Over the bumpy, hilly roads to Annie Oakley’s grave we go!

Mars Girl and old Draisine bike.
I wonder if Giant ever made a bike like this. =)

Because I wanted to visit the Bicycle Museum of America in New Bremen, Ohio, and they had limited Saturday hours, Michael and I left for our adventure in Darke County early the day before the Colavita Ohio Cycling Club’s Annie Oakley Bike Ride. Little did we know that we would have even more adventures than we anticipated ahead of us–a bonus visit to the Neil Armstrong Air & Space Museum in Wapakoneta (I love saying the name of that city) and stumbling upon a bike race in progress in Troy. It was a great weekend that ended with a pretty good ride along country roads in the famous Annie Oakley’s home territory. A perfectly satisfying road trip.

We managed to make it to the Bicycle Museum an hour before closing time. This gave us enough time to get a cursory glance at the three floor warehouse of bicycles from history housed in this small little museum in a town time forgot in Ohio. And it was literally a town that time forgot for after we left the museum, the streets were surprisingly empty of people–I felt like I were walking through an abandoned city after some major catastrophe had taken place.

The museum itself was great. There were bikes of every size, shape, and material ever used. The oldest bike featured was the primitive, wooden Draisine from 1816, which didn’t even have pedals and was propelled “Flintstone style” with the rider’s feet. It didn’t seem very exciting unless you were going down a really big hill, though that was probably far from ideal because I don’t think the thing had brakes on it.

Cool retro bike with Martian green paint job.

Featured in the museum window was a Trek bike once ridden by Lance Armstrong in the Tour de France. I touched it, getting goosebumps at the thought that I touched the same bicycle frame as my wanna-be lover. I noticed that the gear shifter on the handlebar hood was scuffed right over the Ultegra lettering. I wondered if the bike had gone down with Lance on one of his famous falls or if it was just worn down from the wear of many torturous miles over climbing landscapes–I imagine such riding ages a bike quickly.

I took pictures of a lot of the bikes that tickled my fancy. I would have liked to stay longer to continue ogling the multitude of bikes, but the old man manning the museum seemed to be anxious to leave so we strolled on out to take a look at the canal lock that was just down the street (I have a fascination with Ohio’s system of abandoned canalways). I definitely would go back to this museum. And it made me long more to own a retro antique bike just for show. I’d probably display it in my hip basement hangout when it finally gets remodeled.

Since we had passed Wapakoneta on our way out to the Bicycle Museum, we decided to visit at the Neil Armstrong Air & Space Museum. Who’d have thought such a famous man–someone who would be one of the select humans to ever walk on the Moon–would come from a small Ohio town? I found myself wondering what it was like to be Armstrong, growing up in the fields of rural Ohio, dreaming perhaps of flying, maybe unaware that he could possibly dare dream of touching the stars. I’m so envious! It made me wonder what young children growing up right now will bear even greater legacies of setting foot on foreign planets (like Mars), a dream that is probably beyond my own reach. One does not know they are bound for greatness as it happens; it simply falls upon you while the rest of us eek out our average existences. I would give up everything short of my soul for one chance to orbit the Earth a shuttle or on the International Space Station. I’d gladly take the chance, despite the fate of the last American flight that attempted to take a civilian to the stars.

The museum ran a film about the first Moon landing and I got to watch pieces of original TV broadcasts. It made me feel as though I were there, even though I was born six years too late to witness the thrill first hand. My generation suffers from the firm knowledge that humanity once landed on the Moon, but we don’t know anything about the uncertainty of that day. We don’t know the fears shared by the people of the world as they watched, uncertain of success, fearing that the mission might fail. But we succeeded and what a glorious moment it must have been. It just blows my mind. We have so much better technology now–if only the public would put funds forth to continue space exploration to this scale. If I could, I would volunteer to be an astronaut without pay. (My family thinks I spend so much time in the hemisphere, I already am an astronaut.)

On accident, Michael ended up booking our hotel stay in Troy, Ohio. He had originally meant to get us something closer to the Darke County Fairgrounds, where the Annie Oakley ride was to begin the next day. Turns out our mistake actually brought us happy fortune, for when we went into town in search of dinner, we encountered an amateur bike race in progress around the town’s square. I learned a new word: criterion, which is a type of race where the cyclists ride a laps along the same course. It seems like it would be boring after awhile, but on this particular race, the riders rode several blocks around the town square for 57 miles! We happened upon the race during the last twenty or so laps, so we got to watch the riders burst across the finish line. Having never before witnessed a bike race, I was really thrilled by the experience.

