When the sun came out, I was riding through a most-lush area of Indiana, which was completely blowing my mind because I never could have guessed that Indiana was so sweet-smelling and green and diverse in landscape, as it was, and as I was experiencing it that morning. The bottom line — I was trying to make it to Indiana Dunes National Park that morning, or As Soon As Possible. I was on my bicycle, having left Westport, Connecticut on May 15th, 2020, three weeks earlier.
I rolled downhill, out of the sunrise, into the city of La Porte. La Porte was sleeping when I got there. I found the county library and plugged my phone into an outside outlet and cruised off to find a breakfast sandwich. I found a most excellent breakfast place in the center of town. The locals were in there and they got a good look at me. I sat outside till my order was ready, guarding the implement of transportation. This was a most interesting town. It was working-class, as far as I could tell. The town elders were at the restaurant very early and everybody else in the neighborhood was asleep. The cars in the driveways were for working folk, hard-working folk, who took pride in their vehicles — that were not new maintained in such a way as is different from any other town.
I found it difficult to characterize La Porte in any one way, but I was drawn to the place, it was another original. I had to keep going. I picked up my phone, chatted with the librarian and took off. The breakfast sandwich was the best I had ever had. I was still on fire with my adrenaline pumping from the night before. I had started at the Motel in Auburn 18 hours previously. I was clear across the state. I peddled through some rich neighborhoods.
My plan was to set up the tent on the Dunes and take a restorative nap. But I had to get there first. And I was on fire that morning. The blood was burning in me. I could sense the miles melting away below my tires. The bike was handling perfectly. I still had energy, oodles of it.
I went down some hills and took some turns at a good rate of speed. I came out to a main road and pulled into a gas station for supplies. I was dying to see the skyline of the city of Chicago. I wanted to see those dunes! I chose the scenic entrance to the park which turned out to be a mistake because the road was closed. I was having difficulty getting on the right road leading into the park. I stopped by some ladies that were painting pictures, at a building. They reminded me of the art set that hangs out in my hometown of Westport Connecticut, and I told them so. One of the ladies knew Westport well. I thought she might have. I can sense that kind of thing. They gave up the needed information. I set out to find the park entrance.
I came upon a train station. I bought a soda, rested in the air-conditioning, and washed my face in the sink. I got water all over the floor and mopped it with paper towels. I was the only one there, probably because of Covid -19. I was right next to the park. It was turning out to be kind of hot out.
When I pulled into the park on my rig there was a line of cars a quarter of a mile long. I made the executive decision that I wasn’t going to wait in line. I had come too far, cycling, to wait an hour in the sun. I seized the prize by pulling my bike over the sand, past the gate. I was in.
The dunes were magnificent! One thing I realized right away, sand is not good for bicycles. Also, if a person is hot and sweaty, sand is kind of uncomfortable. These are the kinds of things that one thinks about when one finally arrives at a new place.
Young people in bathing suits were everywhere. I was wearing clothing to cover myself from the sun, hot sticky clothing. Another thing was apparent, there was no way I would be setting up the tent on the beach. It would have been possible, but. Anyway, there were throngs of thonged people out there enjoying the sun for the first time since the lockdown went into effect. There were special rules in Indiana about the beach. The area I was at was Indiana Dune, State Park. I was wondering where the national park was. But to be honest I was done trying to figure it all out. It was noon and I needed a rest. Chicago could not be seen across the bay because of the haze but it was right there, I had made it.
There was a little cabana cookout area surrounded by grass that I had noticed on the way in. I went back to it. Nobody was hanging out there under the trees because they all wanted to be in the sun. I needed out of the sun. I set up my tent and no one bothered me and I napped as well as possible in the middle of the day with thousands of people around. It was good to see people, in general.
After an hour of relaxing in the tent, I decided to pack it up and head out. My goal now was to get past Chicago. The dunes were cool but they hadn’t turned into the magical wonderland that I had been hoping for.
There was a town called Chesterton not too far away. I had made the decision to buy a pair of proper bike shorts. There was a bike shop in Chesterton that looked like a good candidate for my purchase. In fact, there was a propper bike trail from the park to downtown Chesterton. The only thing now was to get there before they closed at 4 pm.
I charged up my phone and looked at all my options, having stopped at the train station on the way out. I could have slept there in the lobby, with the air-conditioning.
I found the bike trail to Chesterton. I rolled down that sucker real fast. I was getting to be kind of an expert at bike trails.
