Of Bikers and Vikings – Gettin’ My 52 on in the East End

This is my thirty-fifth in a series of walking Cincinnati’s 52 neighborhoods to find what makes each relevant to me. Follow me on Instagram for a hint of where I’ll venture next.

Another walk, another one shut down by rain. Argh.

The East End truly was more bike friendly than foot friendly. My husband even suggested, as we drove out to the neighborhood, “We could have biked.” He was right. But there were plenty of places where I couldn’t take my bike to find the interesting nooks and crannies that draw me in.

We began at Lunken Airport, where according to Google, some of East End encompasses that land. We walked partly around the trail and found a hangar which belonged to Proctor and Gamble. The facility resembled something out of a sci-fi novel, especially with all the warnings posted..

According to its master plan, Lunken Airport now occupies the area on which the early settlers built the town of “Columbia”, later to be called “Cincinnati”. Since this area was subject to flooding, the development of Cincinnati moved to higher ground in succeeding decades, while the original site became grain fields. After World War I, a group of ex-army pilots leveled off one of these grain fields,
and built a small barnstorming airport. With the subsequent interest shown in aviation by Charles Lindbergh’s trans-oceanic solo flight, a prominent Cincinnati industrialist, Mr. Edmund H. Lunken, purchased the property… Lunken Airport became one of the first and largest municipal airports in the United States.

We headed south on Wilmer and along what became Kellogg Avenue once more, where alas, there were no sidewalks. Up ahead, the properties along Kellogg consisted mainly of yards for car parts, the Cameo nightclub, and limited access marinas.

Stymied by the traffic, we turned around. Mark loved to veer and he never minded veering off MY path.

Thus, we took a detour into Peddler’s Mall and then continued along Riverside Drive. There, as we traipsed in and out of “No Outlet” streets, we discovered a few lesser-known marinas and The Viking Club. (Gift yourself the extra ten minutes to watch the video!)

The rain was looming and thus we stopped the walk for the day, bought a few ears of corn at the local farmer’s stand near the Lunken Trail, and headed home. I was dejected. It took a lot of energy for me to fit the walks into my schedule and the weather. I became antsy because of my internal goals.

Three days later, I returned to the East End by 6:30 a.m. It was a gorgeous day to stroll along the river and every chance I had, I followed a “no outlet” sign to cozy up to the water’s edge along Riverside Drive.

Plenty of construction was happening now in the East End. It was hard to believe no one had developed along the tracks or river sooner.

As I passed the Water Works, I discovered tile insets that I had never seen from my car or bike. I circled around the backside of old churches (St. Rose) and the Ohio River Trail (see map. I love the Cleveland reference).

The main small business center of the neighborhood started near Columbia- Tusculum  about where Eastern and Kellogg split off at Delta. Eastern was a quiet walk. (Kellogg was filled with light industrial centers.) The Hi-water mark will soon be bar, brought to you by the famous Eli’s BBQ of the East End, and Pho Lang Thang.

I found the Irish Cultural Center on the site of an old school. (I’ve yet to find an Italian one), a few breweries, and a candle shop where Shannon and her friend had just purchased candles via this store’s setup at City Flea. See? Connections.

As I dropped back down to Kellogg and circled back along Riverside Drive, I traipsed in and out of cutouts in the river’s course.

Then I found Hoff Avenue, thanks to a deer. A deer had bounded down the hill where steps ran alongside. I watched him for a while, as he contemplated crossing the busy street and I contemplated him. He took back up the hill (not the steps). I followed him and crossed a set of tracks that led to Hoff Avenue. There were maybe eight homes along the stretch, but plenty of vacant land. The views were just fine and so were the breezes. I’m sure this area would be developed soon, but could not find information after a cursory glance on the internet. For now, the signs were pretty clear. No trespassing. And a sign I could not see read either GUARD DOG or a BAD DOG. I could only make out the last “D” and then “Dog”. I went with the former, since I didn’t want to experience what a bad dog might do to my legs.

Once west of Collins, more shoring up of land along the tracks to prevents slides was occurring.

The East End council is currently at work, designating the area “that spans from Schmidt Field to Delta Avenue in the east-west direction and from Riverside Dr. to the Ohio River in the north-south direction” the East End Garden District. Districts are the next hot button for neighborhoods. There are few in OTR, the Gateway, the Brewery, and within the brewery, Findlay Market is at work on their own. I suppose its easier to gain funding or develop projects when a community can create landmark areas, but for now, I was not completely convinced of the need to further segment.

The East End has a healthy LeBlond Recreation Center,  Riverview East Academy, a K-12 CPS School of Choice (magnet), which sits on stilts (still waiting on an explanation for building a newer school in a flood plan) and is also home to the famous Verdin Bell companies sites.

FullSizeRender_3After walking nine miles in total, I would bike the next time I was in the East End. It was the most efficient means to see and travel across the community. It’s a great ride from downtown to the airport and eventual connection to other trails. And I might even remember to bring money to stop at Fuel – a cars and coffee shop.

Driving along Riverside and taking in the river’s course was the closest I could come to long jaunts along Lake Erie, eating banana soft-serve from Dairy Isle in the back of Dad’s wagon. I’m still in search of the soft-serve in the East End.

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“Look Mom, I finally made it to the West Side (of Mill Creek) – on my bike.”

FullSizeRenderI knew I was finally grown up, when Mom gave me permission to ride my bike to Pizza Hut. I was raised in a small town, next to a little bit bigger town, not too far from the big city of Cleveland. Before we could drive, biking was what we had. My older sister had been allowed to ride her bike down Route 58, all the way to Lakeview Park. I had been given permission to cross Route 58 and chow down at Pizza Hut with my friends.

