2004 Bike Trip: New Harmony

Leif Johnson — 08 Jun 2004, 20:06

so, so, so ... this afternoon i've stopped for a brief update in carmi, illinois, where the land is flat and the corn fields stretch as far as the eye can see. surprisingly enough, oil derricks spot the land as well, a reminder of the primordial jungle and sea that once claimed this particular spot on the globe.

i'm a few days ahead of schedule for meeting up with the illustrious pete in saint louis, so i've been spending the past few days taking it easy and enjoying the people and surroundings ... well, as much as one can enjoy corn fields and the smell of an oil field.

travels from kentucky

after the last update i aimed for a state park that lay on the transamerica bike route, the rough river lake and dam. sure enough, when i rolled into camp in the evening, i was rewarded by meeting five fellow tourists. surprisingly, four of them were recent college grads, around my age, just doing the tour for the heck of it. we swapped stories and tales (two of the travelers told of a friend who'd crossed the country sleeping on billboard ledges), and then i talked for a bit with the fifth tourist, a german grandfather from muenster who'd had a 14-day delay in virginia and was now trying to book things along to make the trip fit into his 90-day tourist visa.

the roads in indiana and illinois have been a beautiful relief after seven days of battling with pickups in kentucky. the shoulders here are the perfect size for a bike (about 1m across, as opposed to kentucky's standard 5–20cm) and have generally been clean and free of overgrown grasses and shrubs (also unlike kentucky, which grooves most of its shoulders and had quite a few gigantor grasses growing in the shoulder). the winds have been thankfully calm so far, except for a brief strong wind today on the way from crossville to carmi.

lincoln's boyhood home

one night i stopped for a campsite at lincoln state park, indiana, where i met many friendly neighbor campers and was graciously given brownies and a hot dog (thanks tim and glenda !). that night, reclining in my hammock, some critters started investigating my food bags (hanging by my bike cable from a tree), so i scared them off with my flashlight/headlight and sat back again ... only to hear a swwwwssshhhhh ... THWANG THUD squeak ... squeak ...

now i sure didn't want to investigate further, but as far as i can tell a bat had flown right smack into one of my hammock cords ! whoa. a little too much nature for one night.

so the next day i awoke in a stupor, feeling generally like a slug (not diminished by the fact that i lay in an oblong, featureless, nylon casing). after finally coaxing myself to pack up and get moving, i still felt sluggish after visiting the nearby lincoln boyhood national memorial, so i sat for a while on a picnic table and chatted with some friendly visitors.

after talking for a while i felt great, hopped on my bike, and rode like the wind (24 km/h !) for the rest of the afternoon, fueled additionally by a powerbar and some of those lovely brownies. somehow it's really the people that fuel the leg muscles.

rest in new harmony

knowing that i was a bit ahead of schedule, i stopped for the past couple days in new harmony, indiana, which is one of the most peaceful towns i've visited. i stayed in a quality boarding house, slept in a nice bed with real sheets, took two showers in two days, and generally loitered to the maximum extent possible. the owner of this particular boarding house is a real interesting fellow (he was a traveling china buyer for a long while), so one night when we got to talking he gave me a copy of blue highways (a quality travel book so far), for which i exchanged my recently finished copy of fire from the mountain.

like any small tourist town, new harmony is kind of a strange place though ... some of the town seems frozen, unable to change for fear of scaring off the folks who come by and spend their money. in this case, it's new harmony's founding history that they come to see—the city was founded by a group of germans in the early 1800s, then sold to philanthropist robert owen after 15 years or so, who tried to make it an example utopian colony. the city has remained in many ways just as it was, but in others it has tried to move on. i suppose lots of towns in this country are the same way. in its defense, however, i've found few places so far that can offer more in the way of comfortable park benches, shady parks and gardens, and quiet streets than new harmony.

the continuing voyage

so, with the hour sinking already toward five, i plan to ride about 15 km further today, where i will set up camp and prepare my daily dinner of lentils, rice, apples, peanuts, and a multivitamin. mmmm, camping. thanks to the ongoing experience and the wonderful support from you all, this trip just keeps getting better. i'll try to get another update out soon, whenever i figure out where i'm headed next. :)