Friday, August 19, 2011

Days 24-27: Cliffhanger in The Buckeye State


8/15 Day 24: Barnesville Guest House, Barnesville, OH to Blue Rock State Park, Blue Rock, OH 56 miles (1040 miles)

         After a lovely day of vegging out at the house, we were all but decided on moving in and staying. However, there was a storm on the way in the morning when we woke up ready to greet us on our return to the ride. After loading up the bags and having some toast and bagels for breakfast, we got outside and made it the 500 meters down the road to McDonald's where we had some coffee and waited out the worst of the morning rain. While we waited, we got to chatting with a few friendly Ohio truckers who were taking a break from driving for a little breakfast. They gave us a little advice about the upcoming roads, cracked a few jokes, and, mostly, cracked themselves up. They were a jolly bunch and good company. The people in the Ohio farm country we've had a chance to stop and talk to have been fun to talk to, even if it's just a short exchange of a few words; they always have something to say back when you hail them. We were riding through a construction site on the road in the middle of nowhere, and approaching a real steep hill. I asked the guy holding the stop sign, "Hey, you guys just put this thing here?" He replied, "Aw, no, that's been there a couple days." Another time, Erin asked a man in his truck on a rural road, "If you were riding your bike around here, would you take this road or that road?" "Well," he said, "Depends on the mood I'm in, I guess." This was a great joke in his estimation, and he laughed good-humoredly. Oh, those Ohioans. (Ed. Note: I recently learned that residents of Ohio are neither Ohioans or Ohioites, they are Buckeyes- isn't that nuts?) (Editor's note on the editor's note: Pun intended)
              When the rain stopped, we mounted up and didn't ride far til' we saw a restaurant one of the truckers had mentioned called The Wooden Wheel, an Amish restaurant. We had a delicious meal on the cheap, including homemade noodles and fresh bread. We were all set to leave again, when the rain started to fall again. Everyone put on their rain shells, and as soon as we were geared up, the rain stopped. Ben, Mandi, and I doffed our jackets, thinking we'd soon be getting hot in the waterproof jackets. Minutes after we started riding again, another band of rain  moved through and we were soaked to the bone. Nothing ruins a day of riding like wet shoes. The rain hit us off and on for the rest of the day, making the otherwise beautiful views of rolling, lush landscapes hard to appreciate. We had only made it 20 miles by the time 2 o clock rolled around and it was time to stop under a park shelter and wait out the crackling thunderheads throwing out lightning and looming only a few miles away. We didn't get moving again for two hours as the clouds wrung themselves out overhead and we became increasingly restless as we stared into the wash.
Watch your back on "Ass Road." A nice shot of Ben & Mandi
and the scenery.
            Erin's tire got a miraculous flat while we were waiting, and once it was patched and re-inflated we rode on, with 36 miles to go. We scrabbled our way through the remainder of the day up and down gravelly, dirt back roads, past curiously small backyard oil derricks, and finally made it to Blue Rock State Park after easily one of the prettiest days of riding (in my opinion) that we've had yet, but also one of the most frustrating. We were, by far, in the most rural, out of the way areas we've been in yet, and the roads were damn awful. When we got to the park it was nearly 8 and we were all a little grumpy. So, when we found out the camp attendant was gone for the day and that campsites would be on the honor system we decided that we were fresh out of honor. We grabbed a campsite in the nearly empty camping area, showered off, ate some rice and beans, then hit the hay resolving to be up and out before any park rangers would be by.

8/16 Day 25: Blue Rock, OH to Mr. Froggy's Express Car Wash, Lancaster, OH 50 miles (1090 miles)

