So I rolled out of the driveway at 7:40am. Sun was shining, the bike was tight, the trail promised about 4 hours of fairly hassle-free riding until I hit the quiet country roads west of Richmond, IL. Oh, nuts! Still in my good glasses, not the ones I clip my mirror to.
And that was the only glitch in the day. No kidding!
The Illinois Prairie Path provides 3 options west to the Fox River Trail, which runs the length of, oh I guess it must be Kane County along the river. From my intersection we can go due west on the Geneva Spur, through West Chicago to ... well, Geneva. Or the Elgin Branch, northwest through West Chicago, Wayne and probably Bartlett to South Elgin. (Why isn't it called the South Elgin Branch of the IPP? I never thought of that before. Elgin is actually along the Fox River Trail.)
One thing I noticed real soon. And I thought of it, monitored it, throughout the day. I love my Trek 520. It's built for "loaded touring" and its motto (back when I bought it) was "go for a ride, come back in a month." As if. But I can dream! Anyway, it had been a while since I actually did load it up for a long self-contained ride. And what struck me Thursday - I really wasn't looking for this - is that the bike is actually even more comfortable loaded than not. It is a great bike for a long ride that does not require speed. I guess it's the combination of the geometry and the steel frame. But man, what a sweet roll set up for touring. I am really eager to get front panniers and the whole experience. That really surprised me, and I am convinced it is more than just the euphoria of starting a new trip.
As I set out, I said a simple prayer. I talk to God, and I trust him for lots of things big and little. I also do not believe God is obligated to make my life comfortable and in fact is not all that likely to do so, for purposes I don't need explained. But on this day, I set out with the prayer, "Lord, I would sure like to have a trouble-free ride." (It is a real pain to fix a flat on these wheels, even without having to take off all the bags and gear first!) "But, if I do have trouble, help be to keep my head about me, think things through, and not get frustrated or discouraged." Call it hedging my spiritual bets if you will; the reality is the second part of that prayer is more what I need than the first. "And if I can help others, that would be cool, too."
I met my timing goals along the way through the day. 12-mile mark at the junction of IPP and FRT, one hour - check! Do the math; yes, average speed accomplishments are very different when touring. I feel a good day is being on the road 10-12 hours, averaging 12-13 mph during the pedaling bits. First pit stop, north of Elgin at 17 miles - check! As I approached this stop I noticed again the refurbishing of a trail-side wonder. Sure, Illinois does not have mountains, but we do have a castle ... or at least a castle turret! Just beyond the castle, just before the pit stop, I called out for the first time on this trip, "Are you OK? Do you need anything?" A young mom and her 2 boys were alongside the path, and mom was trying to fix something. In an amazing rarity, I actually could help - the chain had come off on the little single gear bike with coaster brakes. I realized that we could get off the chain-guard, and then it went on pretty easily. As we worked it was fun to talk with the young boy, to promote ABD to his mom who had just ridden her first race, and to roll of thinking "All in a day's work for ... Bicycle Repair Man!"
I thought, 2 hours to Crystal Lake and that lovely roadside/trailside park aong the highway (S. Main St.?) - check! A good second pit-stop and a water fountain. Getting through Crystal Lake can be a little awkward. The route is clearly enough signed but crossing the highway, and the perpetual construction at a key intersection, make it just a bit inconvenient. Once through there is the thrill and the agony of cycling through Stearns Woods. The firecest descents and the toughest climbs along any of the trails in this system, not easy on a pleasure ride ... and an interesting challenge loaded for touring. North of Stearns Woods the path runs through McHenry County, McHenry, Ringwood, and Richmond. If you stay on this trail, it will dump you out in Genoa City, WI. So, you can ride from my house to Wisconsin all on trail (marked bike route). Friend Jeremy points out that it is 50 miles from Winfield to Genoa City by this route, making a tidy trail century ... which curiously I have never done myself.
Richmond, 4 hours - check!
Thus far, the cue sheets from the Grand Illinois Trail were unnecessary. As I approached the Broadway St. trail crossing in Richmond, 4 cyclists were straddling their bikes there, chatting. Ya gotta love running into chatty cyclists at rest. Talk is obvious: where are you headed, where and when did you start, look over the gear, alternate route options, weather and traffic. A couple of these guys had in fact cycled out to Galena (but not "toured out" to there, I think), and all had headed west of town to Hebron. They encouraged me to stick to the highway with a good shoulder instead of follow the Hebron Trail as noted in GIT. Sounded good to me, after nearly 50 miles of trail and not knowing what the HT was going to offer for a surface. The shade I would have welcomed; I guess it's a nicely canopied stretch. But IL-173 is in fact broad-shouldered, and I was on a distance mission, so that's how I rolled into Hebron.
