Day 30 – Terre Haute to Indianapolis
I’m feeling a little vulnerable to the traffic as I head east on 40 through downtown Terra Haute. I’d hoped to be out of town by the time the sun rose to avoid the dangerous traffic behind me and sun in front situation, but “town” goes for longer than I expected. The traffic is pretty heavy for the twenty or so miles to Brazil, where I stop for breakfast at the Sunrise Family Restaurant.
Today’s a short day by design. I’ve got some lollygagging and detouring planned that will take me up around some covered bridges, and I want to have dinner with an old friend tonight in Indianapolis. While I’m still on US-40, I’m presented with many chances to detour for short distances along what appear to be old versions of the highway. These are sometimes in such bad shape I need to walk my bike over small sections, but I get to see some pretty cool old road ruins.
Just past the little town of Reelsville, I start meandering my way north to visit a couple of covered bridges. – the Houck Bridge and the Oakalla / Shoppell Bridge, both of which cross the Big Walnut Creek. These old treasures feel strong and mellow to me as I explore them. The quiet of the remote countryside, broken only by the trickle of the creek below, intoxicates me and holds me close.
Engineering and design tells us so much about a culture. The solid wood and meticulous construction of these bridges speaks of a culture that cares about doing things well and right, about doing things in a way that lasts. The design – covering a bridge to be sure the creek can get crossed even in deep snow and ice – speaks of a culture bound and determined to live life fully day and night, every day of the year.
In the hour or so I spend exploring and enjoying the bridges, I think two vehicle cross them. Clearly they get very little traffic these days, and we’re lucky that somebody cares enough to preserve them. This speaks clearly about the culture that has evolved from those people who built the bridge in the first place. It tells of a people who care about where they came from, and care about wonders of engineering and design enough to preserve them for future generations.
I spend a good deal of time exploring them, taking pictures, and enjoying the countryside, then make my way toward Greencastle on a dirt and gravel road along the Walnut Creek. I stop in pone place along the road to watch a couple fawns playing in the road ahead of me. They don’t seem to view the bicycle as much of a threat, and I spend 10 minutes or so enjoying their antics.
Greencastle is a college town, home of DePauw University. I didn’t know that, but figure it out as I ride into town. I’m delighted by the old town square and college town feel of the place. I find the Almost Home Restaurant right off the town square, and enjoy immensely what appears to be flirtatious behavior toward me on the part of a pretty waitress 20 years younger than me.
Now really, is it likely that this 40-ish woman, beautiful and seemingly very intelligent, would be taken by a 58 year-old guy in spandex? Not to mention that I probably smell less than handsome… But to the male ego, none of that logic matters. This gal has probably learned through the years that catering to that male ego will earn her a bigger tip.
Part of me feels a bit guilty, but most of me feels smug, knowing that my tip won’t be influenced at all by whether or not she flirts with me. I’m a pretty good tipper anyway, and especially at diners and little places like this. She’ll get the same good tip she’d get if she was just friendly and took good care of me.
But I enjoy the flirtatiousness nonetheless. Who knows, she might really be flirting. It’s not something I’ve ever been very good at evaluating well when it’s aimed at me. That’s probably why it’s so effective when women flirt with men – we’re terrible at understanding it. I guess we always figure that there must be a catch if a smart and attractive woman wants to flirt with us…
With a full belly, I mosey on out to the sidewalk, where I meet a fella who’s also just passing through town. He got off I-70 to drive up here and have a small-town meal. He’s from south of Dayton, (close to where I once lived), and is headed out to Colorado. He’s looking for work I think, and we chat it up and trade email addresses. I saddle up and head east toward Indy, taken again by the serendipity of these folks I keep meeting who are headed west to Colorado, coming from somewhere I’ve been or somewhere I’m going.
A brief road note here for cyclists: Highway 240 runs straight east out of Greencastle until it meets up with US-40. On a map, this looks like a really good way to meander toward Indy. If I had it to do over, I’d probably look for some other country roads to cover those miles. 240 was very busy when I rode on it. There’s little or no shoulder, and a lot of the traffic is from trucks. It’s probably only about 10 miles of riding, but it’s a pretty unsafe 10 miles.
In Indy, I stay at a little motel at the Plainfield exit off I-70. It’s one of several motels there, and will remain nameless in my writing.
Let me first say, as I said in my earlier book about the western half of this journey across the nation, that I’ve stayed in some pretty low-rent motels in my life. My bar is pretty low when it comes to what I need from a motel. A relatively clean room is all I want, and quiet.
This place is neither. The management is apparently accustomed to some pretty unsavory behavior or tenants, as the bed is covered in a waterproof mattress pad. I discover this after I’ve been laying in bed a few minutes, and couldn’t figure out why I was sweating. I get up, strip the bed down, and re-make it sans the waterproofing. Then come the fun times in the rooms around me, people coming and going and walls so thin their snoring keeps me up once they finally do go to sleep.
I know it’s an unfair characterization to use this hotel and management as an example of the people of Indianapolis. I am positive that the good folks there are just like the good folks everywhere, in the same measure. But as I lay awake listening to the sounds around me, I’m struck by the contrast in cultures that a few miles on my bicycle bring me through.
From the quiet world of well-engineered covered bridges, preserved and maintained by people who clearly care about things well-made, through a fun little college town where a smart and attractive waitress feels confident enough to flirt openly with a traveler she finds attractive… (I’m sticking with that version of the story, btw…) From that, a few short miles down the road to a modern exit off a superhighway, where people have no courtesy at all for those around them, and must care nothing about the quality of the product they provide.
At some point, there’s a break in the snoring and other noise, and I’m tired enough, so I drift off to sleep for a bit. I’m not one who remembers my dreams, but it wouldn’t surprise me if tonight they take me on a journey where I transform from Harrison Ford in an idilic world like the one found in “Witness”, to a bronzed Mel Gibson in Mad Max.
I might point out that in either case, my waitress friend in Greencastle would probably find me attractive – for real…