Sunday, June 25, 2017

Side trip to the best Party place in Ohio

It covers a frikkin' half square mile.  It's the site of the most awesome motorcycle rally in Ohio - maybe the state's best party, period.  And it's all named after me.

Well, sort of.  Like if your name is Smith (or Wesson) they named a handgun after you.

Truth be told, the Wetzel Motorcycle Club named their party place after the little hamlet of Wetzel, Ohio, a few miles down the road at the intersection of Wetzel Road and Middlepoint-Wetzel Road.

It had been more than 40 years since I last visited Wetzel, Ohio.  On my last visit there were no signs announcing the town, nothing except the road signs at the intersection.

On my last visit, Wetzel Motorcycle Club had not yet been founded and Wetzelland was just another field of corn and soybeans.  But it's come a long way.  The first rally was a small get-together in 1987, and it's been growing ever since.  These days they throw one helluva party on the last weekend of July, attracting bikers from all across the country.  Check their Facebook Page for more.  They've built a big pond in the shape of the Harley-Davidson emblem.  They have big-name bands performing, and they donate a big chunk of their proceeds to local charity.  And in the process, they've put the sleepy little crossroads town of Wetzel back on the map.

Since the Buckeye Trail/North Country National Scenic Trail is only a few miles east of Wetzelland, it seemed a natural detour for me to take.  I headed northwest out of Delphos, past the loop-trail that circles their interesting man-made elevated reservoir

and on through some of the flattest farmland this side of Kansas.

I headed on north through the town of Melrose and then picked up the Buckeye Trail again near the town of Charloe, beside the Little Auglaise River.

Hat number one, at the Charloe town park

Starting with this post I'm going to feature the 'hat of the day'.  I have an ever-growing collection of them, and I've organized them into a rotation.  Wear a different one every day until I've cycled through them all.

This part of the Buckeye Trail/North Country Trail has a lot of road walking.  There are just a few brief walks in the woods alongside the Miami and Erie Canal ...

... but a lot of the canal in this area has been destroyed.  Elsewhere it runs beside or through farm fields.  Here I took a detour to avoid some traffic congestion.

The highlight of this section is the place where the Miami and Erie Canal intersects with the Wabash and Erie Canal coming eastward from Indiana.

But north of there it was all road walk, first north, and then a right turn at Hammerhead Road to head eastward toward the town of Defiance.

It is here that I've chosen to say my final farewell to the Buckeye Trail and turn left.   This will be the start of a major detour off the North Country Trail.  The North Country Trail and the Buckeye Trail coincide for some thirty more miles, heading eastward from the point shown in the photo above, passing through Defiance then following the Miami and Erie Canal where it exists from Independence through Napoleon. It is a street walk through downtown Defiance, then the trail uses 'narrow busy' roads to Independence that I'd also prefer to avoid.

After Napoleon the North Country Trail splits with the Buckeye Trail and jumps over to the Wabash Cannonball rail trail, picking up its SW extension at Liberty Center and continuing NE for ten more miles.  Following the rail trail route, the NCT then turns back westward near Toledo and heads back due west for more than thirty more miles, leaving the Wabash Cannonball at West Unity where it begins a 20 mile road walk North to Hillsdale, Michigan for a short off-road piece and a bit of rail trail before a sixty mile road walk that is a tour of the downtown areas of Jonesville, Litchfield, Homer, Albion, Marshall, and then sprawling Battle Creek.

I don't do city tours, certainly not when I have to walk roads to connect between them.  So I've chosen to cut north-northwestward from Defiance in order to visit rural NE Indiana and to avoid downtown Battle Creek before returning to the North Country Trail west of Battle Creek.

It will be a long road walk this way, too, but here I get to pick roads that match my sensibilities.  Here I won't have anybody else to blame if I get bored.

Maybe my hat rotation will keep you, my faithful readers, from too much boredom.  How many hats do I have to share with you?  Well, check out the two hats in the selfies up top.  They are hats number 84 and 85.  You won't see them again until fall.

