Day 29: Fort Wayne, IN to Wabash, IN, 58 miles
After a tasty breakfast of Apple Cinnamon Cheerios, fruit, and coffee, Tyler and I set out from Beth’s house in Fort Wayne. The scenery today is the same as it has been for the past several days: flat land and cornfields as far as the eye can see. Yesterday, the pain in my left knee traveled down to my calf, so Tyler (who is an athletic trainer) massaged it for me and today my leg feels brand new. No pain. Pedaling is no longer a struggle and finally I feel like I can start to enjoy myself a little more. What amazing luck it is to run into an athletic trainer just when I needed one most.
We hit some rolling hills near Salamonie State Park, which give us a much needed break from the monotony of the flat land. We contemplate stopping to camp there, but the campsite isn’t much to look at and it’s still early in the day, so we decide to ride a little farther. The next town on the map is Lagro, but there isn’t much there aside from a gas station so we decide to head off route south to Wabash to see what we can find. When we get to Wabash, we stop at a coffee shop to check Google maps for potential places to stay. We spot a park just a few blocks east and decide to check it out to see if we can find a spot to camp. We roll through the park and eventually find a secluded corner with a wide grassy space and a shelter that has bathrooms and electricity. Everything we need. Perfect.
We’re not totally sure if we’re allowed to camp in this park, but we don’t see any signs prohibiting it or saying when the park closes, so we decide to take the risk. Just to be safe, we wait until sunset to set up our tents. I’m getting ready for bed when suddenly Tyler’s face appears at my tent door.
“The bathrooms are locked,” he says, annoyed.
Apparently, sometime between when we did our dinner dishes and set up camp, someone came by and locked the bathrooms without our knowledge. They had to have seen us sitting there, but they didn’t even bother to tell us they were locking up. Now we don’t have access to toilets or water. Luckily, we’re just about to turn in and we both have enough water to get through the night, so it’s not that big of a deal. Annoying, but not terrible.
Day 30: Wabash, IN to Rensselaer, IN, 73 miles
We wake up early and pack up, wanting to get out of the park and avoid attracting any unwanted attention from the local authorities. We ride over to the other side of town where there is a Bob Evan’s restaurant. I’ve seen some other tourists post about Bob Evan’s breakfasts, so I want to try one. It’s a classic American breakfast joint, nothing out of the ordinary, something akin to Village Inn or Perkins but a little nicer. I order the biggest plate on the menu and eat all of it. Two cups of coffee, two eggs sunny side up, hash browns, four pieces of bacon, three pancakes. And I ordered biscuits on the side. I have never eaten that much food for breakfast before, so I am amazed at myself. But such is the appetite of a touring cyclist.
After breakfast, we head west towards Rensselaer, Indiana where we have arranged for a place to stay on a farm with a Warmshowers host named Kyler. It’s over 70 miles away, but the reviews on Kyler’s profile make it sound like heaven, so we decide to shoot for it.
Tyler and I have been riding together for a few days now, and we’ve gotten into a good groove. I navigate with my maps while he rides alongside or behind me depending on traffic. We chat about movies and music and whatever else we can think of and when we can’t think of anything, we just ride along in silence, watching the corn grow. After a few weeks of solo riding, I am very grateful for Tyler’s company. Long days and bad weather are easier to bear with a partner, I’ve found. Today however, the weather is good so the riding is good as well. The only downside is that we get chased by dogs on three different occasions. This puts me on edge and I find myself looking closely at every house we pass, ready to sprint if necessary. Tyler is calmer about it, but he alerts me to any unchained dogs we pass.
When we get to Kyler’s, we are greeted by the barks of his many rescue dogs, which is slightly alarming given the day we’ve had. His wife Kimberly shows us to our rooms in the old farmhouse they are refinishing and tells us dinner will be at 6pm. We lay our tents on the lawn to dry, shower, and head out back to the picnic table where Kimberly has prepared a delicious supper of salmon with dill from her garden, pasta salad, cornbread, homemade strawberry jam from the neighbors, watermelon, and cookies. Kyler returns from work on the farm and we all eat together, along with their three adorable little girls. Cassidy, their oldest, gives Tyler and I pictures she colored for us, and Kyler tells us about his work building robot tractors or “tractobots” as he calls them. No really. He takes old tractors and programs them to work on their own. The future of farming is here, and it’s made of robots. Midway through dinner, another bike touring pair arrives. Carol and Colin left Seattle a month ago, headed for Boston. They’re averaging 90–100 miles per day, the news of which makes Tyler and I feel like slowpokes.
After dinner, Kimberly builds a campfire and Tyler, Carol, Colin, and myself sit around swapping stories from the road. The family lets the dogs out to stretch their legs, and Cassidy joins us for a bit at the fire before being called in to bed. Tyler and I are both glad we pushed the extra miles to get to Kyler’s farm. The good reviews on his profile are spot on, and the farm really is a little slice of heaven.
