I was born in Indiana, so I am, by definition, a Hoosier. I didn’t learn to ride there, but I spent 10 years in Indianapolis honing my skills on its city streets and country roads. One day early on, when I was about 21 or so, a co-worker invited me to join him on a ride “down south.” Making our turn off the four-lane highway and onto a narrow piece of blacktop that curved into the dark green forest, he pulled to a stop. “This is the road that made me fall in love with riding,” he said. Then he snapped his face shield down and took off. Twenty minutes later, my heart pounding and a grin smeared across my face, I understood.
Indiana is known as the “Crossroads of America,” and for good reason. No fewer than seven major Interstates cross the state, four of them through the capital of Indianapolis. Sticking to those, you’d swear the state comprises mostly truck stops and cornfields, but as Hoosiers like to say, “There’s more than corn in Indiana,” including some surprisingly good roads. I’ve always wanted to return and ride my old favorites, so I flew to Chicago, where I picked up a rental bike at EagleRider and pointed the front wheel east, heading out of the urban sprawl and into the heart of Hoosier Amish country.
Ice Age glaciers flattened the northern two-thirds of Indiana, covering the bedrock hills and valleys with the rich glacial till soil that makes the state an agricultural powerhouse. In some areas, the land is utterly flat, like a sheet pulled taut across a mattress. At the far northern end of Indiana, as I follow U.S. Route 6 past Amish farms, someone has lifted a corner of the sheet and is flapping it gently up and down. The setting sun behind me highlights the golden tassels atop the rolling rows of corn and I’m settling into my EagleRider rental bike, a 2017 Harley-Davidson Heritage Softail Classic. After an overnight stop (including a dinner of dad’s burgers on the grill and fresh local sweet corn) at the family vacation house on Lake Wawasee, it’s time to turn south toward Indianapolis. State Road 13 is an ideal alternative to the busier U.S. Route 31, meandering lazily along the undulating farmland almost all the way to Indy.
Dad and I spend the afternoon at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway, where I still get goosebumps as I emerge from the entrance tunnel under the track into the inner sanctum of the grandest cathedral of speed in the U.S. The next day I bid my family adieu, heading southeast on U.S. Route 52 toward Metamora, the location of Indiana’s oldest operating water gristmill and the only wooden aqueduct left in the U.S. Here, things suddenly get more interesting—someone is giving the sheet a really good shake now, and the road twists its way up and along the steep hills toward Brookville. State Road 1 leads me south toward Lawrenceburg, and soon I’m cruising along State Road 56, a.k.a. the Ohio River Scenic Byway. The Heritage is proving to be an ideal choice for the trip so far, as we trace the gentle curves of the wide Ohio River. There is very little traffic, but I’m more interested in taking in the views and the sweeping bends than pushing the speed limits. I pass through the charming riverfront towns of Vevay and Madison, both lined with stately mansions that are relics of the riverboat boom years of the 1830s to 1890s. After enjoying a Hoosier classic for lunch, a breaded pork tenderloin sandwich, I wander through downtown Madison. This is the largest contiguous National Historic Landmark in the country—133 blocks of gorgeous architecture that represents every major style of the 19th and early 20th centuries.
As I head north out of town, I’m confronted by my first setback: Road Closed Ahead! I happen to know there’s a particularly beautiful—but narrow and twisting—road that is much more fun than the truck traffic-friendly “official” detour. So I ignore the sign and take a left on Deputy Pike Road, 13 miles of perfect pavement that flits beside and over the shallow, flat rock-lined Muscatatuck River. Emerging onto State Road 3 and joining up with the official detour, I smile to myself in satisfaction.
After spending the night in Seymour, hometown of John Mellencamp and the inspiration for his hit song “Small Town,” I wake with the sun, excited for what lay ahead: I’m about to ride my old favorite roads. I trace State Road 135 north as it skirts the hills and valleys of Brown County State Park, passing through tiny towns like Gnaw Bone, Story and Beanblossom. I’m placing myself at the starting point of my old ride route, heading south on State Road 37 in Martinsville. At first the heavy road construction darkens my rose-colored memories, but when I turn onto Turkey Track Road and descend into the deep green Morgan-Monroe and Yellowwood state forests, it all comes flooding back. These are the roads my friend showed me way back when. It’s impossible to wipe the smile off my face as I lean the big Harley into corner after corner; I’m not flying low the way I used to on my Speed Triple or RC51, but it’s still exhilarating. I ride around the north shore of Lake Lemon and turn right onto twisty State Road 45, mindful of the gravel that still litters the familiar corners.
