We were not on Highway 50 at all that day. Instead, we were on State Route 161, a road paralleling 50 to the south. The plan was to head north sometime since Carlyle was right off 50. When we rode into Bartelso we found a beautiful Catholic church called St. Cecilia and ate a snack.
It was overcast and cool (in a good way). I want to say I ate grapes, but the memory's shady. A man was working on lawn care and nearby a girl and her father were examining a tree in the courtyard. I walked around the church, finding it lovely. Since I was checking the map on my cell phone frequently that day, I pulled it out again and looked for directions to Carlyle... where would we turn north? My phone gave us unexpected and new directions taking a shortcut on Slant Rd., which chipped a little over three miles from our day's trip. We were going to stay on 161 until 127 and go north. I'm glad I happened to be checking the route as often as I was (on my phone) that day because our host was much further away than anticipated (seven extra miles). Anyways, enough with the logistics.
Slant Rd. was a beautiful short cut. The sun came out to greet us (for a ten minute respite from the overcast skies) and we were surprised by picturesque scenery here in the middle of nowhere. There were a couple houses and some fields (which might not sound all that exciting, but hey, beauty is in the eye of the beholder).
There was maybe one car on the whole stretch of road and everything was at peace. One house advertised some sort of fresh food products... I wish I could be more specific (I think there was goat cheese and some strawberries). Often times, I felt under pressure that I could not stop and do some exploring because Tom was with me and I believe I subconsciously knew that he was more of a destination sort of guy and I am a journey guy... that said, we did not take many pit stops along the way to just check out places. Just snap a picture and move on. I thought to myself that if I ever came back, I would go into that little store and try some of their food.
At the end of Slant Rd. we turned on 127 north and soon enough I could see a church steeple (barely seen in the distance in the photo below) and other tell tale signs of a city in the distance (increased traffic and something about the way the trees are clustered around a town).
I thought we were home free once we were in the city. Based on the directions from Carol (our host for that night) I thought we'd have maybe three more miles to go. The miles dragged on and it was another seven from the city to the campground at Eldon Hazlet State Park. I think it was because I wasn't expecting to ride that much further that I became slightly agitated (probably a little frustrated and impatient). I just wanted to be there already. We only traveled 62 miles that day, which is not too exhausting, but when a surprise like seven extra miles comes up, I tend to get a little impatient. That was another 45 minutes to ride. Not to mention, because of the time zone change in southern Indiana (it was close to 4 pm in Illinois, which means it was close to 5pm - closing time, if we were lucky it wasn't sooner - in Illinois) we had to stop for 30 minutes to make phone calls trying to arrange for a place to stay in Vincennes and Bedford, Indiana.
For Vincennes, I left messages with a voicemail, reached another church who told us they couldn't help, and spoke with the son of the pastor of the third and final church on our list. The church was Central Church of Christ and the boy's name was Benjamin. I quickly explained our situation to Ben and he told me he'd pass the message on to his father. Having exhausted the numbers for Vincennes, I started on the list of churches in Bedford and I left voicemail messages with the two churches. Next, I tried the number for St. Vincent de Paul's Catholic Church and I was forwarded by the secretary to Father Rick. Somehow, and I can't explain just how, but somehow, I felt right about St. Vincent de Paul's.
As we finally continued through the State Park, I felt like the land was strangely deserted and even a bit eerie. Maybe it was the lack of traffic going into the park or the weather (on the brink of sprinkling) or the scarcity of animal and insect movement or my dreading camping. Maybe it was just the unknown and exhaustion. It could be that I had just gotten off the phone with few leads, which may have left me feeling a little bit alone. Now I recall needing to make some purchases (such as toothpaste), but passing by a Wal-Mart thinking that I could easily return if necessary... that could have added to my somber mood (it soon became clear that a trip to Wal-Mart would not be easy given its distance from the park - roughly seven miles one way) because perhaps I felt isolated from humanity. No matter. We trudged on.
