The plan is simple: one century per month, with daughter Kathryn, each month of summer. We have loosely defined summer to include May, and September/October are not out of the question - just more difficult to pull off.
So off we were on Saturday, May 30, 6:30am. Kathryn came out on the Metra, with her bike - maybe one of the last easy weekends to do that this summer. The train arrived just after sunset, and we rode the 3 miles home in the gloaming, headlights gleaming. Early to bed and early to rise: we hoped to be on the road no later than 7, and agreed 6:30 was a good goal to shoot for.
No one really sleeps in in this house, so we were up plenty early. Excitement and pre-ride jitters probably helped.A light breakfast, and checking our day bags, and loading up our fuel supplies ... because it's all about the food! The "monster cookies" Karen sent along secured her position as the world's greatest soigneur.
The plan and the route were very simple: 50 miles out, turn around; stay on path/trail and marked bike route. I've ridden this route quite a few times, maybe twice with someone else. It would take us, in fact, through the disaster section of last year's Bike Trip, Interrupted.
We hit the road at 6:30 exactly, on a pleasant morning in a day that was forecast to reach the low 80's. We would have sunshine, and not too much wind. We were on our way before the Illinois Prairie Path, Elgin spur, got too busy, though we would see quite a few runners before we reached the Fox River Trail in Elgin. North of Elgin, we came upon a run in support of World Relief, which was fun to see with so many people out for a good cause and enjoying themselves, everyone in groups.
Our first break was in East Dundee, just shy of 20 miles. Average speed, 13.7mph. (This would be our average speed of record for every stop throughout the day, except our last!) There used to be a really good bakery in East Dundee, which was closed under what seemed to me to be suspicious circumstances. So that gave me the chance to finally stop in at a path-side cafe, where we had some really good muffins. This is obviously a favorite with cyclists, as small groups came and went while we were there, and I'm pretty sure for some of them it had been their destination!
Next stop was to be, and was, the roadside park in Crystal Lake. This is a long, thin, winding garden, really, parallel IL rte 25 at the south end of Crystal Lake. Water, flush toilets, and a gazebo with picnic table make this a stop for me every time I ride this section of path. We re-filled our bottles with fresh cold water, broke open some snack or other, and soon got back on our way. Though this is only about 10 miles beyond East Dundee, it really is worth stopping here. Because just north of town is the most challenging - and the most fun - segment of the trip.
Stearns Woods Park is bowl-shaped with spectacular downhills to the center. Which means, of course, that whether traveling north or south, you will always go uphill to leave the park! On a ride like ours, we got to ride the bowl twice ... "uphill both ways!" Beyond the park, the path runs along railroad tracks still in use, though I don't think I have ever seen a train when I've ridden this stretch. Through McHenry and continuing on north, the beautiful black-top finally gives out at the little spot on the map, Ringwood, IL.
The next section is Dantean: "abandon hope, all ye who enter here." It is along this stretch that Tom and I had our spill last June. It was good to see that this trail has been repaired, though it has hardly been brought up to even basic standards. Where the IPP and other trails are crushed limestone, graded and packed on a regular basis, this segment is primarily gravel and (our nemesis) quite sandy. As in beach sand. But we found it much more navigable than I experienced 11 months earlier.
The odometer was now pushing above 45 miles, and it was time to decide how we were going to decide our point of return. Richmond, IL, is just shy of 50 miles, but has good lunch options, and shade, and we could make up (round out) the 100 miles by adding a loop closer to home. Or we could ride to the WI border, and also again round out the difference. Kathryn wanted to go 50, then turn around. So we pressed on north of Richmond, as the path became less tended, and at the state line is more like a double-track trail. But it is clear, and is obviously ridden quite a bit. So we pressed on a very short distance until this dumped us out between back yards in Genoa City, WI. We continued to follow the streets and exactly at mile 50 found ourselves at a downtown intersection. Water bottle toasts all around, and we headed back to Richmond for some lunch.
It was an early lunch, barely 11am. But I think Subway is always timely, on a bike. We got sandwiches, ate in the air conditioned room, used the washrooms, refilled our water bottles with ice cold fountain water, and headed home. It was already well above 80, and would reach 90+ before we got much farther. My bike computer has a thermometer, which I do not begin to imagine is very accurate. But on an asphalt, unshaded section of the return, it did register 104. Yikes! Even subtract 10, and it was plenty warm. But much of the path is canopied by beautiful trees, providing day-long shade, so we had plenty of real relief along the way.
Return trip stops mirrored our way out. Why change up a good thing? We re-hydrated again in Crystal Lake, and 10 miles later, in East Dundee, stopped again. This time for DQ Blizzards. Never was a treat so much anticipated, and yet so hard to finish. I was feeling the effects of the heat. Not to mention that prior to this ride my seasonal miles were a mere 412. I would be adding almost 25% to my seasonal totals. Or, to see it another way, by the end of the day, I would have ridden 20% of my seasonal total. This was way behind where I would normally be on Memorial Day weekend. I have hit 1,000 miles at this point, for several years. But no matter, I was having a great ride with Kathryn.
We checked in with Karen to let her know - we are 20 miles out, and probably 1.5 hours from home. The ride isn't hard, but these were not easy miles for me.We did get home at roughly the time we told Karen, 9 hours and 10 minutes after leaving, with 7 hours and 23 minutes of actual pedaling time. It was Kathryn's first century ever, and far and away my longest ride of the year. A milestone in our riding together, and a stake in the ground for each of us as we look to the summer for cycling.
Next up in our Century Series: a Friday trip, point-to-point, with Karen joining us and the three of us having dinner, then driving back. That will be fun to plan, and I hope fun to ride. We're thinking getting farther into Wisconsin with this one, probably through Lake Geneva. That ride would be much the same, in fact identical for 50 miles. But, we shall see. Onward!