9/11 Reflection: Munster Community Veterans Memorial

Today is the only day that America reflects on a loss. We may celebrate Independence Day, Veterans Day, Memorial Day and even take time to acknowledge the tragedy of D-Day, all holidays sadly birthed from war, but they are days of victory nonetheless.

The 9/11 attacks brought about new feelings and perceptions that were foreign to our country at the time, ones of vulnerability, uncertainty, and loss. It felt like the very fabric of our ideals and foundation of our freedom was on the brink of destruction. But as all men and women do when they are pushed to the very edge, we held on.

Like many other people who remember that day, the memories of 9/11 are still vividly preserved in my mind. I was eleven at the time, sitting in front of the television eating a turkey sandwich. Flipping through the stations to find something to watch, I was confused as to why the same thing was on every single channel. It looked as if there had been a horrible plane crash in New York.

Calling my mom to interpret the matter, she, like myself, perceived it to be nothing more than an unfortunate accident.

And that’s when it happened…

Watching a second plane strike the World Trade Center right before our eyes, I instantly looked to my mother seeing a sight I’ll never forget. Pale white, one of the many shades of terror, suddenly washed over her face. Her shoulders hunched and her eyes opened wide, as did all of ours, at the horrific scene transmitted over the television.

It was at that moment I knew that what had just happened would change us forever.

Eleven years later, having endured loss, fear, panic, war and terror, America once again has proved that it can take every moment, triumphant or tragic, and transform it into a defining moment. Even though we had been torn apart by terror, we were united by our resolution.

As we remember our journey as a people: our victories, our losses, our accomplishments and missteps, we continue to build courage around doubt and purpose over incertitude.

While I’ve already included an excerpt on Munster’s Community Veterans Memorial not too long ago, I would like to take this time of reflection and give it a second glance.

Last Sunday, my father and I rode down The Munster Bike Path through Centennial Park and across the street to The Community Veterans Memorial at 9710 Calumet Avenue. Although no bikes are allowed on the memorial itself, it was a small price to pay to honor our veterans.

A beautiful red brick path encompasses the park, with references to specific historical events chronologically ordered, beginning at the year 1896. Grand monuments paying tribute to veterans from WWI to the Persian Gulf War are spread throughout the canvas. Skillfully blended into the greenery of the gardens, these intense monuments of war are perfectly contrasted by the serenity of nature, creating moments of remembrance and resolve.

If you’re looking for a special way to commemorate the sacrifice of our troops overseas, or simply to acknowledge those who lost their loved ones during the 9/11 tragedy, this memorial is the perfect way to focus your mind and comfort your heart.

Munster, Indiana: Bikes, Bakeries & Bumpy Sidewalks

Today’s impromptu ride led my father and me all the way out to the gorgeous town of Munster. Rarely getting to venture out that far given the lack of trails connecting to the area, I knew I’d be hard pressed to get as much sight seeing in as I could.

Braving the Griffith sidewalks along 45th Street, the two of us were given quite an unwelcome and fairly aggressive massage as we bounced up and down on our seats like kids on a broken carousel.

Sidewalk sailing over to Main Street, we were eternally grateful once we reached The Munster Bike Path. The smooth, black asphalt looked like a five star resort to our sore and bruised behinds.

Enjoying the simple pleasures of a leisurely ride down the trail, we swept behind the breathtaking hills and crystal ponds of the Centennial Park Golf Course. Even though I don’t consider myself to be a golfer in any sense of the word, I couldn’t help but fantasize about renting a golf cart and riding through those majestic mounds of green. Knowing my father though, he would probably attempt to force me to play a few holes with him which would inevitably destroy my moment of zen.

Continuing down the path, it didn’t take long for the Centennial Park Golf Course to merge with plain, good Ol’ Centennial Park. This beautiful vista brushed over the remains of an old dump (literally), was a wonderfully serene scene. There was a modern, steel concert stage resting at the edge of a pond, its orange and silver coat reflected off the water’s surface in various shades. A variety of abstract sculptures littered the canvas (no pun intended considering the park’s history), each bringing its own distinguishable element of inspiration, from a pipe frame containing multiple spinning mirrors to more subtle iron structures, begging you to interpret their meaning.

Although, I could’ve spent an entire day in this sublime haven, I knew the sun would not cooperate. It was time to move on.

Just across the street from Centennial Park, we made our way to The Community Veterans Memorial. One of the most elaborate veterans memorials I’ve seen in Northwest Indiana, there was no question in my mind that this was a must-see stop on our tour of Munster, especially given our country’s reflection this week on the 9/11 tragedy.

Leaving our bikes behind in respect, my father and I walked down the curving brick path, meditating on the sacrifice of America’s heroes. From the names beneath our feet to the visceral depictions of war-torn soldiers represented in the memorial, it was almost incomprehensible to understand the true weight that war carries. Even though we’ve been at war for many years now, I don’t think it’s a burden we ever will or want to bear.

