A long-overdue excursion, planned quickly for the only weekend that would work, resulted in 2 days of riding with Kathryn. The hottest weekend of riding I've ever done, I'm sure, but it has been a long time since I've logged miles with the kid. "Back in the day" she did the occasional day trip - I think our longest was 58 miles up by Walker, MN (near Big Rapids) during a family vacation at a friend's cabin. Before her hyperactive social life kicked in, Kathryn asked me "are there any girl bike racers?" Those were the days.
But this weekend were the days, too. Kathryn seemed to really want to do a camp and ride trip. It was typically easy to convince me! We agreed to ride on trails, and I thought the Hennepin Canal trail would be good. I'd been on part of it 4 years ago on a solo trip. And riding alongside water is always interesting. Traffic is not an issue, and there's generally some interesting wildlife.
We camped in Johnson-Sauk Trail State Park - a beautiful little state park with shady tent camping and clean shower buildings. The Park is about 20 miles from the Hennepin Canal visitors center. I would like to return to the park and actually spend time exploring there ... on foot. We did experience a unique feature of the park: a nice little restaurant with good meals and an affordable menu. Now, normally "camping" to me implies campfire or at least camp stove cooking. But Karen had convinced us that with the forecast heat, we might not want to hover over either stove or fire for supper. Well, we didn't need much convincing - it doesn't take much to get me to spend money on food. Or take life easy.
We arrived at the State Park by 9AM Friday, quickly found and set up a camp site, then changed into our cycling clothes and headed to Sheffield and the HC Visitors Center. Our ride on Friday was simple: head east to Bureau, the east end of the canal trail. We had trail snacks, PBJ sandwiches, gatorade and water. And by the time we rolled out (10:30AM) the temperature was nearly 90. Canals being what they are, the water doesn't move much, and it isn't very deep, so there was really no relief to speak of from the water. But there's plenty of shade along the towpath/bike trail, and every 2-3 miles a picnic table/firepit rest area (camp site), most with some shade.
We lingered at the 11 mile mark, half way to Bureau. We continued on the Bureau, where the trail unceremoniously ends, with a simple sign and a little bridge across the petered out canal into a scruffy park. Bureau itself is the closest to a ghost town of anything I've ridden a bike into, so we turned back to find a shady rest stop. You may notice that in describing these stops I left out an important feature. That's because none had it: "it" is water. Nice (clean, new, maintained) outhouses. Mowed grass. Access from both the trail and local roads. No Water. This would be a problem.
But before it was a problem, as we left this site, I realized my rear tire was low in air pressure. Like, slow leak low, and not something I could ignore. I'm happy to report that I had my quickest, most successful tire repair on this bike. (Perhaps some time I will detail my challenging relationship with tire repairs on my Trek 520.) So, with that minor inconvenience and major success behind us, we were back on the path. It wasn't long before Water because our major issue.
I thought I had brought plenty. 4 bottles on my bike, 2 in my bags, and 1 on Kathryn's bike. And, I was sure, there would be water at these camp sites. 4 years ago, I seemed to recall, when I spent the night at one of these canal-side sites, there was a water pump. But we found exactly none. And the canal, at least this leg of it, does not go through towns. Just ends in a ghost town. So we began to slow down, and ration water.
Slow down. Yes, the other thing about the canal is the series of locks through which barges moved. We rode out with the locks emptying to the east. Ummm, that meant we would ride ever so slightly but inexorably Uphill on our return. Notso bad, except that also happened to mean, on this particular Friday well in the 90's by now, riding into a subtle but persistent WSW wind.
Prudence and patience brought us back to the Visitors Center, where the kindly and informative Ranger noted that we did not look as fresh as when we had started, some 4+ hours earlier! OK, so we lingered a bit over the exhibits. And tried to drain the drinking fountain. And wondered if maybe we didn't need to use the air-conditioned bathroom just one more time. The only thing that got me out of there was Karen's voice in my head, "I will only ride if there's ice cream at the end."
"Kathryn, let's find a DQ!" So we did, by driving just a bit out of our way back to the camp ground. There we were thrilled to learn for ourselves just how clean and pleasant the shower building was. And after an hour or so of reading, we walked across the camping area to the charming restaurant overlooking the lake. A nice conclusion to a hot ride!
Day One: 44 miles, 3 hours 36 minutes riding time, 11.8 mph average speed. Not my greatest stats (by a long shot), but My Favorite Ride of the Year. Great blue herons, white egrets, a box turtle, and a care-free white-tailed doe. And there's nothing like riding with your kids, even (especially?) when they are 21!
Today we had a leisurely but early start, with a cold breakfast from the cooler. Then we filled the bottles with more gatorade and cold water from home (it had been our frozen jug in the ice chest). Today's ride was chosen by Kathryn. We learned that riding west on the canal trail, and returning east, would still mean we would end the ride "uphill." And that the feeder canal (it comes from the north and provides water that flows east to the Illinois River, west to the Mississippi) would take us uphill first, and down on the return. That seemed to be a no-brainer.
So we drove to the junction of the canals. And there was my camp site from 4 years before. And there, too, was the proof of my memory. There WAS a water pump at this location. Just at none of the others, I guess. (It was then I realized how providential was my night there 4 years ago. Another story.) Today it was already 90 when we began at 8:40AM. But we were well covered, and decided we didn't need to get as far as Rock Falls, the northern terminus of the feeder canal. (It takes its water from the Rock River.) But if we did go the distance, we would be in Rock Falls, a town which I know for sure is alive and has places to fill water bottles and buy doughnuts ... oh yeah, and gatorade.
OK, so this canal runs north and south. That gives two options for the tow path/bike trail: the east side or the west side of the canal. I'm sure it was a simple coin toss. The west side won, so we rode in full sunshine, longingly noting the extensive shade on the other side. The side which, if we were riding horses, we'd be on. Rarely did the west side trees hang over enough offer mid-morning shade. More rarely still were the east side trees tall enough to cast shade across the canal. Hot. And still. Still hot.
Aside from that, the feeder canal is much healthier looking and smelling, and there are quite a few homes along it, with little private docks and everything. It must make a nice ride to Rock Falls. Except that about half-way there, headed north, the surface turns from good solid gravel to soft sand/dirt, which made it very difficult and for me (with clip-in shoes and narrower, though not road, tires) dangerous. Well heck, it was hot anyway, and we'd decided to turn back at 15 miles, so we gave the last mile us for a loss, stopped in a shady area (the only rest area on this spur) and prepared to return. The irony of that is that it was at this point that the west side was becoming genuinely shady. Oh well! And the shade did make a big difference.
So after only 14 miles out, we turned back ... again, into the wind. But at least it was with the downward flow of the canal, so there was some comfort in that, even if we couldn't actually tell the difference unless we watched the water! But with a shorter trip, we at least had enough liquid to get us back to the car. Did I mention it was Hot?!?
Today's ride: 27 miles, 2 hours 27 minutes riding time, 11.8 mph average speed - interestingly, the same AVS as yesterday.
Back at the campground, we ate a sandwich and finished off some trail mix, drank some more o dat ice cold water from home, then packed and struck the tent. With our camp site cleared, we were off to the showers to drive home in clean attire and refreshed spirits. Oh yes, after a quick stop to pick up Culvers. I mean ... I don't eat to ride, I ride to eat!
It was a real treat to spend time with Kathryn, one-on-one. And I am glad to find that I do not require speed or distance to enjoy a ride. And glad to learn that even when "Easy does it," there is still some adventure in cycling!