Archive for the ‘Midwest USA trips’ Category

Who in North Carolina goes on vacation to bicycle around Cincinnati OH?   During a pandemic?   Tootie and I wanted to get away to somewhere cooler while still staying safe and socially distant.   I had never been on the seemingly nice bike trail that connects downtown Cincinnati with much of Ohio;  I only had been to Cincinnati for essentially the first time less than a year ago.   By car Cincinnati would be an eight hour drive:  from Chapel Hill NC I-40 to Winston-Salem then I-77 through Charleston WV, then I-64 West, then Kentucky route 9.

We threw two bicycles in the back of the Prius and left home about 7:00 AM on a Saturday morning.   I took the Surly Long Haul Trucker, Tootie has a Cannondale.   We stopped for coffee at the Starbucks at the Elon College exit on I-85 and the drive was quite painless.  Newport KY is directly across the Ohio River from downtown Cincinnati.  Reser Bicycle Outfitters in downtown Newport had helpfully advised me by email that parking downtown was free, even for several days.  They advised we were taking our chances parking in this somewhat poor neighborhood.    Whatever.   Our 2005 Prius is not worth much.  We pulled in about 4:00 PM.

 

We had bags on the back of the bicycles with our changes of clothes.   For the first night we left the car in Newport KY and set out to bicycle the short distance across the river to Cincinnati, then through downtown to an Airbnb.

This is essentially the bike ride we did in one full day and two part days.

Newport KY is almost as old a town as Cincinnati.

 

 

 

We bicycled across the Ohio River on this former rail bridge, originally built in 1872.  It was redone several times before being converted to pedestrian only use in 2001.

Over The Rhine neighborhood is just north of downtown Cincinnati.    Poor and decrepit until relatively recently it has lovely nineteenth century buildings.

We pulled the bicycles up to the address of our Airbnb on a delightfully urban block.    Tootie watched the bicycles while I used the key code we had been given to go inside and check it out.

Once inside the Airbnb one bedroom apartment was quite nice but first we had to carry the bicycles up a steep set of stairs.   It felt very nineteenth century.

 

 

 

 

A little later was strolled around the neighborhood, looking for a safe space to order a drink.  We found a bar/restaurant that was selling drinks out of the window and where we could sit, spaced out, on the sidewalk.  It was fun to watch the world go by.

 

On the way back to the Airbnb a mini-mart was closed to normal sales but was selling tacos outside on the street.  We thought about getting some but passed.

 

There were a few restaurants that had some kind of outdoor seating but we felt safer, and thus more comfortable, watching TV in our Airbnb eating Middle Eastern takeout from the Ohio chain Alladin.

Thankfully our bedroom was in the back and away from the street.   Until the early morning hours there was always something noisily going on across the street at a mini-mart.

The next morning I walked five blocks to Coffee Emporium on Central Parkway and got a cafe au lait, an almond milk latte, and a blueberry muffin and walked them back to the apartment.  Somewhat later we carried the bicycles downstairs and loaded up to head out.

 

Our destination for the day would be the small riverside town of Milford OH, maybe twenty miles away.   We wanted to get there by threading through the often hilly city streets.

Downtown Cincinnati and the Over The Rhine neighborhood are on a flat area near the Ohio River.   The rest of Cincinnati, even many older neighborhoods, are in the steep hills north of Downtown.

 

 

 

This area is called East Walnut Hills, a streetcar suburb from the late nineteenth century.

 

We stumbled onto a delightful east-west rail-trail several miles long, the Wasson Way.

 

We passed through several more neighborhoods and towns like Evanston, Oakley, and Madisonville, with startlingly different economic situations in each; some rich, some poor.

 

The hills were becoming unpredictable and oppressive so we turned south to finish our ride to Milford along the Little Miami River and its attendant bike path.   We stopped for lunch at the Fifty West Brewery and Burger Bar.  It is interesting to see some restaurants actually doing well during this pandemic.   Fifty West has a huge lawn including multiple beach volleyball courts that have been converted to socially distanced seating.   There were hundreds of people here but it seemed reasonably safe because it was so spread out, and everything was outdoors.    We split an Ohio Burger; cheeseburger with Cincinnati chili,  plus an order of fries.  I got an IPA, she got root beer.

 

The Little Miami Scenic Trail comes right up to Fifty West and we bicycled the four miles further upstream to Milford OH, population 2,000 and likely to remain that, because the town in wedged in between the river and steep hills.   It seems to function as a touristy getaway.

It had several antique gun stores.

 

 

There was a store selling lawn ornaments.

 

Our Airbnb was quite nice, an inexpensive clean and modern two room apartment above a downtown store called Harvest Market.   Later on we walked down the street to Little Miami Brewing Company, another establishment that has enough outdoor space to accommodate a large crowd that can stay socially distant.   We watched overweight people on kayaks on the river below.

We enjoyed our beer but had had enough of even the idea of crowds.   We walked back to the apartment and ordered takeout pizza from a place called Padrino; we set up a nice dinner in the apartment which had a table and real plates and silverware.

The next morning we headed back towards our car in Newport KY.   First we biked south on the Little Miami Scenic Trail, part of the statewide Ohio to Erie Trail system.

 

 

Google Maps shows a continuous trail to Downtown Cincinnati along the river.   On the ground it is more complicated, the trail stops and starts.   We bicycled by Cincinnati’s general aviation Lunken Airport.

Much of the way into Downtown Cincinnati was along Highway 52 along the Ohio River, passing through industrial areas.

Interesting new public school, specially designed for the Ohio River floodplain.

There is a park on the riverfront in Downtown Cincinnati, people were playing pickleball.

 

Riverfront construction

The pedestrian bridge over the Ohio River to Kentucky was once again a delight.

Our car was still there in Newport KY!   We left about 11:00 AM and got home to Chapel Hill NC in time to make a late dinner.

High on my bucket list was to bicycle to Columbus, Indiana to see modern architecture.  More on that later.

Searching for a way to Columbus IN without taking the airplane, the Kentucky suburbs of Cincinnati OH are an eight hour five hundred mile drive from Chapel Hill NC, about my limit for a car ride.   This would give me a starting point where we could bicycle the hundred miles further to Columbus IN.     Also, I had barely ever been to Cincinnati, I was sure there would be something to see there.

