Off-Roadin' in Eastern Ohio

Text: James T. Parks • Photography: James T. Parks, Christa Neuhauser

Not long ago the idea of a dual-sport Shamrock Tour took root when Steve Mauk, a long-time off-road rider, ignited my imagination with tales of scenic gravel roads and trails winding through the overarching canopies of hardwood forests in his native Eastern Ohio. We collaborated on choosing a home base for this shamrock (Coshocton, Ohio) and the riding areas, and we scheduled the trip for mid-June when the roads would be dried out from spring rains and all of the plant life would be in full bloom.

GPS Coordinates Map: Download Coshocton GPS Tour File

The Plain People
(Day 1: NE Quadrant)

Eastern Ohio is well known among many motorcyclists for its challenging two-lane tarmac, but fewer people know that the Buckeye State also is a great dual-sport destination. Coshocton, Ohio, our home base, lies nestled in the rugged foothills west of the Appalachian Mountains.

On Tuesday morning, we fire up the five bikes and head out. I'm riding my orange KTM 450 EXC; Christa is trying out my red Kawasaki KLR 650; Manuel is piloting the BMW 650 XCountry; Florian is rarin' to make tracks on the red Honda XR 650L; and Steve leads the way on his Suzuki DR 350. Cool temperatures and an overcast sky greet our journey into Ohio's Amish Country, northeast of Coshocton.

Gleaming white Amish houses and barns dot the rolling landscape. Instead of cars on the serpentine gravel roads, black, horse-drawn buggies are the primary form of conveyance for this Protestant religious sect that has forsaken most modern-day conveniences. (Be careful not to spook the horse when you pass an Amish buggy.) Even buttons are too ostentatious for The Plain People, who prefer to use pins or hooks to fasten their garments.

Arriving in Millersburg somewhat chilled, we break for coffee at Norman's Bakery & Deli, housed in a building that dates back to 1878. Looking out the large front windows with steaming coffee in hand, we gaze at numerous examples of classic, nineteenth-century Victorian architecture along a street scene that resembles Bedford Falls, in the film It's A Wonderful Life.

One of the best things about touring in Amish Country, is Amish home-style cooking. Miller's Dutch Kitchen in Baltic is one of many restaurants in Holmes County offering menu items of roast beef, mashed potatoes, noodles, chicken, ham, various types of gravies and other scrumptious delights. And after ingesting such a bountiful lunch some of us consider increasing the pre-load adjustment on our rear shocks.

The sun finally breaks through the clouds as we ply one unpaved back road after another, following burbling creeks that meander through heavily wooded terrain. Our motorized reverie continues for hours until finally the hotel comes into view around 7 p.m. There's just enough time for a quick shower before enjoying a marvelous meal at the Olde Warehouse Restaurant in Roscoe Village.

A Road Less Graveled
(Day 2: NW Quadrant)

Wednesday starts out cooler than Tuesday, but its moderate humidity promises comfortable riding in our off-road gear and flawless conditions for photographing the day's adventures. Steve leads us through a water crossing to Stone Quarry Road. Calling this un-graveled, deep-rutted, overgrown, slippery incline through the forest a road is really a stretch too. Before tackling this obstacle, Steve suggests that Christa, Manuel and Florian, on their heavier bikes, might want to forgo this gnarly piece of real estate.

The Neuhauser's are considering their options as Steve takes off, making the ride up Stone Quarry Road look rather effortless. I immediately peel out after him, but soon find myself stuck in a deep rut with my spinning rear tire launching debris down the hill. I finally extricate the bike and, after surmounting numerous other challenges, make it to the top. Steve and I both conclude that Christa and her sons, after seeing (and hearing) my difficulties, would probably decide not to try the climb.

We hurriedly take an alternate paved route back to the bottom of Stone Quarry Road to meet up with them, but find no one there. We say to each other almost simultaneously, "You don't think they actually tried it on those big bikes do you?" So that we don't get inextricably separated in a remote area that doesn't have cell-phone coverage, I quickly reverse course to head them off at the top, while Steve climbs the hill yet again. After regrouping, I learn that Christa had gotten stuck in the same rut I did, but otherwise the trio made the ascent without incident.

