29 July 2006

Easy Does It

A long-overdue excursion, planned quickly for the only weekend that would work, resulted in 2 days of riding with Kathryn. The hottest weekend of riding I've ever done, I'm sure, but it has been a long time since I've logged miles with the kid. "Back in the day" she did the occasional day trip - I think our longest was 58 miles up by Walker, MN (near Big Rapids) during a family vacation at a friend's cabin. Before her hyperactive social life kicked in, Kathryn asked me "are there any girl bike racers?" Those were the days.

But this weekend were the days, too. Kathryn seemed to really want to do a camp and ride trip. It was typically easy to convince me! We agreed to ride on trails, and I thought the Hennepin Canal trail would be good. I'd been on part of it 4 years ago on a solo trip. And riding alongside water is always interesting. Traffic is not an issue, and there's generally some interesting wildlife.

We camped in Johnson-Sauk Trail State Park - a beautiful little state park with shady tent camping and clean shower buildings. The Park is about 20 miles from the Hennepin Canal visitors center. I would like to return to the park and actually spend time exploring there ... on foot. We did experience a unique feature of the park: a nice little restaurant with good meals and an affordable menu. Now, normally "camping" to me implies campfire or at least camp stove cooking. But Karen had convinced us that with the forecast heat, we might not want to hover over either stove or fire for supper. Well, we didn't need much convincing - it doesn't take much to get me to spend money on food. Or take life easy.

We arrived at the State Park by 9AM Friday, quickly found and set up a camp site, then changed into our cycling clothes and headed to Sheffield and the HC Visitors Center. Our ride on Friday was simple: head east to Bureau, the east end of the canal trail. We had trail snacks, PBJ sandwiches, gatorade and water. And by the time we rolled out (10:30AM) the temperature was nearly 90. Canals being what they are, the water doesn't move much, and it isn't very deep, so there was really no relief to speak of from the water. But there's plenty of shade along the towpath/bike trail, and every 2-3 miles a picnic table/firepit rest area (camp site), most with some shade.

We lingered at the 11 mile mark, half way to Bureau. We continued on the Bureau, where the trail unceremoniously ends, with a simple sign and a little bridge across the petered out canal into a scruffy park. Bureau itself is the closest to a ghost town of anything I've ridden a bike into, so we turned back to find a shady rest stop. You may notice that in describing these stops I left out an important feature. That's because none had it: "it" is water. Nice (clean, new, maintained) outhouses. Mowed grass. Access from both the trail and local roads. No Water. This would be a problem.

But before it was a problem, as we left this site, I realized my rear tire was low in air pressure. Like, slow leak low, and not something I could ignore. I'm happy to report that I had my quickest, most successful tire repair on this bike. (Perhaps some time I will detail my challenging relationship with tire repairs on my Trek 520.) So, with that minor inconvenience and major success behind us, we were back on the path. It wasn't long before Water because our major issue.

I thought I had brought plenty. 4 bottles on my bike, 2 in my bags, and 1 on Kathryn's bike. And, I was sure, there would be water at these camp sites. 4 years ago, I seemed to recall, when I spent the night at one of these canal-side sites, there was a water pump. But we found exactly none. And the canal, at least this leg of it, does not go through towns. Just ends in a ghost town. So we began to slow down, and ration water.

Slow down. Yes, the other thing about the canal is the series of locks through which barges moved. We rode out with the locks emptying to the east. Ummm, that meant we would ride ever so slightly but inexorably Uphill on our return. Notso bad, except that also happened to mean, on this particular Friday well in the 90's by now, riding into a subtle but persistent WSW wind.

Prudence and patience brought us back to the Visitors Center, where the kindly and informative Ranger noted that we did not look as fresh as when we had started, some 4+ hours earlier! OK, so we lingered a bit over the exhibits. And tried to drain the drinking fountain. And wondered if maybe we didn't need to use the air-conditioned bathroom just one more time. The only thing that got me out of there was Karen's voice in my head, "I will only ride if there's ice cream at the end."