Of course, we were checking out all the bikes, hunting for fellow Giant riders. We saw one or two and, of course, your regular stock of more expensive uppity brands such as Fuji and LeMond. We were later delighted to learn that the guy who came in second place was from Orrville–kind of local to the Akron area.

We spent the rest of the evening at a local restaurant serving an Americanized version of Asian cuisine. Sitting at a table on the outdoor patio, we drank two glasses of pinot grigio and watched a father-son duo playing harmonica and guitar instrumentals. The son was eleven years old and a harmonica virtuoso baring an entire case full of different harmonicas of every size and musical scale. I was impressed. It was the perfect way to relax the night before our big ride.

As I stated earlier, the Annie Oakley ride began at the Darke County Fairgrounds in Greenville, Ohio. For those of you who aren’t familiar with Ohio, Greenville is in the southwestern portion of the state, about an hour north of Dayton and ten miles from the Indiana state line. This was a new area of the state for me to explore, though not entirely since last year I did the Vandalia Freedom Tour, which takes place just north of Dayton.

The day began with gray skies and the possibility of rain, but it was humid and warm. I was determined nothing would keep me from completing this ride because of my prior failures with bailing on the ABC century and being forced to quit the MS 150 century in my best moment. I’d decided during the prior week that this was a rainy summer and I was just going to have to deal with the results of that fact if I ever wanted to make my 3,000 mile goal for this year. So I knew right off the bat that I was in it for the long haul.

Immediately the ride took us out of the busier streets of Greenville (which really weren’t that busy at 7:30am) and into the wide open country roads–the type of place I love so much because a cyclist is rarely disturbed by the passing car. The sun was trying to break through the clouds, I could tell. We were quickly passed by an anti-social chick determined to grind it out, we could tell, without stopping or appreciating her surroundings (we later learned she blew into the lunch stop at 10:30am and just grabbed a banana and some Gatorade and was off again). Everyone has their reason for riding, I suppose.

The road markings were pretty easy to follow and clear–we didn’t get lost immediately (as what happened on PVG last year). The route had us going north first to the unimpressive site of Annie Oakley’s humble beginnings. None of the original structures remained (and that much was obvious), but we learned later from the historian at the cemetery that she was probably born into nothing more than a shanty as her home. We missed the marker that was supposedly positioned somewhere before the property and we never had the time to go back to try to look for it (as a Highpointer, I’m a bit blue about this). Had we known it was there at the time we passed, we surely would have tried to look.

The second Annie Oakley site was, of course, the cemetery where she was buried in 1926. According to the historian, Oakley visited Greenville frequently because she always considered the area her home. While on one of her trips back to Darke County on business, she fell ill and died of some sort of blood anemia that they speculate may have been caused by all the lead shot she handled throughout her career. Sadly, her husband, already ill, stopped eating when he learned of the death of his wife (he was in Michigan at the time) and he died fourteen days later.

What a testimony of love! It’s been something I’ve noticed for a long time that often when an elderly person’s spouse dies, they die shortly thereafter–heart broken or lonely, I’m never quite sure. I think having gone through the loss of a spouse, I understand this on some level. I know that I was hurting so bad in those first few months after my husband’s death that I wanted to die too. My husband and I were only together for three years; I can’t imagine what it would feel like to loose a companion with whom you’ve spent twenty, thirty years with… It must be really grueling to be without someone you’re so utterly used to having around. To say the least.

Faking a shot with my Finger 45 over Oakley’s
grave as tribute to a great markswoman.

We stuck around the cemetery for a good half hour listening to the historian relate interesting facts about Annie Oakley’s life and I found myself really inspired to read a biography of this woman who made living for herself in a time when women had so much adversity to face when dealing in a man’s world. Yet, the historian stressed that Oakley was very passionate about preserving her femininity and dignity as a woman, that she never once traded her femininity for masculine traits to compete. I can respect that on so many levels as I struggle daily with understanding my own gender role and how to behave in society as a woman. It’s hard for me, as a feminist, to figure out how to appreciate my feminine side when I feel like it’s my weakness if I want to be respected by men as something more than an object of sexual desire. It’s a problem I’ve dealt with my whole life, sometimes causing me to force myself to masculine traits even though the feminine side of me is speaking. I never know how to be one or the other and sometimes I deny myself my true desires because I feel they follow the same dull path that every woman has tread since the beginning of time (ie, having children and being a mother). It probably seems like a stupid war to wage with oneself, especially if you are a man reading this, but I think it’s something a lot of independent, professional women struggle with. To me, it’s kind of reassuring that there’s a role model out there who didn’t see herself as a feminist at all (was that word even invented back then?) and was comfortable enough with herself to say, “I am a woman and I happen to be a great marksman.” I sure wish that kind of statement could come as easily from my lips!