In truth, the park was pretty. There was water and trees and two herons. I saw a deer scamper through the woods later. Oddly enough, there weren't many mosquitoes. I'm not complaining about that. I rode tentatively forward, not knowing what was ahead. I was very concentrated on getting us safely to our destination for whatever reason.
Finally, we hit the campground parking lot. I felt a little more secure. After a minute of observing the campground map we rode to our host's home, a popup camper. Carol was waiting outside for us.
Carol was very focused (this was her workplace too and there was business to take care of getting us set up in an appropriate plot of land). I don't remember exchanging many pleasantries. I think she didn't quite know what to think of us guys on bicycles traveling across the country. She told us that Pastor Wagner spoke with the church about us and said we had a tent and so she thought she could help us. She paid for our land ($8) and gave us the "bicycle love offering" ($35) collected by the church. It was clear that she wanted to help us and even though she was not naturally outgoing, she welcomed us and loved us (whether she knows it or not) and I am very grateful for that. She said that she didn't know what we'd like to eat and that she didn't have much food, so she made us a beef and vegetable soup for supper. She sent us off to set up our tent and come back for supper afterwards.
I had to dig deep in my bags and disturb my spectacular packing job to get out the tent. This was the first and only time we'd use it, so I guess I can be glad that I brought the thing. With Tom's help it was up in no time. Camping is much more Tom's territory than mine. I believe Tom was expecting that we'd camp much more often than we did, hence he originally packed a camp stove (which we shipped back to Colorado after our stop in Topeka, KS). Tom was in his element. He was a mountain man in the flatland woods and I was a fish out of water. I could tell he could rough it more than I would ever want to. This place might have been heaven for Tom. I'm glad we only camped one night ;).
We ate supper with Carol and learned a bit about her. She's from the Apostolic church, but she has found a community she likes at the Church of God and she likes the pastor. Her husband and she used to travel with the camper from Carlyle to Florida during the different seasons, but now she does it alone. She has a lot of descendents (she's the first great great grandmother I've ever met!) and gets to do tours among them to visit everyone (she stays with each of her children for two weeks and moves to the next during the winter).
She seemed relegated or succumbed to a certain lot in life, doing what she could to keep busy, but not entirely happy either. Perhaps that had to do with her husband's passing. She had a strong commitment to her place as a member of the Apostolic denomination, but that confidence did not overflow into the rest of her being. I thought I sensed that something in her life was not at peace. Perhaps she struggled knowing if there was something more she ought to do with her life? She said she didn't know how to help us, but was doing what she could and I thank God for Carol's faithfulness. She was "taking it one day at a time" like so many people I'd met on the way, but this did not seem as reassuring or encouraging for her. She may just have a different personality than I have seen or it might have been this particular day. To me, however, she seemed to be lacking purpose. In any case, I hope that she has hope and joy and peace in her eternal life through Jesus Christ.
It was in the next few days that I decided I should be careful what I say about others and very careful trying to judge their hearts. I do not want to hurt anyone's feelings and maybe it is wrong to talk about people like this. Is this not personal? Is this not private? And yet, this is a part of my experience and how I perceive the people I meet. But, I have been very wrong about things before. Perhaps so long as I do not condemn people, but share my perceptions out of love... but maybe it is better if it is between me and them.
Among other things, I hiked around (is it called hiking if there are no hills?), looked out at the gorgeous lake, took a very uncomfortable shower*, saw a groundhog, journaled a tiny bit, and then went to bed early. Tom tried starting a fire with his flint and steel, but failed miserably (sorry, Tom!). If it's any consolation to Tom, we had a rough time starting it with the lighter that Carol lent us too because our wood was wet. Tom stayed outside and read at the picnic table that we chained our bikes to and I retreated early to the tent. This was his sort of place. Quiet.
We rode to Carlyle, Illinois on Tuesday, June 9, 2009.
To see more photos from my trip: add me as a friend on facebook - http://www.facebook.com/kurtis.griess
*those showers were hot! I had enough less-hot water to rinse with in each of the three stalls before it became scalding about five seconds later. That said, I would rinse, lather, run to another stall, start to rinse, run to another stall, rinse again... ouch.