By Eileen McFerran
Driving through Ohio, what would you expect to see? Acres and acres of flat fields and farms, right? How about sandy beaches, seagulls and a summer arcade strip? I’m not kidding. Although no ocean waves wash against any Ohio bank, you could have fooled me. Body surfers were riding the white-capped waves into the sandy shore at Geneva State Park in Geneva, Ohio where we stopped en route to Michigan in mid-August. What massive body of “unsalted” water looks like an ocean? Yes, one of the Great Lakes…Lake Erie. It borders upper Ohio in Geneva and Geneva-on-the-lake.
Not happy with our usual overnight stop at the KOA campground in Erie, PA, Jelane and I told each other “something better” would turn-up. We had three hours of sunlight left…plenty of time to find another site, right? We extended our eight-hour drive another hour, and stopped for gas. The hot and muggy air was a shock compared with my comfort in the air-conditioned van. I returned the gas nozzle to the pump. It was then a wave of exhaustion engulfed me. I have a terrible trait of having little-to-no body awareness. I don’t know I’m tired until I’m really exhausted and could literally put my head down and fall asleep! Although Jelane would be happy to drive, we needed to come to an agreement about where we were going. I pulled out our large print Rand McNally Road Atlas, found our location and searched for the nearest campground. That’s when the little green tree symbol popped out at me….Geneva State Park…. only seven miles away.
We knew the minute we saw the artistic Geneva State Park entrance sign surrounded by well-maintained gardens and landscaping, we had hit the jackpot! Our site was large, flat, with a mix of open land and woods. And guess what? The sites were electric, reasonable and without an out-of-state charge! This was a first for me. The bathrooms had been updated with corian counters and a fresh coat of paint. They were bright, clean and well maintained. A large bulletin board displayed emergency numbers, nearby attractions and free park programs. There was even a spot for lost and found. Everything a woman camper wants.
The camp store was compact, but well stocked with very reasonable prices. The staff was friendly and helpful, including the State Trooper who shared his office with park personnel.
Best of all was the four-mile round trip bicycle trail right from our site. Jelane and I hopped on our bikes. I didn’t know how tight my body was until after I started pedaling. I could feel my muscles stretch and scream “Thank you!”. The air fanned my face, arms and legs and I felt immediate relief from the sticky heat. The bike path looped through the woods and followed the lake shoreline. There was a distinct smell in the air…fresh, clear… sweet. We rode past several accesses to the shore, public beach, marina, and the newly built county/state Resort Lodge.
I felt an enormous sense of freedom and flight. For a moment, I was twelve again, riding my bike on a sunny summer’s afternoon with my best friend. Not a care in the world. I could have ridden forever.
We returned to Geneva State Park on our return trip to New York. We rode our bikes another half-mile from the trail into the village, Geneva-on-the-Lake (known as “The Strip”). It was Ohio’s first summer resort (in operation since 1869). It has a long history of arcades, dance halls, amusement rides, casino’s, restaurants, and music. John D. Rockefeller camped there with his friends and business associates Harvey Firestone and Henry Ford in the early 1900’s. Who knew? It’s amazing what “real” history you discover “on-the-road”.
We rested our bikes against the newly painted iron fence (in full view) while we ate our phenomenal take-out from Zeppies Pizzeria in their back patio. The portions were huge, delicious and cheap. We chatted with other customers and enjoyed watching their kids play duck-duck-goose. Turned out they live only a half-hour away.
We rode the trail once more before heading home the next morning. We shared the path with other walkers, runners and bikers. They were very respectful, courteous, and knowledgeable about the “On your left” bike signal. We stopped at the new Resort/Lodge with full restaurant, gorgeous indoor and outdoor pool minutes from the beach for very reasonable rates. We watched while hundreds of seagulls warmed themselves on the sandy shore.
Jelane and I kept asking each other, “Where are we???”
Was it an oasis or a mirage? We’ll let you know after our next visit!
(c) 2012 Eileen A. McFerran