May 22: Geneva-on-the-Lake to Cleveland, Ohio - The Great North American Sticky Bun Hunt - CycleBlaze

May 22: Geneva-on-the-Lake to Cleveland, Ohio

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IT'S NOT EVERY DAY you end up in the Wal-mart staff newspaper. It is, I admit, a low level of celebrity but they seemed proud enough of it in Perry.

We'd gone in just as the rain stopped, to buy food and razors and have photos transferred to CD. Wal-mart, for all its sins, is the only place that always has a way to do it.

The photo counter was run by a lively woman called Diana, inquisitive in the nicest sense, who had travelled all over the USA, sometimes with children in a mini-van, who had entertained exchange students from Europe and then visited them in return. She has a son of 20 who wants to go to Amsterdam, although Diana's voice suggested that it wasn't only out of appreciation of van Gogh and his works.

"I'll get these done for you," she said. "It'll take an hour so go off and have a coffee and when you get back I'll take your photo."

When we returned it was to find not only Diana but most of the staff in that quarter of the supermarket. There was a man to take our picture, and a younger woman called Jodi who was due to be married, and a quiet man who had the air of being in charge. We told our story again and showed our map and then we lined up and I managed to put my arms round both Jodi and Diana as we had our pictures taken.

"We'll put that in our staff magazine and I'll send you a copy," Diana said. I didn't know they had a Guess what sort of whacky customers we've had this month column but I'll know for sure if Diana keeps her promise and sends us a copy.

It's funny to say a visit to a supermarket can be the highlight of the day but celebrity starts low in some circumstances and I'm not one to refuse on a ride that had little else going for it.

We have been riding the single highway that runs along the southern banks of the Lakes. It passes through one posh suburb after another, sometimes on good roads, sometimes on less good roads, always on busy roads. It was never quiet. The sun shone and we were treated to a perpetual parade of mid-life crises as one bareheaded man with a gut and a huge Harley-Davidson after another rode by. Sometimes they were alone, more often in packs. I have nothing against motorcyclists and I've found their interests and their humour to be similar to cyclists'. But there comes a time when numbers become overwhelming. I've no idea how many there were but, genuinely, hundreds passed us each hour, their massive, slow-turning engines sounding like a million amplified Dutchmen clearing their throat. It wasn't pleasant.

We rode on through Eastlake, pausing to bump down an unmade road beneath a sky full of electrical cables to visit the grave of Smokey the dog. I once had a dog called Smokey. It looked just like the one on the grave, but the one in the grave had been clever and the one at home had been remarkably stupid.

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Smokey's story started when an American soldier found him in a foxhole in New Guinea. He gave him to another soldier, who sold him for $6 so he could join a poker game. The dog ended up with a man called Bill Wynne, an army photographer, who taught him to play dead, pedal a scooter, walk a tightwire and all the other things you do in the army when you've got too much time to fill. Smokey also learned to drag cables through holes beneath runways, saving hours of labour by people paid to do it.

Wynne and Smokey went into show business for 10 years after the war, until Smokey died in 1957. Wynne then wrote a book called Yorkie Doodle Dandy: Or, the Other Woman was a Real Dog.

Eastlake: the boulevard of flags, each post with names of soldiers in different wars.
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Eastlake is a town of novelties for, in an L-shape around the city hall, is the Boulevard of 500 Flags. American flags, that is, each pole bearing the name of at least one serviceman. I don't know if they had to die in combat to be commemorated but, if they did, one pole was especially poignant because it bore the name of three soldiers with the surname, possibly brothers, all from the Korean war.

Aaron, Lois and Chris: full of fun.
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WE STAYED in Cleveland with Lois Moss, a bubbly woman whose home is headquarters of a cycling and walking campaign group. The notice boards around the house are hung with newspaper cuttings and accounts of meetings. There is a personal letter from President Obama and his wife.

Their lodger is a strongly built man called Aaron, who works at a bike shop ten miles away and rides to and from daily. It was with Aaron that we went for a meal in an atmospheric bar a couple of miles away. Lois and her friend Chris had gone out, improbably, to a bagpipe concert in the centre of the city. We had seen no end of beskirted men wandering the pavement, looking Scottish, sounding American, and one lot were in full blast of rehearsal as we rode by. Bagpipes are an acquired taste which we haven't acquired.

We talked with Aaron about Cleveland's reputation as dangerous - it didn't seem any more dangerous than many other places we have been, although doubtless there are places best kept away from - and Aaron's observation was that if you were looking to be worried then there was plenty to worry you. The signs were all there but human nature is to see movement in the dark and to suspect it's a burglar and only rarely to hope it's an angel.

Aaron had already helped - led, in fact - in the fitting of a new rack to my bike. Next morning he revealed himself as even more an angel. He had spent an hour and a half after we'd gone to bed, cleaning our bikes, correcting the indexing of the gears, scraping the grime off our chains. The man deserves to be a saint.

ODD NOTE: The poshest area of Cleveland is Bratenahl. It's the last part you ride through if you follow the Adventure Cycling route from the east. And there, cheek of all cheeks, there are notices on the lampposts ordering CYCLE TOURISTS MUST WEAR HELMETS.


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