THE BIG RIDE ACROSS AMERICA 1999
Rachel Pilley - Rider #82
JOURNAL - PART 7
JULY 19-JULY 23
LISLE, IL - SANDUSKY, OH
We were up and out of camp on our usual schedule in anticipation of a long day ahead of us. There was a slight drizzle happening this morning which kept the temperatures in the comfortable 70’s and 80’s, but as we were making our way through the urban streets of suburban Chicago, they made things a little more treacherous. We took things slow enough to be safe; it’s better to get there a little later than to not get there at all. Actually, two riders weren’t so luck today: Liz Fritz (from NY) had a spill when her wheel got caught between different road surfaces, and Kristi (chapman?) (from VI) got hit by a car as she failed to stop at a stop sign. She chipped a couple of teeth, broke her nose (which has resulted in a couple of shiners), but other than that, she is okay and will ride again!
We entered into our 9th state, Indiana, at mile 39 and stopped to take the usual photos. As we proceeded on we encountered a really bad patch of road that was in the process of being resurfaced. The asphalt had been stripped off and the roads were down to the grooved cement, which was littered with pebbles and potholes. It was still urban with lots of traffic, and it made for a miserable 10 miles of cycling. Fortunately, however, unlike many of the other riders, both Scott and I have wider tires which enabled us to survive the road work without getting any flats which would have been the icing on an already horrible segment.
We gradually made our way out of the urban sprawl and back into quieter, more rural roads. While any traffic is yucky, it never did get as bad as I had been anticipating through the Chicago area. I guess that comes with riding around in my own city of Vancouver so much.
One of our water stops was hosted by none other than John Schultz, a rider from Wheaton,IN. He had taken the day off from riding so that he could spend it with his wife and kids, who had been busy baking a bunch of treats to offer us as we passed on by. It has been really nice to meet some of the rider and crew members families lately, and it must be really nice for them to be able to see their loved ones in mid ride.
As the day progressed, the temperatures got higher and higher until we were into another hot and muggy afternoon well into the 90’s. At one point we stopped at a lemonade stand, along US 30, to enjoy a cool refreshing drink in the shade of an old oak tree. We spent some time chatting with the three kids running the stand, who then invited us into the back of their old farm type house to jump on their trampoline. We readily took them up on the offer and thoroughly enjoyed ourselves bouncing around. It was difficult to get back on the bikes and push on, however, and not because they trampoline was so much fun, but rather because jumping on it uses a different set of muscles and had tired us out. My legs didn’t much feel like pedaling afterwards, and we still had 15+ miles before camp so we took another unscheduled rest-stop in the shade of trees lining the route on our way into LaPorte.
As we reached the LaPorte city limits, however, we encountered sign and banners cheering us on and welcoming two of the local riders home for the night. Both Ken Bender and Larry Noel are from LaPorte, which is small enough so that they are known and their Big Ride efforts appreciated, so there was quite the welcoming. Some weeks back, Larry had forewarned us about the festivities that we would encounter in LaPorte, and he had not exaggerated.
We were camped in a city park with a large shelter nearby that had been decorated with balloons and such. There was a huge BBQ and three bands of varying styles come out to entertain us. To top things off, a friend of Larry’s lived on the outskirts of the park and he was serving up beer and a swim in his pool to anybody who cared to stop by. So that we found our way there all right, they were running a trailer back and forth, pulled by a mini tractor. We went over for a while, had a couple of beers, cooled off in the pool, and mellowed out on the patio for a while before returning to camp in the tractor to bunk down for the night.
Day 37 – July 20th
LaPorte to Kendallville, IN
It was another later morning, after last night’s festivities. By the time I was up and moving many people had already pulled out of camp. Breakfast was late, and didn’t arrive until 6:15 hrs, so lots of people opted to find their own.
