Sunday, June 30, 2019

Pool party

It was Annette's 54th birthday today.  She is Nick's mother, who is my daughter's mother-in-law.  Annette and her husband Steve have a beautiful home in Westville, IN, just inside the LaPorte county line.  Annette invited me to join her for her birthday, and I gladly accepted.  I got to spend some fun time with the grandsons and met other members of Erin's extended family.

The party began at noon.  I left Carol's house at 9:30am to have time to walk around in Michigan City, a former harbor town on Lake Michigan that borders the Indiana/Michigan line.  My father's parents came to Michigan City in 1910 from Lithuania to escape raiding Cossacks.  They intended to return to Lithuania, but then World War I came, then World War II came, and their country was swallowed by the Russians and Soviets.

I always enjoyed visiting Michigan City to see my grandfather.  He lived with his oldest son Alex and Alex's wife Dorothy, but he never spoke good English.  What English he did speak, he learned from working in the steel mill and from commercials on TV.  My grandmother died in 1953, my grandfather in 1974.

Michigan City's new immigrants are Mexican.  The Lithuanian boarding houses are now remodeled vacation homes.  The city has seen a revitalization of its shoreline and its historic district.  The harbor is now a private yacht club.  Its zoo, which started as a sanctuary for injured wildlife, is now remodeled and is a paying zoo off the lake, with walking trails that lead to the lake.  The lighthouse is still there, now with a pedestrian walk, but dogs are not allowed on the beach. It's not the old Michigan City of the 1960s and 70s that I knew.  It's a better city now.

I got to Annette and Steve's house shortly after noon.  Everyone was already there from the family:  Annette's parents, her sister Tammy, and Steve's mom arrived with her little dog an hour later.  Then Erin's best friend from high school, Colette, and her three children, arrived.  Colette's three children are the same ages as Erin's three boys, so all six kids played in and around the pool with each other, taking turns petting Zeke who at times was overwhelmed with all the people.

I got into the pool, too, but Zeke whimpered and whined whenever I got into the pool.  When a storm front came through at 3:30 and cooled the air by 20 degrees, I got out of the pool and changed into dry clothes and never got back into the water.

Friday, June 28, 2019

Plymouth, IN

Today didn't go as planned.  I was 30 miles west of Plymouth, IN on US30 when I get a lengthy text from my stepdad at 9:11am:

"...I'm sorry, but let's please forget about your coming over today.  Some things have come up, and I have a haircut appoitment that I forgot about.  And tomorrow is not an option, either, because of a breakfast with old high school classmates and then an afternoon retirement party for my primary care physician here in Culver.  We'll do this another day..."

I was initially annoyed with the sudden cancellation.  Both Carol and I had gotten up earlier than usual so that I can make an early meetup time with my stepdad, but that annoyance quickly dissipated when I realized that I had four extra hours now to explore Plymouth.  My stepdad goes shopping there since there's nothing in Culver for bulk shopping, but all I know about the town are the many shops and fast-food joints off US30.  I knew nothing about the historic downtown at all.  It was time to explore its Greenway and the paths along the Yellow River. 

I got into town at 10:39am via Queen Road/Lincoln Highway.  Plymouth is on Eastern Time so I lose an hour.  I walked around its courthouse, then discovered an interesting business a block away:  "Husband Exterminators."  Say what?  I looked up the name and it's a legitimate business alright.  But why chose such a dubious name?  Do frustrated wives call this place asking how to get rid of a snoring husband?  I'm sure if there was a business named "Wives Exterminators," women would call and file complaints about the misogynistic title.

There were a few other historic buildings, such as a restored Mobil gas station with the old Pegasus logo, a telephone booth, and a sheriff's car from Mayberry with "Security by Fife" plate in front.   The gas price is fixed at 27 cents.  That price goes back to the 1950s. 

It was 72F at 11:09am when I parked the Honda and started walking the "Hoosier Old Wheels Trail, a paved path through the woods and along the river.  Singletrack trails shoot off from this main trail, but all the trails were muddy from recent rains.  The thick forest of black and red oak provided ample shade with lots of bugs.   The shaded sections of this three-mile loop, half of which goes through a residential neighborhood, were very nice.  The exposed sections less so, as we could feel the humidity.