Later, while crossing Pleasant Hill Dam, an extremely large can of Red Bull welded to the top of a diminutive Mini Cooper seems to be following us. Florian and Manuel, with their eagle eyesight, notice that this mobile energy drink is being piloted by two attractive young women and they promptly flag them down to request free samples. After exchanging pleasantries with them and consuming something like a week's worth of caffeine in the process, we finally depart for a well-earned lunch at the Malabar Inn Restaurant.

Wednesday afternoon finds us terrorizing a challenging cluster of gravel roads in hilly, heavily forested terrain, southeast of our lunch stop. It seems that the experience gained on Stone Quarry Road is already paying dividends too, in the form of our heightened confidence and aggressiveness on these less difficult roads.
We stop in the cool shade of Helmick Covered Bridge for a brief respite. A nearby plaque tells us that this two-span bridge over Killbuck Creek was originally constructed in 1863 and refurbished in 1996. Covered bridges are wonderful, and Ohio has over a hundred still standing.

CR-150 also has its own special attraction, one that grabs our attention in passing: a yellow barn with the faces of country music legends (Dolly Parton, Johnny Cash, Loretta Lynn, Willie Nelson and others) painted on one side and all four of the Beatles painted on the other. The barn's owner is obviously a fan who appreciates great talent, regardless of genre.

The sun is getting low on the horizon as we complete another long day in the saddle, and I begin contemplating a warm shower and a nap.

Basket Case
(Day 3: SW Quadrant)

On Thursday morning we head south on SR-83 for the Wills Creek Lake area. Following Steve as he turns off onto an abandoned road, I'm wondering what challenges he has in store for us today. My curiosity is soon satisfied when what was a road turns into wet double track with large rocks and erosion ditches under a heavy canopy of dense forest.

Finally emerging into the light, we find the trail is much drier and easier to negotiate. The Wills Creek area presents dual-sport riders with many interesting trails and obstacles on which to hone their off-road riding skills, and a small embankment quickly becomes a favorite of ours for climbing and then popping a wheelie at its summit.

A large mud puddle in the distance has captured Christa's attention and mine, and we seem to be thinking the same thing: What a great opportunity to photograph four of us splashing through it together. I immediately volunteer to take the photo, but she says, "Oh no, I can't let you miss the fun. I'll stay back and take it." "Now really," I reply, "I couldn't possibly let you make such a big sacrifice on my behalf. You shouldn't miss this rare opportunity to experience such a big mud hole like this one with your sons." "NO, I insist," she says. She is the boss, after all - so off I go.

Approaching the mud hole, I downshift so I can power out of the muck and not stall midway. My wheels descend much deeper into the murky water than expected, however, and I'm wondering if wearing scuba gear might have been a good idea. But the water level stops rising after cresting the top of my boots. Mud and water are flying everywhere as the four of us spin our wheels out of the muddy morass. Once we're back on hard ground, Christa signals from behind her camera that we did great, but we should do it again - just to make sure. "Yeah, whatever," I mumble.

The off-road frivolity continues unabated as we are challenged by more difficult obstacles. The front wheel of the KLR, while descending a particularly rough incline, loses traction and its rider takes a dive. Wearing proper protective gear, he suffers no injuries, but the cooling fan is now knocking against the cylinder.

Concerned about engine overheating, we head to Doug Kane Motorsports in Zanesville where Kenny Atkins quickly evaluates the situation and has one of his mechanics fix the problem on the spot. They don't even charge us, and we're on the road again in a surprisingly short period of time. A shortcut along a scenic section of SR-666 gets the tour back on schedule.

