A rolling circus of sorts assembled Saturday afternoon at the Butler County Fairgrounds, with camping tents and many bicycles.
About 1,600 cyclists from across Ohio, and from other states and Canada, many of them 60 or older, convened to peddle in the week-long 28th annual Great Ohio Bicycle Adventure, the 28th annual ride.
This circus will do just a little entertaining — a Saturday evening “Outta this World” parade from the fairgrounds to Hamilton’s RiversEdge amphitheater was to feature bicyclists disguised as aliens and their two-wheeled vehicles looking like UFOs — but the event is mostly an observational visit with the region and its people.
“This will be No. 12 for me, I think,” said Don Mason, 77, of McConnelsville, south of Zanesville. “I like to ride. My friends keep coming. It becomes a habit, I guess.”
Mason said he’s glad the event is happening this week because he’s eager to get away from news reports discussing the Orlando shootings: “There’s nothing you can do directly about it,” he said. “I like the little towns, too.”
There are many with white and gray hair making this year’s ride, including Darrell Brown, 62, of Tipp City, whose twin brother, Dave, and his mother, Ella Brown, of Florida, dropped him off and will pick him up a week later from Hamilton. Like many, he’ll camp out each night. Others will stay in motels.
In the two months before each GOBA ride, “I train probably 500 miles just for this one week,” Darrell Brown said. “I’m looking forward to the hills, as opposed to last year’s, which was flatter. And I’m looking for better weather.”
One reason this year’s attendance is down from the hoped-for 2,500-plus may be last year’s soaking rains up near Bowling Green, which he and many others still haven’t forgotten. The rain waterlogged riders’s spirits so much that last year’s final day was cancelled. This year’s hilly terrain also may have intimidated some.
“We haven’t been back in this part of the state since 1998 with our bike tour,” said Julie Van Winkle, of Columbus, who stepped in as event director in recent days. “This part of the state is perfect for us” because of the varying terrain, quiet roads and small towns, she said. Plus: “We’ve never been to Hamilton before.”
Riders start each day between 6 and 9 a.m. and have three planned food stops and designated restroom stops each day at towns they pass through, often with entertainment at the stops. Each overnight town includes family-friendly special evening entertainment that’s also open to people of the community.
This year’s ride, which is not a race, will take in Hamilton, Eaton, Oxford, Brookville, and Miamisburg, along with small towns between them, before reaching Hamilton again. The more rugged riders who decide to peddle all seven days instead of the required five will travel about 410 miles, with the rest traveling about 280, Van Winkle said.
About two dozen people have participated in all 28 GOBA rides, Van Winkle said.
This year’s journey has some sadness: Bill Gordon, 57, of Columbus, the event director for GOBA and other biking events, died a week earlier while riding with friends. Friends were writing well-wishes on a large card.
Don Lehman of Hilliard has ridden 15 adventures in a row, including several on a tandem bike with his daughter, before “she decided her Apple phone and her boyfriends were more important,” he said. “I think the best thing is the disconnect: No radio, no TV, no newspapers.”
Plus, “small towns are the building blocks of America, and that’s where the best people are,” Lehman added.
For information about next year’s event, whose location will be announced in November, go to www.GOBA.com or call 614-273-0811.
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