Our quick run over the prairie, through sun and wind and rain and hail, 274 miles in three days, put us ahead of schedule. I never have been to Chicago, but Jeffrey spent three years at The University of Chicago, his daughter Deena has two degrees from UChicago and lives here, and his son Benjamin is in his first year at the College. It’s a fine place to fill up on pizza (the pizza is better than in New York) and take a break.
We are staying with Jeffrey’s friends, the Haverkamps, from his days at the University.
Here are Deena and her significant other, David Polsky, both enthusiastic supporters of the Ride, both taken by surprise.
This morning we were interviewed by the Maroon, the University newspaper. Benjamin and I posed in front of Bartlett, a gym in Jeffrey’s day and now a cafeteria. Ben is not only ornamental, but useful. When we needed a hotel reservation in Pennsylvania and the hotelier could not understand Ben’s clear English, Ben switched to Hindi and got the message through.
Then we bicycled to the edge of campus to see Lorado Taft’s sculpture, Fountain of Time. Jeffrey used to walk there once in a while in his law school days to help keep things in perspective.
This break has given us time to think about odds and ends we have encountered so far in the Heartland.
Wildlife: We’ve seen live hawks, eagles, turkeys . . . and dead woodchucks, deer, raccoons, squirrels, chipmunks, beavers (so pulverized that we recognized them only by their tails), opossums, skunks, and maybe other critters. We thought of preparing a photo series on roadkill, but this is a family blog and maybe you read it at lunch.
Mufflers: Laws requiring them are not being enforced in rural areas. Believe me. Highway noise is loud to begin with. Poorly muffled vehicles make it deafening.
Other cyclists: Since leaving NYC on April 26, we have encountered exactly one cycle tourer, with tell-tale paniers, heading east in Sandusky, Ohio. We exchanged waves. One cyclist accompanied us for a short way in Budd Lake, NJ, as described in our April 26 post. Two other cyclists, clad in Spandex and riding stripped-down racing bikes, passed us yesterday west of the Indiana Dunes; one called out hello as he sped by, the other (a stock trader) rode alongside to chat a bit. We saw a few local cyclists, particularly in Amish areas. But it hasn’t added up to much. America is car country.
Dying towns: If you know your Lincoln history, you know that in Lincoln’s town of New Salem (population about 300), there were two general stores. One reason we abandoned PA Bike Route V(ee), although it did coincide with significant stretches of our adjusted route, is that it passed through many tiny towns with no grocery stores — nor hardware stores, motels, often not even gas stations. Why?
We are big fans of the internal combustion engine, but it has drawbacks. Engines relieve us of crushing labor. Modern engines pollute less than draft animals (someone wrote that in NYC in 1900, horses produced 60,000 — or was it 600,000 — gallons of urine and 2.5 million pounds of manure every day). But they also have made us lazy, our need to fuel them has encouraged war, and they have atomized our culture (people travel sealed in metal boxes without encountering one another), killing off local stores and the towns that supported them. People don’t shop locally; they hop into their cars and drive to Wal-Mart. No car, no access to supplies. Like it or not, for better or worse, that’s “progress.”
Smells: Various manures, including cow, horse, and pig. Wet earth. Road tar. Skunk. Rotting roadkill. Tree blossoms. Sulfurous sewer gas. Diesel exhaust. Good fresh air.
Firearms and other dangerous instruments: Rural America is loaded with gun shops. In Indiana east of Elkhart, we heard a series of rifle shots coming from behind an outbuilding; presumably it was target practice. So far, though, we have seen no one brandish a gun, and we haven’t felt threatened by anyone other than careless drivers passing us too fast, too close. In fact, on U.S. 20 in Indiana, Jeffrey and the BikeE (with me aboard), standing off the road on a break, were blown over by the wind blast from a passing tractor-trailer. Other than a gouged handgrip, no damage was done.
Food: Being accustomed to the quality and variety of food in NYC, we expected the worst. We have been pleasantly surprised. Of course, Jeffrey is not a foodie so his standards aren’t too high. But even he knows good from bad, and we haven’t encountered bad, simple though the fare has been.
You go into the heartland, you never know what you’ll find.
One more day in Chicago, then north toward Wisconsin. Stay tuned.