Thursday, June 20th, 2013
By Eric Adams
GOBA cyclists roll into the area
Riders appreciate sights, hospitality of Grand Lake region
  Backroad sights, new friendships and fitness motivate 2,261 cyclists from around the world participating in the 2013 Great Ohio Bicycle Adventure.
It's the 25th year for GOBA, which began in Urbana on Sunday with the next stop in Troy. Touching closest to home during the 300-plus mile physically-demanding bike trip was Wednesday's stretch from Greenville High School to New Bremen that included brief respites in Rossburg, St. Henry and Maria Stein.
Riders' motivations include a proclivity for staying fit, engaging in quality conversation and visiting locations they'd be hard-pressed to find in most travel guides.
"I enjoy the people you see from previous years, (and) you get to know more every year," said Art Berkemeier, a retired computer technician from Indianapolis, Ind.
Berkemeier was especially pleased to meet a young Amish woman who, despite donning a long modest dress the entire tour, was socially relaxed and readily exchanged jokes with him.
"We all have our impressions about (those who are different)," he said. "But when you get to meet other people, those false impressions fade away."
Berkemeier's friend and riding companion, Daryl Fry, also of Indianapolis, was fond of the Garst Museum in Greenville because he had read extensively about the life of American writer and broadcaster Lowell Thomas, who is one of many historical figures commemorated in the museum.
Both men enjoyed casually cruising Western Ohio's small towns as a change of pace from their typical urban atmosphere.
But Wapakoneta rider Lacey Tester, a 13-year veteran of GOBA, discovered it is possible to unearth treasures even in a region one has occupied his or her entire life.
"You don't get to really see (the local scenery) when you're driving," she said. "We're traveling the back country roads ... (so) even though I live a half-hour away, I'd never take those routes."
Tester said also that she had not tried a Maid Rite loose-meat hamburger prior to this year's stop in Greenville.
"It's a whole different perspective," she said. "You just slow down for one whole week and take in your surroundings."
Kirk Dewitt of Canal Winchester gave a more blunt description of the unfettered, nomadic GOBA lifestyle.
"You're a hippie for a week," he said. "This is the best vacation I've had in my life. I don't have a car or a home; I'm totally free."
Taking a bit of a faster-paced approach to the tour was 18-year-old Nina Hout of Worthington, who said she had not paused at any of the historical stops as of Wednesday morning.
"That would mean stopping biking," she said.
"We see people going in, and try to experience (the sites) vicariously," joked her friend Joel Nadler, 17, also a Worthington resident.
Sites of interest along Wednesday's 50-mile jaunt were majestic cross-tipped churches like St. Bernard's Catholic Parish in Burkettsville, as well as the Shrine of the Holy Relics in Maria Stein, where Sister Barbara Ann Hoying provided curious bikers with a historical overview of Mercer County's settlement in the early 1800s by German Catholic immigrants.
A destination receiving ubiquitous praise was the Bicycle Museum of America in New Bremen. Every wall of this unassuming building on West Monroe street is covered with cycles dating back as far as two centuries and includes enigmatic wonders such as the monocycle, a contraption where the operator actually sits in the center of one enormous wheel.
But Lonnie Caudill of Old Washington was especially drawn to a pea-colored, banana-seated Schwinn Stingray he recalled from childhood.
"I had one just like that when I was in the seventh grade; I rode that thing everywhere," he said. "To see that, I was just thrown back to being 11 years old."
Sixteen-year museum employee Tom Hinkle, who frequents bicycle auctions around the country looking for new museum pieces, said he heard many positive responses.
"We got a lot of people who just couldn't thank us enough, saying this was the main (aspect) of GOBA they would remember," he said.
Hinkle said New Bremen's bicycle museum is the only one nationwide that maintains consistent, year-round hours. The exhibits are periodically rotated - with 300 of the roughly 1,600 cycles displayed at a time - and lent to the Carnegie Bicycle Museum in Pittsburg, Pa.
Regarding the overall accommodation of the riders, 15-year GOBA tour director Julie VanWinkle was impressed with New Bremen.
The local village of 3,000 originally caught her attention in 2007, when it was a brief pit stop on the tour. That year, the bicycle museum was specially opened at 7 a.m. and readily accommodated over 2,000 visitors.
"They were so welcoming and hospitable, and I said 'hm, I think this would be a great town (for an overnight stay),'" she said. "It's not just the great museums and facilities, it's the people."
Scott Frey, executive director for the Southwestern Auglaize County Chamber of Commerce, commended New Bremen School and village employees, as well as the 350-plus volunteers who helped make the hosting possible.
"We've been planning since early November," he said. "The village has really rolled out the red carpet."
Village economic development director Angela Hamberg added that roughly 20 community non-profit organizations contributed to food stands and other amenities for riders.
Mayor Jeff Pape was extremely pleased.
"Any time you can get a bigger spotlight on your village, you can't beat it," he said.
Today, the Freedom Train will be taking GOBA participants on guided tours of the village and from 4-9 p.m., four local high school and middle school bands will entertain participants at the high school.
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