Friday, May 27, 2011

Weather, woes, and warm-hearts


The last few days have been very interesting to say the least -we've run into some bad luck, but more good luck and kind-hearted individuals by far...We'll do our best to explain everything that's happened, but in this case words just don't do justice.

Urban Growth Farm

We left the comfort of an enclosed, dry space and the company of a great friend in Cleveland and headed out toward Urban Growth -the first urban farm along our journey.  The urban farming movement reclaims previously abandoned city land through a variety of means and transforms it into small-scale, high-intensity farmland.  One cannot overstate the benefits of urban farming.  It beautifies forgotten urban landscapes, provides healthy, locally produced food for members of the community, offers a relatively inexpensive entrepreneurial opportunity for those willing to invest the time and money, and perhaps most importantly, drastically reduces carbon emissions through plants' literal consumption of carbon dioxide, and by decreasing our reliance on food grown in far away lands

Cleveland, Ohio

At Urban Growth, located just blocks away from Cleveland's famous West Side Market, we met two inspiring farmers in their mid-twenties named Peter McDermott and Virginia Houston.  Having grown up in Cleveland, Peter continually noticed the excessive amount of abandoned plots of land where homes once stood.  In 2008 he figuratively and literally planted the seeds of a life-long passion for farming through the cooperation of The Urban Community School, who lent Peter the use of a vacant lot across the street.  He was joined a year later by Virginia who moved to Cleveland from New York City to join him.

On their mere 1/2 acre of land they cultivate a variety of vegetables that they sell at a local farmers' market.  This year they are participating in Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) which enables customers to receive weekly shares of the harvest for an initial upfront payment.  With such small acreage, a high-intensity rotation of crops is crucial to maximize production.  Harvesting 3 or even 4 crops per season takes its toll on the soil, so in order to maintain a healthy balance of minerals and nutrients Peter and Virginia have developed some innovative homemade soil enhancement techniques.

As we saw at Morris' Pick-Your-Own Organic Farm, efficient farming not only requires dedication but it also involves an in-depth knowledge of chemistry and biology.  Among the many methods of do-it-yourself fertilization, Urban Growth is particularly awesome in that Peter and Virginia use waste from the local fish market combined with brown sugar to produce one type of fertilizer, and the spent brewing grains from the Great Lakes Brewing Company (located just down the street) mixed with other organic material as compost.  It is amazing to see this type of recycling partnership between local businesses, and we can only imagine how many more possibilities exist for similar arrangements.

Beer grain compost

Fish and sugar fertilizer

With each farm we visit we get a small glimpse into the complexity of farming, and Urban Growth was no different.  We are incredibly thankful to Peter and Virginia for taking some time to talk to us about their farm, and to the delicious vegetables they gave us, which included French breakfast radishes and a variety of leafy greens (we made an amazing salad that boosted our spirits and replenished our bodies with some much needed nutrients).

French breakfast radishes (excellent taste even when raw)

Rear hub blow-out/Warm showers/Sam's kindness

We left Cleveland and rode along the southern shore of Lake Erie in hopes to make it to Vermilion, OH where we planned on staying with a member of the Warm Showers community (a Couchsurfing-esque website geared toward bicycle tourists).  The weather was beautiful, and the terrain had finally flattened out -things were looking up...That is, until all of a sudden as we were riding I felt my bike suddenly slow down followed by a loud popping sound.  I immediately stopped and knew that something had gone catastrophically wrong.  I found my quick release mechanism in the street -the steel rod had snapped under pressure due to a rear hub blow out (which I realized only after Caitlin hitched a ride to a bike shop ~5 miles away to buy a replacement quick release mechanism).  We called our host for the night, Sam, and explained the situation.  He was nice enough to come and pick me up while we unloaded all our gear and Caitlin rode the rest of the way to Vermilion without gear.  At Sam's house we examined the wheel and after a little tinkering determined that we had fixed it.  We were astounded at the generosity Sam and his wife Susan displayed towards us as we dined like royalty that night.  The next morning Sam (an avid biker) decided to ride with us for the beginning of the day.  About a mile out, it became clear that something was still horribly wrong with my wheel.  We went back to Sam's garage, and out of the goodness of his heart, Sam lent me one of his spare wheels that was the right size to fit my bike.  After replacing the wheel, we finally got on our way and could not have been more grateful to Sam, who ended up riding with us for the first 15 miles of the day. 

