Friday, August 26, 2011

Jenn's Big Summer Adventure: Part 2 - West from Ohio


Leaving Cleveland, I went through the University area and stuck to the roads indicated for Route 2 - hoping to stay off the freeways and away from the toll road. I actually drove right along the lake and through a lot of neighborhoody areas in the west side of Cleveland - it was a bit more scenic than I intended, but I was enjoying the old houses and neighborhoods quite a lot. I did get on the freeway for a little bit - and then back on 2 along the lake.

The roads were clear and I zipped right along. Before I knew it, I was passing Davis-Besse power plant (two big nuclear reactors!) - as the two-lane road curved to the west and crossed water, I noticed something moving on my left. Like a giant black plastic bag floating in the wind. No. A bird. A giant dark bird with a white head and golden - what the hell? A bald eagle??

I craned my neck as the eagle passed 4 feet above my head over the road, toward the marsh at the edge of Lake Erie. There was no shoulder and no place to stop quickly and go look - so I just marveled at the sight for a while (and traffic behind me probably getting angry about the motorcyclist going 5 mph below speed limit!).

I started to see familiar sights - an old bait shop where an enormously fat ginger tabby used to live, parked on the counter by the cash register. Places to picnic & fish. I pulled into the Ottawa National Wildlife Refuge, shucked my helmet and some layers and enjoyed a veritable symphony while I had some water.




I didn't hike very far into the trails but did walk around a bit to enjoy the wildlife - and realized that I had a loose nut on my little aftermarket windshield. A ranger pulled up and I introduced myself and inquired about tools - since I brought metric and the loose item required English (of course!).

"No problem!" he said, reaching in for a big flat plastic tool kit - and then it flipped open and dumped ratchets, socket bits and tools all over the gravel parking lot. While I helped him collect and put all the pieces back into their correct spots by size and silhouette, we talked about the bald eagles. He told me that there were about 8 nests in the area, "The place is lousy with them - we make jokes about chicken-fried bald eagle but we don't really mean it!"

I had enough phone reception to contact my friends in Toledo - Cindy answered the phone and gave me perfect directions and an invitation for dinner. I got on the road, only to stop a half mile away to pick up some Ohio candy corn (yum!) thinking we'd be making dinner at Cindy and Pat's house. I found their place and met the two new (to me!) dogs -- Reggie and Nawla -- in their home, and one elderly cat - and reacquainted with their daughter (I was her babysitter for a couple years in college) and granddaughter.



Before we left for dinner - I couldn't be stopped from hitting the candy corn, and ate two ears before we went to dinner - Ohio has some of the best corn (apples, strawberries and other stuff, too!). Candy corn is super sweet corn that you just eat raw - shuck it and nibble. It is tender and so delicious.

Off we went to an Indian restaurant for dinner - it was great fun to catch up with my friends who I hadn't seen since they visited me in New Orleans when their daughter Hillary was about 5 years old! Now she's in college & has her own daughter - time flies, doesn't it?

After dinner, we pulled out maps and computers - Cindy and Pat helped me plan my route out of Ohio since I didn't want to get on the turnpike or major interstates. They recommended a route on 120 that would go west, up into Michigan for a bit and then into Indiana.

I spent the night on their enclosed porch with the elderly cat - the sliding glass doors pulled to keep the dogs from bugging us. I had a view of Lake Erie, and got to watch the lights of the ships on the water move across the horizon til I fell asleep.

View Larger Map

Day 1: 149 miles

Friday (8/26) morning, I had coffee with my friend Pat before she left to do her duty in her Coast Guard Reserve uniform. We had a nice visit before she left, then I showered & dressed & got packed up on the motorcycle - and realized I forgot to leave out some socks, and had to unpack the bag and repack it before I could actually leave. ZOIKS!!!


I made a quick visit to the University of Toledo campus where I found myself in luck - Seamus Metress was holding office hours, and after refreshing his memory that I was one of his work-study students (his wife remembered instantly when she called!) - we had a nice long catch-up and he promised to send me a couple of his new books.


As I drove west, out of Toledo, I passed Centennial quarry - smell of blackberries, the constant whirring sound of crickets and the moist, hot weather brought back memories of bicycle rides with Pat - jumping into the cool spring filled quarry in our bike shorts & sport bras. I once found a $20 bill plastered and dry on a rock there, lost by other swimmers. I fought an urge to pull over and go for a swim - and I'm glad I did since apparently it's now a hugely built up complex with a concert venue ( I guess my instinct to preserve my memories of overgrown blackberry brambles and a hole in the fence!

After passing several self-serve farm stands, thinking "It's too early to buy produce!" - even biting my lip and nearly turning back when I saw a "fresh horseradish sign" - I found I totally had to stop for this iconic white barn with an historical placard in front of it - memorializing, basically, a property boundary dispute.


Despite missing out on fresh (sigh) horseradish and more candy corn, NW Ohio tomatoes (the sweetest!) - sweet air and rolling terrain dotted red barn/white house, red house/white barn was bucolic and enjoyable. I buzzed past piles of ground cherry vines overflowing the culverts and honked and waved at animals on the side of the road who regarded me with curiosity.

