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Gay Travel: Why ‘Gay Travel’ and How Gays Travel?

Why gay travel in the first place? Adam, from travelsofAdam.com, writing for a column published at Nomadic Matt How Gay Travel is Different (and Why it Matters), contended that “It’s about safety, it’s about comfort, it’s about politics. But it’s also about welcoming events, friendly accommodations, and having fun with similar travelers.” Adam summarized it succinctly and nailed it! Those of us who know the meaning of the ‘turn-off’ experience of getting the ‘funny look’, know that paying the same price as other travelers and getting second class treatment is painful. A fact that led to the coining of the expression ‘pink dollar’. Simply put: the LGBTQ community got tired of paying the same price to in return be discriminated by businesses that dispensed different service and treatment based on their customers’ sexual orientation.

View from a cafe on Rue des Archives in the gay neighborhood of Le Marais - Paris, France
View from a cafe on Rue des Archives in the gay neighborhood of Le Marais – Paris, France

I recently wrote in my blog Tel  Aviv: Middle East’s Most Gay Friendly City that it is not only the Tel Aviv’s Pride Festival that attracts travelers from most corners of the world.  Tel Aviv has earned its place on the list of top LGBTQ travel destinations because it is truly welcoming and inclusive. It is not a reputation that a business garners just by placing a sticker on the window. Neither is won by countries or cities that run ads targeting the LGBTQ community. It is won through attitude toward visitors who genuinely feel that they are welcome.

If there is one thing that I have learned about visiting places that are not gay friendly, is that uncomfortable feeling of relinquishing the freedom to be myself and going back into the closet. Even if it’s for just a few days, that is something that most of us are not going to do. Politics aside, economics matters! If I am going to drop some money into someone’s economy, I want to see a deeper commitment to equality and inclusiveness by governments. I also want to see that the local population is embracing those principles as well. And there is the issue of safety that is crucial to any traveler, but so much more relevant to LGBTQ travelers who can fall victims of violence just for being who they are.

I travel solo! Hence, the name of my website! However, gays tend to travel in groups; either with a small or large group of friends, or join in large travel groups such as cruises.

Rue des Archives in the heart of Le Marais - Paris, France
Rue des Archives in the heart of Le Marais – Paris, France

In the gay community, friends are family; and family travels together! That’s the simple truth! But there are other reasons which include ‘the more, the merrier’ element to have a great party. Safety justifies why traveling in group makes so much more sense because harassment can happen, as it has occurred even in gay friendly countries and cities. Nowhere is completely safe! Harassment and violence against an LGBTQ person can happen even in places known for their openness, such as San Diego, New York, Paris, or London.

Remarkably, in a city that elected a gay mayor, Paris offers that sense of safety to its LGBTQ population and visitors alike. Just a few blocks from the City Hall, in the Le Marais which is also known as Paris gayborhood the relaxed atmosphere of countless cafes, restaurants, and clubs is just one example of gay friendly destination. More importantly, the overwhelming attitude of Parisians is that of respect, friendliness, and welcoming. It’s a behavior and attitude that reflects its treatment to visitors as ‘people’, regardless of sexual orientation; as it should be anywhere else. However, that’s not the reality we live in. Therefore, we choose where to go and where not to go; making ‘gay travel’ relevant and necessary.

Enjoying the safety and beauty of gay friendly Paris
Enjoying the safety and beauty of gay friendly Paris

Sadly, there are the countries like Russia, Egypt, India, and Turkey currently deemed too dangerous to visit as an LGBTQ person. Their laws criminalizing homosexuality is a violation of human rights and a warning to gay travelers to stay away. However, they are not the only ones to be avoided because there are over 70 countries where homosexuality is still illegal and considered a crime.

Besides the fact that traveling as part of a group adds a sense of being ‘safer’, it can also reduce costs from car rental to sharing accommodations, renting a beach house, or sharing an apartment. Nonetheless, there is a sizeable number of gay travelers who travel solo, which can be a bit more challenging than traveling with friends.

Gay solo travel means you are on your own! However, it does not mean that you are alone. It means you will experience the local culture a bit more in depth. Forcibly, you will connect with other travelers and interact with more locals than just your waiter at a café or the cab driver. I admit that when traveling solo, the comfort zone that most of us enjoy staying in so much, is the first thing to go off the window. Although our comfort zone is not the first thing that we are willing to surrender, it can be rewarding for those who are daring travelers and seek to really get out there. In such case, it becomes more important to stick to your own kind. That’s when ‘gaycation’ becomes a real thing. It means visiting gay friendly destinations, gay events, and supporting those economies and neighborhoods that support and welcome you for who you are.

