US 40 on the east side of Indianapolis is one long string of strip malls. Traffic can be thick, and shoulders are narrow to non-existent. Also, I would encounter two major highway ramp intersections, one with Interstate 465 and another with Shadeland Avenue, a major local road. I had little desire to deal with any of it as I bicycled through on my old Schwinn.

Fortunately, Google Maps helpfully pointed out that I could detour all of it on a rail-trail created on the former Pennsylvania Railroad bed. The trail would even take me over those two highways! Sold! I picked up the trail behind a Mejier big-box store and rode it all the way to Irvington.

Map data ©2021 Google.

It started out as a pleasant, quiet ride behind the strip malls.

Pennsy Trail

This is part of the National Road Heritage Trail, which, when it’s finished, will parallel the National Road across Indiana. About 68 miles are open of the 160 planned.

Pennsy Trail

It’s easy to forget that you’re a quarter mile away from US 40 when you’re on the trail.

Pennsy Trail

Riding across Indianapolis worried me a little. Not only is Washington Street (former US 40) not friendly to bicycles, the road leads through some sketchy neighborhoods. I was worried about encountering someone unfriendly. I thought surely the trail would be a respite from that worry. But there was an incident.

Pennsy Trail

It happened about 100 yards down the trail from here. A fellow riding a recumbent bike was headed my way from the opposite direction, and he started bellowing at me, “Get out of the way! There’s a car behind you on the trail!”

I stopped and turned around, and sure enough a small white sedan was headed my way. I pulled off the trail to let them by, puzzled over why they decided driving on the trail was a good idea.

But the recumbent rider wanted to give the driver a piece of his mind. “Turn that car around! Get off the trail!” he bellowed, over and over, at top volume.

The white sedan screeched to a halt and a young man and woman got out, chests out, ready for a fight. If recumbent rider was going to yell at them, they were going to yell right back! “How in the hell are we supposed to turn around? There’s no room! GPS brought us down here! We’re from out of town!” They rightly noted that the only way out was through. Everyone started swearing.

The couple frankly looked like the kind of people who were always ready for a fight. Recumbent rider started out as sanctimonious but turned into a straight up jackass. It truly felt like someone could throw a punch, or worse, at any minute.

Notice the two-track road to the left of the trail in the photo above? It’s someone’s long driveway. I rode my bike up the little hill to the two-track, around the altercation, and then back down onto the trail.

When I got to the next crossroads, the car sped up to me on the two-track. The fellow rolled down his window and offered a quick, weak apology, but then got animated again and said, “The dude called my wife a fat bitch and pulled a knife on us!”

My BS detector went off, and it just seemed best to be as far away from this couple as I could get. I turned away and rode off. Fortunately, I never saw any more of them.

Shortly I crossed over I-465, then Shadeland. Here’s the northbound view from the trail overpass.

Shadeland Ave. NB from Pennsy Trail

I got off the trail at Arlington Avenue and rode back up to Washington Street in the heart of the historic Irvington neighborhood. I continued my journey west on old US 40.

I’ve driven the National Road from its beginning in Baltimore, MD to its end in Vandaila, IL. To read everything I’ve ever written about it, click here.

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8 responses to “A rail-trail detour on the Ride Across Indiana”

  1. James P Cavanaugh Avatar
    James P Cavanaugh

    That Shadeland Avenue / US40 cloverleaf has always fascinated me as some early superhighway engineering put to use before Indiana had any superhighways.

    It is very much like one used where the US30 Bypass (that became Coliseum Boulevard) intersected with US30 in New Haven/Fort Wayne. I am guessing that both probably date to the early or mid 1950s.

    1. Jim Grey Avatar

      You’re right about Shadeland/40. It’s from the 50s. I don’t know anything about US30BYP and US 30 in FW but if the design is similar, its age probably is too.

  2. Andy Umbo Avatar
    Andy Umbo

    What an odd encounter? A lot of “rails-to-trails” roadways in Wisconsin, a huge biking state, but I’ve been on a few and have my doubts that even a determined compact car driver could even get on the trail using the access ways? Plenty of access that crosses street level, but barred by metal pipes set in the ground that you can only get a bike in between. I have yet to see a GPS program that would send people down a bike trail (the accesses being highly marked as well), altho have seen many that don’t track the easiest or fastest way. My experience living in Indianapolis makes me think this was another case of someone doing whatever they wanted and getting caught at it. A city that doesn’t follow traffic laws very well, and in fact, doesn’t even park facing the correct way on the correct side of the street!

    Can’t say enough about “rails-to-trails, tho. Bike riders who have access should certainly make it a point to try one. It’s not just that they utilize old railroad right-of-ways, it’s that the right-of-ways were graded for rail travel ease when they were railroad beds, so you can cover a large distance with very few difficult elevation changes! A joy. I rode a nice one in Southern Pennsylvania around the Frank Lloyd Wright Falling Water area, and the Hank Aaron trail in Milwaukee runs from the lakefront through Milwaukee to Western Waukesha County, with another connector that goes all of the way to Madison. True bike aficionados (like you Jim!), have been known to cover the 75 miles to Madison for an overnight stay and state capital evening fun, before riding back to Milwaukee the next day. A snap for “Century” riders.

    1. Jim Grey Avatar

      Great point about rail elevations being largely stable.

      75 miles in one day would kill me!!

  3. matt Avatar

    This ticks the confirmation bias box about recumbent cyclists I’ve encountered.

    1. Jim Grey Avatar

      That made me chuckle.

  4. Steve Mitchell Avatar

    An interesting encounter, sounds like your BS detector is accurate! Rail trails are becoming popular here in some spectacular rural locations – they go for miles and miles, and have brought new life into dying rural towns and settlements!

    1. Jim Grey Avatar

      I’m a fan of the rail trails too!

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