After our sobering moment on the hills of The Community Veterans Memorial, we were both more than ready for some comfort food.

My father and I almost never go through Munster, whether it be by car, bike or foot, without stopping at 8314 Calumet Ave, otherwise known as Munster Donut. Open 24 hours, seven days a week, Munster Donut is the perfect place to satisfy your spontaneous case of the munchies every time.

Long Johns, chocolate rings, apple crumbs, and Bavarian cremes! The analogy of “a kid in a candy shop” may have never really appealed to me as a child, but to this day, whenever you talk donuts, I understand completely! Faced with all the glorious choices of these sugar filled, frosted and powdered rings, I found myself over-sensitized and already hyped up from the caffeine and sugarcane floating in the air. As my father paused, pondering the selections, I pushed him to the side and ordered the one thing I always come here for, two chocolate Bavarian creme donuts!

Perhaps inspired by my predictable and uninspired choices, my father ordered a powdered Bavarian creme for himself and an angel creme and apple crumb for my mother. Probably to be saved as a peace offering later.

With the sun setting and the donuts melting in the bottom of my backpack, the two of us set out home faster than we came out, eagerly awaiting a glass of ice cold milk and golden brown dough bursting with Bavarian creme!

Crown Point Downtown Square – Crown Point, Indiana: Square Route

With the Southlake YMCA’s two week annual maintenance shutdown finally over, I decided it was time to get back to the gym. Still preferring to spend more time outside, I figured the ten mile ride there and back would be more than sufficient  for my cardio, leaving the tedious strength training for indoors.

Mounting the bike, I hit the Erie-Lackawanna Trail in Griffith and journeyed on towards Crown Point. The great thing about this path in-particular was its consistency. One long stretch of asphalt with practically no interruptions breaking the pace (save for two or three busy roads to cross), it was an ideal route for my cardio workout.

Riding past Merrillville and spelunking through the thin cement cave under Route 30, I made my way to one of the most beautiful portions of the trail I had ever seen. Running behind the Lake County Government Center, flanked by gorgeous fields of green, smooth wooden fences and vibrant colored flowers, it was almost like stumbling into the fanciful summer meadows of Narnia hidden right in Northwest Indiana’s backyard.

The path curved around the natural landscape gently massaging the shallow hills. Traversing  a comely bridge extending over a creek, I came across the Charles & Mable Swisher Park. Just a small plot of groomed grass and four benches, this concealed little oasis was a perfect, tranquil spot for an impromptu picnic. It was too bad I ate before I came. Maybe another time.

So caught up in the beauty and peacefulness of the whole experience, it wasn’t until this point that I realized I had forgotten my YMCA membership card. Taking this misfortune in stride, I figured if I’ve already come this far, I might as well drop by and visit the Crown Point Downtown Square.

Reaching the end of the Erie-Lackawanna Trail, I hopped immediately onto West Street and moseyed on towards the bright orange tower of the Crown Point Courthouse peeking over the tree tops. It wasn’t long before I was in the heart of the square, with cars zipping by and visitors casually touring the novel, local shops. With the picturesque courthouse now in plain view, I made my way around its side to the Historical District on South Main Street to get a glimpse of my two favorite buildings: the old Lake County Criminal Court, and the Sheriff’s Building, where the notorious John Dillinger made his famed escape in 1934.

It wasn’t too long ago that Director Michael Mann came to this very location when filming his own Dillinger story, Public Enemies. I still remember standing out in the bitter cold just to get a peek at the action. In retrospect, it isn’t something I would consider doing again without a bucket full of hot chocolate…

My heart rate lowered to a lazy pace as I leisurely took in the rustic and gritty architecture of these yesteryear masterpieces. It wasn’t until I finally let out a long and content yawn that I knew it was time to get my legs back on those pedals.

Bidding farewell to the marvels of the downtown square, I started on my journey home.

Perhaps I would go to the gym tomorrow…

Oak Ridge Prairie – Griffith, Indiana: Wet Dog

Rain drops tapped on my door, mockingly inviting me to come out and play. Peering outside the window, I watched helplessly as my Labor Day weekend was washed away by the remnants of Hurricane Isaac.

Angry that I was probably not going to be able to do anything outside this holiday, I accidentally let a four-letter word slip within the earshot of my border collie…“walk”.

Her ears instantly perked up and eyes bulged with enthusiasm. Not letting me get away with breaking my unintentional verbal contract, she whimpered and spun around, demanding I honor the agreement.

Convinced that she would change her mind after one minute in the soaking rain, I threw on my coat and consented to her impulsive request.

After walking… uh, make that swimming, three blocks in the downpour, I wondered if my border collie was really this desperate to escape the house or deliberately sticking it to me.

