After leaving Cincinnati at around 2am on May 1, we headed north on the 127 because Casper wanted to skip as much of Indiana as possible. I fell asleep in the front seat, surrounded by our excess of belongings. Salem hid in the trunk and Casper drank an energy drink.
We stopped at the Wall first, a brick wall outside of Stop-n-Go where we had the most important conversations of our early relationship. Last fall, it was the only place we both felt capable of opening up and talking. Per usual, at 2am the place was packed. We sat on the Wall, watching drunken college students make fools of themselves. The clerk always buzzes folks in at this our as the place is notorious for being robbed (some call it the Stab-n-Go). The security guard kept an eye on everyone, the college students lined up outside the door. And all this in the flashing police lights reflected from some crime happening around the corner. I’ll miss Cincinnati, but it was time to leave.
I slept until around 4am. Casper pulled over at a rest stop and we slept in the uncomfortable front seat for a few hours before continuing north. Somewhere around Bryan, Ohio, we headed west on the 6. We’re avoiding freeways because we’re not hurrying anyway, we want to see the world we pass through and slower speed limits conserve gas (a theory we weren’t sure would be proven to but it has!).
The 6 took us across the entirety of northern Indiana. We missed Michigan by a few dozen miles so I still can’t check that state of my list.Around 11am, we stopped near Syracuse, Indiana, and followed our atlas to Lake Wawasee. We couldn’t find a way to get down to the water, but we found a most glorious square field full of lush grass, chirping birds and dandelions. We laid out our big red blanket and slept, thanking the sun when it appeared and cursing it when it slipped back into the clouds. We ate stale bread and delicious hummus for lunch. No one bothered us, though a cop car slowed down near us at one point and that freaked Casper out. Luckily, we were just strapping the car top carrier back on and he or she hadn’t seen us sleeping.
About a mile from our Wawasee location, we heard a weird thumping noise which turned out to be a flat tire. What are the odds?! Less than 24 hours into our road trip! Luckily, we broke down right near a farmhouse and northern Indiana feels like home to me because it looks like Wisconsin. I went up to the house, the young boy mowing the lawn eyeing me curiously, and asked the woman who answered if they had metric tire wrenches. For some reason, the tire wrench we currently have does not fit our car’s tires. It’s pretty silly.
The woman said no, but within a few minutes a man about the same age came out with some tools. We were unloading the trunk to get the spare tire and Casper was jacking up the car. The man, whose name I think was Dan, was accompanied by his second grader Lily. When he went back to his garage to get some tools, she returned with a hula hoop but was too shy to show us her skill. She made it clear, though, that she was a better hula-hooper than her dad. He agreed.
Dan was incredibly nice. He told us he’d never really left the Syracuse area in his life, but he didn’t treat us like weirdos even though I was barefoot, wearing sweatpants, a torn up pink vintage church dress, and a long red coat. Casper in his sleeveless black hoodie covered in obscure band patches, a blue bandana and patched up tan jeans probably didn’t look too rural either. Lily couldn’t keep her eyes off us, me in particular. She said she does, in fact, like school and she was very interested in the fact that we had a cat in the car. Her eyes looked like they were taking in all she saw and adding it to her growing list of things and lifestyles that are possible.
She, and her relationship with her dad, made me think so much of myself as a little country bumpkin 15 years ago in rural Wisconsin.
Dan showed Casper how to work his tools but let us do the work. It was perfect. He told us our tire wasn’t “a donut” and therefore could last longer than most spares. He also hauled out his air compressor and made sure the spare, once attached, was chock full of air. We said thank you over and over and he told us to travel safe.
Back on the road, full of gratefulness, we kept heading west on the 6. Around 10pm Saturday night, we knew we had too much stuff. We had to get rid of a bunch of things we had wanted to hold on to, but after the spare tire we knew we had to get rid of even more. The car was riding too low and, anyways, we didn’t want to be surrounded by our material belongings. Still in Cincinnati, I wasn’t ready to give away most of my stuff for a road trip I hadn’t experienced yet. Less than 24 hours in, we were both ready to make those sacrifices – emotional ones even though the items are material – to make our new life a full success.
So we detoured off of the 6 looking for a good spot to unload a lot of our stuff, sort our all the stuff we want to give away and then spend the night. We brought out some herbal incense, put the car on a slow cruise control, listened to Adrienne’s sister’s fiddle CD, and sailed slowly through the rural area between Syracuse and Walkerton. In case you aren’t getting the picture, it was perfect.
We saw a lot of beautiful abandoned houses and barns, but they were all too close to civilization to settle into for the night, much less sort our belongings. We saw a few Amish homes and a horse and buggy. We saw lush fields of some sort of legume (perhaps a ground cover?) and bony corn fields not yet tilled for the new season.
For dinner, we stopped in some town and Casper whipped up an olive oil/balsamic vinegar dip in the parking lot of a gas station. We dipped our stale bread in that while nibbling on kalamata olives, pepperoncinis and old carrots.
Salem began getting more comfortable with the car and exploring a bit. He is so enthralled by all there is to see outside of the windows, but it seems to absolutely overwhelm him, too. He spent some happy time in my lap with a pillow over his face.
Back on the 6, we gave up on finding an abandoned house for the night and drove straight through to Michigan City, which is actually in Indiana. We wanted to see the Indiana Dunes State Park up there so we took the 35 north. It was dark by the time we arrived and we pulled up behind an abandoned warehouse to discuss our plans. We were both tired. Salem took the opportunity of a stopped car to start purring like a motor and giving us kisses for the first time on the trip.
We ended up sleeping in the car for the first few hours of the night, but by around 2am we were too uncomfortable and exhausted to put up with the situation. Casper pulled the car closer to the warehouse and, since it had stopped raining, we laid out our standard bedding: a big read blanket beneath us, a dirty green sleeping bag and two blankets Casper’s grandma knitted over us, and two comfy pillows. It was super cold, but we bundled up (I was wearing a dress, a long coat, a big hoodie, a hat plus a hood, a scarf, long socks and sweatpants) and at least we stayed dry.
Continued: On the Road to Chicago: Part II