"Kathryn, let's find a DQ!" So we did, by driving just a bit out of our way back to the camp ground. There we were thrilled to learn for ourselves just how clean and pleasant the shower building was. And after an hour or so of reading, we walked across the camping area to the charming restaurant overlooking the lake. A nice conclusion to a hot ride!

Day One: 44 miles, 3 hours 36 minutes riding time, 11.8 mph average speed. Not my greatest stats (by a long shot), but My Favorite Ride of the Year. Great blue herons, white egrets, a box turtle, and a care-free white-tailed doe. And there's nothing like riding with your kids, even (especially?) when they are 21!

Today we had a leisurely but early start, with a cold breakfast from the cooler. Then we filled the bottles with more gatorade and cold water from home (it had been our frozen jug in the ice chest). Today's ride was chosen by Kathryn. We learned that riding west on the canal trail, and returning east, would still mean we would end the ride "uphill." And that the feeder canal (it comes from the north and provides water that flows east to the Illinois River, west to the Mississippi) would take us uphill first, and down on the return. That seemed to be a no-brainer.

So we drove to the junction of the canals. And there was my camp site from 4 years before. And there, too, was the proof of my memory. There WAS a water pump at this location. Just at none of the others, I guess. (It was then I realized how providential was my night there 4 years ago. Another story.) Today it was already 90 when we began at 8:40AM. But we were well covered, and decided we didn't need to get as far as Rock Falls, the northern terminus of the feeder canal. (It takes its water from the Rock River.) But if we did go the distance, we would be in Rock Falls, a town which I know for sure is alive and has places to fill water bottles and buy doughnuts ... oh yeah, and gatorade.

OK, so this canal runs north and south. That gives two options for the tow path/bike trail: the east side or the west side of the canal. I'm sure it was a simple coin toss. The west side won, so we rode in full sunshine, longingly noting the extensive shade on the other side. The side which, if we were riding horses, we'd be on. Rarely did the west side trees hang over enough offer mid-morning shade. More rarely still were the east side trees tall enough to cast shade across the canal. Hot. And still. Still hot.

Aside from that, the feeder canal is much healthier looking and smelling, and there are quite a few homes along it, with little private docks and everything. It must make a nice ride to Rock Falls. Except that about half-way there, headed north, the surface turns from good solid gravel to soft sand/dirt, which made it very difficult and for me (with clip-in shoes and narrower, though not road, tires) dangerous. Well heck, it was hot anyway, and we'd decided to turn back at 15 miles, so we gave the last mile us for a loss, stopped in a shady area (the only rest area on this spur) and prepared to return. The irony of that is that it was at this point that the west side was becoming genuinely shady. Oh well! And the shade did make a big difference.

So after only 14 miles out, we turned back ... again, into the wind. But at least it was with the downward flow of the canal, so there was some comfort in that, even if we couldn't actually tell the difference unless we watched the water! But with a shorter trip, we at least had enough liquid to get us back to the car. Did I mention it was Hot?!?

Today's ride: 27 miles, 2 hours 27 minutes riding time, 11.8 mph average speed - interestingly, the same AVS as yesterday.

Back at the campground, we ate a sandwich and finished off some trail mix, drank some more o dat ice cold water from home, then packed and struck the tent. With our camp site cleared, we were off to the showers to drive home in clean attire and refreshed spirits. Oh yes, after a quick stop to pick up Culvers. I mean ... I don't eat to ride, I ride to eat!

It was a real treat to spend time with Kathryn, one-on-one. And I am glad to find that I do not require speed or distance to enjoy a ride. And glad to learn that even when "Easy does it," there is still some adventure in cycling!

21 July 2006

Calculation: a good thing

So I did my solo century ride, the day following my last post. (I've been busy, OK? It takes a while to find the time to write. I know, I know: write less and you can write more often. Got it.)

And thanks to that gmap.pedometer, my ride came in right on the money. Well, the charted route is something like 99 miles, and my odometer reading was 100.6. Chalk this up to: (a) my cycle computer being off by a tad; (b) the inevitable little detours -- for example, hitting the St. Charles Citgo mini-mart because I forgot to take edible fuel -- (c) both of the above?

