National Parks

Riding the Towpath in Cuyahoga Valley National Park


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I grew up about twenty miles from Cuyahoga Valley National Park, I went on field trips to Hale Farms and the Ohio and Erie Canal, concerts at Blossom and learned to snowboard at Brandywine & Boston Mills Ski Resort.  So it was almost funny when I realized that Cuyahoga Valley National Park existed; granted I was kind of a late bloomer when it comes to being an outdoor enthusiast and National Park buff.  Two years ago when we traveled to Cleveland for my best friend’s wedding, Ryan and I stopped at the park to check it off our list.  The entire park was covered in snow then, we even built a snowman on a walk to Brandywine Falls.  Last weekend Ryan and I went back to Cuyahoga Valley National Park to ride bikes along the Towpath.  There aren’t many safe places to ride near my parent’s house and there is a serious lack of bike shops in Northeast Ohio so we ended up on the Towpath by default – Century Cycles in Peninsula is the only shop that rents bikes on Sunday mornings.  It worked out well as the shop is located right on the path, and given our love for National Parks Ryan and I weren’t complaining at the chance to spend some time in Cuyahoga Valley National Park.

As some of you know I have a distinct fear of falling, I often describe it as a fear of heights, but it’s really not that.  It is actually a fear of falling off of an edge.  Things like hiking trails on exposed ridge lines, descending steep switchbacks and crossing tall bridges tend to make my palms sweat and stomach tie up in knots.  I have a few vivid memories from my childhood where I can recall my fear of falling being triggered.  The first was a repeat offender, crossing the bridge to get from the parking garage to the Gund Arena (now “The Q”).  I always walked quickly and as far away from the glass windows as possible, this was quite ridiculous since the bridge is a solid enclosed structure.  The other fear I had was that I was going to fall into the Ohio and Erie Canal.  I know this fear was instilled in me when I went on a field trip to the canal in elementary school.  The adults that were giving the demonstration and explaining how the locks worked weren’t super enthusiastic, despite their stunning early 1800’s attire.  In fact, I don’t really remember anything about how the canal worked or the history of the area, which is unusual given I have a great memory.  The only thing I remember is the strict warning we received, if we weren’t careful and behaving we might fall in the canal and get trapped in one of the locks.  I was terrified, and have been coping with a fear of falling ever since.  Years later I remember my Dad asking me if I wanted to go ride bikes on the Towpath, which paralleled the canal.  I refused because I was categorically convinced that I would fall off the path and into the canal.  I’m sure my Dad thought I was being a teenage brat, because that must have seemed like the most illegitimate fear imaginable. So regrettably, I didn’t spend much time on the Towpath growing up, which is a shame because it is an incredible path for running and cycling that travels 81 miles from Bolivar to Cleveland.

Ryan and I rode 12.5 miles (for a 25 miles ride) of the path this weekend and he must have said how nice the trail was five times.  We only got to go from Peninsula to Rockside Road before we had to turn around and get back to my parent’s house, but I enjoyed every minute of it.  We even got to ride past the very spot where my fear of falling was born, the Canal Exploration Center at Lock 38, where the demonstrations and history lectures are given.  I had to laugh to myself and the irrationality of my fear as we pedaled past the locks.  First of all, there are several stretches of the path where there is no visible water on either side, second the path doesn’t butt up directly on the water’s edge, there is a barrier of grass and dirt between the two, and finally the water is shallow and stagnant.  If in fact anyone ever were to fall in its not as if raging rapids would carry them away.  That’s the thing about fears though, by their very definition they are irrational.  They rob us of our intelligence and logic if we let them and manifest themselves into insurmountable and paralyzing monsters.  Once we learn how to battle and quiet our fears and overcome them we can look back and see how senseless they were to begin with.  While I can proudly say I am no longer afraid of falling in the canal, my fear of falling still gets me from time to time, especially while mountain biking, but I’ll save those stories for another post.  I had a great time facing my fear head on this past weekend and look forward to riding on the canal again someday.  I’d like to do the Towpath in its entirety, and maybe even tackle the whole Buckeye Trail, hopefully on my own bike next time.  Dad, if you are reading this it’s time for you to start training!

If you don’t know a canal lock is like an elevator for boats, it lifts or lowers the boats onto the next level of the canal.  The trail is called the Towpath because it used to be a towing trail for mules to tow the canal boats along the water. 

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