Bicycling has always a means of freedom for me. When I tired of being the middle child in a family of boisterousness, when I wanted rebellion or to check out the boys playing baseball down the street, when I needed quiet, I rode my bike. First, it was up and down Butternut to Ridgeland Drive. Later, it was to “The Fields” (because there were only singular places in our town, “the theatre”, “the school”).

The word freedom comes to mind again, as I read about bicycling in headlines and blogs around Cincinnati. So, I recognized the need to categorize myself prior to writing the rest of this post.

I am not a bike commuter, but I am a huge proponent of the concept, having lived in other cities where they were commuting on bikes before Cincinnati had ever conceived of a Central Parkway Bike Lane. And reporter Chris Wetterich does a fine job of covering the highs and lows of bike commuting, as do many of my neighbors and friends (Schwartz and Karen Hughes).

Also, to be clear, I am not a cyclist. I do not find joy in heading out for long rides on Saturday mornings, drinking beer and eating BBQ at Eli’s then riding home to say, Madeira or Loveland. My friend, Susan Policastro, and her husband do this. A former work colleague and friend, Christine Hershe, is part of a cycling group. There are cycling groups all over the city that one can join or meet up, like the Urban Basin Bicycle Club, which will teach you where to ride in the city, or the Queen City bike or Cincy Bikes Programs with instructions on how to ride in the city. And even the Red Bike is available to anyone.

I have never taken a true bicycling vacation, like diehards who must bike to drink wine (I like my wine and my hands dry). However, I have rented a bike to explore the Lower Ninth in NOLA, following Hurricane Katrina and biked the San Juan Islands (Lopez is my favorite, because its flat). And I have poured sweat out in buckets to bike around the Mekong Delta.

Oh though I wish to be that prodigious bicycler who will ride to Yellow Springs,or along the winding, rising roads along the Oregon Coast.

But alas, I am not.

trampe3My idea of necessity in the cycling world is need for a bike lift (Trampe) so I don’t have to ride up Clifton Avenue or McMillan, no matter what the grade is on the way down.

Mostly, I am a stay-at-home bike rider. What’s the difference? I recall the days of Mom shooing us out of the house and telling us to go ride our bikes. That kind. The kind that likes to ride up hills, only so I can cruise down with legs splayed out. Or test my skills at the ripe age of 50 with riding no-handed. Or just flat out ride, because I want to get to know the city in way I cannot when on foot, to feel how the city is connected, except when its not.

So lately, I have been intrigued by making it to the West Side on my bike along less-populated streets. This was akin to finally being able to ride my bike to the pool on my own.
IMG_0093
I began at the obvious place, along the river, following Mehring Way from the end of Smale Park near PBS. But I found that road dead-ended into a stretch of highway. No surprise. So, I backpedaled, and took the previous turn, Carr Road, thinking this too would lead me to the promised land. Another dead-end. However, I did discover a highway entrance and a wrong way sign.

Yes, I could have looked on a map, or better yet, asked so many in the know, but what good is being a discoverer, if I had to ask someone else.

I tried Dalton to Budd. No chance.

Then I proceeded to follow UNDER (not along, too busy) W. Eighth Street. There is a series of archways beneath the elevated W. 8th that at first glance appear to allow access through to the other side. Until one is stopped by a neighboring trucking company with signs about cameras, and semis parked in my way. Since when did property beneath a public street become private property?

IMG_0092I kept turning back after encountering one obstacle then another, including a husband that said, “You’re going to get us killed.” (He of the electric boost bike variety).

Still, I persisted. As I rode back along Freeman, I spotted Gest Street. Like the explorers of old, I could see no obstacles, at least down the middle of the road. I could potentially get to the other side of Mill Creek, which would technically enable me to brag about making it to the west side.
I persevered, bike riding past the Metropolitan Sewer District and the stink that permeated the summer air, until I stopped atop a bridge overlooking a creek, where a signed warned about contagions. I had made it to the Mill Creek.

But at what cost?

IMG_0091Not to me. But at what cost to a community. To a group of communities whose links to each other have been lost over the years due to highways, trucks, cars and money. Riding in and out of the maze of concrete structures I began to piece together how the grand plans of the government squashed many good ideas, the small ideas that glued citizens to one another.

I suspect the hard-core bike commuters learned this lesson many seasons ago, as they attempted to ride into or out of the city, and up to Price Hill or the West Side.

I pushed on to State Street, and decided to turn around, a blog post swirling in my head, a head that was also faint from the mid-day sun.

As I turned, I spotted River Road in the distance, and decided I’ll ride to Sedamsville next, but may finally dig out that map.

I rode back home through the mid-section of the West End, the backside of Liberty that no one sees unless it’s in the news. Residents were seated outside to enjoy the rare cool of the summer day, along Livingston and Poplar. Plenty of them stopped to let me pass or just to say, “Hi.” I noted a few Second Empire-style architecture on a few homes with pitched roofs, interspersed with the Italianates, so many buildings of times gone by, when the West End too was flourishing.

During my seven or eight mile ride, I had encountered plenty of other bike riders, traversing dangerous roads because the sidewalk abruptly ended or there were no bike lanes or it wasn’t feasible for a bike to travel alongside a semi. We smiled as we passed each other, that knowing smile. That we were free in that moment from many strictures of the road.

What the bicycling environment offers in any form – whether cyclist, commuter, bike-rider, bike-lift-rider (my next goal) – is freedom. Freedom from the financial obligations of a car, insurance, upkeep and gas. Freedom from bus schedules which are convoluted at best. Freedom from the stale air one breathes inside a car. Freedom from traffic updates. Freedom from anyone reaching into one’s life without permission.

Freedom of the mind to roam, imagine and connect in ways the cars will never offer the opportunity to do so.

Delhi, here I come.