Backpacking in the wilderness area of Zion National Park, Utah
Backpacking in the wilderness area of Zion National Park, Utah

Many of the activities I like doing and hobbies I have are not gay per se. Places and landmarks I visit are not exclusively for gays, and some events that I attend have no label. Nonetheless, as a traveler I am who I am and I must consider if I can fully enjoy what I choose to do; or if I will have to watch my back.

Being in backcountry solo hiking for long periods of time, I am just a hiker who happens to be gay. My sexuality should not matter a bit. Still, I know that depending on where I am, carrying a rainbow flag or wearing a T-shirt with a slogan calling for marriage equality is not a smart thing to do. Encountering a militia man, who made it a point to show me that he was armed, during a solo backpacking hike in a remote area in Utah reminded me of the risks any of us may face: gay or straight.

Hiking at Joshua Tree National Park, California
Hiking at Joshua Tree National Park, California
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Solitude at Point Reyes

Getting up wasn’t ease! After backpacking to Glen Camp I fell asleep early, waking up only once and briefly in the middle of the night. The gentle sound of the waves breaking on the beach a couple of miles away put me right back to sleep. I woke up sore and my legs were so sore and tight that it took me a few minutes to start moving. I checked the time and was shocked to find out that it was past nine in the morning. Had I slept for more than twelve hours?

Walking out of the tent I found that the few campers I heard the night before had already left. Except for one who was getting her backpacking gear ready for the trail, the camp was practically empty. As we said hello, I told her that I could not believe that it was almost ten o’clock. She looked at me a little confused and told me that it was only six-thirty. “Wow!” – I said!  That made more sense because I can hardly ever sleep more than eight hours.

Something made cellphone reset the time to Eastern Time! After chatting for a brief moment, we said goodbye wishing one another a great day as she strapped her backpack on and off she went. As I walked back to my tent I saw her disappearing in the woods, leaving me all alone at Glen Camp getting ready to hike along the shore.

View from the Stewart Trail - Backpacking at Point Reyes National Seashore
View from the Stewart Trail – Point Reyes National Seashore

I was feeling really well and looking forward to hike at least ten miles. Since the trails along the shore at Point Reyes National Seashore are relatively ease, being sore shouldn’t be a problem. I knew that after my body warmed up I would be fine. While getting ready for the day’s hike, for the first time, I noticed that my left eye was itchy. I thought that I might have got some poison oak in my eye and before medicating it I sought relief by washing it with cold water.

It was a beautiful day with clear blue skies and it promised to be a great hike! I left the campground backpacking lighter than the day before, heading south on the Glen Trail, then west on Stewart Trail. Combined, the first stretch toward the shore was a hike of just over a mile and half before heading north on the Coast Trail. The strong winds from the night before seemed to have slowed down and the only sound was that of birds songs.

 

View from the Coast Trail - Backpacking at Point Reyes National Seashore
View from the Coast Trail – Point Reyes National Seashore

I hiked for over two hours and I encountered nobody! The trails were deserted. What I noticed the day before, remained true today; the trails had not been used as the Winter was barely over. The overgrown bushes made it difficult to spot the trails closer to the ocean. Nonetheless, that was a small price to pay for the absolute solitude and peace that I was enjoying.

Located north on the Coast Trail was Arch Rock. The two-mile path to Arch Rock was a combination of meadows and marshlands with their own micro ecosystem. Birds everywhere! As I neared Arch Rock a sign posted on the trail leading to the site warned that the access to the rock had been closed due to a fatal accident at the cliff. Yes, I was disappointed! Instead of getting to Arch Rock, I sat on the cliff and admired it from a distance.  From that point, I continued on hiking north on the Coast Trail.

 

View of the shoreline on the Coast Trail - Point Reyes National Seashore
View of the shoreline on the Coast Trail – Point Reyes National Seashore

 

Kelkam Beach - Backpacking at Point Reyes National Seashore, California
Kelham Beach – Point Reyes National Seashore, California

I had snacked a few times in the almost four miles hiked thus far, planning to stop for lunch and take a longer break at the beach. Kelham Beach was only about a mile north on the Coast Trail.