My favorite retired architect, Lyman, from Austin TX really wanted to go on this trip.   Purchased a month in advance, Lyman got a ticket from Austin TX to Cincinnati on Southwest Airlines for $ 134.00 round trip, luggage included, changing planes in Baltimore.  Amazing.   Some kind of fare war is going on.   Air fares are all over the map these days but that is an amazing deal.

It was a little late in the season to be bicycling in Ohio and Indiana but we had to hope that the weather would cooperate.

I got up early and left Chapel Hill NC before 6:00 AM, driving our Prius mostly through West Virginia with my Bike Friday in the back.   I picked up Lyman at the Cincinnati/Northern Kentucky airport at about 2:00 PM the same day.  (He had gotten up even earlier than me; his flight had taken off from Austin at 5:35 AM!)  We drove a few minutes to an airport parking lot where we would leave the car for a week.  He had already put together his folding Bike Friday which he had brought in a suitcase.    We left his suitcase in my car and pedaled away from the parking lot towards the Ohio River, about two miles away.   At the top of a hill we could see the river below.

Although we were only about ten miles from downtown Cincinnati the landscape felt like a backdrop for Huckleberry Finn.

We took the privately owned Anderson Ferry across to the Ohio side.  It costs five dollars per car, one dollar for a bicycle, cash only.  They claim to have been doing this since 1817!  The crossing takes about five minutes.

 

 

Once on the Ohio side the landscape became urban fairly quickly.   While Cincinnati is still a large city, back in 1850 it was the sixth largest city in America, right behind New Orleans.   Cincinnati has miles of nineteenth century buildings, including some here upriver before we had even gotten to the city limits.

We crossed into the city limits.

It was an industrial area along the river.

In that same area we stumbled onto our first big architectural find, the 1931 Cincinnati Union Terminal, done in the Art Deco style.

On several occasions in the late 1960’s my mother took her four children by train from Norfolk VA to Texas to visit family, each time changing trains at this station in Cincinnati.    I do remember the building.  It was nicely restored in 2018,  having been converted to the Cincinnati Museum Center, as well as serving the few Amtrak trains that still call.   We biked up to the building and walked around inside.

 

We were impressed.   Back on the bicycles, it was two miles further to the Over the Rhine neighborhood where we had booked an Airbnb.  On the way we passed through several modernist public housing complexes.  In talking to locals later I learned that much of Over the Rhine was semi-abandoned until as recently as 2009.  I do not know the effect the current gentrification has had on the lower income people who are being pushed out.

 

 

Even now, the northern part of the neighborhood is still undergoing renovations, seemingly block by block.   I have learned it is one of the largest concentrations of intact mid-nineteenth century buildings in America.

 

This was the block that contained our Airbnb, sitting across from Washington Park.

 

For less than $ 150.00 per night including tax we got a stylish two bedroom apartment, accessed by an intricate interior staircase.

 

By this time it had gotten dark, bicycling for the day was over.   We went out for a drink.   Just around the corner in this newly trendy neighborhood there was a pretentious place with $12.00 cocktails.  Why not?  Just one.

 

Finding dinner was more problematic.   There were lots of restaurants but we could not seem to find something that looked appealing.   We ended splitting a big hamburger seated at another newer bar, it was all quite good.

The next morning we headed out by bicycle, destination Columbus, Indiana.  We hoped to make it in two to three days.  First we had to cycle through older parts of Cincinnati.

 

Because of our route heading west we were skipping huge parts of the uptown parts of the city, such as the area around University of Cincinnati, the upscale parts of Cincinnati.  Instead we headed through several miles non-gentrified areas.

 

 

Just before crossing Mill Creek we passed this place.   It was not lunchtime and we did not stop.  Cincinnati chili is the most famous local dish.  On further reading I understand it is NOT the Tex-Mex dish eaten all over America.  It is more like tomato meat sauce, often eaten on spaghetti.

 

Cincinnati was originally built around the flood plain where where Mill Creek enters the Ohio River.   Once we crossed Mill Creek and a sea of railroad tracks the land quickly breaks into steep wooded hills, much of it the public park known as Mount Airy.  We climbed further uphill through rugged terrain and then through Ohio exurban countryside.

 

It was time for lunch as we approached the suburban town of Harrison just before the Indiana state line.   Businesses sometimes pay folks to stand on the sidewalk and wave a sign.   In the rows of strip malls we passed this guy.   Greek food, something vegetarian sounded great.   And it was!

 

After lunch we headed back on the road.   The town of Harrison OH was obviously not wealthy but attractive.

We crossed into the state of Indiana just beyond Harrison.   The countryside was lovely.

 

 

We had set as our destination that day the supposedly tourist town of Metamora IN.    We had cycled a long way that day and ten miles before Metamora we arrived in Brookville IN.  We found Coffee On Main off on a side street, in the lower level of a building functioning as a church.  Small independent coffee houses have been cropping up all over America.

The proprietor was friendly and professional, she runs the place with her three daughters, all of them working part-time while holding other full-time jobs.  I got my usual almond milk latte but she gave us free samples of her sweet coffee drinks.   There was Christian music playing on the video and the Boy Scout Oath on the wall.

We hung out a while enjoying the chairs and the coffee.   We pushed off because we needed to arrive at our day’s destination of Metamora IN before sundown.   We cycled through the darkening countryside.

Metamora IN bills itself to be a tourist town, the site of a nineteenth century stop on the Whitewater Canal.  It is a tiny town, lots of schlock gently spread around.

 

The Airbnb was right in town in an old building with an old fashioned decor.   What does a picture of a plantation home have to do with Indiana?   We got separate rooms; this was Lyman’s.

There were unusual reading materials on the shelf in my room.

 

There were only two other guests at the hotel, both of them bow hunters looking for deer.    The friendly father son team had driven from far upstate New York in their black Ford pickup, looking for different hunting grounds.

