I took this selfie sitting in front of a closed post office in Liberty Center, Indiana. I had gone a long way that day, I needed to rest and get out of the sun.
Trying to get out of my comfort zone, two months in advance I had bought a ticket on the nonstop Delta flight Raleigh/Durham to Indianapolis, to arrive on Friday and fly home Monday afternoon. I had never been to Indianapolis before and I did not know much about it. Fort Wayne is the second largest city in Indiana, about 150 miles to the northeast of Indy, so Fort Wayne seemed a good destination for a three to four day bike ride. I arranged for a one way rental car Monday to drive back from Fort Wayne and Enterprise agreed to watch my bicycle suitcase at the Indianapolis airport. The airport is on the southwest side of town. My mission the first day was to get to Noblesville, on the far northeast side of the Indianapolis metro region.
I do not think many people bicycle out of the Indianapolis International Airport. It was 10:00 AM on a Friday morning. The weather all four days was sunny and warm.
The bike ride from the airport to downtown was fine, it did not feel unsafe on a loop service road around the airport that has very little traffic. The southwest side of Indianapolis is an unattractive combination of industry and poor neighborhoods. I crossed the White River to get into downtown, looking for a place to eat lunch.
I had a nice lunch at a place called Tavern on South. After lunch I biked around downtown Indianapolis. It is very clean and organized but has lots of chain restaurants and not a lot of funk. There is a nationally famous bike path called Indianapolis Cultural Trail, funded by mostly by a private donation by Eugene and Marilyn Glick. It attempts to access by bicycle path all the major attractions of downtown. I found it confusing as the trail meanders around downtown without having a specific origin or destination.
Indianapolis is a huge place. Within the city limits there is a population of almost nine hundred thousand, and going north from downtown, you can bicycle for twenty miles and still not yet be in the suburbs. Except for a couple of small rivers, everything is pancake flat; older neighborhoods of early 1900’s houses spread out unencumbered. Some neighborhoods were fixed up quite nicely.
Other areas seemed OK in the bright sun of this beautiful day until you realized every fourth or fifth house was abandoned.
I passed by a nice looking outdoor beer garden.
Mike Pence is the governor of Indiana, a right wing Republican and social conservative with a helmet of gray hair. I saw lots of political signs during my four days in Indiana. Most were for Republican local offices in the upcoming primary, but in the older neighborhoods of Indianapolis I repeatedly saw these signs of someone’s apparent War Against Pence. I did not see these signs anywhere else in Indiana.
In an area called Meridian-Kessler homes were large and well maintained. I liked this unusual flat roof.
The Monon Trail is a well designed twenty mile long rail-to-trail that goes through much of the prosperous part of Indianapolis and its accompanying northern suburbs. It was full of people on this sunny day.
I found that the real money is when you leave Indianapolis and get into the municipality of Carmel. Considering the damage the fifty year Norfolk / Virginia Beach rivalry has done to my hometown region I was interested in the apparent efforts of Carmel to construct its own parallel universe twenty miles north of downtown Indianapolis, even though huge areas of Indianapolis that I had just biked through were clearly underutilized. And Carmel is building on the current move towards more urban living by adopting that as a fad.
On one side of the bike path is this fake European village called Carmel City Center, apparently quite new.
On the other side of the bike path is Civic Square. It includes a performance hall on the right called The Palladium. (Home of the Carmel Symphony Orchestra!) All these buildings are built in traditional style but are actually relatively new. I wonder what performance halls in Indianapolis remain underutilized.
Both Carmel and the state of Indiana have done a great job with bike paths in this area. When the Monon Trail ends and dumps me in a mix of suburban chain stores that we have all seen before, Carmel continues with bike paths. The lane on the right in this picture is a protected bicycle lane as it crosses the Interstate.
I still had about eleven miles to Noblesville. The highway was lined by housing developments the whole way.
I passed a megachurch on the left.
The upcoming Republican primary was clearly on people’s minds. I suspect winning that primary is tantamount to being elected here.
People who live in suburbs like this (which is now most of America) must go crazy killing time in their cars. On the bike lane I passed these cars backed up in the five o’clock traffic.
At a water stop I had booked on Hotels.com a room at a Super 8 on the fringes of Noblesville that looked close enough to downtown that I could bicycle into town for dinner. Noblesville was clearly prosperous when it was built, and now that it is surrounded by prosperous suburbs it remains so. Dinner that night at Matteo’s was the best meal of my trip.
All around Indiana I could tell that the Indy 500 race was still a big deal. It is the one hundredth anniversary this year. Upstairs at Matteo’s they were having a private dinner for people driving Indy Pace Car Camaro convertibles. When I was downstairs eating you could hear the people upstairs cheering and clapping. I do not know who owns these cars or how this whole setup works, but there were about twenty of these identical new blue vehicles parked outside the restaurant on the Noblesville town square.
