Texas Hill Country
October 12, 2020
Into the Midwest
After crossing the Mississippi, I made my way through what appeared to be a deserted East St. Louis, then past the Cahokia mounds. I was trying to crank out 80 miles that day, only being able to start at about 1:00 in the afternoon. I made good time once I got onto the farm roads, which were a little hillier than expected, but allowed for fast rolling. At about 8:00 in the evening, I arrived at my planned destination. Then overshot my planned destination the next day. I hate getting behind schedule.
Southern Illinois and Indiana both have a lot of Trump signs, even though the election was seven months ago. Surprisingly, there are also more rebel flags here than you'll see in Texas. Illinois and Indiana were both free states.
One thing you'll notice is none of the towns have a sizable high school football stadium, but nearly all of them have impressive baseball fields. Not in size, but well-kept and of good quality. On an evening in which I was camping in the city park, at around 6:00 in the evening, cars flooded into the parking lot and all of the fields filled up with kids. There were three baseball fields and two softball fields, and all of them were being used, most of them for two games the same night. According to the locals, this was par for the course for essentially every weeknight during the summer. This was in a town of about 8,000 people. Evidently, baseball is popular around here.
The campus of Indiana University was smaller than I expected, and had multiple forest groves in it. That said, you can still tell that plenty of students go there, as it's usage of buildings is rather dense. Everything is close together.
Arriving in Indiana set off a string of WarmShowers hosts which would continue well into Ohio. Rob and his wife, whose name I've unfortunately forgotten, were my hosts in Bloomington. I have a bad ear for accents and couldn't tell where they were from, but when I saw a stained glass dragon in their kitchen window, I correctly identified them as Welsh. They thought I simply got that from their accent. No, I'm not that good. I know flags much better than I know accents.
Rob's daughter, whose name I unfortunately also forgot, was a part of deCycles, which is an annual long-distance tour for students aged 13-22. They average roughly 100 miles/day, riding about as many miles as I would on this tour. I thought I was a tough guy for doing Texas 4000 at the age of 21, but this is far more impressive. As time goes on, I realize how cushy Texas 4000 truly was. At the time, it was the greatest way I'd ever challenged myself, and I couldn't imagine anything greater. In reality, it was more eye-opening than anything.
Rob and his wife then showed me a video of an English guy who had ridden a unicycle around the world. Goodness gracious.
Columbus, Indiana had the feel of a college town without being one. It's famous for its architecture. It definitely stood out among towns of its size, but I didn't see anything breathtaking. The average college campus impresses me as much. Notably, nearly every town around here has a walkable downtown neighborhood. I've already mentioned how much I like this. More towns need to be built this way, and not in only one neighborhood, but for the majority of the town.
Harold, my host in Columbus, was a quiet handyman who had already gone bike touring in all 50 states. He appears to be self-employed, and simply goes on a tour whenever he feels like it. This summer, he plans to go on a tour, but had no plans for when or where. I guess it gets that way after a while. I suggested simply going in whatever direction the tailwind is that day.
We were later joined by Harold's friend Dan, then went over to his house briefly to swim. Danis also a host on WarmShowers, and according to Harold, most of the folks who passed through town stay with Dan instead. Both of them were great guys, so you can't go wrong either way.
A couple days later, I got a message from Harold, in which he was upset that I didn't ask him more questions about his touring, nor bring a gift to him. It caught me off guard. Harold had been insistently generous while I stayed with him, repeatedly asking if I wanted a second sandwich or more dessert, and while all of us could be a better listener at times, it wasn't as if he was trying to open up and I kept cutting him off. Still, it gave me something to think about for the next few days. My way of giving back on WarmShowers has always been simply to pay it forward, and I've never expected anything from my guests, but I suppose some folks don't see it that way. And you could always be a better listener, so I'll continue to work on that.
I had a short day into Osgood, Indiana, and my host wouldn't arrive until 8:00 in the evening. As such, it was a long afternoon of downtime, which included two naps, plenty of reading, and catching up in journals. As well as a hose shower. Mark and Heather were arriving back home from a two-week vacation to Maine with their daughter, Freida. Naturally, I had to ask them a few questions about Maine, as that was where I was headed.
Mark is a cop, a Brazilian jiu jitsu instructor, and an outdoor instructor, in things like rock climbing and backpacking. Probably not a guy you'd want to mess with, but based on his warm personality, also a guy who wouldn't bother messing with anyone. Heather is a high school English teacher and equally friendly. Since they came in late, we didn't get to spend much time together. I wish we'd had more.
We have cicadas in Texas, but I've never seen anything like what was going on in southern Indiana. Evidently, we were at the peak of a 17-year cycle. I had no idea any insect could live this long, but the larvae live underground for a whopping 17 years, then finally emerge, assume adult form, drive people crazy for about a month, then lay their eggs, which hatch into larvae that burrow into the ground for another 17 years. The buzzing/hissing/whistling sound they make is deafening, particularly in the afternoon, and they have a tendency to dive-bomb into your face. It's harmless, since they don't bite or sting, but awfully annoying. In a few weeks, they'll be gone.
from Eastern States