In Dresden, Steve wows us with one of those world's-largest things. In a small park on Main Street rests a Longaberger picnic basket the size of a small house. Over lunch at the Depot Café, Steve relates the Horatio Alger story of how Dave Longaberger turned his father's hand-woven basket making into a multimillion-dollar, international business.

Dresden was Dave's hometown and the original location of the Longaberger Company headquarters. His baskets, and Dave himself, acquired a cult-like following, primarily among the women who collect them. Busloads of "basket ladies" arrive regularly in Dresden to tour any and everything having to do with Longaberger. When the company outgrew its headquarters in Dresden, a new, multi-story building was constructed in nearby Newark. And yes, it looks just like a gigantic Longaberger picnic basket.

The afternoon itinerary has us traversing excellent paved and unpaved routes, including those in the Powelson Wildlife and Ellis Dam areas. A stop at the expansive overlook near Frazeysburg is particularly scenic. While stopping for gas in Martinsburg, however, I grow concerned when my KLR balks at starting. Undiagnosed electrical gremlins seem bent on spoiling our fun. Subscribing to the philosophy of "better safe than sorry," we call it a day and head back to Coshocton, and on the way I'm hoping the bike hasn't become a "basket case" in its own right.

Disgustingly Delightful
(Day 4: SE Quadrant)

Friday is our final day and the KLR is still acting up. Manuel and I ride to the local auto parts store, while the others return to Wills Creek for more off-road antics and photos. I remove the battery, have it tested at the store, and discover that, although the battery has run down, it still can hold a charge. Obviously the bike's electrical charging system isn't working properly and won't be fixed by me in the middle of rural Ohio.

While putting the KLR on the trailer, the others return to Coshocton at mid-morning and we take a cappuccino break at The Coffee Company in Roscoe Village. Christa says she has work to do on the computer in her room and suggests that I ride the BMW XCountry for the rest of the day. I'm immediately impressed with its comfort and smooth delivery of power on paved roads. But there's a world of difference between it and my lighter KTM 450 on gravel. I feel the front wheel slide out a little on several curves and decide to slow down.

We stop at April's Country Kitch'n in Newcomerstown for a late lunch. At most small-town diners, the "heart healthy" symbol is conspicuously absent from the menu offerings, but the promise of hearty, satisfying food is not. By now, we're all famished and select April's "special," a disgustingly delightful open roast-beef sandwich with a mountain of mashed potatoes piled on top and smothered with beef gravy.

The afternoon venue follows gravel roads southeast to the Salt Fork State Park area, where we find excellent riding along more tree-lined gravel that twists and turns every which way. It's all great fun, but the type of incident I've been concerned about all week finally happens without warning: a deer darts from the dense tree line on the right into the road directly in front of Steve. Luckily, there's enough space between the two of them and a collision is avoided. But it's a sharp reminder of the importance of being alert, wearing proper protective gear, and not going too fast on loose-surface roads that offer scant braking opportunities.

On the final leg of the ride back to Coshocton, I fondly contemplate our experiences on this dual-sport Shamrock Tour. The unpaved back roads of Eastern Ohio provide great scenery, friendly folks, and notable gastronomic delights; and many of the riding areas are a veritable maze of serpentine gravel roads, with virtually no other traffic on them. Clearly our off-road and on-road riding skills have benefited from the challenges presented by the wide diversity of roads and trails encountered. But most of all, we have a much greater appreciation of dual-sport touring and how much fun it can be.

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10 Lessons Learned from Our First Dual-Sport Shamrock Tour

1. Lighter bikes with longer suspension travel provide much better handling off-pavement.

2. The bike should be capable of sufficient speed to easily keep pace with traffic on paved ride segments.

3. Low-end dual-sport tires (those with mostly street-tire treads) instill much less rider confidence off-pavement than more aggressive off-road tread designs.

4. Because off-pavement riding generally involves slower speeds and is more physically exhausting, don't plan to cover as much distance each day as you would on a paved shamrock tour.

