After spending three days on the Appalachian Trail, we had to hustle to catch back up with the Blue Knights tour. The DCI Eastern Classic was in Allentown, Pennsylvania in two days and the DCI World Championships were over several days the following week in Indianapolis, Indiana. Although we do love exploring Indianapolis, we managed to work in a day with nature at McCormick’s Creek State Park in Indiana.
(photo credit: Joy Shanahan) On the way to Allentown, we stopped at an old college buddy’s house on Smith Mountain Lake in Virginia for the night. The lake is beautiful and our friends gave us a lovely tour on their ski boat. Another college buddy from Maryland drove over to meet up with us, so we spent a wonderful afternoon and evening catching up and reminiscing about the good ole days of college. O-H! .... (I-O!)
After a wonderful sleep, we hit the road again and made it to Allentown in time for the competition that evening. Before the Blue Knights went on, a thunderstorm came through which caused a delay for a couple of hours, but everyone was eventually able to perform their whole shows. However, that meant that it was rather late by the time we made it back to the campground in Allentown. We still managed to get up early the next day since we had a long day of driving to make it to Toledo, Ohio. We were rather disappointed with the Ohio Turnpike (I-80). The road was in a bad condition, there were lots of construction zones which will hopefully improve the road conditions, and the bathrooms were out of order at the travel plaza we stopped at, so we had to use port-a-potties. What are we paying a toll for? To make it worse, we found out that due to the height of our van, it is considered a Class 2 vehicle instead of a Class 1 (normal car). The $25 toll was a surprise when we expected it to be about $15 (Ohio Turnpike Toll Rates).
After spending a couple of days visiting relatives in Toledo, Ohio and Shelbyville, Indiana, we headed to Kokomo, Indiana for the Blue Knights Banquet. The corps has their end-of-season banquet before the championships since most of the corps members are not from Denver and hurry home straight from Indianapolis after the championships to get back to their jobs and/or schools. We first headed into town in search of ice cream. Kokomo is a cute small town. Using Google Map’s, we found Crazy J’s Ice Cream Bar across the street from Foster Park. Crazy J told us a wonderful story of the old ice cream menu sign from the 1940’s hanging on a wall in the shop that was from his grandfather. A “Brown Derby” was listed on the old menu. Crazy J wasn’t sure what it was, but thought it was a brownie topped with ice cream and chocolate sauce. Feeling revived, we went over to the Blue Knights housing site to help decorate the cafetorium for the banquet. We enjoyed witnessing the camaraderie of the corps members and staff at the banquet.
To get some nature in before spending a few days in Indianapolis, we drove to McCormick’s Creek State Park to camp for the night. It is the first state park in Indiana, established in 1916 and located in a limestone canyon. Typical of many Indiana State Parks, there is a large lodge along with rental cabins. In years past, we’ve stayed in the lodge and cabins in another Indiana park, Turkey Run State Park. This time we didn’t need a room since we had the van, so we opted for the campground. Part of the campground has electric hook-ups with flush toilets and showers. However, we chose a primitive site with vault toilets. The site had a picnic table and a fire ring set back in the trees with quite a bit of privacy from the neighbors and nothing but trees, birds and deer behind us.
There are nice stone picnic shelters scattered along the roads in the park along with flush toilets. The Canyon Inn is an impressive lodge, originally built as a sanitarium for the wealthy before the area became a state park. The Canyon Inn has been remodeled several times since. The cabins are set in the woods down a side road that is off limits to those not staying in the cabins. A fact we discovered as we explored the park.
There are several trails throughout the park. The Falls along McCormicks Creek can be reached via a short, but somewhat steep, trail from a nearby parking area. After a picnic lunch in one of the shelters and settling into our campsite, Right Buddy (RB) decided to go for a hike. Left Buddy (LB) stayed behind at the campsite to get some work done. RB’s original plan was to cut over to Trail 5 via Trail 8 from the campground and just go to the Wolf Cave and back. The Wolf Cave is pretty small, too short for RB to walk into comfortably. We found out later from a local that you can pass through the cave to the other side. That would probably be great for a kid to climb through, but RB still probably would not have attempted it even if she had known that, given her height and age. Since the trail was rather easy, RB continued down Trail 5 to loop around the Wolf Cave Nature Preserve. For courtesy to LB and safety, RB called LB on her cell phone with the change in plans. After getting back to the edge of the campground, she changed her plans yet again and took Trail 6 over to the Beech Grove Shelter. Luckily there was enough of a cell signal to let LB know her new route.
