Gary, Indiana: Day 62
06/20 (Day 62)
It was a hot morning and I was happy to be a part of it. I spent the morning writing as I sat on my grandpa’s familiar and comfortable couch and enjoyed my last few hours at home. At 11:00 I was off, the scorching sun above me, and I headed along Lincoln Avenue into the city. It was joyous pedaling with my much lighter trailer and I was flying down the surface roads heading southwest. I took Devon past all the ethnic markets and met up with the lakeshore path after about forty-five minutes of riding. A nice cool breeze was coming off the lake and made the rest of the ride to North Ave Beach a pure pleasure.
I met with Brent at North Ave Beach and it was good to see him again after a few days apart. He spent the four nights with a friend in the city. The skyline was as beautiful and I sat in front of it legs dangling over the side of the concrete pier eating a sandwich I prepared from the fresh organic veggies and local cheeses my aunt Louise had sent me on the road with. I soaked in the city where concrete jungle meets raw open water and wished I could spend the day lounging here. The Chicago lakeshore is one of my favorite spots to spend a hot summer day and I didn’t feel like I had gotten enough time here. Alas after some headstand acrobatics I was on my way south heading into uncharted territories.
In the sense that I had been to the museums and the Shedd aquarium I passed, it was not completely unchartered territory, but it was my first time in this area on a bicycle. The lakeshore path continued south for nearly twenty miles along the beautiful lake and through a dozen parks. Then my surroundings slowly turned into the ghetto. People were standing on the streets looking like they were up to no good and the smell of marijuana was in the air. It was exciting to be in the projects and experience another diverse part of the United States. The more I see the more I learn and the more I am exposed, to me, the stronger I become. Some people may not understand my desire to explore the ghettos but it helps me to understand perspectives on life different from my own. I believe this helps me to be a more understanding human being and gives me the ability to relate to a wider range of people.
The ghettos continued on and led me into the state of Indiana and eventually into the city of Gary. I’ve been through Gary in a car but I always did my best to get out as fast as I could and I never soaked it in. Gary has always been synonymous with pollution, low air quality, huge factories, and general filth in my mind. I can’t say I would want to live here but I was happy to be experiencing it. The roads were terrible and many of the cars gave very little room for error as they passed by at alarmingly close distances. In the heart of the steel mills and oil refineries I found it difficult to take in full breaths due to the poor air quality. That along with the heat of the sun made for an uncomfortable physical situation, yet I was still happy to be experiencing one of the filthiest cities in the United States.
An eerie squeaking noise beckoned me to follow it and I found myself pedaling through a residential neighborhood of Gary. I assume it was slow moving trains but I never discovered what exactly was creating this noise that drew me to it like bugs to a light. I stopped and watched a handful of black people play basketball as I soaked in the uniqueness of Gary. From what I can tell this town is over 90% black people, which is not something that I am often exposed to. Most white people tend to avoid the completely black neighborhoods, as do I at times. It’s just not a place that I end up going very often. When it comes down to it the differences between our ethnicities are very subtle compared to how similar we are but I find the differences between me, a small town white guy, and an inner city black guy so interesting. We have such a different perspective on life having been raised in such different environments and I have so much to learn from this way of life. The idea of spending a few weeks living in a poor inner city environment is very appealing to me for the sake of education, but I don’t know if I will ever make it happen.
I made my way out of this city, past the many abandoned and run down houses and businesses, and after not too long found myself surrounded by trees again as I entered Indiana Dunes State Park. I contacted a host on warmshowers.org and he accepted my request to spend the night at his home. I arrived shortly after 5:00 after 58 miles of riding and after dropping off my bike walked the couple of minutes down to Lake Michigan to refresh and rejuvenate. Before going for a swim I gave my service to the earth and picked up about twenty pieces of trash from the shores of the lake. I decided that I will pick up at least one piece of trash everyday for the rest of the trip. Hopefully by then it will become a habit that I continue for as long as I live. If every American picked up a piece of trash tomorrow that would be over 300,000,000 pieces of trash. And if we all did that everyday we would pick up over 1 trillion pieces of trash per year. And it would take almost no effort by anyone. Will you pick up a piece of trash tomorrow?
I swam, I stretched, and I lay in the sand. It was just what my body needed. Back at the house I conversed with my host Ed and Monica, and it was fun to learn about Indiana and the Gary area from two people that were born and raised there. They told me a story of being held at gunpoint for 2.5 hours in their own home. It was a good night but I didn’t feel like my off the grid adventure sat too well in their mind. I felt as if Monica had a desire to prove me wrong and was also not happy that I wouldn’t eat food that she wanted to prepare for me. She offered me some local organic strawberries that I gladly accepted but she was not happy when I asked her to please not wash them, as I can’t use water from the grid. I spent a few hours on the computer and then set my bed up in their backyard.