Day 31: Rensselaer, IN to Ashkum, IL, 48 miles
After waking up in the world’s most comfortable beds, we pack up and head west to Ashkum. The wind today is absolutely brutal. It must be twenty miles per hour directly in our faces, and I am really struggling. I feel bad for slowing Tyler down, but I just seem to have no energy.* We stop in Iroquois for a break and I eat an entire bag of trail mix and drink a 32oz Powerade, hoping to give myself some more energy. It doesn’t work, but there’s nothing to do but ride, so that’s what we do. The last four miles are the worst, with the relentless wind and some thoughtless drivers that come too close for our comfort. Finally, we pull into the BP gas station where we fill our water bottles and consult the map. The map says that camping is allowed in the city park, but that we should call the mayor first. So that’s what we do. The woman who answers the phone says that we can go ahead and set up and that they’ll unlock the bathrooms for us at 7pm.
We ride over to the park and sit for awhile, trying to decompress from a hard day of riding. We set up our tents near a pavilion next to the bathrooms, and just as we are finishing, a man rides up on a Surly Long Haul Trucker. His name is Dan and he says he saw us riding into town and thought we looked tired. He’s a cyclist too and he knows how it is, so he offers us the chance to shower at his place, but both of us are too tired to care about showering at this point. We thank him for the offer, chat for a bit, and then bid goodbye to Dan and walk over to the pizzeria for a late dinner. An Italian beef sandwich for me and pizza for Tyler, and we start to feel a little better. As we’re walking back to the park, someone shouts hello from a campfire in a backyard and offers us s’mores but we politely decline, too full from supper and tired from the long day to socialize. We get back to our tents and crash.
*Tyler, if you’re reading this, thank you for putting up with me. Sorry I was so grumpy.
Day 32: Ashkum, IL to Odell, IL, 38 miles
After the usual breakfast of maple and brown sugar oatmeal with peanut butter, we head to the gas station to fill our water bottles and then head west. Today, we plan to ride to Odell, Illinois where Tyler will turn south on Route 66 and I will continue west. The heat today is off the charts. It must be over 95 degrees and despite reapplying sunscreen, I can feel my skin burning. We’re running through water fast, but the towns are spread out, so we have to be careful not to drink it too quickly lest we run out.
By the time we reach Odell, we are both wiped out by the heat. We get some lunch at a market and as we are eating outside in the shade, a woman pulls up and hands us two cold bottles of water. She says she saw us and thought we’d like something cold. She also offers us sunscreen and tells us about a park nearby where cyclists sometimes camp. The kindness and generosity of strangers on this trip continues to amaze me.
We spot a cafe where we sit inside for an hour, just trying to cool off. Neither of us is particularly interested in continuing to ride in this heat, so we decide to check out the park the kind stranger mentioned. It’s located right next to the town pool, so after sitting in the shade for a bit, I walk over to ask if we can borrow the locker room showers. The lifeguard says that’s no problem, and I’m grateful to get clean (even if the water is freezing) and get out of my bike clothes.
Later, we cook dinner and watch a group of kids playing on the swings at the park. It strikes me then how different small town life is from city life. These kids — the youngest of which is probably seven, the oldest maybe twelve — are just able to walk to the park and play until dark. There’s not an adult in sight (other than Tyler and myself), but I’m sure their parents aren’t worried. There’s not much to worry about in Odell.
Day 33: Odell, IL to Chillicothe, IL, 66 miles
In the morning, I walk to the BP gas station for a cup of coffee to drink with my oatmeal. We pack up and return again to the gas station for water. Today, Tyler heads south on Route 66 while I continue west towards Iowa. It’s hard saying goodbye, knowing that I probably won’t run into anyone else riding my same route. I’ve gotten used to riding with a partner, and Tyler and I have become good friends over the course of the last week. But Washington is calling my name and Los Angeles is waiting for Tyler, so here it is that our paths diverge.
The weather today is much better. Cooler temps and virtually no wind make for excellent riding. I feel like I’m flying, though I’m probably only averaging somewhere around 15mph. Still, it feels good not to be fighting the wind and heat.
I have a place to stay in Chillicothe, Illinois with the parents of my brother’s neighbor, and I arrive ahead of schedule having made good time due to the good weather. I stop at McDonalds for a snack (read: a combo meal) and map out my next few days, before riding over to the Myers’ house. I am so grateful for a bed and a hot shower and a home cooked meal. Once again, the hospitality of complete strangers amazes me.
I’ve now been on the road for 33 days. I’m in my 8th state and I’ve ridden over 1400 miles. I’m looking forward to arriving in Minneapolis in a couple of weeks for a good friend’s wedding and a few days of rest. Onward!