Ride Across Indiana

Rain across Indiana delays the Ride Across Indiana

I was going to be leaving Terre Haute this morning, heading east on the National Road toward Ohio. But I’ve changed my plans. What was going to be a dry week has turned out to have a soggy beginning all along the route, and I want to minimize riding in the rain. Part of the point of this tour is to see and photograph the National Road, and I won’t want to get my camera out in a downpour. Also, thunderstorms bring lightning and I would be exposed. Finally, my bike’s brakes don’t work great when they’re wet.

Image courtesy Weather Underground

So I’ll start on Wednesday morning instead, and ride through Saturday. I’ve also changed the start of the trip to Richmond, within line of sight of the Ohio border. I had to do this because of hotel availability. There’s exactly one hotel anywhere near the midpoint between Indianapolis and Richmond, and it’s in tiny Dunreith. Starting in Terre Haute on Wednesday put me in Dunreith on Friday — and the hotel was full. Starting in Richmond on Wednesday puts me in Dunreith later that day — and the hotel had a room for me.

I had been plotting and scheming this trip’s original itinerary for a long time, and had come to pre-imagine how the whole ride would go. This late change resets and refreshes everything for me and I think perhaps I will experience the ride with fresh eyes. The National Road is best experienced westbound anyway, as this road was built to open the United States to what was then its west. Finally, I’ll get to cap my ride arriving in Terre Haute, a town I lived in for nine formative younger years and for which I still feel affection. My close friend Michael still lives there after all these years, and has offered a shower at the end of the route and a beer at my favorite Terre Haute pub when my wife arrives to pick me up.

1920s guide to grade and terrain on US 40 between Indianapolis and Terre Haute

It also helps a lot that the terrain slopes gently downhill, overall, on the Indianapolis to Terre Haute portion of the trip. It doesn’t help, however, that this is also the hilliest terrain of the trip and I’ll be approaching it with two and three days of mounting trip fatigue. In contrast, the portion from Richmond to Indianapolis, which I’ll ride first, is largely flat.

I’m pleased that the high temperatures will be in the low 80s. That’ll make for pleasant riding.

Ride Across Indiana

Ride Across Indiana: It can be hard to distinguish excitement from anxiety

Margaret brought me to Richmond last night to begin my journey. It was too late to do any riding so I had dinner and relaxed in my motel room. It’s a shabby motel, a little musty, but it’s clean.

The Schwinn stows nicely between the beds.

My motel is right on US 40 near the end of the Dayton Cutoff, which you can read more about here. It’s also near a road that I’ve long suspected is an old alignment of the National Road. It’s signed as Woodside Drive. It is a curved road that begins and ends at US 40. This map snippet shows both roads. Woodside Drive starts immediately left of the Red Lobster, and the Dayton Cutoff comes in from bottom right at an angle and ends at US 40, which is the double yellow line.

All the way here I felt strong feelings that could have been either excitement or anxiety. Maybe they were both. What a thing I’m doing! For the next four days it’s just me out on this road I love so much, seeing it much closer than I ever have. But I’m definitely apprehensive about the risks — traffic, bad weather, bike breakdowns, bad people. I’ve prepared as best I can for these things, and now I just have to relax into the ride.

Ride Across Indiana

Ride Across Indiana: This ride is pre-disastered

I had a good first day despite a flat tire right at the beginning, and a knee that started to get sore about halfway through the day.

Very old homes like this dot the National Road in this part of the state. This was probably an inn for travelers in its early years.

There’s a great scene in the movie The World According to Garp where Garp and his wife are looking at a house they might buy. As they walk out, a small airplane crashes into it. Garp says, “We’ll take it!” The realtor looks at him as if he were crazy, to which he replies, “It’s been pre-disastered!”

So was my trip this morning when within the first mile I got a flat tire. I changed it without any real trouble, but I lost a nut and a bolt. Fortunately, I was right in front of Menards so I went in and bought a replacement nut and bolt!

I’m learning that with probably 50 pounds of stuff in the saddlebag, bumps and road debris that I used to be able to take with no trouble can flatten my tires in an instant. So I just have to be very careful as I go. Additionally, the saddlebag kept getting caught in my spokes. Fortunately, I had a bungee cord that allowed me to pull the bag out of the way.

One of two 1800s mile markers that remain on the road in Wayne County. State Line 9 miles, Richmond 4 1/2 miles, Centerville 1 mile

I ate the lunch I packed in Centerville in a little courtyard next to the Mansion House. I also stopped for a good while in Cambridge City. I have documented both of these towns extensively before but what the heck, I did it again.

Today was a 35 mile day — but after 20 miles I started really wearing out. My lower back was starting to crab at me a little bit, and so was my left knee. I’ve had a little trouble with that knee in recent years, nothing too serious. But I will listen very carefully to it on this trip. I’m not afraid to scrub the mission if my knee starts to really threaten.

