If I remember correctly, Windows Operating System used to come loaded with a bunch of scenic wallpapers, one of which featured nicely bundled up hay rolls, lying lazily in the sun. I don’t know the country in which that photo was captured but I was reminded of it recently during a leisurely bike ride in the American countryside.
Imagine rolling corn fields alternating with patches of land full of dried, yellow balls of hay. Imagine a clear blue sky, cracked with white Cirrus lines. Can you see the gray colored path passing in between and along the farms? The path sometimes gets surrounded by tall trees and that makes you feel as if you have entered the woods. You cross a bridge – a river whose name you don’t know yet – flowing below you. And just as suddenly, you come out in the open, to be surrounded on both sides by farms again. They seem to stretch all around you – flatness of the land trying to overpower your usual sense of familiarity with lofty mountain peaks. Raccoons cross you as you pedal by. Almost in conjunction to the strenuous pedaling you underwent at the last bend, a reward appears out of nowhere, in the form of a calm, soothing water body.
A small town located in Southwestern part of Indiana State, Vincennes is one of the oldest settlements west of the Appalachians. (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Vincennes,_Indiana).
Inhabited by only about 18000 people, Vincennes seemed even smaller than my current base, Bloomington. ‘Keep Vincennes Rolling‘ was a biking (cycling) event featuring biking routes as short as 15 miles to as long as 65 miles. Last weekend was when this event took place and I was lucky to have a friend who took me there for the biking fun! Riding 35 miles in the summer sun turned out to be harder than expected but my company and exotic nature of the terrain made it a memorable experience! Organization was neat, with refreshment and break points set up every 10 miles at conveniently located high schools in Knox County. Volunteers were more than nice and it was great to have them keep an eye on us, in case we required their help on the way.
USA is big on biking. With good infrastructure already in place, it’s not difficult to get bitten by the biking bug, if you have the right people around you. Couple of weeks after landing in the states, I found myself in Target store near my house, looking for an entry-level bike. After spending about $130 on the bike (brand: Magna), helmet, headlight, rear ramp and a cable lock, I was ready to take my baby steps in the world of biking. Oh wait, did I tell you that you are not really ready unless you learn to do things DIY way? Buy yourself a toolkit (I am yet to buy my own) and you’ll realize that the game becomes that much more fun!
My first biking event was N.I.T.E. Ride. Abbreviation of ‘ Navigate Indy This Evening’, this is a very popular event in Indiana biking calendar. Organized by Central Indiana Biking Association, N.I.T.E. is annually held in the city of Indianapolis. Although there are three different bike rides, spread over the course of a day, highlight of N.I.T.E. is the ride in which cyclists cruise along the city streets around midnight time!
Abhishek- my riding buddy and I decided to skip the longer 60 miles ride in the morning and directly reached the venue sometime late afternoon. Before the night ride, we were supposed to do a dinner time ride as well. Ride took off bang on the designated time of 5 p.m. and we started ambling along the city streets, with 30 other riders. There weren’t many riders for this leg of the event as the glamorous night was still 6 hours away. Led by volunteer bikers, our group rode towards Broad Ripple Village, one of the cultural districts of Indianapolis and located about 10 miles from IUPUI’s Carroll stadium, starting point of the ride. After passing by the beautiful Soldiers’ & Sailors’ Monument, Indiana State Capitol building and few other attractive avenues in Downtown Indy, we got onto a path that first ran parallel to the highway and then took us a bit into the woods. I was adjusting my pace with Abhishek and other riders and quite enjoying the experience of getting to see a city this way.
In an hour’s time, we were at Broad Ripple village. The place was lined with a variety of restaurants – Chinese, Indian, Mexican, Mediterranean, Italian, Middle Eastern, English, and Japanese as well as traditional American fare. Cuisine is what this area is famous for and we decided to treat our hungry stomachs to some delicious noodles. A sumptuous dinner (dinner time in USA is 5 p.m. to 8 p.m.) later, we were on our way back to Carroll stadium, so as to be in time for the main ride at night. We passed Indianapolis Museum of Arts on the way and the route also took us inside Butler University campus before we were back to the stadium. It felt as if the place had undergone a transformation in the few hours that we had been away for the dinner ride!
From a measly 30, number of riders had gone up to 3000 for the night ride! Entire street in front of the stadium was taken up by riders who had started to line up at the starting point so as to get a spot in the front. But the funkiest part was the way everyone seemed to have come up armed with accessories and gear meant to light up bikes and biking apparel.
Almost all the riders were wearing bright-colored jerseys. Most of them were sporting some or the other form of funny fluorescent headgear or goggles or even having fluorescent tubes in the bike wheels. The crowd and its enthusiasm had lent a carnival like spirit to the whole event. From young parents pulling their kids in trailers tied to the rear of their bikes to old couples synchronizing pedaling efforts on their tandem bikes to professional bikers with their lean bodies bent on awesome looking bikes to strong looking bikers operating hand powered bicycles to enthusiast newbies like us, it was as if the entire city had poured in to be a part of this event. The route, which was 20 miles long, was made a cycles-only zone for the duration of the event and the rest of the vehicle traffic was made to stop at various points. Riding on the streets like a king, not having to care for cars or signals, it was amazing to see the city at night. Air was crisp and downtown looked great, with the skyline shining in the dark air. Finishing the ride at about half past midnight, I remember driving back home tired but super happy with our first ride!
1. N.I.T.E. Ride: http://www.niteride.org
2. Keep Vincennes Rolling Ride: http://www.keepvincennesrolling.com
Photo Credits: Myself and Abhishek Bawiskar