The Infamous Cuyahoga River - America's Most Naive Bike Tourist Rides From MN to MA - CycleBlaze

June 20, 2014

The Infamous Cuyahoga River

Cleveland, Ohio

From Vermillion all the way to the outskirts of Cleveland--a distance of 30 miles--the lakeshore drive was completely developed.  There were a couple of parks and a few commercial establishments, but primarily it consisted of huge million-dollar homes.  They were fascinating to look at but they blocked out views of Lake Erie.  There was one exception.  That enormous house had so much glass on both the front and back sides that I could see the lake right through it.

A pretty big house.
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A nice little lake home.
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The
The owners of this house are doing OK. They have a view of Lake Erie and the Cleveland skyline and, as a bonus, lions guard their driveway.
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A deer in somebody's yard. "Hey you," I called, "come here! I am your friend."
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"Wait! Don't run away."
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I stopped at Century Cycles in Rocky River to get a new inner tube.  I love to see a busy, busy bike shop.  They had something like seven employees all actively engaged with customers.  I was helped by a friendly guy who said touring was his favorite style of biking.  In the bike industry it's tough to get a whole lot of time off in the summer so he has to do his touring in the southern hemisphere.

Approaching the city.
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I crossed Cleveland's Cuyahoga River today.  The Cuyahoga was once considered the most polluted river in America and had actually caught fire a few times, the most famous one being in 1969.  A whole river in flames!  It must have been quite a spectacle.

I have always had a suspicion that my employer for 33 years must have played some part in the catastrophe that befell the Cuyahoga.  To confirm my suspicion, I Googled "Cuyahoga River, fire, Sherwin Williams."  Sure enough, I found an article from the WBEZ radio station's website that quoted a shipping supply business owner at the time:  "We had one major paint company on the river which was Sherwin Williams.  They'd clean out their tanks.  When they cleaned out the red tank, the river was red, or blue, or yellow--pick any color you like."

An even more descriptive quote came from a Cleveland Plain Dealer staff writer who said the river was "shaped like an intestine and performed the same function for Republic and for Jones and Laughling, the two largest steel mills on its banks.  Discharge pipes, as mis-shapen as gargoyle mouths, vomited sulfuric acid into the water.  Iron scale and fleece dust tinted the surface a liverish hue that locals described as 'terra cotta' or 'maroonish blush.'  Upstream of the Sherwin Williams plant, the color depended on which batch of paint had gone bad the night before.  Every day, the factories polluted the river with 550,000 gallons of wastewater."  (Look at the shape of the Cuyahoga on a map.  It really does wind about like an intestine.)

Even now I can envision some of my more conservative friends calling me a "tree hugger" for looking this up.  (You know, environmentalism impedes progress and kills jobs.  The good news is that the 1969 fire sparked an environmental movement and a major clean-up of the river.  I believe the S.W. Co. even participated in the clean-up and is now committed to environmental responsibility.

The Cuyahoga River with downtown Cleveland beyond.
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To my eye, the river looks pretty good now although I didn't bring a sample kit to test for toxic substances.  At least it has the bluish-brown shade that most rivers around here have.  And it has a pleasing presence in downtown Cleveland.


Downtown Cleveland was surprisingly easy to navigate and I found my hotel with no problems.  (I decided to splurge on a fancy downtown hotel again.  My justification this time is that in a couple of weeks it'll be my birthday.)

For a day-and-a-half I get to experience a Lake Erie view from my hotel room.
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Today's ride: 38 miles (61 km)
Total: 941 miles (1,514 km)

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