Four local leaders in area businesses and the non-profits, who have been bicycling together for a decade in annual three- and four-day outings, have nearly completed the 320 mile Ohio-to-Erie Trail that connects Cleveland and Cincinnati.

The four are Nelson Burns, Chuck Conaway, Tom Myers and Dave Petrone, who with respect to their ages have dubbed themselves, "The Four Shades of Gray."

The men undertake their outings with their wives, Suzanne, Joan, Kathy, and Debbie, who patiently provide a safety net by accompanying their husbands by car and SUV. They spend their time sight-seeing and shopping while their husbands peddle. The day’s cycling done, the eight then stop at hospitable locales to relax and enjoy one another’s company.

The Conaways, who planned this summer’s outing, made reservations for the first of their three nights on the road at the Rainbow Hills Winery, a four-bedroom, family operated bed and breakfast north of Coshocton’s Roscoe Village. The second and third nights out were in a Marriott Courtyard at Easton, less adventuresome perhaps, but filled with a variety of restaurants and good shopping, a reward for the ladies’ patience.

The Ohio-to-Erie Trail is a collection of rail trails, multi-use trails, and designated street trails and is divided into four segments. The four have completed the northern segment from Massillon to Cleveland and the southern leg, from London, south of Columbus, to Cincinnati. Their goal this time was to cover the so-called "Heart of Ohio" leg from Massillon to Mount Vernon and the Central Ohio leg from Mount Vernon to London.

Rain washed out the first day this year so the four had to settle for bicycling from the Killbuck area in Holmes County south through Mount Vernon in Knox County and then on to Sunbury one day. The next day, they pushed on from Sunbury traveling through Columbus to London.

"We’ll complete the portion we missed, from Massillon down to the Killbuck area, later this year" Chuck Conaway said.

The hilly trails of Holmes and Knox Counties were arduous, but for the four seasoned bicyclers, not an insurmountable challenge. The four began their trek at the Bridge of Dreams, a 370-foot covered bridge near Brinkhaven. It is Ohio’s second longest covered bridge.

The men are already talking about next year and a Canadian trail. Earlier outings took the group on trails from Pittsburgh to Washington, D.C. A subsequent trek along the Erie Canal in upstate New York ended at Seneca Falls, the city that inspired the Frank Capra classic, "It’s a Wonderful Life." A trip in the Adirondacks took them to beautiful Saranac Lake, which is where the Physicist Albert Einstein, who enjoyed recreational sailing, once vacationed.

Atop Terminal Tower

At the hors d'oeuvres Portage County United Way donor party that Bill Childers and his wife, Deb, hosted Saturday evening on the 42nd floor of Cleveland’s Terminal Tower, Case Western Reserve historian John Grabowski told us about the Van Sweringen brothers, who built the Terminal Tower complex and developed Shaker Heights. Bill and his speaker then opened the floor for questions and comments.

Among those commenting was retired Kent State President Carol Cartwright, who with her husband, Phil, remains remarkably generous with our community. Carol shared that the Terminal Tower and Shaker Heights played a pivotal role in her father and mother getting married.

Here’s why.

In the late 1930s, her father, who worked for the Missouri-Pacific Railroad, had an office in the Terminal Tower. Her mother, a St. Paul, Minn., resident, was visiting friends in Shaker Heights who introduced her to her father. The rest is history.

Railroad executives were moved around and her parents, once married, found themselves in Milwaukee and later Sioux City, Iowa, which is where Carol said she was born. Eventually her father was transferred to St. Louis, the company’s headquarters.

Sorting through family heirlooms after her mother’s death, Carol said they found a letter box that contained every letter her father wrote her mother up to the time they were married. Sorted chronologically, "they made a nice story," she said.

Viewing from the Terminal Tower Saturday evening a week ago was wonderful. It was a spectacular way to entertain United Way donors.