Pittsburgh – boy am I glad to see you

We’ve made it to Pittsburgh after a long hot, then wet, day’s ride, (all will be revealed in the daily summary tomorrow). We’re staying with Patrick our Warm Showers host and have met up with our friend Mike who is joining us on the final section of our trip from Pittsburgh to Washington. It’s 12.30 am as I write this and I’m bushed, so I’d better get some sleep ready to spend our day out of the saddle seeing some of the sights down town. We got a brief glimpse of how pretty the city looked as we travelled over the river on our way to Patrick’s (sorry the picture is a bit blurry) – can’t wait to see it in the daylight.

An unexpected (brief) visit to West Virginia

As we crossed the Ohio River from Stuebenville we thought we’d be entering Pennsylvania but instead found ourselves in West Virginia – a long narrow area called the ‘Panhandle’. So here are a few (brief) facts about West Virginia.

West Virginia is the 41st largest state by area and the 38th most populous of the 50 United States. The capital and largest city is Charleston. It has a Democrat governor, 2 Democrat senators and 2 of 3 congressman are Republican.

The state is noted for its mountains and diverse topography, its historically significant logging and coal mining industries, and its political and labour history.

Summary – day 08 – Columbus to Newcomerstown (Thursday 27 June)

Estimated mileage: 95 miles, actual: 97.69

Avg. speed: 15.0 mph

Cumulative distance: 483.41 miles

It was raining fairly heavily when we woke at 5 this morning, so our plans to leave early were quickly amended. The rain prevented Melissa from having her morning run, but at least it gave me the chance to ask her about her studies in England. Brook couldn’t remember where it had been. However, Melissa told me that she had gone to Leeds! She mostly attended philosophy lectures there, but didn’t remember a great deal about the city. We put that down to over-consumption of cider!

When I’d been showering in the bathroom last night I noticed that water was constantly running out of the toilet cistern and into the toilet bowl. I’m sorry – I’m just the kind of man who notices this sort of thing! I’d been fretting about the waste of water all night – I knew that it was probably an easy thing to fix, but even I wasn’t about to start doing DIY in someone else’s house! I asked Brook how they paid for their water and she told me that water bills were included in their rent. I said that I’d noticed the water running out of the cistern and she’d noticed it too, but thought it only happened immediately after flushing. I said that it was constant because the cistern was overfilling and that it should be possible to fix the by turning the screw on the opposite side of the float to lower it further into the cistern and shut the water flow off sooner. She immediately went to find a screwdriver and was off to fix it! When she’d fixed it, she was delighted. She said that if I achieved nothing else on my trip across America, I should be happy that I stopped an overflowing cistern! I think that my dad would have been quite proud of me!

We had to rearrange our plans for today. Our intended Warm Showers host had emailed us to say that unfortunately they were not able to host us tonight after all. We were looking forward go it – a cabin by a lake! But they had warned us that the people staying there might want to stay on and so it had turned out. It wasn’t a problem and we booked in at the Hampton Hotel in Newcomerstown.

By the time we left it was 10, but the rain had eased and we experienced intermittent showers for most of the morning.

Getting out of Columbus was straightforward – out along Indianola Ave then Morse Road (!). We found the Alum Creek trail and headed north-east towards Westerville and the Hoover Dam, (another one). This was a very different track from the ones we’ve been on so far – it was narrower and curving as it followed a river valley. The sides were very heavily wooded with grasses and ferns around the base of the trees. It was cool and damp and felt quite European.

We’d travelled about 10 miles and had been chatting amiably when Matthew said that he had some exciting news. “What’s that?” I asked. “I’ve managed to trace some bicycle-shaped cookie cutters, they’re in the USA and I’m going to order them and have them sent over to Michael’s.” I said that wasn’t really what I was expecting when he told me that there was some exciting news! Poor Michael, he’s becoming something of a convenient poste restante and forwarding service for us all – I’ve already arranged to have some bicycle transfers sent to him. Our bags are going to him and now some bicycle-shaped cookie cutters!

Ten miles further on and we were talking about out rest day in Pittsburg on Saturday. Matthew said “I found out something exciting about Pittsburg.” My heart sank – not more bloody cookie cutters! “No”, Matthew said, “There’s an exhibition at the Carnegie Science Museum in Pittsburg and it’s called the … Science … Of … The … Bicycle”.
Now that IS exciting!

