57.4 mi / 11.4 mph / 889 ft. climbing
Home: Wayback House AirBNB
We made it out early for a long day to beat the heat, and avoided the mistake of the puddle-filled gravel “bike path” that we were lured into 8 years ago. The Dunes Highway paralleling the park was wooded and peaceful, helped by surprisingly-good pickup truck drivers moving fully into the oncoming lane to pass, and at least one even turning on his flashers, something we’ve only seen in Mexico! (maybe he was a Mexican driver?)
After passing through Michigan City, we repeated our 2014 route of US-20 to IN-2, big divided highways that few cyclists use, but they get us where we need to go efficiently and have big shoulders. And with no construction this time messing with those shoulders, we didn’t have a single sketchy moment.
Well, Rett did have one sketchy moment, but it didn’t have anything to do with traffic. She was hit with some shaky wooziness, perhaps something to do with heat, hydration, or blood-sugar. We stopped under an underpass and it was serious enough to get out one of our chairs for her to sit in while she ate a bunch of Red Vines. Luckily once recovered, the shakes didn’t return for the rest of the day.
But given those issues, I was mad at myself for poor lunch-planning. Since we were on major highways, I figured it wouldn’t be difficult to find gas stations for chips and drinks, but we had entered a big “food desert” with no obvious options when we needed calories. But finally, scanning Google Maps, I saw that we’d pass a campground that supposedly had a camp store. The proprietor, wearing a “Trump 2024” hat, was happy to sell me $11 worth of snacks, and even nice enough to tell his rambling long-termer that he’d deal with him after he took care of me.
Just a little further down the road on the map was “Bendix Woods” with “The Studebaker Trees”. No idea what any of that meant, but it sounded like a public park where we could sit and eat our nearly-acquired calories. We turned in and found a nice shaded picnic table, an air-conditioned visitor center with bathrooms where we could fill our water bottles, and, most-importantly, where we could learn about the “Studebaker Trees”, a giant living advertisement spelling out “STUDEBAKER”, created when the car company dot-matrixed 8,000 pine trees into the ground in 1938. The green logo lives on, much longer than the automaker did, though the Google Satellite View shows it has gotten significantly shaggier than the impressively-sharp historical photos. Of course, without a drone or an airplane, all we could see were the ground-level clearings marking openings in the final ‘E’ and ‘R’.
I’d never even heard of the idea of writing with trees, much less seen an implementation of it, but the most-notable part of the stop was how it was a new and unknown discovery for us. Eight years ago we had been on the same road and obliviously rolled right past it; it was only our timing and poor lunch-planning that made us discover it this time. So that’s an indication that “duplicating our old route” will hardly be a waste of time, because even at bicycle-speed, there was obviously a lot we missed the first time around!
We finally got off the highways at South Bend, where waiting for unusually-long traffic lights in the heat of the downtown area really killed our momentum. A leftover ad for “Mayor Pete” from the 2020 Democratic Presidential primary tipped me off that maybe we had Buttigieg (now Biden’s Transportation Secretary) to thank for giving extreme priority to pedestrians in this town.
The long day was really wearing Rett out; a stop to lay down in the shade in a grassy park field (again, a Midwest American luxury!) gave some temporary reinvigoration, but we only managed a few miles more until she started fading again.
That’s the point when we rolled by a couple of young girls playing in a sprinkler, and upon hearing an invitation to join them, we happily turned back to accept.
Grandmother Joanne not only let us cool off in the spray, she also offered to fill our water bottles and had the kids get us some popsicles! It was no surprise when Joanne mentioned that she had been a teacher, because she had essentially been using us as a traveling show-and-tell exhibition for her granddaughters, guiding them to think about how we might live from day-to-day and what our travels are like. Which is awesome, because I was in my 20s before I’d even heard of “bike touring” and been exposed to the alternative lifestyles related to it, so it would be fun to know how seating this more-expansive definition of “going for a bike ride” in the minds of new riders broadens their perspectives rolling forward.
That refreshing of both our bodies and spirits definitely gave us the energy to complete the day. We stopped at the same Taco Bell to pick up dinner supplies, though Indiana’s slightly-odd beer laws mean we somehow failed this time to acquire the beer that we got in 2014.
And then we arrived to the exact AirBNB that we had stayed in eight years ago, which was surprisingly still in operation. It was the very first AirBNB we had ever stayed in, and still one of our favorites, but it was the lure of air conditioning and the threat of overnight rain that finally pushed us into luxury-expense of the re-do. The buried-in-the-woods apartment had been repainted, but otherwise was just as beautiful and comfortable as we remembered, except that, like nearly all AirBNBs, the “BNB” aspect to it has definitely been deprecated from those early days; this time we neither saw nor spoke with our hosts living in the attached house, and coffee was the only available breakfast. Along with Ubers no longer offering refreshing drinks, I guess this is our generation’s version of the previous generation mourning the loss-of-luxury in 1960s air travel!