Anyway, here's the link to my solo century loop, from home: http://www.gmap-pedometer.com/?r=286025

A couple of notes:
* Burr Road between Dean and Silver Glen is marked (in both directions): "cyclists caution next 2 miles." I've never been sure if that was a warning to drivers or cyclists ... but doing this on a Friday morning, I am now convinced. It is a warning to cyclists. Not really scary scary, but 2 pretty intense miles with no real shoulder. At least it has a nice even edge with a clear white line. But, golly!
* The little stretch of Sauber Road (mile 30) is gravel. No big deal, and it's short, but there it is.
* Co. Hwy. 56 (Ramm Road?) west of Co. Hwy. 1 9about mile 33.75) is dirt or very regularly very worn asphalt. I turned back to go down CH 1 to Old State Road.
* Old State Road, west of Co. Hwy. 1 is gravel. Or at least it was the day I rode. I stayed on the county road and went into Sycamore on the Great Western Trail. This kept me from having a day completely off trail. Also, when I got to the edge of Sycamore, Old State Road was beautiful new blacktop. Maybe they just hadn't gotten the whole way yet. I wouldn't rule it out another time.
* Bummer: the Sycamore bakery (my whole point of taking in Sycamore now and again) was closed for the week.
* After a Subway stop in Hinckley, things got a little touch and go with the route. Google map looks for all the world like one can make an easy connection out of town. Warning: one cannot. At least, I could not. Slater to Oak, no problem. But I sure couldn't make a connection south out of town from that intersection. Maybe I missed something. But it turned out just as well. As I'll explain shortly.
* I left Hinckley on Sandwich Rd., and as I passed Jericho Rd. I wondered if that wouldn't make sense to take. But my route was Bastian Road, so I soldiered on. For your information, Bastian Rd. is a dirt road, and so is Greenacre, which Bastian becomes. This intersects with Co. Hwy. 24 which is ... drumroll, please ... Jericho Rd.! A perfectly well made black top road. That would have been a nice alternate route, and one I will take next time. (By the way, it is not marked CH 24, just Jericho Rd. But that is not clear on Google maps.)
* My last bit of uncertainty. With those unexpected bits coming out of Hinckley, I was not very confident of my direction when I got to Granart Rd. Bear in mind, the sun was not out all day, and these roads do a little bit of turning. So my last panic was, "which way do I go?" I was in no shape to have to back-track, and that against the wind. So, anyway, I did make the correct turn (it's left, by the way); but didn't really know it was until I could see the buildings that I was sure marked the intersection I always see from the south, coming up Dugan Rd. From there, the ride was familiar (though backwards) from many a Saturday morning group ride.

So, there's a day made good by calculation. An old dog, a new trick.

09 July 2006

Don't Estimate, Calculate!

I was recently out for a solo day trip. Well, it was to have been a day trip - a solo century. But with one thing and another, the ride started later than I would have hoped, and I had something I had to be back for. And not just present, but pleasant, so my loop had to be shortened.

Now, here's the problem: I planned the route, but I did not calculate the miles. So when I shortened it, I had really no clear idea how many fewer miles it would be. Let's say ... 15? Sure, that sounds good. It will be an 85-mile ride on a beautiful quiet Saturday morning. At mile 80, when I was still well over 10 miles from home, I was losing steam and worried about the clock. Then a couple from ABD rolled up beside me on a tandem. They lifted my spirits with conversation, and they pulled me a bit, too, into the wind; so that the last 13 miles were among the most enjoyable of a long ride. A good ending to a poorly planned trip. "Don't estimate, calculate!"

Which puts me in mind of last summer's most awesome adventure.

Son Andrew was working in Champaign, IL, instead of being home for the summer. Well, it seemed to me the perfect opportunity - I would ride solo on a Friday, Karen would drive down after work, we would meet at about the same time and have dinner with Andrew, then drive back. Pick a date, check the weather, make a plan. Use Google maps to chart the course. Stock up on all that is needed for a long (but not overnight) trip. Then "casually" mention it to potentially interested others. Or work it into conversations: 'oh, sorry, can't ... I'll be cycling to Champaign that day.' 'Thanks, no, I'll be recovering from a ride to Champaign the day before.' That sort of thing. A common response, of course, was 'How far is that?' But some replied, 'That must be 130 miles!' To which I replied, 'Yeah, I think so. But I've done farther in a day.' (My farthest ride previously had been 135. But that's another Awesome Adventure.)