I use "MapMyWalk" to track all routes I take, so getting around Plymouth's streets was no issue.  The paved path was well-marked.  The shaded river part was broken up into three smaller sections, allowing Zeke some water to dip into.

More later

Thursday, June 27, 2019

Renssalear; flooding in NWI

It was a slow morning.  After wrapping Carol's feet I stayed at the house until noon deciding what to do today.  Saugatuck, Michigan has been on my agenda for a while, but I keep postponing the drive for whatever reason.  Highs were forecasted to hit the 90s, so no matter what I decided to do, it would be hot and muggy and miserable for both Zeke and me.

I opted to explore Renssalear, IN because there's a brewpub there that's on the South Shore Brewery trail: Fenwick Farms.  Its store is off Main Street in town.  I had never been in that town. It was an excuse to visit Renssalear, 30 miles south of Crown Point on US231 in Jasper County.  Like many other Indiana towns, it has a pretty limestone courthouse.

I saw some of the healthiest fields of corn south of Hebron with stalks at least three feet tall as I drove south on US231. The landscape is as flat as it can get. The Kankakee River was high but not over its banks.  I got to town at 1:30pm, walked the half-mile trail at the small Potawatomi Park along the Iroquois River, then stopped at Embers across from the brewpub for lunch.  Embers has a large, shaded dog-friendly patio.  It's a nice place that almost looks out of place in that farming community.  The brewpub allows dogs but only on the patio, and that patio is not shaded.  The beer and pizza were OK.  (I'm not a fan of flatbread pizza)

The brewpub also was ok.  The local wheat ale was good, but drinking outside in the warm shade was no fun, so I didn't stay very long. A female folksinger was inside entertaining the guests.  Speakers outside let me hear the music, too. On a cool night this place would be more enjoyable.

A notable landmark in Renssalear is Saint Joseph's college, a Catholic college on the south side of town that closed in 2017 due to high debt.  It began as a school for Native American boys (which means they were forced to convert to Christianity, take on Christian names, learn English and forfeit their own culture).  The campus roads are now gated shut, but the impressive cathedral is visible from US231.  Grass is now growing in the cracks of the asphalt.  The 1971 ABC movie "Brian's Song" about a Chicago Bears football player dying of cancer was filmed here.

I would have explored more of the town but it was now 93F.  Walking outside was not an option. I needed to get back to the cooler lakefront region.

I took a different route home instead of US231. I wanted to return via US41, the iconic highway the Allman Brothers sing about in their hit "Ramblin Man." I have a fondness for US41 which straddles the Illinois/Indiana border in a north-south direction before turning southeast in Tennessee, but IN114 linking me to that highway was closed due to flooding and I was diverted on farm roads that really showed the flooding in the area.  I found out later that Jasper County was hit hard with last night's storm and I was seeing the after-effect.  Roads were either closed due to the flooding or had standing high water.  Fields were not just saturated with water, they were now totally submerged again.

I finally reached US41 via IN10 in Lake Village.  It was now a straight shot north on the divided highway, pass massive family farms and more flooded fields.  One of the farm complexes right off US41 that I  always enjoyed photographing is now for sale and is in a dilapidated state.  For years that complex to me was the symbol of Indiana farming.  The next time I come to Indiana, that farm complex will surely be gone

The final stretch now was driving through Lowell, where more flooded roads forced me to detour.  Lowell is surrounded by small hills.  This is pretty farm country and I've often driven backroads between Lowell and Crown Point. Cedar Creek, which flows north, provides water for the fields.  Water settled in all the low-lying areas and I had to be careful.  Some of the flooding had receded by the time I drove through, but it was enough to put me on edge.  I'm so glad I still had plenty of daylight to help navigate me.

Lake Dalecarlia is north of Lowell.  Most of its shore is on private property.  Water was coming right on the edge of the road; any more rain and the road would be submerged.  Kids were wading in flood waters off Cedar Creek and the spillway into the lake.  The Lake Dale trail was flooded.  Perhaps the water was a new thing for the locals, as there were plenty of people walking around looking at the lakeside, including me.  More rain is expected overnight.

The drive from Lowell to Cedar Lake and Crown Point is a pretty one, and a popular route for road cyclists. Rolling hills add some challenge to cyclists as they speed up and over hills, around corners, and coast downhill.  I road my roadbike down these roads many a time as a college student.

