We left off in our adventures last Sunday in Monroe, Wisconsin, so I’ve got a lot to catch you all up on. Since we decided we were in need of an actual break day, we spent the whole day loitering around town and occupying space at the local McDonald’s. As night began to fall outside, we decided to stop guzzling coffees and head out to make dinner. Once again we were out-loitered by the guy with six composition notebooks and the same affinity for free wifi and drink refills as us. I wanted to go back inside and say bye, but was torn, as I didn’t want to interrupt his ongoing raid. My brother was once a World of Warcraft fanatic as well, so I know to stay back in the midst of heavy gameplay.
As we rolled out, back towards the fairgrounds that had been such a pleasant place to camp the night before (so pleasant in fact, that we declined a short five mile ride out of town to an offered house in favor of staying in town once again) I saw and alerted Stink of a fruit and cheese store off to our right. I had a hunch their dumpsters would be bountiful, and as we pulled up in the sprinkling rain and darkening sky, our minimal efforts were gloriously rewarded.
There, laying perched atop a bed of soft crush ice, lay 15 or more containers of various kinds of yogurts and dips. Just to the other side of the rubbish heap, mine eyes beheld a plethora of fruits; strawberries, blueberries, blackberries, peaches, oranges, grapes, and cherries. We stood around picking through, munching, and filling up some spare grocery bags with the cream of the crop.
With full bags dangling from our handlebars, we rode off into the night back to our sweet cozy fairground pavilion. Stink washed up the fruits and checked expiration dates on her yogurts while I cooked up some dinner before bed. Soon enough, we were ready to zonk, and resume our cycling expedition in the morning.
I woke early the next day; there was a fella scooting by on a golf cart. Making eye-contact with him as I sat up out of my sleeping bag, he called out words I was not yet prepared to hear. “You know you need to pay for two nights of camping now, right?” In my stupor I called back a simple no, and attempted to explain that the police had sent us here. I don’t think he understood, and once again requested payment from Stink and I, $24 total to be exact. Without the cognitive power of full wakefulness in me, we paid the man and he zipped off in his stupid little golf cart. I mean his regular little golfcart; I’m having trouble not holding a slight grudge against him for catching me unaware in the morning. All that day I kept coming up with things I wished I had said to him, for example, “Why didn’t you tell us after the first night that we needed to pay!?” and “Who died and put you in charge?” (Not my best argument)
OH well, what’s done is done and I’ve lost all faith in wonderful, cozy, tempting fairgrounds.
That morning our wonderful breakfast of oatmeal and dumpster fruit was slightly soured by the previous events. Also, perhaps because some of the fruits weren’t quite ripe.
We cruised out of town, without hitting up the McDonald’s and soon were on our way through the countryside to get our daily miles in.
We stopped in Beloit to visit the post office, do an interview with the paper, and of course to loiter about in the McDonald’s. There was a discount food pantry across the road I was eying, so at one point I walked over, only to find liqueur and cigarettes lining the shelves. I walked through the aisles to make sure that there really wasn’t any food, and upon finding none but crispy chips and snacks of the gas station variety, prepared to leave. As I stepped towards the door, the man behind the counter called out a “hey!” and as I turned around and met his stern gaze, I figured out what he was on about. Due to my somewhat… shall we say, road-ragged appearance, and my little browsing stint through the mart, I was being silently accused of shoplifting. Feeling like I needed to maintain my innocence, I offered that I was merely looking around for something to eat, but after getting further stares from the man and the customer on the other side of the counter, I chose to just make my exit.
I indignantly fumed my way over to the Family Dollar next to McDonald’s and bought a package of chocolate chip cookies and ate the whole thing…
Our booth in McDonald’s afforded us a view of the road, and of the Entering Illinois sign just down the street. Eventually we set out to capture a photo and a new state.
That evening we arrived at our destination of Harvard, IL, and whatever we were expecting of the place, it wasn’t that. Harvard was a mini-Mexico, with marts and signs all in Spanish. We stopped at a little bodega and picked up some corn and spaghetti while browsing the aisles of Mexican sweets and treats.
Outside, we walked down an alleyway and found the dumpster of the Swiss Maid Bakery… We were met with trashbags full of doughnuts, bagels, and buns. At one point we heard noises from the open back door right by the bin, and decided to back down for the time being. We filled a sack and munched as we perused the rest of the street, quite delighted by our sweet find.