By this time we’d gotten to the Hoover Dam, it was really spectacular with water gushing out of the bottom. There were several cyclists about and people running too. Seeing the runners reminded me of email that I received yesterday from Berlin marathon organisers telling me that there’s three months to go. I looked at it and thought to myself “What on earth am I doing cycling through the mid-west when I should be in training for a good marathon time?”

The area beyond the Hoover Dam was beautiful – forested rolling hills. We cycled past an enormous deer that didn’t disappear into the trees until we were really close.

We took Central College Road through New Albany; many of the roads seemed new or to have been resurfaced and they were very smooth – perfect for cycling on. It was drizzling on and off by now – but that kept things cool and we didn’t mind it. There were lots of recent, (or not quite that recent but unsold) properties around with some odd-looking landscaping – a bit like a huge golf course with new houses all over it – lots of grassy knolls, ponds and impressively high fountains that perhaps wouldn’t have been so out of place in a city centre, but this was quite rural, so it all seemed rather incongruous). Along the verges there were masses of orange hemerocallis daylilies and tall dusky light blue cornflowers – beautiful.

We joined the TJ Evans bicycle trail at Alexandria. The trail is adjacent to the Racoon Valley Road, (there were no racoons that we could see), and on in to Granville, where we watched a bunch of men and women doing boot camp exercises (sorry no picture – they were big!). We changed to the Cherry Valley trail – over a lovely light iron bridge that crossed a steam – and on in to Newark, passing an amusing cycling sculpture.

Newark is a pretty town, we did a little circulation of the main square to try and find somewhere for lunch. The square is attractive, (but really spoiled by too much traffic). There’s an imposing 1876 Second Empire style courthouse faced in limestone and set in open gardens in the middle of the square. The courthouse has a clock tower that dominates the town, with a copper-coloured roof and statues of justice.

The square also has a lovely 1920s (Midland) theatre, recently renovated by the look of it. Outside the box office there’s a statue of Mark Twain on a bench. (There are bronze statues of ordinary people going about their business all around the town we noticed). Also in the square a Downtown Cycles – a new and welcome addition according to a father and son who were exiting the shop as we were outside admiring it. On the corner near the bicycle shop a lovely building: The Home Building Association Company – a little jewel box of a building. It’s early twentieth century, originally a bank, it has gray-green terra cotta slabs that are edged with border designs, the whole is heavily ornamented and these included a winged lion! The building looks empty and neglected now, which is such a shame.

It was almost impossible to see past all the cars and admire the nice buildings in the square without risking ones life and stepping into the road. The whole square would benefit most from preventing traffic using it as a through way, narrowing the road to single-lane and creating more calming, open-spaces would turn this into a really more attractive place to shop and eat and chat. I don’t suppose they will do this though – car is king and all that.

On our second turn around the square we picked out Simply Rising Café for lunch. I was really pleased with our choice. It’s been a bit if a challenge here in the mid-west to find non-meat, non-dairy/egg food. First of all Simply Rising Café stocked soya milk. Wonderful. Then they had an avocado, black bean and mango salad. Heaven! Matthew had a baked potato and saw a cinnamon roll in a glass case, so asked for one of those. We sat outside in the square and the cinnamon roll arrived first – it wasn’t one from the display, it was huge! And covered in frosting. I burst out laughing. Matthew said that he might leave half if it – he didn’t of course!

We talked with the proprietor and his wife – Edward and Seraphina. They were married recently and had only been running the café for about a year. Congratulations to them both! Edward said they has had lots of cyclists visiting, (I’m not surprised, we’re quite a discerning bunch, tend to be better off and Simply Rising Café was by far the most attractive place we’d seen to stop by at). He talked about setting up a bike rack outside the café – a very good idea and there was already a really nice-looking blue one a little further along the road, with a chainring shape attached to it. I suggested to Edward that maybe he could work with the bicycle shop proprietor to promote some Tour de France screenings in the café! (Only two days to go – now that is exciting!)