By the time we had packed up our camp and finished breakfast it was time to gather for the industrial tour around Larry’s workplace, a foundry. We rode through town as a group of about 20 riders and arrived at the foundry about 7am. We were all issued our protective head and eye wear and then began our fascinating tour. They took us right through the whole process, starting with the making of wax replicas of whatever metal part they wanted to end up with. The women were busy putting the wax parts together in a tree to be dipped in ceramic. Once the ceramic dried around the wax forms, the wax was melted out of the cast and liquid metal was poured in. After the metal had cooled and set, the ceramic outer was chipped off and recycled into another cast. The metal parts then were subject to strict quality control standards, and then finished before the pieces were shipped out. This foundry made everything from Harley Davidson spark-plug parts, to scissors, to Volvo propellers. The whole process was truly fascinating, and I don’t think that I will ever look at a simple tool, such as pliers or scissors, in the same light again.
By the time we had finished tour it was already 9 o’clock and we were eager to get some miles under our tires. We had some cloud cover which made for more tolerable temperatures than we have been experiencing these last few days. It was a big help, especially considering the late start.
We spent the day cycling through rural farming communities. The scenery consisted of fields and fields of crops, a few small rolling hills, and little towns. A great surprise to me today was to pull into checkpoint at Rosie’s family’s house. She grew up as a Mennonite in Indiana, and he brothers are still here running a farm. I had no idea that the day’s ride would be including this wonderful stop until part way through the day. Rosie’s family had gone all out to welcome the Big Riders with baking and beverages. We got to walk around the farm and pet the newborn calves all penned into their igloo like huts. One calf took to suckling Scott and my fingers. It was really weird to feel their coarse, slobbery tongues against my finger. Sad really, I guess, because it just means that they are still so young and should be nursing from their mothers.
After enjoying ourselves at checkpoint for the better part of an hour, it was time to get moving on again. By the time we were leaving checkpoint, the day was getting warm. The morning cloud cover had dissipated for the most part, leaving us with the heat that has followed us most of the way across the continent so far.
We continued our route through rural Mennonite and Amish farmland. Again, I enjoyed looking at all of the farmhouses that we passed, trying to determine which ones were Amish, identifiable by the lack of power lines going to the house. At one point we passed a group of Amish people on the road. Three ladies were talking with some of the riders, and then a little later we chatted with a couple in a horse drawn carriage. The older couple in the carriage seemed to enjoy talking with us as they were reminiscing about the riders that passed through last year.
Today was one of those days that is epitomizes the well-coined saying “mileage may vary”. The days route map called for an 88-mile day, but the time we were finished we had upwards of 95 miles on our odometers. It had been a good day’s ride, but with the late start, the great checkpoint, and the increased mileage, we pulled into Kendalville (our camp town) a little later than usual. As we were riding up the main street, other cyclists were riding around and informed us that dinner was just a couple of blocks away at the local Legion. As camp was another 3 miles out of town, we decided to have dinner before heading on into camp.
After feasting ourselves on Chinese food (good American grub?) we ventured back through town a few block to a pub we had passed on the way in. Kendalville is a neat little town, with large brick buildings lining either side of the main street, old lampposts staggered along the way, and hardly a sole to be seen on the streets. As we were riding through I thought to myself that it is so neat to see small town USA like this, and that it is a shame that the downtown area is being lost to the more modern commercial complex a few blocks away on the outskirts of town. After enjoying a beer at the local tavern we straddled our bikes to meander through the residential streets and make the final three miles into camp. As we rode, along the tree-lined avenues, people waved and called out from their porches were they were lounging after a nice evening’s meal.
Camp is at Bixler Lake Park, and true to its name, it is right by a lake. While it is a little muggy with the water being so close, it is a beautiful location, with lots of shade trees. There are a few of us just waiting for dusk to settle in and then we are going to go for a skinny dip. That should be fun.
Day 38 – July 21st
Kendallville, IN to Napoleon, OH
Today was an emotional day for both Scott and I. Some other Riders confronted us about the nature of our relationship, which has evolved throughout this ride, but there are complications. The questions of other riders were not easily answered.
