We left the majestic Ohiopyle area and continued our journey northward along the Great Allegheny Passage rail-trail. The rain seemed to follow us for the next few days, but we were lucky enough to have the luxury of a wooden shelter not only at the Cedar Creek Park campsite, but also at the Dravo Cemetery Campground. We also ran into more really great people each night; at Cedar Creek Park we met a family from Baltimore, MD who were kind enough to offer us breakfast (never pass up free food); and at Dravo Cemetery Campground we met a young couple who had lived in Washington DC and were now on an indefinite bike tour around the country in search of a new place to live. We not only shared a shelter with the young couple from DC, but we also shared a 'gourmet' meal with food provided by a farm we visited earlier that day.
The Morris Organic "pick-your-own" farm located about 5 miles east of the GAP between Sutersville and Buena Vista is run by Mr. Randy Morris. He was certified organic in 1994, and produces a variety of crops including potatoes, peppers, tomatoes, herbs, green beans, lettuce, beets, swiss chard, hay, wheat, cucumbers, and much more -he even makes his own maple syrup, and grinds his own flour using antique equipment. He describes himself as a engineer by trade and farmer by calling, and with the way he monitors and adjusts the mineral composition of his soil, he might as well be a chemist. He told us of the importance of rotating crops each year to maintain a healthy and productive balance of nutrients in the soil (different plants deplete certain minerals more than others). Proper soil maintenance not only produces crops more efficiently, but also ensures a healthy plant. A truly healthy plant needs no insecticide, pesticide, or any other -cide to prevent insects and pests from devouring it because of the natural immunity it has developed over eons of evolution. After ten years of crop rotation and soil amending, Mr. Morris' crops are naturally protected from harmful insects!
Mr. Randy Morris was kind enough to take an hour or two out of his day to show us around and let us pick some fresh herbs (parsley, oregano, rosemary, sage) and swiss chard. He also gave us some whole wheat flour and a banging pancake recipe which we tried for the first time today -needless to say it was delicious. Unfortunately, we visited his farm in the very beginning of the growing season when things were just starting to pop up. If you're around the Western Pennsylvania area later in the season we highly recommend taking some time to check out this amazing farm to pick your own vegetables for a ridiculously cheap price, and to meet one of the more interesting individuals we've met thus far on our trip.
Alas, our journey continued and our time traveling the Great Allegheny Passage ended as we decided to bypass our initial plan to travel to Pittsburgh and head Northwest to Cleveland, OH. We picked up The Montour Trail after being turned around a few times through the towns of Mckeesport and Clariton, PA. The Montour Trail is another rails-to-trails conservancy trail that spans 50 miles between Coraopolis and Clariton, PA. Unlike the GAP or the C&O Canal Towpath trails, the Montour trail is still being constructed, so the trail abruptly ends in a series of places and you are forced to take detours on the road. Unfortunately, the detours are not clearly marked and we biked up some pretty massive hills we didn't need to...Maybe in a few years the Montour Trail will be as pleasant and accessible as the GAP or the C&O.
The rain continued as we traveled about 30 miles on the Montour Trail to the Panhandle Trail which runs East-West. About 10 miles later we reluctantly said goodbye to our days spent on car-free bike trails and to the state that took us nearly 2 weeks to bike through as we made our way through about 5 miles of steeply graded hills in West Virginia and crossed the Ohio River to East Liverpool, OH. Our destination for the day was Gilford Lakes State Park outside of Lisbon, OH (~20 miles away), but we decided to stop for coffee in East Liverpool. The owner of this early 1900's style house-turned-coffee shop was excited about our trip and gave us some good advice about the least hilly route to Lisbon.
We arrived in Lisbon and went straight to the Steel Trolley Car Diner where we ate some old-fashioned diner food followed by chocolate peanut-butter milkshakes. This place was so good that we had to come back for breakfast in the morning, which turned out to be about the only pleasant part of the day because it was again overcast, cold, and rainy. Our ride started out fine until the first flat tire in the pouring rain, followed by another flat tire about 5 miles down the road. At this point we've patched our tubes so many times that we are out of patches. Eventually we made it to our destination -Portage Lakes State Park, just south of Cuyahoga Valley National Park.
We spent the night in a full-scale (20ft tall) pre-constructed tee-pee which kept us dry from the rain, and safe from the coyotes...When we were both laying in our sleeping bags ready to go to bed, we heard a rapid sniffling directly outside the canvas walls of the tee-pee. At first I brushed it off with, "that's a raccoon -nothing to be worried about." A few anxious minutes later we heard growling as what we could only imagine were two coyotes smelling the food we had cooked earlier in the evening. Luckily we were able to fall asleep and awoke to a rare sight -THE SUN! We took advantage of our brief window of blue sky and headed to Cleveland.
With a quick stop in Akron, OH for lunch at the Diamond Delicatessen for a delicious and creatively put-together sandwich, we made our way through Cuyahoga Valley National Park along the Ohio & Erie Canal Towpath towards Cleveland. One more thunderstorm, and three flat tires later we could not have been more happy to finally have arrived to a familiar face/good friend, and a warm, dry place to stay. We decided to take a few days off to 1) make this post, 2) to do some bike maintenance (new tires and fenders for Kevin!), and 3) rest our bodies for the next phase of the journey-from Cleveland to Chicago (421mi). The guys at Cain Park Bike shop in Cleveland were awesome and we definitely recommend swinging by if you're in the area and are in need of bike maintenance.