By Jim Foreman
Actually Day One took two days of driving to get from Oklahoma City to Rockville, Indiana where we found the Covered Bridge Festival going through its final death throws. Wall-to-wall stalls hawking cotton candy, BBQ turkey legs, roasted corn, hot dogs, tacos, fried chicken, pork chop sandwiches, strawberry shortcakes and various other insults to the digestive system were still going strong around the court house while T-shirt vendors, artsy-craftsy shops and musical groups competed for attention on the sidewalks. It didn’t take long to enjoy all the frivolity we could stand, so we headed three miles out of town to the Billy Creek Inn which would be home base for the first half of our tour. As we drove up, we were met by fellow Phredite, Joe DeLory, who was en route from the Hilly Hundred back to his home in Iowa. We had a great visit before he had to push on.
Billy Creek Village is an authentic tourist trap reproduction of a turn-of-the-century village with attractions designed to drive kids crazy if their parents try to sneak them past it. Once they have them off the highway, the Billy Creek Inn is there to keep them from leaving. Other than a few B&Bs and a couple places that would rival Chuck’s Motel, The Billy Creek Inn is about the limit of your choices in Rockville. I will have to admit that the Inn is by far the best of the bunch.
After unloading cars, stashing bikes and getting settled in, we called our first official Geezer gathering to order around the pool, which had already been covered for the winter. Actually, we don’t use a gavel, we just open the chips, dips and coolers. The main topics of business were getting the bags of chips open without crushing them and where were we going for dinner. Penny Speck, the Where-Do-We-Eat leader, picked a place ten miles in the opposite direction from the madhouse in town.
Or would it be day three? Anyway, it was Monday and our first day of riding. Fred Kamp, fearless leader and the one who made the maps, announced that there were three routes of various lengths but since the wind was forecast to increase from the south as the day went along, it was decided that we would head south until the wind came up and then return with a tailwind. It’s hard to argue with that kind of logic.
Our first task was to do fifteen crit laps around the parking lot while the non-riders shot about nine yards of film of us leaving. The second challenge was to climb a hill that they would class as “Beyond Category” in the Tour de France. Most of us were considering switching from granny gears to ropes and pitons before we reached the top.
After several failing grades in map reading, we managed to arrive at our first covered bridge of the day. Being the famous cover photographer that I am, I decided to stage an art shot of myself and let someone else shoot it. I set up shot: I would be silhouetted against the open end of the bridge and he would snap it as I squirted water into my mouth. It was an automatic-everything camera, all he had to do was point and press the button. What could be simpler than that, a trained fish could do it…Right?
I posed, aimed the water bottle, got the stream going into my mouth and waited for the click… and waited… and waited… Half a second before I was going to need mouth to mouth, I coughed about a quart of water into the air, then I heard, “Click!”
Following that near catastrophe, we were off in search of bridge number two. Even though the Geezers consider maps as mere suggestions, we managed to find several more bridges before finally ended up in the village of Bridgeton at about the same time the wind began to pick up from the south. Fortunately a couple of the food vendors were still around. Otherwise the choice for lunch would have been either a Butterfinger or Baby Ruth from a vending machine at the old mill. Fortified by roast chicken, we literally flew north with the wind.
Tuesday, Oct. 21. Having exhausted both choices to the south and ourselves, we had to find a different map for today. The wind was from the northeast and the longest covered bridge in the county was somewhere off to the northwest, so West Union was our destination. Of course, the first step was to climb that God-awful hill again.
Rockville isn’t all that big with only one main street each direction, but several Geezers managed to find routes that weren’t on the map. In fact, they might have even been unknown to city officials. However, since our route ran at an angle to the rest of the world, everyone managed to ultimately find it.
All cyclists know that bridges cause hills, but few realize that the longer the bridge, the longer and steeper will be the hills associated with it, and this day’s ride proved the point. The good thing about bridges is there is always a place known as “under the bridge” which seems to work equally well for either gender but not usually at the same time.
Those whose shopping genes were working overtime were excited when they heard that our route would be through Bloomingdale, but their elation faded when they found that it was only about 150 population and the only place of business was a service station with a closed bathroom because they were waiting for a new motor for the water pump. We learned very quickly that one should never pass up a chance to fill our water bottles or use the bathroom. It’s very difficult to ride a bike with your legs crossed.
Lady Bug, Lady Bug, fly away home.
China Bug, China Bug, leave us alone.
We found ourselves under attack by little yellow bugs with black spots that were chewing on us like tiny pit bulls. They looked just like the cute little beetles we played with as kids except that these were yellow with an attitude. The ubiquitous lady bug has been a friend to farmers and enemy of little critters that ate everything from tomatoes to turnips. They are a major cash crop down around Marfa, Texas where they are raised by the jillion and sell for about $50.00 a pound. And, believe me, it takes a lot of them to weigh a pound. Farmers buy them to scatter on their fields to act as a natural pesticide. They are cheaper and safer than chemicals with unpronounceable names.