Kelham Beach - Backpacking at Point Reyes National Seashore
Kelham Beach – Point Reyes National Seashore, California

Just as I was getting back on trail I heard someone whistling and as I turned around I saw the girl that I had talked to at the campground a couple of hours earlier. She told me that she also had not seen anyone else on the trails. Apparently we had the coastline of the park to ourselves. A few more minutes of chat and off we went in opposite directions.

 

Lunch break at Kelham Beach - Backpacking at Point Reyes National Seashore, California
Lunch break at Kelham Beach – Point Reyes National Seashore, California

In the deserted, windy and cold beach I had my lunch consisting of canned tuna fish and a banana for dessert. After a half hour break I continued north on the Coast Trail to Sculptured Beach. The two and a half miles portion of this trail from Kelham Beach to Sculptured Beach is an ease hike with astounding views of the ocean. The cooling breeze made it a pleasant hike through the meadows with perhaps only about a quarter of a mile in a narrow wet path that was taken over by the swamp vegetation. Some of the grassy plants had long a sharp blades and except for a momentary doubt about whether or not I was still on the trail, the experience wasn’t too bad.

Arriving at the beach a barefoot walk on the cold, wet sand was refreshing and soothing. I had hiked approximately seven miles and I was in no rush to return to Glen Camp. I had no reason to return to the campground before sunset. In the more than eight hours since I started my day, I saw and spoke with only one person. This was priceless!

Sculptured Beach - Backpacking at Point Reyes National Seashore, California
Sculptured Beach – Point Reyes National Seashore, California

From the Shores to the Mountains

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South Kaibab Trail – Grand Canyon

South Kaibab Trail - Grand Canyon, Arizona
South Kaibab Trail – Grand Canyon, Arizona

On my sixteenth day on the road I woke up to a cold morning and so sore that it took me a few minutes to get out of the sleeping bag. My legs begged me to stay in the tent, but my addiction to caffeine got me up and running for a hot cup of cappuccino at the Canyon Coffee House. With my abilities to think and function restored, I was ready to head to the South Kaibab Trail. Vehicles are not allowed close to the trailhead and the closest parking lot is about a half mile away on Desert View Drive. Shuttle buses are available to drop you off right at the trailhead located south of the Yaki Point on Yaki Point Road, but I chose to drive, park and hike to the trailhead. At busier times of the year or if you are camping overnight in the canyon the shuttle bus is probably a better option as the parking lot is quite small. And not everyone wants to hike an extra half mile on the way out.

View of canyon walls from South Kaibab Trail - Grand Canyon, Arizona
View of canyon walls from South Kaibab Trail – Grand Canyon, Arizona

I had planned to hike to Skeleton Point at three miles down toward the bottom. My round trip for the day was just going to be six miles, plus the one mile round trip from the trailhead to where I had parked my car. The South Kaibab Trail is two and half miles shorter than the Bright Angel Trail from the trailheads to the Bright Angel Campground by the Colorado River. While the Bright Angel Trail round trip is nineteen miles, the round trip on the South Kaibab Trail is only fourteen miles. Do not fool yourself! Part of the reason for the shorter distance is because of its steepness. The steepness of this trail is misleading as many casual hikers do not realize how far they have gone. Its trailhead elevation is also about 400 feet higher than that at the trailhead of the Bright Angel Trail.

Ooh Aah Point at South Kaibab Trail - Grand Canyon, Arizona
Ooh Aah Point at South Kaibab Trail – Grand Canyon, Arizona

Comparing to the Bright Angel Trail, the South Kaibab Trail gets a lot more exposure to sunlight. The few shaded areas, depending on the time of the day, result from the canyon walls. The views are spectacular! Just about less than a mile in from the trailhead, Ooh Aah Point offers wonderful views of the open canyon. The weather was perfect! The day before when I hiked part of the Bright Angel Trail, the skies were a too little hazy but today the skies were clear and bluer. At the Ooh Aah Point I met Nav and Martina from London with whom I chatted for a while and we agreed to meet in San Diego a week later for drinks. Although there were more people on the trail, it was not overly crowded.

