Monday, July 25, 2011

Hot, Hotter, Hottest

It's hot; but it's flat!
Here's the short version of the first four days out of Cincinnati (20th-23rd):  hot, cornfields, hot, sweat, confields, holy s#@%, it's hot.

Otherwise, the ride has been going well. First, I've been meeting nice people. On the 23rd, for example, I started feeling woozy in the heat and took cover from the punishing sun under a park shelter in Papineau, Illinois.

I drained one water bottle and tried to eat a bite of lunch. The ham I was carrying in my saddle bags went down fine, but when I tried to eat a Triscuit it felt like a lump of wet sawdust on my tongue. I spat it out and figured I probably needed to conserve the water in my other bottle, then took a brief nap, hoping to rally a little. Luckily, a church in town was having a memorial dinner and when I went looking for their hose after I awoke two of the ladies coaxed me inside and gave me a huge bag of ice. I filled both bottles, poured in water, and drained both twice.

One of the women asked if I'd like a piece of custard pie but I was too hot to enjoy desert.

I asked if their area of Illinois was growing. No, they said. Papineau has a sign claiming "Population 180." One of the ladies insisted there were probably only 100 today.

St Annes:  "The Cathedral in the Cornfield"
Beaverville, Indiana
Still, I've been pedaling through wonderful farm country. The corn is high right now and fields are green, and I'm told farmers are expecting a good year. At breakfast on the 22nd I talked to an old timer who still raised mules. The day before I talked to Sam Cline, 7, who was enjoying a sundae at Wendys with his great grandparents. Sam shows hogs.

That's right. His family (both parents are college grads) raises hogs. I asked Sam if he wanted to be a farmer when he was older. He just finished kindergarten, so he kind of smiled and gave a shrug. He did tell me he likes playing outside, and he's an outfielder for his ball team. "You think you'd like to be a baseball player then?" I asked.

"My dad sure would like it if I played for the Cubs," Sam replied.  (I didn't want to tell him he'll be lucky if the Cubs ever win a World Series in his lifetime.)

When I left, I asked him, "How do you want to be described?"  Again, he shrugged, so I promised to say he was a handsome young man.

And he is.

Everyone in the Midwest knows how hot it has been.  So that's not news.  But my second day out, when it hit 100, I decided I had to find a hotel for the night. Unfortunately, I was deep into farm country and dark was coming on. I used Google Maps and found I was only 8.2 miles from the "Dog Patch Hotel." I called to see if they had room. The owner was a gravel-voiced woman named Marcia Clark and said she usually closed at 6, which seemed odd, but my phone was nearly dead, so it was a hurried converstation. Marcia said she'd wait and I pedaled hard to get there in time.

It turns out Ms. Clark owns a doggy day care. "You're not the first one to make that mistake," she said, which wasn't much consolation. But we quickly brokered a deal and I was able to sleep comfortably on the floor of her air-conditioned office.

Some hotels you worry about bedbugs. Some you worry about fleas.

Marcia was a big-hearted woman and gave me fruit to take with me in the morning and offered the capsule version of her life story. Four marriages. Four alcoholics. But she has a nice business and a trim farm now.

Meanwhile, althought the heat is blLuckily, the country I'm crossing now is as flat as the Loveland bike trail, so I'm not sweating up any hills.

In many of these smaller towns the old cafes and restaurants still hang on and the Subways and Arbys are nowhere to be seen. I had breakfast at Nancy's Restaurant in Hagerstown, Indiana one day. A group of old retired fellows told me about the area. The old factory where two of them worked, Precision Piston gone. They listed other companies also gone and we all just shook our heads. I think we were all wondering, "Where does this all end?"

I've bicycled across a lot of states this year and in 1999 and 2007. Nebraska, Kansas, even much of New York, the little towns are dying. The waitress at Nancy's, however, did mention that 800 Amish families were soon coming into the area.

So the buggy-making industry gets a boost.

I also had a great lunch at Trece's in Rossville, Indiana. As always, I follow the rule: go where the locals are. Trece's was packed. I ended up talking to a family at a nearby table. Ralpk Kruger was celebrating his 82 birthday, along with his wife Mary of 57 years. Mary told me they would have been married even longer, but Ralph got involved in the Korean War. He told me he went way up north to set up radar stations to give U.S. pilots more warning.


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