Friday, June 23, 2017

Hiking the Miami and Erie Canal and the towns it built

My last report covered two days of hiking the tow path of the Miami and Erie Canal, now converted into a trail, through the towns of Lockington (not named after Lockey Locking and his curly blond locks but for the five successive canal locks situated there), Newport, Fort Loramie, Minster, and New Bremen, all of which attribute their early development to the coming of the canal.

This report covers the canal route through St. Mary's, Spencerville, and Delphos.  Spencerville, in particular, acknowledges its canal roots.

And Delphos features a canal museum (though it was closed when I came through).  But the town of St. Marys pays perhaps the most elaborate homage to its canal roots with the only life-sized reproduction of a canal boat (headline photo)

and elaborate brickwork trail that avoids (under-passes) all the cross-streets through center town.

Adjacent to the canal boat display is a moving memorial to veterans.

Out in the country north of St. Marys the canal tow path earthworks created a series of ponds, including the '40-acre Pond' shown here.

Between St. Marys and New Bremen I spotted four or five of the old stone mile markers,

and wherever I hiked, every lock had its Ohio Dept. of Natural Resources sign, such as the one shown in the headline photo.  Most of the locks were made of wood, and nothing remains of them, but a few have been restored and repurposed into water control structures, such as Lock 14 out in the country between St. Marys and Spencerville

And near there was a most unusual sight--an old oak that canal builders kept and worked around.

Farther north in this magical zone between St. Marys and Spencerville is 'Deep Cut', where the canal builders, working with nothing more than pick-and-shovel and mule-drawn wagons, cut the canal 55 feet deep through an obstructing hill.  I guess it was deemed easier than building a few locks, or perhaps there was no way to feed water into such locks.  Deep Cut is pretty to walk through, but the high banks were obscured by the woods, so there wasn't an opportunity for a decent photo.

What was really special about this magical stretch centered around St. Marys is that the canal was intact and still held an abundance of water.  Here are some of the country scenes:

Canal with flowers

Canal with Hop Hornbeam tree (an understory tree that produces hop-like fruits)

Canal with mulberry tree also fruiting

and canal with lily pads in bloom and a clutch of apparently orphaned baby ducks

Where the canal has water it has wildlife.  Frogs were peeping and 'ribbiting' and 'Knee-Deep-ing' and 'Gung'-ing and garrumping.  There were huge carp thrashing about stirring up the mud bottom.  And I got a good up-close photo of my first ever spiny soft-shell turtle, one of the most purely aquatic of the fresh water turtles.

Farther north, between Spencerville and Delphos, the canal dwindled, and all that was left was a ditch.

Heading north out of Delphos, I'm taking a detour from the Canal and the trail that follows it for a very special purpose--to visit my namesake town and its significant party venue.  Stay tuned for the surprise.

Meanwhile here are screen shots of the GPS tracks for these three days of hiking one way and biking back the other.

And if you are curious for more detail, you can delve deeper with this interactive map of my track.  Just zoom in on the area of interest starting from this general map of my Personal Continuous Footpath meanderings:

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Thursday, June 22, 2017

The M&E Canal Trail, Piqua to New Bremen - a mixed bag

Hiking the Buckeye Trail 'clockwise,' as they call it (around the state), I have been handed over from the paved and well-maintained Great Miami River Recreational Trail onto the trail known as the Miami and Erie Canal Trail.  It's a bit of a shock.  Almost none of the M&E Canal trail is paved, there are road-walk gaps, some of which carried heavy, nearly continuous dump truck traffic, and the first pieces of real canal tow-path trail I encountered were pretty rustic.

You won't find me complaining about trail in the woods, as long as it's passable.  And here it was.  For the most part the route was freshly weed-whacked and out-reaching growth had been lopped back, leaving a clear pathway, as the photos show.  The hiker will pass several surviving examples of 150-year-old stone canal mile markers.  This one announces that we are 101 miles from Cincinnati.

But there were also neglected sections overgrown with weeds and one significant piece coming north out of Newport, from SR66 to Cardo Road, that has been abandoned.

Yes, the photo above is the bed of the canal, bulldozed over, covered with gravel, and turned into a line of RV hookups in the Hickory Hill Campground.  The original tow path follows the line of posts with brand new electric outlets and spigots, and every one of those spigots was working when I passed through.  You could stop for a drink every twenty feet.

