More Tales of Escape From the Turnpike Travel Plazas: Cycling Rural Roads and Scenic Rail-Trails Just Beyond the Busy Freeways

May 021

When I think about all of the time I spent early in my truck driving career, when I still drove 48 states, and I didn’t keep a bike in my truck, I could kick myself. Often I would run out of hours after a delivery and have to spend a 34 hour reset in the middle of nowhere, or worse, at a travel plaza on the turnpike in Pennsylvania or Ohio. I wish I knew then what I know now, that you don’t have to settle for the lame, overpriced fare offered at the plaza fast food stands or stare at a parking lot for the entire length of your break.  Right behind the plaza, and just beyond the access gate to the plaza employee parking lot is a big beautiful world of sparsely traveled rural roads, beautiful scenery, and restaurants that are served by people who don’t ask if you want fries with your meal.  Here are a few of the bike trips I have taken over the past few weeks at various spots just beyond the truck parking lots of Pennsylvania and Ohio turnpike travel plazas.

Elmore, Ohio and the North Coast Inland Trail

This short trip starting at the Travel Plaza at mile marker 76.9 on the Ohio Turnpike, just east of Toledo, is the flattest and easiest of the trips I’ve taken lately. Sneak out the service gate to the employee parking lot, turn on your preferred smart phone map apps and head onto the side streets heading to Elmore, Ohio, a small city along the North Coast Inland Trail, one of Ohio’s many excellent rail-trails.  Elmore is a very nice small town with coffee shops and places to eat. If you have time, the trail is about 26 miles long and can be taken as far as Bellevue, Ohio.  Click here for a map of the route I took.  Don’t forget that Google  Maps now makes it really easy to find bike trails. Simply open their app or browser and click the “bicycle” option.


ImageThe first mile or so of trail along this route is not much more than a path. It becomes paved once you get to Elmore.




Youngwood, Pennsylvania and the Five Star Trail

This next trip is far more hilly and challenging, but very scenic and worth the time and effort.  From the New Stanton Plaza at mile marker 77.6 (this plaza can only be accessed from the west-bound lanes), you are only a few miles from the Five Star Trail in Youngwood, Pennsylvania.  Click here for the route I took.  If you take a look on the route details at that link you will see that this approximately 8.5 route has an approximate total ascent of 583 feet. Some of the hills on this route are very steep, and I’m not going to lie, I had to walk up some of them. The work is worth it, as this is a very scenic rural route with very little traffic and a very nice trail. I’m also proud to say that with work I’m getting better at handling the hills.  

ImageThis was taken near the Youngwood end of the Five Star Trail


ImageArburst, Pennsylvania church



The Headwaters Rail-Trail near Mantua, Ohio

This was another very hilly route, but like the Five Star Trail route, it is worth the trip, especially for the trail and beautiful rural and farm scenery. Starting at either the east-bound or west-bound Ohio Turnpike Plaza at mile marker 197 (the route I took began at the east-bound plaza, but can be easily accessed from either), head north about just over three miles to the Headwaters Trail, a beautiful crushed gravel trail connecting Mantua and Garrettsville, Ohio. The rain had just stopped when I rode here making the surroundings even more scenic, but the trail was a little muddy.  This is another very hilly route, with several hundred feet of ascents, including one or two very steep hills.  Speaking of mud and hard work, don’t forget that the Ohio Turnpike Travel Plazas have free, clean showers for truckers, so you can clean up and change before you hit the road again after your workout! Just bring your own towel, or you will have to dry off with that awful school bathroom type brown bathroom paper which stinks like newspaper when it gets wet.




May 033


Image“Just slip out the back, Jack, and set yourself free…”


As always, you can follow me at Map My Ride to see where I’m riding, or at Instagram to see more travel photos.


About kevinmckague

I left my former dead-end job in 2006 in order to become a truck driver. I wanted a career that was recession-proof, and that offered more opportunity for adventure. Now I travel the country with my bike in the passenger seat, and look for new places to visit whenever the opportunity presents itself.
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2 Responses to More Tales of Escape From the Turnpike Travel Plazas: Cycling Rural Roads and Scenic Rail-Trails Just Beyond the Busy Freeways

  1. Jim Smith says:

    Way cool! Do you carry a spare inner tube with you on these trips? I know the bike groups at the resort we winter at in Tucson require all bicyclists to carry a spare tube on their adventures. Anyway, looks like you are trying to promote a healthier lifestyle for your profession.

    • kevinmckague says:

      Thanks Jim! Yes, I keep an extra tube with me, and some basic tools. So far I haven’t needed them on my work day adventures, but it’s inevitable that I will at some point.
      Thanks for reading!

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