The day began relatively normal, with the packing up of camp and the heading off to a disappointing breakfast. We were dining at the legion again, and we were served wieners, which they tried to pass off as sausages. Let me tell you, there is a big difference between the two! After making the most of the other items on the menu, like pancakes, fruit and cereal, we were on the road.
We ventured out with George, from Hawaii, and our long lost buddy Dave (Laurie did not ride today so Dave had passed off the tandem and was back on the recumbent). It was nice to have them both with us as they are great people and we have sorely missed Dave’s company of late. The route started off being a little hilly, which I found a little irksome as I was still trying to spin to warm up (someone told me that it takes about 10 miles before your muscles are really warmed up and so I have been trying not to push myself before that). At one point I had a huge dog, (I think it was a Rottweiler), ferociously nipping at my heals. It had me so shook up that I almost wiped out before I managed to out run it.
We had been under a thick cloud cover this morning and the heavens opened up upon us before we had gone more than ten miles. We stopped to pull on our rain gear and then pressed on again. A few miles further we pulled in at a small grocery store in Waterloo to buy some snack food as we were all finding that our breakfast had been a little on the inadequate side. We also found ourselves taking our rain gear off again, as the shower had been heavy, but short-lived.
We rode the next ten to fifteen miles in two sets of two mixing up the combination of pairs every five miles or so until we arrived at the Ohio State line. It’s funny, but I typically think of the border crossings as being at some momentous location by a river, or having a huge sign, but this one was different. We had been travelling along such backcountry roads that we were not on a major thoroughfare that warranted a large “Welcome” sign. If it hadn’t been for the couple of people from the Ohio ALA there to great us, I never would have noticed the small street sign indicating that we were entering Ohio. We stopped to chat with the ALA people, take a few photos, and then crossed the road to have our pictures taken on top of a huge hay bail before pushing on.
The miles were passing enjoyably and unremarkably until late in the days ride when we were confronted with our difficult questions. Being put on the spot with no time to script our answers was disconcerting, but we should have expected it. Scott’s answers gave me something to think about so I pulled ahead of the pack to give myself some alone time to reflect. Will, one of our confrontors, pulled up along side me after a bit to apologize for being so intrusive, but it wasn’t his questions hadn’t upset me as much as Scott’s answers. Next Scott came up behind me to discuss things, but I suggested that we had better take some time to ourselves to think about what we were doing and where we were headed. The remaining twenty miles passed quickly as I was trying to sort through my thoughts and feelings.
I pulled into camp at Henry County Fairgrounds and set up my tent in the middle of the field. As usual, coming in later in the pack means that all of the shady spots have been taken, and I am to suffer through another shade-less afternoon and evening. After getting my tent set up I roamed around the campsite and then ventured off on my bike to explore the surrounding area for a while. Upon my return I hunted down Scott who was hiding out in the high up in the bleachers on the adjoining field, escaping from both the sun and the crowds. We talked for some while, discussing what our expectations are, and where we see ourselves going after the Ride. We both feel that we have stumbled onto something good, but it is going to be hard to bridge the gap between California and British Columbia to keep it going. I suppose that that is a challenge that we are both prepared to face.
It has been an exhausting day. Not physically so much as emotionally. It is now time to put this day behind me and get some sleep.
Day 39 – July 22nd
Napoleon to Sandusky, OH
Today was another one of those days that’s best summed up with the saying “Mileage may vary.” The only difference is that today we were pre-warned of the changes to the route, rather than finding out 60 miles into the day that camp is an extra 10 miles further. The changes to today’s route, due to road construction, mean that we did about 95 miles instead of 83. I sure am glad that I knew about the change before hand otherwise it would have been a brutal 12 miles. Beside from the mileage being more than we had originally expected, the cycling was relatively easy. As some say, it was pancake flat. In addition to that, tomorrow is a rest day… Yah!
