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.
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.
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.
I picked our bikes up from the shop on Monday after having them tuned up. The shop was inundated with repairs. The owner told me that she had 450 bikes for repair hanging in the back, plus a hundred or so in the front of the store. There was a single path from the door to the counter, there were so many bikes in there. She said it has just been crazy this season with people wanting their bikes made ready for the warm months.
I like my Schwinn but it is 35 years old and has old-bike issues. I hoped the shop could resolve, or at least improve, some of them.
I had to air up my tires every few days last season. The tires and tubes dated to my last tuneup in 2011, so I asked for replacements. I was thrilled when they said they had gumwall tires in stock for it, since that’s what my Schwinn had on it originally. But then they called to say my tires were in fine shape and didn’t need to be replaced, unless I was dying to have gumwalls. I decided to save a little money and just had new tubes fitted.
My brakes were very weak, so much so that I wouldn’t ride this bike in city traffic as there is no way to stop fast. The bike has a front hand brake and a rear coaster brake. The coaster brake is part of the three-speed hub, which is sealed. The remedy is replacement, and I wasn’t prepared to make that kind of investment in the Schwinn. So I asked them to either tighten or replace the front brakes, whichever it took to make them stop surely.
I also mentioned that the gears came out of true a lot last season and I was constantly adjusting them. They noticed that the cable was very loose and they said they’d tighten it, which should do the trick.
They clearly tightened the shift cable, which I hope lets the bike’s gears stay true this season. They improved the front hand brake slightly, but not nearly enough. Stops are still far too long. I’m disappointed in that. But they didn’t write my instructions for the brakes onto the work order. I feel sure that by the time they put my bike on the bench, they’d forgotten all about what I’d asked. I don’t want to schlep the bike all the way back there, so I’ll see if I can tighten the brakes up a little more myself. There’s plenty of pad left, I think I just need to bring the calipers a little closer to the rim. I used to do that to the 3 speed I had as a teenager.
It’s likely I’ll continue working from home most or all of this summer, which will let me ride a lot again this year. Before the pandemic, I worked in the office every day, and seldom found time to ride. I used to manage a half dozen rides every season. Last season I made that many every week, because I could go out on my lunch hour. It was glorious!
I’d love to buy a new 3 speed, to escape the old-bike blues. I’m fixated on 3-speed bicycles because not only do I love their upright riding position, but I value the simplicity of the sealed gear hub over a derailleur. I’ve owned two bikes with derailleurs and both of them dropped their chain from time to time. What a pain in the rear. Also, I hardly need more than 3, maybe 5, speeds here in flat Indiana. I once had an 18-speed bike and it was just too many speeds. I keep drooling over this Bianchi 3 speed. It looks just right!
I’ve been given the option of working from home full time when the pandemic is over, but I’ve decided not to take it. Instead, I’ll work in the office about four days a week and at home about one day. I can ride on my lunch hour on work-from-home days when the weather supports it, but I’m not sure how I’ll ride as often as I’m getting to now thanks to the pandemic. I’m not sure it makes sense to invest in a new bike unless I’m going to ride it frequently.
I made this photo a couple weeks ago when we still had summer temperatures. It’s cooled off considerably since then; some days, the high has been just 60 degrees.
Riding my bike feels like freedom. At its best, a bike ride requires no prep. In whatever I’m wearing, I just get on and go! The colder it gets, the more cold-weather gear I need to put on to ride. It’s not that big of a deal to put on a coat and gloves, though I do grumble about it. Eventually it gets too cold for my face, though, and I’ve never found a solution that I have been willing to put up with.
On this early September day I was riding through the cornfields that begin less than a mile north of my home. County Road South 700 East makes a quick jog to the left around an old farm boundary, leading to this scene of a barn in the middle of a cornfield.
In the spring, I thought that lockdown might flatten the pandemic curve (remember that phrase?) enough that life could return to normal in the summer. I was willing, eager even, to press pause on seeing family and especially friends — to just stay home — for the greater good. But now it’s clear that we’re in this for months longer yet, easily through the winter and possibly even longer.
I’m mighty introverted and love spending time alone, but even I need some human contact. I feel it deeply — I’m not getting enough, even though I live with my wife and some of our children and thus have company whenever I want it. To be whole and healthy, I need to see family that doesn’t live here, and I need to see my friends. Videoconferencing hasn’t been a good enough substitute.