We planned to return to the dumpster once the employees were done for the day, to dig about and find bagels for the next few lunches, but each time we came back by, there would be noises from just inside the door, or someone would be bringing out trash, barring our entry.
We sat on a bench on the main street and cooked a disgusting looking meal of spaghetti with dumpster tomatoes and fresh corn, all the while plotting to get our hands on more goodies. Upon completion, we returned to the mother-load, and were able to pluck a few more bagels from its depths, then scooted on our way to the Walmart in town to camp at that night.
While setting up the tent, it began to lightly sprinkle, but looking across the parking lot, we could see huge rain drops quickly coming our way. Complete with an onslaught of mosquitos, we rushed to get our sleeping bags in the tent and our gear secure before the advancing shower hit us. Stink dived in as the first soaking drops fell, but I was caught outside, prepping Beef’s house for the night, when the rain cloud reached us. Within seconds I was soaked, but within a minute the brunt of the cloud had passed, and moments later, the air was free of rain once more.
Soggy, mosquito bitten, and ready for bed, I walked to the Wal-mart to change into dry clothes, looking dreadfully pitiful as I squish-splashed in my sodden shoes through the entry door, changed, then headed “home” to hit the hay.
The next day we aimed to reach Waukegan, IL for our first glimpse of the great lakes. We stopped in the town of Woodstock to do an interview. At first, Stink wasn’t super pleased, as the meeting place lay about half a mile off course for us, and we would have both up-hill and wind to face heading back to our route. But all thoughts of this vanished as Stephanie, the reporter, gave us a friendly smile and surprised us with a goodie bag from the newspaper office as she stepped out of the car.
We had a nice time, just sitting in the grass chatting with her and letting Beef run around, but soon enough it was time to leave, as we had plenty more miles to do that day. We peeked in the bag as we packed to go and were delighted with hand wipes, cheese & cracker snacks, a copy of the newspaper, cookies, and, most treasured, a loaf of cinnamon bread from the Swiss Maid Bakery we had raided the dumpster of just the night before. If we thought their refuse goods were delicious, the fresh stuff was impossibly better.
Munching a bit, then heading out, we were in cornfields for a few miles, then it seems almost immediately, our road became bustling with traffic and we were thrust into densely populated areas before we knew what hit us; Chicago was coming.
Even as far out as we were, the sprawl of the city had come to meet us. We rode through traffic all day, and on roads with little or no shoulder, but eventually coming to the lake, found a bike path that bore us well. We stopped in a park in Lake Forest to take a good peek at the sea-sized body of water, and a lady approached and asked us what sort of expedition we were on. As we explained our trip, her companions gathered round and after divulging that we just camp out wherever we can, one couple, Tom & Karen, invited us to stay in their guest room for the night.
Needing no more encouragement than that, we accepted, and even rode BACK (Noo! We hate going back!) a few miles to their magazine-like home, were we met with good smells, conversation, full kitchen privileges, a claw foot bathtub, and two of the comfiest beds I’ve ever had the pleasure of sleeping on. Well, I mean I only slept on one, but I am sure Stink’s was equally luxurious.
In the morning, Tom made pancakes, and I whipped up some oatmeal with nuts and blueberries that Karen offered, and soon enough we hugged goodbye and went on our merry way. We would be traveling through the heart of Chicago that day and didn’t quite know what to expect. Stink toured through a few years back with her fa, but in a less savory area than we would be heading.
Once again, we were surrounded by cars, trucks, buses, houses, businesses, and people all day as we rode along; it was a bit overstimulating after enjoying the solemn beauty of rural America for so long. We took a bike path along the lake shore for a good many miles, and even saw a real giant riding by. (We both thought at first that he was on one of those double-decker bikes..) Once in downtown Chicago, we had a bit of downtime before going to our hosts for the night (we scheduled a Warm Showers stay in advance; not hopeful that we’d be able to sneaky camp in such an environment).
