'Underground Railroad' ride recap

By guest writer Shyra Allen, this month's ride co-leader

From gardens, parks and riverbeds, to burial places, beer mills and shops, we’ve got hundreds of places yet to explore, treasures yet to unearth and fascinating facts yet to discover. And whatever the weather, Yay Bikes! will find fabulous ways to make a day with us one to remember. After weeks of preparation we’d begun laying odds on Facebook the night before the ride on how many members would brave the weather. Bright and early—well…10 A.M. on March 14, 2015 with the storm building and the rain beginning to pour down in earnest from the skies over Columbus, while most people leaned back on their pillows and headboards of their beds and watched the fury, we gathered. Forty strong—for us Yay Bikes! members there’s no such thing as bad weather, just the wrong clothing, so we grabbed our willies, waterproofs and bicycles headed out for some wet weather fun. We were going underground…The Underground Railroad that is. Come rain, shine or snowstorms, setting off from Whole Foods with Yay Bikes! members, weaving our route—leaving the roads of Upper Arlington there is always a sense of warmth, comradeship and an awe-aspiring sense of adventure regarding our pending destinations. Today was no different—even better, we knew that rainy weather meant quieter roads and less chance of cars clogging our way and Maya and I were leading. With every turn of our pedals our smiles widened.

Saddle worn, wet, but in high spirits we arrived at our first stop in retracing The Underground Railroad. It was the Southwick-Good & Fortkamp Funeral Chapel at 3100 North High Street. Our speaker, his voice soft and shrouded in mystery, informed that it was erected in 1838 and called the Clinton Chapel. During the forty-four years it was used as a church, Clinton Chapel had an eventful history. The church served as a regular station of the Underground Railroad. The owner shared that The Underground Railroad was a secret (and sometimes not-so-secret) network of Good Samaritans, community activists, and family members who helped people escape from slavery before the Civil War. They sheltered, shepherded, and protected total strangers who came to them for help. He couldn’t or wouldn’t confirm or deny the role that his family played. He pointed out a darkened hallway. We peered in awe. He spoke of some suppositions…and then we all began to imagine this scenario today. Total strangers come to our house, seek food, shelter, and help moving to another sanctuary—and helping them is illegal. If caught, we could be fined thousands of dollars and be sent to prison. How many of us would help someone in such a situation today, no matter how worthy the cause or how destitute they were?

As we headed out for our next destination the rain had stopped, the sun was peeking from behind the clouds, we were warmed up and doing what we do best. Talking, laughing—the environment relaxed, people forming new acquaintances. I think I over heard a recipe exchange! It would have been so easy to bask in it all, but we needed to stay on schedule and there was more fun to be had.

Inhaling that after-the-rain-smell we peddled on. This was perhaps the best way to truly experience the landscape of northeast Columbus—the potholes, the smell of flowers and ripening trees, the sounds of dogs barking, the people and hidden treasures of an awakening street. I was reminded of the words of Ernest Hemingway: “It is by riding a bicycle that you learn the contours of a country best, since you have to sweat up the hills and coast down them. Thus you remember them as they actually are, while in a motor car only a high hill impresses you, and you have no such accurate remembrance of country you have driven through as you gain by riding a bicycle.”

We made it to our next stop. Maya spoke. Everyone listened as if nothing else were more important in the world. As we mounted and rode toward our next stop that promised an opportunity to eat snacks Yay Bikes! members were very enthused and inspired and it goes to show that bicycling doesn’t always have to be speed and cool outfits. It can also and does connect folks socially and spiritually too.

Up a steep hill and along long stretches of road we traveled toward the Ohio History Center at 800 East 17th Avenue, where Deanne added to her selfie collection and we sat for a short lecture on John Rankin. He was an American Presbyterian minister, educator and abolitionist. Upon moving to Ripley, Ohio (road trip!) in 1822 he became known as one of Ohio's first and most active "conductors" on the Underground Railroad. While I’d looked forward to the lecture it turned out to be an absolute gem!

The impact this leadership role had on this day and on my life will be everlasting. Even in the little moments I felt like I was doing something—from making it to the top of the hill without stopping to our successfully navigating the five-mile stretch of road in twos. As we headed back toward Whole Foods happiness snuck in through doors I didn’t know I’d left open. A good message about not just bicycling to be a bicyclist but to have an impact on people and to be impacted myself.