Afternoon Tea Outside in a Gale (USA Day 25)
Turns out this isn’t a cycling tour at all: it’s mainly cats. Ah, who am I kidding, it’s all cats. There’s a strong negative correlation between the number of cats in a house and how early we get to leave. This morning: one (fluffy, no tail, plays fetch) so we didn’t leave before 11.
Dayton’s famous for its connections to flight: The Wright Brothers had a bike shop in town and used the profit from it to build their first planes right here, even though they test-flew them in West Virginia. Within three years they’d sold it to the military, and now there’s a massive air force base and the monolithic National Air Force Museum, that we’d been told (correctly) was quite a spectacle. It was, however, ten miles in the wrong direction, so we changed our plans for today’s destination and re-routed, finding the fun in what might have been quite a dull day, even if it meant finishing twenty miles further up the road.
The museum was enormous, impressive and quite sad. These hangars were packed full of killing machines, each one a marvel of technology, but still very much a killing machine. There was the very plane that dropped Fat Man over Nagasaki, a Flying Fortress that dropped hundreds of tonnes of explosives over Germany, and so on. No question, these vehicles, manned by people braver than me, contributed to the winning of some pretty important wars, but I wasn’t prepared to stand in front of them and appreciate them as things in themselves. I just felt a bit sick.
Our ride was short but incredibly tough. From the second we left the museum, a 30mph headwind pushed us straight back in again, and it continued as we pushed due West. The rain flashed on and off as the dark bands of cloud zipped by, making our afternoon a slow-paced hokey-cokey donning and removing our anoraks. The road had regular unavoidable cracks that bumped horribly, and even in low, low gears we still felt like we were riding through sludge. By twenty-eight miles we were exhausted, and found ourselves pulling into a random driveway to rest and quite possibly eat a muffin.
“Come in!” called a man, with a strangely English-sounding voice. “Cup of tea?”
I couldn’t believe my general ear/eye area. Up strode a tall, kindly man in denim dungarees and bare feet, half-covered in mud, quite clearly from Gloucestershire going by his accent, offering us a seat at his garden table.
Steven and his wife Zella met in Africa in the eighties on VSO, fell in love and settled on a farm in Ohio, but not before touring thousands of miles together on a tandem bike. We shared touring stories, sipped tea and munched flapjacks, and wondered what tiny chance brought us to their porch when so many others would have done. Before we left they filled us a bag of freshly-picked tomatoes and lettuce and refused any payment. Then we emerged from this sanctuary and back into the wind, as if none of it had happened at all.
I can’t pretend the final fifteen miles were any easier, but they had a certain glow to them. Our chance meeting with Steven and Zella had filled us with love for the world and its odd ability to throw you gifts just when you need them. Arriving in Eaton concave and sallow, we rolled up to a Fire Station and asked to pitch our tent in their picnic area. They, like everyone else in this country, were kind beyond understanding, asking us in to watch baseball and munch on crackers, have a shower, do some laundry, sleep on their sofas. We didn’t do all of those things, but the crackers were delicious and now I understand baseball.