When we arrived back at home and dried off, I couldn’t help but feel a little tickled by our odd and wet expedition. Inspired by my border collie’s fearless and adventurous spirit, I decided that if she wasn’t going to let the rain ruin her day, neither was I!

Biking out into the puddle-ridden streets, I pedaled over to Colfax Street and down to one of Griffith’s most precious gems, Oak Ridge Prairie.

Entering the park (free of charge on bike), I sailed through the meadows of goldenrod and leafy, green grass glistening like royal jewels as they were anointed by the soft touch of the rain. The wildlife remained concealed in the protective shelter of the woods, although their voices could still be heard resonating through the fields.

At the end of the road leading to the park’s main area, I was faced with an old childhood friend, the Oak Ridge Prairie sledding hill. Though not christened with its majestic coat of white, this magnificent monument still stood proudly even as it sweat pools of muddy globs.

Temporarily reflecting on fond memories of sliding down the slopes and idiotic attempts of “snowboarding” with my sled, I shook my head and continued forward on the slippery path, still that eight year old boy who never learns.

Following the trail under the natural umbrella of the forest preserve, I carefully navigated my way down the trail smeared with dead leaves, cracked acorns and hazardously placed moss. Needless to say, I do not recommend advancing through this portion of the trail in the middle of a downpour unless you feel confident in both your balance and the strength of your helmet.

The water, still relentlessly seeking me out, streamed down the spouts of the trees’ leaves, drenching me twofold compared to riding out in the open.

Upon reaching the end of the wooded path, I smiled, relieved, as the last of the rain clouds dispersed. Walking my bike into a U-turn on the slick surface of the trail, I took a deep breath of the moist air and prepared myself for a cautious journey back through the park.

I don’t know what my border collie was thinking…

Calumet River – Hammond, Indiana: Over The River And Through The Woods…

Coming home after a day of frustrating traffic, bad parking spots and annoying colleagues, I poured myself a glass of ice cold milk (contemplating a margarita instead) and wondered why I even bothered to crawl out of bed this morning.

Once again having to crash another one of my daily pity parties, I listened to that sweet loving voice inside my head telling me to hike up my big boy pants and BE A MAN FOR CRYING OUT LOUD! Without a single dignified retort to that admonishment, I proceeded out onto the bike paths to begin reevaluating my masculinity.

Cruising past the rustic railways of Griffith’s train-ladened kingdom onto the Broad Street bike path, just across from Griffith Historical Park (something cool to see if you get the chance), I soon found myself en route to the meticulously shaved, emerald green grass of the Highland trail.

Venturing all the way down the trail past Highland and into the border of Hammond, I reached a curious, rusted steel bridge extending over a turquoise stream. Testing my balance on the bike the way moguls challenge an Olympic skier, I carefully made my way over the springy wooden planks of the bridge, slowly preparing myself for the gravel road on the other end. Fortunately the crusty rock of the trail had been firmly padded down due to yesterday’s light rain.

Following this detour around a vast manmade pond with the eclectic Indiana Welcome Center prominently stamped in the distance, I arrived at Kennedy Avenue. Just across the intersection was an identical steel bridge leading straight onto the Calumet River Nature Trail, a personal favorite of mine. Though forced to walk my bike up a few rocky slopes to this isolated overpass, I found myself instantly back in the zone as soon as I reached the clandestine wilderness lurking on the other end.

Absconding to an oasis filled with the exotic symphony of cicadas and tranquil harmony of song birds, I lost myself in the arms of this blemished Eden. Trees rustled restlessly in the warm midday breeze as I rode through a canopy of grasshoppers jumping exuberantly into the golden kiss of the sun.

As I neared the end of the trail, my journey finished amongst a graveyard of gnarled dead trees protruding out of the swamp like vicious claws thrashing towards the sky. This bleak, dead marsh, forged by the flames of a long ago fire, was the definitive ending to this routine trip (especially in the Pre-Halloween season).

Spine-tingling screams echoed through the damp air as hawks scoured over the wooly amber waves of grass. Crickets chirped meekly, like gentle taps sounding in the distance. And the dark painted wings of butterflies floated in the wind, wraithlike ashes whispering tales of the old fire. Even under the bright, protective light of the sun’s gaze, this place had a foreboding presence that always seemed to haunt me whenever I passed through…

The road now merging with the loud, bustling traffic of Cline Avenue, the roar of engines and machinery distracted me from the fleeting fantasies of my romanticizing antics. Leaving the supernatural forest behind, I made my way across Cline Avenue to Griffith Boulevard and back to good Ol’ Broad Street. Though I was able to pedal on home from this point, the great thing about Broad is it’ll lead you right back to Griffith Historical Park if you happened to drive there from somewhere further away.

This is certainly not one of my more creative nor adventurous rides. But, for those of you who find yourselves a little too caught up in the urban rat race, it might do you good to simply run into the forest and see just where your mind might take you…