(Posted June 25, 2018)
By Dedra Cordle, Staff Writer
Through the haze rippling across the pavement, they rode in like a mirage. One by one, then later in groups of five to 10, sweat-soaked cyclists pedaled down Elm Street with nothing but the Madison County Fairgrounds on their mind.
To them, it was a multi-purpose oasis. At first, it would be a place for fuel and sustenance, a location to seek shade, shelter and showers. Then, it would morph into a place for entertainment, conversation and the occasional beer. On the following day, the oasis would be their base, the grounds to come back to as they traveled throughout the city, spending money at local eateries and meeting the locals. Afterwards, it would become a memory, a story to tell as they once again set off in the smothering heat, on to their next destination.
But before the fairgrounds could become all of those things, they first had to make it to the entrance.
“Woo-hoo!” exclaimed Greenville resident Brenda Hart as she turned her bike onto the property. “I did it.”
Hers was a statement largely repeated throughout the day from her fellow participants in the Great Ohio Bicycle Adventure (GOBA), with the runners-up being a series of blissful sighs and exhausted grunts.
The more than 1,200 GOBA participants arriving in London on June 17 started their day early in the morning at the Delaware County Fairgrounds. The GOBA itinerary had them pedaling 50 plus miles to London where they would spend two days recuperating before travelling to Circleville, Lancaster, Newark and back to Delaware.
“I think we all set out early thinking that we could beat the heat,” said Columbus resident Greg Wilson with a laugh. “Clearly, that didn’t work out so well for any of us.”
Like most of his fellow GOBA riders, Wilson has been active in this annual tour for many years. He says he finds GOBA to be more laid back than other bicycling tours and races.
“It encourages us to explore the towns that we travel through and engage with the local community, since we stay here for multiple days,” he added.
Coshocton resident Brenda Kline expressed a similar sentiment.
“I really enjoy being a part of GOBA,” she said. “Besides the family-like environment, the communities we come across are always very welcoming.”
This event marks Kline’s first biking adventure in London–it is her fourth tour with GOBA–and she said she could not wait to experience the city and spend money in a community that was being so hospitable.
This year was the fourth time GOBA, organized by Columbus Outdoor Pursuits, has made a stop in London. The first time was in 2002, the second in 2006, and the third in 2011.
Wayne Roberts, executive director of Friends of Madison County Parks & Trails, said he wishes the county could host a GOBA stop every year.
“I am just so delighted when they call [and say they would like to stop in London],” he said. “Just so delighted.”
The preparations on the county’s end began as soon as they fielded a call from GOBA in September. From then on, it was a full-on blitz, says Jessica McNeil, communications coordinator for the Madison County Chamber of Commerce.
“We reached out to businesses, churches and local non-profit organizations to see if they could help provide assistance,” McNeil explained.
Their support and willingness to lend a hand made the large operation run smoothly, she said.
In addition to providing a place for riders to stay, local organizers made arrangements for food trucks, a beer garden, musical entertainment, and movies.
“I truly appreciate the town doing all of this for us,” said Doug Gonia of Toledo as he rested under the shade of a tree before beginning to set up his tent for a two-night stay. “It means a lot.”