There are some ancient native American earthwork circles in Newark, one is the same size as the base if the Great Pyramid. We didn’t really have time to visit and storms were threatening, so we continued on – passing by an extraordinary-looking building that was made to look like a shopping basket! This we later found out is the headquarters of the The Longaberger Company, who happen to make baskets! (More on them and the building here: http://www.longaberger.com/homeOffice.aspx

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On through Hanover and into Frazeyburg. The Frazeyburg town sign indicated that a lock on the Ohio and Erie Canal had been in the town. I remembered reading on the information boards about the 1913 flood in Dayton that many lock gates on the canals were blown up to speed the flow of water away from the area. Many sections of canal were also washed away and I wondered if this area had been affected then. Just outside the town and by the road we passed a big stone channel that was overgrown and I thought that could have been part of the canal. While I telling Matthew about that, it started to rain! just a bit of spotting at first, but it rapidly went dark and quite soon we were inundated. A car drive past – too fast – and sent a massive wave of warm water over me. I was completely soaked through. I couldn’t help wondering if they’d done it on purpose – either that, or they just didn’t care.

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On top of the rain, puncture #3 Mike, rear. It seemed to be quite slow, so I just put some air in the tyre and topped it up until we arrived at our hotel. The rainstorm ended – it brightened and actually we dried up quite quickly.

There were no more cycle trails today, so we followed Garmin’s directions along quiet roads through Adams Mill, Conesville, Coshocton – some hills! Along the Tuscarawas River, through West Lafayette and into Newcomerstown and the Hampton Hotel.

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The Hampton Hotel wasn’t near a grocery store as we’d expected – just a BP petrol station, a McDonald’s and a Wendy’s. So no soya milk and nowhere that I would go to eat. But we’d just cycled almost 100 miles – we were hungry! In the room there was a local guidebook with an advertisement for a local pizza place that would deliver to the hotel. I ran and ordered a vegetable pizza – without any cheese. They could do that! Bought pizza dough is almost certainly not vegan, but it was the best we could do.

We ate our pizza and caught up with some podcasts of recent episodes of The Archers! Ah, the good life!

Somewhere over the rainbow

Our cycling trip in the states has coincided with steps forward for gay equality, both here and at home.

On Wednesday a supreme court ruling struck down the controversial federal Defence of Marriage Act (DOMA) that discriminated against gay couples in the US and barred them from receiving benefits that married couples of the opposite sex could receive. This is a hugely significant decision, it came about because a woman called Edie Windsor was required to pay inheritance taxes on the estate of her dead partner, Thea Spyer – even though they had been a couple for 40 years, were married and had lived together. Their marriage had taken place in Toronto, Canada in 2007. But the same-sex marriage was not recognized – so inheritance taxes had to be paid – taxes that would not have been required if the couple were heterosexual.

Edie is an inspiration and here she is talking about her life at New Yorker Festival:

     EDITH WINDSOR TALKS ABOUT LOVE

The courts here in America have also dismissed another case challenging same sex marriage in California and therefore restored the right to marriage to thousands of gay and lesbian couples there. What a day!

Meanwhile back in the UK the ‘Marriage (Same Sex) Bill has completed its third and final committee stage in the House of Lords (the UK’s second chamber). The Bill will now have a final report stage, a third and final reading in the Lords and then be considered in its amended form by both the House of Commons and the House of Lords. Subject to approval the Bill will then receive Royal Ascent and become law. All of which means, in short, that after 19 years together, me and Mike might be able to get married in time for our 20th anniversary in June 2014!

The changes in law taking place on both sides of the pond, and indeed President Obama’s recent statement on his tour of Africa calling for countries there to drop their homophobic laws are a startling reminder of how far equality has moved for the gay community. When I was growing up the UK government were running an AIDS campaign that pretty much said ‘if you’re gay, you’ll probably get AIDS and die – oh and by the way, it’s you’re own fault’. Added to that the government of prime minister Margaret Thatcher also brought in Section 28 of the Local Government Act, which outlawed the ‘promotion of homosexuality’, which in reality meant that many public sector workers (such as teachers, health workers etc.) were being told by the government that they could not offer advice or help to gay people who sought it, so if you we’re a young gay man (as I was) or women who was vulnerable, then if the government were saying, you’re on your own.