 

On the map this town of Metamora showed several restaurants, we found out on arrival that none are open after about 3:00 PM.   I had to bicycle in semi-darkness a quarter mile down the highway to a MiniMart for some sandwiches which I brought back to the hotel.

We were lucky that Lyman had brought along a bottle of expensive Scotch.   We broke that open and sat outside on the porch with our sandwiches.  It was raining outside.

 

The next morning it was cold and rainy.  The proprietor was going to cook us breakfast but we volunteered and cooked eggs and bacon for ourselves, using ingredients from her refrigerator.    We forced ourselves to go back to bed for most of the morning, waiting for the rain to stop.  I did some reading on my Kindle.

About noon the weather indicated we could push on and so we did!   Because of the rain we set our sights low, just somehow get twenty-five or thirty miles to the larger town of Greensburg where we knew there were actual motels.

The first part of the ride was climbing again through heavily wooded terrain, mostly uphill.  Eventually the land leveled out on what I presume is the start of the great American flatness.

 

 

 

Greensburg had a Quality Inn out by the highway with a very reasonably priced room with two double beds, so we settled in to get out of the cold.   We wanted to eat in downtown Greensburg that evening out of principle rather than eat near the motel at a chain restaurant.   We would have to bicycle a mile or two in the dark cold but it seemed worth the effort.   I have a new set of rechargeable bicycle lights that seem almost like those on a car.

 

The only restaurant open downtown that had anyone eating at it was the Beach Tiki Bar and Grill, in a turn of the (19th-20th) century building and nowhere near the ocean.  It fronted the courthouse on the main square, Greensburg IN.

 

We sat near the back at the bar.   I ordered their supposed specialty, the fried fish sandwich.   It was quite good, one of the best tasting pieces of fried fish I have had in a while.  I asked about its provenance, they queried the kitchen and were told it was Vietnamese catfish.

 

There were two other guys who sat alone at the bar.   The bartender, Lyman, those two guys, and I communally watched Family Feud on the TV, without the sound.

 

The next morning the rain had totally stopped but it was COLD!   Twenty-four degrees and sunny;  the weather was going to continue to be an issue.

Lyman is originally from New Orleans (not cold) and then moved to Austin TX (also not cold.)   He seemed mildly freaked out as he put on everything he had to stay warm.

 

 

The whole point of this trip was to visit Columbus Indiana, thirty miles to the west.

Columbus, Indiana is a small city (population 44,000) forty miles south of Indianapolis and a hundred miles west of Cincinnati.   It is the home of Cummins, a homegrown Fortune 500 company that is one of the largest manufacturers of Diesel engines in the world.

The man who brought Cummins into prominence was Irwin Miller (1909-2002), born and raised in Columbus IN but educated at Yale and Oxford.   As a hobby for fifty years, from the 1940’s to the 1990’s he funded the architectural fees for almost any public building in Columbus as long as the builder chose from his short list of world-class architects.

Columbus consequently has dozens of public buildings: schools, churches, bank branches that were designed by famous architects like I.M. Pei and Eero Saarinen.   People are now coming to Columbus IN from all over the world just to see the buildings.

Lyman and I biked off from Greensburg IN across mostly flat rural Indiana towards Columbus IN, trying to move quickly so we could stay warm.

At the Columbus city limits surrounded by strip malls we came upon our first distinctive building, this fire station designed in 1967 by Robert Venturi in early postmodern style.   It is notable enough that the building has a whole Wikipedia page written about it!

 

 

The largest concentration of interesting public buildings is in the downtown area.   My first shock was thinking about what was torn down so that these mostly modernist buildings could take their place.    This is one block that still exists.

 

This church across the street.

These are other notable buildings in the immediate area.

 

 

My personal favorite downtown is likely the first church built with contemporary architecture in America, the First Christian Church, from 1942; designed by Eliel Saarinen, father of Eero.

 

The Cummins corporate headquarters, designed by Kevin Roche, from 1984.

 

 

Later on after checking into the hotel and resting we walked away from downtown, looking for somewhere to eat.   We passed this interesting bank.

We had beers at a brewery pub surrounded by friendly locals.

 

The beer was excellent but we wanted different food.  We walked back towards downtown and ate an an excellent Thai restaurant.   In a town otherwise 90% white, many customers in the Thai restaurant looked South Asian, as in Indian.

Eero Saarinen was the Finnish-American architect who designed the St. Louis Gateway Arch, Washington Dulles Airport, and the JFK TWA Terminal.  On the way back to our hotel we passed this Eero Saarinen design from 1954, the Irwin Bank, likely the first glass encased bank in the world.  It is now used as a conference center.

 

 

The next morning I was impressed that our otherwise very normal Hotel Indigo downtown had a dog who had been living in the lobby for thirteen years, a much longer tenure than anyone on the office staff.

 

We biked several miles from downtown through a 1950’s looking suburban area.

Our destination was the North Christian Church, designed by Eero Saarienen, from 1964.   In this open area the building really awakens, I could see God in this.

 

The building was unlocked because of for some kind of church event and we were able to walk around inside. The sanctuary has essentially no windows.

It was time to leave Columbus IN.   Did the semi-suburban nature of Columbus’ downtown sour me on contemporary architecture?   Absolutely not.  It did underscore how completely wrong the city planners of the 1950-60’s had been with their idea that dense downtowns should be REPLACED by suburban looking ones.   Contemporary architecture needs to fit in with existing buildings.

The day we left Columbus IN the weather was almost perfect, sunny, with wind at our backs and a high temperature near sixty.   The day after that SNOW was predicted followed by temperatures falling into the teens.   There was clearly only one full day left of decent bike riding; we should bike as far as possible.  We would be heading back across Indiana towards Cincinnati but taking different roads.

Leaving Columbus IN we cycled through conventional neighborhoods sprinkled with Modernist school buildings and churches.

 

 

 

Out of town we bicycled across flat landscapes.

We stopped for lunch in Greensburg but kept going on a long successful day, all the way to the town of Batesville IN, population 11,000.

 


Batesville seemed like a North Carolina textile town except that it looked prosperous; not full of abandoned buildings.   The secret is apparently its major industry Batesville Casket Company.  The business of death.