      The full moon shone down on us like a spotlight all night as we slept, and lent an eery, pale blue glow to the camp ground. Coyotes serenaded us with their cries and all sorts of night creatures lent their voices to the hills' symphony. I had slept very soundly all night until something jolted me up; when I grabbed my headlamp to see what it was making the noise, I caught a raccoon red-pawed rummaging through Mandi's pannier. When the morning dawned, we found that while the critter was at it he had chewed a couple holes in Ben's jersey's rear pockets looking for granola bar remnants. The vandal also mashed up one of Mandi's bananas on his spree. But with the ranger on our minds, we cleaned up camp quickly in the morning and relocated to the main area of the park, made some coffee and had some granola and bagels for breakfast. After we were fed and had escaped the park without coughing up our site fee, it was time to make our exit. We dealt with another couple miles of adventurously bad roads until we finally reached one we could be sure would be paved its entire length.
Erin and Mandi jump for joy on some
hay bales to celebrate paved roads!
       That road paralleled the Muskingum River, the longest waterway entirely in the state of Ohio and a tributary of the Ohio River. We were treated to mostly flat riding along the banks of the dun-colored waters for a few more miles south until it was time to strike out west and back into the hilly farm-country we'd become familiar with over the last few days. Except for a couple of stops to take pictures of kittens and cows, we rode mostly without pause for about 30 miles until reaching New Lexington. New Lexington is home to a whole lot of not a lot except for a bunch of fast food, which meant we would be stopping in for lunch. We decided to go with the healthiest option we could find and opted for a Subway right next to a laundromat, which let us kill two birds with one stone.  We made the right choice going in to this particular spot for another reason.
       When we walked in, we were hailed by a man probably in his early 60s or late 50s. He told us we could plug our phones and computer in behind the food counter if we wanted to, and ordered the staff to give us a hand. He turned out to be Larry, the owner of the place. I chatted with him and his friend, Bill, for about 15 or 20 minutes about the trip, Amish people, Ohio, and whatever else until Larry said he owned another place in Lancaster we could put our tents up behind if we wanted to. The price was right- at free- and it was 20 miles away, which would put us at a round 50 for the day, so it seemed ideal. The name of our future campsite was Mr. Froggy's Express Carwash, right in the heart of Lancaster, OH. Larry had called ahead and told his son, Brian, to clean up the shower inside the building so we could wash off when we got there. A short, uneventful 20 mile ride to Lancaster and a some quick showering off left us with most of the evening to relax and find something to do in Lancaster.
        First, we headed off to the Pink Cricket, a bar that has been operating in Lancaster since 1938, and had a couple of pitchers and a couple of pizzas. We weren't in a rush, per se, but we knew we needed to be back to camp by 8. One reason was that the car wash closed around then and we had to get our bikes out of their storage area, but the other, and far more important reason was that the bingo hall behind the car wash closed the doors at 8 for Tuesday night bingo. We made it back in time and then caused a small stir as we wheeled our fully loaded touring bikes into the bingo hall. Many an old pensioner took notice with simultaneously curious and annoyed looks over their multiple bingo sheets, or cigarettes, for those standing outside watching us approach under the yellow street lights. The hall was on break, so we had a chance to get set up with bingo cards and blotters. We had plenty of questions, too: "What's a 9-block? Hard line? What's Grand Canyon?" We took so long, the woman calling the numbers actually asked over the P.A., "Do they know how to play Bingo? Give 'em some of the free blotters under the desk."
       Throughly called out for the bingo tyros we are, we sat down at an empty stretch of table, a bit abashed and proceeded to spend the next hour and a half losing at bingo, but having a good time doing it. When the last bingo was called, we filtered out with the rest of the crowd and set up our tents on the concrete pad behind the carwash. The street lamps and motion sensor lights washed the parking lot and patches of grass around us in dingy orange light and the machinery of the carwash's boilers and chemical mixers spun on and off all night with whirs and hydraulic hisses, but ultimately we were all too tired to care and slept like logs.

8/17 Day 26: Mr. Froggy's Express Carwash, Lancaster, OH to Paint Creek State Park, OH 64 miles (1154 miles)