I had a delicious dinner of tortellini sitting at the bar between two couples about my age. They were friendly and interesting people who lived in the Carmel / Noblesville area. One man regularly rode a recumbent bicycle in a group with friends. I think he said he was a doctor. He grew up in Indianapolis. He relayed that now that their children had moved out, he and his wife had just finished building a new house near the center of Carmel, in a location where they could walk and bicycle to stores and restaurants. I asked him if he ever considered moving into Indianapolis. He acted as if he and his wife had never thought of that. Both couples decried crime in Indianapolis proper. Both couples advised me that I should bicycle to Muncie, forty miles down the road as my next stop. They also said I must eat at a place called Vera Mae’s when I got to Muncie.
As I left to bicycle the half mile back to the motel in the dark, the Noblesville Town Hall was lit up against the sky.
As I was leaving the Super 8 motel the next morning, I had hesitated to go only to Muncie on Saturday because it was barely forty miles away. I would be leaving too many miles left for the following two days. But Muncie did seem like a nice place to visit. It is a college town, home of Ball State University; also the origin of the Ball mason jar. It took me about twenty minutes to get out of Noblesville and into actual countryside. The terrain was to be mostly flat all day.
I passed people along the way.
A little further on, this farmhouse was having some kind of garage sale on this Saturday morning. They must be adherents to whatever religion requires this type of dress.
The only major town between Noblesville and Muncie is Anderson. While Anderson and Muncie both appear on Wikipedia as being about the same size, about seventy thousand, Anderson looks a lot worse for wear. As I got into town on the southwestern outskirts I was already looking for somewhere to eat lunch, but instead found Good’s Candy Shop, which I learned has been there at least since the nineteen fifties.
I got a cup of caramel fudge ice cream. The place was so clean and the people so friendly that it almost got on your nerves.
A little further into town, at Lee’s Famous Chicken and Strips I got the rest of my lunch, a chicken barbecue sandwich and a sweet tea.
The rest of Anderson that I saw looked pretty depressed. I think it has lost a lot of manufacturing jobs. I did manage to take some candid photos of people out for a walk on a pretty day.
Downtown Anderson had a nice art-deco skycraper, empty.
The remaining miles to Muncie were pleasant bicycling through the countryside. On the outskirts of Muncie golf course developments suggested that this town might be more prosperous than Anderson.
The last several miles into Muncie were on this very pleasant path along the White River.
Once in central Muncie I looked for somewhere to regroup. The only coffee place downtown had closed at 3:00 PM. I instead found Savage’s Ale House. I got a beer and pondered what to do next. The place had a mirror behind the bar.
It turned out there was a major college debate thing going on at Ball State that weekend, and all the hotels were full, or near full, and the remaining rooms both really expensive and not well located. I looked on Airbnb, and there was a place for $ 37.00 + tax at somebody’s private home in the Muncie suburbs. I decided that if taking that deal required me to pay for a taxi home at night after dinner it was worth it. The email from the Airbnb lady said she would leave a key for me in a combo lock at the front door.
As I headed out of downtown Muncie I noticed in the bright light that Muncie has some really attractive banks.
I had come into downtown Muncie on the White River trail but there is another bike path, a rail-trail that extends out to the northwest from downtown, in the direction of my Airbnb.
I got to the house and found the key on a combo lock at the front door.
She had told me she had animals. As I entered this little dog kept his distance as he barked away at me.
This cat sat motionless on the stairs.
The room upstairs was really quite nice, with a huge bed, its own bathroom and fluffy towels. It looked out over the backyard.
I took a shower and chilled for a while, reading The New Yorker on my Kindle. The woman was still not home when I got back on the bike to ride the five miles back downtown so I could eat dinner at Vera Mae’s. The restaurant was not cheap, it was very crowded on a Friday night, and both the food and service were substandard. The cab guy home was fun to talk with after I had loaded my bicycle in the trunk of his aging Honda Accord.
I talked with the Airbnb owner briefly when I got back that night and more when I was leaving the next day. She had just returned to Indiana from living in California and had a young son about eight years old. She said taking a picture of her was fine, but she did not want people to think that she normally keeps a kitchen so messy. She works with skin care and she gave me some nice powdered sunblock.
Biking the next day was to be through Indiana farming country. It was seventy-seven miles to Fort Wayne, a distance that I could accomplish in one day if really necessary, but Google Maps showed there were several motels in the town of Bluffton, about twenty-five miles sooner.
I decided to get some miles under my belt before breakfast. Outside of Muncie there was this dragstrip right next to the two lane highway .
Someone out here feels the Bern. This is one of the only two or three presidential signs I saw on the entire trip.
I pedaled into Albany, Indiana, population 2,100. Sunday morning breakfast was downtown at Milton’s. It felt pleasantly like America, Land of the Free, Home of the Brave. I heard the waitress ask the couple if front of me if they had gone to church yet, or if they were going after breakfast. I continued reading The New Yorker, on my Kindle.
After breakfast I pedaled through the neat streets of Albany and then through the flat farmland. Almost all intersections are at right angles, both roads razor straight for miles in both directions.
