Introduction and Cycling Advice
Bicycling through Paradise is more than a collection of directions and maps for bike rides in and around Cincinnati, Ohio. These bike tours will visit towns idyllically named Edenton, Loveland, and Utopia. Riders will visit the tiny dairy house called Harmony Hill, which is the oldest standing structure in Clermont County, Ohio. We will see the view from the top of a two-thousand-year-old, seventy-five-foot-tall, conical mound at Miamisburg and the Ohio River from Rising Sun on the Indiana side and Rabbit Hash on the Kentucky side. We will imagine Mary Ingles’s journey through the Ohio River Valley. Riders are also reminded that as they enjoy these tours and learn about history behind the areas they travel, this land was once home to the Shawnee, Miami, Adena, and Hopewell tribes. The history of this land is shaped by colonization and bears the scars of Native peoples’ removal.
Riders will travel along the Little Miami Scenic Trail and then take a detour to see a castle on the banks of the Little Miami River. We will tour the Mill Creek Valley and gaze down into it from Greenhills. There are a number of Underground Railroad sites along the Ohio River and on its bluffs, affording views of it in a variety of places. On one tour, riders visit a full-scale replica of Jesus’s tomb in northern Kentucky while overlooking downtown Cincinnati. And we can trace the route of the old Whitewater Canal in eastern Indiana. Finally, riders can experience the small pleasures of public parks, covered bridges, and one-room schoolhouses.
Discovering and writing about our area’s rich history in a thematic and integrated way has been a joy, especially at the slow pace of travel permitted by a bicycle. Each chapter describes one tour, featuring information about the area’s history, geography, settlement and industry, and more recent sustainability enterprises.
Kathleen Smythe and Chris Hanlin in Utopia, Ohio
There are stops along these routes to look at historical markers, buildings, take a break in a park or hike in the woods, or spend the night. These routes wind through a varied landscape while offering stories and information about the region’s religious history, the history of inclines or canal-building, or flood control, and more.
Paradise is inherent in cycling, whether on quiet country roads or through downtown Cincinnati. As any cyclist, hiker, or runner knows, the act of moving through space releases endorphins and makes one feel happier. Experiencing all the ways one’s life journey intersects with those of people who came before while enjoying the rocks, hills, animals, plants, and rivers that first attracted people to this region is another form of paradise.
Most of all, with Bicycling through Paradise as a guide, we can develop a deeper appreciation of this place we call home.
Bicycling through Paradise encompasses nineteen historically themed bike tours in Ohio, northern Kentucky, and eastern Indiana. The tours range in length from ten miles to about eighty miles, one-way. Each tour is composed of shorter, connected segments. A single segment is usually around ten or twelve miles long and can be ridden independently. Each segment contains
something that is historically, ecologically, or culturally interesting. The segments start and stop in places with food, restrooms, and parking. There is something here for all levels of cyclists.
This is Cincinnati, so we cannot eliminate hills or traffic. But there is fair warning of stretches with more traffic or long climbs.
At the beginning of each chapter is a brief sketch of the suggested cycling route. Detailed maps and route information are available on the Bicycling through Paradise community page for this book. There is also current (as of 2020) advice about places to eat. And for those who want to plan a weekend or long-weekend trip, there are places to stay overnight. We recognize that over time, these establishments will change, and we invite you to keep the information updated for our fellow cyclists using the Community Page.
Historical Visions and Ambitions
As it turns out, many who have come before us have sought both internal and external paradise in this area. The particular places they chose, buildings they erected, and communities they formed can still speak to us today, even in fragments. Those who lived in this area, whether thousands of years ago or just a few hundred years ago, all found the river-saturated landscape to be a kind of promised land. They sought to carve out settlements and lifestyles with high ideals in mind, whether ideal communities or places safe from the practice of slavery.
The first inhabitants of this land, Adena, Hopewell, Fort Ancient, and then the Miami and Shawnee made use of the nut trees (hickory, beech, and black walnut) as well as game and fish and the landscape of river valleys and hilltops for growing crops and collecting food and for safe places to build burial mounds and ceremonial or gathering centers, respectively.
