Approaching the greater Bloomington-Normal area, we walked 20 miles to the tiny town of Merna. Located about 6 miles east of the Bloomington-Normal city limits, Merna was described as a bar with a handful of houses around it. This was an accurate description. We knocked on every door, but nobody was home. The bar wouldn’t let us camp out back – they said the sheriff was pretty rough, and wouldn’t tolerate it.
We had made contact with a couchsurfer named Doug to stay with in Normal, and we invited him to the Merna bar for dinner. Once he got there, he ended up offering to drive us to his house a night early, and drop us off to finish our miles the next morning. Before we left Merna, Karaoke night kicked off. I got in trouble for refusing to sing “Love Shack” ever again. Kait learned that when a biker introduces himself as “Wolfman,” she probably shouldn’t challenge him to a karaoke contest.
We finished our walk into Bloomington the next morning. For the first time in our walk, we were able to use sidewalks from the very start of the city. There was no industrial slog, no strip mall no-man’s land – just walkable roads the whole way in. It was the most comfortable walk into a city that we have ever had.
Our stay with Doug was awesome. He grilled up awesome meatfoods and opened his home to us. He is working on setting up the Central Illinois Precision Shooters rifle range, with a focus on family outings and gun safety. It’s a little off the beaten path of family friendly activities, but his enthusiasm for the sport of precision shooting is intoxicating. The range will provide a unique opportunity for families and the community to come together, have some fun, and maybe even prepare for a zombie apocalypse. Maybe.
The next day, we walked to yet another Heartland Health Care Center for a visit. Along the way, we were cheered on, praised, and supported by all kinds of Bloomingtonian people. It made for a really pleasant morning walk. We eyed the sky, and noticed the approaching storms.
At Heartland, we took our time and got around to visit every wing of their facility. In one room, we talked to an older gentleman as his roommate sat with his back to us, facing the window. When I mentioned my dog’s name, he motioned toward his roommate and said, “His name is Max, too!” I asked if Max would like to meet my dog, but he didn’t respond. I asked a little louder and he came floating back from whatever far-off memory he had been in. He turned around in his wheelchair, and his face lit up when he saw Max.
“Ooooooh, puppy puppy, woooooof,” he said in a soft, singsong voice.
“His name us Max,” I said. His eyes went wide and he smiled.
“I’M Max!” he said with wonder. When he said Max, my dog perked up his ears and set his head right on Max’s lap, looking right into his eyes. The two Maxes looked into one another deeply, and shared a quietly personal moment together. I had never seen Max look at another person quite like that – so focused, so gentle and understanding. The two must have crossed paths many lives ago.
Their quiet moment passed, and we moved on. I was deeply moved by the silent connection they had shared. Down the hall we met another man named Jack, who was visited by his wife, Jackie. Jack had suffered a bad fall after a knee replacement, and was now paralyzed. Despite his challenging circumstance, he and Jackie were vibrant and enthusiastic in their 48th year of marriage. We got Max up on a swivel table so Jack could reach him.
We left another awesome visit at Heartland and wandered on through Bloomington. Kait tried out a new technique for giving Grace’s paws a break from the pavement.
We ended up staying in a motel on the far side of Bloomington. We needed a proper rest, and I had a ton of backed up video to sort out and back up. The next morning, we moved on. The entire city of Bloomington was the most walkable route so far. Sidewalks took is all the way back out to the west until we got out to the country roads again. Kudos to the most pedestrian-friendly city we have yet to find.
We stopped for lunch in Danvers, at a little bar and grille called The Vault. The girl working there, Amber, went out to meet our dogs, and ended up buying our lunch. Not only did Amber cook our food while paying for it, she even helped us out along the road. She made some contacts, and found us a place to stay last night. She also called her friend Randy, who works in animal rescue. I’ll tell you about him later. Thanks, Amber. You’re a class act, and you truly brightened our day.
With full bellies, we moved on toward Mackinaw.