Back Home Again in Indiana

Fueled up on the fantastic breakfast that Lavonne and her beautiful family shared with me,  I was rested and ambitious enough that I decided I could to make it to Rensselaer, Indiana, where a farming family said they could host me if I succeeded in making the 90 mile ride. There was a steady headwind, and although I was primarily riding due west through endless corn and soybean fields, whenever my route took a 90 degree turn on the grid system roads, it seemed the wind changed to insist upon slowing me down just a bit. It had stopped raining, finally, and the July heat was back, hovering in the mid to upper 80s. Cow and I drank lots of water.         

Soy and corn, as far as the eye could see, all day! Hardly any houses, and almost zero stores. Along the way, we stopped at a WS host’s farm house, whose profile indicated she welcomed people who just wanted to stop for water and to say hello, even if they weren’t camping out for the night. I knocked on the door with a few empty water bottles and met a kind woman named Frances, who replenished my H2O and also offered me iced tea and  a decadent slice of chocolate cake. I sat outside and, having already had my dessert first, had a PBJ lunch, and we talked about her large family (8 children and something like 50 grandchildren), and discussed her farm and beautiful gardens that she’d been working hard on. Petunia had a little nap in the grass as she told me a story about one of her cyclists guests who had once explained to her granddaughter the best things about bicycle touring. “He said that, number one, the most wonderful part is all of the people that you get to meet, and secondly, the way you get to see the country in an entirely different way than if you were to drive across it on the interstates. But the worst part of it is waking up and getting on the bike every morning.” Ha! Spoken like a true long distance rider. 

Frances’s yard, an oasis in a sea of corn:We said our thank yous and goodbyes and pedaled on until we crossed into the Central Time Zone, which was helpful because it bought me an extra hour on the clock to haul the last 10 miles by 7 PM, our anticipated arrival time. In a day, we’d raced across over half of the width of the state of Indiana.  When hosts Kyler and Kimberly greeted me, I was so tired and happy to get off of the saddle that I felt a little loopy. Kimberly’s three daughters played fetch with Petunia whie I washed up in the guest house that they’d invited me to stay in. When I came back out, they’d set up supper for me next to their fire pit, an arrangement of some of my absolute favorite things- salmon and beets with fruit and pumpkin pie. It was heavenly.  I’d arranged with them to have a rest day at the house, so we said goodnight and I prepped my bike for another night of rain. Petunia found a comfy spot on their big bean bag chairs and we had a very relaxing evening. 

      

On my day off, we finally got some afternoon sunshine and I hand-washed the smelly tent and set up a line between two trees to dry my gear while their chickens ran around happily. I did regular laundry and some bike maintenance as well, then went to lunch with Kyler at the town’s new restaurant and we had gyros. 

  

Tunes says hi to chickens- once they start running, she goes into tag mode and runs away.   
A farmer and engineer, Kyler was working on developing tractorbots, and I helped out for a few minutes, and even got a demo of this large unmaned machine in action. The tractor had been in the family for a few generations, and bore handwritten inscriptions with some dates noted by his grandfather and his father. When I asked if he’d left his mark on it yet, he said he’d given it a couple of dents and dings. He said his dad used to say whenever he banged things up as a kid, “you’re not the first person to do that.” 

      

It was a great rest day and I was thrilled when they ended it by bringing home some amazing Thai food. I felt totally spoiled by these generous people. In the morning, they offered to help with anything else I needed on my trip, I gave them big hugs, and Petunia and I were on our way.    

It rained steadily, but worse than that, there was major road construction going on for miles of my route. It was rough and bumpy riding that slowed me down and rattled my skull in my helmet. We went past incredibly stinky chicken farms that reeked so strongly I was nearly knocked off my bike. Suddenly I saw a sign that said I was leaving Jasper County and entering White County, and I said aloud, “uh oh.” I took out my compass. I was riding east! I’d done over 20 miles of backtracking eastward when I should have been in Illinois. 