Anyway, after the cemetery, we continued on the ride. At this point, the clouds had cleared and the day grew warmer in the sun’s appearance. The only problem we faced now was the steady winds from the southwest that made riding south and west quite a challenge. Michael and I did begin trading pulls together. Additionally, the route north was pretty flat. Once we passed Greenville to go south, the route changed to a rolling rural landscape. It wasn’t anything extremely difficult if you’re used to rides into and out of the Cuyahoga Valley, but with the wind, it was a little bit of a struggle.

I had a particularly difficult time between 65 and 75 miles. This is unusual for me as I usually am good up to 80 miles, after which I slowly slip into a state of dull and determined mindlessness as I push myself through the final twenty miles. I am not sure what happened in between these middle miles that put me into a premature funk–perhaps it was the heat and the sun beating down, right after lunch, or that I hadn’t used my climbing muscles in the first fifty miles. Either way, I was losing “gas” quickly.

When we got to the final rest stop in a dismal border town called New Paris, I immediately lay on the seat of a park bench and slowly drank water as Michael talked to the guy running the rest stop. Turns out we were only the 11th and 12th people who had come through on the century route of the two hundred or so people who rode the ride that day. There were various route lengths–15, 25, 50, 62, and 100–and it seems most people chose to take the 50 and 62 routes. We speculated that perhaps it was the heat that drove people away from the century or the continued threat of afternoon thunderstorms.

This break at mile 76 turned out to be just what I needed, for when I returned to my bike, I felt energized again. The skies were beginning to look a little gloomy again, threatening rain or t-storms, but I didn’t really care. It was so hot, the thought of rain was welcoming. In fact, as we rolled out of town, rain did begin to fall. I didn’t even bother to don my rain coat, though I’d lugged it around my waist all these miles. I didn’t even put my shoe covers on. I think there’s a point in a ride of this length where you just don’t care what conditions Mother Nature throws at you and I think I’d reached that point.

After an initial bit of light rainfall, a misty precipitation continued for almost the remainder of the ride. The weather was a little strange for July and was slightly reminiscent of TOSRV except warm. The sun would come out again, reheating everything, and then it would misty-rain again or rain in slow big drops. I took it all in with grace.

Along one country road, two dogs ran out into the road from a nearby yard. As is my automatic response whenever I see dogs (due to an unfortunate incident four years ago in Colorado), I immediately clipped my left foot out of the pedals, ready to kick a dog or catch myself should one decide to take a run for my tires. Michael was ahead of me, so the dogs assaulted him first. At that moment, I was slightly grateful. Good, he’ll distract them, I thought. I saw both dogs lunge at his bike and he swerved. Worried that he would fall, I pushed a little harder to catch up with him. He shouted at them and they backed off. By the time I reached the dogs, they both were unnerved enough that they just watched me pass.

Turns out, one of the dogs had taken a nice bite of Michael’s leg. Little shits. His leg was bleeding a little and you could see clear teeth marks in his skin. He tried cleaning it off with some water. I cursed myself for not carrying Neosporin in my saddle bag. I used to keep some in my camelback and it was probably still there, but I rarely use the camelback anymore. The injury wasn’t show-stopping, so we continued along the route, damning dogs that bite for the next couple of miles.

Overall, the route was very pleasant and probably contained the most roads with so little traffic I’d ever done on a registered ride. It was nice to be able to ride side-by-side with Michael and not have to worry so much about cars coming up from behind. Some of the roads were not in the greatest condition, but I’ve been on worse in Portage County by my house. Even the worst roads (chip and seal with patches of little stones recently laid to cover potholes) were not as bad as a few of the ones the PVG tour put us on last year. We had one nice, crunchy climb out of the valley in which New Paris was located and I enjoyed it even though it was on one of these said stony roads.

