Thursday, August 11, 2011

A hasty retreat

I biked out of Chicago yesterday towards Gary and Indiana Dunes State Park (intending to sleep in the park, NOT Gary). The neighborhoods gradually crumbled as I cycled South. After 25 or so miles I arrived at the outskirts of Gary and set up my easel to paint the skyline. A couple hours later, when I had finished the painting and was packing up, a guy rolled by in a rusted-out Camaro and asked, "What are you doing, sweet cheeks, taking measurements?" Sweet cheeks?!? They're not sweet buddy, don't mess with me. Time to get back on my bike.

As I closed in on Gary, I rode through a massive (probably miles square) industrial complex, apparently owned by BP. I cycled through a maze of pipes, blackened chimneys, networks of power lines, and hulking buildings that rattled with the effort of whatever they were producing.

I left the BP complex and entered a neighborhood labeled 'East Chicago'. Cars honked at me and people sitting on their front steps pointed. I stuck out in every possible way. I wished that I had at least worn my soccer shorts instead of my bike spandex that day. My stomach knotted. As I continued South, the honking and head-turning escalated. Glass and debris littered the streets. It was 7:30 pm and the sun sat low on the horizon. Adrenalin coursed through me. I looked at my directions: 30 more miles to the campground. I couldn't do it. I turned around and pedaled desperately in the opposite direction. As my tires crunched over the remains of broken bottles and car windows, I hoped, wished, prayed not to get a flat tire. I cycled back through the BP complex, past my painting site earlier in the day, out of Indiana, into Illinois and South Chicago. On one wide, dimly lit, deserted street, I noticed a car in back of me, headlights off. It drove slowly, ten feet behind me. I turned. It turned. I turned again. It turned again. Finally I turned onto a street with people and porch lights. The car's headlights turned on and it pealed off.

I biked almost all the way back to where I had started yesterday, and ended up staying a Ramada Inn. I cooked dinner for myself on my camp stove in the motel room. I had cycled 51 miles without actually getting anywhere. Some days are like that.

Below (from top to bottom):
Painting of the Gary skyline
South Chicago bike route
Drawing done in South Chicago
Part of the BP complex


  1. i'm sorry to read this. i hope you had a much better day today and got through gary bright and early. i just train-ed down there for a baseball game a few weeks ago (go railcats!!) and was pretty sketched out at the train/bus station and on my 10 minute walk to the ballpark. the dunes are beautiful through and i hope you are camped out there right now relaxing and soaking up some quite and peacefulness. hang in there, and you're right, some days ARE like that. you go girl. er, i mean, YOU GO SWEET CHEEKS!

  2. I love the skyline of scary Gary.

  3. Glad you turned around and played it safe (well, safer, anyway!). Better luck tomorrow!

  4. You did get somewhere; you got to safety. I grew up in Buffalo, NY, a rustbelt city that I love. I remember the first time I drove to the midwest and saw Gary. I only knew it from the charming song in the Music Man. What a reality check!