My last stop was a quick walk around a "fishing lake" in Lemon Lake county park south of Crown Point.  The park closes a half-hour before sunset. The guardshack was closed, but there were still plenty of people fishing or finishing up a game of disc golf.  This was my last opportunity for a quick jaunt around the lake on an old, cracked path.  Side trails were muddy, the bugs were out, and deer were feeding off the flora. Dark clouds once again were coming in from the Chicago area.  I totalled a mere 2.93 miles today.  Hopefully tomorrow I can at least get four miles in again under better weather conditions.

I stopped to get groceries that Carol had requested.  On my way back to her house, my stepdad called asking if I could please come by Culver tomorrow and help him finish packing.  I guess I now have a plan for tomorrow.

It wasn't until I was safely back home that I read about the latest flooding in northern Indiana and specifically Jasper County. Northeast Illinois and the greater Kankakee river valley are affected.

Wednesday, June 26, 2019

Great Marsh Trail (Indiana Dunes National Park)

The Great Marsh is part of the Indiana Dunes National Park, on its eastern section, south of the beach side community of Beverly Shores and east of Chesterton.  It's a popular birding area and a dark sky community.  Uniquely-designed homes from the 1934 Worlds Fair exhibit "Homes of the Future" are in Beverly Shores, once a coveted community of wealthy residents, but now many of the homes are showing signs of wear.

I had gone on the Great Marsh Trail ten years ago with Sadie.  I remember the colorful wildflowers, the dramatic sky, and the many birds.  I wanted to experience it again with Zeke.  I was tired from yesterday and didn't want to drive far.  This would be an easy escape that wouldn't require me to spend a lot of time in the car.  The only drawback was the heat and humidity.

There is no cost to walk the Great Marsh trail.  It's a short 1.2-mile loop.  The southern trail is a trail through tall grasses that connect to northern trail.  The northern trail is partly paved to accommodate those with disabilities.  It has a shaded observation deck.  It's a nice place to sit for a while and listen to the red-winged blackbirds, watch blue herons and egrets fly, and hear bullfrogs.

The southern trail is now closed to dogs.  I wasn't aware of that until I was ready to walk the trail with Zeke. The official website even contradicts itself, saying in one paragraph that leashed dogs are allowed, then stating further down that no dogs are allowed to protect the wildlife.  So which is it?

The northern trail is only passable for .3 miles.  Deep water kept me from going any farther.  I didn't see any "No Dogs" signs so I let Zeke walk with me. He was curious about the fish and turtles and bullfrogs plopping in and out of the water, but I kept him on the leash.The eastern part of the trail is now totally under water.  This looks like a permanent change.  Northern Indiana is basically drained swamps and marshes from a receding Lake Michigan, but nature is slowly reclaiming the land.  That's one reason why we have an increase in severe floodings in this part of the country.  Rivers are overflowing and water is seeping back into the developed areas. It's hard to drain a swamp when Mother Nature has other plans.

I remember walking on a flooded road south of Beverly Shores, Broadway, and wanted to see if the National Parks Service has now closed that road and developed the marsh there.  The road is closed, yes, and no "No Trespassing" signs are posted.  The road is marked as part of the National Park, so I'm expecting it one day to be more developed for park visitors as an extended portion of the Great Marsh which borders Broadway.  Heavy rains are to blame for the increase in the marsh, but locals say the marsh is expanding due to marsh restoration by the NPS.

The road is still very visible, but growth along Broadway is now thicker and taller.  Ten years ago I had to turn around due to flooding, but today I was able to walk the length of the old road short of its connection to East Boundary road, which borders the Indiana Dunes State Park.  A wooden plank is placed over the flooded road, indicating that this area is open to birders.  That is where I turned around ten years ago.  I'll have to come back here on my next visit to see if the Great Marsh trail will be extended west.  All the heavy rains this year alone will only help expand the marsh.

It was 85F and I felt it.  Zeke felt it, too, so my next option was to take him to the beach in Beverly Shores, once an exclusive community of boaters from Chicago.  The lakeshore is now open to the public with some restrictions.  The beach here is rocky and it's a short but steep stairwalk down to the water.  Dogs must be leashed.  Sunbathers were out.  I took Zeke a half-mile out, sat in the shade for 20 minutes, then left.  It was nice seeing people out enjoying the lake; it's the first real heat of the summer.  I picked up a few more holely rocks for my rock collection.  These "holely rocks" (pun intended) are sedimentary rocks that develop holes in them from the constant pounding of the waves. Eventually the beach will be void of all holely rocks because I will have taken them all.  That's the story I told my grandson Owen, who took all the holey rocks from my last beach visit two weeks ago.  I think he believes me.

