Friday, June 3, 2011


Every year for Memorial Day we make the pilgrimage from Denver back Indianapolis, IN to visit with family & friends and enjoy the company of those who influenced the first 25 years of our lives. 

Having driven through Kansas more times than we care to recount in the last 5 years, we typically resort to flying back to spending more money in exchange for more time with our family.  This year however, with me being out of work, and Jen having extra vacation days to burn, we opted to make the 17 hour drive 1/3 of the way across the country in our Jeep Grand Cherokee.

Looking at my training schedule and seeing that I really couldn’t afford to burn 6 days indulging in Midwest style gluttony with no time on the bike, I made the decision to pack the road bikes and was determined to get some time in on the bike.

For Jen, having the bikes presented an opportunity that she couldn’t pass up.  Seeing as there was a duathlon 1 hour away on Saturday, she was able give her parents the chance to see her race, cheer her on, and ultimately allow them to have great pride in their daughter when she took 2nd overall for the women.  The flatlands and wind made for a different experience for her, but she crushed!

The entire trip was nonstop, meeting up with one person after the next and catching up with people we haven’t seen in years.  We had lunch and dinner plans every day, which gave me hope I could sneak in a morning ride a few days, but somehow evening conversations seemed to stretch on as the clock ticked on well into the night. 

Until Monday morning the hope of getting in an early morning ride was dashed.  I was sleep deprived as is, and simply couldn’t spare hours of sleep for time on the bike, however Monday morning came and a window of opportunity arose.  I jumped on the bike without a destination and just went.

I found myself quickly following my old training routes, meandering though a large city park then out into the country side.  Some things had dramatically changed, some things were entirely the same.   For the first time in 7 or so years, I was putting up mile after mile in cornfield after cornfield.

The first thing I noticed was that the park entry fee had increased from a paltry $0.50 to a whopping $3 per cyclist!

$3/ cyclist...that's just crazy!

The park, one mile from one of our old apartments, was where I put up 8 miles per day, 7 days per week riding the paved roads on a mountain bike.  It was here that I found cycling to be something more than riding around the neighborhood pretending to be a BMX bandit.

The park was largely unchanged, but seemed smaller in every way.  The roads were not as long, the hills not as tall, and the time it took to ride my old loops was markedly less than 7 years prior.  I exited the park and headed north to the cornfields on the fringe of town. 

The first thing I noticed was that it was flat…really flat!  As far as I could see in any direction were fields of corn and soybeans.  The roads stretched all the way to the horizon which was broken only by stands of trees and grain silos reaching toward the sky.

When I had outgrown my 8 mile park loop and searched for ways to add distance it was to the country roads in the cornfields I turned.  Now lost among endless fields of crops I had become a bit turned around, checking my phone, got me back on track and I headed to find one of my old friends.

Endless country roads.
Riding back toward town, I snaked through curvy wooded roads, the likes of which are nowhere to be found in Colorado.  Following one road landed me under a dense canopy of trees.  Lined with a white railed fence it meandered past small grassy clearings and beautiful deciduous old growth, bringing back old memories of times spent wondering these roads by bike on a pre-Google maps effort to find roads that connected up to form larger loops.

Getting lost in the countryside.

A mile or so after the white picket fence, I met my old friend and in an effort to become re acquainted proceeded to dance my way up it, the steepest hill I had been able to find 7 years prior.  Once forced to ride this impossibly steep hill in the middle chainring of my mountain bike, I floated up it in the big chainring of my roadbike.  Big and steep by Indiana standards, it wouldn’t even register on the elevation profile of a Colorado ride.

Yep that is a steep hill by Indiana standards.

Reflecting on how much I had changed as a rider in the last half a decade, I also noticed that some things had changed in Indiana as well.  Indiana was a hostile place for cyclists before.  I had once faced horns, unsavory remarks from drivers, and projectiles launched from moving vehicle, so it was a nice surprise to make a turn on to a large heavily traveled road to find that the there had been some condieration given to bikes in the recent future.

Finally, a bike lane!

A nice wide bike lane had been installed where I had once had to ride in the right lane of traffic. It was nice to know that there had indeed been some progress made to meet even the most basic needs of a cyclist, and that the apparent demand for the lanes was enough so that the city was willing to invest in them. 

With lunch plans on the schedule, I wandered back through the park on my way home, feeling sad to be cutting short such a nice ride.  All the memories and the open countryside, spotted with green trees, in a way it felt like a very foreign land, but in a way I felt home.

I always knew I was a good old Indiana boy at heart with familial roots firmly planted in the state, but as I was surrounded by the openness of the cornfields and the familiarity of my old stomping grounds, I couldn’t help but realize that Indiana is just as much a part of my cycling career as it is in the rest of my life.

I love riding in Colorado more than anywhere in the world, but a little piece of me fell in love all over again with riding in Indiana.  I'll be back Indiana, no doubt about it.