Sam, Caitlin, and Kevin

Maumee Bay State Park/30mph headwind/Larry

Our destination for the day was Maumee Bay State Park (~80 miles away, our longest day yet).  We arrived very close to sunset and promptly set up our tent, ate dinner, and fell asleep from pure exhaustion.  The next day we awoke to sunny skies and an awful wind.  We traveled to Toledo, OH where we took a short break to figure out our route and headed towards Harrison Lake State Park.  Along the way we met a very avid cross-country cyclist who has led, and continues to lead groups of Boy Scouts on extended bicycle tours across the country since 1976.  He had some good advice about routes to take through the West, and shared some pretty amazing stories about his travels.  He ended up riding with us for about 10 miles on back country roads before heading back.  Our initial plan to stay in Harrison Lake State Park was foiled due to the 30-40mph headwind we experienced for the last 10 miles of the trip combined with the fact that Caitlin hadn't been feeling to well for the past few days in addition to the looming thunderstorms we saw lighting up the skies as we rolled into Wauseon, OH.  We decided to spend the night in a hotel instead, and the next day awoke to clear skies and practically no wind -a very welcome change from the previous day.

Pokagon State Park/Raccoon rampage

We departed the hotel on our way to Pokagon State Park, leaving Ohio and entering Indiana.  The roads were flat and we were feeling great.  A few angry dogs, and small hills later we arrived to a well-organized and beautiful state park.  We were one of the only campers at the park, and after we set up camp we were in good spirits about the place...That is, until the raccoons discovered us.  I've been around plenty of raccoons in my day, but none were more aggravating and numerous than these.  As we cooked our soup they began congregating...We did our best to ward them off, sealed and packed our food into a pannier, and hung the food bag about 6ft high in a tree.  We climbed into our tent and while we tried to drift off to sleep, the frenzy began around us.  Sniffing, snorting, and snarling is all we could hear around us -I even had to kick one off of my foot as he sniffed underneath the rain cover of our tent for remnants of food.  Another managed to drag one of Caitlin's panniers out from underneath the rain cover as she jolted awake and chased it down.  Somehow we fell asleep (although the raccoons continued to haunt my dreams) and awoke in the morning to find that the raccoons had figured out a way to get into the food pannier we had hung in the tree.  The irony was that the only thing they managed to get into was the spice bag, which included chili powder and cayenne pepper -we hope their mouths are still burning.

Flat and beautiful!

Angola, IN/Severe weather/Cahoots Coffee Cafe/Ride to Chesterton, IN

The forecast for the day called for some severe weather including strong winds and hail...not something we were willing to bike in.  We decided to take refuge in the nearby town of Angola, Indiana (~8miles away).  When we got into town, the storm was fast approaching to the west and we took refuge and ate lunch in The Village Kitchen -known for their great service and good food (a local favorite).  As we entered the restaurant it almost immediately started to downpour.  We knew the rain would not be letting up anytime soon, so after lunch we decided to take refuge in a local coffee shop down the street.  

Exterior of Cahoots

Interior of Cahoots Coffee Cafe 

We could not have been more fortunate to have walked in to this particular coffee shop (there was another a couple blocks down the road). The Cahoots Coffee Cafe took us in with a warm and loving embrace.  This place was not only a coffee shop serving gourmet coffee and homemade food, but it also acts as a youth safe house for kids in the area.  They have couches, books, board games, computers, a pool table, and a staff that can't be beat.  Barb, the owner, was such a warm-hearted person that she offered us a place to stay for the night as we waited out the storms.  At this point, Caitlin had gotten pretty sick, and biking in this weather in her condition would probably be the worst thing to do. After spending the day trying to figure out how to dodge the rain and continue making progress towards Chicago, we were deterred and disappointed to find that we could not carry our bikes on board a single train entering Chicago from Indiana.  Not only did The Cahoots Coffee Cafe provide us with a safe, dry place to stay for the night, but Barb was also kind enough to lend her car to a barista at the cafe named JD to give us a ride to Chesterton, IN near Indiana Dunes State Park (nearly 120 miles away).  I cannot express the amount of gratitude we have towards the people at Cahoots, and can only say that if you are ever passing through Angola, IN, Cahoots Coffee Cafe is a must stop.

Kevin, Barb, and Caitlin

Today, the weather has cleared up and we are on to Chicago! Where we will be spending the weekend with a good friend in a fun city.


  1. All I can say is what an experience. You are far more darer than I could ever be and I wish you well on your travels thru the midwest. Hope you have a nice stay in Madison and hugs to both of you. Sending sunshine and warm breezes at your back.Nancy

  2. You guys are doing a great job of describing your adventures, along with all of the awesome pictures. It seems that you are handling all of the challenges well. Sure hope that you can get some decent weather for more than a day. I am really looking forward to seeing you in person soon! Let me know what you want to eat when you are here. Deb/Mom

  3. Hooray for Barb!! And everyone else who has helped y'all along the way.