It wasn’t much better at the time I met Mike, when the UK parliament was debating the proposed change for age of consent for gay men from 21 to 16 (bizarrely there had never been an age of consent for lesbians, widely rumoured to be because Queen Victoria would never accept that women would do such a thing as have sex with one another!). Back in 1994 I was 19, so still legally not able to have sexual relations with another man even though I had just met Mike and the fact that my straight friends had been ‘legal’ for two year. In a very typically British muddled way, parliament decided to lower the age of consent from 21 to 18 – not 16. We had to wait until 2000 for the Labour government to force through full equality against strong opposition from the right and the House of Lords. I remember feeling very miffed that not only was 18 an outrageous discrimination, but it also meant the age of consent had leapfrogged me and so I would never get that coming of age moment, (I take any opportunity for a party). I was just suddenly ‘legally allowed to have sex’ – but still a long way from being equal. Fortunately, many people (gay and straight) abhorred this hatred and intolerance and fought back, making the gay community stronger and more visible. This in turn, I’m sure has helped change public attitudes and helped get both the USA and the UK to a place where the majority of the population now support same sex marriage. Thank you to all the ‘friends of Dorothy’ and the ‘friends of friends of Dorothy’ fighting for change. We wouldn’t have got this far without you. The important issue is that it’s surely not the job of the state to say who you can fall in love with or who should be allowed to get married. Now we’ll just have to wait to see when (I’m pretty confident now that it’s a when, not if) the law changes to find out if we won’t have a 20th anniversary after all – and maybe we’ll have a first (wedding) anniversary instead.

Bristol bound hound

The great thing about cycling across the USA is that you meet so many really nice and interesting people. Whether it’s people on bikes, walking or those who just start talking to you as we stop outside a shop. People are always interested (and usually amazed) to hear about where we’ve been and where we’re going on our bikes. We always get asked where we’re from and reply ‘Bristol, England’ followed quickly by ‘it’s about an hour and a half from London’. Bristol is sadly not that well known around the world (or even the UK for that matter – we like to think of our (adopted) home city as the ‘best kept secret’. If you’re reading this (whether you’re in the UK or somewhere else in the world) and you’ve not visited Bristol, you should! We are very proud of our city, its very beautiful Clifton Suspension Bridge and the world’s first iron-hulled propellor-driven Atlantic passenger ship – both designed by the 19th century engineer Isambard Kingdom Brunel. Bristol is also a very creative city and was where the supersonic plane Concorde was built. The Hollywood film star Carry Grant was also from Bristol – we have a statue of him. More recently the city has become associated with the graffiti artist Banksy who grew up in Bristol and the Oscar winning animator Nick Parks and the firm Aardman Animation. Nick Park’s most famous creation is the wacky inventor Wallace and his dog Gromit (who normally rescues him from scrapes and capers). If you like Wallace and Gromit then this summer is an excellent time to visit Bristol as 80 five feet high statues of Gromit, each decorated by a different artist, are being installed around the city. The trail is to raise funds for our Children’s Hospital and at the end the statues will get auctioned. The Gromits are being installed as we speak, so when we get home they’ll have landed all over town, and as Wallace would no doubt say – they’ll look ‘cracking’!

Move over Red Hand Gang

Those of us who grew up in the 1970s will remember the action children’s TV ‘The Red Hand Gang’. This group of inner-city American kids would solve crimes and then leave their red hand mark on fences in the neighbourhood to show where they’d been.

Mike and I have not been solving any crimes on our travels, (fortunately there haven’t been any for us to solve), but we have developed our own mark. Despite the use of factor 55 sun cream regularly applied, the strong sun on out pale northern European skin has left us with some distinctive marks. Between our cycle glove and the cuff of our sleeves our arms have been well and truly toasted to a reddish-brown. We are the red arm gang! A similar shading happens from the cycle shorts down, Mike calls these tan lines ‘the cyclists badge of honour’. I’m sure I’ll be wearing this particular badge for several weeks after we get home, so perhaps I need to get the tan centre to fill in the white bits in between with a bit of spray!