European settlers not only had to find a way to quickly make a living on the landscape by clearing forests but also ways to attract more settlers for their own security and prosperity, and this involved building mills, distilleries, and other industrial enterprises along the Mill Creek and Little Miami Rivers. All of these activities have left traces on the landscape.
Early settlers left writings that express their appreciation of the land. Christopher Gist, a land surveyor and fur trader, traveled through Ohio from 1750 to 1751 and kept an account of his journey. In March 1751 he noted that he “went to the South Westward down the little Miamee River or Creek, where I had fine traveling thro rich Land and beautiful Meadows.” In 1872 W. H. Venable wrote a poem titled “June of the Miami”:
But here the valley loveliest
Of all within the blooming West,
In morning light before me lies,
A second earthly Paradise;
And here Ohio’s fairest stream,
Miami glides,—my chosen theme.
In 1841 the city and setting were described thus by Charles Cist:
The city is almost in the eastern extremity of a valley of about twelve miles in circumference, perhaps the most delightful and extensive on the borders of the Ohio…The hills which surround this extensive valley … are always beautiful and picturesque…they present gentle and varying slopes, which are mostly covered with native forest trees. The aspect of the valley from the surrounding hills is highly beautiful.
Not only did those who came before us find potential prosperity in the environment around them, they also had internal values and visions they sought to bring to life. For a number of decades, the Ohio River was a sacred boundary for those who were enslaved and those who fought against the institution of slavery in the early 1800s. John P. Parker—a former slave who bought his freedom after a failed escape attempt, Underground Railroad conductor, foundry owner, inventor, and author from Ripley, Ohio—and Harriet Beecher Stowe both found voice and home for their anti-slavery work and humanitarian values north of the Ohio River.
This book highlights towns such as Felicity and Utopia and a bygone Shaker village, all denoting a sense of bold vision and hope in the collective enterprise of village settlement. Other towns, such as the planned green space community of Mariemont and the trail town of Milford, offer visions of dignified living. Certain individuals also made their mark. Some are better known than others, such as William Henry Harrison, onetime soldier, governor of Indiana, and later president of the United States. Some remain more obscure but no less fascinating, including Harry Delos Andrews, who built Loveland Castle and led a group of boys who practiced medieval forms of combat. Then there was George Washington Williams, the first race historian in the United States, who preached from a pulpit in Cincinnati in the 1870s. There are also the usual firsts that any region can claim as people sought to innovate, create, and make a better world; ours stretch from the first reinforced concrete bridge in Ohio (in Eden Park) to the oldest Jewish congregation west of the Allegheny Mountains, K. K. Bene Israel. More recently, Cincinnati citizens and government officials have created a nationally recognized park system and bike trail system, all of which are included in multiple tours in this book.
A Sense of Place
These essays and tours, either alone or combined, aim to inculcate a sense of place, a second kind of paradise. A sense of place is an appreciation for the landscape and history that shapes residents on a daily basis. Preindustrial cultures moved through the landscape more slowly, first on foot, at about three to four miles per hour. Riding on horseback or behind horses in carriages and stagecoaches at four miles per hour still allowed for intimate contact with passengers, horses, and the landscape. Frequent stops gave people a chance to talk with locals and appreciate the smells and sights.
Trains, and later, automobiles, carry travelers through landscapes at much greater speeds. Nineteenth-century observers noted that traveling via railroad was disorienting for some, as distances that had been marked by particularity and a certain time scale were now more abstract and compressed. The French writer Victor Hugo commented about train travel: “The flowers by the side of the road are no longer flowers but flecks, or rather streaks, of red or white;they are no longer any points, everything becomes a streak.” The in-between is of little consequence, only the beginning and ending points matter. Higher speeds are accompanied by the homogeneity of highway medians, gas stations, and airports.
Many find this freedom and opportunity liberating and, of course, it is. But we pay a price for this freedom. The English essayist, soldier, singer, and poet Edward Thomas writes that “one of modernity’s most distinctive tensions” is between “mobility and displacement on the one hand, and dwelling and belonging on the other.” Each successive increase in the speed of travel has deprived us of connections to a deep network of history and culture. Humans are hardwired to learn a place well enough to gain our livelihood and our social rootedness from it. But today many of us do not experience such a phenomenon in our childhoods or early adulthoods.