While looking around for a grocery mart, I found that we were only a short distance away from Chinatown, so we set out to explore. Strongly smelling of various seafoods and full of curious fodder unknown to us, we were entertained by browsing the many marts along the street. I got some delicious mochi and peanut cakes, and Stink stopped at a couple bakeries for bao (a sweet bun often filled with BBQ pork). I cooked and ate a packet of real ramen in an open square as Stink munched the delicious looking buns. I was sure that even the bread wouldn’t be vegan, but eventually decided to see what google thought on the matter. Soon enough, I found that the bun would be edible by me, if only we could find a bakery that made meatless varieties. With that goal in mind, we hit up the many bakeries of Chinatown and found not one, but two different kinds of vegetarian bao! I purchased and devoured a red bean paste bao from one shop, and a taro root one from another. They were both gloriously delicious, and Stink and I agree that Chinatown browsing is a do-over for the next city we end up in.
By this time, it was late enough to go to our house for the night, so we scooted along and met Laura and her six month old baby, Bayard (named after civil rights activist Bayard Rustin). Laura is a high school art teacher, and a real cool lady, who let us help out and make ourselves at home while she took care of the babe and got dinner prepped. Her husband Corey come home a bit later and we feasted on spaghetti and talked adventure. (Laura and Corey have bike toured, kayaked through the everglades, traveled world round, and even train hopped!)
The next day, we hung about for awhile and cooked up some steel-cut oats from the cupboard, then finally said goodbye to our hosts and once more hit the road. This day was a bit stressful to me, once again because we were constantly in urban areas and dealing with traffic and pot-hole laden roads. Winding our way through the streets, which often enough weren’t marked at all, we took a … less a than optimally efficient route. At some unmarked point, we crossed the Illinois – Indiana border, much to our dismay.
That evening we arrived in Michigan City, IN and after deliberation, decided to call it quits for the day, as we were both zonkered. We stopped at a casino resort and quickly spotted a place in the back parking lot that we could stash the bikes and sneaky camp for the night. “Home” securely positioned in our minds, we set out for the casino doors to win our fortune!
Our budget does not allow for frivolous spending on such things, however fun some of the games looked. At one point, we sat down next to a fella playing video poker (one of my favorites) and almost immediately he won $1,600 with four aces and a queen. I like to imagine we imparted him with some of our good luck. We roamed around, got free coffee, and took the elevator up to the 23rd floor to take in the nighttime view. Back in the main casino there was an eatery with wifi and outlets for charging. We sat around and relaxed, chatting about what it will be like when we ride back into our hometown some distant chilly December day.
The food joint served burgers and fries among other things, and our mouths were watering for dinner. But before we headed out, Stink’s eagle eye spotted a couple that walked off, abandoning their leftovers and not bothering to bus their trays. After waiting some time to assure that they really weren’t coming back, and with Stink’s encouragement, I walked over to their table and picked up their trays, still laden with french fries and burger dressings (they left their whole pickles, lettuce, tomato, and onion untouched). At first, I felt a small strange tinge of something, akin to embarrassment perhaps? But at Stink’s reminder that this would all just end up in a landfill, I was able to shake the feeling and become giddy with delight at such a find. We munched away, quite pleased with ourselves, before heading back out to the bikes and cowboy camping quite comfortably that night.
We got more free coffee, and even hot water for oatmeal, from the casino in the morning, making me wish that we could spend the night at casinos every night. They’re always a safe bet, and classy to boot!
We biked along that day, with the sprawl of Chicago finally cutting down, and quickly crossed the Indiana/Michigan border, capturing our 14th state picture in the process. I don’t think anything much interesting happened that day while we rode (yes, I am still guilty of not journaling! help!), but we ending up outside a Walmart in Elkhart, IN for the night. It’s nice to camp outside Walmarts because you’re guaranteed bathroom access all night long. Also, the browsing proves to be mindlessly entertaining.
We hung about a McDonald’s a few blocks away, waiting for nightfall for better sneaky camping. Before we went inside, a fella pulled up in his car and started chatting with us. He was a pro-balloon twister, but also worked in radiology at the local hospital. He liked being able to twist balloons for young and old patients alike, and earning a smile from them in sometimes very stressful situations. He even stood on his head once to get a bad-tempered elderly lady to laugh. He said she clapped and squealed like a little girl, and her family all gave him hugs afterwards, noting that her attitude was completely changed.
