So, I was at a Christmas party in Boston last season when I was lucky enough to meet a Hoosier who recommended the southern Indiana region to me for cycling and touring. For that, I'm quite grateful as all I had to do is google "hostel" and "state parks" to find the spots I've been enjoying these past two weeks.
My first stop, The Lost River Hostel, was quite an experience as I was sharing life with 7 people on most days, and a few new faces on the weekend. Oddly enough, not a single person of the core group was from Indiana, but yes, New York, LA, Boston, Atlanta, Michigan, South Carolina, and Florida. Besides enjoying early morning coffee & conversation, there were also communal dinners. But best of all, on Saturday night, I raised a glass or two with folks in celebration of my 50th state visit.
The hostel is an interesting volunteer/work community, though I came as a tourist, and spent my days cycling and visiting the sweet little towns of French Lick and West Baden Springs. Located just one mile apart, they continue to capitalize on what was once a destination of the rich and famous for the mineral springs in the area, and each still boasts grand hotels of the early 20th century. Moving from the hostel in the woods to gold leaf grandeur made for quite interesting days!
My second week in the state ends tomorrow as I depart from Brown County State Park, near Nashville, Indiana, "the art colony of the Midwest". While weather has once again challenged me (4 days of rain!), I've still enjoyed the park and town while doing exactly what I set out to do here. Remember Breaking Away? In the movie, Dave's "ecstasy ride" on the wooded road was filmed on West Gate Road in this state park. Indeed, I did relive the scene a few times this week (but without the blow-out).
So, what's next? A very good question, but next week a birthday celebration or two is on the itinerary! In the morning I roll into Ohio for a few more days of camping, then onward to enjoy time with friends in Pennsylvania and New York.
As I rolled out of Minnesota, I was surprised to discover that I was just 30 miles to the quaint town of Decorah, Iowa, a spot that many folks recommended. Unfortunately, I arrived so early that the museum was closed, but I strolled about, and my first impression of Iowa was a positive one. Not a single person passed by without saying "hello".
In just a few hours, I rolled into Dubuque which felt like a big city (population: 59,000), but as the week went on I was enamored with its small city charm. Dubuque's first permanent settler was a Quebecois fur trader (thanks, Julien), and was founded in 1833, 13 years before the state of Iowa. It's a city of neighborhoods, and while I did my best to see it all, weather took a few days away from me (it also took a tent pole!). Located along the Mississippi River (as was my campground!), you can also see Wisconsin and Illinois just across the way.
While I'll let the photos speak for how much I enjoyed Dubuque, suffice to say that I did not see it all, and just up the road is the "Field of Dreams," and across the River, Galena, IL (home of Ulysses S. Grant). That's okay, though, as I plan to return here one day, and perhaps stay in the Al Capone suite at Hotel Julien.
Did I mention the kindness and friendliness of people here? How about a park employee who digs through his garage looking for a spare tent for me? Or a woman I spoke with for 10 minutes who leaves the newspaper with a note so I know what's going on over the weekend? Have you ever had campground hosts call to pick you up from a walk because a storm is coming? All true.
The Midwest -- I'm already missing it -- but in the morning, I roll halfway through Illinois toward the finale of 50 states, Indiana.
Cyclist, writer, teacher, avid reader, bike/ped advocate, nomad, pie lover