48.6 mi / 11.9 mph / 529 ft. climbing
Home: Lakeshore Reservation Metropark Campsite
In 2014, we stayed in a cool little up-and-coming neighborhood in Cleveland proper, surrounded by miles of down-and-staying neighborhoods. Our ride across Cleveland today showed that in the eight years hence, that small rising core has spread dramatically, spilling over to the point where most areas that we traveled through felt vibrant and legitimately “cool”.
Rett came up with idea that Cleveland is what you might get if Chicago and Portland, Oregon had a baby. It has that muscular, brick-and-steel body of a Midwest manufacturing city, but with the smaller, more-human scale of Portland. And its near-death and rebirth creates some separation from its 19th-century legacy and gives it a younger, fresher vibe than the more-continuous legacy that Chicago has.
In 2014, the road surfaces through Cleveland were atrocious, whereas this time we had very little complaint at all. Again, that’s a sign of the city’s (and region’s) improvement over the last decade. The east side of town was still in pretty rough shape, with the rising tide not yet lifting the boats over there, but one distinction from both Portland and Chicago is that we didn’t see anyone who appeared to be living on the street. Cleveland’s population is currently barely a third of its 950k population in 1950, a fact that likely explains both the east side’s vacant buildings and its inconspicuous unhoused population (though obviously the fact that we didn’t witness any people living on the street during our single ride across the city doesn’t mean they don’t exist). In that way, it’s similar to Baja (and a huge contrast to the Pacific Coast in the US), where an unconstrained amount of housing is correlated with a visible lack of homelessness.
That’s not to say that Cleveland is free of the staggering inequality infecting the rest of the nation. After riding St. Clair Avenue through the eastern side of the city, and seeing the decay increase, we turned north and back to the lake on 105th. We passed under the great segregating wall of I-90, leaving the boarded-up houses and empty lots, and emerged into a different world, filled with impeccable forested mansions and wealth permeating the air. We had arrived into the enclave of Bratenal, surrounded on three sides by Cleveland and on one side by Lake Erie. It’s the starkest wealth rift I’ve ever seen, even exceeding the invisible wall that divides Chicago’s Austin neighborhood from Oak Park.
Bratenal gave way to less-affluent neighborhoods, which then gave way to regular suburbs, with the road staying close to the lake. As we neared Painesville, the name reminded me of the heat in 2014, when we dived, sweat-pouring into a Baskin-Robbins. No such pain today, with the weather once again giving us near-perfect mid-70s riding.
Even after we’d been cooled by ice cream eight years ago, the heat and sweat apparently still blinded us, and we completely didn’t notice the beautiful, historic town square that Painesville is built around. It helped that there was a farmer’s market happening on the green to attract our attention, where I stopped to fix a problem Rett had noticed in her front wheel. Coincidentally there was a guy there with a mobile bike shop (carrying his giant load of tools on his cargo bike, finally a load heavier than ours!) available to help if we needed it. But I determined that it was the front skewer coming slightly loose, which somehow makes the Schmidt hub dynamo create some crazy vibrations.
Someone in the Lake County Parks Department is my hero, and I would really like to meet them and shake their hand. For reasons I would be really curious to learn, Lake County Metroparks has made the decision to include a single “backcountry” campsite in a dozen of its county parks. These aren’t wilderness areas, or places you would expect camping at all. In fact it felt a bit like we were stealth-camping in a place where camping isn’t allowed (which, curiously, closely mirrors a recurring dream I have…we’ll see if playing it out in real life finally ends that, or increases its frequency!) Our park, “Lakeshore Reservation”, is a place with some trails that people from the surrounding residential neighborhood go to walk their dogs, or hold an event at the pavilion. But every park like this has sections of unvisited woods, and administrative will (and a bit of money) is the only thing required to carve out a bit of those woods and turn them into a campsite.
They’re all designed as “walk-in” (or paddle-in!) sites, so that eliminates RVers, and likely discourages a lot of car-campers, but it’s basically perfect for bike tourers like us! We reserved online, walked up a short section of one of the trails through the park, and opened the gate to our incredible lakefront campsite. It was a huge grass-and-mulch-covered (but well-shaded) space, with a clearing giving us a view down the bluff to Lake Erie. At $20, it was one of the cheapest campsites you’ll find in this region. And it came with a big stack of firewood out front! The only downside was that the park bathroom was a quarter-mile away, but they actually encourage “backcountry” peeing and pooping practices (the latter seemed a bit unlikely, with no real areas to dig a cathole, and not a ton of privacy from those dog-walkers on the trail just across the brush wall). But when night came, and the park officially “closed”, we were completely on our own, enjoying a fire in our ring of stones and watching Armageddon forming on the water.
But before all that, we did a walk through the park that we would be sleeping in, getting some better lake views, checking out the weird sculpture/sundial garden, and, filling our bag with water to lug back to our site. Given that I’ve never seen (or even heard of) campsites like this, that means they don’t just “happen”. So that’s why I’d like to know more about the courageous government employee who had the vision and drive to implement such a project, and thank them for creating such a special place for our use.
So, back to Armageddon. Despite having a good view to the northwest where the sun would set over the water, the actual sunset was not especially spectacular, because a wall of clouds had formed on the horizon. And, at least from our perspective, it was an impossibly vertical wall, emerging directly from the water and rising thousands of fathoms skyward, until the upper reaches could touch the last rays of sun sinking on the opposite side. Well after duskfall, a smoldering red glow appeared at the base, smothered between cloud and sea, not aligned with the sun’s path, but somehow burning where no light should live.
In a sign that I rely less on my own eyes than I should, I was still surprised later that night when rain began falling on our tent. Because it had not appeared in any forecast. Which just proves that the otherworldly cloud was alien to both our eyes and to the computer models.