Park Ridge, IL to  Porter, IN

37.3 mi / 11.1 mph / 288 ft. climbing
Home: Indiana Dunes State Park Campground

We’re starting a bike tour today!

Wait, what? Haven’t we been on a bike tour for eight months? Well, after two weeks of relaxing with family and friends in the Chicago area, following on five weeks of barely-riding in Baja, it sure hasn’t felt like it! Which isn’t really a problem for our minds at all; we generally try to avoid saying that we’re “on a bike tour” anyway, preferring the less-prescriptive statement that “we’re living a nomadic life”. But, that laissez-faire attitude might be a problem for our bodies, since our restart will be a “bike tour” whose riding intensity will make it more-recognizable to those who follow the prescriptive, traditional definition.

In fact it’s so traditional, that this phase of our nomadcy will be a near-repeat of Rett’s first-ever bike tour, eight years ago, from her home in Chicago to her dad’s home in upstate New York. On the one hand, it feels a bit dumb to repeat a route we’ve already traversed (especially with so many places in the world we’d like to ride!), but on the other hand, it will be fun to compare a ride now with one that we started less than a year after Rett learned how to ride a bike.

And out of pure coincidence (plus the need to wait out Memorial Day weekend crowds at the campgrounds), we would be starting on precisely the same day that we left in 2014: Memorial Day Monday.

One difference, however, would be our starting point. Northwest suburban Park Ridge is a good stretch further from our Indiana Dunes destination than Rett’s old Lakeview Chicago apartment was. And Memorial Day 2014 didn’t feature 20+ mph headwinds from the south all day. But it also didn’t feature my Dad and his offer to drop us wherever we wanted in their pickup truck!

So we decided to embrace yet another drop of my parents’ love and kindness, and loaded up the bikes in the back of the truck just as we had five months ago and 2000 miles away when they rescued us out of Palm Springs with a lift up to our Redlands healing.

Bikes on a truck!
Bikes on a truck!

My idea was to get us as far south as efficiently as possible for them (leaving us then with just crosswinds, and even slight tailwinds), so we headed down I-294. But despite our previous experience, this transport didn’t go as smoothly. First we lost a ZipLoc bag (of potato chips, wahhh!!) off Rett’s rack in the 90+ mph combined wind speed, and then the northern-climate highway surface started causing my bike to hop and slide further onto its side with each bump in the road. Eventually it got bad enough to require an emergency stop on the shoulder to re-secure it, allowing us to make it the rest of the way without damage to the truck or bike.

We unloaded in the parking lot of a Chase Bank in Glenwood, IL, said our last goodbyes, and started Phase 3 of our nomadcy!

Bye to Mom & Dad, whose helpful push felt not completely unlike my very first bike rides, with Dad’s hand on the seat, running alongside, to give me some valuable starting momentum.

And then, less than three miles in: Road Closed. Argh! America sucks! (we encountered almost no construction/closures in 1000 miles of Baja.) With no good alternates, I scouted ahead and found that the under-construction bridge over I-394 was passable, though only because it was a holiday; we needed to literally duck under construction equipment to cross an area where they definitely did not want us to be. But Dukes-of-Hazzarding that roadblock let us onto traffic-free roads on the other side.

Not long after that, we crossed into Indiana, now our fifth US state, 10% of the way through our possibly-resurrected goal to ride in all 50.

Crossing into Indiana on Glenwood Lansing Rd. means we get no sign except the one welcoming us to Munster.
Our lunch stop on the one southward section, which told us that taking the lift was definitely the right call. So nice to have trees to give shade on the hot day, to lean the bikes against, and a wide choice of benches, with a garbage can right there. This life-easy-making infrastructure was much more difficult to find in Baja!

Once in Indiana, well south of our Lake Michigan-hugging, through-Gary route we took in 2014, we were able to get on the Oak Savannah Trail, a nearly-empty, pretty, rail-trail whose tunnel of trees helped protect us from the crosswinds and the hot sun.

Rett riding through an extremely not-Baja environment.
In American small towns, you might pass right by a building like this in a park, that has toilets, soap and water, shade, and plenty of cold drinking water to fill your bottles with, all at no cost. Amazing!

In Porter County, after the trail had turned northeast, it was renamed to the Prairie Duneland Trail, and got somewhat busier, but still remained a pleasant and efficient way to cross miles of Indiana exurbia.

It would have been really cool to ride down Chicago’s Lakefront Path like we had in 2014, to absorb the massive shining civilization of the city. So it felt a little disappointing to miss that. But if we had gone that route, there’s no way we would have ever had a chance to explore these rail-trails and discover their attractions. So already on our first day, we’re experiencing the tradeoffs of exact-duplication vs. alternate takes.

Rett riding on the black asphalt of the Prairie Duneland Trail, painted white by a solid layer of tree blossoms.

Near the end we stopped at a Dairy Queen for some extra energy on the hot day. The route we took into Indiana Dunes State Park brought us to the main entrance road from the left side, which dropped us right in the middle of a shockingly-long line of cars waiting to get in. WTF? So, decision time: we could either make a right turn and backtrack towards the exit to bring us to the end of the line, or, cut across the line to the bike path, turn left and “sneak in” along with the pedestrians. I won’t reveal what we did (particularly since Indiana State Parks unusually have an extra entrance fee on top of the campground fee), but you may note from the photos that we did make it to our campsite before nightfall (in camp we had a nice talk with a sometime-cyclist who said they might have waited for an hour in that line! Neither us nor them could think of any explanation, especially why there would be a big influx into the park in late afternoon of the last day of the holiday weekend…and most definitely were not going to the campground.) Either way, that was definitely a difference from 8 years ago!

The traditional Indiana Dunes entrance photo!

Although the day had been hot, it wasn’t too bad once we were in the shaded campground, so we decided (in another difference from 2014) to skip the hike over the dunes to take a dip in the lake. We felt a little dumb coming to this park and missing the main attraction, but it’s also a sign of our old-age wisdom: much of Rett’s first pass this way ended up being an agonizing slog for her (to the point where we needed to stop camping completely after the first four nights), so I think we’ve gotten better at restraining our short-term “biting off more than we can chew” tendencies in favor of maintaining longer-term health and happiness. Especially since we’re in that “rebuilding strength” phase, let’s bank that lift from Mom & Dad that cut our day in in half, and use it to keep us operating at a strength-surplus, rather than a deficit, for the days and weeks ahead.

Our inner-ring campsite felt very different from our memories of our last site at Indiana Dunes State Park.

The surplus of drinkable water around these Great Lakes was a pleasant “surprise” after our time in Baja (where “water” and “drinkable water” were separate things, with neither in surplus) and even California (where there just wasn’t a lot of surplus, so showers were time-limited and cost money). That, and all the other familiar Midwest-State Park accoutrements made Rett say “this is what camping is supposed to feel like!”



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