I suppose Hickory Hill still allows hikers to follow this route.  There were no signs or gates or fences.  It's a concert venue.  They like people.

The reason the section is closed is not here.  Between here and downtown Newport the Buckeye Trail Association built a footbridge over a twenty-foot deep ravine that has cut through the tow path.  The bridge was just built in 2013, but it took only three years for the erosion in the ravine to cause it to collapse.

The route through here is truly impassable now, though I struggled through the ravine on hands and knees, slipping and sliding and grabbing branches and vines.  Rebuilding that bridge in a way that it will last would be a major project.   It doesn't appear that it's going to happen any time soon, if ever.

But that was the worst of it.  Elsewhere the experience was much better.  There's a genuine hiker shelter in the woods, on a section that had just been lovingly maintained by 'Snap Dragon' the day before I came through, according to the shelter register.

As you approach the town of New Bremen the trail seems to hit its stride.  The headline photo is of the gravel tow path looking north toward town.  In the downtown area there is an elaborate kids park,

a fully restored canal lock,

and many interpretive signs.

Heading north out of New Bremen the trail is even paved for a mile, and the trail is able to follow the canal without interruption for a long way.  Three more full days of hiking, to be specific.  I'll cover those in my next report.

This report covered the first two days of the five I hiked along the M&E Canal.  Here are the GPS tracks.

Wednesday, June 21, 2017

The Great Miami River Recreational Trail - first class all the way

Called the GMRRT for short, it's the gem of the Miami River Trail System.  With scenes like the above, with the Dayton Skyline gleaming in the background, and many other fine river views, this is a paved bike path worth exploring.

I took three days to cover it, from the confluence of the Mad River and the Miami River in Dayton, where the fountain above comes on for just 30 seconds every hour (yes, I was just plain lucky to be passing at the right moment) to "Road Side Park" on the north outskirts of the town of Piqua, this trail was a first class experience.

Before going on, I wanted to clear up any confusion about the name Miami here in Ohio and its connection with Miami, Florida.  Both places are named after Native American peoples, but they have no linguistic or cultural connection with one another (though perhaps they have common ancestors who crossed the land bridge from Asia back in the ice age).  An Ohio Miami Indian refers to himself as 'Myaamia.'  The plural is 'Myaamiaki', and they originally lived in SW Michigan, western Ohio, and Indiana.  The completely separate 'Mayaimi' people lived around what we call Lake Okeechobee in Florida.  But these people named themselves after their lake - Mayaimi means 'big water'.  The Miami River in Ohio is big water too.  But maybe I better stop here before I confuse my readers who still mi ami  (Italian for 'you love me.')

Anyhow ... The GMRRT and its namesake river pass plenty of interesting places.  There's even  a ghost town called Tadmore (not much to see) where a flood control dam rendered the town uninhabitable (that's the way they defined progress back in the early 20th century), and there's also the historic Eldean Covered Bridge, which unlike anything in Tadmore, is still standing and still in use.

The trail passes through the city of Troy, with a promenade of trail-side park benches overlooking the river and the town beyond,

And it offers a wonderful route through Piqua that the Buckeye Trail/North Country Trail used to follow but no longer does.  Because I was walking one way and biking back, I got to experience both routes.

Instead of following the river through Piqua, the Buckeye Trail follows Linear Park in a promenade through center town,

And then along what's called the River's Edge Trail that follows the Miami and Erie Canal, passing the biggest cemetery I've ever seen

And passing three pretty lakes that helped provide the canal with its water in this area.

The Miami and Erie Canal runs from the Ohio River in Cincinnati to Lake Erie.  Parts of the GMRRM follow it, for example here, as it passes Lock 14 near Tipp City

and it officially becomes the 'Miami and Erie Canal Trail' and the route of the Buckeye/North Country Trails from Piqua North, so you'll be hearing and seeing a lot more about that in posts to come.

Here are the screen shots of the GPS Tracks covering the three days along the GMRRT

And as always, you can delve deeper with this interactive map of my track.  Just zoom in on the area of interest starting from this general map of my Personal Continuous Footpath meanderings:

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