  

  

  

I thought about the rough road I’d just taken and about my host’s offer to help, and decided to take a bicycle mulligan. I called Kyler and he was there in just a few minutes. When we got back to Rensselear, they were just having lunch and I was invited to dry off and join them. I so badly wanted to reciprocate the many kindnesses, so I offered to help out with any projects where I could be of service. Kimberly let me join her in sanding some furniture she was refinishing for the guest house they were renovating, and it was fun to talk about all sorts of things with her– books, tiny houses, feminism, our families, and her work as an acupuncturist and herbalist. After getting all of the dresser drawers stopped and sanded, we decided we’d have a fun outing and the three of us plus baby Serena went to see  the new Pixar movie, Inside Out, which was a treat. We concluded our day with an awesome meal at home, more laughter, and lively discussion. My hosts invited me to bring Tunes as they were going to run their six therapy dogs, which meant we piled onto their ATV and zoomed around trails through the muddy cornfields while the pack ran close behind. Petunia was having so much fun running at top speed with her new friends! She could keep up just as well as the big dogs, and she looked so happy that I couldn’t stop smiling myself.  Another wrong turn had led me somewhere special, and I was so very grateful for the opportunity to stay on an extra day and have more adventures. 

   

  Their small dog, Ellie, got to ride up front over the big puddles. But usually water-averse, Tunes was ecstatically bounding through the puddles. That’s my swamp dog! 

      
After one more comfy night, dry and indoors, we set out once more, and this time, really heading west, we made it to Illinois. 

 Song of the day: Back Home Again in Indiana, Bing Crosby version. 

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My Indiana Family

Rode 65 miles til Lagro, Indiana, and decided that I couldn’t go much farther, and was sadly out of food for the most part. Contacted a WS host, Lavonne, and she told me she’d welcome me to her outbuilding pavilion for the night and invited me to dine with her family, as well! I tried to head back to her place given her directions, but I got lost. She came to guide me behind her truck, which was incredibly nice. Had a really fun dinner with her big family, including her mother and her brothers and her extended family. It was wonderful– their sense of humor reminded me of home, and I was incredibly grateful for their company, and also for the amazing meal with all sorts of tasty goodness. Had fun meeting the kids, including young Landon, who aspired to be a cardiothorasic surgeon and wanted to see my first aid kit. Right on, smart dude! Lavonne’s daughter Kami also brought me to a grocery store so I could stock up. This family really went above and beyond to welcome and help me, and the little kids even played with Petunia, which was awsome. 

 
My waterproof tent was having some stinkiness and condensation issues, so I was looking forward to getting it clean.

   

  

The beautiful views greeted me in the AM, and the family was kind and helpful and let me hang my tent up to dry for a while. 

  

  

 

The AMAZING breakfast that Lavonne and family provided was delicious, and it gave me the strength to ride a 90 mile day!  

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She grew up in an Indiana town…

Stayed at the Monroeville, ID indoor shelter on the 4th of July. It was a short day, so I volunteered to help blow up red, white and blue balloons for the kids in attendance at the city park’s event. A town employee let me use his in-office computer to do some work. Petunia and I stayed indoors in the city park pavillion which was provided for cyclists. I bought a white sundress at a tag sale across the street for two dollars, which was a nice thing to have intead of all padded bike shorts.

   
    

     

  

  

  

 The high water had done a lot of damage to the crops. 

  

  

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I am helpin’ Mother, sir, as I journey on my way

Morning’s dew had saturated everything when I started my day in Tontogany, so I sun-dried the tent while I packed the rest of my gear up and took Tunes for her morning walk, waving cordially to the sheriff who was parked nearby and observing me from his car. He didn’t bother me, though, so Tom must’ve kept his word and gave the 5-0 the heads up about me.  

