Mother Nature was definitely in charge Thursday as a strong northerly wind punched me in the face as I pedaled south out of Hammond, IN on the Erie Lackawanna Trail.
The trail was paved and extremely well marked as it kept me off busy roads for about 17 miles before dropping me in Crown Point which was a throwback town that featured a couple of wonderful dated signs.
A bit of history on the Erie Lackawanna Rail Trail – It was originally part of the right of way of the Chicago and Atlantic railway which was completed between Marion, Ohio and the state line near Hammond in June 1880.
In the 20th century the route became famous for its fast-freight trains between Chicago and the East Coast. Because the Erie railroad avoided the congestion of most big cities it moved freight faster than many rival railroads.
From 1960 to 1968, having fallen on hard times, the railroad changed ownership frequently, but after several attempts failed to independently revive the western end of the line it was sold primarily to scrappers who dismantled the railroad beginning in 1979.
Small portions of the one-time Chicago and Atlantic railway in Indiana and Ohio survived in the original business as Shortline railroads.
Stopped at a church in DeMotte, IN hoping to lay the groundwork for a place to stay about 20 miles down the road and crossed paths with Zach Stanberry.
A large man with a salt-and-pepper beard, Zach took up the torch on my behalf and made a bunch of phone calls. I pushed along with confidence something would happen, and it did.
Within a half mile I ran into a familiar face standing at the side of the road. ”I called my wife and you’re coming home with me,” said Zach.
“You’re sure your wife knows,” I asked.
And with that I was adopted by Zach and Tabitha Stanberry and their seven kids.
The couple lived in Wheatfield, IN in a large home down a gravel road.
Five of the seven kids were home; the two oldest were at camp
Josephine, 11, was a reader and jumped on my webpage quickly to do a background check on their overnight guest.
“It’s a dinosaur,” she said. I knew she found the page.
Hadassah, 9, also know as Birdie, was inquisitive and an eager athlete. ”I ran 5 miles in an hour during a fundraising event,” she said. “I bet I can bike a long way, too.”
A lot of bikes and scooters came out during my visit. Zach toured me around the property which included chicken coop with a variety of birds, an old Cannondale bike in a large storage container and a story about their 400-pound pig they eventually slaughtered.
Back in the house a couple more kids took time out of their play schedule for introductions.
Tobin, 6, was the lone boy with six sisters. Tobin was missing his two front teeth and spoke proudly about his swimming accomplishments and his apprehension at starting first grade.
Aleezah and Sadie were the 5-year-old twins. A bit of a surprise to mom, Tabitha; she knew she was having one and when she called Zach at work to tell him the good news his response was less shock and more, ”I done good,” he said.
The family treated me like a longtime friend who just happened to pedal in for a visit. Conversation came easy.
Sitting in the shade on the back porch I heard stories about their move from Woodstock, IL, how they met 21 years ago when they were both counselors at a camp for kids with special needs.
Both went to school for education. Zach was skilled in American Sign Language and Tabitha worked with kids with disabilities.
The pair dated a year, got engaged and married. They knew they wanted a large family.
Zach worked for the local union with a focus on heating and cooling systems. Tabitha, who sported long dreadlocks and spectacularly colorful outfits, was a stay-at-home mom who homeschooled for 11 years. She then got her CDL and drives school bus.
Both work catering jobs as a side hustle.
Their faith was inspirational and supper was fantastic with newfound friends.
High carbs were on the menu for the evening; noodles with tomato sauce, ground beef and broccoli flowerets.
It was quite fascinating to watch the routine as four plates were doled out for ”the littles.” The youngest took their plates and went to sit at the table on the back deck.
By the time the rest of us joined them they were just sitting and waiting patiently.
I grew up in a family of seven kids as well; I don’t recall that we were that well behaved.
After a thoughtful prayer we explored as many topics as the evening would allow.
Tabitha was a foodie who desired authentic experiences. During her last vacation with her best friend, they stayed in a yurt in Missouri.
“What is that thing on your glasses,” asked a curious Tobin.
It is my rear view mirror so I can see cars approaching when I bike. That set off an event where every sibling stood in line to give it a try.
Tabitha made faces behind their backs as they tried to frame her in the mirror. More difficult than anticipated the shine wore off that game quickly and they were off to play in the yard which included a hill and carts they took turns riding down the hill.
As bedtime approached the kids got into their pajamas and said good night.
It was an extremely special evening and the best experience of my tour so far.
If the way that somebody lives pleases the Lord, the Lord will lead him into good things. Psalm 37:23 Easy English Bible
The 2022 Amazing Ride for Alzheimer’s is raising money this year for music programming for seniors at Cedar Community,
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Donate via the secure website through Cedar Community. Donations should be marked “Amazing Ride 2021.” Click HERE to make a secure online donation.
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Cedar Community is a 501(c)3 not-for-profit organization, and donations are tax-deductible.