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A Review of the Northeast Ohio Century XV
Champion OH | September 21, 1997

By James Brink

It is hard to believe that there have been 25 NEOCs. I could not remember the first NEOC I rode until I checked out my clasped envelope containing my collection of century patches (remember those?).

My recollection having been refreshed, I was surprised that my first NEOC was in 1987, NEOC XV.

Home, Sweet Home

I always try to ride in NEOC. I grew up in Champion, Ohio, a small town through which NEOC passes, so NEOC has always been a homecoming of sorts.

This year NEOC began in the spacious Trumbull County Fairgrounds in Bazetta. I knew immediately that this starting point was superior to the starting point of yore, Packard Park in Warren. At least you could park your car here.

NEOC, which is the signature fall event of the Outspokin' Wheelmen bicycling club of Youngstown, Ohio, was sharing the fairgrounds with a dog show. I don't know how an outright confrontation was avoided when spandex clad cyclists driving bicycle laden vehicles were waived through the gate while the dog show participants and spectators were charged a hefty entrance and parking fee.

In any event, my riding companion and I paid our registration fee upon arriving at 7:15 a.m. I bought a tee shirt which commemorates the Hale Bopp Comet. I was also happy to discover a traditional century patch in my ride packet.

We stowed our ride packets in the car, pumped the tires, and, in a gloriously sunny 47-degree Indian summer morning, began NEOC XXV.

We left the fairgrounds and headed east to Airport Road to Shaffer Road. When I grew up in Champion, these areas were known as the "country" where trailer homes and mean dogs were equally ubiquitous. I was not prepared to see the new homes that now house the new urban "country" dwellers. I am also sure that the mean mutts that I knew in my youth were replaced by Jack Russell Terriers and Golden Retrievers of the new "country" set.

We pedaled Shaffer Road to State Route 305, to Downs Road, on to Prentice Road then to County Line Turnpike. Turning left off of Oakhill Drive, we settled into a mantra to which I normally do not attune.

The "Rhythm of the Ride"

Long distance cyclists generally agree that falling into one's "rhythm of the ride" helps to melt the miles, and to focus on something other than heat, thirst or exhaustion.

Formally, my mantra would be "10 miles down, 90 to go, 10 miles down, 90 to go," or "push right, pull left, push left, pull right." I am sorry to report that the official mantra of NOEC XXV was "tar and chip, tar and chip, tar and chip."

We rode through fresh tar and chip surfaced roads from the beginning of County Line Turnpike, which changed into Bancroft Road, all the way to Route 282. The distance registered only 3 miles on my computer; my rear, hands and complaints from my riding companion made it seem much longer.

The first rest stop was at 17.5 miles in the parking lot of Nelson Ledges State Park. The Outspokin' Wheelmen lived up to their reputation of providing a sugary feast at this stop with a wide assortment of cookies, brownies, and other goodies.

Little did NEOC neophytes know, including my friend, that in a matter of minutes, we would be approaching the first of two "major" hills.

The Ghosts of My Youth

As we were pulling out of Nelson Ledges we passed a reminder of my wayward youth. Many years before Nelson Ledges became a state park, limestone was quarried at the back of the park, or the top of the cliffs if you climb up from the parking areas. When natural springs were uncovered, the quarrying pits were filled with crystal clear water, 60 feet deep in some places.

All efforts to secure the quarry failed since the perimeter was secluded enough to preclude any security measures, assuming that someone really cared enough to try in the first place.

In was here, in the 1970's, that I saw my first hippies and observed, firsthand, the Midwest version of the Haight Asbury lifestyle.

I can also remember seeing cars lying on the bottom of the quarrying pits through 60 feet of clear water and hearing the stories about the quarry being the dumping ground for some of the indefinable mobsters of Youngstown. Although I was skeptical of these stories then, I cannot remember diving the 60 feet to the cars lying on the bottom and peeking inside. I do not know of anybody else doing this either.

This flash from the past came as we passed the largest quarrying pit and I saw a sign advertising family camping above a price list which included firewood. I wondered how the ghosts of hippies past and mob victims would welcome the influx of incongruous inhabitants, albeit temporary in their tents and motor homes.

I was unable to finish justifying this paradox in my own mind before I was facing "the hill." I told my friend that I would see her at the top and pedaled onward. A 27 inch gear, .3 of a mile and five minutes later I was at the top waiting for my companion to push her bike up to me.

We took a drink of water and rode down Route 305 to Nelson, along Route 82, and uphill sprint and into Hiram, home of Hiram College. We were now at Mile 25. After Hiram, we headed north on Route 700. It was now approaching 60 degrees, so we pulled off an outer layer and pedaled the pleasantly rolling and smoothly paved Route 700.

At mile 29.9 we came to the second "significant hill." This hill was approximately .2 of a mile long (high?) and many riders became walkers.

The top of the hill was our entrance into Burton, a quaint, formerly authentic Amish town which has recently, with the completion of Route 422, become a haven for Clevelandites not opposed to driving 45 minutes to work.

Through Burton and onto Burton Windsor Road heading towards Middlefield. Tar and chip, tar and chip, tar and chip.

Intersecting Route 608, we turn right and are granted asphalt relief past the cheese factory, which offers tours, all the way to Middlefield Park, mile 42.7, and lunch.

Lunch consisted of cold cuts, cookies, peanut butter and jelly, vegetable soup and bees. Not bad for a century lunch, but certainly not NEOC traditional fare.

Pleasant Return Route

I was doing the metric this year, so after lunch we had only about 20 miles to go. We headed southeast on Old State Road, another roller coaster of nicely paved asphalt. This road was more heavily trafficked than I remembered, but the berm was wide and firm and the cars did not squeeze.

After a pleasant 10 miles or so, the route turns to Portage Easterly Road which heads, naturally, east. Tar and chip, tar and chip, tar and chip all the way to Route 45, which after crossing Route 45, become Bristol Townline Road. Again, tar and chip, tar and chip, tar and chip.

Park Avenue provides some relief from the rough road. My friend, who incessantly demanded that we quit since Old State Road (mile 45), was delighted when I told her that we were now passing mile 60.

A right turn on Durst Clagg Road and we can see the fairgrounds. Almost. My friend swore she could see the grandstands even though we were three miles away.

A left turn on Airport Road and we are done. This was my fifth NEOC in ten years and a first for my friend. My overall impression of this ride is that it remains one of the premier fall centuries in the tri-state area bar none. The route is excellent notwithstanding the tar and chip. The Outspokin' Wheelmen should be proud of the tradition which they have created 25 years ago and which they maintain so graciously.

The good news is that next year the tar and chip will be worn smooth. We'll need a new mantra by then.

EPILOGUE

This was not the year that I would attempt the 100 mile NEOC. My past experience on this ride leads me to opine that much of the 35 mile loop depicted on the ride map is low traveled back roads. The only traveled section would be Route 87 from Bloomfield to Dennison Ashtabula Road. Otherwise, it is generally a mild, level to rolling ride.

In the old days, the century ride would meander through the gamelands at the northern end of Mosquito Lake ending up eventually on Park Avenue, to Comstock cross Mahoning Avenue to Packard Park. I am confident that eliminating the city portion of this ride only added more enjoyment to an already excellent century.

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