 

Likely because of the health of its businesses Batesville has a downtown hotel and restaurant called the Sherman House, a rarity in almost any small town.  It celebrates the town’s German heritage.  It has a large bar in the back where we met the hotel’s most recent owner, an actual German guy who followed his Batesville-born wife back to her hometown.

He let us store our bicycles in a former factory that backs up to the hotel.

 

 

 

The next day we had a couple of hours to take a ten or fifteen mile bicycle loop before the snow started.   I had bicycled in the Netherlands the previous summer and suddenly it felt just like that, bicycling on an empty road across flat fields with absolutely no car traffic.   We even saw this poetic looking crossroads.

About noon we bicycled up to an Enterprise rental car office near Batesville and got a car for the drive fifty miles back to Cincinnati.  It started to snow while we were driving.   We spend that night once more in Over the Rhine.  The next morning we drove to the airport, looking at the snowbound landscape.

 

I made it home to North Carolina in time for dinner the same evening.  It had turned cold there also.

 

 

 

For the past few years l have been hearing about Kentucky from mine and Tootie’s Chapel Hill NC friend Maxine Mills, who hails originally from the Bluegrass State.    Previously all I had known about Kentucky were caricatures from the media.   The first forty seconds of this upcoming clip are the best.

My friend Dan and I knew very little about Kentucky when we wrote this song two or three years ago, words and tune by Dan Anderson, musical arrangement and guitar accompaniment by me.

Tootie and I had been very cordially invited to accompany Maxine and her relatives to a high-end horse race in Lexington, KY the first week of April.    I used to opportunity to fly to Lousville four days early and bicycle by myself across the middle of the state, from Louisville to Lexington.

I bought a one way ticket, checking my Bike Friday folding bicycle as luggage.   I took the advice of my friend Harvey Botzman and used a disposable cardboard box.  At 11:00 AM on a Monday morning I put the bicycle together in the baggage claim area of the Louisville airport.

 

Ready to go.

 

I cycled away from the airport and into the city.   My first stop was to visit a first cousin that I seldom see.    Dawn McMillion and her husband Paul recently sold their restaurant in Seattle WA and moved to Louisville KY.  They bought into a business that has a distillery and Prohibition museum with a separate bar next door.

 

 

 

 

We took a selfie.

 

Dawn and I walked down Baxter Avenue for lunch.   Taco Luchador definitely had its game on and we had a great time catching up with each other’s lives.   After lunch we walked back to the bar and I left Dawn to bicycle Louisville.   Unfortunately the cold, or something, that I had caught a few days earlier was really wearing at me.   I was sick, I needed to lie down.    This break ultimately helped me out;  by the afternoon of the next day I felt almost normal again.   I cycled over to my Airbnb a few blocks away.

It was in the back of a shotgun house.   For $ 72.00 including tax the owners had really gone all out.  They even provided me all sorts of food for breakfast, including fresh fruit and homemade jams.

 

I collapsed onto the bed and chilled for several hours.   Ultimately I got up and walked to find dinner.  My Airbnb was on the Wrong Side of the Tracks from anywhere to eat.   I had to walk through an underpass.

 

A place called Hammerheads is in the basement of a house and specializes in what I would call hipster barbecue.   I got something called a pork belly BLT.  I asked for wine, which they do not have, only beer, but a huge selection.    The sandwich was greasy but delicious.

 

It was all good and I walked “home” in the semi-darkness.   I was already starting to feel better.

 

The next morning I cycled around the western side of Louisville before heading further out of town.    Louisville was a relatively large city in about 1900 and has its own architectural style.   Like New Orleans, there are block after block of shotgun houses, many with what New Orleans calls a camelback, a larger second story in the rear.   Unlike New Orleans, many of the Louisville shotgun houses are built of brick.   These three photos were all taken on the same street as my Airbnb.

 

 

Further west, away from downtown, the trend continues in the more prosperous neighborhood called Highlands.

In Highlands there are shotgun houses but also larger Victorians.  These houses go on block after block.

 

 

Maxine’s brother Russell Mills is a building contractor, sculptor, British car enthusiast, and all around good guy.   He lives on one of these blocks, the house at the right side of this photo.

 

Moving further west the houses get even bigger.

 

The house on the right is for sale for $ 880,000.00

There was a traffic circle that stylistically reminded me of Monument Avenue in Richmond VA.   This all must have been built about the same time, 1890-1900.   There was even a large statue of Confederate war “hero” John Breckinridge Castelman.   (Remember, Kentucky was supposed to have been on the side of the Union in that war!)   The statue has apparently been recently defaced.

 

I biked west. Louisville suburbs go west for almost twenty miles.   In the “town” of Hurstbourne, there are houses obviously built about 1960 with street upon street named from Robin Hood themes.   I mention this because both my wife’s hometown of Winston-Salem NC and my almost hometown of Norfolk VA have a Sherwood Forest Elementary school, surrounded by houses and streets of the same period with the same Robin Hood theme; houses in that early sixties style I really dislike: “colonial ranch.”   Here in Hurstbourne KY it was the same.

 

Up to this point I had seen nothing in Kentucky that indicated that horses were an important thing.   Passing through the Louisville suburbs into the countryside I started to see horse statues that anywhere else in America would be written off as kitsch.

 

 

I spent the night “in” Shelbyville KY, but really in a motel on the highway, three miles from downtown Shelbyville.   There was no place to stay in downtown Shelbyville, not even an Airbnb.    This Best Western was clean, spacious, and low cost, but the four lane highway vibe did not feel accommodating to a bicyclist.   There was a Waffle House across the street.

 

I had a decision.   Meals are important to me.  Really.   Should I bicycle three miles into downtown Shelbyville for a likely just O.K. dinner at a local restaurant, and then have to bicycle back on a highway in the dark?   Or should I bicycle just three quarters of a mile the other direction to the chain steakhouse at the Interstate highway interchange?    Yes, I am a food snob.   But after showering and recovering from the day’s ride, I chose the chain restaurant at the Interstate highway with a Texas theme: Cattleman’s Roadhouse.

It is easier to eat at the bar when solo dining.   The bar area of Cattleman’s Roadhouse was almost all guys.   There were lots of TV’s to watch.

