The rivalry between Michigan and Ohio dates back as far as 1835 to the “Toledo War” or boundary dispute of the two states. The dispute resulted from poor understanding of geographical makeup of the Great Lakes at the time. To make a long story short, Ohio gained control of Toledo, which previously had been considered Michigan’s boundaries. In exchange for the city strip, all of what is now known as the Upper Peninsula was included within Michigan’s bounds.
If you’re not familiar with the area, it basically means that Michigan got two peninsulas and 3 of the 5 Great Lakes out of the deal. While Ohio only got one (not very good) Great Lake, Lake Erie. At the time though, none of this mattered because the possession of Toledo gave Ohio a much greater economic advantage, which Michigan needed. Even after the deal, legal battles between the states occurred periodically until the mid seventies when it took a Supreme Court ruling of Lake Erie borders.
So there’s your history lesson. Nowadays, Ohio and Michigan citizens channel their border war tensions onto a college football rivalry or hostile put downs of each other. “Ohio sucks” is a very common phrase you will hear if you reside in Michigan. Which is actually not a lie. Ohio ranked 48th out of the 50 states in a recent thrill-list poll. Could be the lack of scenery, over abundance of police or just the fact that the entire state actually stinks like shit. Whatever the case, Ohio is basically the worst.
Now here’s the fun part. As my bad luck would have it, one of the people I care most about in my life has recently chosen the stinky sewer we call Ohio to call home and start a family. What does this mean for me? It means because I love her and value her friendship, I am forced to embrace the state and meet her halfway because she’s basically the coolest.
Punderson State Park
For the most recent trip we chose a race together in Cuyahoga National Park, which is just outside of Cleveland. Neither of us had ever been, but we had both heard great things. Also, I was considering this location for my next full marathon in the fall and wanted to scout the area. Rachel’s brother, Christian hopped on board after the idea was brought up as well. Which ended up being perfect since Rachel comes from a totally different direction, it meant I didn’t have to make the three hour trip alone.
Christian booked the campsite at a place called Punderson State Park, I guess he had visited years prior while attending a Radiohead show. It was a car camping kinda a place, which was fine because we had a ton of stuff. The sites were sorta small and right on top of each other but pretty well wooded so it wasn’t so bad. Although for being a campground on a lake, you cannot see the lake at all. I’ll touch on that later though.
The two of us arrived around 10pm on Friday night. It rained the entire way there, but stopped about a half hour before we pulled in. We had just enough time to get setup before it was pouring again. We took shelter in the tent and enjoyed some much needed beers after the boring drive across Ohio. There was some type of group camping site in the valley below us. It was a gathering of at least 20-30 people who stayed up drinking and shouting well into 7:00am. It didn’t bother us on night number one, because we drank enough that we slept through most of it. Although, the following morning we did have to be up at 4:45 for a 10 mile race, so this could have been a problem. Also, when we woke up we realized that a few crafty raccoons had broken into our cooler and stolen the majority of our food. So much for breakfast.
We made our way down to the office to enquire how long the large group of people would be staying. When the ranger informed us they would be there the remainder of the weekend, we politely asked to be relocated. The staff was super nice about it, and the new site ended up being way better than the first anyway. By the time we broke down and got everything back together, Rachel had arrived. We grabbed some breakfast and headed out.
Exploring the Sewer
We got a pretty early start, so we still had the whole day ahead of us. We just needed to swing through and make one stop to pick up our race packets for the next morning. It was seriously hot and humid that day, but at least the sun was out. After picking up our packets we headed to Cuyahoga Valley National Park, which was advertised to be the race location (not the case) but it was pretty close by.
Cuyahoga Valley National Park lies along the Cuyahoga River between the Ohio cities of Cleveland and Akron. The Ohio and Erie Canal Towpath Trail is a restored section of the canal’s original towpath and seems to be one of the main attractions of the park. The park also offers waterfalls, rolling hills, caves and winding river scenery. We headed to the park office to get the scoop of the best areas to see. We didn’t have enough time to see everything, plus it was uncomfortably hot, so we chose a 4 mile hike up to one of the larger waterfalls in the park. It was absolutely beautiful. The hike was so gorgeous that for a few minutes I actually almost forgot I was in Ohio.
After the hike we were extremely sweaty and wiped out. We decided we would try to find a public beach area and dip into Lake Erie before we headed to dinner. We found a nice, but crowded public area and cooled off. The beach wasn’t the cleanest I had ever seen and you could see Cleveland’s horizon in the not so far distance. It was also packed with people and had a pretty funky smell but the water was cold, which was all we cared about. Funny, this was my first time in Lake Erie since I was a kid and I remembered it being much nicer. Either that, or now I am just spoiled by the other cleaner, more northern lakes. Christian, Rachel’s brother ended up with swimmer’s itch shortly after our swim but Rachel and I some how remained unaffected.
