The sleeping at Lowden State Park, Oregon, IL, isn't great. The campground I landed in is literally road-side, and that road is surprisingly busy, all night long. What keeps people moving through Oregon in the wee hours, anyway? Is there some sort of Byron-Oregon axis, or is it just the proximity of IL rte 64? Add to the traffic noise the strange midnight "search-and-rescue" ballyhooing somehwere in the woods, and the general (though, to me, pleasant) discomfort of sleeping on the ground, and this was not an ideal night's rest. But it followed a hot shower, and it was the eve of my return home. Both very good things.
There is some sort of statue in Lowden, the signs for which I noted upon my arrival and during my evening constitutional. My plan to swing by it and get a photo changed when, just as I pushed off, it started to sprinkle. Score - I packed up dry. But with the appearance of a long light soaking rain, I forewent the statue and headed home.
My friend Jeremy is a great trip photographer. I wish I were more relaxed, and stopped more to do this. I'll post the few pics I did take, but I regret many I didn't. Maybe I would have taken a picture of the statue - I don't even know what it is, the signs just say "statue." I do know I should have taken a picture in Rockford, on the western edge on Cunningham St., of the sign and lawn of "Mount Goshen Full Gospel Baptist Church" - it sounds like an interesting merger, doesn't it? And adaptable to its neighborhood? Culturally apt? In this apparently Hispanic section, the Mount Goshen Full Gospel Baptist Church has not one, but two statues of the Virgin Mary. Awesome. I should have stopped on my way out of Rock Cut State Park for a breath-taking view of the Creek bend right on the park's border. And on and on. Oh well.
My ride home on Saturday was entirely on roads and paths that I have been on at least once. The Saturday morning group has been out Oregon way at least once, and I think it must be twice. I remember a high-speed roll down River Road from Lowden into Oregon; and it almost has to be another time that Jim and I stopped to check our location with Jim's phone, to be sure that this was Brick Road. Anyway, the IL bike map was an excellent aid to my memory, a constant check on my assumptions, and a confidence booster as I made my way into Sycamore.
Sycamore is a twice-yearly destination for me along the Great Western Trail. I'm not so much a fan of Path riding anymore. But I like to get out that way for the singular pleasure of the local bakery. From home this is a 65-mile rount-trip. So, whatever my mileage would be today, from Sycamore I'd be 32 or so from home. Sweet.
Yesterday's wind hadn't really changed. But today that moderate SW wind did wonders for my spirit and my pace. From Oregon to Winfield the route is almost due east, so there were very few miles riding south. And long, long stretches of straight east roads: Brick Road, Lindenwood (this road goes on forever), Old State into Sycamore. I arrived at my long anticipated bakery stop in 36.8 miles, 2 hours, 26 minutes, with an average speed of 14.9mph! (Funny how exciting that is. Most guys I ride with don't get this, I think. Sure, I enjoy the push and challenge of the group road rides. And when I'm alone and load-free, a 15mph ride is not very satisfying. But I still find my greatest cycling pleasure on a loaded bike, even if I don't quite reach 15mph averages!)
Elleson's. It is a classic small-town bakery. Loaves of bread, a good selection of donuts, muffins and other sweeties. Average coffee. Juice in small bottles. I don't know, it's just a bit of my childhood, I guess. (I have a century road route, a loop from my house, on which Elleson's figures prominently.) I dragged my sorry sweaty self to the counter and got a muffin and a donut, and a cup of coffee. In deference to the seated customers, I went back outside and sat at a small table to enjoy this self-indulgence under the canopy, out of the just-emerging sunshine.
The way out of Sycamore goes through a great city park on the east side of town. The bike path winds around the golf course, through a picnic and games area, and past soccer fields. My plan - this is fool proof - was to fill up my bottles and Camelback at my tried and true Sycamore pit stop. Ha! The one time this trip I would get it right ... the toilets are still there, but the sinks have been removed. I found this truly ironic, after 2 days of failing to keep my hydration supplies current. Oh well ... it is a mere 18 miles on the Great Western Trail, into St. Charles at Leroy Oakes Park, with its water supply. I would be OK.
There is a lot to like about the GWT. It is in pretty good shape, it goes through a few small towns, it parallels Rte 64/North Avenue and there are long stretches of that road with good wide shoulders, so there's an option if you need it. Much of it is shaded, and there are plenty of trail-side tables for the casual trail user. A section of trail, running through the tiny burgh of Lily Lake, is paved. I've never ridden these 18 miles in anywhere close to an hour, which would frustrate me if it were a road ride. It is a pleasant diversionary ride. And, as I found on Day One, this ride was actually more comfortable with a loaded bike. Interesting.
At Leroy Oakes Park - water! and a pit stop. A little sit-down and a final fuelling. Mileage to here: 57.4, at 14.8mph (not a bad drop, considering I had moved from paved roads to a crushed rock trail), in 3 hours, 51 minutes. The route from here takes me through St. Charles to the Fox River Trail, to the Geneva Spur of the Illinois Prairie Path. The spur goes through West Chicago to my home intersection, but I chose instead to take streets around the north side of town, cross IL rte 59 at Hawthorne, to Indian Knoll and Geneva Rd. From Indian Knoll to the Prairie Trail Center is the final sprint of ABD's Monday night club ride. Muscle memory kicked in - well, and the proverbial horse had long been smelling the barn - and somehow I still had enough energy to bring this load above 20mph (OK, sure, the westerly wind did help, too!). A quick stop at Prairie Path Cycles - the awesomest bike shop ever - well, honestly, just to be seen.
I rolled into my drive at 2pm, the end of a 72.3 mile day, 4 hours, 56 minutes of cycling, with the daily average speed 14.6mph. My Karen was out ... well, and it was a Saturday, after all ... so no homecoming photo. A quiet solo ending to a successful solo trip.
Photos and other observations follow.