Why did the black snake cross the road? I don't know either. Maybe he's fleeing to higher ground from the floodwaters that have recently plagued the Eastern Ohio countryside. Maybe the critters on his menu are just a bit more succulent on the other side. Either way, he doesn't have far to go to reach safety. Traffic is light and the day is beautiful. Mr. Blacksnake need not be concerned with the speedy wheels of a certain Aprilia Falco. The Falco is hunting all right, but with bigger snakes in mind. Its prey has been found and we're bearing down on the twisting, undulating, serpentine beast known as the Eastern Ohio back road.
Like the black snake, Ohio's country lanes are peaceful and somewhat benign. On the other hand, if approached too aggressively, they'll usually reward you with a painful bite. This is not an indictment against said roads, quite the opposite in fact. As riders, we look for challenging roads. We like to flick our machines back and forth, leaning into turns, braking in, accelerating out, up and down hills, and all the while catching glimpses of the landscape unfolding beneath us as we fly by. Most riders have a certain appreciation for living on the edge and these Ohio side roads certainly have plenty of edge to offer them.
Getting There is Half the Fun, They Say
Riding in Ohio will be a new experience. With the one exception of a jaunt taken along the Ohio River several years ago, I am in uncharted territory. The ride across West Virginia was fantastic, as usual, and I'm primed to make Canton in time to find a room and search for a nice hot meal. Interstate 77 is boring but reasonably scenic, and the earlier cloudiness has given way to a bright, sunny afternoon.
How quickly Mother Nature throws her meteorologic wrench in my gearbox. In what seems a matter of minutes, the sky turns an ominous shade of inky gray…"the weather started getting rough, the tiny bike was tossed, if not for the courage of the fearless dude, the Falco would be lost, the Falco would be lost…" [Sorry, one too many episodes of "Gilligan's Island" as a kid.] Honestly though, by the time I find an exit I'm beginning to feel a bit like Gilligan and the Skipper in the gale that always opens that "classic" sitcom.
I seek refuge in a small diner and start in on the decaf, wondering if it always rains sideways in Ohio. Not the auspicious welcome I was hoping for. Come on Ohio, work with me here, I'm the new guy. I later find out there were reports of at least one tornado touching down several miles away. A waterlogged couple riding what appears in the rain to be a very pretty Springer Softail come in saying they had to ride down off the road because the lightning was just too close for comfort. Eventually, the rain begins to just look like rain, as opposed to some kind of satanic car wash, and that's my cue to leave. But a short ride through the still heavy precipitation is more than enough for this kid. As far as I'm concerned, the yellow sign of the Super 8 motel reads Waldorf-Astoria. And to think, this tour hasn't even started.
What a difference a night makes. The Saturday morning sunshine shoots through the opened curtains with an intensity that slams my pupils shut so fast I'm seeing only spots. Fully expecting cloudiness at best, the brilliant blue sky is indeed a welcome, if startling sight. My timing seems to be perfect. I'm told the weather has been terrible in the area up to this point. Luckily, the motorcycle gods are smiling upon me and the weather will not be a direct issue for the rest of the tour. But more on that later. It's time to hit the road.
A Horse is a Horse, of Course, of Course...
A nice morning ride to Canton gets day one going and the riding juices flowing. I'd love to see the Pro Football Hall of Fame, but the possibility of encountering a huge weekend crowd scares me away. Maybe next time - Thorpe, Hallas, Staubach and all of the other gridiron heroes of days past will have to wait. The roads I'm riding in Canton are in terrible shape. The city seems to have a nice downtown area, but the ride in is more suited to a dual sport than a sport tourer: Sorry Canton, I'm outta here.
Route 800 south is a fairly nice road but fails to offer much in the way of scenery. Damage from the severe storms is evident along the route. Creeks and rivers are running very high and resemble roiling cauldrons of poorly made cappuccino seasoned with a generous helping of flotsam and jetsam. A quick stop at the Zoar Village State Memorial is a nice break. The village was originally a settlement of German religious dissenters called the Society of Separatists of Zoar. The Old World architecture has been restored and there are many displays depicting the life and times of the Zoarists in the early 1800s. It's a neat place to explore.
On down Route 800, one finds New Philadelphia, a pretty town with more than enough options for food and lodging. Unfortunately, it's too early for lunch, so I press on for Route 39, heading west from New Philadelphia into the heart of the Ohio Amish country. I'm looking forward to seeing the simple expressions of Amish culture in the Sugar Creek and Walnut Creek areas. Apparently so are several zillion other folks. Sugar Creek looks like a traveling tour bus rodeo performing a promotional gig in the parking lot of an RV dealership. If an object can even remotely be associated with the Amish, I'm sure somebody is selling it there. And since shopping is not my thing, I'm ready to go. This tourism is great for the area; I just prefer to use the motorcycle to escape the rat race, not compete in it. And if any of you understand the feeling, don't make the mistake of traveling in these parts on a weekend.