Google Maps is an invaluable route planning tool. But when it comes to directions by bicycle, there’s a caveat: USE CAUTION - may involve errors or sections not suited for bicycling.
In each state this warning haunts me in a new way. In New Jersey, Google Maps pointed me onto streets that didn’t exist. In Columbus, Ohio I’m directed the wrong way down one-way streets. Now in Lawrenceburg, Indiana (local motto: “Never heard of it”), I’m riding through the town dump and being urged onto an Authorized Access Only road for the American Electric Power plant. No bueno. WTF Google.
Options are few where the Ohio River licks Indiana soil. US Route 50, the only through road in this southern part of the state, is highly trafficked and perilous for bikes.
A trail cutting through the power plant grounds avoids US 50; however, construction on a bridge has closed the bypass for five months. The trail reopens tomorrow, which doesn’t help me today. I curse at the calendar and groan my way back to Route 50 where I ride past strip malls and fast food outlets while praying these gravel trucks pass me with care.
A few white knuckle moments elicit just one horn, and I relax when I turn off 50 and into dainty downtown Aurora. I pick up a bike trail that follows the Ohio River, but it dead-ends after just a mile, so I walk up a grass embankment and get on Route 56, a two-laner that hugs the Ohio River.
Reporting from Rising Sun
It’s a smooth ride into Rising Sun, a town best known for its riverboat casino and hotel called Rising Star. I’m not here to gamble. I’m jazzed just by the town’s name and put “Riser” on repeat as my into-town anthem.
A woman on the sidewalk interrupts Dierks Bentley’s song. Chandra sees my New York license plate and wants to know what I’m riding for.
“Uh, I’m escaping my old job,” is the first thing that comes to mind.
Chan is a reporter for the Rising Sun Recorder and asks for an interview on the spot, which I give on her front porch where a variety of plants grow. She directs my attention to a black butterfly laying eggs on a four-foot high fennel plant.
Cradling a spiral notepad and pen, Chan sits back and takes down my story (PDF download of first page). After the interview we go inside to see monarch butterflies she’s raising for release. Isn’t small town journalism great?
Two butterflies are ready. I cup my hands around one so it won’t fly away before Chan can show me the difference between a male and female. The butterfly treads heavily on my skin. It feels like a hairy spider and I’m bracing for a bite that won’t come. Still, I kinda want this thing to stop touching me, and let it go before she can show me the black dots on the male’s wings.
Chan also raises chickens and honeybees in her backyard, and owns four horses and a pony offsite. She walks two blocks to the newspaper office to file her story, and I walk two blocks to the Ohio County Historical Society where countryside relics big, small and unusual educate me on my southern Indiana environs.
Ohio County, Indiana
The museum is supposed to be closing now, but the curator, whose ancestors helped found Rising Sun, is happy to have me poke around. He explains that Rising Sun was once an important logistics port for flat boats on the Ohio River navigating between Cincinnati and New Orleans.
Rising Sun was founded in 1814, two years before Indiana achieved statehood. It linked Cincinnati with Vincennes, IN during development of the Western Territory.
Seat of Ohio County, Rising Sun takes its name from “the grandeur of the sunrise over the Kentucky hills.” My favorite folklore of Indiana town names is Buffalo, also in Ohio County. Apparently a drunk guy stumbled into a general store and said he had seen a buffalo. I wish I could have lived during a time when my hallucinations were worthy of place naming rights. Buffalo was renamed French after the surname of two landowners. Today French consists of two buildings, a feed store and a vacant general store.
With barely 6,000 residents, Ohio County is Indiana’s smallest in area and population. It’s always been a small fry. The curator told me it was formed during a drought that exposed enough riverbed to qualify for the minimum acreage necessary to become a county.
Tin can on a river
My home for the evening is right on the river. Google Maps is having trouble locating the address on State Road 56, so I call my host Jeff. He instructs me to ride past a field with dried soybean plants and turn at the fifth driveway. Unlike Google, his directions are spot on.
I follow a long driveway towards the river and meet him and his wife, who calls the home “our tin can.” The tiny cabin feels like it’s about to fall over, and I worry my weight in the shower will send it crashing through the floorboards. They are planning to demolish this, their second home, next year and build a new one.
The tin can doesn’t have any bedrooms, so I sleep comfortably on the couch all alone as my hosts are not spending the night. Perfectly placed on the river, the cabin becomes my cozy writer’s retreat overlooking the Ohio River’s gentle waters and the banks of Rabbit Hash, Kentucky on the other side.
Before leaving, Jeff invites me to fish, kayak or make a fire in the riverside fire pit. I simply choose to sit by the river and have a grocery store dinner of fruit, cheese and crackers. I watch the sunlight fade and reap the reward from a long day’s ride.