As Florian and I saddle up in Zanesville for our Ohio roundtrip, it occurs to me that the Buckeye State often doesn’t get its due. Phrases like, “flyover country,” “your hometown river is flammable,” “mistake on the lake,” and “Hey, at least we’re not Michigan,” don’t exactly invite tourism.
But could these naysayers be uninformed or just wrong? Well, we intend to find out.
Ohio Digs a Ditch
In the early 19th century, Ohio was a sparsely populated collection of frontier settlements. Ohioans were isolated from most markets, which severely limited their ability to sell and export their agricultural products. They also couldn’t easily import manufactured goods, like clothing, tools, and other essentials. The then-recently completed Erie Canal in New York connected Lake Erie to the Hudson River, which flowed downstream to New York City. Products from there could go to and come from foreign markets. If 19th-century Ohio could build a canal connecting Lake Erie to the Ohio River, then the state’s economy could enjoy a similar boost in trade.
Undaunted by the enormity of the project, Ohio forged ahead and completed construction of the Ohio & Erie Canal between Cleveland and Portsmouth, OH, in 1832. Canal boats were raised and lowered by 146 locks along the canal’s 308-mile route. Commerce blossomed and towns prospered on the new waterway. By the mid-19th century, however, faster and more efficient railroads were starting to replace canal transport. Today, only scattered remnants of Ohio’s canal era have been preserved for visitors to discover.
We ride north along sparsely traveled, serpentine backroads, hugging the rivers and streams that were once components of the Ohio & Erie Canal system. We find an excellent example of a reconstructed canal town in Roscoe Village. It has an inviting collection of shops and eateries.
Motorcycles & Gear
2023 Indian Pursuit
2014 BMW F 800 GSA
Helmets: HJC RPHA 11 Pro, Schuberth C4 Modular
Jackets: Klim Sixxer, Dainese Teren D-Dry
Pants: Icon 1000 Roughshod, Dainese Teren D-Dry
Gloves: Racer Gloves, Dainese
Boots: TCX X-Rap, Alpinestars Distinct Drystar GORE-TEX
Comm System: Cardo Packtalk Edge
Not far away is the replica of the Monticello III canal boat, which brings in tourists in warmer months. Donkey-pulled canal boats had a top speed of about four miles per hour. Gracefully traveling along at such a leisurely pace under generously shaded tree-lined banks conjures up sepia-toned mental images of a slower pace of life in simpler times.
Next, we encounter some of Ohio’s early history. Schoenbrunn Village, located in New Philadelphia, is a reconstructed collection of 17 buildings originally built by Moravian missionaries in the 18th century. Farther north, we stop at another historic village named Zoar. German religious dissenters settled it in 1817. Its collection of early American architecture, shops, and gardens is a bastion of old-world charm that begs to be explored.
In mid-afternoon, we arrive in Cuyahoga Valley National Park. Radiant fall colors in the forested park are on full display. We stop first at the visitor center to get oriented and then tour some of the park’s historic structures and natural beauty. This section of the Ohio & Erie Canal is where Ohio industry first flourished in the 19th century. The former canal towpath is packed with hikers and bicyclists. The Cuyahoga Valley Scenic Railroad stops at various points in the park for tourists to board and depart.
We continue north through Akron and finally call it a day at our hotel in Cleveland, a city that owes much of its early growth to its location where the Ohio & Erie Canal connected to Lake Erie.
Tracking an Inland Sea
“You can’t see Canada across Lake Erie, but you know it’s there. It’s the same with spring. You have to have faith, especially in Cleveland. Snow in April always breaks your heart.”
—Paul Fleischman, Seedfolks
Cleveland has a foreboding wintertime weather reputation, but this brisk October morning couldn’t be more pleasing. Riding east on Lake Ave, we’re bathed in radiant sunshine as we glide along the well-manicured boulevard. Old-growth trees accent historic estates that also back up to Lake Erie. The enchanting vistas are an ample reward for an otherwise slow rate of travel in this Cleveland suburb on the lake. With the city finally fading in our rear views, we roll on our throttles on the Lake Erie Coastal Ohio Trail.