When I was growing up on the north side of Indianapolis, there was no such thing as the Monon Trail. Instead, it was the Monon Railroad linking the city with communities to the north, including Chicago. In 1985, the Monon Railroad stopped operating (Encyclopedia of Indianapolis, pg. 1014). Later, the abandoned rail line was converted into one of the best non-motorized rail-to-trails in the entire nation.
Saturday was not the first time I have chugged my way along the Monon Trail by pedaling a two-wheeled steed, but it was the first time I rented a bike to do so, it was the first time I had ridden segments north of 106th Street in Hamilton County, and it was the first time I had a chance to introduce Kathy to the trail.
The Monon (as we native Hoosiers call it) extends northward from 10th Street in downtown Indianapolis through the city’s north side, through neighborhoods like eccentric/trendy Broad Ripple Village or traditional suburban Nora and then through Home Place, Carmel, and eventually Westfield. Eighteen miles in all (at the moment) of bicycling, walking, hiking, and jogging bliss.
Kathy and I rode a six-mile segment south from Carmel Drive (approx. 122nd Street) to 62nd Street in Broad Ripple Village and then back using bikes rented from Carmel Cyclery, which is aptly positioned aside the trail where it arcs across Carmel Drive on an impressive recently built bridge (couple of years old). It was from here we departed, her on a 18 speed and me trying to maintain pace on a cumbersome three-speed. The first two bikes I tried had tire tread issues.
Over the bridge, under a tunnel beneath busy 116th Street, past 106th Street, under a tunnel below Interstate 465, past 96th Street, through a chicane across always hectic 86th Street, across a convoluted intersection at 75th Street and Westfield Road (a ghost bike rests at this intersection as testament to its poor design), and finally pedaling into the beating heart of Broad Ripple Village where quaint bungalows are now vibrant shops, restaurants, and small businesses and where new urbanism has definitely succeeded.
After 30 minutes or so of sight-seeing and frozen yogurt we were back on our steeds pedaling northbound toward the home of the almighty Greyhounds (if you are from Indiana you know what I am talking about). The return trip was less enjoyable as we had to make time to get the bikes returned prior to closing – three-speed bikes really suck at a hurried ride, though we arrived just in time as the shop was closing. No photo moments going northbound, my friends.
The Monon Trail is a visual and recreational delight for anyone living in or visiting Indianapolis. Is everything perfect? No – some segments are in need of minor repairs; some areas are rather narrow for two-way, two-abreast traffic; and there is some inconsistencies in design between municipalities. But, in terms of amenities and sheer panache, the Monon Trail is hard to top.
The newer Hamilton County segment had restrooms, a bike repair station, and some marvelous infrastructure. The Marion County (Indianapolis) segment is older and shows a bit of its age, but the adaptive reuse of the former railroad bridges is top-notch and very scenic. In between are lovely neighborhoods and areas of natural repose.
It is interesting to return home and ride the Monon in its current incarnation. Memories are evoked by passing through Nora where my parents routinely shopped at Ayr-Way, past the Jordan YMCA where I played 5th and 6th grade football; and onto Broad Ripple Village where we went to see the Rockets play on the gridiron beneath Friday night lights. More recently, it is where we all too often have gone to pay our last respects to those loved ones who have passed away – last year my mother and two years ago my stepfather.
Time is a frustrating thing. In a given moment it seems fairly slow (unless it is a weekend, holiday, or vacation), but then all of a sudden 20, 30, or 40 years have passed by and you wonder where the heck it went. I have many great memories of my youth along and near the Monon Railroad. This past Saturday afternoon, several hours after laying a dear uncle to rest, Kathy and I were able to create new and lasting ones along its successor, the Monon Trail. Many thanks to those who had the foresight to see the potential of adapting this awesome linear corridor filled with local history into the recreational and commuting treasure it is today.