The Beech Grove Shelter is a partially enclosed picnic shelter with two fireplaces that is available to be reserved. There is a sign in front of the shelter talking about the Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC) in Indiana, which built many of the shelters in the state parks. The Beech Grove Shelter was completed by the CCC in 1935. As RB was researching the Beech Grove Shelter, she discovered that the Living New Deal website did not have any pictures of the shelter, so she submitted hers. It feels good to help out.
The next day we headed over to the Hampton Inn near the Indianapolis airport. Our son was flying out for the championships, so we reserved a hotel room for the next three nights. Our daughter would be joining us on the third night, since her tour is over after the finals performance. We really don’t have our van setup for sleeping four adults. Even though we were staying in a hotel, we decided to still cook dinner the first night in our van…in the hotel parking lot. Is that what they call glamping?
On Friday morning, we switched hotels, to the Hilton Garden Inn, right next door to the Hampton Inn. The Hilton Garden Inn is where we normally stay when we attend the DCI Championships, but we added the reservation for Thursday night after our son decided to fly out on Thursday instead of Friday and there were no rooms left at the Hilton Garden Inn. Don’t ask us why we stay at the Hilton Garden Inn instead of the Hampton Inn, probably just our family tradition that started six years ago. The hotels are in the same location, comparable in comfort, amenities and price. We drove into Indianapolis on Friday in time to go out for lunch. We found a nice place to park the van near Lucas Oil Stadium, in Gate Ten Events and Parking. Traditionally, we liked to park in the Henry St Garage, but parking garages are no longer possible due height of the van. Gate Ten was reasonably priced and offered a discount if you purchased more than one day, so we paid for two days since we’d be back on Saturday. Gate Ten had no problem accommodating our van, in fact they’ll even park class A RV’s in their lot.
A fellow drum corps friend told us about Shapiro’s Delicatessen. It was just a few blocks away from the parking lot and the stadium so we walked over there to check it out. There is a deli counter, but the hot meals are served cafeteria style where you grab your food and pay at the cashier at the end of the line. There was a long line, but it moved fast. The variety of food was huge and most of it reminded us of comfort food from our childhood.
The three of us each had a reuben, which they cooked to order and brought out to our table. We each had different sides, broccoli salad, pasta salad and cottage cheese. For dessert, we split a devil’s food cheesecake and a cherry pie among the three of us. The portions were huge, but somehow we managed to eat most of it, washing it down with lots of fresh brewed iced tea. The reubens could easily be shared by two people and still fill you up. The only downside was that the prices of the food matched the large portions and quality of food. Also, if you are looking for a place that is quiet and peaceful, this is not it. The line grew longer after we got through it and the large room of tables was packed. Apparently, Shapiro’s is not a secret within DCI, as there were quite a few DCI officials enjoying their lunch with us. After stuffing ourselves, we waddled back over to the stadium to spend the rest of the day watching the semi-finals competition.
The DCI finals competition on Saturday started a little later in the day which gave us time to get some exercise in before heading to the stadium. For lunch, we ate at a couple of food trucks on West Georgia street, across from the Indiana Convention Center. The food was not as good as Shapiro’s the day before, but we could sit and listen to the DCI Drumline Battles going on in the Pan Am Plaza. For exercise and entertainment, we walked around downtown. Our visits to Indianapolis usually include walking down the canal and getting homemade Italian ice from Fresco Italian Cafe on the Canal and this time was no exception. On the way back to the stadium, we walked past the Indiana State House and through Monument Circle. RB always enjoys gazing at the impressive architecture in the downtown area.
After the finals competition the Blue Knight's season was over. So we helped carry our daughter’s luggage and belongings from the corps buses to our van. When we arrived earlier that day, we had pulled the fridge out and attached it to the cargo slide in the back with ratchet tie-down straps. This allowed room for two people to sit in the rear bench seat back to the hotel. We left the wooden fridge stand in, since the person sitting on the seat there could put their feet on top of the stand, which was comfortable enough for the short ride back to the hotel. On Sunday morning, we put the fridge back in its place and put the bikes back on the hitch rack. The hotel was kind enough to permit us to lock our bikes and hitch up in a grassy area near the parking lot. We had taken the bikes off on Friday, partly to make parking easier in downtown Indy and partly because it felt safer to us for the bikes to be locked to a pole in the hotel parking lot than being parked downtown all day. Our kids were taking a shuttle to the airport and flying back to Denver together that afternoon, but we did not have to wait for them. We were hitting the road again and continuing our travels. It felt rather strange to check out of our room before our kids. Even though they are adults, it’s hard to stop being a parent and letting them go on their own.