Just a little over half a mile from Ooh Aah Point, Cedar Ridge opens up to astonishing views. At this point it was windy but not as cold as the day before and certainly a lot warmer than just a couple of hours earlier. That’s how much the temperature can vary from top to bottom and fluctuate throughout the day.

Cedar Ridge at South Kaibab Trail - Grand Canyon, Arizona
Cedar Ridge at South Kaibab Trail – Grand Canyon, Arizona

Hiking and contemplating the vastness of the Grand Canyon is a spiritual experience and it is impossible not to be moved by the force that carved the landscape and magnitude of its wild beauty. Although the landscape is relatively young, sculpted about five to six million years ago, rocks ages reveal 270 to 1,840 million years in the making: 1.8 billion years. Later that evening I met Michael, a Hopi native-American who shared some of his people’s rich history and their fascinating mythology. He told me that now they are a small nation but the “most important” because they are the oldest and that they originated from mother Earth. Curious about what I heard, later on I looked into the history of the Hopi people and found out that among the people who consider the Grand Canyon their place of origin and homeland, the Hopi are the only people who never left the area. Their religious practices are embedded in the landscape given to them by the deity Ma’saw when they accepted a covenant to earn stewardship of the Earth. It is believed that the Hopi people descend from the Puebloan tribes who inhabited the four corners area thousands of years ago. Deep within the Grand Canyon lies a sacred place: the Sipapu, which means “the place of emergence”. The Hopi people remains the most mysterious and mystical people of all Native Americans, considered outsiders by other Native American nations as they never signed a peace treaty. They carry on the story and the history of the Ancestral Puebloans.

South Kaibab Trail - Grand Canyon, Arizona
South Kaibab Trail – Grand Canyon, Arizona
South Kaibab Trail - Grand Canyon, Arizona
South Kaibab Trail – Grand Canyon, Arizona

Michael and I talked well into the night while stargazing, sitting outside my tent. Listening to his stories and how after leaving the US Marines and becoming a Forestry Engineer he returned to his homeland to continue and carry on the Hopi’s traditions and cultural integrity, was an eye-opening experience. That encounter changed how I would view my journey from that moment on; it was no longer a sightseeing road trip. Thereafter, I gained the awareness that I was walking on sacred grounds and the connecting with people took a deeper meaning knowing that although I was travelling by myself I was not alone.

Sunset in the Grand Canyon, Arizona
Sunset in the Grand Canyon, Arizona
Sunset in the Grand Canyon, Arizona
Sunset in the Grand Canyon, Arizona
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Bright Angel Trail – Grand Canyon

Descending hike on the Bright Angel Trail view from the Upper Tunnel - Grand
Descending hike on the Bright Angel Trail view from the Upper Tunnel area – Grand Canyon, Arizona

I started the descent on the Bright Angel Trail about seven hours from sunset. I calculated that I would do an average twenty-five minutes per mile on the descending hike, but would probably double that time on the ascending hike. If I hiked down to the three miles point I would need approximately four hours to complete my round trip; that would not account for rest stops and stopping for pictures. Based on the Hiking and Camping Destinations pamphlet listing the trails, with the time I had for a day hike I could reach the 3-Mile Resthouse. The Resthouse, located three miles on the descent sitting at the 2120 feet elevation change from the top, has a round trip of six miles with an estimated time of four to six hours.

On the descent at Bright Angel Trail - Grand Canyon, Arizona
On the descent at Bright Angel Trail – Grand Canyon, Arizona
View from the Bright Angel Trail - Grand Canyon, Arizona
View from the Bright Angel Trail – Grand Canyon, Arizona

The Bright Angel Campground elevation change from the trailhead is 4340 feet with a nineteen miles round trip. The minimum time recommended for the round trip is two days. Warning signs highlight that people who have attempted the round trip in one day have experienced health related accidents or have died. As it was early Spring, the average temperatures at the top were in the low 30 F degrees, rising at lower altitudes toward the river. Temperatures at the river level average about twenty degrees higher than at the top. About two miles into my hike it became very windy which made it feel colder than the actual 40 F degrees at that point. One of the brochures notes that the Bright Angel Trail is the “easiest” trail, “but still incredibly steep.” The sudden drop in altitude is felt at each step taken, which makes for a faster hike down with high impact on the joints. Hiking poles are essential here! Hiking out will take twice as long or longer as the gain in altitude makes it steadily steep.