Now, arriving in Hebron intact without a hint of fatique or dehydration, not to mention without bonking, was the first real accomplishment of the day. I had kicked the Hebron Bonk curse. I can now tour again. Yea! Not to mention that Hebron is a great place to stop for lunch or even just a dairy treat. At Dari. We drive by it every time we go to Lake Geneva, but I'm not sure we've ever stopped there. It was my lunch destination, and I enjoyed their $5 pork BBQ, fries and soda (choosing of course the classic, locally rescued soda Green River). A bit of conversation about the bike and the trip ... I would think folks in Hebron were more used to seeing touring cyclists going through on some GIT trek. I guess not. It was kind of funny, though ... everyone assumes - or maybe just hopes - that you are riding cross country. "Still," they basically say, "Wheaton to Galena, that's really something."
Lunch stop: 56.1 miles, 13.4mph average speed, 4 hours 5 minutes.
As I got ready to roll again, I asked the girl at the counter where I would find "HEB-ron" Road. She gave me this look like I was speaking another language. I thought, you know, the name of the town you live and work in?? Then, "oh, HEEB-ron" Road. Silly me, with my biblical pronunciation. I got the direction I needed, but it's a good thing I asked, because right there in town it isn't actually called Hebron Road, no matter how it is pronounced. It's actually Bigelow Ave. As with so many roads like this, the town name applies to the section that actually leads to, you know, the town. In town they often take another name.
Now, here I made a mistake. I would make it again on Friday. It is so basic, and I've done it enough to know better. Never leave town without completely filling all your water and sport drink bottles. I still had "plenty" - surely enough to get to the next town - so I took off with only one full Gatorade and a less-than-full Camelback.
Heading west on quiet country roads, the next segment divided into three 8-mile sections and a 7-mile jaunt. 8 Miles west, 1 mile north, 8 miles west on State Line Road (I guess it has one lane in Wisconsin and one in Illinois, so I think I did actually get some miles in WI). I somehow missed the sign for Burr Oak Road, though the cue sheet gave me ample information to look for it. So a mile farther on (as it turns out) when I saw Capron Rd., I took it south into Capron, where I hopped on the Long Prairie Trail and took that into Caledonia. By arriving in Capron, I think I missed a trail head, and I later thought that would have been another opportunity to re-hydrate. (I would come to see that we really can't count on anything of the sort on these trails.) Long Prairie Trail made me think, for some reason, of the Great Western Trail between St. Charles and Sycamore; if the GWT were paved.
By now the skies were glowering. Wind wasn't bad, and the temperatures were holding steady, but it was looking stormy, and I had plenty far to go, still. There were a few stray sprinkles but no organized opposition to a dry ride. At my arrival in Caledonia I had logged another 31+ miles. And here at a key juncture of this Trail, again, there was no water. Another thing I re-learned on this trip ... a lot of these small towns really don't have vending resources, either. So here I was with weather building, liquid refreshment dwindling, and a decision ahead of me.
Rock Cut State Park was not too many miles hence. I would get there with my daily miles at just under 100. Under ideal circumstances, I could continue through Rockford, cover maybe up to 30 more miles, and camp within striking distance of a day's ride into Galena. But these weren't ideal circumstances, and I had injudiciously left HEEBron without full liquid supplies.
So, I took the Rock Cut option, arriving there at about 4pm. The campground registration office seemed surprised to find a solo rider on a self-supported ride. Doesn't anyone follow the GIT?? But they had plenty of sites, and I settled into one across the road from the lakefront. No showers ... I have always been under the notion - now at last disproved - that all state parks had running water and showers. Here I was at 97+ miles and little chance of a good wash up. Oh well, I had my cook kit and soap. And the park has a little cafe open until 7. So I set up camp, cleaned up as best I could, then rode back around the park to the concessions area. But not before we had some precipitation. It was kind of strange. I don't know if these people were already preparing to leave, but I'd say 3 or 4 campsites dismantled and left when it began to rain lightly. That was really curious. Fair weather campers? Day-trippers? I don't know, but it did make for a nice quiet night in the campground!
Thursday's ride to camp: 97.1 miles, 13.8 mph, 7 hours 5 minutes.
After cycling to supper and back: 104.7 miles, 13.4, 7:44
And so, to bed after reviewing Hebrew vocab and listening to a "Wait, Wait" podcast. In the night, a loud CRACK, and there was a bit of a prolonged thunder storm. Never quite directly over the park, so it was more delightful than worrisome. Later in the night, I could hear the rain coming from behind me (whatever direction that was); you could hear the rain falling as it moved through the trees, then it would fall on the tent and move on. A lovely sound, and we so seldom actually see the rain-line. It is very comforting, somehow, to hear it. There was very little wind, barely discernable, and these showers moving through.
Later in the night, before dawn, a great horned owl sounding nearby. Oh, I love camping!