I cycled a simple 10 miles to warm up and work up an appetite, and in Grand Rapids, I pulled over at a picnic table alongside the towpath of the Maumee River to inspect my food provisions and realized I was out of bread. PBJ plans thwarted, I walked along the sidewalk of this quaint, tiny village, hoping to see a market, but instead I saw what looked like a little restaurant, although it wasn’t clear from the dark fa├žade whether it was open. A woman exiting the building saw my setup, gasped delightedly, and when I asked if this place served breakfast, she said, “Goodness, yes they do. And I keep coming back here because…. well, I don’t know why, really.” She was very excited about my trip, so I gave her one of my TouringTunes cards, and she informed me that she was a reporter and that she’d like to hear more about my story. Mary Alice Powell, a sharp lady in her 80’s, took a couple of photos of me, then offered to buy me breakfast and hear my story so she could write an article about me in her column next week. She also knew the people in the restaurant well enough so that she got them to allow Tunes to sit quietly on my lap and eat bacon while I had a mountainous egg and veggie scramble with toast, courtesy of the note-taking journalist. She’d never had kids, traveled the U.S. with her dog (by car), and had written for several newspapers, even holding a position as a food editor. “I’ve tried to retire, but I just couldn’t stop writing,” she told me, and I thought of my wordy travel blog and identified with that notion. “She could tell you any kind of story at the drop of a hat,” one of the waitresses added, smiling at Petunia as she brought me out a cup of coffee. “Well I do love life,” Mary Alice declared. I told her about the Gearing Up fundraiser and answered her investigative questions easily, and she surmised that it was not my first big trip. “You’re obviously very prepared,” she assessed. She was sharp, poised, and genuine, and before she wrapped the interview, she had offered to buy me lunch to go, as well! I was reluctant to let her buy me two meals, but she insisted, and I finally accepted her generous offer and ordered a chicken sandwich with a pickle to go. How lucky was my timing! And she got an article out of it as well. “Everyone seems to say these stories just drop into my lap.” She echoed my sentiments about the freedom of living simply, an ineluctable and sublime aspect of bike travel, as she’d also had to pare down her possessions after relocating from a large farm house in Michigan to a modest bungalow in this small town. Talking with Mary Alice was like seeing a hopeful version of myself in 50 years or so. Maybe I’ll be that cool when I grow up. Before she left, she stopped to pay the bill and I heard her tell the waitress, “You know, the pie boxes are too flimsy. I told the owner that last week and he said it would cost an exra $3.50 for a thicker box…. Well, that’s all I have to say about that,” she said pointedly, ever the restaurant critic, then waved and wished me well on my journey.

  
Full of breakfast and even equipped with a ready to go lunch, I rode on through more small towns and farmland, listening to the local agricultural news report on my radio. An announcer read off Setember wheat and October hog prices, highlighted the upcoming World Dairy Expo where robotic milking would be featured, and discussed recent international trade meetings about American sales of corn to Japan. I’d been listening to a lot of radio and the battery strength seemed to be in decline, but at least a few stations came in clear enough so that I stayed amused.

    

I finally made it to the big city– Defiance, Ohio– which took all of about 5 minutes to ride through. I refilled water in one gas station mart, had lunch in a tiny town park, and called home to chat for a bit. The weather was pleasant, and I planned to camp out in one of the small towns up ahead, possibly making it to Indiana, if I really pushed it. 