        When we woke up, we all immediately noticed something was strange about the day... it wasn't raining! To make things better, there wasn't even any rain in the forecast. To complement our dry day, we had  a very flat route awaiting us to Paint Creek State Park. After a quick breakfast and photo uploading session, we set out to try and get as many miles in before the heat of the day really took hold. Everything seemed to be going our way; the only thing amiss was that Ben's bike was making a squeaking noise that we wrote off as a crank that needed some extra grease. Our ride for the rest of the day passed through the bustling metropolises of Circleville and Greenfield before we finally would wind our way over some small hills to the park. At our first stop 20 miles in, we had a bite of pizza in Circleville and caught up with the local news- a standoff in a nearby residential area had the anchors practically beside themselves, and a bus that had taken a car off the road dominated rest of the newscast. Outside the shop, we ran into a fellow riding a checkered mountain bike wearing a cutoff day-glo yellow construction vest, blue camouflage cutoff shorts, and a straw hat. He was carrying what looked like a 40lb duffel of his back, and he had a lot of advice he wanted to pass on to us.
       Among other things, he informed us he'd been riding since Huntington, W. VA, he told us to wear sun hats instead of helmets (something I would love to do, but it's suicide), that he's 55 but is actually 18 on account of all the bike riding he's been doing for ten years, and that he does 90 miles a day on the mountain bike he designed himself; it only takes him 11 hours, because he goes at a steady pace. As a parting piece of knowledge, he said to drink a lot of water to keep ourselves "flushed out." When he departed, so did we, shaking our heads. We definitely meet a lot of strange characters, no matter where we go.
     When we left, the sun had reached a full mid-day blaze and pounded us for the next 30 miles of fast, hot riding. We did 50 miles in probably the fastest time we have in a while, thanks to the terrain, but we still had 13 to go. We took a breather at 50 miles so that Ben could try and grease up his crank and silence it for good. While he fiddled with it, the man whose yard we were loitering in came down to see what we were up to. He turned out to be, Mr. King, a very nice, but long winded member of the Greenfield Historical Society. After gifting us some grease, he pulled out a big binder of pictures and floor plans detailing some of the local sites of historical interest. We politely absorbed as much as we could about the busts of Guenivere, Julius Caesar, Joan of Arc, and the seven others, the frescoes, the 13 metal lathes, and the Latin inscriptions that all adorned the local high school while Ben worked on his bike. About an hour later, and only one binder in (he had many more, to our horror) we made our exit as graciously as we could. Ben's squeaking problem persisted, though, so all we got from our break was an hour closer to sundown and a little rest.
      We rode hard the next 5 miles to Greenfield, stopped at the grocery store for snacks and some dinner to cook in camp, and then pushed on to the park. When we arrived, we were disappointed to discover that despite the fact that the campground was on the lake, the swimming area was eight miles away and on the other side of the water. This paled in comparison to our disappointment when Ben discovered the true nature of his bike problems: he had a broken rear axle, and had ridden at least 63 miles on it! The rear cassette had been ostensibly spinning free on the broken axle, chewing up his spokes, threatening to cause a catastrophic wheel failure, squealing a bunch, and, ultimately, making it impossible for us to ride further without a replacement. The nearest bike shop was 60 miles away, everything had already closed for the night, and we were doomed to at least one and maybe more extra days at the park. We had dinner after a few failed phone calls, and went to bed with hopes of working things out in the morning.

8/18 Day 27: Panic in Paint Creek: That's the Way the Axle Crumbles 0 miles

      Ben was forced to spend the first part of the day on the phone- mostly with Velocity, the manufacturer of his hubs. Turned out that the part was still under warranty, and they could overnight whatever he needed either straight to the park or to a bike shop in the area. Luckily, the ubiquitous and helpful staff of the park had taken an interest in us and one of them had volunteered to drive Ben to a shop and back if need be. This looked like it wouldn't be necessary, since another part-time member of the staff, a former park officer and self-styled park bike mechanic, had squirrelled away a set of bike tools when he retired from his full-time gig. We were able to detach the cassette from the remains of the sheared off hub with the box of tools he supplied us, so all that was left for us to do was wait til the next day when the part would hopefully arrive and we could hopefully do some riding. We spent the rest of our day lounging in front of the camp store eating $.33 ice cream bars, looking at maps, doing bike maintenance, and generally just whiling away the hours.
      Ben and Mandi napped in their hammocks while Erin and I went down to the boat launch to take a dip until it was dinner time. We'd had a full day of snacking and relaxing, and we topped it off with some campfire hotdogs and chips with salsa. We squared away the campsite for the night, and hit the hay, willing the needed parts to arrive first thing.

To be continued...

Had a few technical difficulties that kept me from posting more pictures. Hope you guys don't mind the wall of text.

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