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Bikes on Board in Ohio

The train’s whistle echoes through the park, and I pick up the pace on my bike, racing to reach the tiny red depot in Peninsula, just 30 minutes south of Cleveland. The Cuyahoga Valley Scenic Railroad makes its last Bike Aboard! stop in 10 minutes, and I don’t want to miss it.

I’ve spent the last hour biking along the Ohio and Erie Canal Towpath Trail, an 80-plus mile crushed-gravel path following the Ohio and Erie Canal from Cleveland to Zoar. The flat trail is more than a century old, created by mules tugging cargo-laden boats up and down the canal—even at one load at a time it was the region’s fastest and most reliable mode of transportation. Today, the canal is a deep groove with a little water and many trees and ferns. The trail takes a starring role.

My 8-mile ride takes me past Lock 28, its gray stone turned bright red with rust in some places and green with moss in others; through a tunnel under the railroad; next to the Cuyahoga River, running fast thanks to spring rains; and beyond Hunt Farm, a preserved 1800s homestead. It’s a beautiful, relaxed trip, but far from remote: I pass other cyclists, runners, hikers and families out for a stroll. At trailheads, amateur photographers search for just the right shot. 

I roll into Peninsula just as the train slides up to the restored depot. Through the Bike Aboard! program, for just $3, my bike and I get a one-way ride back to my car at the Canal Exploration Center depot. (Cyclists can hop off and on the train all along the trail, but each ride costs $3.) College-age guys load my bike into a car with dozens of wall-mounted bike racks and a handful of silver-and-green bikes, available for rent right from the train. I find a seat in the designated Bike Aboard car. Although I don’t get the narrated tour available to passengers in the other cars (their full-price tickets cost $9), the Bike Aboard! guys give me their own tour, pointing out the eagle nest north of the Boston Mill station and sharing stories of regular Bike Aboard-ers. The half-hour ride passes quickly, set to the rhythm of the train’s gentle chug-chug-chug, and when the train pulls out of the Canal Exploration Center depot, I'm not alone as I stand in the depot and wave good-bye.   

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