Hog-central

There’s a saying in the UK that if you’re waiting for a bus for a long time then inevitably when it does arrive, two will come along. We’ve had a similar experience today with our new furry friend the Groundhog. Just two days ago we had never even seen one, today we’ve seen five of them. Usually they have been performing speedy acrobatics as they dart out of our path. Anyway, we’re clearly in Groundhog country so I thought I’d do a bit of research to find out a bit more about them, here’s what I’ve learned.

The Groundhog is also known as a woodchuck, whistle-pig, or in some areas as a land-beaver. It is a rodent of the family Sciuridae, belonging to the group of large ground squirrels known as marmots. In the wild, Groundhogs can live up to six years, with two or three being average. In captivity, Groundhogs are reported to live from 9–14 years (so perhaps the message here is that we should all adopt Groundhogs – move over woody the chipmunk!). Groundhogs primarily eat wild grasses and other vegetation, including berries and agricultural crops, when available. Groundhogs hydrate through eating leafy plants rather than drinking from a water source. Groundhogs are excellent burrowers, using burrows for sleeping, rearing young, and hibernating. The average Groundhog has been estimated to move approximately 1 m3 (35 cu ft), or 2,500 kg (5,500 lb), of soil when digging a burrow. Groundhog burrows usually have two to five entrances, providing Groundhogs their primary means of escape from predators (not to be confused with the entrance to a Beaver’s hole, which normally only has one underwater entrance). In most areas, Groundhogs hibernate from October to March or April. Despite their heavy-bodied appearance, Groundhogs are accomplished swimmers and excellent tree climbers.

Famous Groundhogs

Punxsutawney Phil Sowerby is a Groundhog resident of Punxsutawney, Pennsylvania. On February 2 (Groundhog Day) of each year, the town of Punxsutawney celebrates the beloved Groundhog with a festive atmosphere of music and food. During the ceremony, which begins well before the winter sunrise (which occurs at 7:27 AM Eastern Standard Time on February 2 in Punxsutawney),[1] Phil emerges from his temporary home on Gobbler’s Knob, located in a rural area about 2 miles (3.2 km) east of town. According to the tradition, if Phil sees his shadow and returns to his hole, he has predicted six more weeks of winter-like weather. If Phil does not see his shadow, he has predicted an “early spring.”[2] The date of Phil’s prognostication is known as Groundhog Day in the United States and Canada. He is considered to be the world’s most famous prognosticating rodent. During the rest of the year, Phil lives in the town library with his “wife” Phyllis.

Summary – day 07 – Dayton to Columbus (Wednesday 26 June)

Estimated mileage: 87 miles actual: 85.98

Avg. speed: 15.0 mph

Cumulative distance: 385.72 miles

Our cycling kit was still a little damp this morning after we’d rinsed it out in the hotel bathtub last night, so our plan to take the advice of the people we’d spoken to in Roost and have breakfast out at Press Coffee Bar was scuppered. Instead we had to use the hair drier that was in our room to blow warm air over our jerseys so that they’d be wearable.

Perhaps unsurprisingly, the hotel breakfast was the worst we’ve had – really mean and all I could eat were some oats with hot water, then a toasted bagel with some peanut butter. You can probably tell that we didn’t really warm to this particular hotel!

Dayton is known as the ‘birthplace of aviation’ and in an historic district to the west of the city centre and only about a mile from our hotel was the preserved bicycle workshop that had been the main business of Wilbur and Orville Wright when they developed a way to control aircraft – the principles of which are still in use today and which led to their being credited with the invention of sustainable powered flight in a heavier than air machine. The work that the Wright brothers did in designing, manufacturing and selling bicycles led them to believe that balancing and controlling something as unstable as an aeroplane was possible, since they knew that balancing and controlling a bicycle could also be learned.

I love bicycles and I really like aeroplanes, so I persuaded Matthew that we could make time for quick visit to the preserved Wright Cycle Company complex in S Williams Street – even if it was just for a picture outside, it would be worth it!