Happily, the route was 102 miles so we didn’t have to ride around the Darke County Fairgrounds to try to round up our miles to 100 appropriately. (Michael had earlier warned that if it was under 100, he was going to ride the miles to 100 and I agreed heartily that I would do the same. I think he figured I’d wimp out like I did on the MS 150 when it came to 91 miles, but I was not going to make that mistake again this year! I hadn’t done 100 miles since TOSRV, I needed this.)

The only thing I was disappointed about was that we didn’t make it into Indiana officially. Well, later one of the ride organizers explained that we were briefly on the Indiana line along one of the roads after New Paris (I think it was Hollandsburg-Richmond Rd). I wish the organizers would have marked the spot with a sign or marking on the road to satisfy nerds like me who are concerned with the monumental details like riding my bike into another state. If we had known how, I think we would have ridden from New Paris into Indiana just to say we did. Knowing that I’d actually been in Indiana for a brief period of time (though not marked by official road sign), would have saved me the grief of beating myself up for not taking on the extra mileage.

We were apparently the last ones in from the ride, which seemed to bother Michael more than me. I was slightly annoyed–I like to be in the middle of the group–but when you consider only twelve people did the century, I’m less disgruntled. Besides, I’m always satisfied to have completed the route. We got done around five, so it was a little later than I would have liked, but we did okay considering the wind and the hills. It was certainly the hilliest century I’ve ever done, but that’s not saying much as the only other centuries I’ve completed were in pretty flat country (TOSRV only had one hilly section). My average was 14.4 mph; Michael’s was 14.5. We completed the ride in just over seven hours (not including rest stops and chatting with the historian). Not my best time ever, but the point was that I had fun.

Would I do this ride again? Probably. I really dug those scenic country roads, especially in the tougher southern portion of the century. In fact, I would recommend the century route to anyone doing this ride because I think the southern portion of the route really offers the most interesting scenery (the northern portion was nice, but less exciting). I think those doing the 62 route only got the tip of the iceburg at the lunch stop in the beautiful historic park at Fort Jefferson.

The commemoritive t-shirt that I bought was really cool, featuring an old west style banner with a photograph of Annie Oakley and big western lettering detailing the date and name of the ride. I’m glad I bought it. The jerseys were nice too–I kind of wish I’d gotten one but I guess I probably have spent enough money on jerseys this year.

Anyway, for a ride that is only in its second year, I was really impressed with how well it was run. My only complaint would be the lack of SAG vehicles running along the century route. I didn’t see a SAG vehicle past the lunch stop. Not that I needed one, but it’s a comfort to know they are available when needed and it assures you that people are still looking out for you. As there seemed to be an overabundance of volunteers at most of the rest stops, it seems a few of them could have been running the routes. Fortunately, at the end of the ride, we were met by one of the ride organizers who was still around. I don’t know if he was waiting specifically for us, but it was good to not return to a vacant park with a feeling of abandonment.

6 thoughts on “Over the bumpy, hilly roads to Annie Oakley’s grave we go!

  1. You were in Wapakoneta! That's where the ride that Jeff & I wanted to do this past weekend was (Summer Moon Festival Ride), which we couldn't do after all because we hadn't marked it on the calendar yet and then made other plans that we couldn't back out of. There's hopefully next year…

  2. Yes, I had heard from the ride volunteers of Annie Oakley that that ride took place on Saturday… lots of bike events in the area that weekend, including other races that we did not know about or see.When you're in Wapakoneta, visit the cool Neil Armstrong Air & Space museum–it was fun!!

  3. Michael might want to call the county dog warden, or whatever it might be, to complain about the biting dog. The more trouble people get into for letting their dogs run, the fewer loose dogs there’ll be. “You Can’t Get A Man With A Gun” goes Annie’s song, but there’ve been a few dogs I’d like to have gotten with one and I’m a dog lover.

  4. I’m a dog lover too, but irresponsible pet owners piss me off. A dog is a dog–who knows why it decided to bite Michael. People need to be more responsible for their pets… I mean, regardless of pestering passers-by, doesnt it seem logical to keep a dog penned in or on a chain for its own safety? If it’s prone to running after people and cyclists, it for sure will run after cars… which could kill the dog. If you loved your animal, you’d keep it safe for its own good… so that you have your buddy for more years to come!

  5. Comfy Jeans–I did catch this article last month. Scary, eh? I thought the picture was faked when it was first sent to me. Ugh!

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