The next morning we were awoken from our slumbers at 4:45am for race day. The race we ran is part of the Towpath Trilogy, which includes a full marathon, half marathon and the ten-ten (choice of 10k or 10 miles), which was what we were running. Christian and I ran the 10 mile. Rachel had some injuries she was still recovering from, so she chose the 10k distance instead.
I’ll start by saying the race was nothing like I expected. First, it was very small and not very well organized. Considering the amount of years (since 1992) it has been running, I was not impressed. Second, on the website they claim that the race runs through the national park, it does not. It actually wides around the city on all concrete and was hardly scenic. Also, the weather was less than ideal for the entire morning. It started with heavy cloud cover and sticky warmth, then came the humidity at around 80% for the majority of the run. The city air was excruciatingly still and I spent the majority of the race praying for rain. It never happened but I somehow made it through. We all crossed the finish line in surprisingly good time considering the difficulty we experienced with the humidity. I have completed many different types of races over the past few years but one thing always remains the same, finishing is the best part.
The after party
We walked back to the after party to enjoy our free meal and a few beers. Most races provide something like this post finish, as well as live music and some awards. The food they had decided to serve was a breakfast buffet (gross) so I settled on a liquid lunch. They weren’t providing complimentary beer and instead selling beer tickets for certain types of “discounted” beers. I was in a no fuss kinda mood at this point, so I just went straight to the bar and ordered my beer organically. After a few drinks we headed out to find some real food. Did you know that Ohio is a concrete slab of nothing but corporate chain restaurants? Yep, it’s true. Nothing but corporate food for as far as the eye can see. I am more of a family owned, hole in the wall pub kinda girl. After a few miles of driving we chose our best-worst option of Red Robin. We were all starving by this point and just wanted some alcohol and grease.
After we ate we headed back to the campsite. Rachel needed to take off because she had to work the next day and still had a two hour drive home. Christian and I had taken the day off, so we continued to drink. By this point the clouds had broke and it was a hot and sunny 90 degrees. After about a half hour of sweltering in the sun, we agreed to walk to the lake. Neither of us was exactly sure how far it was, but we had seen it driving into the park. We packed entirely too many beers into a cooler and took off walking.
We only made it about a mile with the 50lb cooler bag before we realized what a bad idea it was. We had no idea how much further the beach was, so we stopped into a boat rental shop that was just a few more minutes up the road. Turns out the beach was about two more miles from where we were. At this point we became pretty defeated. The young boys running the boat rental informed us that if we rented a boat, the beach was just a few short minutes across the lake. “Perfect” we said. We rented the boat with no money due to the fact that we had left all of our cash back at the campsite. One of the kids was nice enough to come on our boat ride in order to get money to make the payment.
After taking the kid back to the dock, the sky started to turn dark but we didn’t care. By this point, swimming became the only mission. We had no idea how to drive the boat or where we were going, but managed to make it to the beach. About 2 minutes after we pulled up it started pouring. I’m not talking a heavy drizzle, I’m talking buckets of rain. We had nowhere to go and no shelter. We stood on the beach getting drenched for at least 15 minutes. The only two things we were able to preserve were our cellphones, which I stashed into a small music speaker I had brought along for the walk. Everything else was sopping wet. It was such a miserable fail that all we could do was laugh. After the rain slowed down we quickly drained the boat and got it back to the dock before another storm hit. One of the teens was nice enough to drive us and our soggy belongings back to the campsite in order to spare us another mile walk.
I returned only to find that I had left my rain fly off my tent, which meant that now my tent was as soggy as the rest of my belongings. My bed and spare clothing were all soaked. Nothing about the day seemed to go as planned, but for some reason we were still having fun. We finished what remained of the beer and cooked some camp spaghetti. After dinner we both crashed hard. The combination of a 10 mile run, 15 beers each and a bunch of carbs got the best of us. During the night Christian woke up to a raccoon attempting to break into this tent to feast on the crackers that he took to bed with him. Ohio raccoons are the worst.
The bottom line: So what did we learn this weekend?
I still think Ohio is the worst and everything that could go wrong on this trip, did. I was also thoroughly unimpressed with the race and with the people involved. All of that aside, I still had an absolute blast. I haven’t been thrilled about my best friend relocating to Ohio, but experiences like this one remind me of all the joy and excitement that can be had on small adventures like this one. Not to mention the great stories that come with it. I’m sure we’ll find ourselves on another adventure like this one very soon and I can only assume it will be equally hilarious.