And then - it seemed so sudden - my lovely ride on Route 120 dead ended into the toll road! I couldn't tell on the map exactly how to get around that and just hopped on. I stopped to eat the lunch I brought at the rest stop in Rolling Prairie and saw some tourist information that showed dunes - so since I missed a whole lot of Amish country already, I thought "It would be nice to just go along the shore of Lake Michigan."

Right off the freeway, I screeched to a halt when I saw a restaurant bearing my name: Jennie Rae's ( I took pictures but didn't go inside (DOH!) to see if they had tshirts.


Finding the dunes in Michigan City wasn't that easy - first, I ended up at a beach. Then I went back and tried to follow the signs through town - but ended up way past, had to turn around and finally go there - overheated - and found a gorgeous beach with view of the Chicago skyline through the haze over Lake Michigan. A real BEACH! I was tired, hot & wanted to swim but figured I needed to get more miles in before calling it a day.



I left the dunes around 2:30 or 3pm - and found that I ended up in awful rush hour traffic. It wasn't just heavy traffic as I approached Chicago - nor the tolls - which were the problem, but aggressive drivers. One guy in a big pickup truck seemed to take exception to me and repeatedly would speed up on my left to get in front of me, hit the brakes and flip me off, or box me in, and then slow down. To make it worse - his pickup truck was loaded with household goods like lamps, furniture & stuff - none of it was tied down, and I could see stuff shift toward the tailgate every time he slammed on the brakes in front of me.

I did manage to get away from him for quite a stretch - but he broke through traffic to pursue me up to a toll gate. There were several, equally empty options, I tried to fake him out and go right - but he followed me anyway. Paying tolls is a bit of a process on a motorcycle - especially when you're not from the area and not prepared for stopping to pay 40 cents or $1.10 here and there.

I talked with the toll taker and asked her to mention to the driver behind me that no motorcyclist would relish being behind his unsecured load, and his aggressive behavior was dangerous. When I told her the details - she agreed.

As I was putting my gloves on, the driver started honking and yelling "Mother F----r" out the window. The toll taker said, "Don't worry - I'll take care of this." I never saw that guy again - I hope he got a stern lecture from highway patrol!

As I got closer to downtown Chicago - the traffic just became a 99 degrees Fahrenheit parking lot - not knowing the local regulations, and, in the heat - not caring much - I started lanesharing and just went through a lot of traffic. I didn't know where I was exactly - but it seemed like 4:30 in the afternoon was way too early for this kind of traffic!

I finally just decided to pull off before I got heat stroke - and as fortune would have it, ended up 3 blocks from a highly rated gourmet vegan restaurant called Karyn's on Green ( which opened at 5pm.

While I sipped my Blueberry Mint Fizz, I was able to charge my iPhone, review the maps & figure out where I was camping for the night. I had the most delicious meal:
  • Roasted Foraged Mushrooms truffle chive polenta cake, scallions a la plancha, taro (pictured) - delicious oyster mushrooms and a very tasty polent cake, the grilled scallions were delicious but the crispy charred parts were mostly decorative, I think.
  • Barbeque Pork house-made seitan, cornbread stuffing, braised collard greens, sweet barbeque sauce - this surprised me because it was presented on a rectangular plate and each of the three items was arranged as a trio of rectangles across the width of the plate - the cornbread was actually little nuggets (yum!) and the bbq seitan was just perfect with a Tennessee-style sweet-sour sauce on the thin (vs jammy) side.
  • Chocolate Peanut Butter Pie - rich chocolate & peanut butter, pretzel-agave crust, cashew coconut cream - it was more delicious than it sounds - and totally decadent!
After such a relaxing and filling meal, I felt ready to hit the road again. I couldn't believe that at 7pm - the traffic was still really horrible. And there were like 4 more tolls (yay!). I accidentally ran through one - and at the last one - I had no change.

Fortunately, this was an unmanned toll gate at the offramp in Elgin, and in the twilight, my headlights picked up the glint of coins ALL OVER THE FREAKING GROUND!

Apparently, people just throw handfuls of change at the funnel til it opens - and there aren't any homeless people standing there begging (they probably already collected enough for beer & shelter by 2pm!).

So, I put down my kickstand and picked up coins to pay for my toll - and threw in enough for the people behind me - the driver looked very entertained by my own amusement, but her passenger was engrossed in his blue glowing smartphone.

I got gas then made my way to Burnridge Forest. The non-RV spots were all completely empty, so for $15 I had my choice: woods full of mosquitos or open field with high grasses with 10x more mosquitoes.

No showers, so I put on my swim suit and refreshed myself by the spigot near the bathrooms, then settled into my bivy with a Sookie Stackhouse book, while teenagers ran screaming through the dark woods for an hour.  

Day 2: 325 mi (would've been 300 without the extra 25 mi or so) View Larger Map

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