Day 9: La Porte, Indiana (54.83 miles, 701.97 total miles)

It’s not really about the conditions, it’s about the morale.

Sun, rain, heat, cold, wind, mud, hills, flats: they don’t so much affect the ride as how you feel about the ride. And how you feel about the ride affects the quality of the ride itself.

For example, when you’re going over rolling hill terrain, as you find in suburban Maryland and Virginia, there are sizable hills to be sure, but often going down one is exhilarating and gives you enough momentum that you don’t mind the next hill. In fact, you often find yourself racing up it at a higher gear than you would have otherwise expected. You feel good about the ride and you perform better. Conversely, when you’re coming along and it’s been nothing but flat, a sudden—and small!—hill will come up and you find yourself straining to climb it. It’s not just the lack of momentum from the previous downhill, it’s the mere existence of this hill that is morale sapping. And the hill becomes more tiring than it’s worth. I felt like that principle was demonstrated often today.

This morning I set out from my hotel and biked through Goshen. My route took me onto a bike path that went its way through a park (Mullet park, amusingly). It was not a long trail and the park not huge, but it was surprising how wooded it felt on this trail. The trail emerged onto a street that put me on a county road for the next 15 miles or so.

That county road was, as with the previous ones, rail straight and after getting out of the residential areas of Goshen turned into nothing but farmland again. A few miles down the road, I came across one of those huge irrigation rigs, spraying water across the crops and, at times, across the road. I watched it go by a couple of times and noticed that the irrigation spray was creating a rainbow as it shot out. For some reason, however, I didn’t really time my crossing of this thing well; and wound up getting sprayed by it. But I was in good spirits and getting wet didn’t bother me. See, it’s a question of morale.

irrigation rig spraying water creating rainbow

Now, because I can’t (and wouldn’t want to) bike on the Interstates, the routes tend to be patchwork. That is, with rare exception, my route does not simply follow one road across the state. In fact, my route consists of a lot of right angles as I turn left and then right, right and then left, working my way across. On the days when I’ve been able to write out my directions as well as use the GPS map, that’s okay, but a day like today had too many turns to do that, and so I was making extensive use of the GPS map (which drains battery life quickly).

newspaper mailbox reading "The Truth"

As I was going along, I noticed that the wind was starting to pick up. The Weather Channel had predicted 11-20 mph winds from the northwest. As long as they weren’t from due west, it shouldn’t be too much of a problem. Or so I hoped. I tried to push forward, even when the gusts were strong, trying to exercise a little mind over matter and to keep my morale up. Sightings of newspaper boxes for the local Elkhart paper The Truth were amusing to me, because (1) that’s a pretty gutsy claim for any paper to make, and (2) “the truth” is what the Russian newspaper Pravda means. And that reminded me of a saying the Russians used to have about their two major dailies, Pravda (“The Truth”) and Izvestia (“The News”): “There’s no news in The Truth and no truth in The News.”

[Just now the program I’m using to write these blog posts crashed and I lost everything after this point. I had some really good stuff here and will try to remember what I said, but my experience is that inspiration is never as good the second time around. Sorry about that.]

After about 25 miles, I stopped to get some water and take a break at a Sunoco station. While standing in the shade of the overhang by some out of service pumps, a piece of my trash fell and started to blow away and so I went to pick it up. No good deed goes unpunished. In bending over to get the piece of trash, I caught my shirt on a piece of metal, tearing it and scratching me across the side. And so was the first use of my first aid supplies on the trip as I applied an alcohol prep pad and a bandaid from my kit. See, it’s things like that that’ll sap your morale. That and having to change your torn shirt in the middle of a Sunoco parking lot.

