I wake up in my beautiful room in the BEST WESTERN Mariemont Inn with the great realization that I have a day ahead where the agenda is simply to ride. No appointments, no landmarks — just me, some great roads, and another Best Western Hotel at the end of the day. I’m completely relaxed, at ease and in the zone. This is what motorcycle travel is all about.
I dawdle a little bit over breakfast in the hotel’s restaurant, the National Exemplar. I study my maps, and contemplate the weather. Maybe if I wait another half hour, the rain will pass. But the longer I wait, the warmer the air temperature gets. I’d better saddle up and ride.
I’m a little regretful that the weather is going to keep me from sightseeing in Cincinnati, which is a beautiful, verdant town. I know that Cincinnati is a great place to visit. It’s the home to professional sports (the Reds and Bengals), world class professional theater (Cincinnati Playhouse in the Park, Ensemble Theatre Cincinnati , The Children’s Theatre of Cincinnati and the nearby Mad River Theater Works), great museums (Cincinnati Art Museum, The Taft Museum of Art , The Cincinnati Museum Center) and a host of historic sites (The Harriet Beacher Stowe House, The Cincinnati Observatory Center and the one I really wish I could have visited, The William Howard Taft National Historic Site, which preserves the birthplace and childhood home of the only man ever to serve as both President and Chief Justice of the United States). I’m going to plan a trip to explore Cincinnati in the near future.
Today, though, I’m riding east through the rain. A good portion of my ride will take place on the James A. Rhodes Appalachian Highway (OH-32). James Allen Rhodes (1909 – 2001) was a four-time Republican Ohio Governor who served through the tumultuous 1960s (1962 – 1970) and the late 1970s into the early 1980s (1974 – 1982). He was an Ohio native and career politician, probably most notoriously remembered for his role in the Kent State protests against the Vietnam War in 1970, when he called in the National Guard. Ohioans (or “Buckeyes”) prefer to credit Rhodes with great improvements to the state’s infrastructure during the 1960s — hence the honorary designation for the Appalachian Highway.
I have to admit that I’m guilty of flyover syndrome. Even though I spent my high school years in the Midwest, I have lived on either the East Coast or the West Coast ever since college, and I’ve lost touch with the great diversity of geography and culture that forms the vast stretches between the coasts of this country. It’s easy to think about Ohio, Indiana and Illinois as one big flat patchwork of farmland, but nothing could be farther from the truth. Ohio in particular has some amazing roads, and today I’ll get a chance to explore some of the best.
I’ll have to keep my speeds down, though, because most of the roads I’ll be traversing today will be wet. When it’s not raining, it’s about to, or it just has, and every surface is slick with moisture, oil and dirt. As I’ve said many times, I don’t really mind riding in the rain, it just requires a higher level of concentration and attention to traction, and it also requires lower speeds and additional time. I’ve got plenty of time today, and I don’t mind slowing down and enjoying that time aboard the Blue Glide. My gear is proving to be solidly waterproof, so I’m dry and comfortable. Occasional periods of clearing provide amazing views of dramatic skies and even a rainbow or two. I’m happiness on two wheels.
The Appalachian Highway passes through an area known as the Appalachian Plateau, the western part of the Appalachian Mountains, which stretch from New York to Alabama. The Plateau is made up of gentle hills and valleys, with no significant peaks or mountains that rise above 1,500 ft. Riders who are familiar with the elevations of the Rocky Mountains (from 5,000 ft. to over 12,000 ft. in places), the Cascades (over 7,000 ft.) and the San Bernardino Mountains (over 6,000 ft.), all popular riding routes, probably expect sedate, even dull riding in Ohio, but they couldn’t be more wrong. I discover incredible, challenging and beautiful stretches of road all along the Appalachian Highway, with smooth pavement, great switchbacks and curves, and near-constant changes in elevation.
The weather takes a turn for the worse as I approach Caldwell, my destination for the evening. The rain pounds off of the roadway, at times so hard that it bounces off of my windshield like hail. It might just be hail, but I don’t have to keep riding to find out. Up ahead is the BEST WESTERN PLUS Caldwell Inn. I swoop under the front canopy, hop off of the Blue Glide and check in to the hotel. The front desk clerk is welcoming and kind — she doesn’t even mention the puddle of water that drips off of my leather jacket while I sign in.
After a day of wet riding, the last thing I want to do is gear up again to find a place to eat dinner. Luckily, the owners of the Caldwell Inn also own Lori’s Family Restaurant, just steps away from the Best Western’s rear entrance. I dodge the raindrops and happily order the fried chicken dinner at Lori’s, relishing the opportunity to eavesdrop on the local conversation percolating around the restaurant at other tables. Caldwell seems like a very friendly small town, and Lori’s is a hub.
Finally back in my hotel room, I look back at today’s ride and forward toward tomorrow’s. Where today was long and uneventful, tomorrow will be short and jam-packed. I can’t wait.
Miles ridden: 210.0
Next: Hall of Fame Ride Through Ohio, Day Five: Caldwell to Canton