After a couple hours of floorboard dragging I pause in Bedford for lunch. This is limestone quarry country, where some of the finest architectural limestone in the world is pulled from the ground. Indiana limestone was used to build the Empire State Building, Yankee Stadium, the Pentagon and 35 of the 50 state capitol buildings. Leaving Bedford, I bet that the local roads too small to show up on my state map will offer more of an adventure than the numbered State Roads.
Tunnelton Road doesn’t disappoint, as I disappear into steep hills and widely scattered clumps of clapboard civilization. After multiple stops to check my phone’s GPS—the only way to discern where the heck I am—a couple of wrong turns, and one bouncing dirt ride under a railroad track to connect two roads that my phone told me were actually one, I emerge onto State Road 135. Adventure, indeed.
In Palmyra, I turn onto U.S. Route 150 and am now following the ancient Buffalo Trace. For thousands of years, bison would ford the Ohio River near present-day Louisville, Kentucky, following streams and salt licks to another ford at the Wabash River near Vincennes, Indiana. Native Americans used the path they wore into the earth, followed by white explorers. The Buffalo Trace was an important trade and military route, and today U.S. 150 follows roughly the same path. I spend the night in Clarksville, named for Revolutionary War hero George Rogers Clark (his younger brother William would go on to find fame as one of the leaders of the Lewis and Clark Expedition), and in the morning I strike out early on what would become my favorite road of the trip: State Road 62.
For 46 miles, from Corydon, Indiana’s original state capital, to the gorgeous Archabbey of Benedictine monks in St. Meinrad, State Road 62’s perfect blacktop curves and rolls through primordial hardwood forest. This is one of those roads that becomes a spiritual experience, and a rider could be forgiven for believing he or she is actually flying. Throttle down, lean, no braking required, throttle up, straighten out, repeat. The dark trees swallow the soft burbling of the Harley, and all I hear is wind. Limestone juts from the green undergrowth and rivers appear and disappear into underground cave systems. The air is heavy with moisture; I can almost feel the bike parting it as I course through the trees. Traffic is nonexistent.
After a stop at the Lincoln Boyhood National Memorial, where Abe Lincoln lived from ages 7 to 21, it’s time to turn north and begin the final leg of my journey. Lunch in the German town of Jasper at the Schnitzelbank (bratwurst, sauerkraut and mustard on a pretzel bun with a side of spatzle and red wine gravy, all made in-house) and then I angle back into the Hoosier National Forest, crossing Patoka Lake. I turn north onto State Road 145, determined to stop at the stunningly beautiful West Baden Springs Hotel, built in 1902 and once known as the “Eighth Wonder of the World” for its 200-foot domed atrium—the largest free-standing dome in the U.S. until 1955.
Afterwards, I make like a bison and rejoin the Buffalo Trace (U.S. 150) toward the oldest European settlement in the region, Vincennes, founded in 1732. This was the capital of the Indiana Territory, made up of what would become Indiana, Illinois, Michigan, Wisconsin and Minnesota. I park at the river’s edge and walk in the emerging sunshine to the George Rogers Clark National Historical Park, site of the original French fort that overlooked the Wabash River.
U.S. 150 now turns north and delivers me to Terre Haute, my last overnight stop. I’m on the home stretch, but the fun isn’t over: U.S. Route 41 north is an ideal alternative to the four-lane State Road 63, sticking to the hills and trees until crossing the Wabash in Attica, where the flapping sheet is finally pulled taut again. I’m once more surrounded by flat farmland and for the first time since leaving Chicago five days prior, I’m on a four-lane highway. As Chicago and the end of my trip home draws near, I reflect on all the places I’ve ridden in the U.S. and the world. For me, the trip back home to Indiana was the perfect antidote to the frenetic pace of Los Angeles life. Great roads and great experiences don’t have to be big and majestic—some beauty, like Indiana’s, is quiet and unassuming, but if you open your eyes and know where to look, it’s like a salve for the soul.
Riding With Eagles
My trip would not have been possible without the help of EagleRider, the largest motorcycle rental company in the U.S. EagleRider has 57 rental outlets all over the country; the Chicago location is 5 minutes from O’Hare airport, where it maintains a large fleet of Harleys and Indians. I took advantage of the bike + hotel package; I told them my destination city each evening, and EagleRider booked me at motorcycle-friendly hotels for each stop. It turned out to be the ideal way to do a road trip back home, when my schedule just doesn’t allow for the added riding days to get there and back. Call (800) 900-9901 or visit eaglerider.com.