  
But a few towns later in Paulding, I thought maybe a 60ish mile day would be better than an 80ish mile day afterall. It was a little industrial town with a fairgrounds and one raggedy looking bar, and I made by way to the fire department in a rather tattered looking neighborhood. Across the street a couple of hundred feet away, a gray-haired man seemed to be doing some yardwork on his small grass lot. I looked around for signs of life in the FD, but realized it must’ve been volunteer and that it was dead and dark inside. I filled up my water bottles again and looked at my maps, trying to decide whether to push on or to start looking around this area for a place to hide the tent for the night. A wave of weariness hit me and I felt like the Indiana border looked farther than it probably was. As I settled on the idea of seeking a safe local site, the man from across the street pulled up behind the wheel of a blue Buick. “Do you need some help? My mother saw you from inside the house and send me over to see if you were okay.” His clear blue eyes focused on me with concern. I told him that I was fine, and that I was just trying to figure out what I wanted to do next. “In Paulding?” he asked, his incredulity seeming to stem from the dearth of possibilities in such a desolate place. I told him that I was hoping to set my tent up somewhere safe for the evening nearby, and whether he knew of somewhere that would fit the bill. “You’re welcome to any of my front, side, or back lawn. Don’t have no neighbors.”Glancing across the street, I saw this to be true, by virtue of the fact that his place was bordered by two windowless manufacturing warehouses and a trucking spot. “If it’s not a hassle for you, that would be great,” I responded, “and I’d like to say thanks to your mother for looking out for me.” He invited me over and turned the car around for the short trip back to the driveway.

Joe showed me his lawnspace and invited me inside and I met his mother. They had a new rescue dog named Daisy, a happy little yellow short-legger who was so absolutely attached to Joe that one day when he’d gone out, she’d tried to follow him through a slightly ajar door and went missing, and had the whole town looking for her. She came back, but only once she’d seen Joe in the search party. 

Mother and son were very kind to me, and fascinated by my travels. “Can I make you some dinner? It’s not every day you get to meet someone from The East,” he said. He fixed me a plate of fried eggs with copiously buttered toast and a gigantic glass of milk for supper. “Hey, you wanna go on a tour of Paulding?” he offered, brightening. How could I refuse that?

He opened the broken passenger door for me from the inside by reaching through the open window, and holding tight to Tunes on my lap, we began the sightseeing voyage. “There’s the courthouse,” as we drove by the only stately building in the town square. “There’s our Dollar General. And there’s one of the two pizza plces, but that one’s not very good.” We made our way to a reservoir with a short walking path, and he put Hank Jr. on and began to sing along softly to a twangy country number called Family Tradition. “And here’s our drive-through.” He pulled the car into a portal that looked like a car wash, but intead of foamy soap and spinning brushes, there were snacks, sodas, cigarettes, beer, wine, and liquor, apparently for when you’re too drunk to get out of the car and go into a package store. “Hey, Joe. The usual?” the clerk said, and handed him a can of Diet Coke and a Mountain Dew. “I’m addicted to pop, I guess. I know it’s horrible for you.” He offered me a beverage, but I declined, and instead commented that I’d never seen one of those drive-throughs before. “Oh yeah, they’re everywhere. We have two in Paulding.

When I returned, I thanked him and his mom again for the hospitality, and his mother offered to let me use their shower and sleep on the couch, if I wanted. I accepted the offer of the shower, but I preferred to sleep outside, but thanked them anyway. I set up my tent outside, and Joe came out to see if I needed any ice cream or wanted anything else, but I was ready for sleep. The neighborhood wasn’t on the same page, though, and we heard and saw huge fireworks being set off from a block away in every direction. Poor Petunia did not like this at all. She shook, and stood up to see what was going on, pacing a bit with every loud crack and flash of light. I wrapped her tight in a wool shirt, tying it like a ThunderShirt for dogs, but this didn’t seem to help. I reconsidered the offer to go indoors, but it was already after 10 and I didn’t want to disturb them. I held her until the noise finally subsided around midnight, feeling weary and eager to leave Paulding behind.  I promised Tunes that we’d make the 30 mile ride across the state line to a town park in Indiana that allowed cyclists to stay for free in their pavillion, and have an easy rest day, and stay indoors and away from the certainty of 4th of July fireworks. 

   

   
Song of the day: Jimmy Brown the Newsboy by Flatt and Scruggs

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With a Little Help From My Friends

Urban cycling has its moments of fun, but I generally prefer to be on the rural routes with fewer cars around that could possibly kill me. But leaving Cleveland meant seeing a few neat sights, like the cultural gardens along MLK Jr. Drive in Rockefeller Park, featuring different areas  representing various countries and cultures, and incorporating interesting landscaping, sculptures, flags, and monuments. I also passed the botanical gardens, and of course, the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, but didn’t stop to see any of them other than to take pics as I passed.