Today’s breakfast made up for yesterday’s shortcomings. We feasted on all the good fixings and then hit the road around 7 am, the usual time. The first few miles came out very easily, and it wasn’t until we had put about 20 miles under our tires that we realized that we had not seen a pit stop yet. While Scott and I had more often than not blown past the first water stop in the freshness of the mornings, we had still grown accustomed to seeing them set up along the roadside about every 15 miles. Today was a little different; there was no water stop at mile fifteen. As the temperatures began to rise and the day got increasingly warmer, (just like every other day, or so it would seem) we began to search the side of the road looking for the support vehicle laden with coolers of water and Gatorade. Finally, about 30 miles into the day, we found one. As it turned out, there had been an oversight, or error of some sort, and no water stop had been set up at the 15-mile mark. Matt (the volunteer at mile 30) wasn’t even supposed to have stopped there, but he stopped and set up when some of the riders had hailed him down for a liquid refill. In this kind of heat and humidity, it is very important to keep drinking the fluids.
Aside from being 12 miles longer than originally bargained for, today’s ride was a good one as we meandered our way through flat farmland and rural areas. The crops varied a little more than we have seen in the past, to include beets, cabbages, and other vegetables along with the old faithful grains, soybeans and corn. Aside from stopping for a lunch of burger and fries, we pushed on into Sandusky and our day off.
Camp is situated in behind the Legion hall in a nice grass field with a covered meeting area, complete with picnic tables, counter and sink area. We pulled into camp at about 2:30 in the afternoon, and for once we were not selecting our tent site from the few remaining spots. It would seem that with the heat, humidity and tomorrow being a rest day, many riders are longing for some air conditioning and a comfortable bed, and so have gone off in search of a nearby hotel. What this meant for Scott and I is that we were able to pitch our tent in between the concrete shelter and the tall trees at the back of the field. With any luck, they will provide us with a little shade.
Not only has the allure of a cool hotel room pulled many of the riders away from camp tonight, but also Cedar Point Amusement Park has been the destination for many others. Although I have never heard of it before this trip, Cedar Point is apparently one of the big amusement parks of the northern East Coast. While I love the thrill of being spun and whirled around and upside down, I opted to pass on the hustle and bustle of the park and to save my limited pennies.
A few of us left hanging around camp decided that we would visit the Legion’s bar for a drink or two before dinner. Dave, George, Scott and I walked in and up to the bar to order our drinks, only to be questioned by the bartender as to whose guests we were… The Legion is a private club, and in order to drink there, we had to be accompanied by a member. (This is a technicality rarely enforced back home, so it took us a little by surprise.) So, the four of us found ourselves back outside the bar, standing in the hallway between the bar and the dinning room, waiting for an approachable “member” to come along and accompany us back into the drinking establishment. Sure enough, it wasn’t long before a suitable candidate came along and we all marched back into the bar.
Despite the hassles of entrance, we only stayed in the bar long enough to enjoy one drink before the dinning room opened for dinner service. We bid our kind “member” the appropriate thanks and departed for the dinning room across the hall. Tonight’s dinner was a real treat: not only did we dined off of linen tablecloths, with metal silverware and cloth napkins, but we soon found out that the dining room was a “licensed establishment”. While the food was mediocre, the drinks that we enjoyed along with it were great. Not surprisingly, many of us lingered around the dinner table, enjoying the bar service long after the food had been consumed, and it wasn’t until the wait-staff informed us that they were closing up the room that we made our way back outside to camp.
Day 40 – July 22rd
Sandusky, OH – Rest Day
As though the drinks with dinner weren’t enough, Scott and I decided to venture off out of camp last night in search of another drinking establishment. We opted to look for somewhere a little more happening and hassle-free than the Legion, so off down the road we headed. As we pulled out of the Legion parking lot we looked in both directions along the road, and decided to go west. We started walking and soon realized that we were getting nowhere. About 20 minutes later we stopped and asked someone where the nearest pub or bar was, and they told us that it had been back in the direction we had come from… about ten minutes walk east of the Legion. With little other option, we turned around and walked back, past the Legion, to the bar up the road.