You could even watch TV while you peed.

The dinner at this chain restaurant was almost perfect.  Salmon, cooked rare like I asked but not at all smelly or slimy, topped with a sweet “bourbon” sauce, and rice pilaf and green beans.   All delicious.   $ 17.95.    I could not have asked for more.   The local cable channel right-wing news accompanied my dinner.

 

It was mostly dark when I bicycled back to the motel along the highway.   I felt good, relaxed.

The next morning I bicycled further west and finally got to see downtown Shelbyville KY.

 

 

There was a modernist fire & rescue headquarters.

 

There was a perfectly preserved 1940’s-50’s gas station, just waiting for someone to adapt something to it.

 

In a dramatic change from the day before, this day’s cycling was chill, on country roads where a car would pass only every five or ten minutes.

 

 

And I discovered actual horse country!    Fences everywhere!

 

 

I am not knowledgeable about horses.  I thought they always stood up.   I guess not.

Frankfort is a small city that also happens to be the capital of the state of Kentucky.   I bicycled into Frankfort in time for a late lunch at Kentucky Coffeehouse Cafe.  I got their bean soup and chicken salad on croissant.

 

 

I stayed that night in the only hotel in downtown Frankfort and caught up on some reading.   Right near the place where I had eaten lunch I went out that evening to a combination fancy wine store, liquor store, and bar called Capital Cellars.   There was a convivial scene at the bar, and they encouraged me to buy takeout Mexican chicken down the street and bring that back for dinner.

There is obviously a lot of discussion in Kentucky about bourbon whiskey.  I waited until dessert to partake, when I sipped straight a half a shot of a higher end bourbon that the bartender recommended.

 

For my bike ride the next day I would need to be in Lexington KY by late afternoon to meet my wife Tootie and friend Maxine at her uncle’s house.    Because it was not very far I chose the circuitous route Frankfort /  Lawrenceburg / Lexington.

I first biked by the only Frank Lloyd Wright house in Kentucky, from 1910, on a otherwise regular street in Frankfort of houses from that same era.

 

Out in the country just south of Frankfort, on a side road, I passed the privately run Josephine Sculpture Park.  Open to the public.

 

Once again biking was excellent, on seldom used back roads.

 

I had a nice lunch in Lawrenceburg.    Later in the afternoon I headed out for the final twenty miles to Lexington.   There were all sorts of interesting things along the way.

 

 

Lexington and its surrounding county clearly have strict land use controls, as the final twelve miles to Don Mill’s house were all through pristine horse farms.

I am not going to attempt on this blog to document everything we did in Lexington with Maxine, her uncle Don Mills, brother Russell Mills, and all their relatives.    They showed us wonderful hospitality.   The next day Friday was the opening day at the Keeneland race course in Lexington.    Everyone was dressed up.   We all had a great time wagering, eating, and drinking.   It was fun to walk around and look at people.  These photos are of people I do NOT know.

 

 

The next day Tootie, Maxine, my bicycle, and myself all drove seven hours back to Chapel Hill NC.

Whatever I was going to find on this bike ride, one thing was almost certain:  the temperatures would be cooler than North Carolina.   It seemed like a no-brainer.

My idea for this trip would be to bicycle from Chicago to Cleveland, a distance of about 400 miles.    My good friends Jan and Gordon live near Cleveland.  It would take me about a week.

 

As some of my readers know,  my folding bicycle broke in half back in April, with me on it.   I have needed since then to recover from my injuries.  Yes, yes, I will be buying a new bicycle, probably a folding one.   But I could not seem to make a decision.  There are so many choices…

Meanwhile, I had also managed to drop my six year-old camera just enough times to make it unusable.   For some reason I felt more excited about spending money on a camera than a bicycle.  I put off a new bicycle for a while and spent $950.00 on this Sony RX-100V.   It is small, has a very good German lens, has lots of up to date electronics, and I can pull it from my handlebar bag, turn it on,  and take a picture all with one hand.  I would no longer have to use two hands to take off a lens cap or log into a cell phone while on a moving bicycle.    The salesman in the DC camera store said he uses this same camera to take pictures while motorcycling full speed!

 

For this trip I would use my existing backup bicycle, the Surly Long Haul Trucker.   It is sturdy and stable but really heavy.  I had no alternative so it would have to do.  My friend Tom was driving from Florida to Wisconsin and he graciously agreed to transport me and the bicycle from North Carolina to Chicago.   Just before leaving I loaded it up and checked it out in the stairwell of the seventh floor of Greenbridge,  Chapel Hill NC.

 

I saved Tom some mileage by riding Amtrak from Durham to Charlotte.   Tootie offered to drive me the twelve miles to the Durham Amtrak station,  but I insisted on bicycling there.  North Carolina intra-state Amtrak uses its own refurbished 1940’s rail cars that are nicer than the normal Amtrak.   Even at twenty-five years on their second life, they do not seem old.

 

 

North Carolina Amtrak also has a nice no-extra charge bicycle carrying service, you just hand your bicycle to the guy in the baggage car.   At destination, in Charlotte, I walked up and he just handed it down to me.   The rest of Amtrak does NOT operate as easily as this.

I bicycled a mile or two over to I-77 in Charlotte, where Tom pulled his car over at a downtown exit.    Driving up to Chicago we stopped for a delightful two day visit with our friends Dave and Gail in the cool Virginia mountains near Blacksburg.     We eventually arrived the Chicago area in late afternoon rush hour traffic.  To minimize the traffic and help Tom get moving to Wisconsin, he dropped me off in the Chicago suburb of Elmhurst IL, about twelve miles from the Chicago Loop.   He and his dog Frida posed for pictures with my bicycle.

 

 

And he took a picture of me.

 

He drove off.    I bicycled about a mile to the Elmhurst Metra station, of the Chicago-area commuter rail system.  I could wheel my bicycle onto the lower level of the double decker cars.  It took about half an hour to go downtown to Union Station.

 

On arrival I walked the bicycle through a glittery Union Station and out to the street.

