Oasis in Evansville

Worst to first. I’m talking about sleep. My worst and cheapest night’s sleep in Santa Claus is followed by my best and priciest. In Evansville, go big or go home. I’m going big. To a casino!

Another presidential boyhood home
But first, on the way out of Santa Claus, I pass President Lincoln's boyhood home. Born in Kentucky, Lincoln's family relocated to the Indiana frontier for better soil. It took the family two weeks to travel 100 miles, a pace I'm totally comfortable with on a shared bike across America. Lincoln stayed 14 years until moving to Illinois where he would achieve political prominence. Illinois calls itself Land of Lincoln while Indiana claims to be Lincoln's Boyhood Home while Kentucky is Birthplace of Abe Lincoln. These superlatives are noted on highway signs when entering the respective states.

Evansville, Indiana
Nothing welcomes you to Evansville except traffic. Let me just say the best thing about this city is the rainforest shower at Le Merigot Hotel. Evansville was ranked one of the most miserable places to live, and I’m not staying long enough to find out why.

Feeling not so merry after a sleepless night stealth camping in Santa Claus, I splurge on a room at Le Merigot, billed as Evansville’s first and only boutique hotel. I’m not sure why developers would build a hotel on the industrial banks of the Ohio River, but there’s a Tropicana casino next door.

Using the app Hotel Tonight, I book a discounted $160 room, including tax, two hours in advance. For me and for Evansville this is expensive. But with no cycling hosts getting back to me and nowhere to camp, I need to find shelter. Limited service chains cluster along the interstate a good eight miles from the center of town, if there even is a city center. Evansville is pancake flat and its sprawl runs unchecked like syrup.

Roadside encounter
A car pulls over on the shoulder ahead of me. Is it an undercover cop? I’m coming into the city along Route 62, which had been fine until it gets urban. Traffic is now constant and the shoulder, while wide, becomes riddled with debris.

The driver gets out. Had this been after Tulsa, I would have started running in the other direction. But it’s before anything bad makes me question intentions, so I’m eager to find out what this guy wants.

“Jeffrey Tanenhaus.” The man pronounces my name better than my mother. How on Earth does he know my full name?

Turns out he’s a reader of the blog Bike Snob NYC (where I was mentioned after the Post article), and he noticed me while driving in the opposite direction. He turned around to catch up with me, calling his wife to say he’d be late for dinner. He had to say hello and congratulate me. Just when I was feeling alone along a gritty highway, this man stops to shake my hand. This energy boost pushes me to Le Merigot.

Forty-four miles from Santa Claus, I roll Countri Bike into the lobby of Le Merigot, arousing the interest of the front desk clerk. The room is nothing lavish, but the bed is heavenly and the bathroom is palatial. I hit the rainforest shower for a long splash while the staff downstairs find me online and start reading my Road Reports.

Aside from a good night’s sleep, another benefit to staying here is that I’m closer to Illinois where I’m going tomorrow. I’m also a 20-minute walk to Tin Man Brewing Co. When I ask for directions at the front desk, I’m told the sidewalks disappear and it’s not a good idea to walk at night.

Luckily the hotel has a complimentary car service, mostly for taking lazy losers two blocks to the casino. Renee, originally from Managua, Nicaragua, is happy to steer the Cadillac Escalade somewhere else. Renee is petite and I’m not entirely confident she can handle a vehicle this size.

If you think southwestern Indiana is a sh!tty place to live, try Managua, which I frightfully visited five years ago. (The rest of Nicaragua is nice, including colonial city of Granada and the volcanic island of Ometepe - ready my article in PDF format.)

It’s Friday night but Tin Man is quiet. This a college town, so where are all the fun people? Soon I’m the only one at the bar.

Tinman Brewing Co.

Tinman Brewing Co.

Dry Cell, a delicious Irish dry stout

Dry Cell, a delicious Irish dry stout

The waitress says that people start here and then head to bars down the street. I find out the bars are too far to walk, so I call it a night and call Renee to pick me up. Back in the room I take another rainforest shower just because on Friday night in Evansville that’s the most fun we’re having and I’m fine with that.