After a couple of beers, we were on our way out of the bar when we bumped into four other Big Riders coming in after an evening out at Cedar Point. They convinced us to come back inside and have a drink with them, which we did. After a couple games of shuffleboard, I turned to the pool table to challenge a local kid to a couple of games. While I was still playing pool, Scott decided that he had had enough and ventured back to camp. I followed shortly afterwards.
When I got back into camp, I found Scott on the telephone talking to Pat, back at home. He is still grappling with the feelings around breaking off a ten-year relationship and was taking the time to talk out some issues. Once he got off the phone we talked for a while about the difficult position that he is in, and how Pat is taking it all. While the connection between Scott and I is worth trying to foster, the situation has not be easy on any of us, especially Pat.
Our tent location had served it’s purpose: it bought us some shade until a little later in the morning than we would have had if we had been out in the middle of the field. It was nice to be able to sleep in a little longer than usual before the inside of the tent became like a sauna, but sure enough we eventually had to get up in order to catch some of the slight breeze to cool off.
Unsure about what we wanted to do with our day off, Scott and I sat around camp for a while gathering up the energy and directions necessary to get moving. After getting directions from camp services, we jumped on our bikes (last nights walk convinced us that walking would take too long) and headed into town to find a bike shop so I could look into buying a new tire. When we got to the bike shop I was again struck by the devaluation of the Canadian dollar, and decided to save my money and rotate my tires instead. We looked around for a little while longer but left without buying anything. Back outside we cruised around on our bikes for a while longer and stopped at a wharf area overlooking Cedar Point and Lake Eerie. We hung our there on the wharf and breakwater until the sky turned ominous and the dark rain clouds rolled in. We decided that we had better get back to camp in a hurry or we would be caught out in the storm. Sure enough, as we were leaving the wharf, the swollen raindrops were beginning to splatter on the hot pavement.
Once back in camp, we had some chores to be attended to, the most pressing of which was laundry. We went to the camp services table again to ask the volunteer where the nearest laudromat was. As it turned out, the lady standing at the table was actually the owner of a laundromat a couple of miles away, and she offered to give us a ride over there. We quickly gathered up our dirty clothes and climbed into her mini-van for the short ride. She dropped us off and said that she would come back in 1 ½ hours to take us back to camp.
As we were sitting in the laundromat watching our clothes go round and round in the washing machines, I looked out of the window and realized that it was raining so hard that we couldn’t see the other side of the street. The storm that had been spitting at us as we had headed back to camp, had finally broken free and was showing us all of it’s force. Even though I live in Vancouver, a city notorious for it’s rain, I don’t think that I have ever seen rain come down so thick and hard as it was coming down this afternoon. I guess that is the mid-west storms!
True to her word, the Laundromat Lady and her husband came back to pick us up and take us back to camp. As we were about to get out of the van, Cecily, on of the other Big Riders came running up to the vehicle and asked about laundry. As they had done with us, the lady and her husband offered to drive her over there if she went to get her bags. Scott and I then asked them if they knew of anywhere that we could get a good meal without breaking my measly budget. They said that they did and to our surprise, they offered to drive us there after taking Cecily back to the laundromat. After Cecily had thrown her stuff in the wash and jumped back in the mini-van we were driven right across town to a fast-food Italian restaurant. It was a chain that I have not heard of before, but the food was great, and very reasonably priced. After we finished eating we wandered outside just as our ride was pulling up to take us across town, to pick up Cecily’s laundry on the way back to camp. These people were just incredible; they said that they had spent the better part of the day driving riders to and throe, here and there. They thought that it was the least they could do to help us out after we had all done so much to help the fight against lung disease, but I don’t think that they had any idea what a great help they were to all of us, and what an awesome example of mid-west hospitality they had been.
Now that we are back in camp, hiding out in the tent in order to stay dry
from the torential rains still coming down, it is time to start thinking about
the tomorrow’s ride. Tomorrow we are heading through Cleveland, past the Rock n’
Roll Hall of Fame, and on into Chagrin Falls; 77.4-miles in all. Time for sleep
now so we are ready for an early start.