27 August 2008

On the road again (finally!)

It has been far too many years since I loaded up the Trek 520 for a multi-day trip. Each summer it is a dream, even if not an actual goal, and for years I breathe a disappointed sigh about now and count my regrets. Generally the summers begin with my Karen encouraging me to take the time for it. One thing and another, perhaps a little caution with age, and of course the memory of my last attempt a few years ago ... when I bonked just outside of Hebron, IL, not quite near the end of my first day. Rescued by my Karen, without recrimination or questions, it has taken me a while to get back on this horse.

But this was the year for it. Again, the late spring agreement that I just need to plug this in some where. Again, one thing and another taking a day here, a day there, complicating this or that weekend. Two weekends ago, August 14-16, was perfect for a trip: temps in the 70s, low humidity, no rain. What a sweet getaway weekend.

But I went this past weekend, August 21-23. Meh, it was when I could, really. And you know, getting away is the main thing, not getting away under perfect conditions. Daily temps were mid-80s, each day had a little light spritzy sprinkle in it, parts of each day were overcast, one night had a thunderstorm (which in my view makes it an ideal trip, but that's for later), the wind was a significant factor, and while it wasn't what we can have for late August temperatures in norhtern Illinois, we did have seasonal humidity. Oh yeah, it was as good a trip as I could hope for.

I didn't go the earlier week because I just couldn't get myself prepared early enough. At work, nor in terms of the gear and trip planning. And that was the problem the last time I set out fully laden for a 3-day trip. I got at it with too short a prep period, left too late in the morning, pressed too hard to make my first day destination, and bonked. Really, bonked. Weaving down the road, buckled knees off the bike, dizzy vision, and inability to get enough hydration for a normal recovery. It was just short of a total KO. So, I was not about to jump at a surprise clearing for a perfect weekend. Better to wait and plan with what I can control, and take my chances with what I can't.

I completed my purchases on Monday. I packed my bags on Tuesday. On Wednesday I loaded the bike and rode to work on the Prairie Path for my shakedown cruise. Surprisingly, nary a rattle or a slip. It was the tightest and cleanest pack ever. Was this a good sign or the precursor of trouble on the road? Only time would tell. The main thing was that with everything else done, I could actually get to bed at a decent hour the night before leaving. Note that I am not saying I got a good night's sleep ... but I did get to bed at a decent hour. There was still the night-time appraisal of what I had packed, the questions about what I may have forgotten, and of course the exciting pre-trip jitters.

The route itself was not decided until Wednesday night. I had 3 days, I wanted to cover at least 250 miles, and ideally I wanted to complete the trip by riding into my own driveway on my own power. My Karen was willing to pick me up anywhere ... even if I didn't bonk! But it is much more fun to arrive at home on the wheels that I rode out on.

I consulted with two long-distance riding friends. Jonny B. is a Saturday ride pal, a true Randonneur stud. He had an amazing adventure with the Great Lakes 400k ride in early June: tornado warnings, Lake Delavan washouts, and all. He sent me a great loop option (essentially that 400k route), but I couldn't have done the whole trip from and back to my place. Oh well, maybe another time. Jeremy is a cycle tourist cum Randonneur, and he had a 250-mile loop from his house in Winfield, which he wrote up back in 2006. His cue sheets were excellent and detailed. Ultimately, though, I decided to take a stab at completing the Grand Illinois Trail segments which were still taunting me from an excellent ride taken when my Trek and I were both much younger. That would mean working from some pretty reliable cue sheets available online, spending at least part of my first day in familiar territory, a day-one goal of getting past Hebron without bonking, and heading out to Galena, in northwestern Illinois.

7am was my departure goal, but my 7:40 start was satisfactory. It was a nice morning, and I had 90-some miles to cover, with 12 hours of daylight still ahead of me. So, with a well prepared bike, a light breakfast in me, about 30 pounds of gear on the bike, 3 bottles of sport drink and my Camelback filled with water, I was back on the road again (finally!).

My gear:
  • back-packing tent with ground cloth; sleeping pad (the kind that sort of inflates a little bit when it unrolls), a sheet
  • cycling clothes for successive days, along with chamois butter (my first time using this derriere protecting creme) and chafing cream (no, that is not for cooking fancy dishes)
  • when I get to a campground, I like to shower (or swim if I can) and get into a loose, shorts-like swim suit and a tee-shirt; then into boxers for sleeping. This way I can travel light and not have the same sweaty clothes on all the time or every day.
  • a camp cook kit, pared down for one for 2 nights. As it turns out, this was unnecessary because I didn't bring anything to cook and never really saw the kind of place I could pick up the kind of thing I would cook - for example those pasta packaged meals. So I could have left these few items home, along with the plate, fork, spoon, cup, dish towel and cloth. I love cooking at night while camping, but I guess on a 3-day trip that is a bit much.
  • Fuel, so I wouldn't have to stop to buy sport drink or bars. I made trail mix (again, a lot more than I ended up eating), packed granola bars (also brought some of these home), and packets of powdered Gatorade (twice as many as I used). "Be prepared" and "better safe than sorry" are lifelong family mottos, I guess.
  • Cue sheets and maps of the northern leg of the GIT, and one region of the Illinois DOT cycling maps. A moleskin notebook and pen, by smallest Bible, mynano iPod so I could catch up on "Wait, Wait, Don't Tell Me!"
  • Cycling emergency material - basically the stuff I ride with all the time, plus an extra tube. And more bike lock than I needed for this particular trip. The only problem with that is the weight of a Kryptonite U-lock with a separate cable. For this trip, I could have used the cute, short, light cable I bought and used in England 4 years ago, for a bike no one would have ever considered stealing. For this trip, I was always on or near the bike, except in the state park campgrounds. Really it would have been quite safe even without a lock. (But then, those would have been famous last words.)
  • Oh, and my Hebrew vocab cards ...
  • Not to mention enthusiasm and chutzpah!

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