Our visit to the Wright Cycle Co., far exceeded my expectations. The shop and workshop are in a lovely area, not far from the Miami River. The nineteenth century buildings are made of brick and the roads are paved with bricks too, which ties everything in well. When we arrived outside the shop, I thought that it looked splendid. I was quite happy just to be there and to take some pictures outside. The building was closed, but I didn’t really mind as I hadn’t imagined that it would be possible to go inside. However, across a small plaza was a curved modern visitors’ centre. There was some information about guided tours, but we didn’t really have the time for that. I went in just to have a look around really. On the off-chance and on the basis that if you don’t ask you don’t get, I explained to the woman at the desk that were cycling through Dayton, leaving for Columbus soon, but I wondered if it might be possible to make a quick visit to the Wright’s bicycle workshop. She said ‘Sure.’ Just like that! I was delighted. She called a ranger who had the keys and he took us over and inside the workshop. It was beautiful – lots of exhibits and artifacts, including original Wright Cycle Co. bicycles for women and men. Information about the brothers, cycling, bicycle manufacturing and flying. The workshop was their third and was the one where they made the Wright Flyer.

We chatted to the ranger for a while and while we were there a group of seven women who were also visiting came in too; they also had lots of questions and we all started talking to each other. They were lovely – interested on our trip and I think that they had more questions about us, where we stayed, how we found people to stay with, how far we’d travelled, how our bikes got to America, how we found our way. It was fun talking with them and they were really sweet: they thought that Warm Showers was a wonderful concept and one woman said that if she’d known we were coming, we could have stayed with her!

We had some questions too – we talked about the bicycle trails and I told them about some of the animals we’d seen. I asked if they knew what the small bright yellow birds were: they’re finches; the animal that looks like a beaver is a groundhog. I’d seen a groundhog – amazing! One of my favourite films/movies is Groundhog Day and I’d met a relative of Punxsutawney Phil, without even realising it! The women agreed to take our pictures outside the Wright Cycle Co. store front and took our blog address. If you’re reading this – let us know who you are!

We headed back into Dayton centre and headed for cycle track 3 that would take us from the River Scape Metro Park along the Great Miami River and up alongside the Mad River tributary and then on for 20 miles south east to Xenia, where we would change to the Ohio to Erie trail, which would take us 40 miles and almost all the way to Columbus.

By the Engineers’ Club back in Dayton there was a life-size sculpture of the Wright Flyer in steel. Opposite, in the riverside park where our cycle route would begin we came across a memorial to the 360 victims of the Great Dayton Flood of 1913. The flood caused extensive damage to the city and Matthew read on the information boards that the amount of water passing through the river during the 3-day rainstorm equalled the flow over Niagara Falls each month. There was a beautiful waterfall memorial by the side of the river.

 

It would have been good to have spent a little longer exploring Dayton, but we’d already spent longer there than expected and we were expected at Brooke and Melissa’s house at around 7.

It was warm and the trail long the river was wonderful with a cool breeze. There were views across the water and we saw a beautiful heron standing in the shallows. At the Eastwood Metro Park just outside Dayton in Springfield, we changed to the Creekside Trail that would take us up to Xenia – a major cycle trail intersection.

As we cycled I said to Matthew that I’d read some quite disturbing things about Richmond, (the town we’d lunched in yesterday). In the 1920s during a national revival of the Ku Klux Klan, Indiana had the largest Klan organisation in the country and in Richmond up to 45 percent of white men were Klan members. Matthew said “I know, but I thought I’d better not tell you because I knew that it would upset you!” Hmmm … it’s a bit worrying that he keeps stuff from me. Also that he knows me better than I know myself. He probably thought that I’d refuse to ride through Richmond or be unwilling to eat there if I’d known this in advance. (Actually, that is probably just the kind of thing that I would do. My life is littered with those kind of futile gestures that end up inconveniencing me and achieving nothing very much!).

In Xenia we met a group of older guys out cycling – Bill and his friends were out cycling with Bill’s grandson Taylor. Bill gave us directions to the start of the trail to Columbia. He told us that there are over 330 miles of bicycle trails in the area and that he volunteers on the trails, giving directions and assistance. There are some amazing long-distance cycling events on the trails that Bill told us about and it’d be really good to find out more about them. We gave Taylor our blog address – so hopefully we’ll all be able to stay in touch.

