Great Lakes & Upper Midwest: Weeks 2 & 3

August 11, 2015

Continuing through the upper Midwestern states of Wisconsin, Illinois, Indiana and Michigan I have been astounded at the hundreds of miles of corn and soy that have flanked my route on most days. I have also had the privilege of meeting and talking with some really neat folks and eating real, live Chicago deep-dish pizza after battling traffic and the urge to shop for a Prada pannier along the city's Magnificent Mile. 

 

Catherine O'Neil and Jack Spencer are working to establish the Big River Theater in Alma, WI. Jack is sanguine about what he calls the mindfulness of the younger generation. 

Alice Sprain has lived in West Salem, WI for a little while now--as in 93 years. She and her friend Sue Strauss lament what they view as a shrinking sense of community in the area, with Sue offering one eco-friendly solution to the problem. 

Finishing up the 400 State Trail in Reedsburg, WI on a hot summer day, you might come across a cooler full of ice-cold water next to a nice shaded bench. You can thank Janet Fisher, who in this clip touches on why she does it.

James Baerwolf and his brother run the Sassy Cow dairy farm and creamery near Columbus, WI. Here, James explains why small or medium-sized farms are so good for a local economy.

Mark Gill is a founding member of the Bay View Eco Village in Milwaukee, WI. He talked to me about the meaning and structure of his "intentional community", with this clip giving just a brief introduction to how it works and the values behind it. 

Chris Pritchett has lived around Zion, IL for his entire life. He says that he has recently been exploring pursuing a life within the system, despite the unfair treatment it has sometimes doled out to him. 

Local celebrity Ernie Broadnax of Elgin, IL earned his fame because of his devotion to the preservation of history and the improvement of his community. I had the honor of speaking with him on his 80th birthday at the Elgin History Museum. We discussed lots of things, including how the lives of black people have changed during Ernie's lifetime. 

Need a box of nails? Gallon of high-quality paint? How about a lesson on the last 170 years of history of the Near North Side of Chicago? Nick Tirpe of Tirpe Hardware is your guy. Nick also has strong feelings about the way profit-seeking property owners can cause a community to unravel. 

Mary and Ryan Kopka are just getting started as a young married couple in rural Indiana. Ryan, a welder, describes the system he turns to when things get tough. 

After 33 years as a teacher, Gail Horein from South Bend, IN wasn't ready for a break, so she started working with the Indiana Department of Natural Resources. What does she think about national standards testing? Try to ignore the DNR radio in the background as you listen to her answer. 

Victor & Connie Kegley also spent their lives around South Bend, where Vic ran a sod farming business for decades. What's wrong with the country these days? Ninety year-old Vic doesn't mince words. 

Former town judge Martha (Marty) Hagerty loves Fremont, IN and wants the town to remain strong, but worries what will happen if the local school closes.

 

 

I had a long conversation with Amish farmer Chris Eicher and his wife Anna at their produce stand in Quincy, MI. I didn't record the conversation out of respect for the family's way of life, but I look forward to sharing their story and thoughts at some point in the future. 

 

 

It was near the end of a long day when Elwin Johnson allowed me to setup my tent atop his perfectly-mowed lawn. He and his wife Donna then invited me inside for some ice cream and conversation, where I learned how folks used to get around before cars became so common, and the type of trust that was necessary for that system to work. 

 

That's it! I want to thank these folks who took the time to chat with me despite my sweaty and blindingly bright cycling clothes.  Over the next week I'll continue through Michigan and then into Ohio. Keep tabs on the project via Facebook and Instagram, where you'll see daily updates and (hopefully!) interesting photos from the route. 

 

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