Friday, May 5, 2017

Champaign, IL to Zionsville, IN: More like Raindiana...

This post won’t be a soap opera; however, I feel there is some necessary context, as I like to post about the mental implications of cycling as opposed to the just dry facts of what happens (if you are interested in my thoughts on anxiety and depression, I keep another blog to explore those). As always, expect me to be forthright and not sugarcoat things: if you want buttery, smiles-only travel stories, you’re reading the wrong blog. If you want to know everything that happens, the good and the bad, then keep reading.

I often struggle with anxiety and depression. Mostly it manifests as being hyper-aware of what could possibly go wrong and getting lost in thought (often negative thought) instead of getting lost in the moment. I’ll find myself uncontrollably exploring the fictional minutiae of having a loved one die in my arms or being arrested for something I didn’t do -- things that have never happened and are extremely unlikely to happen, but that my brain forces me to worry about all the same. This brain of my has the best of intentions, I know. So I’m usually polite when I try and steer myself away from them, but inevitably, five minutes later, there I am again, and I’ve lost a few miles of road to a fantasy of feeling.

It is with this context in mind that we’ll embark on the story of the past two days. I left Champaign after taking two days off to avoid the 20 mph headwinds that the midwest seems determined to force me to endure. I also left Rachel, who had acted about like this when I arrived:

...and who acted about the opposite when I left (thanks again for letting me stay with you, Rachel).
I left with a light breeze that was undetermined about what it wanted to do, and the sun, again, was feeling shy:

There is a saying in the cycle touring world that if you are biking by somewhere with wind turbines, you are probably not having a good day. I had biked by some on my way into Champaign, on the last day, when I’d had the 20 mph headwind:

...and I biked by some on this day, when the wind was more or less complacent. I should have taken it as an omen all the same:

I also biked by this llama.

I'm not sure why, but I think his name is Bradley.

And then I got to Indiana, and it started to rain.

It hasn’t stopped since.

I had to camp in the rain, and then yesterday, I had to ride in the rain with a 17 mph headwind. On a highway with a narrow shoulder.

Let’s back up a little. When I woke up that morning, I was warm and dry, which was a nice change from the last time I tried to camp in the rain (I’d like to thank Alps Mountaineering for giving me a discount on their one person tent, the Lynx 1. I might write more about this in a later post). Suspecting a headwind, I had ridden 80 miles of the 120 to my next host in Zionsville, IN, meaning I had only 40 to ride in the wind instead of half the distance, which would have been 60 miles. So I could kill some time. I dozed in my tent, enjoying the comparative warmth of my body to the cool breeze over my nose, poking out of my cinched sleeping bag; checking my watch periodically and hoping the rain would let up.

It didn’t.

9 AM rolled around and I concluded there was only one thing to do: grin and bear it. I mentally planned the order of operations: change out of dry sleeping clothes into cycling clothes still wet from yesterday, then into rain gear to attempt to keep myself from getting more wet, pack tent, load bike, be on my way.

Goodbye, safety and security.

I had intentionally stopped just a few miles outside the next major town, hoping that in the morning I might pass by a McDonald’s (I’m generally not a fan of fast food, but McDonald’s does breakfast pretty well, especially when one needs carbs) or a gas station with warm biscuits.

I did not -- I didn’t even pass so much as a restaurant, not that they would have let in a dripping cyclist anyways.

At the last gas station in town I stopped and settled for gas station quality coffee and tornadoes, which are basically Americanized enchiladas. I hinted at this in my food post, but one of the benefits of cycle touring is that your body so craves things like carbs and salt (and, in this case, anything warm), that otherwise lower quality food tastes a little bit like heaven.

I meandered inside the gas station taking up as much heat as I could and trying to stay out of the way before finally working up the courage to head out again. The wind and rain were progressively unforgiving as the day went on, and as I never found an Indiana road map I had settled for an easy route, not a quiet one -- a state highway that went straight from where I was to where I was going. Every few minutes, sometimes more often, a semi would pass me going the other direction, and I’d get a slap of wind and rain in the face from the current of air behind it. Every few minutes, a semi would pass me going my direction, and I’d get a brief reprieve from the wind and the ability to go faster than 8 mph for a few blissful seconds. I’d pedal, pedal, pedal, and then wham, the wind would return, as suddenly as it had disappeared.

It’s funny, you might think as a cyclist I’d be scared of semis, but I actually quite like them. They are the most experienced drivers and thus give you the most space and are the most likely to wait behind you for a safe moment to pass. You’d actually like the least space from them because of the drafting effect, but I’m not about to tell that to the next driver I meet (if there are any drivers reading this, please give as much space as possible -- you are required by law to give at least three feet, but we appreciate the whole lane if you’re willing and able). The worst are RVs: people who don’t often drive big vehicles and are usually going too fast and underestimate their margins. Any idiot can kill you, of course. But let’s not get into that.