Stephen, the dude, had also done some bike touring, when first setting out into the world from his parents home, and though he didn’t even know which direction to take out from his driveway (and was biking on a $50 bike that he manually had to reach down and switch between the two gears) he made it all the way to his destination, Colorado, and found a job. He was reals cool. We’re so lucky that we get to meet wonderful folks all the time.
After night fell, we scooted back to Walmart, and watched some premature fireworks going off in the distant sky with a little boy and his father who were hiking around town trying to get a better view of them. Soon enough we were heading to the back of the store to sleep, as secretly was we could, behind a cargo container.
In the morning, we packed up under the gaze of three or more employees on their smoke breaks, and headed on over to McDonald’s for coffee and loitering.
This was the Fourth of July, so we rode along, soaking in the America-ness of it all, sweating through the countryside, and even going garage saleing. We ended up in Fremont, Indiana that evening. After arriving, we lounged about in front of the grocery mart and I ate pocket pies and Stink drank soda… for America. We talked with folks, and even had one lady regale us with the whole story of the escaped convicts in New York. (We’re totally out of the loop when it comes to national news, being on the road all the time like we are).
After treating ourselves… in honor of America… we scooted down to the local park and convinced ourselves to do some routine bike maintenance (we switched our back tires with our fronts, as the back wears faster, oiled chains, and I patched up my spare tube) while the scent of a thousand BBQs wafted through the air…. We ate a can of chili beans with rice. 🙁
But we did meet a nice lady named Katy who was spending some time with her kid at the park and she ended up giving us some money and offered to drive 15 miles home and bring us fresh veggies from her garden. (Why? Why does this happen to us? Yesterday we pondered for awhile on why people want to give us stuff; it’s so unexpected, but nice! We are definitely not complaining!)
We scooted to a church parking lot to camp that night, and soon fell asleep after struggling to keep our eyes open to watch the fireworks going off on the other side of town.
In the morning, we went to the gas station for coffee and hot water for convenient oatmeal making. We chatted with some of the local folk, and one older fella felt compelled to give us the entire history of all the murders that had occurred in Fremont… Thank you for the educational conversation? I hope we don’t get murdered on our way out?
While riding that day, we entered Ohio, our 15th state, and snapped a picture for our growing collection. Our goal for the day was to get to a town called Oregon, just for the fun of being able to say we were in Oregon again. We scooted along through the heat, gazing longingly at these swiming-pond type things that everyone in Ohio seems to have. They’re fully outfitted with docks and diving boards, sometimes rope swings and other accoutrements of fine summer fun.
We stopped in one small town along the way to use the mart bathroom and get water and fresh ice for Beefie. When we were about ready to leave, we started chatting with some folks. One guy came up real close to me and told me that he had a brother with red hair, and that he had freckles too. And as he leaned closer to get a good look at me, he added that he couldn’t remember if he had blue eyes or not. I had to laugh. We meet a lot of kooky folks too.
Another couple we were talking with there gave us $10 for dinner. I couldn’t catch their names, even after I had the lady repeat them, but whoever you are, thank you! We went to a great big grocery store in Toledo and bought delicious healthy foods! Any maybe a bit of candy…
As we got nearer the Toledo area, we began to see other cyclists out on the road, just out for the exercise, and so got to wave and smile to lots of folks. We cruised along at a fine clip, and it was nice to see the spandy-pants carbon fiber cyclist types taking a long time to catch up with us. No hard feelings towards them, but it’s nice to know we can hold our own on our 100 plus pounds of steel, gear, and junk.
Riding through this area has been really lovely though, and I’m feeling that I really like Ohio. We spent the night outside of a Walmart in Oregon, OH and chatted a bit with a couple ladies who were walking laps around the super-center. Beef ran around being his adorable self, and soon we were packing up, heading to a sneaky spot, setting up the tent while swatting away mosquitoes, and climbing peacefully into bed.
This morning we got up, had a brief breakfast out in front of the store, and scooted on. The terrain is nice and level, affording me the opportunity to read one of the four books I’m now carting around the country and soon enough we arrived here in…. Actually, I admit, I have no idea what town I’m in.
And on that note, I’m signing out. I’ve gotta whiz like a racehorse and it’s high time for lunch. Love to you all; strangers, friends, and kin alike.