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Matthew Hill

2. Lessons learnt.

My first day was deliberately easy. I didn’t want to overexert myself and end up doing something silly on day one. I left Detroit at 10am (avoiding the Motor City rush hour) and headed West along the 94 for Lake Michigan. There was plenty on my mind, not least of which, my impending fatherhood and the sensation of abandoning my wife to the perils of the first trimester while I disappeared on a 6 week jolly.

I did things that I hope lots of inexperienced people do on day one of their first long trip. I stopped too often for coffee, stopped too often for gas, checked my mirrors every 3 seconds and visualized death by truck. Just me?

I arrived at Lake Michigan in a little under 3 hours, stopped for a photo (in previous post) and followed its shore South to my destination for the evening, Indiana Dunes State Park. I’d been there before on the way back from Chicago which made it an appealing, if not a little unadventurous, first stop. At least I was in a different state.

I pulled into the beach carpark. I was nervous leaving my bike for the first time with all my stuff attached. I locked absolutely everything. I had bought little luggage padlocks for the zips on the tank bag and orange bag, an extendible wire lock to attach my gear and the orange bag to the bike and an alarmed Oxford disk lock. I looked around the carpark seeing thieves and scoundrels everywhere. After an hour strolling and up and down the beach, I got back to find to my unbridled delight that the bike hadn’t been stripped bare, pushed over and set on fire. I looked around the carpark seeing families and holiday-makers everywhere. It occurred to me I may need to unclench. Lesson learnt, relax. You’re on holiday for god sake. I headed for the campsite, pleasingly handing my 24 hour parking ticket to another bike heading in as I left.

The campsite was full. I hadn’t booked. Tit. Another lesson learnt, summer is busy. Book if you’re staying in parks. Easily enough, all I had to do was ride 3 miles up the road to the next campsite. Before long I was checked in and riding around looking for a likely spot. Once selected, it was there that I unveiled, in all its ultra-light glory, my hammock. It has a built in tarp and mosquito net, packs small (but still larger than the tent I was carrying) and I had been waiting for 2 years to try it out. The tree strewn lake shore campsite was perfect. It went up quickly. It was magnificent. The adoring crowds gathered… shame they were flies. I showered, exchanged pleasantries with the woman in the space next to mine, made instant noodles, phoned my wife, read (Jupiters Travels by Ted Simon) and nodded off. I woke up. It was raining, but I was dry. Hammock success.

That was and still is the one and only time I’ve ever used that hammock. I posted it home 3 weeks later from San Francisco. Yet another lesson learnt, there wont always be trees, but there is always the ground. Don’t bring toys, bring a tent.

The ride into Chicago was easy until about 4 miles from where I wanted to be, the Route 66 marker at the corner of Michigan Avenue and East Adams. It took about an hour to crawl that 4 miles and by the time I got to the marker I was hot and wanted out of the city. Having been to Chicago before there was nothing touristy I wanted to do. My one regret is that I didn’t get a photo of the bike under the sign, but the combination of already being hot and grumpy and not wanting to be in peoples way meant I just sped past.

My first stop was Old Joliet Prison, made famous to me by the Blues Brothers. I ambled around and took photos, basking in the sun and lack of people. There wasn’t much to see but I enjoyed getting pictures of the bike at the gate where Jake is released at the start of the movie.

I pushed on alongside the 55, taking the old road that still exists as side streets and service roads. In Wilmington I stopped to take pictures next to the Gemini Giant and got the first of the stickers that by the end of the trip would cover my hard cases. In Pontiac I stopped at the Route 66 Museum and spent a good hour learning about other sights to look for along the way. The lady working there was very friendly and gave me about 500 pamphlets. After a burger joint late lunch I carried on towards my day 2 destination, Springfield Illinois, the resting place of Abraham Lincoln. About half an hour before I arrived, the heavens opened and gave me an absolute drenching, my first proper ride in the rain. I couldn’t see. I took it slow.

The second night of my trip was my first adventure in Tentspace, a travelers resource for which now I have nothing but the most effusive praise. However, at that point in time I was nervous. I knew I wanted to meet people along the journey, but I was suitably cautious about staying in a total strangers home, particularly this first time. I’d traveled when I was younger but never gotten into couch surfing as a source of accommodation. Being English, the thought of carrying a gun for protection was ludicrous.

As I pulled up to the house, it looked to be in a state of semi disrepair, but a guy on the front porch waved and gestured for me to continue round the back and into the open garage. I was cold, wet, tired and I’ll admit, a little scared. It was dark. My fogged visor didn’t help. In the gloom, it appeared that a welcoming party consisting of the hillbilly cast of Deliverance was waiting to make me “squeal like a piggy boy”.

Photos : My magnificent hammock. The Gemini Giant. Old Joliet Prison.

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