I made quick time and rolled into the bike shop at quarter to 4pm. The guys working there were a little bewildered because I had so many questions for them, and they just wanted to close-up the shop and go home for the day. They did have bike shorts, that fit, but they weren’t of much help other than that. I had wanted them to inspect the rear hub. They were not into it at all. I was kind of pissed because I needed the bike to be looked over by a pro, even if it was just for a minute, but no, they were closed, or closing. I was out the door at 4:53 and they were locking it behind me. I guess I understood, their day was over. I was arriving at the last minute.
I went into the center of town to try to find a coffee spot. There was a beautiful park. The town was basically closed but people were walking around and few shops were open for limited service. I found a bakery that was willing to make me a coffee. Free of charge because I had peddled so far! The girl working there was really cool. She told me about her uncle who was a bike rider. I told her about how I had come across the state the night before and everything I had encountered. She explained that Indiana had many different ecosystems and that I had ridden through some of the most diverse parts of the state, ecologically speaking.
I was like yeah, it was totally groovy.
I went back to the park, I had to find the public bathrooms to put on my new bike pants.
Wow, now that was a different feeling. I had never worn anything like that before. I was just hoping to God my rash would go away so I could relax and enjoy the ride.
It was time to go to Gary Indiana.
And of course, the sountrack, in my mind, during this period, could be something like a song from the soundtrack from South Pacific, the broadway musical, of which I, yours truly, had a speaking part in, in 9th grade when my parents sent me away to school. Not on Broadway, mind you, but school. The play was a collaboration with the girls from Ms. Porters. There was a girl named Nellie that sang that song, and I will never forget. And from that time until this time, decades later, I had always wondered about Gary Indiana. I had imagined it to be a small farm town out in the middle of nowhere. But no, it is a city right next to Chicago.
Things started to become more city-related, as in my surroundings. I was on a bike trail with apartment buildings rising up alongside me as it got dark. It would be an understatement to say that my alarm bells started ringing. There is no doubt that I felt much more at home in small towns and out in the country-side. I was entering Chicago-land. I will also say that I never felt “un-safe” it is just my natural inclination to put my guard up being that I was kind of in a vulnerable position. Bike riders do get jacked, there is no getting around that fact.
Other signs that I notice about different towns, upon my arrival. Broken glass in the street. this one is huge for a bicyclist. You might imagine that I would be on the lookout for it. It is actually pretty rare, but when I see it, it tells me something. Such as, people are driving around while drinking and throwing beer bottles out the window. Yes, the prevalence of this condition can tell me something about a town. Another thing is needles. There are many uses for hypodermic needles, however, for them to be in the streets, well that might send a signal — heroin addicts. I personally have nothing against heroin addicts, I once had those pills from the dentist, I know how good it can feel, but I also knew I would never let myself get addicted because would never want to become a thief, which happens in many cases where heroin addiction occurs. My guard goes up. It is pretty easy to sell a multi-thousand dollar Cannondale for ten bucks worth of heroin, which happens all the time. but not to me.
As with my arrival in any major city, in Switzerland, Germany, France, Italy, or in America, I go into a different kind of stealth mode. I made a commitment to myself that I wouldn’t nap until I reached the other side of this urban development because I knew the best way to adapt to my surroundings, in this case, was to keep moving. Keep moving I did. I had friends and family saying that I should visit while I was there. I should check out downtown Chicago.
During a lockdown, while a curfew was being put into practice by the National Guard. While thousands of people were rioting in the street. While snippers were being positioned on top of shopping malls. While every store in the city was closed, save for essential services.
I had no idea that this was a good time for sightseeing and to explore the wonders of Chicago. The south of Chicago, where I was presently, had the highest crime rates in the country. Under any other circumstances, I would hang out and chill there, but while trans-bisecting the nation on a bicycle during a national pandemic, I felt like it was a time to keep the pace moving until there were cornfields around. I remembered the movie South by Southwest — there were fields near Chicago. I wanted to get there. I wanted to go right where Cary Grant was being swooped down upon by the crop-duster. I wanted to set up the tent and rest right there.
I was being taken by Google maps through cities. Traffic on the roads was nuts. The main road provided no shoulder. Back to the bike path, though it meandered quite a bit. I got pizza. The guys let me in the store with my bike to charge up and hang out. They gave me the lowdown. There were some neighborhoods I wanted to avoid.