I do not know a huge amount about Chicago.   I had bicycled through the more prosperous north side on previous trips.   My cycle route this time headed south.  During the car ride I had found on my phone an Airbnb for less than a hundred dollars total, on the north side of the south side, near what they called Little Italy.

It would be about a five mile late afternoon bike ride from Union Station to the Airbnb.   Starting out there was a bike path along Clinton Street going south.

Chicago has lovely buildings.

 

Eventually the neighborhoods got more residential and lower rise, and more Hispanic.   I bicycled under an elevated rail line.

 

My Airbnb was to be in a couple’s two-bedroom apartment on the second floor of this house.

 

At first I was taken aback by the messiness and lack of privacy, but it was fine, sort of like being the young couple’s actual guest.   The woman worked in academia, there were leftist and environmentalist posters on the walls.   My bearded host cordially offered me breakfast the next day (“You want some cereal?  We have blueberries in the fridge.”).

Despite the current Hispanic vibe of the neighborhood, the one-block Little Italy really was just around the corner, where I went looking for dinner on this Monday night.    There were three Italian restaurants all in the same block.

 

I chose Bruna’s, at the end of the block.   The interior was dark, really old school.   There were just three or so other tables with people eating.

I got a radicchio salad followed by delicious lobster ravioli.

 

For dessert I got a Sambuca.

I left the restaurant about 9:00 PM as it was starting to get dark.

I walked around the neighborhood.

 

 

Back in my bedroom I turned off the noisy air conditioner and opened the window.  The next morning I enjoyed my bowl of cereal with blueberries.   I bid farewell to my host couple and bicycled off into the huge area which comprises Chicago.    It would be about three miles east to the bike path along the lakefront.  I gently weaved through residential streets.   I saw a fair number of other bicyclists.

 

 

Just before the lakefront I could see the tall buildings of the Loop, as seen from the south.

 

 

I biked under a couple pedestrian underpasses, and I arrived at the bike trail that goes north-south along the lake.   This is looking left, looking north, although I was turning right.

This is the view looking back north, after I had biked a mile or two.

I had worried about bicycling south from downtown Chicago, as the South Side is currently, in parts, the Murder Capital of America.   Taking cues from the book  ‘Round Lake Michigan, a Bicyclist’s Tour Guide by Harvey Botzman, I bicycled mostly along the lakefront bike trail, then along streets in the very southeast part of the city.   It was fine, I never felt out of place.  I did not even have to ride in especially heavy car traffic.

Some of the way the bike path was between a freeway and Lake Michigan.

 

After the lakefront trail ended I followed a series of streets and bike paths.   These houses built on narrow lots look uniquely Chicago.

 

There clearly used to be a lot of heavy industry along this lakefront.   Some of the land is completely cleared; there are miles of essentially vacant land, especially in the southeastern part of Chicago as it blends into Hammond and Gary, Indiana.   In parts there are bike paths heading north / south.

I crossed the Illinois / Indiana state line near Hammond.   Hammond did have some modernist touches here and there.

 

But downtown Hammond looked pretty rough.   I looked like one of those cities such as Trenton NJ or Bridgeport CT, where the middle class has completely fled and there are huge vacant areas.

 

I hadn’t decided whether to continue ten miles east to even poorer Gary, Indiana.    My decision was made when I saw how nice the Erie Lackawanna trail was.  The trail heads off from downtown Hammond going southeast and skirts south of Gary.   I would have to skip the birthplace of Michael Jackson and the subject of that catchy song in The Music Man.   I guess I had already seen enough poverty.

 

As the suburbs got more prosperous the trail became better maintained.

Right on this rail trail was the story of American slash and burn urbanism.  It says something about race and class in this country.   Just a few miles south and east of the essentially abandoned cities of Hammond and Gary, new neighborhoods were being constructed in former cornfields.

 

I had bicycled thirty-something miles already and had not had lunch.  In what seemed the middle of nowhere, in a new-something looking strip mall, was The Toast and Jam.  At 12:30 on a Tuesday, you had to wait in line for a table.   There were religious signs on the walls.  The food was quite good, bacon and something on rye.

 

 

 

I still had about twenty miles to reach Valparaiso IN, which I knew had motels.   Part of the way I bicycled on this major highway.    Because the shoulder was so wide it was not particularly unsafe, but it certainly was not pleasant.

I found a quite nice chain motel in Valparaiso and later biked into town for dinner.   Stacks Bar and Grill was certainly the busiest spot on a Tuesday night in downtown Valparaiso.

There were people waiting for tables.    To get a seat at the bar I had to stand around for ten minutes waiting for a woman to finish eating.

Blackened salmon on risotto with asparagus, as $ 15.95 bar food in the out-of-the-way place of Valparaiso, Indiana in 2018, says a lot about how far American food has come in the past forty years.    “Blackening” was only invented in the 1980’s by one chef in Louisiana, and he certainly never “blackened” salmon, a fish native to nowhere near Louisiana.    Hardly anyone in America in the 1970’s had heard of risotto, which is an Italian dish.    Fresh asparagus in the 1980’s were only available a few weeks a year.   Who in even the 1990’s had heard of IPA, an obscure English style beer?    Today it all was really delicious here in Valparaiso Indiana at the Stacks Bar and Grill.   And all Americans should be thankful for that.

 

The next morning I biked back through downtown Valparaiso.

 

I was heading for my day’s destination:  South Bend, Indiana, about sixty miles to the east.     I would have to cross a lot of corn and soybean fields.

 

Restaurants are not always available in rural areas so in Laporte, IN,  Christo’s Family Dining (“Highest Quality / Great Value / Large Portions of Food / Since 1982”) was ideal for a late breakfast / early lunch.  Their special of the day was porch chop and eggs, $6.49.   There was Fox News playing on the TV.  I read The New Yorker on my kindle.

Laporte IN is a pretty town.  Very neat and clean.

 

 

For about eighty miles, really since Hammond IN I had seen no minorities.   And everything had been orderly and prosperous but somewhat bland.  The moment I passed into the city limits of South Bend (population 101,000) everything changed, almost immediately.   I saw black and brown faces and decrepit and abandoned buildings.