The hope is that after a ride or two (or ten), landscape and history will seem as one, and readers and riders will feel a deep sense of connectedness, of belonging, to not only the river valleys, hilltops, and parks but also to the people whose work, ideas, and actions have left their mark on this region in important ways.
For example, in the Path Dependency tour, cyclists will ride the Mill Creek corridor, which the ecologist Stan Hedeen has called “the mother of Cincinnati.” Yet the Mill Creek flows in an ancient wide riverbed. Because of its width, industrialists, like the founders of Procter & Gamble, and planners, who first built a canal, then a railroad, and then highways in the same valley. The I-75 corridor will never be the same again after traversing it by bike and learning about the layers of history upon which so many travel.
The Stories We Tell
This sense of place is something all human communities used to have and is likely an important part of our success as a species. Fortunately, history and culture leave their mark on the landscapes, evoking events and characters. The writer Robert McFarlane speaks of English naturalist Finlay MacLeod and his dedication to historicizing the land:
One of the many reasons I enjoy being with Finlay is his ability to read landscapes back into being, and to hold multiple eras of history in plain sight simultaneously. To each feature and place name he can attach a story—geological, folkloric, historical, and gossipy. He moves easily between different knowledge systems and historical eras, in awareness of their discrepancies but stimulated by their overlaps and rhymes…To Finlay, geography and history are consubstantial. Placeless events are inconceivable, in that everything that happens must happen somewhere, and so history issues from geography in the same way that water issues from a spring: unpredictably but site-specifically.
Due to more rapid travel and other forms of technology, however, many people have lost a sense of remoteness and locality. These rides visit locations that are not technically remote but will seem so since they are beyond normal paths of travel. But they illuminate stories and characters that are interesting and inspiring and will be memorable long after the riding is done. And talking to the people encountered on a journey is another way to learn about connections to places that might otherwise be overlooked.
Sustainability and Health
Finally, being outside, getting exercise, and making connections are beneficial to personal and communal well-being. In A Sense of Wonder, the environmentalist Rachel Carson expresses the wish that all children should gain: “A sense of wonder so indestructible that it would last throughout life, as an unfailing antidote against the boredom and disenchantments of later years, the sterile preoccupation with things that are artificial, the alienation from the sources of our strength.” Carson also notes that as adults, “Those who dwell… among the beauties and mysteries of the earth are never alone or weary of life.” People who feel a sense of wonder, Carson argues, will love the places where they live and seek to ensure their integrity. For those who cycle, part of what draws us out is our sense of wonder both at the natural world that beautifies our every ride but also the human-built world in all its contradictions and awesomeness.
Being outside, particularly surrounded by trees and greenery, can be a natural antidepressant. Japanese researchers have demonstrated that forest bathing reduces psychological stress, depressive symptoms, and hostility, while improving sleep and increasing vigor and liveliness. Each of the bike tours described in this book has some exposure to a park or other green space. Get off the bike once in a while. Have a drink or snack. Take a walk. Talk to the locals. It’s time to reconnect.
Our region, like all of those across the United States, needs to make significant changes to ensure that there will be clean air, water, good soil, and healthy ecosystems to support human communities. The goal is that Bicycling through Paradise will help create and refresh a group of citizens who love this region and want to ensure its best possible future.
The Structure of the Book
The tours in this book are laid out in three parts. In part 1, “Waterways,” all the tours follow a river for most, if not all, of the tour, highlighting the opportunities and challenges such landscapes offered and continue to offer, such as transportation corridors, flooding, and boundary making and breaking. Part 2, “Paradise,” examines various places and people who found elements of paradise in our region over the centuries, whether through planned, religious, or ethnic communities. Part 3, “Big Ideas,” investigates a variety of ways in which inhabitants of the land strove to enact substantial ideas of freedom, inclusion, education, nation-building, and industry.
