Happy Father’s Day! This comes somewhat belated seeing as I’m writing this blog 24 hours after the fact and it probably won’t be posted for several days still, so I apologize for that, but I do hope all you worried/proud/envious fathers out there had a good one. (Particularly one Bill Chiles. Hey, Pops.)
Today began, like many before and many to come, in a darkened room in a church in a small town. This time the town was Angola, Indiana, the church the United Methodist Church. But unlike any day before and probably most to come, I had that darkened room all to myself and I was on a couch, not the floor. The gloriousness of these novelties, particularly the latter, did not, however, compensate for the unpleasantness of being jarred awake by my cell phone alarm at 5:30 AM. Again. Yes, I do look forward to each new day of this trip, but that doesn’t change the fact that I’m just not a morning person. I may roll out of my sleeping bag at 5:30 AM (or at 6:00, more likely, seeing as I my fingers always seem to find the snooze button even in the dark), but I’m not truly awake for another two or three hours. So of course I was last to get my bag packed and ready to be put in the trailer.
After finishing our regular morning cleaning routine, we sat down to a rare feast of a breakfast that a few kind members of the church congregation provided. Some highlights: asparagus casserole, broccoli-and-cheese casserole, eggs-and-meat casserole, French toast casserole, and a few other casseroles --- all exceptional, and they certainly beat the bagels we usually settle for. Then we did the old map meeting ritual, and there it was decided (allegedly based on an algorithm but probably randomly) that today I would be the HBC birthday boy, which means 1) I write the blog for the day, and 2) I don’t have to do my chores. It was especially fortuitous that I would be HBC birthday boy on this day because I happen to be on laundry crew for this week, and June 17 was one of the two days this week that laundry crew would be doing laundry. In case you didn’t know, few people like laundry duty because it means while everyone else is (supposedly) out having fun in the town, you’re stuck at a laundromat for three hours. Partay!
By 8:00 AM we were back on the road heading west from Angola towards Elkhart, Indiana, our next stop. For about seven miles we found ourselves weaving between corn fields on some of northern Indiana’s forgotten country roads, not a car in sight. At one point we spotted a doe bounding across a cleared field to our right and watched (should I say “in awe” or is that too cheesy?) as she leaped across the road in front of us and vanished into the trees. We also happened upon a ritzy-looking Clydesdale farm, quite impressive. Then, as indicated on the directions that our fearless leader Niko made for us, we were meant to head west on a road alternately called N 300 W, CR 500 W, E 300 N, W 300 N, E 400 N, W 400 N, etc., etc. for about 18 miles before taking a short crossroad that would lead us to the somewhat busier Route 120, which we would then follow west for another 22 miles or so. (The day’s trip would total 56 miles, a short ride for us by this point.) Well, upon turning onto the road of many names we discovered that it was in fact a dirt road, and thus began day two of our now three-day Dirt Road Debacle. Well, we told ourselves, maybe if we go a little ways it’ll start being paved, but after about three miles of gravel, we realized that was probably not going to happen. At this point we came across a paved crossroad, so Niko decided we would take that road north and then just get on 120 earlier than intended. It seemed like a plan, but we only got a few hundred yards up that road when a car (yes, a car!) rolled up and its driver informed us that if we went any further we would find ourselves on gravel again. He kindly pointed out that the next crossroad down was paved and would lead us to Route 120, so we took it, got on Route 120, and thus saved ourselves perhaps 15 miles of flat tires and aching bottoms.
Route 120 had its own thrills in store for us, namely terrible pavement on the shoulder and a series of dead kitty cats that brought a woeful “Why?!” from Andy. I felt a strange, paternal desire to protect the poor boy from sights such as this, but there was nothing we could do. There was a nice scenery change; flat farmland gave way to woods and lakes and some rolling hills to remind us of the good times we had back in the old Endless Mountains of Pennsylvania. At mile 20 we stopped for a much-needed snack break/80s-themed dance party. Lunch was at mile 40 beside a one of the aforementioned lakes. (There are literally thousands in this state.) We made pretty good time between the snack break and lunch, we being most of the group except Saskia, whose tire exploded, quite dramatically, actually. She made it to lunch nonetheless, as you do.
Since this is my blog and I can ramble on about whatever I want, I want to mention something odd: at this lake where we ate lunch, there was a boat labeled with the logo of an alpaca farm. We had seen an alpaca farm back in Pennsylvania, and we had passed another one earlier this day. A few of us began to ponder the reason for having an alpaca farm. The exchange went something like this:
Clay: I would run an alpaca farm to harvest alpaca milk. It might be radioactive like the urine of llamas.
Niko: Alpaca milk? Maybe. I would shear them to make coats for cold people.
Sam: Cold people? Why not poor people? Not all cold people necessarily need coats.
Niko: But cold people need alpaca coats.
Someone: Where do alpacas come from, anyway?
For some reason I always thought they came from the Andes. Oh well, that’s why Saskia goes to Yale and I…well…I do too. Anyway, the ultimate question remains: why did these alpacas have a boat in Indiana? Food for thought.
Pulling away from lunch, I hit a patch of soft gravel going about three miles per hour, so of course I turtled (HBC jargon for falling over on one’s bike while stopped or traveling at a speed so slow that taking a spill is just embarrassing). My fellows Centralians (OTers? Oregon Trailers?) cheered, I threw my arms up proudly, and off I went, joining up with Sam and Rebecca for the rest of the ride into Elkhart. In spite of a strong headwind, we averaged 20 miles per hour into Elkhart, arriving at the St. Thomas Catholic Church and School at about 1:30 PM just behind Andy and Erin, the first to arrive. They are so fast. Our contact at the church, Tammy, let us in, pointed us to the gym where we would be sleeping, and made us lemonade and iced tea. She also showed us to the showers, which actually were on the premises this time, unlike the three days before when our directions said “showers: on premises” but turned out to be lying to us.
After we had all arrived, showered, and perhaps even napped, we went to the basement for dinner with the eighth grade confirmation class and other church members. It didn’t take long for us ot discover that the 13- and 14-year-olds had not been briefed on who we were and why we were all eating dinner together, because after we had all introduced ourselves and said where we were from, the girls next to me started posing questions like, “Did all of you fly here from where you live?” and “Why did you come here?” I told them we were in fact on a cross-country bike trip and that we were only passing through, and their response went something like, “You’re riding a bicycle across the whole country? That sounds, uh, fun. Not.” So much for positive impressions. I did find out after dinner that the eighth grade girls at the next table over had decided who out of the 13 or 14 guys on our bike trip were the three most attractive and who were the three least attractive. I’m slightly embarrassed to admit that more than a few of us actually were curious to know where we landed in the rankings, because the opinions of 14-year-olds are oh-so-important, but no one would say a word other than, “It seems that eighth grade girls aren’t that into masculine guys.”
We ended the day with a DVD, The Pursuit of Happyness, on the church’s big-screen TV. I don’t want to give a review of the film because this blog is already way too long, but I will say the film is aptly titled; the pursuit of happiness occupies about an hour and 45 minutes of the film, while the attainment of happiness only happens in the last 15 minutes of it. Our other options had been Shrek 2 and Robin Hood: Men in Tights. And we thought we were the fun group.
After that I went to bed. The next day I woke up on the floor in a room filled with other people who were also on the floor. And it was also not my birthday anymore. Not much more to say, so I’ll just throw this one out again: Happy Father’s Day!