 

South Bend, with U of Notre Dame,  is clearly not as depressed as a place like Hammond.    There is stuff happening here.  It reminds me of Durham NC twenty years ago.

The Studebaker brothers made wagons in South Bend from about 1870 to 1910 and then started making cars.   The car factory and the company folded at last in 1966.   I biked up to the Studebaker museum and went inside.

 

I had booked an Airbnb in South Bend that morning before leaving Valparaiso.  It is the best Airbnb deal I have ever encountered; $ 26.30 including tax for a very clean and private room with cable TV, shared bath.   There was only one other room occupied.   It was in a nice neighborhood, walking distance to downtown.   The owner uses the whole house as an Airbnb, he manages it from afar by giving his customers codes to unlock the building and the individual rooms.

 

 

Later on I biked into downtown and then across the St. Joseph River to eat at the bar of an Italian restaurant.   Eggplant parmesan.

 

It is 160 miles from South Bend to Toledo, the next real city I would visit.   If I wanted to bike there in three days I would need to plan carefully, as there are not many motels out here in corn country.     Before leaving South Bend, I broke my own rules and actually planned, picking my stops for the next two nights.   The first night would be the small town of Lagrange IN,  the next night Bryan OH, just over the state line.

The metro area of South Bend stretch east for about thirty miles, through Mishawaka, Elkhart, and Bristol.

 

Leaving the built up area in Bristol IN, there is a rail trail for about ten miles before arriving in Shipshewana.     On this bike path I saw several Amish / Mennonites on bicycles, each time dressed in their distinctive old-time garb.   I forced myself to be polite and not take their picture!

Shipshewana IN is a weird place.      Population 650, it serves as a center for Amish / Mennonite tourism.   Apparently non-Amish / Mennonite people drive here to buy Amish / Mennonite gifts and take carriage rides in Amish / Mennonite wagons.  I got lunch.

 

 

 

 

Lunch finished, I headed out of town for the twenty something miles on country roads to LaGrange IN.      I did see several Amish / Mennonite carriages.

Amish also rode bicycles.

 

There is only one place to stay in LaGrange IN;  it was a dump, but at least at $ 45.00 + tax it was a low cost dump.  It was of course run by people of apparent South Asian descent, probably Indians named Patel.

The LaGrange post office has the Ten Commandments out front, and a POW/MIA flag.

The weather was turning against me, and I left the Dump Motel the next morning at 6:30 AM, trying to bicycle as far as possible before the expected thunderstorms began.

 

My weather luck ran out, and at 9:00 AM I was subjected to torrential rains in the middle of cornfield nowhere.

My strategy for rain while on bike trips is to not bicycle in it.   However, if I have nowhere to seek shelter and the temperature is above about sixty-five degrees I do not use a raincoat.   I choose to just get wet even if it means being totally soaked.  I do, however, make sure that my change of clothes and my camera, wallet, and cell phone are safely in the front or rear carriers, double protected by plastic bags.

I was able to bicycle the entire 58 miles to Bryan OH, arriving there mostly dried off at about noon. I shivered and recovered with a delicious latte and an omelet at a coffeehouse in downtown Bryan.    There were Christian posters on the walls.

 

I had to wait until about 2:30 PM before I could occupy my Airbnb, about two blocks away.

The Airbnb is part of a micro-brewery and restaurant called Father John’s Heavenly Devilish Brewing Company.    Its shtick is the complete opposite of the pious statements I had seen in the coffee shop.   In fact, I cannot remember a commercial establishment that so openly mocked religion.    It occupies a former church in downtown Bryan OH.

 

I had dinner that night sitting at the bar, which is in the former church basement.   The menu was full of snidely sacriligious jokes.

 

 

 

It rained heavily that night, and the next morning it was still threatening rain.    I got an early start so I could (hopefully) beat the rain in bicycling to the Big City of Toledo, about sixty miles away.

Rural bicycling in these northern regions of Indiana and Ohio is quite pleasant, although sometimes boring.   Absolutely straight farm roads lattice the landscape.   I would see a car only about every twenty minutes or so.

 

I have a Bluetooth speaker that I sometimes attach to my handlebars with a large rubber band.    This day I was listening to Elvis Costello’s second album on Amazon Music.

 

Google Maps is not always foolproof.   Their map shows the Wabash Cannonball Trail following a straight line for about twenty miles in the area southwest of Toledo.   What Google Maps does not show is that about the first five miles the trail is not really a trail, essentially unrideable on a conventional bicycle, looking something like this:

 

I cycled around instead on a longer route on conventional roads, where I crossed the Wabash rail-trail again.    Now the path was paved and therefore glorious, looking like this:

 

I had heard that Toledo has a problem with sinking housing prices, as its population continues to decrease and industry has closed.   Young people are moving to other states.    Fifteen miles outside of downtown, however, new housing is being built on what looks to be previously unbuilt land.

 

Toledo is built along the Maumee River, near where the river empties into Lake Erie.   First in the suburbs and then in Toledo itself, I biked parallel to the river towards downtown through leafy neighborhoods on the pleasant River Road.

 

Getting closer to downtown the neighborhoods declined.

 

This piece of modernism needs some love.

Downtown Toledo seems to be doing, uh, O.K., which is my opinion on how the entire city of Toledo seems to be doing.  Stuff is happening, things are getting redeveloped.  It is not Flint MI or Bridgeport CT but there are still a lot of empty buildings.

The downtown area around the stadium for the minor league Toledo Mud Hens was lively.  I had completed my sixty mile bike ride by about 1:00 PM.   It had been cloudy all day but had not rained.  I went directly to the crowded Ye Olde Durty Bird, for a delicious chicken wrap and beer.

 

I stayed around the corner at the high rise Park Inn.    My room had nice views, including the  former Holiday Inn next door that has been stripped to the bones

That skinny brown thirty story building to the left of the dead Holiday Inn has an interesting story.  It was built in 1969 as the headquarters for Owings Corning Fiberglass.   They moved out in 1996 and it been completely empty for the last twenty-two years.     Someone has recently purchased the building; condos and office space are now available.   We’ll see.

 

This is the view a little more to the west.   I really like the Art Deco PNC Bank building.

