Farewell to Princeton, with a bit more magic

8/13/22

I’m back in Chicago for one more night—staying in a hotel for the ease and solitude of it—but I spent the morning in Princeton, and experienced even more of that town’s magic.

After breakfast this morning, Sarah took me to the farmers market in town. She knew several people there, and introduced me to a couple of them, while having brief chats with a few others. One such woman I noticed—but their conversation was too brief for an introduction—was wearing a distinctive T-shirt with an image of a caterpillar in the shape of a question mark, with a cocoon as the dot on the bottom. I was intrigued.

Sarah picked up a few items at the market, and we returned to the house. I met her two sisters, who were arriving in town to attend an annual family event.

Shortly afterward, Rick gave me a ride back into town on his way to a memorial service. It was about an hour early for me to arrive at the train station, so I asked him instead to drop me off at Spoons, a beloved local restaurant that Happycow.net had told me had good vegan options. (In fact, it was the only vegan-friendly restaurant listed for Princeton on Happycow.) Sadly, Rick had told me the other day that the restaurant will be closing at the end of the year. I was glad to be able to experience it for lunch today.

I stood outside the door of the café for a few minutes, pondering how best to handle my rig: lock up the bike? Fold it and take it inside? What about the trailer? Maybe I could just leave it outside while I ordered, then sit at an outdoor table? The weather was pleasant…

As I stood pondering, I noticed that woman in the caterpillar shirt approaching on the sidewalk. As she was about to pass, I felt moved to say, “Hey, I saw you at the farmers market!” She smiled and we introduced ourselves. Her name was Ellen, and we got to talking about my journey. I told her I had been staying with Rick and Sarah Brooks, and I was now about to have my final meal in Princeton. She suggested that we eat together!

It worked out great, because the delicious yellow curry bowl was substantial enough to feed us both, and she was kind enough to treat me to it.

We sat down and talked animatedly for nearly the whole hour, and as she talked about her passion and mission to make Princeton the national capital of pollinator habitat, it dawned on me that this was the friend Rick had mentioned the other day as he toured me around town! He had said he had a friend who had built a number of pollinator gardens around town, and had collaborated with him on some of his projects.

How cool to serendipitously meet her like this! (She even shared a photo with me of her pollinator-friendly house and front yard; take a look.)

As we dined, a couple pulled up to the café on their bikes, and seated themselves at the adjoining outdoor table. Overhearing our conversation, they politely interrupted to ask Ellen about her work, because they own and operate a nearby 65-acre nature camp, Glenhagen Farm Retreat, for disadvantaged urban youth. They had been wanting the camp’s property to be as eco-friendly as possible, including adding native plants to maximize pollinator habitat.

Wow.

It was nearly time for me to depart, so after exchanging contact information, I demonstrated the foldability of my rig for them all. We said goodbye as I pedaled off to the train station.

Ellen is the kind of person—like Rick, and like the camp couple, Nancy and Andy—whom I love to connect with on my journey. I love it when I meet inspiring people who are passionate about their projects to make the world a better place. I like to spread the word about them whenever possible, so here are some links to Ellen’s work, and Glenhagen Farm Retreat; please take a look!

I smiled all the way to the station. And when I arrived, whom should I spot on the platform but Rick! As you may recall, he has an office right in the train station. We chatted for a few minutes before the train arrived, and I snapped a final photo of him shortly before the train pulled in. (He also took a photo of me, as I prepared to board with my bike, saying he’d like to submit it to the Amtrak magazine. How cool would that be?)

Thus, my time in the magical land of Princeton, Illinois had drawn to a perfect close. If you ever find yourself in the area and in need some inspiration, definitely stop by Princeton and have a chat with Rick, Sarah, Ellen, Nancy and Andy, or probably just about anyone else you might meet; they are all pretty interesting!

The train pulled into Chicago’s Union Station right on time, about two hours later.

I biked down to check into my hotel in Chinatown, crossing a cool industrial-scenic bridge on the way.

After a couple hours of unwinding, I headed out on foot to meet up with my Chicago friends Patricia and Dan for dinner at Veggie House. I had hoped to see them while I was in town, but it was tricky, because during my two earlier stints in Chicago a week or two ago, they were enjoying a wonderful vacation throughout Scandinavia. I loved seeing their Facebook pictures of late-night light in the sky and lots of natural and urban beauty in multiple countries. I was glad that this timing worked out to meet up.

We had a great conversation and shared some wonderful vegan Chinese food. (The eggplant dish will also be my breakfast tomorrow!)

After dinner, we spotted a unique human-powered ride! I needed to memorialize it on camera.

It’s so much fun to connect with friends old and new as I travel. Tomorrow, I will board a bus to Madison (my first time, and I’m so excited to finally visit this fabled wonderland of a city!) and meet another great friend whom I’ve not yet met in person, and who will be hosting me in his backyard art studio. During my time in Madison, I also hope to meet another dear Facebook-only-so-far friend. (I’m thinking/trusting it will work out!)

The Midwestern portion of my journey has been wonderful so far. I’m looking forward to continuing it tomorrow!

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