Bright Angel Trail - Grand Canyon, Arizona
Bright Angel Trail – Grand Canyon, Arizona

Captivating views, a relatively ease and surely fast descent mislead those who are not exactly what would be called experienced hikers, but tourists turned into accidental hikers who go too far down in the hike not realizing how much physical preparedness is required on the way out. ‘Far’ in this case is an absolute relative concept! Five hundred feet can be treacherous and challenging to too many people I passed on my way down. Posted warning signs and advises on pamphlets are not to be taken lightly nor ignored. In a jokingly way, the challenge of the trails in the Grand Canyon is well summarized on a t-shirt for sale at the gift shop which reads “Going In Is Optional; Coming Out is Mandatory”, or something along those lines. As I continued to descend I saw pain stamped on some faces and at the same time I saw guilt written on the faces of those who brought their elderly parents and grandparents down for a stroll. That’s what the viewpoints are for!

About half a mile down the trail became at least half crowded and by the time I reached the one mile mark I had the trail almost entirely to myself. It was also at that point that the wind was blasting against the cliff walls. Blowing gusts forced me to make some stops and exercise added caution as the wind was blowing and pushing against my back. I went an extra mile down from the 3-Mile Resthouse as I averaged about twenty minutes per mile taking one hour and twenty minutes on the four miles descent. Rested, I turned around to ascend as the sun was still high at three o’clock. I could comfortably reach the top in four hours or so enjoying the sunset and the landscape changing colors as a rosy sun lit the rocky formations in different angles.

Sunset at the Bright Angel Trail - Grand Canyon, Arizona
Sunset at the Bright Angel Trail – Grand Canyon, Arizona

The point where I decided to turn around was more or less between the 3-Mile Resthouse and the Indian Garden Campground and with calm winds it felt comfortable at 45 F degrees. By the time I climbed about two miles, the temperature continued to drop every hundred feet; or so it felt! As the sun continued to set by the time I reached the Lower Tunnel it was 27 F degrees, about five degrees below the low averages for season. Because of the low temperatures even as I got closer to the trailhead at the top, I still had the trail almost exclusively to myself. There was not more than a dozen people watching the sunset. The Spring and Fall provide the most comfortable hiking experience, as I learned from talking to the Grand Canyon National Park Service rangers and other hikers, although the temperature can vary dramatically. However, after some of them described how beautiful the canyon is in the Winter, I convinced myself to plan hiking to the Bright Angel Campground by the Colorado River in the Winter time. And I can’t wait ’til I hit the trail again!

Bitterly cold sunset at the Bright Angel Trail - Grand Canyon, Arizona
Bitterly cold sunset at the Bright Angel Trail – Grand Canyon, Arizona
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Grand Canyon South Rim

When I left Sedona, Arizona it was already too late in the day to try and arrive at the Grand Canyon National Park without a reservation for a camp site. As the north rim does not open until later in May, my plans were to visit the south rim and a few weeks later swing by the north rim. I was also fully aware that trying to get a camp site at the park was slim to none, but if I did arrive early in the morning maybe I would be lucky enough to land a spot in one of the campgrounds. So, that night I sought to stay close enough to the east entrance of the Grand Canyon to arrive the next morning as early as possible.

The Colorado River seen from the Desert View Watchtower - Grand Canyon South Rim - Arizona
The Colorado River seen from the Desert View Watchtower – Grand Canyon South Rim – Arizona

The following morning I arrived at the east entrance gate of the Grand Canyon National Park south rim and I was greeted by one of the most cheerful National Park Service rangers I had met to date. As I handed my driver’s license to her, she said “Oh! So you have been hiking in the Grand Canyon of the East?” No! – I replied, adding that I never heard of a Grand Canyon of the East. She recommended that as I returned to New York to check it out. It is located thirty-five miles southwest of Rochester, New York in the Letchworth State Park; proving that often we don’t know what is in our own backyard. Well, one more for the bucket list! When I asked her about the possibility of camping at the park, she replied that the Desert View Campground was already full and she had heard that the Mather Campground was also sold out but she could not confirm that information. Instead, she advised me to drive to  the campground which is located in the Grand Canyon Village. The Village, as it is commonly referred to, is located twenty-five miles from the east entrance of the park and it would take me more than half an hour to get there.

