The Simon Denton Trail and Yellow Springs

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May 26th 2018
Published: May 26th 2018
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Bicycling Across the Mad River
Yellow Springs, Ohio

Yesterday I said we had ‘a little activity’ planned. After almost 17 years of marriage to Joan, I should know by now that there is really no such thing as ‘a little activity’.

We brought the bikes along, at some considerable effort, because Joan wanted to do some bicycle riding while on the journey. And she has that right, as part of her rebellion items, to add things to the agenda that she wants to do just because, as sacrosanct as the bucket list is to me, it isn’t the total sum of the universe to her! (I can’t imagine why she doesn’t see the world the way I do but that is part of the wonders of marriage that somehow the views of two different people seem to get merged into a single action plan). And, generally, I’m in favor of using the bicycles now and then, especially since I have to drive with them on top of the car and they do change the aerodynamics of the rig. Besides, bicycling works some different muscles than hiking and amps up the healthy activities of this trip. (Have to work off some of that Cincinnati chili...)

So Joan had planned this bicycle trip in the area and had identified something called the Simon Kenton trail to serve as our path. I found that intriguing because one of the books I’m reading is half about this guy, called Simon Kenton (among other names) who was instrumental in carving out the Northwest Territory, or the first land acquisition of our young nation back in the 1780s that would turn into the states we are visiting on this trip. I thought it would be kind of neat to learn a bit more about the guy by riding a path that, in some way, had an association with him. (Just as an aside, I never found the linkage to him.)

I figured we were headed out for a short, hour or two jaunt of a few miles, we’d both get tired, return to the car and come on back home for lunch. In fact, we didn’t even pack a lunch, so the day had to be short, right? But, It is the nature of the beast that little things grow into bigger things, and bigger things grow into larger things until you have a monster on your hands.

Railroad Bridge Now for Bicycles
And so it was with our little bicycle ride.

Joan had done her homework and found us a ‘trail access point’. I googled it in Maps, and it came up just fine. It was north of us about 30 miles or so. We found it without difficulty in a neighborhood I can only describe as suburban, although I don’t understand what city it was a suburb of. Seemed too far to be Dayton, but, well, people live everywhere in the eastern time zone, so suburbs, exurbs, and urbs are all merging incoherently. We drove through Xenia again and even further north through Yellow Springs and Springfield.

Since we had already quickly driven through those towns, we decided to head north from our launch point, instead of south, towards Urbana. That plan didn’t last long however, because within a couple hundred feet the markings for the trail sort of disappeared and we didn’t know how we were supposed to proceed across this highway. We turned around and headed south towards Yellow Springs.

Now we had just come up through that town, I knew it was a good 15 miles or so south. And since this was to be a short trip, I had assumed that we would just go out a few miles, stop, turn around and come back. So that’s the way it started - we went out a mile or two, then stopped at a stop sign and asked each other if it was time to head back. Joan kept saying, naw, she was good for a bit longer. Despite the fact that I was getting sore (those bicycle ‘saddles’ are one of the least comfortable things ever invented), I agreed.

It didn’t help that the path was very well maintained, and gorgeous. Initially it cut through thick forests with the trees forming a tunnel over the top of us. That minimized the penetrating sun, and helped keep us cool. For a while, it bordered a stream which also kept us cool and provided a soothing background noise. Most of the path is built on an old railroad bed that has been paved over with a strip of asphalt. So it is really pretty pleasant as it winds its way through the vegetation. Through the trees you can tell there is civilization out there.

After a few miles, the trees ended and the bright sunlight began to beat down on us - it was starting to cook. Temps were supposed to get into the 80s and the humidity, well, lets just say that Ohio is a lot more humid than New Mexico. The trees became replaced with industrial buildings. We passed a junkyard that had acres of car remains, and that was followed by some warehouses, most of them abandoned. The path winds through some not-so-good sections of towns, but they do a pretty good job of keeping it well marked. And it frequently threaded through city parks to make it a little less intimidating. It took us a few miles to wind through Springfield, a workhorse small town - one of dozens or maybe hundreds that dot the plains portions of these states, giving it a mix of agriculture and industry that you don’t see as closely together out west.

While in Springfield, I think the desire to just keep moving kept us on the road. After we got south of town and the path began to look more rural again, we stopped and asked whether it was time to turn around. We got out our phones and found out where we were. Turns out we were just a few miles north of Yellow Springs now. Joan said, of course we could make it, and, besides, she was fascinated with that town when we had driven through it, so she wanted to go there.

With no real rational argument against the idea, except that I was tired, hot, drenched with sweat, and sore all over, I said OK. And so that’s what we did. Once in Yellow Springs, Joan found us a restaurant, advertised as the oldest tavern in Ohio, that served German-food, like brats and pretzels, beer and wine. We found a spot for the bicycles and settled in at a table on the patio.

Yellow Springs is a fascinating town because it is such a mix of cultures. First, and foremost, it is the home of Antioch College, one of the most liberal bastions of higher education in the country. Their academic program more or less takes second billing to their social activism. Students, for example, are required to leave the campus, even freshman year, and engage in ‘Co-op’ programs where they intern in various social and cultural activities, related to their field of study. The liberal influence is obvious on the streets of Yellow Springs as young people flaunt lots of skin, long hair, tattoos and body piercings. It has been a long time since I’ve seen a ‘hippy community’, but clearly this is one of them. Antioch was on my short list of colleges nearly fifty years ago, but I rejected it because it was ‘too liberal’ for my tastes at the time. Not sure what I would make of it these days. Famous graduates include people like Rod Serling and Leonard Nimoy, as well as many others of slightly less renown. At the same time there is all of this liberal stuff going on, we also saw lots of American flags and classic small town style decorations celebrating Memorial Day. Given Ohio is Trump Country, seems like Yellow Springs would be a classic place for the battle between Town and Gown.

Anyway, after a salad and an appetizer of pretzels and fried cabbage balls, washed down with two glasses of Chardonnay (and two huge glasses of ice water), we began the discussion about the trip back. Of course the penalty for ‘just one more mile’, is that it really is ‘just two miles’ - every mile out must be traversed back. Pulling out the GPS, I determined that we had a fourteen mile bike ride ahead of us. It was already three in the afternoon and I was doubtful we’d be back to the car by five.

Slowly, though, we managed. Temps were now late-afternoon-high, and the humidity was higher. Somehow, we plodded back through the farmland, the junkyard in Springfield, and the soothing tunnels of trees. Somehow, with Joan’s help, we got the bicycles back on top of the car, and headed south again through Springfield, Yellow Springs, and Xenia.

On the drive home, we stopped for a big bottle of root beer (which sounded very good to me), a bag of ice, and a bucket of ice cream. On reaching home, I loaded up glass after glass of ice and filled it with the root beer. I managed to drink more than a liter before I felt satisfied. We heated some leftover brats for supper, and hit the sack.

This morning, the body is still a little dehydrated and sore, but I’m in better shape than yesterday. It was a tough ride. I suppose it built some character. Don’t ask me this morning if I’d do it again - need to wait until some of the pain disappears.


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