At the 27 mile mark I hit a wall, so I paused for a good long break. I happened upon a concrete culvert, so I sat on it, and even lay back into the grass. I spent easily a half an hour there, just watching the light move across a soybean field as clouds moved through.

That was the finest moment of my day.

Ride Across Indiana

Ride Across Indiana: Light winds and flat roads

Sunny skies and light winds characterized my second day. I encountered few hills and only minor issues with the bike. All in all, it was a pleasant, if uneventful, day.

I began by riding an original alignment that begins in Dunreith, where I overnighted. Except for the occasional dog that barked at this stranger rolling by, this was the most peaceful time of my day.

Soon I reached Knightstown, which was surprisingly choked with traffic. There is construction on nearby I-70; perhaps some traffic bailed off onto the older highway. Beyond Knightstown the highway offered few hills but many typical Indiana scenes.

Greenfield isn’t too far down the road and I reached it at about noon, so I stopped on the courthouse square for lunch. Then I pressed on. Along the way I stopped a couple times to adjust some things on the bike for smooth operation.

When I reached Cumberland, a small town on the border with Indianapolis, I took a detour. I wasn’t excited about heavy traffic amid scenery of strip malls, so I rode south a quarter mile or so to the Pennsy Trail, a rail trail on the bed of the former Pennsylvania Railroad. I rode it all the way to the Irvington neighborhood in Indianapolis, where I rode back up to the National Road and followed it all the way to my Airbnb Downtown. West of Irvington the neighborhood isn’t the greatest, so I didn’t stop for photos.

Ride Across Indiana

Ride Across Indiana: How long on this longest day ‘til I finally make it through?

Day 3 of my ride along Indiana’s National Road was long – 45 miles and 8.5 hours. I was spent by the 7 hour mark but had little choice but to keep pushing on.

The view down Market Street in Indianapolis west to Monument Circle. I had stayed in an Airbnb a block north of this spot.

I slept nine hours last night, yet when my alarm went off at 7 AM, all I wanted to do was keep sleeping. That turned out to be a harbinger of the day.

I headed west with a ride around Indy’s Monument Circle and then one block south to the National Road. I followed the trail through White River State Park over the one-time US 40 bridge now used to carry only pedestrians. Beyond it, getting through the west side of Indianapolis was little fun. There wasn’t much to see and the road was in bad shape, making for jarring riding.

West Park Christian Church, just north of the National Road on Addison Street on Indy’s Near Westside

It took me almost 3 hours to reach downtown Plainfield, where I stopped for lunch. There was a Dairy Queen there so I went in and got a grilled chicken sandwich and a hot fudge sundae. I figured I’d treat myself! That turned out to be a terrible lunch; within an hour I was having a giant sugar crash. Bleh.

My bike on a US 40 bridge abandoned since at least 1940, west of Plainfield.

I got to visit my favorite abandoned bridge. It’s just west of Plainfield. I visited for the first time in 2006 on my first ever trip exploring the old roads. This was so cool that it hooked me forever on this hobby.

After about four hours on the road, I need to stop frequently to rest. I’m quite saddle sore, and thre were just several times that I just had to get off the bike to give my bottom some relief. Additionally, my lunch didn’t hold me and I needed to stop to snack a couple times. But more importantly, as I headed into Putnam County and the terrain began to become hilly, I struggled up the hills. I’m not too proud to admit that I had to walk my bike up three or four of them. They weren’t super steep, I was just fried. At one rest stop I stood next to a cornfield that was busy whispering as cornfields do. I recorded several seconds of it; I hope you can hear the whispering.

Rising Hall, a gorgeous old home right on the border between Hendricks and Putnam Counties.

Tomorrow is my last day. If I feel as tired tomorrow as I do today, I’m going to end the ride in downtown Terre Haute. That will change a 50-mile day into a 38-mile day! That’s still a long day for this middle-aged man who is in middling shape.

Ride Across Indiana

Ride Across Indiana: 150 miles and done

On Day 4, I made it as far as Terre Haute, but declared the trip over about 7 miles short of the Illinois line due to rain.

On an old alignment of US 40 near Reelsville.

Rain at least threatened all day. As the day continued, it stopped threatening and started raining. The rain really picked up as I worked my way through Brazil and was quite heavy when I reached Terre Haute. Not only were my brakes ineffective, but my handlebar grips were too slippery to hold.

But I declare victory anyway. I still rode 150 miles, give or take, in four days.

The McKinley House near Harmony.

I deeply enjoyed riding the old concrete alignments of US 40 in Putnam County and seeing the old homes and barns all along the route. Despite the rain I had good energy and spirits.

Sonka’s, a Terre Haute institution.

In Terre Haute I rode to my old friend Michael’s. Margaret came along to get me and Michael, his wife Merrie, Margaret, and I went out for dinner and drinks at a favorite place from the years I lived in Terre Haute. Then we headed home.

I’ll have more to tell about this trip in posts to come, after I’ve had some time to process the photographs and process my thoughts and feelings.