We arrived in at Midway with our biking gear and were picked up by Sam’s Aunt Debbie Wilbur at the airport. After loading up, Aunt Debbie (a Chicago local) gave us a wonderful tour of Chicago in a way that only a local could. As medical students, we were excited to tour the medical district, a scientific mecca that is made up of several hospitals, medical schools and clinics including the famous Cook County Hospital. It was wonderful.When the tour was complete, Aunt Debbie took us back to her home town of Lake Bluff, Illinois where we began to prepare ourselves for the trip. After hosting us and allowing us to set up our base-camp in their residence, we had a wonderful deep-dish pizza dinner with the Wilburs. The Chicago-style fuel was necessary for the long distance biking in the days to come. That night we slept well and mentally prepared for the journey ahead. We cannot thank Aunt Debbie and the the Wilbur Clan enough for their hospitality!
We started the day and our trip in downtown Chicago, right in front of the bean. We took the Lake Front trail along Lake Michigan and then headed south towards Indiana. We crossed the Indiana border around 2.5 hours in, and as we stopped to get a picture of our crossing, a couple on bikes stopped and asked us where we were headed. We told them about the ride and I noticed the woman was wearing an American Cancer Society t-shirt, so I told her about our cause. It turned out that she was a survivor of Acute Myeloid Leukemia, another blood cancer that affects thousands every year. She told us that she was completely cancer free for years now and not only that, she felt healthy! The couple told us they would pray for Casey, and wished us the best of luck on our way. It was an inspiring experience as we crossed our first state line, and I took it as a great sign that she was riding her bike when we met her.
We continued heading south down Indiana, biking through corn field after corn field. The route took us through farm roads, with the occasional car passing by us - it was a great ride, albeit a hot one. Temps approached 100 degrees, and we seemed to attract a swarm of mosquitos. Despite some monotony from the corn fields surrounding us, our spirits were lifted as each car that passed us took the time to slow down and wave. As we would learn later, the people in this area are used to slowly passing farm equipment on the road, and love to see people on bikes. Everyone was kind and we felt welcome. Instead of stopping for lunch, we pulled off to the side of the road and ate some KIND protein bars (compliments of KIND) and continued on to North Judson, IN, about 85 miles from our starting point. We ate at Pops Pit Stop and met some local law enforcement that helped us map out the rest of our journey for that day to Monterey. We ate some diner food and ice cream, plus an espresso shot at the Family Express to help us finish the last ~20 miles...it was exactly what we needed. There was an awesome rails to trails path that took us about halfway to Monterey, followed by more farming roads. The sun was going down and the weather had cooled off, and it was the best part of the ride for that day - there was something cathartic about the empty roads, corn fields, and pink sunset.
We made it to Monterey, 102 miles later, and stopped at a bar named Denton’s. A man came out and immediately started talking to us (apparently cyclists come through the town a lot). He gave us the low down of the town and where we could camp. He asked us what our final destination was and when we told him Hershey, his response was, "I think I read about that place on the internet once!"
We headed into the bar, walking through a cloud of smoke and joining a group of people that looked pretty rough around the edges. To our surprise, however, everyone started talking to us and asking about our trip. They were extremely friendly and welcoming to us. After hearing that we were going to camp (and had no mosquito spray), a couple by the name of Lawrence and Diane offered to let us stay in an old elementary school building that they had purchased 2 years ago. Apparently the school had closed downs as jobs left the town, and they decided to buy the place - they weren't sure what they would do with it, but for that night, it could serve as some nice shelter for desperate cyclists! Not only this, but they offered to buy us clean towels and even bought us a large pizza for dinner! We got to sleep inside, had running water and electricity, and no mosquitos. And we definitely weren’t going to sleep hungry. The Midwest has been really kind to us, and the people of Indiana are really amazing. It was a long day of biking, and starting the trip with a century ride was no joke. So, with tired legs and a big day ahead, we fell asleep in our sleeping bags on the floor of Ms. Master’s 1st grade classroom.