Saturday, July 18, 2009

Day 42 - Wooster, OH to Youngstown, OH

"The infrastructure, Jerry, it's crumbling!"—Kramer, "The Pothole", Seinfeld
Today, I discovered the worst roads in America. Now, admittedly, I've only surveyed 3,200 miles of roadway thus far. But, after today's ride, I have determined that the roads in Northeastern Ohio are among the worst in terms of road surface. We had heard from Gerard, our ride leader, that today's route left a lot to be desired. We had no idea how bad.

Our day started well. The weather was unseasonably cool with cloud cover and a forecasted high of only 71. I was enjoying the quiet morning and decided early that I was going to take it easy today. We were rolling along through more farmland and rural homes when I noticed we had entered the city limits of Orrville. Something seemed familiar about the town name. When we turned onto "Smucker Road," it finally clicked. We were in Orrville, OH, the home of Smucker's—as in jams, jellies, preserves, and spreads. I did some quick iPhone research and saw that the Smucker's factory was in the center of town which was just 2.5 miles off route. It was early in the day, why not check it out? I doubted there would be a factory tour or visitor's center open on a Saturday at 8 a.m., but it would be fun to at least take some pics of the place.

I found the factory and rode past some of the buildings when I met Don. He was sitting outside waiting for someone to bring him his mid-shift meal. I introduced myself and explained what I was doing then asked him about the factory. There are 400 employees at this facility where they primarily make the individual packets of jam and jelly you find in restaurants. Don packages them in the boxes for shipping. I was surprised to learn that the fruit is shipped by truck or rail from California. Wouldn't it make sense to have a processing plant closer to the fruit groves? Don said at one time Smucker's did have a California plant, but they closed it after determining it was less expensive to have production in Ohio and ship to and from this plant. Before I left, I took my photo with Don when another employee came out. Don called to him, "Hey, this guy's riding his bike from San Francisco!" While I didn't get any free samples, it was fun to see the home of Smucker's and get some first-hand info.

Back on the route, I had added about five miles to my 92-mile ride and now was at the back of the pack. I caught up with Brian in Canal Fulton, home of the St. Helena II and a landmark on the Ohio and Erie Canal—at least that's what the Canal Fulton Heritage Society sign said. I caught the rest of the group at the first SAG stop in Greensburg. After enjoying some of Amy Benson's zucchini bread, Chris and I rode on. And that is when we began encountering the worst roads in America.

Pontius Street in Hamilton County, OH—I was amazed at how bad this road was. I'm at a loss to adequately describe the inferiority of this asphalt. It's one thing to encounter potholes. But someone on the county road crew had made an attempt to repair these roads... over and over again. As we rode along, we dodged, ducked, dived, dipped, and dodged holes, cracks, and patch after patch after patch of mismatched, mis-colored asphalt filler. Descending a hill usually brings some relief. You can relax and enjoy the downhill. Not on these roads. We were in a constant state of bone-jarring alert. By the time we reached New Baltimore, it was time to take a break. The New Baltimore Ice Cream stand was just what we needed.

After a refreshing lunch of hot dog, soft pretzel, and vanilla shake (I love being able to eat like this!), I faced the roads of terror again. The afternoon was a slow slog of avoiding holes, crevices, and bumps. The final relief came when I reached the last 10 miles of the ride and got on the Mill Creek Metroparks bikeway. Ahhh. Smooth pavement. I sailed at 19 mph, renewed by the absence of all that I had endured for the last 50 miles. I even found a shortcut, albeit back on bad pavement, that saved me three miles on the final approach to the hotel.

After a shower and route rap, I got to enjoy dinner tonight with my high school friends, Krista and TJ Schmitz and their adorable kids, Mallory (16), Noah (13), Jonah (10), and Micah (6). We had great conversation talking about high school, marriage, kids, family, and life as nearly 40 year olds. They'll tell you they lead a boring life, but boring is bliss. I can tell their life with each other and those kiddos is anything but boring! I was blessed to spend time with them and for them to drive an hour and a half round trip to spend a few hours with me. (And my offer still stands to put Noah in the America by Bicycle luggage trailer for a few days!)

Tomorrow should be another fun one. We'll head north to Conneaut where I'm hoping to be greeted by another high school friend, Lori (Lalak) Lee and her two boys. They even promised to ring cowbells and write my name on the road in chalk, just like Tour de France fans do for Lance! After Conneaut, we'll leave Ohio and enter our tenth state of the ride, Pennsylvania, as we finish in Erie, PA for our final rest day on Monday—which I'll be spending by heading to my hometown of Avon Lake, OH for the day and then joining Lori, her husband, and boys for dinner. We're only nine riding days away from the conclusion of this amazing journey when we reach Portsmouth, NH on July 28!

For more photos of the terrible roads, but pleasant scenery, visit
For more about the Ride for Impact, visit

Dist: 95.42
Time: 6:52:33
Avg: 13.8
Max: 38.0
Cumulative Miles: 3,242
Cumulative Flats: 5
Elev Gain: 3,883 ft.
Max Elev: 1,398 ft.
Avg Climb: 2%
Max Climb: 13%


Kristin said...

Oh dear Bob - those do sound like roads of terror. Makes our red brick road in Redmond sound like smooth sailing... God bless you as you continue this amazing adventure of yours!

Anonymous said...

Bob -

Pontius Street is actually in Hartville, Ohio. It is on the border of Stark and Portage Counties. Amy told me to tell you where you "really" were. Hamilton County is around Cincinnati, more than a day's ride away.

Enjoy NY!