5. Carry a hydration pack (like a Camelbak) and drink from it regularly to avoid dehydration.

6. Wear suitable off-pavement riding gear, including upper-body armor, rugged boots and knee protectors.

7. Wear light ventilated clothing that allows freedom of movement and excellent air circulation in hot weather.

8. When riding off-pavement, GPS navigation to the map coordinates of predetermined destinations is usually more effective than trying to follow road maps.

9. Gaps in cell-phone coverage in many off-pavement riding areas mean that it's a good idea to ride with a partner in case of emergency.

10. Because off-pavement riding proficiency requires progressive skill development over time, it's OK to push the envelope - but don't ever ride out of control!

Historic Roscoe Village

Dug out of the central Ohio Wilderness between 1825 and 1832, the Ohio & Erie Canal connected Lake Erie to the Ohio River and the Erie Canal in New York. Towns flourished along the banks of the Ohio & Erie Canal during its heydays from 1827 to 1861. Roscoe Village, located in present day Coshocton, Ohio, was one of those towns.

Passengers and freight traveled the waterway on canal boats. The mill store, which is known today as the Olde Warehouse Restaurant, was the center of commerce, where goods were unloaded, stored and sold in Roscoe Village. The Ohio & Erie Canal was a critical nineteenth-century link for transporting goods from ports on Lake Erie and the Ohio River to the many new settlers in Ohio.

By the late 1880s, however, much of America's canal system had begun its decline toward economic obsolescence with the growth of the railroads (which were less costly to construct and moved goods more rapidly than canal traffic). And the flood of 1913 destroyed much of what remained of the Ohio & Erie Canal. As a result, Roscoe Village and most of its buildings fell into disrepair and continued deteriorating until the early 1960s when a wealthy industrialist came to the rescue.

Edward Montgomery, who developed a revolutionary method of treating cotton fabrics with latex during the Great Depression, opened worldwide markets for his company's products and prospered handsomely in his hometown of Coshocton. Nearing retirement in the early 1960s, he decided it was time to give more back to his community and he set about returning Roscoe Village to its former glory.

Roscoe Village, today, provides an educational and entertaining atmosphere that evokes the rich history of the region. Living history tours, hands-on crafts, the Johnson-Humrickhouse Museum, the numerous restored brick buildings, landscaped gardens and streets, and charming shops and restaurants evoke the nineteenth-century ambiance of a thriving canal town. Although the Ohio & Erie Canal has long been relegated to the pages of history, a piece of it lives on at nearby Lake Park, where a canal boat, the Monticello III, takes visitors on a 45-minute ride, pulled along by a powerful team of draft horses on a restored section of the canal and its towpath.

The RoadRUNNER crew especially enjoyed dining at the Olde Warehouse Restaurant, morning espressos at The Coffee Company, and window-shopping along the sidewalks of Historical Roscoe Village. Thank you Mr. Montgomery!

Coshocton Village Inn & Suites

115 N. Water Street
Coshocton, Ohio 43812
(740) 622-9455
www.christopherhotels.com/ coshocton/index.htm

Perched on the east bank of the Muskingum River, Coshocton Village Inn & Suites provides weary riders comfortable and attractive lodging. And Historic Roscoe Village, with its shops, restaurants and cafes, is just across the river. The Inn has 64 guest rooms, including several Jacuzzi and two-room executive suites. The staff was very friendly and eager to fulfill our every request.

If you still have energy after a full day of dual-sport riding in the beautiful eastern Ohio countryside, the Inn's amenities include an indoor pool, sauna, hot tub and a fitness center. Free high-speed wireless Internet is available in each room for inveterate web surfers like me. For large groups, the Inn has meeting rooms and a banquet facility that can accommodate up to 300 people.

A complimentary hot breakfast is served each morning in the spacious lobby. In-room microwaves and refrigerators facilitate a late-night snack for guests watching one of the premium cable channels. If the weather outside turns cold, the lobby's attractive fireplace is a great spot to relax with a good book. All of us thoroughly enjoyed our five-day stay at the Coshocton Village Inn & Suites.