  
   

   

And I found a few places to goof off in along the way. Look ma, I’m riding around the USA!

There were a few people on the beach of Lake Erie as I passed, but the water was closed due to poor water quality. Yuck. It was kind of gray and cool to start anyway, and I wasn’t tempted to swim. I was excited to book it through more of the flatlands.

   
 

In the little town of Sheffield Lake, we stopped at the grocery store and met an employee who was outside on break offered to watch Tunes while I went in to pick up some grape tomatoes, cheese, and raspberries When I returned, she wished me a safe trip and gave me a big hug as if we were long lost friends. I rode across the street to the Sheffield Lake branch library, which had its own beach and a beautiful view of the water, and set down outside to charge my devices and have a little picnic with my pup in the shade. A library patron came over to inquire about my trip and introduced herself as Sandy. I gave her my TouringTunes info card and she went inside while I blogged and noshed outdoors. When she returned, she complimented me on my trip photos she’d seen online and offered me a box of chocolate chip cookies! They were the perfect post-lunch dessert and full of carbs I needed to push on, as the afternoon was passing and I still didn’t know where I was going to end up that night, and for a moment, I worried that it would be late before I knew it and I’d be scrambling to find somewhere to hide my tent.Library’s view:  
Last year when I rode down the coast of California, one of the other cyclists I rode with was a Russian dude named Alex, who had saved up enough for a year of international cycling, and was riding from Portland to South America, as far as he could go. He stood at about 6’6″ and had blonde dreadlocks that were basically as long as I stand tall. A couple of times when we weren’t sure about where to stealth camp or find a shower or just where to go next, he just smiled and said, “Jah will provide,” which made me laugh and stop worrying. Now, on days when I wing it without a host organized or an endpoint in mind, I hear his nonchalant mantra in my head and know that I’ll figure something out, and that it will probably be okay, even if it is unpleasant. That said, Alex called me the other day and said he was back in Oregon. This came as a surprise, as I’d recently seen his photos posted from Villahermosa, Mexico. Turns out he’d neglected to acquire the necessary travel visas after crossing the border and got picked up and sent to a scary sounding detention center (read: scary Mexican jail) for two weeks before they deported him free of charge or charges back to the States. So… there was that. 

 Considered renting near these naturally reclaimed greenhouses: 
I hauled it about 65 miles total to Huron, OH, where I realized it was 8PM and the daylight really starting to wane. I checked a map and found a fire department in town, but it looked big and fancy and suburban, so I figured there was a slim chance of getting approval to camp on their tiny patch of grass alongside of the building. Plus, there was no one inside, even though the doors were unlocked. Standing outside, looking around for my next best option, I heard the door swing open behind me, and a uniformed fire fighter asked if he could help me. The good guys of the Huron FD welcomed me to set up my tent there, and captain Bill was super welcoming, explaining that they let other bike tourist groups camp out there “all the time.” They even invited me in to use their shower, laundry, and eat leftover pizza. Jah will provide indeed. 

   
 
The weather was perfect and I slept outside soundly and comfortably, the big industrial fan from the building next door whirring like a giant white-noise machine. In the morning, I met the Chief, who warned me to avoid one particular town that had a notable heroin problem. “You’ll puncture your tire on a needle,” one firefighter said. “He’s kidding but he’s not really,” added the Chief. Luckily, it wasn’t on my route. 

Instead, I enjoyed a sunny day through Bellevue, Oxford and Clyde, mostly flat farmland that showed some of the damage done by all of the previous weeks’ heavy rains. Down one section of my trail, I was met with a huge lake flooding the road that stretched a tenth of a mile long and wide. Attempting to ford the river like in the Oregon Trail computer game, I took off my sneakers and socks, and started to slowly pedal through, but quickly realized its depth was so great that my non-waterproof rear panniers would certainly be drenched if I kept going. I put my feet down and paddled back to shore, considering removing all of the bags and waking them across in two trips, then going back for the bike, and reloading, but I opted to find an alternate route instead. I rode the next several miles barefoot and got a few strange looks from farmers atop their tractors. 

