Once you’ve identified a Pinterest-worthy British pub and a 100-flavor ice cream sundae shop with just a few miles of rolling rural roads in between, it’s only natural to draw a line between the two with a bicycle.
Ideally, the calories burned traversing that distance would equal the calories taken in. Unfortunately the Union Jack flying above Payne’s at Gas City, Ind., is only 4 miles from Ivanhoe’s in nearby Upland, even if you take the back roads. To add mileage and interest to an out-and-back route that would have us finishing at the dessert destination, my plan was to explore the Taylor University Wilderness Area along our route on the way back.
Ben and Colleen agreed to accompany me on the Memorial Day ride; my parents would bring Cassie and meet us for lunch at the pub.
My mental sketch of the potential awesomeness of this experience fell apart almost immediately. Driving the route before we started, we discovered that there were no trespassing signs at the entrance to the Wilderness Area. I knew that inside were at least 6 miles of hilly, forested trail, because that’s where the Taylor University cross country meets are held. The site was listed on Google Maps but I hadn’t been able to find much about it otherwise. Who knew the university was so protective of its property?
Meanwhile, Ben was growing antsy about our time constraints. He had plans for afterward, and now he was hesitant to commit to the return leg of the trip. We parked at Ivanhoe’s and set out for Payne’s as planned, but my dad drove our van over to the restaurant in case we needed to load the bikes and leave from there.
The upside was, it was a beautiful day after a stretch of what felt like monsoon season. We saw more cyclists than cars along the rural road heading out of Upland. It was hilly, but not debilitatingly so, especially knowing we were only going a short distance. And at every intersection I saw more appealing roads that looked like they would be fun to explore in the future.
We did get to explore one of them. Getting to Payne’s didn’t take nearly as long as we’d guessed, and with a mile to go we realized the restaurant wouldn’t even be open by the time we arrived. So we followed a sign pointing toward a campground, wondering if maybe it was connected to the Wilderness Area.
It wasn’t. The rustic, rural road wound around and dead-ended in a campground along Interstate 69. I couldn’t imagine why anyone would want to camp there, but I could see how it would be fun going for a bike ride once you left the place heading in the other direction.
Payne’s had opened up by the time we arrived, and it was just as cool as I’d remembered from stopping there with the girls once last fall. The waitress brought our menus tucked inside old children’s books, our water in mismatched but interesting goblets, and listened patiently to my dad’s endless questions about an eclectic menu devoid of his usual whitebread ordering preferences.
“You are going to hate that,” I said when he settled on the curry as a delivery mechanism for grilled chicken. But he persisted, and at least pretended to enjoy his meal. (Good thing they didn’t bring him the cock-a-leeky soup I’d tried last time, a 400-year-old Scottish recipe that includes stewed prunes.)
Ben is a huge fan of fish and chips, and he was not disappointed. Mom liked her huntsman breakfast, which was two fried eggs and potatoes layered on top of a thick slice ham of ham. Colleen was surprised her waffle and strawberries came with an ice creamlike custard that made it seem more like a dessert than a late breakfast, but she didn’t object.
Cassie knew she’d like her barbecue pepperoni bourriche, because that’s what she ordered last time. It was like a pepperoni pizza encased in a grilled bread bowl. She wasn’t sure she could finish it, which led Colleen to scan the photo card on my camera.
“You ate it all last time,” she announced.
What I like about Payne’s is that the food is so pretty and interesting that it makes me want to savor and experience it rather than just wolf it down in pig-out mode. With raspberries and walnuts tucked inside, my goat cheese-and-spinach wrap was a medley of flavor and texture. I ate more of it than intended – just one of the two halves would’ve been plenty – but I consoled myself that part of what made it so thick was all those fresh spinach leaves.
It’s too bad we didn’t order dessert, because the various custard options the girls and I tried last fall had been amazing – just as good if not better than the all the ice cream concoctions at Ivanhoe’s, to be honest.
Out in the parking lot, though, Ben suggested that even though we didn’t have time to ride back to Ivanhoe’s, we probably had time to drive there and dash in for some ice cream to go. (We used to stop at Ivanhoe’s after his pitching sessions there during high school, so he was well acquainted with the 100 flavors of shakes and 100 separate flavors for sundaes.)
The legalistic part of me wanted to argue against this: No ride, no ice cream. But I’m a pushover when it comes to ice cream, and so is my dad – who no doubt was eager to wipe out the spicy memory of his chicken curry.
For me, a baby chocolate cone served as the endpoint of a would-be adventure that, in the end, wasn’t too far removed from just another dining-out road trip.
I was disappointed, but not as much as I might have been because I’d put my mind in “baseline” mode beforehand.
On a baseline workout, you don’t worry about how badly you perform. You’re just getting an initial time to improve in the future. Viewed this way, a poor performance is almost an asset: Because you know it will be that much easier to beat next time, there’s extra incentive to try it again.
I already know this is an experience I want to try again, after scouting out some interesting mileage to add to our route. And it’s almost impossible that it won’t go better next time.