Leveling Out

Following a rough ride over Ohio hills and broken roads, I look forward to easier riding. Last night at Chapz Bar & Grill I was told that after nearby Barnesville, it’s flat until the Rockies. He-haw!

But today’s challenge isn’t about hills. I feel like I’m pedaling nowhere on this bike. Slight downhills actually feel strenuous. That’s not a good feeling, and neither are my allergy swollen eyes. It’s a heat wave and I’m sweating bullets, which stream sunscreen into my eyes for an added burn.

Meanwhile, my legs are lethargic. I would lube my chain to reduce resistance, but the bottle fell out of my bag leaving Pittsburgh.

Along my route pickup trucks tow mud-caked vehicles that look like the love child of an ATV and tractor spawned at some kind of Labor Day weekend derby. These trucks blow by me on the side of the road. I’m walking the bike because it feels faster than pedaling.

Uninvited company
In Barnesville, a well-stocked grocery store saves me from a greasy or fried lunch. I purchase fresh watermelon cubes, cantaloupe chunks, strawberries, blackberries, bananas and some plain yogurt. Refreshing, healthy, light and delicious. I balance a can of coconut water in Countri Bike’s basket, a move that backfires when I hit a bump leaving the parking lot. The can ricochets off my leg, scraping skin, and rolls under the back tire, which flattens the still unopened can. This bike is truly a tank.

I picnic on the steps of the local library. A curious grasshopper interrupts my meal by jumping on my arm, startling the bejesus out of me. Instinctively I fling my arm to get it off, but launch my iPhone 5S into the concrete steps, cracking the screen. I commiserate over a chocolate shake at the Dairy Queen a block away.

Of gravel and dogs
Leaving Barnesville, Google Maps routes me onto a God-forsaken gravel road in the middle of nowhere. Fortunately Countri Bike's tires can handle the terrain. Just as I cross into Guernsey County, I come up on a rural house guarded by dogs. My eyes widen in fear as two doberman pinschers charge at me barking commands that I cannot understand.

In my pre-trip reading, I recall the advice to get off the bike because dogs are in it for the chase. Just as I dismount, their owner comes outside to investigate the fuss.

I take the opportunity to ask him (1) what the heck happened to the pavement and (2) how much longer until I find some again. About five miles I’m told. That’s gonna feel like forever bouncing over these rocks, but an Amish couple down the road reassure me it’s all downhill to Ohio 265 West.

Amish encounter
Two miles later I come across a scene from an 18th century painting. Beautiful children in old fashioned attire watch me curiously from the roadside. I ask if they are Amish and they nod affirmatively. I think Amish children are the most beautiful Americans. Their perfect skin and model-like facial features complement tidy attire. They dress like mini adults yet have the purest of faces. In my next life I want to be an Amish child.

Outside the main house men ready horses and carriages for a trip into town. Bonneted women chat on a wraparound porch overlooking forested hillsides. There is banter among the genders and some horse play—literally.

I strain my ears to overhear what they’re saying. Either I can't hear them clearly or don’t understand. It turns out they are speaking a dialect of Old German.

I reach the promised pavement of 265 West, which is thankfully the best road I’ve seen in Ohio. I pedal through Quaker City and Lore City that are barely towns much less cities. In Salesville I find a sweet spot: the Sugar Shack where I pull over for peppermint soft serve. What more could a weary cyclist want to beat this late summer heat wave? Before I can load Instagram, the pink ice cream is pouring over the cone. I skip the photo and stuff my face.

Cambridge, Ohio
My Cambridge host Adam is painting the back porch when I arrive. He’s three years older than me. Originally from upstate New York, he moved here to work for a consulting firm contracted by a pipeline company. However, two days ago he was let go and is now hoping to sell the house and find a new job in a place with a more active social life.

Adam tells me how steel manufacturers, National Cash Register and Champion Spark Plugs once had a big presence in the area. Nowadays, oil and gas keeps Cambridge’s eight different banks in business.

The city was best known for Cambridge Glass. Depression-era glass fabricators required 20 to 40 people to make one glass, which was sculled, etched, acid washed and polished by hand.

Adam and I hit up the only non-fast food restaurant open on Labor Day eve. On the way, he directs me to stop in a parking lot to look for glass slag mixed in among the gravel. I find a jade colored piece that’s nicely striated and pocket it as my Cambridge souvenir.

My mediocre steak salad dinner suddenly tastes fantastic. Adam offers something irresistible, and it’s up to me to accept it.