Alms Park Pavilion
Getting Your Bike Ready
There is something in this book for cyclists of all levels. If you haven’t had your bike out for a while, take it to a bike shop for a tune-up. They will adjust the brakes and shifters, clean and oil the chain, and adjust the tire pressure. If you do not have a headlight and a flashing taillight, get them. If you ride often, you will eventually get a flat tire, so look into getting a travel pump, a spare inner tube or patch kit, and a couple of small plastic tire tools to help get the tire off the rim. If you do not know how to change a tire, the folks at the bike shop will be happy to show you. You may also want to look at other accessories, such as a rearview mirror, or a storage bag. And, of course, you’ll need a bike lock and a helmet.
Getting on the Road
The Cincinnati region has some great bike trails, but you will also want to get comfortable riding on regular roads. By law, Ohio roads are open to all traffic, including farm vehicles, Amish buggies, and you. In general, cyclists have the same rights as drivers—and the same responsibilities. Obey all traffic laws, including stopping at stop signs. You should ride toward the right of the lane, but in general, it’s not a great idea to ride on the shoulder: you may be sending a subtle visual clue to a driver behind you that it’s okay to pass close by you. It’s better to ride inside the white lines and let drivers take account of your presence. You belong here, so ride with confidence!
You Can Ride Further Than You Think
If you haven’t ridden much in the past, twenty miles may sound like a lot. For most people, it’s a piece of cake. Thirty miles is not too hard, after some practice rides. Forty miles is something that you can build up to. And plenty of people ride much, much further.
Change Gears Frequently
You should change gears every time there is a minor change in the terrain, so that you maintain a light, even pressure on the pedals. Don’t work too hard. Gear down and relax.
Mill Creek Greenway
Don’t Just Push Down on the Pedals
Think about making small circles with your feet, not just pushing down on the pedals. On the pstroke, don’t rest your leg on the back pedal—that would make you work harder on the downstroke to lift your back leg. You might consider using toe clips: cages you slide your feet into, keeping your feet better attached to the pedals. Toe clips take some getting used to, but they allow you to pull the pedals up on the upstroke as well as pushing down on the downstroke. This spreads the same effort over more muscles. (Specialized cycling shoes do the same thing better.) As you find your natural cadence—the rhythm at which you pedal—you will be able to go further with less effort.
Stay Well Hydrated
Carry water or sports drinks with you, and do not let yourself get dehydrated.
Stop every five miles or so to drink, maybe eat a snack, maybe stretch a little.
That way, you can ride forever.
Planning Your Ride
Evaluate your route for the level of traffic that you are comfortable with. Avoid heavily traveled commuter routes during rush hour. A number of our routes use roads that are lightly traveled most of the time but could become busy in the morning and evening. Sundays are great, because traffic is generally lighter. Also consider that riding in a small group can help improve your visibility to drivers.
Check the weather forecast and dress accordingly, always in bright colors, so that drivers can see you. (Bright colors on your feet and legs are especially helpful, since drivers perceive the movement better.) Wear a helmet. Also, on longer rides, you may want to carry a small first aid kit in your bike bag. A kit could include pain medication, antiseptic wipes, bandages, gauze, bandage tape, an antihistamine, and sunscreen. And of course, carry a cell phone.
Dealing with Problems
Every experienced cyclist has had a few rides that were absolutely miserable. A wrong turn, a flat tire, a sudden change in the weather—there are plenty of potential difficulties. Put safety first. Then relax, take it easy, and remember that the difficult rides are the price of admission to the good ones. You’re going to have lots of good ones.
Ride predictably, so that drivers know what to expect of you. Signal your turns, and do not weave in and out of a parking lane. Be cautious about riding too close to a line of parked cars: if someone opens a car door suddenly into your path, you might not have much time to react. On a busy road, it can be tricky to merge left to make a left turn; sometimes it is better to dismount and walk your bike through the crosswalks. And if you end up someplace where you do not feel safe, reconsider your route. You can lock up your bike and call for a lift.