Desert View Watchtower - Grand Canyon South Rim, Arizona
Desert View Watchtower – Grand Canyon South Rim, Arizona

Although I was anxious to get there and find out whether or not I would be able to stay for at least a couple of nights, the ranger at the gate suggested that I first stopped by the Desert View Watchtower, which according to her is one of the most fascinating and breathtaking views in the Grand Canyon. Otherwise, she alerted me, “you will have to drive back twenty-five miles to see this astonishing view.” I said that I could always see it on my way back out of the park. Again, she pointed out that it may be raining on my way out of the park a couple of days later. She really wanted me to stop at the Desert View Watchtower! Despite my urgency to get to the Mather Campground to find out my fate for the night, I followed her ‘persistent’ advise. And I am glad I did! The view is indeed so incredibly beautiful and powerful that I almost forgot I was in a hurry to get somewhere.

Seen from the Desert View Watchtower - Grand Canyon South Rim, Arizona
Seen from the Desert View Watchtower – Grand Canyon South Rim, Arizona

 

Desert View Watchtower - Grand Canyon South Rim, Arizona
Camping at the Mather Campground – Grand Canyon South Rim, Arizona

Arriving at the Mather Campground I got the good news that I could have a camp site for two nights. I was thrilled! It was still mid morning and I could set up my tent, get a bite at the Grand Canyon Village, and pick a hiking trail for the day. It was great to get a good cappuccino at the Canyon Coffee House, sit down and download some pictures, recharge my phone and camera at the lounge of the Bright Angel Lodge. After considering the time left until sunset; the fact that I was a little sore from hiking the day before; and knowing that my choice for the day, the Bright Angel Trail, is quite difficult going down and even more strenuous going up; I knew that I could not go down more than three, maybe four miles. What I was planning was to still be on the trail at sunset and enjoy what I expected to be an unforgettable hiking experience.

Munds Wagon Trail

 

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The Road Ahead – Excitement and Surprises

DSC04453On March 28, 2016 after I finished packing I headed to bed around ten in the evening and set the alarm for 6AM. Filled with excitement and with my mind racing with imaginable scenarios about the road ahead, I could not fall asleep. It occurred to me that in the morning I would be just too exhausted to get on the road. “That’s it!” – I told myself that I’d rather get on the road there and then.

On Tuesday, March 28, 2016,  at 1:11 in the morning I set the GPS to my first destination: arrival time 8:43AM at Cuyahoga Valley National Park, Ohio. Based on my tentative road trip route research and readings about the Cuyahoga Valley, I was looking forward to my first stop. According to “Your Guide to National Parks” by Michael Joseph Oswald, 2012, the When To Go tab informs that the park is open all year.

Crossing Pennsylvania in the middle of the night turned out to be a good decision. If I got tired, I figured I would just pullout at a rest area and take a nap. Clear skies, a bit windy, low traffic with just a few trucks here and there, it was smooth sailing.

Having been with Couchsurfing and hosted travelers, I thought that I would use it on my route as much as possible. I had a confirmed host in Cleveland, Ohio for that evening as a fall back plan in case I could not get a camping site at Cuyahoga Valley.

Arriving at the park turned out to be a bit challenging as a number of road constructions and detours proved to be difficult for the GPS instructions. I drove in circles for a few minutes and at which point I was tired and falling asleep. No problem! I thought I would set up the tent and take a nap. Maybe I will rest and pick a trail for my first road trip hike.

By the time I finally arrived at the visitor center I already knew that I was the only traveler there. What made it more bizarre was the unwelcoming attitude of the National Parks Service ranger. He did not seem to be thrilled to be there that morning and he did not seem to be happy to see me there either.

The trails were closed! Excessive rain and subsequently trails repairs proved to be my first obstacles. With no chance to stay and camp there I headed to Cleveland where I stopped to have breakfast. As I arrived early, I contacted my host and we agreed that I could come by around noon. He was very friendly and let me know that he was studying for an exam and was up all night. Perfect! I was exhausted myself and was ready to close my eyes for a few hours.

I woke up around eight that evening and feeling rejuvenated I decided that it was best to get back on the road instead of being awake all night. Next stop was Louisville, Kentucky, where I also had a confirmed host through Couchsurfing. I thanked my host and left Cleveland with a positive attitude of not letting the Cuyahoga Valley disappointment to bring me down. After all, road trips come with surprises!