After spending our first night in cabins I was surprisingly well rested. I didn't wake up during the night like I thought I might. The sleeping bag I bought at Walmart was comfy and kept me warm, but a few others had complained they had been cold.

TOP TIP: If starting the Northern BLT trek in May, like I did, definitely invest in a thicker sleeping bag as it can get very cold on the cabin nights. Although there were small heaters in some, we didn't want to leave them on all night, so we just used them to heat the room before we all went to bed.

After getting up and heading to the bathroom block to get ready most of us took Jake up on his offer of a communal breakfast. We had previously agreed to each chip in a few dollars for food and drink for breakfast and Jake had bought apple and orange juice, lots of fruit and some pastries. As Jake had camping equipment in the trailer we used plates and cups from there to have a very civilised camping breakfast and each cleaned up our own cutlery at the bathroom block. Then it was back in the van to make a start on the 290 miles we had to cover for day four, with our first stop being in our fourth state of the trip...

Shipshewana, INDIANA:
Shipshewana is Amish country and was a completely different part of America to what I had seen before. Upon driving into the town centre I saw people in Amish dress and children playing on swings in the garden of their house, it seemed like a much slower pace of life and not what you normally see on a tourist visit to America.
We were informed by Jake about how to be respectful of the Amish beliefs for when we went into town and once arriving in town we were given an hour to explore and get some lunch. The centre of town was an interesting contradiction of traditional Amish ways of living and the modern way of life (which I wasn't expecting). There were horses and carts travelling around the roads with modern cars travelling beside them. I had previously believed it would be a purely traditional area, so it was great to be enlightened that there are variations of Amish, I guess I've watched to much 'Breaking Amish'!
After a nice lunch and explore around the visitor centre, we got back into the van and headed to our next stop...

As we drove through Gary it was clear to see it was a pretty poor neighbourhood, but again it was interesting to get to see a different side to America. It had an impressive looking town hall, but not a lot in the way of local amenities. We drove through an area with small dilapidated looking houses and drove up to a perfectly preserved house, which had been painted more recently than the others around it, so it stood out on the street. This area and specifically house was the childhood home of Michael Jackson.

We had a brief look at the outside of the house and the Michael Jackson memorial and after a very quick stop here it was back in the van to our fifth state, our stop for the night and for the next couple of days...

Chicago, ILLINOIS:
We drove into Chicago, passing some sights on the way such as the White Sox Stadium.
When we arrived, Jake dropped the van off in a car park, as due to staying here for two nights he wouldn't be driving us around the city and we wouldn't have access to the van or trailer. We left pillows and sleeping bags plus anything else we wouldn't need for 2 days in the trailer and we grabbed our bags and walked the short distance to the HI Hostel, where we would be staying.

TOP TIP: This is where there was a huge benefit to having a smaller or easy to carry suitcase! My suitcase was pretty heavy by this point due to all the shopping I had done in New York and other small souvenirs I had picked up along the way, which meant it was a bit of a challenge trying to drag it along the streets of Chicago! If you can try to do you're shopping near the end of the trip and just pick up small souvenirs everywhere else. Although I did manage with my medium but heavy bag and other people did have larger suitcases so we were all in a similar boat.

I was really impressed with this hostel, it was more like a hotel just with rooms that housed more people than regular hotels, and there were decent lifts! Jake checked us in and we each got room keys, in our room there were 8 beds (bunk beds) and the rest of our group was in another room. The room was really nice, large size, modern and clean with a shower, toilet and sink area within the room, which felt like pure luxury. The shower and toilet were separate, so there would be no fighting for the bathroom! and the large sink area was open at the front of the room. As I hadn't stayed in hostels before this trip I was slightly apprehensive about them but there was no need to be, Chicago had well and truly raised the game!
We also saw the camping group around the hostel so we all got to mix with each other a bit more. After getting settled into the room we had a bit of time to get organised and then met up with Jake where he gave us a rundown on things we could do for the next few days in the city. We all wanted to go to a Cubs baseball game and there was one on the weekend we were there so Jake said he would book us tickets for the next day. This was really nice of Jake and above and beyond what he had to do as a tour leader, it meant we would all be sat together for the game.
Some of the group wanted to go on the bike ride around Chicago but six of us didn't so some of the camping group were going to join our group on the bike ride. Due to this we had to make a quick subway trip to where we were headed for dinner, which was pretty interesting with 14 of us all trying to buy tickets and not knowing what we were doing.

We went to Lou Malnati's Pizzeria for deep dish pizza, a staple when visiting Chicago! The food was amazing, we ordered three huge pizzas with different toppings (and some extra smaller ones for people with dietary requirements) and all tucked in. As the bike ride group had quite a distance to travel and not much time to get there for the 7pm start the ones of us that weren't going stayed at the pizzeria to finish off and settle the bill (everyone had left their share of the cash). Jake took the other group to the bike ride and the rest of us took a slow walk towards the Navy Pier area, where Jake dropped them off to meet back up with him. While I'm sure the bike ride would have been amazing it was nice to not be in a rush and have more options for what to do with our first night in Chicago, and seeing some sights on our walk.

After meeting Jake, the six of us that didn't go cycling decided to go bowling and play pool. This was one of my favourite nights on the trip, we had fun and games at All Star Lanes for a few hours and it was great for the two under 21's in our group to still get a decent night out in Chicago! Safe to say, I was awful at bowling but better at pool where I got my hustle on, and had a fun chilled evening. With having a smaller group, we got to bond with people we had spent less time with, and at 10pm when the others were finishing up on the bike ride we all got taxis across to the blues & jazz club, with the under 21's heading back to the hostel together.
We watched some blues bands at the famous Kingston Mines club, where everyone got to let their hair down, including Jake, his first night off from driving!

It was one of the group's birthday so a great way to celebrate. This happened to be the day  the legendary blues singer BB King died, so the club was the perfect place to be with everyone celebrating music and the best way for me to end a night in Chicago!
Myself and another trekker headed back to the hostel after a couple of hours at about 1am as it had been a long day (we were the oldest in the group so definitely needed our rest by this point haha!) while the rest of the group stayed at the club and headed to another afterwards getting in at 5am!
I wanted to be up early to explore Chicago by day as well...

ITINERARY (LISTED):                           Welcome To The Windy City - Bike Tour?
ACCOMMODATION:                            HI Hostel - Chicago, Illinois

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