We're in London! (USA Day 24)

Today was always going to be a challenge. We wanted to get from Columbus to Dayton, which was a good seventy miles, but we’d been staying a little north of the city and our hosts for tonight were a little south of theirs. In the end, Strava told us we’d be riding 84 miles today, a full ten more than we’ve managed together with or without packs.

That’s a toughie. Don’t want to hurt his feelings…

That’s a toughie. Don’t want to hurt his feelings…

We left early, fuelled by pumpkin-spice waffles and scrambled eggs, into the misty morning. Thunderstorms were forecast once again, but by now we’d learnt that this didn’t mean rain all day. In fact, we didn’t get a drop until about ten minutes after we’d arrived. Anyway. Spoilers.

The rail trails in this part of the country are simply fantastic. There’s space beside rail tracks, so stick a cycle path on it. You get these smoothly paved strips of tarmac, straight as an arrow, running hundreds of miles in all sorts of directions, including, as it turned out, west.

Home Sweet Home!

Home Sweet Home!

About thirty miles in, a couple of young men cycled from the other direction, one slathered in a sticky black substance.

“They’re re-laying the surface,” his clean friend grimaced. “It’s like riding on ice.”

“I took a fall,” said the other guy, whose bike and entire left side were black and dripping.

Turns out, if you’re going to be a beautifully smooth bike trail, you’re going to have to trap a few cyclists in your claggy maw from time to time. So we avoided a tarry demise and took the road into London (yes, London), posing at the sign for the obligatory ‘Hey! We’re in London!’ photos, then cycled straight through and out the other side without even visiting the crown jewels.

The day had got hot. Stopping was horrible, riding created a (not always cool) breeze, which did wonders for our mileage. By twelve thirty we were fifty miles down and buying cheese rolls from a tiny supermarket in South Charleston, dwarfed on every side by the huge metal tanks of some sort of factory.

As we sat in the parking lot, sweating for a living, a woman on a mountain bike loaded high with panniers cycled towards us in a hurry.

“Is it good? What do they do?” She was motioning at the supermarket.

“It’s fine. They have supermarket things. Are you on the Adventure Cycling route?”

“I’m on the Nonstop route.” And she leapt off her bike and dashed inside.

This would have meant nothing had we not had a chance encounter a few days back, on the panhandle trail, with a fan of the Bike Nonstop US race, an offroad cross-continental race from West to East, where the competitors cover mad mileage across mad terrain, all self-supported, sleeping a couple of hours here and there at the side of the road before ploughing off east again. This man had been waiting beside the trail for a glimpse of a rider coming through that afternoon. From all this we inferred that she too was in this race, and after grilling her as she came out, discovered that we were correct. Sherilyn Rudney has reached Columbus, it says on the satellite map, and by the looks of it needs a decent night in a decent bed because she was struggling. She’s currently in thirteenth position, having covered 120 miles of tough trail every day for the last month. Just Eastern Ohio, then the GAP and C&O to go, Sherilyn!

The afternoon melted away, our pan-flat trail shimmering ahead of us, the fields on either side flooded from relentless rain. This prompted a new game called ‘Flood or Mirage?’ Mirage won, fortunately.

Our legs held up, even when the terrain turned hilly towards the end and the roads got busy. We made it to Dayton by late afternoon, having covered 87 miles, not 84, because Strava’s always wrong and we always miss our turns. Once again, our hosts took us in like long-lost children. We’re still glowing from the day and looking forward to another. Fun, isn’t it?