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Enjoying Independence Day Weekend

Our Northeast Ohio “staycation” over Independence Day weekend, took us by boat and bicycle into new adventures. Increasingly, Americans find that Ohio has some of the greatest natural assets of the United States, and accordingly, we were pleasantly surprised to see the growing amount of diversity on these backwoods excursions. When you ask most people of the great places they want to visit, you hear “Mt. Rushmore,” “Yellowstone,” “Yosemite,” “Key West,” and “Washington, DC.” These are all wonderful, awe-inspiring must-see locations – I’ve been to Yosemite (an easy several hour trip from San Francisco if you’re in town on business) and DC (a great place to walk and dine after a long day of meetings). My sister just took two of her children to Key West, and we know at least actor Jimmy Stewart has visited Mt. Rushmore. On Independence Day, we rented boats at Mentor Lagoons, a geography, about 20 miles east of Cleveland, with rich history extending back to when the Native American population was burgeoning, and the “the marsh became a favorite summer camping ground, teeming with game, fish, and wild fowl. The highlands east and west of the marsh were dotted with tents; not many years ago you could see the charred rocks in the fire holes of these [Native American] encampments.” (According to the historian of the Mentor Harbor Yachting Club.)

Unlike the marsh, Mentor Lagoons is fairly open, making for a fun paddle. Travel into the marsh is possible, but not advised due to the possibility of getting lost. The cattails and phragmites rise six to twelve feet, rendering any view of the shore impossible from the surface of the water.

Some of our group adventured by kayak, and others canoe. The kayak is a small, versatile boat that permits the traveler speed and ease of navigation. The kayak paddle has a blade at either end, giving both hands immediate access to the water, albeit not simultaneously. Most kayaks are single-person, though two person kayaks are available. The canoe is larger, feels more stable, and can be handled by one person, though more effectively by two. The canoe catches the wind easily, which on open water can make forward momentum difficult – if only one person is in that canoe when the wind picks up, she has to knell amidships to keep the center of gravity of the canoe low. Mentor Lagoons has been used for ship traffic for over 100 years, though not reliably until the past 80 years, when it has been extensively developed as a yacht club. While we are not members, the public is invited to rent these small craft for the day.

We paddled through most of the area, without venturing out to the lake. Over almost three hours, we explored about two miles of Mentor Harbor coastline. Most of the moorings have harbor-side encampments, ranging from a picnic table, or most often, a seasonal open-sided tent with electricity and gas grill, to buildings ranging in size from glass-walled shacks to sizeable homes, a few well-appointed enough to have an attached boat house. The boats moored ranged in size from dinghies (which some call tenders) and jet skis, to fifty-plus foot yachts, and everything in between.

While not the boating type, we’ve known quite a few boaters, and the best attitudes we’ve seen on the water are magnanimous and inviting – which seemed to describe most of the boaters we saw on Independence Day. Paddling in a harbor is not the most beautiful sight to see – though there are plenty of birds, and quite a variety of trees. It’s fun, and is excellent upper-body exercise. Ohio’s many rivers are much more interesting, as you never see the same vista twice. There are many kayak and canoe liveries that rent boats, and will pick you up downstream and take you back to your car. We do that more frequently.

Saturday July 5th saw us volunteering in a garden for two hours at Shaker Square in the morning, mostly weeding and tidying two sustainably planted plots near Michael’s diner. When we finished fighting the bindweed and crabgrass, we grabbed a burrito from the Shaker Square Farmer’s Market, and made our way home to prepare for the afternoon bike ride.

Rounding up guests, we headed for the Summit County Hike and Bike trail, starting at the ride at the Alexander Road trail head. We rode almost due south, to the Boston Heights mile marker, almost eight miles each way. Most of the trail is flat, with steep dips and climbs mostly occurring just at the road crossings. We found we didn’t have to dismount at the hills more than once or twice – if you switch gears in time, you can crawl up the steeper inclines. Much of this trail appears to have been a rail line at some point, riding flat and straight much of the time. As you’re riding towards the “summit” of Summit County, the ride south is somewhat uphill, and, of course, coming back, downhill.

South of Sagamore Road, you see signs on the west side of the trail that say “State Property – Do Not Enter.” This is one of the few remaining state “mental health” hospitals, of which there used to be many. They’ve operated since the 1830s (really), and after decades of problems, where patients were treated poorly, in almost prison settings, these are now real hospitals with real hope of recovery.

There are several vistas of deep valleys and far away hills that are breath-taking. You ride and ride, and see men and women, children and dogs, riding bikes, trikes and recumbents, roller-blading, walking and running.

Sunday, after a glorious outdoor church service in Cleveland Heights, we headed back to Summit County for an even longer ride. This was on the same trail, but farther south and east. South of 303, the trail splits into a loop, and we chose the counter-clockwise direction, which headed south first. The loop is about twenty-five miles, and is a more complicated ride, as it is hillier, and about ten percent of the ride is on city streets or sidewalks. In fact, some of the signage is so poor (not horrible, but not great) that we took an inadvertent mile detour.

Some of the beautiful areas were riding through Silver Lake (and next to the lake), riding along the Cuyahoga River (where we had paddled a few weeks ago with a tour group), and picnicking at Silver Springs Park. Also, for years we’ve driven along Route 8 to Akron, and wondered what trail those people near Steels Corners Road were riding. Now we know.

This second ride was harder, but after the Saturday ride, we were warmed up for it, and we saw more people of diversity on this ride: African Americans, Hispanic Americans, Asian Americans, and South Asian Americans. While our legs were rubbery after the ride (we don’t do long rides very often – though we know people who think 25 miles is not a long ride), stopping at Peachtree Southern Kitchen & Cocktails on the square in Hudson afterwards for a beer and southern style veggie burger was the perfect way to end the excursion.

We suggest all Americans rediscover the natural wonders in your area, and “Go Outside and Play!”

Out & Aboutimwong