Sunday, April 10, 2011

Waffles and Dead People, Cobbles and Krauts

I've been reading "Bicycle Diaries" by David Byrne (of Talking Heads fame). The book is comprised of his observations of the world, culture, art, civilization, etc. from the seat of a bicycle. Any cyclist who reads this book will get it in a second, but I guess it is written for his legion of fans, art nerds who are cooped up in their New York studios stroking cats. A cyclist moves fast enough to see a lot yet slow enough to really absorb their surroundings — the legs are working but the mind is free to roam.

I'm a big fan of history, and as a lifelong resident of Cincinnati, I'm into Cincinnati history and my often rides are glimpses into the past of a booming Cincinnati of the late-1800s. And frequently I do rides around the city and allow myself to explore and seek serendipity. I have also always dug riding through cemeteries. Cemeteries are these beautiful, peaceful parks typically with some rolling hills, sometimes with gravel and I love the old ones with stone monoliths sprouting skyward. Something lovely happens when the late afternoon sun hits limestone — it reminds me of Paris perhaps (snob!). And looking at the names of people on the headstones I start to see the people who formed our city — the founding fathers and mothers of neighborhoods, farmers sometimes, or heads of industry. Now the names are applied to streets, to memorialize these great people, and we have no idea to Peebles, Ferris, Pogue, McGregor, Settle or even Ezzard Charles are.

Waffles and Dead People
So the day before the Heart Mini I went out for a long recovery ride. I was about to ride up the Loveland bike path when I realized I have never been to Spring Grove Cemetery. So I rode the scenic way through Cincinnati's lovely Eden Park, down through the city to Findlay Market. Findley is the only old market left downtown, the one on Court Street was dismantled or burned and the one around Fountain Square was destroyed in the night when the bankers and businessmen grew sick of the hems of their trousers being stained with pigs blood from the 5th street market butchers.

Now, like me, there is a bunch of localvore/organic/free-range foodies who flock here for authentic food, some cheap eats and gourmet treats. Taste of Belgium is one of the treats. I hope they return to the 3 day Cincinnati Weekend CX races. They use large granules of sugar in their yeast batter (a recipe inspired from the waffles of Liége) that melt onto the griddle and carmelize the outside of the waffle. (For winter rides I also suggest Dojo Gelato's Cup of Hot Melty Chocolate — it's like a liquid pudding!)

Having fueled myself I set off once again. I ride through West End and the industrial heart of Cincinnati. This is where Proctor and Gamble used pig fat to make soap and candles, using the river to ship their goods. I weave in and out of factory roads impressed by these dinosaurs of the industrial revolution, some still working and others abandoned.

I hit Northside and I am welcomed by a Raymond Thundersky mural on the outside of Visionaries and Voices. Raymond Thundersky was a Native American fellow, I am unsure if he was afflicted by a mild mental disorder — but he dressed as a construction worker/clown hybrid and would watch outside Cincinnati construction sites. On a side note, I spent part of my teen years tailing him around a grocery store where I worked as a stocker. My manager turned me into Mr. Thundersky's stalker, my manger being convinced this odd man was stealing!

After Northside I find the Mill Creek Valley Greenbelt bike path — I was delighted to get a little refuge from the traffic. I plan to speak a little more about the new Cincinnati bike paths in a future post. I finally got to Spring Grove Cemetery! It was very beautiful, this was one of the first warm and sunny days in awhile.

Spring Grove is incredible. There are some small hills, and valley streams and the asphalt is a bit gravely. It would make a killer crit course (no pun intended)! Once again I am impressed with the artistry of these memorials.

After a loop I headed back to Northside for a quick bite at the Sidewinder cafe. Then I headed for home with a route through Clifton, Avondale, Evanston, Norwood, Oakley and Madisonville. Some of these neighborhoods are so incredible. At some point they were extremely prosperous but grew out of fashion, or perhaps white flight turned them into "rough areas." Probably people with lesser income just moved in and couldn't afford the upkeep on these giant houses. At once I admire the architecture but I try not to see this neighborhood through a lens of future gentrification.