Obviously, risk of COVID increases the more you interact with people outside your household. My wife and I have read a number of articles about it, articles that were as agenda-free as we could find. The consensus is that when you spend time with people outside your household, the lowest-risk way to do it is outside, where whatever people around you breathe out dissipates into the air. Distancing of at least six feet, or masks when that’s not possible, further reduces the risk.
Indiana businesses are open again with a few restrictions (though in at least one county bars remain closed). This appears to have signaled a return to normal for many Hoosiers. I see people spending time in each others’ homes, riding in each others’ cars, and having meals inside restaurants. It saddens me to see it, as this behavior only spreads the virus.
My wife and I are still playing it conservatively — from our observation, much more conservatively than most. But we have loosened up some. Isolation has been hard on us and has contributed to our low moods. Right now, we do see our friends and extended family outside. We are beginning to travel together in limited fashion to places where we spend most of our time outside. We choose to take on what we believe is a small amount of COVID risk to get the mental health benefits of human interaction and being in the world.
We’re getting as much of it in now as we can, because this window will close when winter weather arrives. Indiana winters are cold and snowy, sharply limiting outdoor activity. I never look forward to winter, but I dread this coming winter more than any other in my life because it will mean intense isolation.
We’ve had occasional picnics in a Zionsville park and invited children, siblings, and parents who live in central Indiana. We’re having another on Sunday. We’ve taken dinner to my mom’s a couple times, and eaten it with her on her patio. A couple weeks ago my team at work had a socially distanced picnic together. And I’m starting to see friends a little, always outside, with reasonable distancing. On Tuesday I saw my brother and a mutual colleague for the first time since February. We met at a restaurant with a great whiskey selection, and sipped a couple bourbons on the patio while we caught up. It was wonderful.
Yesterday I took the afternoon off and drove to southern Indiana to meet my younger son, Garrett, at a state park. His mom moved way out into the country with her husband after he retired, and that’s where Garrett lives when he’s not away at college. The state park is about 20 minutes from his home. I don’t remember exactly the last time I saw Garrett, but it was before the pandemic and might have been a long ago as January. I’ve not gone this long without seeing him since he was born. We went for a long hike, and talked. It slaked a deep thirst.
My wife and I have also booked an Airbnb apartment in downtown Louisville for an upcoming weekend. Since we married, we’ve made a point of taking a long weekend away every three months. With all the hard stuff we’ve lived through, these trips help us remember that we love each other and enjoy each other’s company very much. Our last trip was in January. We need to get away. We chose an Airbnb apartment rather than a hotel because we think there’s some risk advantage to a single unit over a room in a large building. We were also able to learn about the owner’s cleaning practices in detail, and they satisfy us. While there, we hope to walk through downtown Louisville photographing its architecture and enjoying meals outside at restaurants. But if it rains all weekend we will buy groceries, make our own meals, and watch Netflix together. If this weekend trip is like all the others we’ve taken, we’ll return renewed in our relationship.
One of our sons moved out a few weeks ago. It brought us no joy as he’s on an unsustainable life path that will go badly for him. It’s been deeply stressful for all of us who live here. He is also estranged from the mother of his child. After he moved out we reached out to the mother, who has since been generous in bringing our granddaughter for visits. We were thrilled when the mother offered to make the visits to be regular, weekly if we can swing it, to build strong bonds.
Already bad weather has backed us into a corner, and we’ve allowed them into our home. We have reasonable assurance that the mother is managing pandemic risk as well as she can, and she has the same reasonable assurance from us. But in the end you never can really know and every person you add to your bubble only increases your risk. And again, winter is coming; the cold and snow will sharply limit our ability to see our granddaughter outside. We’ve judged that the better thing is for us to have time with our granddaughter, so we invite her and her mother in. We hope we’re right.
Finally, I’m getting outside for walks and bike rides as much as I can. It’s a solitary activity and so I’m at no COVID risk. But the exercise is good for my body, mind, and spirit in these hard times. I figure I have about six more weeks on the bike before temperatures are too chilly for me to ride without special gear — it’s amazing how cold your hands, ears, and face get on the bike below about 60 degrees. I don’t enjoy wearing cold-weather gear on the bike, but this year it will be worth me investing in some so I can ride for as long as I can.
Walking will be easy enough and not unpleasant until the temps drop below zero Fahrenheit. Then I’ll break out my heaviest coat, a Korean War-era wool-lined Army trench that has blocked every cold I’ve thrown at it for the 35 years I’ve owned it. But walk I will, all winter. I’m making that commitment now. It will help me get through the long, lonely winter.
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