Some riders feel anxious about the idea of riding in downtown traffic. Really, it is pretty safe. Vehicle speeds are relatively slow in the heart of downtown, and drivers are already watching out for pedestrians, so they’ll see you, too. Keep checking behind you, signal your turns, and go ahead. One special note about riding in downtown Cincinnati: the streetcar tracks have grooves in the pavement alongside them. If your tire gets caught in the groove, you could fall. Cross the tracks at a sharp angle, as close to ninety degrees as possible, and you’ll be fine.
Going uphill, gear down and take it easy. Relax your arms and shoulders. Breathe. In a hilly area, some people coast on the downhill and work hard on the uphill. Sometimes it’s better to pedal down the hill and use your momentum to help carry you up the next. And remember, when the hill gets a little too steep, there is no shame in walking. On the downhills, do not let your speed get out of control, and be aware of what might be at the bottom of the hill or around the next turn.
It’s not a great idea to ride on the sidewalk. Bikes and pedestrians don’t always mix well. Drivers are not always expecting a bike to suddenly drop into the roadway at a crosswalk. And in more remote areas, it’s likelier that there will be broken glass on the sidewalk than in the roadway. Furthermore, in the City of Cincinnati it’s illegal for a cyclist over fourteen years of age to ride on the sidewalk. Ohio law allows—and even encourages—cyclists to ride on the sidewalk, and there are places where it might be a good idea. But in general, sidewalks should probably be avoided.
Make sure you have a comfortable bike seat, and you might consider padded cycling shorts. After that, there is exactly one cure for soreness: ride more. Over time, the more you ride, the less sore you will get.
Bike shops provide courses in bicycle maintenance, and over time you will get better at changing a tire or putting a slipped chain back on the gears. Note also that if you get stuck with mechanical difficulty, and you are a member of AAA, they will provide roadside assistance by “towing” (in a pickup truck) your bike to a location you designate.
Planning a Weekend Trip
A cycling weekend, or a long weekend, can be a wonderful experience, so our tour descriptions include notes on overnight accommodations. To carry extra clothing, you’ll need a set of saddlebags, called panniers, which attach to the rear rack. (Panniers are better than a backpack, which would raise your center of gravity.) Pack light. On longer trips, plan to carry a small travel clothesline and wash a few things out in the sink to avoid carrying duplicate clothing. At your starting point, note that not every public parking lot allows parking overnight, so check the rules.
Staying in a hotel or a bed and breakfast is nice, but bicycle camping can be a lot of fun as well. For a bike camping trip, you’ll need to select your gear with care and do a short test ride with packed panniers ahead of time, to make sure you are comfortable carrying what you need. When you’re ready to go, just relax into the ride and find your natural cycling cadence. Your trip is going to be great.
 Stanley Hedeen, Little Miami: Wild & Scenic, River Ecology & History, 20, https://littlemiamistatepark.org/images/stories/history/riverecologyhistory.pdf.
 Hedeen, Little Miami, 3.
 Charles Cist, Cincinnati in 1841, Its Early Annals and Future Prospects (E. Morgan & So. Power Press, Cincinnati, 1841), 13–14.
 Mikael Hard and Andrew Jamison, Hubris and Hybrids: A Cultural History of Technology and Science (New York: Routledge, 2005), 176–80.
 Hard and Jamison, Hubris and Hybrids, 177.
 Wolfgang Schivelbusch, “Railroad Space and Railroad Time,” in The Railway Journey: The Industrialization of Time and Space in the Nineteenth Century (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1977), 33–44.
 Robert McFarlane, The Old Ways: A Journey on Foot (New York: Viking, 2012), 322.
 Stan Hedeen used this expression on a tour of the Mill Creek with Xavier students, September 2015.
 Keith Basso, Wisdom Sits in Places: Landscape and Language Among the Western Apache (Albuquerque: University of New Mexico Press, 1996).
 Jan Bender Shetler, Imagining Serengeti: A History of Landscape Memory from Earliest Times to the Present (Athens: Ohio University Press, 2007).
 McFarlane, Old Ways, 147.
 Rachel Carson, The Sense of Wonder (New York: Perennial Library, 1965), 54.