By Stan Purdum
My wife and I recently moved from New Jersey to Ohio, to a town that is essentially a “desert” as far a bicycle support services are concerned. The town is Gallipolis (pronounced GAL-a-pol-LEES), a community of about 3,500 people right on the banks of the Ohio River in the southeast corner of the state. We really like it here, and our daughter, son-in-law and granddaughter live nearby. (By the way, I first visited Gallipolis on a bicycle journey, years before I had any other reason to be here; see my article “Day of Adventure on the Bike.”)
Within days of arrival, simply by paying attention while driving to local roads as a far as paved shoulders and traffic volume were concerned. I identified a couple of possible routes for cycling, and when I later pedaled them, they worked well. The town also has a rail-trail looping through it, and about six miles of it is paved. I found it an obvious place to start riding, and I often use it as a connector to rides farther out.
Looking for some additional routes, I googled bicycle clubs in Gallia County, of which Gallipolis is the seat, and that’s when I got my first clue that the place is a bicycle desert, for there were no clubs. I also searched for clubs in Point Pleasant, the small sister town across the river in West Virginia (there’s a bridge between the two communities). Turns out there are no clubs on either side that have published routes. Google did turn up one guy on Strava who rides trails and is interested in finding others to join a virtual Strava club. It also found a group that has developed a bike-and-pedestrian trail through downtown Point Pleasant, but that appears to be the limit of their identified routes.
A further search found what sounded like a local club. An internet list of bike clubs in Ohio had something called the French City Bicycle Club. “The French City” is a nickname for Gallipolis because it was first settled in 1790 by a group of 500 immigrants from France, and Gallipolis, in Latin, means “City of the Gauls.” This club had no website I could check, but the list included an address for the club — just four doors down the street from my house! So I walked to that house, and the lady who answered my knock said no bike club was there, but then she remembered that a former owner of that home had been a cyclist; unfortunately, he was now deceased.
At least I got to meet one of my neighbors.
Searching on “bike routes in Gallia County,” I found some MapMyRide routes, but they were mostly short, in-town jaunts that ran along the streets I regularly drive to handle daily errands. The single longer ride was one I’d already found on my own.
I then ran a search for local bicycle shops, which in some locations, are a good source for established rides. The only thing that search turned up, however, was Walmart. The nearest actual bike shops are about 40 miles away, too far to likely know about rides in the Gallipolis area. Fortunately, I’m able to handle most bike maintenance on my own.
The absence of established routes does not worry me. My cognitive map works well, and I have no trouble stringing streets and roads together in my head to form cycling routes. (See my article “The GPS in Your Head” and also Part 2 of that piece.)
The biggest help I’ve found in route finding is a county map — on paper, not screen. I got mine at no cost from the local Chamber of Commerce, though, in Ohio at least, they are often also available from the county engineer’s office. Some of the routes that look likely on the map, I simply ride to determine if they are suitable for biking. Others, I first explore by car (in one case, finding one of the hilliest roads I’ve ever encountered).
I now have one rural ride I think of as a “trunk route”; there are numerous roads leading off of it, and as time and energy permit, I pedal some of these, always knowing about where I am because of proximity to the trunk. I sometime also use the “maps” function on my phone to peruse a side road before committing myself to it. Occasionally, when a side road proves unsuitable — the pavement turns to gravel (I’m riding a road bike) or too many dogs are running loose — I simply turn around. But most of the time, these trips off the trunk add to my route options.
The other thing that proved helpful is a set of 19 maps, collectively covering all of Ohio with roads marked for cycling according to traffic counts. This set was produced by the bicycle division of the Ohio Department of Transportation sometime in the last century, probably the 1980s, and, as far as I’ve been able to find out, they’ve never been updated or reprinted, though there are now some statewide resources online from ODOT. I had the old paper set in my files from living elsewhere in Ohio previously. The map that includes Gallia County isn’t up to date — one of the newer major roads isn’t even on that map, and in some cases, the traffic counts have changed, rendering some of the roads marked as suitable as no longer so. But still, there’s enough valid information on the map to help me plan routes.
And really, finding new places to ride is all part of the bike adventure, isn’t it?!
Stan Purdum has ridden several long-distance bike trips, including an across-America ride recounted in his book Roll Around Heaven All Day, and a trek on U.S. 62, from Niagara Falls, New York, to El Paso, Texas, the subject of his book Playing in Traffic. Stan, a freelance writer and editor, lives in Ohio. See more at www.StanPurdum.com.