36.7 mi / 11.5 mph / 301 ft. climbing
Home: Patriot Motel
My 2014 plan for this third day out from Chicago was a 61 mile ride to camp at Pokagon State Park. That’s a longer distance than any ride we’ve done over the last eight months, despite Rett being a far stronger cyclist than the new-learner she was in 2014, so clearly I was an insane asshole back then (and it’s amazing that Rett survived that forced-march as well as she did).
I was dumb enough to at least consider a near-repeat of that plan this time around, but yesterday’s big push left Rett a bit worn out in the morning, so we decided to do something shorter (especially since we’re still early in the rebuilding strength project here). But that left us with a challenging time figuring out what alternate to take. While our timeline is more flexible than it was in our pre-retired life, Rett wants to get to her dad’s house before Father’s Day, so we can’t go too slowly. Some morning rain helped make the decision for us by keeping us lethargically inside our AirBNB until late, so we came up with the idea of essentially splitting that 2014 day into two easy days, which would then pay off in the future by getting our engines to full-strength sooner than if we were to burn them out right now.
The ride brought us through the two most-heavily Amish counties in Indiana, so we saw a few horse-drawn buggies rolling swiftly down the road, but more unusual was the large number of foals (aka “baby horsies!!!”) we saw in the surrounding pastures. Like, we might have seen 50 of them throughout the day, which is probably more than I’ve seen in my entire life (including the last time we rode by these pastures at this precise time of year). I could not answer the obvious question: why? Is there such continued growth in the human Amish community that they need to match it with growth in the equine population, for farm work and transportation? Are they an income source, a new feeder into the horse-racing industry, or sold to horse-loving English for riding lessons? Or are they simply for their own recreation and enjoyment? I learned from the Internet that most Amish men here work in the RV factories (which are a huge presence in the area too, it’s almost rare to see a yard that doesn’t have an RV in it, with RV parks, and repair centers, and dealerships everywhere). And so maybe with that steady 21st-century income, but the minimal expenses of their 19th-century desires, these Amish families are far wealthier than their simple clothing and vehicles trick most people into assuming?
Nearly our whole day was riding on SR-120, which I was looking forward to, because in 2014 I had written “Smooth year-old asphalt, continuous 4 foot shoulder….after a day of mostly urban riding and a day of major highways in pain, I was glad that Rett finally got a taste of what I consider an ideal bike touring day.” Well, maybe I had forgotten the first half that day, because while the now-9-year-old asphalt was still in pretty good shape, the shoulders were not 4 feet for most of it, and it seemed like there was much more traffic than we had on that “ideal” day. So another mystery, but maybe related to the horses? A more-booming economy vs. 2014 could lead to much more traffic on the roads.
We arrived to the small town Howe around 3pm (our lunch stop in 2014), and got a $66 motel room at the Patriot Inn (like most independent cheap motels these days, it was run by a South Asian immigrant family, so I’m guessing that “Patriot” name was their wise form of marketing/outreach in this extremely-white area).
There is some kind of nitrate issue in the area’s water, so we were told not to drink it. No problem, we’ll treat it as an unexpected portal that took us back to Mexico! We got water, and a big load of microwave dinner from the Dollar General next door. It was literally (and amazingly) the first time either of us had been in a dollar store (since they’re the most-frequent type of store in small Midwestern towns), so we didn’t even really have an idea of what kind of products they sold. But it turned out to be perfect, with three times as much frozen microwaveable food as the giant grocery stores in Mexico, which of course is more of an indictment of small-town American eating habits than it is of Mexican groceries. But we’re small town Americans for now!
Now that we’re back in a country where you can’t get a decent motel room for $20, we expect to be camping a lot more than we have recently, and hope to start that off by increasing our camping rate above the 25% that it was for the first version of this tour (due to injuries and overall difficulty for Rett making sleeping on the ground untenable). So spending two of our first three nights under a roof doesn’t seem like an auspicious start for that goal, but we think that it’s a short-term cost for long-term success.