I headed on down the road which began to have more and more hills. It was not the size of the hills or their incline that was problematic, it was their existence. This was Indiana. It was supposed to be flat. Ohio was flat, why wasn’t this? I just wasn’t in the mood for more up and down, even though these ups and downs were nothing compared to what I had been through or what I’m used to from back home. I tried to keep my morale up, even noting that most of the places I was biking through resembled the opening credits of “The Middle”:

All day I had been mulling over the question of where I would stop for the night. My original plan, that tried to pick stops every 75 miles, had me stopping in La Porte, Indiana tonight. However, since I had had to bike 95 miles yesterday, I could conceivably go farther than La Porte today and thus have an even shorter distance tomorrow. Kate had even suggested staying somewhere on the Indiana Dunes coast. Traveling there would be a little out of my way, but might be worth it. Part of me was… embarrassed?… at the thought of only biking 50 or so miles today. Now, back home on a Saturday, a 50 mile ride around the region would be a good, long ride. But after having biked 80, 83, 91, and 95 miles in a day, biking only 50 miles felt like slacking.

Signpost for Tamarack Road

But then came Crumstown Trail. I’d been biking along Johnson Road and came across the intersection with Tamarack Road, which I found amusing, having gone to Tamarac High School. I snapped the picture at left and noticed up ahead some construction vehicles parked on the left side of the road. I biked past them sheepishly for having taken a picture of a street sign, but then noticed that all three drivers of all three vehicles were asleep. The vehicles themselves were unusual, with four tires across the front of each. They also bore signs that said, “No driving on new tar.”

I passed them and turned onto Crumstown Trail—a road so appropriately named that not even Dickens could have done better. The first part was enjoyable, but as I crossed some railroad tracks, the surface changed abruptly to newly laid asphalt. See, I’m familiar with this stuff from some of the rural parts of Upstate New York that I’m from. They basically come down a dirt road, spread tar all over it (even blackening the edging grass), and then lay down gravel on top of the tar. The gravel sticks to the tar and eventually is compressed into a passable surface. It was clear that I was now biking over a newly laid down surface, the black tar visible between the pieces of gravel.

It was rough going and an uncomfortable ride. And it went on for miles and miles. Not even witnessing an epic battle between a crow and a hawk (the crow won) with all kinds of cawing and screeching made this experience better. Over the course of the day, the wind had been getting stronger and increasingly from a direction that was no helpful.  And I discovered that (1) I was longing for the dirt roads of Amish country; and (2) what was left of my morale was gone. I was going to stop in La Porte. That would be far enough for today.

Eventually, I approached another railroad crossing. I hoped it would turn into more passable roads. As I got near I heard a whistle and saw the crossing bars coming down. As I approached, a freight train came roaring by—not traveling at the leisurely speeds the one I’d seen in Clyde had. This one was flying:

country lane

After the train had gone I was able to cross the tracks and soon was back on smoother pavement. I kept encountering more hills. Again, they weren’t steep ones or tall ones, they just existed and that was enough for me to be annoyed. At the foot of one hill, I decided to take a water break. As you can see from the picture, it was not a terriblybig hill. But at the end of nearly 700 miles of biking I was just done with them. It did make for a pleasant looking scene, which is why I took the photo. I noticed while stopped that my phone’s clock had set back an hour, meaning that I’d crossed a time zone line without realizing it. This actually made me happy, as it meant that I’d get one more hour of rest in my hotel when I got there.

I set back out toward La Porte. The remaining 10 miles or so were slow in going and it felt like I was not getting anywhere. Eventually, I reached La Porte. “La Porte” is an old French phrase that means, “We don’t spend any money on road maintenance.” The condition of the streets in the residential neighborhoods I passed through was appalling and at times more uncomfortable than Crumtown Trail.

I arrived at my hotel at 2:16 p.m. local time and got to my room and cleaned up. And then took the most glorious nap. I lay down on the bed with book in hand and was out. I clearly needed it.

My plan for the evening is to rest, relax, and restore as much as I can so that tomorrow when I set out for the final 75 mile leg of this journey, my morale will be up to the task.

The map of today’s route, with elevation data:

map of bike route

– Originally posted using BlogPress from my iPad (though it crashed once and only partially uploaded this blog once, requiring yet another retype, so don’t be too impressed.)