Great Motorcycle Riding in Southeastern Ohio
Each day in Jackson, Ohio, I ride State Route 93, which shares its title with Main Street until it pops out on the other side of town. Seeing it wind its way north, presumably to other small towns, made me wonder what other burgs and villages lay on its path. After a quick text message to a motorcycling buddy, we set out on a two-day trip to answer my question.
According to my map, Route 93 meanders north and slightly east until it ends close to Lake Erie in Akron. The route’s southern terminus is my old hometown of Ironton on the Ohio River, 40 miles south of where I live now, so we named our trip The River to the Lake to the River, meeting in Ironton the following day to begin our large circle.
Leaving Ironton on my Harley Road Glide with my friend on his Kawasaki KLR650, we made quite the odd couple, but our goal was the same—twisty roads and no Interstate highways. Route 93 begins as four lanes and quickly chokes down to a friendlier two lane as it twists through Wayne National Forest with its challenging curves and rolling hills. The forest is dense on both sides of the road and plenty of signs warn of potential close encounters of the whitetail deer kind. It was August and getting hotter, as the temperature headed toward the day’s high of 90 degrees. We rode through the middle of Jackson, where a huge water tower painted to look like an apple watches over the town. The city shuts down Main Street (and thus Route 93) in September to host the annual Jackson County Apple Festival. Several thousand people from the region flock to sample the different rides, recipes and entertainment the festival has to offer.
Our familiar route edged along Hocking Hills State Park with its many rock and cave formations, where our riding skills were challenged with S-curve after S-curve. Those who think Ohio is flat and straight have never ridden in the southeastern part of the state. We stopped for a casual lunch in Logan at the Olde Dutch Restaurant, then rode carefully through the ominous sounding village of Gore and passed over Monday Creek on a Thursday. North of Logan, Route 93 becomes more rural, scenic and less traveled. We clicked through the gears over this ribbon that winds through thick trees and cornfields on either side of the road.
As we entered Zanesville, the birthplace of novelist Zane Grey, we made a small diversion from 93 so that we could park the bikes on the Y-Bridge, so named because it actually forms a Y as it branches in the middle and crosses the confluence of the Muskingum and Licking rivers. The locals love to tell you that it is the only bridge in the country you can cross over and remain on the same side of the river.
North of Zanesville at Baltic, we were immersed in Ohio’s tourist-laden Amish country. Horses shared the road with our motorcycles; one horsepower vs. many. The Amish, dressed in their plain and mostly identical clothing, worked in shops and loaded feed and supplies along the road. We waved to a group of smiling Amish children as we swallowed up the curves and passed immaculate Amish farms along the road.
Onward and upward, Route 93 injected us into Canal Fulton, named for the Ohio-Erie Canal that used to pass through there. We rested the bikes on a section of the old towpath and observed the narrow canal. Tourists can take a ride on the St. Helena III, a replica towboat drawn by horses that walk along the towpath beside the canal.
I could tell from the map that 93 ended abruptly in Akron, hometown of basketball great Lebron James, but I needed to see exactly where. It was a poignant moment as I sat on my bike beside an elementary school and viewed the “End 93” sign. I had lived my whole life in the area of the southern terminus and now had finally experienced the entire length of a route many others call their own.
After a moment of reflection, we rode to the east and then north, skipping Cleveland and the rest of Akron. Our destination for the night was Geneva-on-the-Lake in the northeastern corner of Ohio. This resort town was developed over a hundred years ago as a summer retreat. There are many shops and restaurants along “The Strip” and it didn’t look like much had changed in decades. Motorcycles rumbled past and pedestrians filled the sidewalks, and there was an atmosphere of a state fair/carnival in simpler times.
The next morning on our return to the river, we found the beginning of State Route 7 in the lakeshore town of Conneaut, another route familiar to us in the southern part of the state. We decided we would travel Route 7 all the way to its end in Chesapeake, just 18 miles from our start on the river in Ironton. The riding through gritty Youngstown was relaxed and straightforward as Route 7 follows the straight eastern border of Ohio until it meets and follows the Ohio River mid-state at East Liverpool.
The August sun was sinking into the rounded outline of the maple and oak trees as we entered the historic town of Marietta, the first settlement in the Northwest Territory and home to a vibrant and restored downtown along the confluence of the Ohio and Muskingum rivers. There is much to see and do in Marietta, but we decided that we should press on to Ironton and sleep in our own beds that night.
Eighteen miles and many bugs later, U.S. Route 52 closed our large circle back in Ironton. We joined hundreds of motorcycles in town for the annual Rally on The River as we headed back down to the riverbank to symbolically end our tour, from The River to The Lake to The River.
(This Favorite Ride: River to Lake to River was published in the March 2014 issue of Rider magazine.)