 

Much later in the afternoon I walked out to look for the evening meal.   I eventually settled on a seat at the bar of this Italian place.

 

 

After dinner, in the early evening twilight, buildings looked different.

The Mud Hens were playing and you could walk right up to the outfield fences.

 

The next morning I needed to bicycle east towards Cleveland.  But first I wanted to see an area of Toledo I had heard about:  Old West End.  It would require me to backtrack west for a few miles.

The neighborhood abuts the Toledo Museum of Art.    A quick check of Zillow shows these houses are insanely affordable by national standards.   A fixer upper is way less than $100,000;  a completely renovated designer showcase with 5,500 square feet is $ 290,000.  The neighborhood goes on and on.  Most of these houses were built between 1875 and 1915.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

After checking out these neighborhoods, I bicycled back across midtown Toledo towards downtown, across the Maumee River, then on this Sunday morning across miles of depressed Toledo suburbs.     Eventually I found myself back on straight and traffic-free farm roads across the flat landscape.

 

I was heading just south of the Lake Erie shoreline.   After this I would only have two day’s ride to Cleveland.   This day’s destination was the “resort” town of Port Clinton OH.    Although somewhat faded as a resort, Port Clinton is the jumping off point for tourists going to the Lake Erie Islands.   Its motto is “Walleye Capital of the World.”

Because I had started so early from Toledo, hoping again to bicycle before expected afternoon thunderstorms, I had arrived Port Clinton in time for a nice late Sunday brunch at a restaurant downtown.   These guys across the bar seemed to be having a good time.

 

 

After lunch I biked around the town and the lakefront.

 

I stayed that night at a pleasant but cheap motel in Port Clinton.   I had two days left in my journey to Cleveland.    The Port Clinton area sits on a peninsula, and there is only one bridge, a limited access freeway that prohibits bicycles, from the end of that peninsula to the mainland.   I decided to bicycle the five miles east from Port Clinton to the beginning of the bridge, and then seek some alternate way across.    Online I looked for taxis, and I found this interesting guy with a limo to drive me and the bicycle the six miles across that bridge for twelve dollars.    We chatted and found common ground.   He told me his daughter is going to UNC law school!

I started bicycling again the other side of the bridge.    Marshes along Lake Erie can be quite wild and beautiful.

 

 

I biked through several Ohio towns along Lake Erie.

 

 

 

 

I turned slightly south of the Lake towards a town that seemed like it might be a nice place to spend my last night before arriving Cleveland.   Oberlin, Ohio’s principal industry is Oberlin College.   Both the town and the college have embraced progressive causes from way back.   Oberlin played a big part in the abolitionist movement.    Oberlin was the birthplace of the Anti-Saloon League, which successfully lobbied for Prohibition.   (Can you believe prohibition was once a progressive cause?).  Oberlin College has been in the news more recently, pushing stringent and specific rules about what “consent” means in sexual encounters between students.   (“Is it OK if I unclip your bra now?”) Oberlin College must be a very good college; I have two (smart!) friends that went there; my brother-in-law George and my good friend Gail from Blacksburg.

As a college town that seems mostly college,  Oberlin OH perhaps is what Chapel Hill NC was like fifty or sixty years ago, when pretty much everything revolved around the college.

I ate a baba ghannouj and hummus for a late lunch downtown at this excellent Middle Eastern restaurant.

 

I stayed at a crummy Airbnb on the outskirts of town, housed in this trashy building.

I waited for the rain to stop and biked back into downtown for dinner.    I had this place’s version of eggplant parmesan, eaten while talking to interesting people at the bar.

 

The next day I only had about thirty-five or forty miles left to get to my goal for this trip, the lovely city of Cleveland, Ohio.    Gordon and Jan live in Brecksville, Ohio, about fifteen miles southeast of downtown Cleveland.   Gordon works as a computer consultant for various locations of the Cleveland Clinic.   His current posting was at their largest location, located in mid-town Cleveland, about six miles east of downtown.   We agreed that I would bicycle to his work site and be there when he got off work at 3:00 PM.   From there we would put my bicycle in his car and drive back to his house.

Heading out of Oberlin, there is a nice rail trail for about ten miles in the direction of Elyria,  the North Coast Inland Trail.

 

Elyria has a civil war monument, just like the ones you see in almost every Southern town, but it was for the other side!

 

There was the interestingly modernist Elyria Baptist Church, right next door to the Elyria Historical Society building.

 

 

One of the slowdowns of bicycling through an urban area like the suburbs of Cleveland is that I normally have to stop and look at Google Maps every five or ten minutes, carefully looking for a route that stays off major roads.

I lucked out on this trip; Detroit Road was never particularly full of traffic and I bicycled it for over twenty miles, all the way from the outskirts of Elyria to the center of downtown Cleveland.

 

 

 

Yes!!!!

Cleveland is huge.  Even though I was now in the city limits, it was would be about six miles to downtown.   Later, after many miles through the city, I could finally see downtown off in the distance.  I was still on Detroit Road.

 

 

There is a nice bike path on the bridge across the Cuyahoga River.

Like Chicago, Cleveland has amazing buildings.

I had time to kill, so I stopped in a downtown coffee house, and spent almost an hour sipping a latte.     Things felt so much more cosmopolitan than they had just a couple of hours and five miles earlier.   “Elvis Costello” sat off in the corner.

 

 

There is a six mile gap between Downtown and the University Circle area, where Gordon’s job was located.    University Circle is home of not only Case Western Reserve University, but also the Cleveland Clinic, and Severance Hall;  home of the Cleveland Orchestra.

I had bicycled this six mile stretch back in about 2004.   Then it was almost all semi-abandoned heavy industry, sort of frightening, really.   Since then it has radically changed.  It is now either vacant land or Big Medical.    The Cleveland Clinic stretches for more than a mile.

Thanks to cell phones Gordon and I found each other easily.   We drove to his house in Brecksville and I spent two days hanging with him.   His wife Jan and son Thomas were out of town.  We looked at birds through his Leica binoculars.   On the second morning he dropped me off at a rental car agency near his house, from where I drove back to my home in North Carolina.   Gordon posed for a picture with my bicycle.