  

  
  Luckily, my new route took me on a bike path! Tunes did some running and prancing for a mile or two as we passed cornfields and soybean crops. We met a father and son along the way who were out for a ride. The dad reminded me of my brother a bit: stocky and dark-haired with a sonorous voice that resounded from a wide, square jaw. His mind was totally blown that I’d already pedaled 1,700 miles and that I was planning on going over 3,000 more. He asked what I carried, where Tunes rode (she was sitting in a shady spot in the grass at this point), and how I managed to do that. He seemed hardly able to believe that I was going at least another 20 miles that day. His son, who had ridden ahead while dad and I talked, circled back to see what the holdup was. “She’s riding her bicycle to Washington. That’s another state. It’s really far away,” he explained to his kid. Then to me, “it’s my weekend with him. This is how dad gets his exercise- riding on the weekends here. Just had to buy him that new helmet,” he nodded towards the camouflage printed skateboard helmet crowning his progeny’s noggin. “It’s a little big, but money’s tight and he’s got time to grow into it.” 

  
Farther down the path, I saw three road bicycles stopped, the riders each wearing familiar yellow and orange safety triangles. As I got closer, I recognized their matching jerseys– “hey, Bike and Build!” I waved as I pulled up. Last year in Wyoming, we’d met a crew of these van-supported cross-country-cycling-meets-Habitat-For-Humanity riders and ended up crashing their campsite on one night. This was a new set of riders and they had lots of questions about my rig and ride. It was fun to pedal around with them on the path, and then when we followed our different maps and cue sheets through the following town, we kept crossing paths, playing bicycle tag, cheering each other on. Good luck, B&B Northern Route 2015!

I pushed on past the busy town of Bowling Green and arrived in Tontogany, where I made myself supper in their sheltered picnic table area. Things got a little crazy–instead of PBJ, I opened a can of tuna fish and forked it between my last two slices of bread. Bam! I ate a few cookies to round out the meal. It was an 82 mile day, so I was ready to find somewhere to settle in, but in this 10-block town, everything was in the open, and I didn’t want to post up near the active train tracks.  I cruised around town as the sun touched down on the horizon. The fire department was silent, faced houses on all sides, and had no grass. The churches were in plain view without nooks or responses to knocks. But the last folks were just just leaving Thursday night bingo at the American Legion Hall. One of the last trucks pulling away saw me wave and pulled over and I delivered my pitch to the driver. “Hi. I’m Jamie, and I’m doing a cross-country bicycle ride fundraiser. I need a little bit of help. I don’t have anywhere to stay tonight, so may I have permission to put a small tent behind this building, if you think it’s safe?” shutting off his engine, the driver hopped out and came over to shake my hand. “You gotta lot of guts doing what you’re doing,” he gesticulated toward my heavy ride, was very generous of a veteran. He asked if I needed to go inside to use the facilities, but I politely declined. He walked me over to a little alcove beside the building, and told me I could set up there. He also told me he would personally call the sheriff, who “patrols this area two or three times a night,” so he’d know I was there and wouldn’t bother me in the night. Perfect! “Say, do you have any veterans in your family?” I stumbled for a minute, hoping that my answer wouldn’t disqualify me from camping there. “Hmm…My Uncle Scott was a Marine?” On the spot, I’d also forgotten that my mother’s father was in the Navy. He died when I was quite young and I don’t remember much of him though. Anyway way it seemed to be good enough for him. As he left he turned and called out over his shoulder, “when you write your book, be sure to put this in it.” Yes sir, Mr. Tom German of Tontogany’s American Legion.

   
 Song of the day: With a Little Help from My Friends – Joe Cocker’s Woodstock version, with hilarious dubbing

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