It a world where we are always looking for bigger and better, they discovered a close cousin to the lady bug in China, which not only ate twice as many little green hopping things as their American kin, but would also slurp up several critters that they wouldn’t. Like most everything else imported from China, the new bug is considerably cheaper. So much for the bug farmers down around Marfa. The Chinese bug would eat just about anything that moves, including bicyclists. We would be riding along and suddenly one of them would chomp down on some area of exposed skin. One slap would come up with a smashed bug and spot of blood on your hand. They seemed to be smarter than the average bug. Instead of trying to run you down like a dog, they would sort of flutter around in the air and wait for you to run into them. I’ll bet they were saying in Chinese bug language, “Here comes meals on wheels.”
The Catlin Bridge across Diddle Creek was our objective on the way back, but most became navigationally challenged and the best anyone could report was sighting it from the highway.
‘Our “Where-do-we-eat leader” led us to a neat little family restaurant called Janet’s located 10 miles west of Rockville in Montezuma. They are famous for their fresh strawberry pies stacked so high with whipped cream that the waitress has to duck bringing them out of the kitchen.
When I booked the rooms at Billy Creek they said we couldn’t stay past Tuesday because they had several tour buses loaded with gray hair, walkers and Metamucil arriving on Wednesday. It was just as well because we had pretty well enjoyed all of Rockville we could stand and it was time to move on.
After a considerable amount of negotiation and perhaps some money under the table, there would be no shuttle needed to move all the cars, bikes and people to our home for the rest of the week in Greencastle.
Fred announced at our usual evening meeting around the pool, “Open your books to R-6 which is the route tomorrow. If you can’t find R-6, use R-3 twice.” Naturally, it began, “Head west from Billie Creek Village on E-50-S for 1.3 miles.” otherwise known as “Up that damn hill.”
“Zero your odometer at the top of the hill and make a 120 deg LEFT on Bridgeton Rd.” Most of us were able to keep to the map that far, but as usual, things became a bit confused after that. We coasted down hills through tunnels of golden leaves, crossed covered bridges, climbed hills and rode past fields of soybeans and corn as high as an elephant’s whatever.
The few who actually followed the map missed beautiful downtown Westfield but fortunately, most found it. Westfield looks like a set for “Right Here in River City” straight out of 1920. Storefront buildings with porches on Main Street, covered bridge right in the middle of town and a mill that used to grind grain but now grinds tourist dollars. Through the covered bridge and across the river is an area the size of ten football fields where Indiana’s biggest flea market and junk sale takes place each year during the covered bridge festival.
For two weeks the population of Westfield swells to fifteen thousand people who munch their way past tables of glassware, around piles of rusting farm tools and along cages of ducks and bunnies for sale. When we arrived on Wednesday, there were perhaps twenty people left and most of them were doing their best to leave.
The only thing open was the mill and that was because the lady who runs it was there to use the phone to call her sister. She didn’t miss a word as she took my $3.50 for a refrigerator magnet with a guess what — covered bridge — on it that my wife wanted. I did notice that they were selling little bags of genuine Indiana corn bread mix for $4.00 each — probably same stuff you can get from Jiffy at three for a dollar. Come to think of it, they weren’t selling much of it because the shelf was still full. It will probably feed a lot of hungry weevils over the winter.
Greencastle is home to about ten thousand people, DePauw University and the Dixie Chopper Lawn Mower factory. It’s also a great place to use as home base for bicycle rides. The choices of lodging are much better than Rockville and by sheer chance, I stumbled onto the best deal the Geezers have ever found. We stayed at the Dixie Chopper Conference Center [Phone 765-655-1658] on the airport three miles east of town. They have twelve executive level suites located in the airport terminal. They have a lounge, conference room that will hold up to 35 people and by moving the corporate Cessna Citation out of its hangar, they can handle as many as 400 people for parties, banquets or receptions. They have a bar and cafe with a special fly-in breakfast that attracts up to a hundred airplanes every Saturday morning. As Joe DiMonico, one of the three original Geezers, commented, “It sure isn’t Chucks Motel.”
There is a bicycle path running past the airport to downtown and the university. It goes on east of the airport but I don’t know for how far. It carries riders past all of the places near and dear to the hearts of cyclists, WAL*MART, Subway, McDonalds and a 1950s style ice cream drive in that sells nothing that can’t be served with a scoop. Ever had persimmon, peanut butter or pumpkin ice cream? What next, Brussels Sprout or turnip ice cream?
More country roads to ride and more covered bridges to cross before time for our survivors’ party. We decided to move upscale a bit so we went to the Walden Inn where they have napkins folded like swans, leather bound menus the size of the New York Times and more pieces of silverware than most people know how to use. I’ll admit that the ambience of the place did tend to squelch our usual party spirit, but a five-piece bluegrass group known as the Fret Set was playing in the bar and they dropped by to entertain us. We made it through the evening without any threats of arrest or being asked not to come back.
We made it through another Tour de Geezers without any traffic tickets, road rash or flats. About the only thing left is the picture swap party and the arrival of our credit card bills.