Many avid bicyclists spend their evenings and weekends squeezing as many miles on the road or trail as possible. Between long hours at work and spending important time with their families, they dream about the day when they can either retire or save up enough vacation time for that ultimate trip across the state, or even across the country, by bike. You don't, however, you don't have to wait forever to enjoy the bicycle touring experience. You can have the trip of a lifetime in small doses using the Sub 24-Hour Overnight.
The Sub 24-Hour Overnight or "S24O" for short, is basically a bicycle camping trip with a single night's stay. Pick a short route of 20 to 50 miles, something you can easily cover in a couple of hours to a half-day of riding. Pack up your gear and head out on a Saturday afternoon or even after work on a Friday evening. When you arrive at your destination, enjoy a campfire meal and an evening of stargazing. Pack up and ride the next morning, and you'll be home in time to mow the lawn or take care of any of the other items on your weekend to-do list.
Northeast Ohio abounds with many ideal spots for S24O destinations. Several of the region's state parks have campgrounds that offer sites for tent camping, or you can even rent a cabin at some if you prefer not to rough it that much. West Branch State Park and Punderson State Park to the east, and Findlay State Park to the west are the closest options, or you can ride to Sandusky and catch the ferry to Kelley's Island or Put-In-Bay. There are also private campgrounds, such as the Kampgrounds of America in Streetsboro, Sandusky, East Sparta, near Canton, and Shelby, near Mansfield; Jellystone Park near Aurora; and Camp Hi in Hiram. It's best to call any of these places in advance to reserve a camp site or cabin. State park campgrounds have nonreserved walk-in sites for last-minute visitors, but availability of these sites is not guaranteed.
Other organizations have made efforts recently to provide more camping opportunities to bicycle tourists in the region. The Stanford Hostel, located near Peninsula and just off the Towpath Trail in the Cuyahoga Valley National Park, lets visitors set up tents in their yard for a $10 nightly fee, which includes access to the restrooms, showers, and kitchen inside the hostel. Officials with Stark County Parks and Metro Parks Serving Summit County are working to open several other camping areas along the Towpath Trail. Schedules and policies are subject to change, so please contact any of these organizations directly to verify availability of services before making any plans.
Of course, if sleeping in a tent is not your thing, you can always use the "credit card camping" option, where the sky's the limit as far as accomodations, from cheap motels and nice hotels, to luxurious bed-and-breakfasts. This method of travel also saves you weight on the bike, since you won't have to carry a tent, sleeping bag, air mattress, etc. You may want to check with hotels in advance to be sure that they will either let you bring your bike into the room, or provide other secure bike parking.
Your eating options also run the gamut. You can take along a lightweight camp stove and cookware to whip up a backpacker's stew for dinner and some oatmeal for breakfast, or you can enjoy tracking down the bicycle-friendly restaurants along your route and enjoy some of the locals' favorite fare.
If you are, indeed, making concrete plans for a long-distance bicycle tour, use the S24O to get in one or more dry runs before your big trip. This lets you test out your gear in real-world situations before you are committed and while you are still close to home, and even help you decide if the bicycle-touring lifestyle is right for you. On an S24O, the penalty for failure is less severe, and afterwards, you can learn from your mistakes and make adjustments to your choices of bike components, gear, and packing schemes.
Even for experienced bicycle tourists, the Sub 24-Hour Overnight is a great way to satisfy your wanderlust between major expeditions. Plus, it's the ideal method for gently introducing your kids or that less-adventurous significant other to the joys of traveling by bicycle.
Kevin Madzia is the Webmaster for Century Cycles, and an experienced bicycle racer, tourist and commuter.