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Northbound in Mid-October—Part Six

Time with Old Friends and Meandering toward the Ohio River

The motel “breakfast” I had been promised was pretty limited. I had a muffin and coffee before saying au revoir to the place. Before I fired up the bike, I texted my old high school sweetheart, my very first love, who now lived in PawPaw, situated on the same small highway I’d be following from Allegan, and asked if she fancied a cup of coffee. I told her where I was, so she’d know I was in the area and not far away, and she texted back a couple places we could meet. I picked one and headed out.


Beth, My High School Sweetheart


The Copper Café was easy to find, being located exactly where the road I was following crossed an Interstate highway. Her husband, Rick, who I’d also gone to high school with, was there too. We all enjoyed talking old times and new news over an enormous breakfast. We took a few photos before I climbed back on the Tiger, and I was off again, heading toward my boyhood home on Redfield Road, which ran just north of and parallel to the Indiana and Michigan state line, where I stopped for a quick photo. From there I could continue into South Bend without the need for maps, as I knew my way around the area still relatively well. I was heading to see my best friend from high school, Joe, at his home on the south side, so I entered his address in the GPS, only needing it to guide me for the last couple blocks. About noon, I pulled into his driveway.


My Childhood Home on Redfield Road


Joe and I enjoyed some cold beers sitting in the warm sunshine in his backyard as we caught each other up on what had been happening in our lives. Beer followed beer, followed eventually by some Maker’s Mark in his basement woodshop, a craft we both enjoyed and of which we liked discussing the finer points of tools and craftsmanship.


Back upstairs, we concluded the night with some nostalgia TV, watching a series on the year 1971 that was mostly about the music of that special year when Joe and I had just started high school.


The following day was a rest day from the road, and Joe and I just hung out talking and substantially doing nothing. It was relaxing to not have miles to cover or a place to have to try to get to before dark. There’d be no camp to set up or breakdown, just the comfortable feeling of being with people who I loved and knew so well.


The next morning, the road was calling again. It had been a mellow, make plans as you go, trip, but I had to be back home before the end of the month to wrap up articles and photos for another magazine issue, and I had people to meet and places to go along the way, and it had now, somehow, become the twenty-fifth of October.


I leisurely packed the bike for the ride to the Ohio River, where I had already made a reservation and paid for a campsite in Ripley, Ohio. Joe handed me the Maker’s Mark and told me to take it. It was still almost full. He said that he’d bought it for me, and besides, his wife didn’t care for him drinking it. We tucked it into a safe, padded place among my cold weather clothes in my right pannier as I continued packing. Once everything was ready, we said our goodbyes, and I cajoled another not so convincing commitment from Joe to come to Florida to see us. “The road runs both ways,” I said, receiving a “Um hum” reply from my homebody high school friend.


I decided to wing it heading out from South Bend, taking random country roads east and south, with a cursory glance at the tank bag map every so often to identify those that satisfied both desirable directions by trending southeast.


The route took me through a land of corn and wheat, filled with Amish buggies and horses trotting peacefully along the back roads through fields and woods. With the growing season virtually over, I was spared the usually abundant smell of manure that in the spring was spread liberally over those fields.


By the time I had reached the Ohio line, I realized I had forgotten to take my blood pressure medication that morning, so I pulled into a diner to get a coffee and to take my pill. I also hoped to find fried mush on the farm country menu, a breakfast favorite of mine my grandmother use to make consisting of yellow corn meal, boiled, refrigerated into a sliceable loaf, then cut into slices and deep fried into a crusty golden cake that would be smothered in butter and syrup. I rarely found it anywhere except in the Midwest, especially in northern Indiana and Ohio, and to my delight, there it was on the menu. My ten-minute stop became forty-five minutes as I devoured the treat.


Satisfied, I set out again, trying to avoid big cities like Dayton, Columbus, and Cincinnati. Morning turned to afternoon, and it became obvious that my nonchalant attitude at navigation was resulting in a possibility of arriving at dusk, or worse yet, dark, so I started following my GPS obediently to make up for lost time. I had gotten about as far east as necessary, and the rest of my route was predominantly south, occasionally on major highways, although the Garmin kept its promise to “Avoid Interstates.”


As I approached the Ohio River, the sun was quickly setting, and my eyes were constantly darting side to side in search of movement, possibly indicating deer. By the time I arrived at the river, the sun had set, and my senses were only about the road and signs of deer that might still be visible in the waning light provided, by that time, by only the deep blue dome of the darkening sky. At least along the river I generally had only one side with which to be concerned, the other being the riverbank or increasingly, riverside homes. Civilization also returned, making leaping, wild creatures less likely, and it was not long before I found the final, short road to Logan’s Gap Camping Resort veering left off the main highway.


Pulling in, I found the office dark and saw no one around. I rode in and down a hill, looking for someone to ask for instructions or to just find a spot to camp and then deal with business in the morning. I passed an open, but deserted, gate and stopped, idling, in front of a group of campers to figure out my next move, when I heard a voice coming from the closest camper. I killed the motor and realized it was the proprietor calling to me. He was very cordial and pointed to an empty field where I could pitch my tent and then opened the camp store, so I could buy a drink and some food, as I’d not eaten anything since the mush early that morning. Some water and a candy bar would have to do, because the season was at its end, and the store was almost empty of everything else. The owner, hearing my plight, said they had just made a roast and would bring me a plate once I was set up.


I parked in the field, set camp, and true to his word, as I finished up, the owner drove up in a golf cart with a hot plate of roast beef, potatoes, and carrots from his own kitchen. He asked nothing in return. Just a few weeks ago, he told me, he had taken over the reins of the campground, and he just wanted visitors to enjoy it. I think he will do a great job of sprucing it up and making it a pleasant place to stop. There certainly were enough amenities, such as the store, miniature golf, bath house, and a pool, and I was told that on weekends there were usually activities or a band playing. All the place needed was a fresh coat of paint and some care, and he certainly cared.


Back in the sleeping bag, the only downside I could find, or rather hear, was a continuous hushed roar coming from somewhere over the hill that echoed throughout the little hollow all night. It wasn’t loud enough to disturb sleep, but I wondered at the audacity of industry that they would usurp the peace and quiet in that otherwise sleepy little village. The townsfolk lived with the sound hour by hour, day by day, and night by night. I planned to try to find out what was causing it the next day, as it obviously came from the river and the direction I would be riding in the morning. I slept soundly, despite the distant roar, and awoke rested.

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