The rural areas here look very different from those in North Carolina. Even in North Carolina flatlands like the area Down East, the roads are not so straight, and everything is not so neatly organized. Here in this part of Indiana he land values must be high; there is almost no wasted land; all land seems to be either intensely farmed, or else someone’s house and yard. You hardly ever see yards filled with old junk like I had just seen last week in the North Carolina sandhills. Virtually every house out here had perfectly grown green grass around it, mowed in a yard drawn at right angles.
Even where houses had been essentially abandoned, most of the time someone came around to cut the grass.
I went through two small towns that day before I got to Bluffton in mid-afternoon. While neither Montpelier nor Liberty Center looked prosperous (a house divided into three apartments in Montpelier was for sale for $35,000.00 and the crowd at the mini-mart in Montpelier did not look healthy) at least both towns looked like a pleasant small town. Unlike North Carolina towns that have been chopped up by huge highways, these places still had their essential character.
The situation in Bluffton, where I chose to spend the night, is a little more complicated. Bluffton at 11,000 is much larger than than Montpelier or Liberty Center. I was perplexed at the sign entering town, saying that Bluffton was “An Inclusive Community” The town center looks well maintained.
I learned the reason Bluffton proclaims itself an “Inclusive Community” is that its mayor Ted Ellis decided to address the inclusiveness issue head on with support from the business community. That is in stark contrast to the town’s history. Even now Wikipedia claims that Bluffton is 96.7% white. According to a 2006 article in USA Today about Bluffton, until very recently it was known as a “sundown town”, a town in which black people had better leave before the sun goes down. Mayor Ellis is trying to fight that image. I am sure he is facing a lot of headwinds. There also appears to be a lot of conservative Christians here. Church notices were posted in every establishment that I visited in or near Bluffton. I began to wish I had kept going to Fort Wayne, which Google Maps shows having at least three brewery pubs. I was tired however, and also did not want to shirk from documenting what I see and visit, as is the purpose of this blog. I got a motel room a mile and a half north of downtown, paying an Indian-looking guy.
Other than fast food, there was hardly anywhere to eat on a Sunday night in Bluffton. One place right in town called Billy Ann’s Supper Club actually looked creepily interesting but was closed on Sundays. The only real restaurant I could find open was even further out of town than my motel, a Mexican restaurant three miles from downtown, on the highway near the Walmart. I had not had much lunch, so I decided to to eat early and thus not have to bike in the dark.
After chilling in my motel room for a spell, I biked down the highway to El Camino Real. Speaking of diversity, there were actual Mexicans working in this restaurant, so I guess that says something.
People eat early in the Bluffton suburbs. When I got to the restaurant at 5:55 PM it was packed; I almost had to wait for a table. When I left at 7:05 PM it was nearly empty. There were church notices posted around the cash register. El Camino Real does serve beer and wine although I saw almost no one else drinking. The place was full of families eating together; it was an altogether pleasant vibe but I thought the Mexican food was tasteless. Does the painting on the wall indicate that baby Jesus was somehow in a Mexican town, or am I reading too much into this?
It was still light outside when I got on the bicycle and rode back down the four lane highway to my motel, where I watched two or three hours of excellent CBS television (60 Minutes / Madam Secretary / The Good Wife). I then walked outside to take a picture of the motel in the dark.
I had a tight schedule the next day, in that my flight from the Indianapolis airport was to take off at five thirty in the afternoon. I left the motel at about seven thirty in the morning, figuring I would just get breakfast twenty five miles away in Fort Wayne.
Three or four miles out of Bluffton near the Walmart, in what feels to me the middle of nowhere, they are building new housing on the prairie.
Further on towards Fort Wayne, the terrain was much like the day before, very pleasant flat roads that cut through the farmland with almost no traffic.
I got to Fort Wayne even faster than expected. On the outskirts there were two houses sort of by themselves. These people must have an interesting political relationship. One of the two houses had this sign:
The house next door had this:
I cruised through older neighborhoods.
I thought this was an attractive church.
After being in Bluffton, to sit in a Fort Wayne Starbucks somehow felt like coming home. I chilled there for quite a while, eating oatmeal and drinking decaf. The Enterprise car rental place was about two miles further in an older neighborhood on the north side. I cruised around downtown Fort Wayne before finding a nice bike path along the river that led me to the car place. From there I drove three hours back to the Indianapolis airport.
One note about the new Indianapolis airport. It is the nicest airport of its size I have ever visited. Like the new Raleigh/Durham terminal two, it is a soaring piece of contemporary architecture. Unlike the new RDU terminal, when you walk in from the street without going through security you can walk straight into a welcoming large hall, with the airplanes visible the other side of a glass wall. There are coffee places, bars and restaurants there, pre-security. You go through security to enter the two concourses on either side. The main hall is such a pleasant public space that I like to imagine, if I lived near here, I would come out here to just to hang out and look at the airplanes.
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