Photos by OHventures
My old ratty hand-me-down bike had recently met its demise when it one of the tires was stolen, forcing me to step things up and take initiative toward becoming a true bicyclist! After investing a fair amount of money into a new bike (a fancy shmancy Schwinn mountain bike), a rack for my car (which admittingly took me forever to install), and top notch biking shorts (extra padding, thank you very much) from roll:, I was adamant that I would get more into the biking scene!
My first official biking event with my new gear and as a newly proclaimed cyclist was the STOMP Bike Ride in Akron. STOMP, which stands for the Summit Tour of Metro Parks, was celebrating its 20th anniversary this year, and for the first time, took place at the Lock 3 (200 S. Main Street) in Downtown Akron. Riders chose from one of three distances – 10, 20 or 30 miles traversing the newly completed Ohio & Erie Canal Towpath Trail. I didn't want to kill myself with a 30 mile ride out of nowhere, nor did I want to take the easy way out and ride a mere 10 miles (I had to up the ante from the Bike Columbus Festival), so I split the difference and opted for the 20 mile ride.
Arriving at Lock 3 bright and early (7:30 AM), I found myself in a sea of spandex (honestly, I haven't seen that much spandex since my family trip to Wildwood, New Jersey in 1992). Enthusiastic athletic types were milling about the park, chomping on the ever-so-healthy (sarcasm) complimentary breakfast of pancakes and sausage links. A kind woman rocking a killer mullet gave me some nice tips and shared some insights as a seasoned STOMP participant from the area.
As we sipped our coffees, I told her how I was not from the area and was an amateur rider. She (I forget her name) explained that the 20-miler would head north to Ira Road in Peninsula, and then back down south to Lock 3. Most importantly, my new pal warned me of the treacherous hills that I'd have to face coming back into Akron, noting that the 20-miler really would be more difficult than the 30-miler. Good thing I live for a challenge!
There was no bull horn or whistle to indicate the start of the ride at 9 AM. This was disappointing to me, since I was hoping more for a race than for a leisurely bike ride. But, that was what STOMP was: a bike ride that was family friendly and non-competitive. So, I turned on my RunKeeper iPhone app to track my progress and made it so that, in my head at least, it was a race! I would race against myself, so that I would do my absolute best and keep pushing myself so I would maximize my experience. After all, I hadn't convinced any friends to join me on the STOMP Bike Ride (most of my "biker" friends had just competed in the behemoth of all bike rides, Pelotonia), so it was just me and the open road (or more accurately, path).
What I ended up discovering was that, even without truly knowing anyone, I was not alone in my ride! All of the STOMP particpants, as well as Towpath trail enthusiasts that were running or walking, were so friendly, saying "hello" and "good morning" as we passed. So many positive vibes were filling the air! It was like an underground culture of active lifestyle folks, all cheerily greeting one another through their sweaty grunts just to acknowledge their comrades and boost morale!
The first half of the ride up north was not so difficult, as it was down hill in many spots and I had yet to lose steam. I rode up to Peninsula, and for a portion of the route, I was actually in the Cuyahoga Valley National Park! I made it to the "Fun Stop" at Ira Road in approximately 48 minutes. Here, I grabbed some Gatorade, a Clif Mojo Bar (my favorite), an apple, a banana, and maybe another Clif Mojo bar for good measure. I talked with some other bikers that I had gotten to know along the way, and then saddled up and headed back south for the second half of the ride.
Riding back into Akron was very challenging, mainly due to the aforementioned hills that I had to face. My thighs were definitely burning, but I was in the midst of an extreme adrenaline high, fueled by the music blaring from my iPhone, and the fact I knew I was on a timer! Crossing the finish line (which was not really a finish line), my official time (which was not really official at all) was 1 hour and 49 minutes. Not too shabby for my first major biking event!
It was a huge accomplishment for me to ride 20 miles on my bike, and I was ready to celebrate. Live music by the Ryan Humbert Band (a once featured OHventurer of the Week) took place at the Lock 3 stage, a healthy and hearty lunch was provided (consisting of corn on the cob, grilled chicken, watermelon, beans, and Subway subs), and FREE massages were provided (which I took full advantage of!).
STOMP is truly a fantastic event. With approximately 1,000 participants this year whose proceeds go toward improving the Summit County Metro Parks, much good is being done in the area! The event promotes a healthy lifestyle and enjoying the great outdoors, which is a perfect combo in our book!