I had walked just under three miles for the day, along the marsh and then along the lake shore.   I didn't care that I didn't make my 4-mile quota as I knew both Zeke and I needed a break.

I spent the late afternoon trying two more breweries on the South Shore Brewery trail: Hunter's Brewing in Chesterton and 35Plat in Porter.  Hunter was a yellow retriever of one of the brewers.  It's a small building a block east of IN49 with a small patio under full sun.  I couldn't stay long as no pets are allowed on the patio, but I did enjoy the Hefeweizen and Irish stout.  Eighteen rotating beers are served on tap, six of which are house beers, and there are many more bottled craft beers from around the world. Gourmet food is also served here. I liked this place despite the strict no pets rule.  But why name a brewery after your dog and then ban all dogs from even the outdoor patio? Hunter didn't even drink beer!

The second brewery, 35Plat, is a once-abandoned house across from a railroad crossing.  Here Zeke was allowed to join me on the shaded patio. I talked with one of the brewer's wives, Carrie, who chatted with me until the next customers came in.  I had a wheat ale Zest and a porter.  Neither beer had body, but I did like the ambiance of this old house despite four trains rumbling by in the 45 minutes I stayed here. Carrie let me try a beer she had just tapped, a spicy ale that was by far the best beer I had tried.

The final brewery on the trail for the day was "Bulldog on the Lake" but that turned out to be a yacht club-style restaurant within fumes of the steel mills. It's spacious and well-decorated with photos of the Dunes and views of the marina.  It serves only two homemade beers, an IPA and a pale ale.  I tried neither beer and walked out.  The place was a disappointment because it's not a brewery and should not be on the trail list.  At least I can cross that one off the list.  This makes two places I will never visit again.  I'm down to five more breweries I still need to try before I can say I've been to all 26 breweries on the South Shore Brewery trail. Yay, I'm so excited.  (Actually, one of the breweries on the list, the Chesterton Brewery, isn't even open for business yet. It's still "Coming Soon this summer!")

I got back to Crown Point with 20 minutes to spare before the first Democratic debates began.  I listened for the first 40 minutes, but then I had internet connection problems and never got to the second hour.

A severe thunderstorm blasted through by 9pm that lasted several hours.  Evening storms are in the forecast for the next four days.

Great Marsh Trail:
South Shore Brewery trail info at

Tuesday, June 25, 2019

Goshen, Middlebury, and the Pumpkinvine trail

I woke up to sun this morning.  I hadn't had a sunny morning yet while in Indiana.  I felt like a vampire panicking in sunlight.  I'd gotten used to those dark, grey mornings.

What to do?  I can finally get out on some of the rural trails.  I'm sure the fields are still soaked, but now they have five days to dry out.  I'm going to hit Goshen and Amish country this morning after I finish helping Carol with her morning routine.

It may even reach the 90s in Chicago this weekend.  By Sunday I may be complaining of this heat.


It was late morning when I got to Goshen's courthouse square.  I don't remember ever being here.  I parked in the shade and did a quick walk around the square.  I kept Zeke in the car because I only intended on a quick walk.  There was a road closure off Main Street in front of the old movie theatre. 

My goal was to walk part of the Pumpkinvine trail, an almost 18-mile paved trail from Goshen to Shipshewanna.  This is Amish country, the third-largest Amish community in the United States after Ohio and Pennsylvania.  I knew I couldn't do the entire trail, but wanted to see the more scenic section.  I chose to start at the Country Road 22/37 intersection 2.2 miles southwest of downtown Middlebury and .3 miles from the US20 overpass. There is a dedicated parking area here.

I walked southwest toward Goshen.  The trail started out shaded with tall trees, but quickly became "partly shaded" with some stretches of exposure.  The shaded parts were cool, the exposed parts quickly got Zeke heated because the trail is black asphalt.  That stuff burns paws when hot.

