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

May 16, 2014

Newark to London

Gene, my trail angel... and a really interesting guy
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EVERY TUNNEL has a light at its end. In my case, it was a man called Gene. He is a trail angel, a man who rides up and down with no greater hope than to find another cyclist and help him. But until then, I had to pay my dues.

This, really, is the story of crossing Columbus. It seemed such a good idea, seeing this city with so many novelties - Arnie frozen in glory, the world's largest gavel, a French painting recreated in bushes. I was convinced I was doing the right thing.

But Columbus, the narrow corridor that I rode anyway, is horrible. It is surely, I hope, the only city in America where a tattoo parlour can advertise: "We accept food stamps as payment." Who would rather have a tattoo than enough to eat? How desperate must you be for just a little relief in life for another tattoo to please you?

Columbus is white men with colourless faces and long, thin, unkempt hair. Fat women shuffling with plastic supermarket bags and big bottoms in black tights. Black men walking eyes straight ahead and slightly down, in a world they resent and which, I assume, they think resents them. Closed businesses with blind, boarded eyes. Churches in people's homes and in shops where litter is greater than congregation. And supermarkets boasting different ways to buy alcohol at "state minimum prices." And offices willing, for a price, to put up the bail to keep you out of jail.

Perhaps there are happier, sunnier parts of Columbus. I expect there are. Most cities have grins as well as groans. But I didn't see them.

Not before time, I got out the other side, on the busy but tolerable road that passes the larger supermarkets and more prosperous sort of church. The houses no longer sat on the sidewalk and scowled; they relaxed in tree-lined driveways, protected by red burglar alarms and, sometimes, cameras.

I was heading for London, where I knew there was no campground but there were motels, and I was riding a smooth and slightly rising bike path created from one of the tracks of a railway which still caters to local businesses. It was getting late, it was starting to darken, and rain was waiting with impatience,

And then at that moment a rider in a yellow reflective top and a helmet came the other way, took his unclipped feet off the pedals and gave every sign he wanted to chat. So we did, and he urged me to use not a motel, which in any case would be four kilometres beyond town, but a hostel behind a bed-and-breakfast in the centre of town.

Gene is close on 81 and lives with a passion for this trail. He rides it daily and little pleases him more than to offer a service. He's from Virginia, originally, but he came to the area decades back to work on the radar installation that tracks civil aircraft crossing the skies.

"I came out of the war and trained with the help of the GI Bill [which provided and still provides an education for servicemen leaving the armed forces] and I stayed. I worried how I'd fill my time when I retired but the trail has kept me pretty busy, helping set it up, running it and so on."

He doubled back to escort me not only the 12km to London but the door of the hostel, of which I'd known nothing. And then he rode off the way he'd come, with a wave, back home, a trail angel who'd done his good deed.

A trailside memorial remembers the day the local bike-shop owner and philosopher of the saddle fell and died on the trail he loved
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Wayside halt, wayside flowers
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End of the train, end of the line
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Today's ride: 119 km (74 miles)
Total: 1,107 km (687 miles)

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