Cobbles and Hills
Well I was going to go to a trail day then ride my MTB afterwards. But a huge thunderstorm and inches of rain stopped me! So I pedaled back home in soaked jeans and I thought I would make the best of it. I warmed up climbing the backstreets of Ludlow and Covington, Kentucky. I started exploring and I found the street where a UFO house is located!

I ride over to the Cincinnati riverfront and I am excited about the Banks project. The riverfront was killed by the interstate that divided the city from the water. As train (and eventually trucking) commerce killed the riverboats the once seedy underbelly of Cincinnati withered away and became parking lots. I can't help but wonder if some ghosts of crazy riverboat captains who died (victim of a therapeutic bovine blood cocktail perhaps?) in the opium dens and brothels that once littered the docks are totally pissed that their crazy lifestyle got paved over by a boring parking lot. Here is an interesting article on old black neighborhoods along the riverfront.

Once again I found myself down in Over-the-Rhine, where my great-grandparents dried spaetzle on the radiators, built furniture and barber chairs with skills they learned around Hamburg and would take Summer picnic trips in a rowboat up the canal (or what they jokingly termed "The Rhine"). I love to ride around and try to imagine what it was like. Mainly I just see "Gangs of New York" in my head, except everyone is speaking German.

I love hitting the cobbles in front of Music Hall going 20 mph. I imagine the cobbles in Paris-Roubaix are much more severe, but these in Cincy have my hands stinging after only a block! One of these days I would love to "cobble" together all the old pavé and brick alleys for an Urban Alleycat CX race.

After OTR I climbed up through Liberty Hill, rode along some brick alleys and happened upon a little neighborhood called "Little Bethlehem." I never heard this area called that before, but there are some beautiful Italianate houses lining the hillside. Walker Street is especially quaint.

Every once in a while something completely crazy happens while you are on a bike. You are silent, exposed, yet still moving fast enough that you see a lot of stuff; and if it is weird you're not sitting there like a target. On another ride through the Brewery District a year ago, these EMTs emerged from an apartment building with a corpse on a stretcher while the churches of OTR rang their bells. Creepy. Sometimes you happen upon a drug deal or drug use. Friends of mine have seen people having sex on trails, etc,. Well on this ride I was in Filson park in Mount Auburn, I rode behind a car and noticed the passenger's head bobbing in the driver's lap. The driver nervously glanced over his shoulder, then lowered his seat back!

So I kept riding hills to keep warm in the rain. By now I am thoroughly soaked, but the slow steady efforts keep me warm. I ride through Eden Park and Mount Adams. Riding along Oregon Street you can still see the two rows of supports for the old inclines. Why did we ever get rid of those? And the street cars? I bet they got run down and cost too much to repair; nostalgia always making everything seem cooler. I make my way into Walnut Hills — and especially on Madison Road you can see where at one time the utmost wealthy of the city lived in enormous houses with pasture-like lawns. They could afford to leave the city, where the industrial revolution wreaked havoc upon air quality and the streets were filthy with carriage droppings and the pigs blood flowing from the market places. Anyway, enough pig blood staining my trouser bottoms! So I am climbing this short hill on a side street when I see the absolutely most adorable house in Cincinnati! The facade is so ornate, like it has been transported from the Black Forest, Bavaria or Switzerland!

So I ended my ride going up through Alms and Ault Parks. I love epic public works projects, these parks are real gems. I love attacking the hills and you are rewarded with great views from the top. One street is called Vineyard, and I am reminded of a story that at one time the Ohio River Valley was the center for wine-making in the U.S. I look up at these South facing hills and I can just imagine rows of grapes and I'm reminded of my friend Carolina who took me to the Rhein in Germany, of the Lorelai (this inland "mermaid" who tempted sailors to run aground), of the Reisling I bought for Bridget here:

Geez, my mind really wanders during a ride! Anyway, ride a bike and see the world!

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