No horses are allowed on this trail.  I was hoping to see Amish carriages and one website said you can see horses on this trail.  I misunderstood that statement.  Yes, you can see Amish carriages but only from a distance.  I had to go into Middlebury later to get my full of Amish carriages and by then it was overload, much like seeing naked old men on the Bay-to-Breakers 7-mile race in San Francisco every May.  The drive to Middlebury on CR22 was a scenic drive through gently rolling hills and massive Amish farms.

Cow manure filled the air.  The scent reminds me of my time in Augsburg, Germany and walking the many Volksmarches through the Bavarian countryside. A few new wildflowers, like Bull thistle, lined the trail.  Fields along the trail were flooded.  I didn't realized they were flooded until I noticed "No Trespassing" signs three feet under water right off the trail.  At least Zeke was able to drink from this water.  I heard bullfrogs and songbirds.  Zeke spotted a few squirrels and that's when I had to hold tight on the leash.

I turned around at the 3.6-mile mark and went back the way I came, now going northeast into Middlebury.  The Middlebury Greenway intersects the Pumpkinvine trail north of US20. Here is where all the Amish action is (if "action" is even appropriate with Amish).  The Pumpkinvine trail parallels IN13 in town.  I got off the trail to head toward Harding's Market, a local grocery store where several carriages were tied up.

I continued walking into town on IN13 which becomes Main Street.  Here is where Amish and locals mix with gawking tourists like me.  Lots of cut-outs where tourists stick their head in for goofy photographs were all over town.  Loud truck traffic and motorcycles made Zeke nervous, so I took a water break in town at East Park, a small memorial park.  Zeke needed water and a break and I was getting thirsty, too.  I sat on a low log and watched Amish ride by on their bikes and carriages.  Diesel from a nearby construction job filled the air.  That's quite a contrast from cow manure earlier.  It was 80F now and the heat was getting uncomfortable.  I needed to get back on the trail and head back.

The Krider Gardens is on the north end of Middlebury, the famed Gardens of the 1934  Chicago World Fair.  Landscaped fountains, ponds and flowers dot this fragrant garden.  I let Zeke drink from a goldfish pond, not carrying if that was even allowed.  I was too tired to explore the garden.  I had to turn back because now I was also tired.  I barely touched the southern end of the garden before turning around.

We had walked 6.9 miles in 2:23 hours.  I needed a break.  The Amish "Das Dutchman Essenhaus" is on Middlebury's west side off US20, where family-style buffet meals are served.  I had taken Eric here 20 years ago when a chicken buffet was $12.95.  Now it's $18.95 and the beef buffet is $20.95.  The bakery serves massive donuts.  It's great food, all made fresh, and I would have gotten my money's worth, but I couldn't leave Zeke in the car while I ate. Even in the shade with the windows down, it was warm.  

I chose instead to drive back to Goshen and locate the Goshen Brewery.  Dogs are allowed here and the old building is right off another greenway along the Elkhart River.

Boy, was I tired.  More than I expected.  Maybe I'm pushing myself and Zeke too much with all this walking.  My ankles were sore and my thighs felt tight.  Perhaps that was dehydration.  I didn't drink while on the Pumpkinvine trail and here I was drinking a crisp Hefeweizen while Zeke lay underneath the table with his waterbowl.  I was outside with the afternoon sun baking my back.  I had to stay on the patio because of Zeke, and that cool indoor seating looked tempting. I was hungry, but nothing on the expesive food menu looked appetizing.

Cumulus clouds were forming.  I thought it was supposed to be sunny all day with no rain for six days.  This took me by surprise.  I didn't want to get caught in a flashflood so I headed west, back toward South Bend.  Clouds to the north only got darker. 

My GPS kept sending me on sideroads.  I just wanted to get back on US20.  It's a straight shot west on US20, and then take I-80/94 back to Crown Point.  It seemed as if I was getting diverted all over northeast Indiana.  And then I realized why:  roads were closed because of flooding and then I, too, was caught in a sudden and rather scary flash flood as I drove through New Carlisle.  The sky got dark, rain exploded, and luckily I made it under and out of an underpass before the intense rain and hail came.  There was no traffic on the road, and that was for good reason.  I pulled over and waited out the storm.

Ten minutes later the sky cleared and a pretty rainbow appeared.  Well, that was exciting.  My pants were wet and I'm not sure if that was when I partially opened my driver's window to take a photograph of the rain, or from peeing in my pants out of fear.