We were a bit hungry by now, so we wanted to get something to eat – that Grand Hotel breakfast just hadn’t done it for us! Bill told us that it would be best to go back into the centre of Xenia. We seemed to spend ages traipsing about trying to find some lunch – it was really difficult today – we ended up in a UDF (United Dairy Farmers) store. Dreadful – very little there that I could eat, but at least some decent coffee (no soya milk of course!). I ended up eating nearly a whole packet of Orio’s – they’re vegan in the US, but not in the UK where they add whey powder for some reason – go figure! Anyway, I felt a little bit sick after that, but at least the sugar rush would propel me for the next 40 miles or so.

The trail was long and straight – just like yesterday – I kept thinking of Groundhog Day! We arrived in a lovely little town called, rather bizarrely, London! By the cycle trail was a really good shelter, picnic area, information board and seating area. A lovely little memorial obelisk was placed nearby to Bill Young (1953-2008) – he died young, that’s for sure – only 55. On the memorial it read: ‘Ride On’ and ‘Bill would say life is like a bicycle, you don’t fall off unless you stop pedalling’. That’s a good way to be remembered.

We could hear faint thunder rumbling in the distance, so we put the hammer down (pedalled hard) to try and outrun it. We didn’t quite make it and a heavy (but warm) rainstorm engulfed us just as we came into Columbus.

That didn’t stop us admiring the city centre buildings and the lovely Short North neighbourhood that we cycled through on our way to our Warm Showers hosts. There were lots of banners and rainbow flags for Columbus Pride on the lamp posts. In some of the bars people were celebrating the striking down of the Defence of Marriage Act (a dreadful homophobic law in the US that prevents same-sex couples from having equal rights with heterosexual couples). The case was brought by Edith Windsor who’s 84 year old and who was required to pay taxes on her deceased partner’s estate – something she would not have had to do if she were married. This is brilliant news – and definitely a cause for celebration.

Some fireworks were being set off as we arrive at Brook and Melissa’s street – wow, we were really being made to feel welcome in Columbus! At the house, there was a party at a neighbours – they were new arrivals. We met Christina, Melissa’s sister who was visiting and Gemma the dog and the two cats: Agnes and Dave.

While dinner was being prepared Christina told us that she was trying to sell her BMW, which she’d bought while she was posted as a nurse in the military in Germany. She was going to have to drive 3 hours to get home. I’m often amazed at the extent to which people in the US seem to think nothing of driving cast distances! Christina also told us that she’d been to England – to London and Stonehenge ! I suppose that for lots of people this is they see of the UK, (which makes the state if the Stonehenge site with its busy roads converging on it, chain-link fencing and rather tatty facilities even more of a national disgrace).

We had a lovely vegan dinner – bliss and chatted. Brooke and Melissa told us that we were only the third guests that they’d had staying with them from Warm Showers. And the first that had jobs! I admired their Vitamix – an eye-wateringly expensive blender, which they really liked and used almost every day for making nut butter, smoothies and soups. I’ve been thinking of getting one, but Matthew said it would clutter up the kitchen work surfaces! Bed and blog! Matthew has been crowing because the blog had had lots of hits – so thank you all our readers and commenters for keeping him happy!

A cunning plan

In preparing for this trip I have been quite organised. I have prepared lots of plans – routes (check), accommodation (check), bag packing list (check). In fact I thought I had everything covered until yesterday! Whilst reading the Ohio Bike free newsletter when we stopped on the trail at London I was disturbed to find out I’d overlooked a plan – we need a dog plan. This is not to be confused with the other dog plan that Mike has been hatching – to get a dog as soon as the poor old cat goes to the scratching post in the sky – but rather a plan to deal with aggressive dogs we meet on our ride. So far we have not needed this plan but the Ohio Bike newspaper assured us we need ‘something to squirt at the dog, something to make a loud noise (they suggested a siren canister), something to best the dog off with and most important a cell phone (or mobile as we would say) to call for assistance’. Being the USA there was a large section of advice on all the evidence you need to collect to be able to make your legal claim against the dogs owner and also a section on federal legislation letting you know when it’s appropriate to kill said attacking dog (in self-defence obviously) without being prosecuted. We have been lucky so far only to have met friendly dogs (including the lovely Gemma who belongs to Brooke and Melissa in Columbus) but in case that changes I am now developing a ‘dog plan’ which largely involves pedalling a lot faster than the dog!