London to Dayton - The woman who sat on the toilet too long (and other odd American tales) - CycleBlaze

May 17, 2014

London to Dayton

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OH HOW I FELT sorry for them. They were three women, teachers in town, and we met because they were getting their bikes ready close to a sign remembering an enthusiast for the trail - a bike-shop owner in town - who'd died from a heart attack on the trail in his mid-50s.

The white sign repeated his favourite saying: "Life is like a bicycle; you only fall off if you stop pedalling."

Two of the three had been touring before, just the one or two nights away. But it was a first step for the third, the shortest one who never lacked a smile. Even when we met again later, as they huddled against the wall of public toilets, abandoning elegance in the hope of getting out of the wind, she was still smiling. But all three looked cold and one looked frozen.

That was about it for the day, too. It rained, it fell to only a little above freezing, and there were two bouts of hail. Not the hail that slaughters cats as they run in the road but, for the middle of May, hail.

The path from London led, puddled and wind-rippled, to Dayton. And another path led from there the short distance to the national air force museum on the outskirts. And the museum made the Smithsonian look puny. I won't bore you with a list of all I saw because perhaps, like me, you just like looking without taking in the names and numbers.

I did see Spitfires in American colours, though, and I mention them because of a story from the era.

American and British engineers used to make bits of planes and ship them across the Atlantic to whichever country was assembling them. And a row broke out because the British couldn't fit American parts to their own. And vice-versa. All the screw holes were slightly wrong.

Making a transatlantic call wasn't as it is now. A day could pass in waiting for a connection, a day in which production came to end. But when the link was made, each side blamed the other, of course. It was always the other country whose engineers couldn't work to such limits.

Then tempers cooled. It was unlikely engineering abilities were going to be different. There had to be something else. And eventually someone found in a book that the British inch had been redefined metrically, to long decimal points of a centimetre. The American inch had stayed the distance between two markers in a sealed tube somewhere. It was only when bits went to and fro across the Atlantic for the first time that such a minute difference became significant.

I don't know which side backed down and used the other's standard, but it's just as well that someone did, don't you think?

Spitfire in American colours: the two countries' builders couldn't agree on an inch. This one was stripped of its guns and used for photo-reconnaissance
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If I understood it right, this is the plane that dropped the bomb on Nagasaki. The first and second atomic bombs are on the floor beside it. Not the ones that were dropped, of course: they were irretrievable
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Today's ride: 81 km (50 miles)
Total: 1,188 km (738 miles)

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