1. Find the trail.
Picking a stretch of the 18-mile Monon to tackle first is easy: The populous areas—Broad Ripple and Carmel—mean better people-watching as you get your moorings. A tangle of runners and walkers and dogs and cyclists and skateboarders stretches in both directions from the trail’s intersections at Broad Ripple Avenue and Main Street in Carmel. Plus, both places teem with trailside pit stops.
2. Park free.
In Broad Ripple, forget about side-street spots and head straight for the Indianapolis Art Center’s trailside lot (820 E. 67th St.). Even on the first warm weekend of spring, when the Monon’s population could only be tabulated as “a throng,” there were plenty of open spots. The Monon’s dedicated 96th Street lot (1451 E. 96th St.) is outfitted with benches, a clean restroom, and water fountains in season. Want to start closer to Carmel’s smoked-beef–scented chaos at the Bub’s-adjacent greenway? The Carmel City Hall lot (One Civic Square) is open to visitors and offers the same amenities as the 96th lot; plus, it was so empty on a recent Saturday that I’m pretty sure a tumbleweed bounced through. Or park at Carmel’s nicely equipped Rohrer Road trailhead (1300 Rohrer Rd.) and walk south about a mile to Main Street.
3. Don’t try to make new friends.
I spent far too much time during my first outing on the Monon smiling and nodding to others, thinking it was expected. No, it’s not. In fact, everyone would be a lot happier if they could sweat it out to “Toxic” without having to acknowledge your presence. Two exceptions: super-cute canines, especially the two Bernese mountain dogs I spotted dragging their owner, and super-cute elderly couples holding hands. You can smile at them.
4. However, the people-watching is first class.
Despite the crush of humanity at various points, the trail does present a life-affirming cross section of the city. “Run, little man! Run! You’re in first place!” a father called out to his kid one April afternoon. The tiny boy leapt up into the air, buoyed by the encouragement, and then bounded off again, his father chuckling behind. A small scene of joy, repeated with different players all along the trail.
5. Just don't gawk.
Yes, people still Rollerblade. In jean shorts. Stop staring.
6. Rent a bike.
Once there, you might want to cover more ground. Several bike shops rent wheels—go for a half-day rate; one hour won’t be enough. Saddle up on a pretty beach cruiser at Carmel Cyclery (230 W. Carmel Dr., 317-575-8588; $19) or Rusted Moon Outfitters in Broad Ripple (6410 Cornell Ave., 317-253-4453; $20). DG Bicycles in Nora (1536 E. 86th St., 317-257-2453; $24) rents a range of popular styles. BYO helmet.
7. Have to go?
A lack of restrooms is one of the trail’s shortcomings. The list on the official map includes several locations that are inconvenient,unsuitable, or nonexistent. The
reliable ones: Canterbury Park, north of 54th Street; the 96th Street rest stop; the Monon Community Center, at 111th Street; and the Rohrer Road trailhead, north of 136th Street. Or stuff some cash into your sports bra in case you need to buy something to use a merchant’s restroom. Even so, south of 54th Street is a hold-it zone. And don’t even think about ducking into the woods. That underbrush is likely someone’s backyard.
8. Relish the schadenfreude.
Sure, those people with said backyards get to live right up next to the liveliest strip in Indiana—real estate that’s even been called Indy’s version of “beachfront property.” But do Monon neighbors get to sunbathe au naturel? Nope. Do we silently judge their rusted-out patio furniture and overgrown grass? Yep.
9. Know the lingo.
Soon after setting about on the trail, you’ll begin to hear voices behind you shout, “On your left! To your left!” No, these are not dance instructions, and this is not a flash mob. These are warnings from speedy cyclists and runners who are about to pass you. As a pedestrian my first time out, I felt a little nervous that these speedsters would mow us over, leaving nothing but a tire track over the back of my Colts tee. I kept stealing looks over my shoulder. Were they coming? Is that them? Is the dog about to become road kill? Oh, thank goodness, it’s just strolling teens in Converse,eating froyo.
10. Dogs are welcome, but ...
... should you bring your pooch? That depends: Is he a high-strung Yorkie mix scared silly by the cyclists whizzing by, closer than a frog’s hair? Does he carom from them so violently that he nearly falls into the canal? No? Just mine? Okay, then, you’ll both be fine. Watch the length of the leash and come prepared with poop bags—unless you’re in Carmel, where you’ll cruise by bag dispensers as often as you do three-seat strollers.
Take the Monon to the...
IndyFringe Theatre Festival
You might say the ordinary ends where the Monon begins: The southern trailhead, at 10th Street, sits practically within clapping distance of the Mass Ave venues that host IndyFringe events (Aug. 15–25, indyfringe.org). Expect to be entertained by everything from jugglers to fire dancers, comedians to magicians.
Indiana State Fair
In an otherwise industrial part of the Monon, the State Fairgrounds regularly hosts guitar shows, classic-car exhibits, beer festivals, and home expos. But no event is bigger than the Indiana State Fair (Aug. 2–18, in.gov/statefair/fair), where it’s the “Year of Popcorn.” Free, supervised bike parking next to the trail is provided.
54th & Monon Art Fair
This juried art fair in front of SoBro’s 54th and the Monon Shops isn’t widely publicized, but it has been going on for more than a decade. With the likes of Forrest Formsma and Douglas David, the regular participating artists are no slouches. As usual, this year’s fair (June 1) will treat attendees to free hotdogs and lemonade.
Carmel Farmers Market
Every Saturday morning on the Palladium’s front steps (5 Center Green, carmelfarmersmarket.com), 62 vendors re-define the term “greenway.” The second number on each booth’s sign represents “food mileage,” or the distance that
vendor travels to reach the market. Several farmers serve breakfast, including delish biscuits and gravy.
Illustration by Ryan Snook
This article appeared in the June 2013 issue.