As the day went on I became progressively wetter and wetter. I’d left my tent that morning with soaked socks and shoes. My pants are a very thin material made to get wet quickly and dry out quickly; as your legs are doing all the work, they are never cold. My torso started dry, but the rain crept in up my sleeves, down my neck, and by the time I’d ridden about 30 of the 46 miles for the day, the windy side of me was wet and cold. I was often shivering and from time to time a few choice words would leave my mouth, directed mostly at the state of Indiana and whoever thought to welcome people this way.

I was so miserable that I actually tried hitchhiking for a bit. First I hopped off at promising-looking driveways or spare lanes for passing left-turners, but as soon as I stopped pedaling the cold would creep in, so that never lasted long. For about an hour I tried sticking my thumb out while riding when I didn’t need both hands to combat the wind (I did get blown off the road twice; thankfully, the not-always-headwind was coming from the far side of the road and thus blew me off the road, not into it. I’ve noted not to ride in the opposite case). I was hoping a gracious pickup truck would be curious about my story or think, “gee, that guy must be soaking wet, and thus in need of a ride more than anything;” but, I think most people probably didn’t want a soaking wet cyclist in their car, and think more about their upholstery than the fact that being wet means I’d appreciate a heated seat that much more. I can’t blame them, and I acknowledge it’s my fault for being out there. I didn’t expect anyone to stop, but it would have been nice if they had.

I chose not to stop for lunch, afraid that if I did, I would be too cold to continue -- not that I was sure anywhere would even let me in. Instead, I would hop off the bike for a few seconds to retrieve a Cliff bar from my bag, then hop on again as fast as I could, rip open the packaging with my teeth, and eat it while pedaling.

After 42 miles of highway, I was able to turn onto a side road and enjoy little wind for the last few miles. I found the house of my host for the night, but they weren’t home yet. I spent a good 20 minutes on the porch coaxing my half-numb fingers to change me into dry clothes and settled into my sleeping bag (thankfully quite dry) on their porch to wait for them to get home from work.

Now what you’re probably thinking after reading all that is: How terrible! Yes, objectively and considered alone as a single day of pedaling, that was probably one of the worst days of the tour (he said, before even entering Africa…). But to be honest, now that I’m warm again, there was a sort of peace in it.

On my mental health blog I once wrote a post about how having a purpose tends to make people happy. On this blog (Cycle Humanity) I’ve even cited being engaged as more important that being happy. Personally, I believe that happiness is a symptom of engagement, which is a product of purpose. I have never experienced happiness as something you get by looking for it -- I’ve only experienced it more like a butterfly in a field of flowers: chase it, and you’ll never catch it. Sneak up on it, and in your zealousness you might damage its wings. In my experience, happiness is something best left to its own devices: enjoy it when you have it, and let it go when the time comes. Get lost in the moment and happiness will settle on your shoulder for a while, but as soon as you notice it’s there, it will flutter off again. The more gracefully you can let it go, the more likely it will be to come back again.

I would never opt for another day like yesterday or wish it upon anyone. But the funny thing about it was, I was so engaged in getting through it, my purpose was so clearly defined (get somewhere warm) and the actions I had to take to achieve it (pedal harder, dammit) that I wasn’t anxious at all. The only enemies were wind, rain, and trucks coming the other way. I wasn’t imagining loved ones dying in my arms or surviving a nuclear apocalypse or my bike getting destroyed on my flight to Europe (a dream I’d had that morning). I wasn’t imagining anything. I was just…


Now, of course, I’m here writing about it and my mind is starting to find ways to entertain itself again. Yesterday, after the ordeal, from the comfort of a bed and a few blankets, I recalled a journal entry I wrote about how hard it was to leave my friends. I’m wondering if what happened constitutes temporarily forgetting about them, and if that’s an okay thing to do: if people, like happiness, can be left for a while, if you can return to them and have them not be insulted by your engagement elsewhere. Maybe being fully engaged in surviving a windy shit of a day now means you can be fully engaged in spending time with them later, and there is less anxiety in that than in the romance of always holding onto things.

I’m taking a break day today to avoid the wind and the rain that’s still out there (seriously Indiana, this is some welcome), but I’ll pedal again tomorrow. I am most grateful to my hosts for letting me stay with them an extra day, and experiencing their personality and kindness is some of the best kind of engagement. They’ve even helped me find creative ways to hang my things to dry:

Hope no one rings the doorbell.

I guess you could say, despite the uncompromising weather and heartache, that I’m finally getting into the swing of things and feeling like I made an not-entirely-wrong choice in quitting my job and leaving my friends to meet new people every day and sleep in a new place every night. Yesterday was, in a way, fortunate. But... let’s not overthink it.

Jackson isn't overthinking it.

‘Till next time.


  1. Really enjoyed this post. Despite the rain and cold, leaves one with a warm fuzzy feeling by the end :) Hope you get some consistently better weather soon! *knocks on wood*

  2. Love you! So glad I got to see you! Keep being a badass!

  3. Wonderful post. Reminded me of endless miles of exhausting backpacking in the Canadian Rockies. Singing and goofiness gave me the mental relief to ignore my total exhaustion, which set in too far from the destination for the day. Funny how just surviving puts things into perspective. I love your thought that people who love you can be left for a while while you are engaged elsewhere, and will still be there when you return. Love you, Mom