Dream Acres Campground to Rensselaer: (40kms)
It was a short day today from Dream Acres Campground, nothing special, just the usual corn to see. We cycled to the town of Monon, a short way away for breakfast. There was a Casey’s gas station where we could get a coffee and something to eat. It was already pretty warm.
As we’d come off route to go to the campground, we’d need to take the busy 421 north to rejoin it. We sat and watched the traffic for a while, then I cycled up a small way to check the shoulder, there was none! So, after consulting with Google Maps, we decided on the adjoining portage road, North Meridian to get us back on the route. It was a good choice as there was no traffic whatsoever till we reached the turnoff.
We decided to stay at another Warmshowers host in Rensselaer, about a 5 kilometres off route. Because of the short day, we arrived earlier than expected, so decided to ride through the downtown area and look for a cold drink. We found the Busy Bee on the main street just over the small Iroquois River, it specialised in ice cream and shakes. I got another Root Beer Float and Shazz got a Slushie and we sat behind the building in the shade at a picnic table alongside the river.
We wasted about 30 minutes there as we cooled down and enjoyed our drinks, then headed off to find Chris and Jodi’s place just north of town.
Chris and Jodi are both pastors for the United Methodist Church, and live with their dog. Oddly enough, they aren’t touring cyclists but decided to host to get to meet people from other places. Once again, the hospitality was exceptional. Chris drove us around the town and took me to get some beers and to show me a better route west from town than the ACA maps were showing.
After chatting with our new hosts, they were happy to have us stay an extra night as we needed a few things. We had to replace the tyre tube we changed yesterday, buy some more chamois cream, a bottle of sunscreen (we’ve been going through it quickly) and to order a new tyre that we’ll pick up later in Muscatine, Iowa.
Chris wasn’t confident that the local bike shop would have anything we needed, so volunteered to take us 50 miles up the road to Valparaiso on the outskirts of Chicago to Buck’s Bicycle Shop. Sure enough, Buck had everything we needed, but we’d still need to order our tyre online.
Before we left, Chris gave us his card and told us if we ever needed to camp at a United Methodist Church, just give him a call and he’d see what he could arrange. He had suggested one between Brook and Iroquois (our next stop), but it just wasn’t far enough and we’d just done a couple of shorter days. It was typically nice of him, but we doubted if we’d find ourselves needing to camp behind a church anytime soon.
Rensselaer, Indiana to Iroquois, Illinois: (48kms)
We dropped down south out of Rensselaer and through the grounds of St. Joseph’s College (where Chris used to work). This was the shortcut Chris had shown us and kept us off the busy 231. We turned onto the W700S and crossed over the Iroquois River and the Interstate 65.
The skies became dark to the south-west as we pulled into the tiny town of Brook for lunch. The main street was lined with freshly painted, well-kept houses with tended gardens and lawns. It was nice to see some small towns are doing OK. As for the downtown area, it was the same old story as all the other places with lots of businesses closed down.
Fortunately for us though, the Marathon General Store and gas station was open and we could buy some lunch and get a cold drink. One of the farmers we spoke to said he lived 9 miles south of here and they got 3 inches of rain overnight. He was pretty sure there’d be some more this afternoon.
We took that as good advice and hurried out of town, all the time the horizon was filling with black clouds heading directly for us. Luckily for us, the storm clouds circled around us as we kept pedalling. By the time we crossed over into Illinois and reached the small hamlet of Iroquois though, the temperature had dropped considerably.
Iroquois is so small, we easily found the community park on the way in and rolled out our sleeping gear on the stage in the main pavilion. At the shed next to the toilet block a van with “Cycle USA for MS” was parked with a couple of young guys obviously waiting around for something. We went over to chat with them. They were supporting a group of 16 cyclists doing the Northern Tier to raise money and awareness for Multiple Sclerosis and were expecting them to arrive at any time.
Sure enough, after about half an hour, the first lot of riders rolled in and began setting up tents. It was obviously a process that they were well versed in by now. As we were on the stage and undercover, we didn’t bother with our tent, just our mats and sleeping bags. We chatted with a few of them for a while until the skies opened up and a storm past through. It lasted about an hour and really threw it down. The park was saturated and partially flooded, not bad enough to stop us heading across the street to the local diner, The Iroquois Cafe, for dinner and a few beers.
Iroquois to Ashkum: (40kms)
Once again, we elected to do a shorter day as the next place, Odell, was just over 100kms away, and we weren’t in that big a hurry! We said goodbye to the other cyclists and wished them good luck. We would be following the same route, but I’m sure we won’t be seeing them again.
Under steely grey skies we headed out north till we reach the 2400N road which took us west to Pittwood, just a small siding really, I wouldn’t call it a town. Here we turned north again onto Highway 1 with a reasonable shoulder and cycled up into a north-westerly wind which made us work.
Soon after we turned west again onto the 52, a nasty piece of road with little shoulder and lots of trucks and traffic. This road had really made us nervous. We stopped and checked Google Maps again for an alternative, but because of the Iroquois River, this was our only option.
We were both very happy to reach Ashkum even though it was now raining. Just to be here safely was enough, getting wet was completely secondary at this stage.
We stopped at the BP, parked our bikes under its eaves and went inside to buy a coffee and some lunch. Bill, the friendly guy serving behind the counter, asked me about our trip and couldn’t believe we’d come so far. When it came time to find the community park, I got up to pay and he refused to take my money. The generosity just keeps coming our way!
We cycled down to Main Street and checked out the eating options for tonight, seems pizza is the main staple here in these little towns and we had had it up to our necks with them. We found the park and got our bikes under the small pavilion. We had a number to ring to get the toilets opened, so after a quick call, none other than the Mayor came over to open them up for us!
Paul said he’d been the Mayor here for the past 25yrs, although he didn’t look that old. Shazz and I figured he must have started when he was 16!! He hung around a while and told us about the town. He drives trucks and combines for the local farms, he was a nice guy and we surely felt welcome by now.
With another storm due, we decided to pitch the tent as the small pavilion wouldn’t be wide enough to stop the wind and rain blowing through. Shazz bought some ribs for dinner and we watched the locals doing laps around the park in their golf buggies with their kids either in tow, or, actually driving. We’ve found the smaller towns allow golf buggies to get about, which is kind of nice and says a lot about the pace of life out here.
Later that night, the storm broke and a strong wind lashed the park. Rain pelted the tent, but we were safe and dry. A run to the toilet meant getting pretty wet, but that’s just par for the course when camping I guess. We were lucky to have such nice, clean toilets.