05.29.11 – Grid Roads, Blue Elephants and Yats

Compared to my others, this update is going to a little bit shorter. I promise not to ramble…much. From Cincinnati I made my way Northwest for 6 days toward Chicago. Five of them were riding and one was resting. On the first day I traveled north to Oxford, OH. While I could have gone directly northwest toward Indianapolis, I went about 20 miles more than I needed to because there’s nothing like a good bicycle path. It’s a great way to meet local riders. The local ride I met was a roadie in his late forties named Gary. Gary has lived in the Warren Country area all his life and learned the roads simply by going out and getting lost in them. I told him about my route to Oxford and while they probably would have gotten me there with no problems, Gary advised I go further north on the bike path. His directions provided me with more open road and the day ended up going by rather quickly.

I rode into Oxford and went through a bit of the college campus before getting to the bike shop. It’s been really interesting riding through small, lesser known campuses and seeing how beautiful they are and that they seem to have just as much to offer as the more popular schools around the country. Suddenly I found myself riding through a neighborhood of small houses, which seemed mostly inhabited (at least during the school year) by students. This was in contrast to the slightly larger properties on the outskirts of town that looked like typical suburban housing, though there wasn’t much of it. The lack of people around made me think Oxford was more of a college town that empties out in the summer. The selection of stores I could see from a single corner on the main stretch seemed geared toward students as well. There were two bars, a couple restaurants, a convenience store and a coffee shop. I chose Kofenya coffee shop to hang out that afternoon, do some blogging, and hopefully meet someone with a couch! If you didn’t catch that, I rode 77 miles to a new town without having any place to stay. Judging by what I heard about Oxford though, and of the satellite maps I looked at, I knew I could probably find a spot to stealth camp nearby.

Luckily for me, my loaded bicycle attracted several people’s attention and by about 6:30 I had an offer. Dave Eifert, a dentist in his late fifties and resident of Oxford for about 30 years, offered me a spot in his camper out in the barn. Dave has an incredible collection of bikes from classic folding recumbents to some of the latest rigid 29ers along with tons of old parts that will probably never get used again. He and his wife Jane have toured on a tandem in the past and are interested in doing one of the ACA routes, though the name of it escapes me. What I wasn’t expecting was what he told me about the local cycling community. This small town actually has a decent set of trails and good group of mountain bikers making do with the hills and land they have. A 7 mile loop wraps around the pond in one of their state parks and I wish I could’ve stayed a day to check it out. I was quite anxious, however, to get to Indianapolis before the bad weather hit Indiana. After a shower, I slept soundly in his camper and set off bright and early the next morning.

Dave’s house is less than 2 miles from the border of Indiana. Indianapolis is 90 miles into the middle of the state so getting there in one day would be my longest yet. I got rained on three times but the first time was the worst. I could see the dark cloud a couple miles away and knew it wouldn’t be long until it reached me. The rain came upon me quicker than I anticipated and I was forced to scramble to a nearby house. I knocked on the door and a young lady seemed nervous to answer. I waited patiently while she got up the courage to come out from the back room. I told her my name, what I was doing and that I’d like to spend a few moments on her front porch while the dangerous weather passed – she said no. She said no! I didn’t ask to come inside nor did I need anything but a couple moments under a porch. She explained, “My husband would have a heart attack.” I cannot imagine how a guy in spandex with a loaded bicycle could be seen as a threat but apparently, to some people, it is. It began to rain even harder and lightening was striking way too close to leave her porch. Though I wasn’t welcome, there was no way I was going to rush off of her porch especially without my rain gear on. I took my time covering my bags and getting out my rain gear. I even considered calling Dave for a lift back to Oxford but luck was on my side and the rain cloud quickly moved on. The rest of the day was pretty uneventful and the other times it rained I was able to find friendly shelter. During one of these other stops, however, I made the mistake of asking what tornado warning signs I should look for. The reason this was a mistake was that no matter what they told me to look for in the sky, I would think I was seeing. If blue elephants meant a tornado was coming, I would think blue elephants were flying all around me. Thankfully, the worst of the weather held out until I arrived at Daniel’s place in Indianapolis.

Daniel was my couchsurfing host while in Indy and he was one of the most interesting people with which to talk. He enjoys creating social experiments and studying how people interact with each other in all sorts of situations. His latest idea has a sort of “Pay It Forward” theme and I hope he succeeds in making it work. He showed me around some of the best places to eat and my favorite place, by far, was Yats. It serves up a hefty load of Louisiana-style grub for five bucks. It’s cash only but if you don’t have the dough, just tell them you’ll pay next time! That’s right; you can pay them next time you go there to eat! It’s definitely one of the coolest business plans I’ve seen and it seems to work for them, at least in Indy. I also met another CSer, Amy Frazer. Unfortunately her roommates aren’t interested in having people surf their couch so I’m not sure how much traffic she’ll be able to get but she’s really cool and if you’re in Indy, I suggest getting in touch with her. If nothing else, maybe you can get a ballroom dancing lesson out of it! I took a rest day in Indy, checked out the bike shop, went to the Flat12 brewery tasting and ate Yats again. The following day to West Lafayette was pretty uneventful. Gavin was my couchsurfing host for that night and I also saw Ross, an old friend from college. I ate an entire large pizza to myself and slept really well in preparation for a long 80 mile day to Lowell, IN.

Heading to Lowell was similar to riding into Indianapolis. It was all grid roads and overcast. Instead of using my Garmin to get me there, Gavin encouraged me to be a little (just a little) more adventurous and simply ride north. Lowell is NW of Lafayette so all day I went north for a while, then west for a while. Then I went north for a while more – then west for a while more. The day went fairly quickly because Indiana is so flat and the wind was coming from the South, which may very well be the only tailwind I’ll ever see! It rained a few times that day and with 4 miles to go, it began to rain again. I was in no mood to ride into Lowell since the nearest hotel was 5 miles east in another town. So instead of visiting my Indiana homeland, I opted to get out of the rain sooner than later and into a hot shower and comfy bed at the local Super 8. I wanted to camp that night but it rained quite hard later that evening and I watched it comfortably from the room.

I slept in a bit and planned on taking a detour back toward Lowell to check it out and maybe pick up a few souvenirs. Unfortunately, the forecast called for bad thunderstorms later that day so I abandoned my trip to Lowell. I wanted to get out of open farmland while it was still safe to travel. Jarrett, my host for a few nights, offered to pick me up once I got closer to town. I’m so glad he offered because shortly after I gave him my location, a monsoon was upon me. Though I was about 25 miles out, he was more than happy to come to my rescue. Riding in the terrible wind and heavy downpour would have not been a fun way to start off my week in Chicago. Oh yeah I forgot to mention that the day before I decided I’d stay in Chicago for about a week. Why so long? I heard it was just that great! Well it’s the end of that week now and I wasn’t disappointed. I’ll get to that update soon but for now this will have to do. Cheers!

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