21 July 2009

Bike Trip, Intercepted

Long overdue to tell "the rest of the story" ...

So, after Tom got off in an ambulance, I rode into Richmond, downed a 12-inch Subway, then turned around and headed home by the same route. It was a beautiful day, though hot hot hot, and the wind was out of my sails, so to speak. And I had plenty of time - all afternoon, in fact - to get home.

I got off the bike and into the shade at that road-side/path-straddling park in Crystal Lake. Ate (of course!) and refilled all my water supply: 2 bottles and a Camelback. Next stop - DQ! We must set goals.

When I rolled back on to the Prairie Path, Elgin Spur, the final leg of my sober ride home, I saw just a little way ahead of me, a fellow on a fully-loaded touring bike. I mean "fully loaded." Rear and front panniers, handlebar bag, tenting gear, the works. He had obviously seen me as well, with his mirror, and pulled over to greet me.

"Taro" (his real name) is a student at one of the SUNY campuses, north of NYC. He will graduate in December, and had planned his U.S. adventure for the summer before his final semester. About 5 weeks before I met him on the IPP, he had flown his bike and gear from NY to LA, and was riding cross country back to his campus! That morning he had left Rockford, IL.

It made my day, and my little annual trips, kind of inconsequential - the ride parts, not the accident that preceded this accidental encounter. And I have dreamt of a cross-continent ride all my adult life. So this was fun, to chat up someone who was livin the dream, and still smiling!

Taro was riding through Chicago so he could stay over a few days with a Japanese friend who lives on the north side. It was now around 4:00 or so.
"Are you planning to ride into the city today?"
"No, I will ride in tomorrow."
"Where will you stay tonight?"
Wheaton?? No one just stays in Wheaton!
"Oh, do you have a friend, or know someone in Wheaton?"
"Umm ... do you have plans for a place to stay?"
In case the reader does not know ... there is no place in Wheaton to rent a room, and no camp ground.
"Well, would you like to stay with my wife and me - in Wheaton?"

And so it was that Taro arrived at our home (OK, technically we are in Winfield). It was a kick to be able to offer him supper, a shower, a good bed, the chance to do laundry, internet access. Throwing together a vegetarian (but not vegan) dinner was a creative adjustment on Karen's part, but that was awfully good too at the end of this strange day.

After supper Taro had to work out his trip into Chicago. Well, I've done this a couple of times on the bike, and the Grand Illinois Trail actually makes it a fairly clear proposition from the IPP. And since I already had the next day (Thursday) off from work, I volunteered to ride into the city with him. He eagerly accepted, and we sorted out our departure time before going to bed.

Oh yes, but first he wondered how he was going to ride east out of Chicago. And there, I could be no help to him at all. I tried to help him navigate where he might want to ride into Indiana, and ride through the western/urban part of that state. But it was all a guess as to where he would have good roads and safe traffic. (Like, nowhere??) In the end we agreed that his days at his friend's apartment would provide time to work this out.

Turns out much of his trip was like that. He got advice from people, he went online to find maps, read blogs, etc. He had "a plan" but not all the particulars. And that seemed kind of fun, too!

After breakfast and after Karen got off to work, Taro and I headed into Chicago. the GIT has a good cue sheet with directions from Maywood (the eastern terminus of the IPP) to the lakefront. And the streets along this route have the GIT logo marker. The primary east-west street, Augusta, begins in River Forest (at least, that's where you get on it on this route) and is a straight line east through Oak Park and the west side of Chicago, ending at Milwaukee Ave. Primarily residential (with all that means when you think about the neighborhoods it goes through!), it is a safe route and people are obviously accustomed to seeing cyclists on it.

I called my daughter, who had just got her own new bike, and she met us at Augusta and Damen. I introduced her to Taro, we three chatted a bit, then we said goodbye. Taro rode north on that excellent Damen Ave. bike lane, which would take him all the way to Irving Park Rd., to within a block of his friend's. Kathryn and I rode on into downtown and met brother/son Pat for lunch. Later I boarded the Metra train with my bike ... and ended my interrupted cycling weekend back in Wheaton, riding home on the Prairie Path.

End of story.

Except - I was pleased to see on Sunday night, that Taro had actually taken the time to "friend" me on Facebook. I had asked him to do so so we could track the rest of his trip. But then imagine my alarm when I saw his first status: "OMG My bike is stolen!!" We were frantic. Was Taro still in Chicago, with his friend? Or was he stuck somewhere in Indiana? For someone in transit (without an iPhone), Facebook is not a quick form of communication. It was 2 or 3 days before we learned that he was still in Chicago, that he was able to buy a new bike, and was going to continue his trip. The last I heard, Taro was in Ohio, had a plan to arrive in Albany, NY and see friends. And may be back in his university town now, for all I know.

One final note about Taro. He had planned, before this trip, to return to Japan for graduate study. But he said, he is reconsidering. He said so many people on this cycling trip had been so kind to him; he was thinking that he would like to find work, and be someone who could extend - pass on - that kindness to others. Isn't that interesting? Well done, America!


Brizo Brown said...

What a great story! Angels unwares, no? So how exactly did you break the news to Karen that Tom was in the hospital while you were bringing home a Taro?

Brian W.

Chuck King said...

To my discredit, perhaps, I offered the home right away - in South Elgin at Rte 25 - but didn't think to call Karen until a few miles later - in Wayne at Army Trail Road :~)
To her credit, she never even gave it a second thought!
Our primary concern was that the offer was made without what has become our standard qualifier: "as long as you don't mind a dog." Happily, Taro didn't, and it was clear he enjoyed our "Truman".