camera that hit the trunk on the way down. But all was ok, I brushed off the mud on my shins, and carefully scooted to the rocks and crossed the river. The second crossing was over a large, 2 foot wide tree that had fallen over the river and fortunately wasn't slippery. The last crossing was just before I reached Buttermilk Falls and was over some slabs of slightly submerged rock at the base foundation of what might have been an old bridge. Aside from the river crossings and a few muddy areas, the rest of the social trail was relatively easy and a beautiful, quiet path through the woods.
After my last river crossing I could see the falls to my left and continued straight down a descending trail before circling back along the river bed to the base of the falls. From the start of the "End of Trail" to the falls was maybe a 20-30 minute hike as a leisurely pace. The falls have an appropriate name, but it might be even more appropriate to calls them Buttermilk Cascade - for around 25', the water slid down the 50-60⁰ angle at a casual, mellow rate. Churning just enough to create a mild white curtain over much of the rock. There was a couple there taking photos and we said hello, but otherwise we enjoyed the silence beyond the soft sound of the water.
Realizing my timing, I determined I didn't have enough room for a mountain biking ride and had to get to dinner. So I made my way back to where I parked and headed out to meet Paul, Lindsay, and Greg at Slyman's Tavern. Slyman's is famous in Cleveland for their large corn beef sandwiches. I was full after half my sandwich and saved the over half for lunch the next day. I had a nice visit with my friends as we watched the Indians vs. Yankees battle it out, then I made my way to a Walmart close to the National Park for the night. I figured for my first night it was best to find an entirely legal sleeping location. There was also a Home Depot next door and I had to grab some supplies to fix the wiring to my fridge.
On the way to Michigan from Chicago, the wires from my batteries into a switch panel came undone because of my poor craftsmanship. One of the switches controlled the fridge and when I rewired it, the fridge was no longer working. So I purcvhased some additional wiring and some butt splices from Home Depot and redid the connections in the Walmart parking lot that next morning. Unfortunately, that also didn't work. I was getting an error light on the fridge as it turned on and then instantly turned off. When I looked up the error online, it seemed to indicate a malfunction with the fridge. So I looked up service locations for Dometic fridges and drove 30 minutes to an RV dealer and service center. Unfortunately they couldn't test the fridge and weren't familiar with such a small unit, so I made some calls and drove another 30 minutes to another facility that thought they could assist.
After discussing the issues I was having and looking at my wiring, they gave Dometic a call and one of their technicians communicated the problem over the phone. It seemed to take a while to figure out the issue, which was actually quite simple: taking a voltmeter to my wires you could see I was getting just below 10 volts of power - the fridge requires 10.5 at a minimum to operate. So I was getting too much voltage drop somewhere in my wiring. I thought it might be all my butt splices and extra wires, so I went back to Home Depot, purchased 7 feet of higher gauge wire and a voltmeter, and rewired the fridge cord to the switch. Unfortunately that didn't solve my voltage drop and I was stilling getting under 10.5 volts. Fast forward to today, 40 days later, and I still haven't fixed my fridge. Mostly because I can get by without it in the cold northeast. But I think I'm just going to rewire it directly to the battery, not through the switch panel, and that should resolve the problem (I will update this post when I do that work).
After running around all morning and stressing out over my issues with the fridge, I made my way back to Cuyahoga Valley NP and stopped at Brandywine Falls on my way to the Visitor Center. Brandywine is a more impressive waterfall, but also a short walk from parking and not in itself an extensive activity. This was a good thing though, because the day was getting late and I still wanted to hop on the Ohio & Erie Canal Towpath Trail and bike a few miles around the park. Within the national park, the Towpath Trail extends 21 miles and passes through different types of natural areas, giving you a good overview of the landscape of the park. It's popular with visitors and locals alike.
I started at the Boston Store Visitor Center and made my way south on the trail. Halfway to Szalay's Farm & Market I crossed paths with the Cuyahoga Valley Scenic Railroad train. The railroad passes through most of the park and has various stops where park visitors can hop on and off; there's even space for people to bring their bikes on the train if needed, which would have been fun if I had more time. After 5.7 miles I was at Szalay's and stopped for a little snack, getting some fresh raspberries that I immediately consumed and a few apples. After taking a little break and looking through their various fall/Halloween decorations I got back on the bike and went another 1.2 miles to the Beaver Marsh Boardwalk, which extends a few hundred feet over a large marshy area. From there I went another 1.7 miles to the Hale Farm & Village, which was either closed or just a boring location, I can't be sure. Since I was running short on time I continued on my way another mile to the Everett Road Covered Bridge, one of the few remaining covered bridges in Ohio.
Finally I made my way another 6 miles back to the Boston Store Visitor Center to pack up my bike and hit the road out of Ohio. As I was packing up my bike another biker stopped and asked about the van and if he could take a look. We started talking about what I was doing and what I'd done to convert the van. He was also interested in doing something similar and wanted to be able to take a kayak along, so we were discussing the logistics of that and what he wanted to do when I started to learn a little more about him.
Bob Lutsky has a Panosonic "mountain" bike that he's rode over 120,000 miles in 126 countries and he's still on the original rims. Every once in a while, after he's saved up enough and is ripe for a new adventure, he's taken off from the United States to tour through a new continent. He's got a free online book about cycle touring through South America that you should absolutely check out. Here I was on the start of my voyage, trying to do something noteworthy and unique, and honestly feeling like I was sometimes motivated by the wrong things and by the social image of my travels. And I was quickly meeting a humble, unassuming person who'd done remarkable things chasing after his own journey because of the joy it brought him - not for recognition but for adventure. It was a quick reminder about being humble and focusing on doing things for the joy they bring yourself and not getting caught up in comparison to other people.
Unfortunately I couldn't talk with Bob any longer because I had an appointment to be in Vermont the next afternoon for some instructed paragliding. It was now around 7pm and I had an 11 hour drive, giving me only 3 or so hours of sleep overnight. I'd originally planned to drive halfway that evening and the rest of the way in the morning, but my delays chasing after a fix for the fridge threw off my plans. Instead of sacrificing time in Cuyahoga Valley, I opted to sacrifice my time sleeping. So I exchanged numbers with Bob so we could stay in touch and got on the road. But I'd also read about a great place for ice cream, so I obviously first stopped at Rosati's Frozen Custard on the way out of town and then hit my long, overnight route. Thank God for entertaining podcasts.