You know, Google maps is great. Great for navigating and planning. But for figuring out distances? I don't have time for that on-screen. Yeah, that looks like about 2 inches, so it must be about x miles. So I blythely set out for a pleasant, long, pleasantly long day trip from Winfield to Champaign, Illinois. It was an August Friday, during a very welcome break in that hot summer's weather: low 80s predicted in Winfield and in Champaign; light winds out of the northwest (in other words, practically blowing me to my destination). What could be finer?

Of course, the start time was relaxed to begin with, but I did leave later than I had hoped. This always happens. Some of that is trying to be a family man. Some of it is practical: do I really want to be on any street or road in the greater Chicagoland area while most people are driving to work? But hey, I had the whole day ahead of me, a pocket full of Google map snippets and route cues. I had a handlebar bag full of goodies, munchies, and liquids, a few bucks in my wallet, and a pleasant sunny day to ride.

First hitch: Google maps does not know that this one road does not in fact cross the Illinois River east of Morris. In fact, one must go either east to Minooka, or west to Morris, to get a bridge across (apparently equidistant options; and thank God that I also had an Illinois road map with me!), then ride back to pick up the route because of course one doesn't want to ride numbered highways any more than necessary.

Second hitch: Golly, the low 80s feels a lot warmer than you'd think after about 85 miles of riding without shade. But there is a shade tree, and lunch must be pretty close at hand. That was in Gardner, where the nice folks in the Casey's General Store were pretty gol darned amazed that someone would ride so far in a single day. If they only knew ...

Third hitch: Remember that I "estimated" the trip to be "about 130 miles?" Well at exactly 130 miles I was chased by a large, friendly, determined, did I say large German Shepherd farm dog. You can tell a dog's intentions and character. Earlier in the summer I had been chased (near Bloomington, IL) by a rather angry dog whom had he caught me I think might have ended my cycling for the summer or for life. But this good old boy (did I mention he was BIG?) was of a different sort. Still, I did not want to be caught, and he eventually gave up. That was mile 130 ... and I realized I had no idea how many more miles - nor how many more dogs - were to come. And if dogs, could I outrace them? Sure, I now had boat loads of adrenalin, but ...

I had my maps and my cue sheets, and they brought me into Champaign. I had my timing, and if the trip had been "only 130 miles" I would have come in early. When I finally saw a sign indicating miles to Champaign, I called Andrew to say when I thought I'd be there. And good news, Karen was not yet there, so I wasn't technically going to be late! [By the way, cell phones are the greatest new technology to accompany bicycling. GPS? OK, but unless it also has OnStar, what good will that do me?] And so I slogged my way into Champaign - 140 miles, 150 miles, 160 miles - until meeting Andrew and Karen at the Newman Foundation Center Housing. 161.5 miles. A new personal best, and I only felt like beef jerky.

Those last 30 miles had produced exactly one (1) place to replenish fuel: a vending machine with bottled water! (Only later did I realize it would have been not only OK, but clever, to drink a Coke, then the water, and not just water.) But I filled up my water bottle at Andrew's dorm room sink. I lingered in the dorm shower. I drank some more water. I dressed and we loaded the bike on the car and drove to the Olive Garden. I had been fantasizing about the Olive Garden during the last 40 or more miles, back when I thought it might be the last 10 or so miles. We had to wait, of course, and at our request they brought me a big tall glass of ice water. Mmm, that was good. Then another when we were seated, ordering, and waiting. While waiting, I excused myself to the washroom. When the salad came I poked at it. (I normally devour those things.) By the time the main dish came I was shaking so badly my chest hurt. Oh oh, something not quite right here. Even I could figure that out.

Andrew went to ask directions to an ER or urgent care center. [Humorous side note: the hostess was worried the food had made me sick. Hmmm ... ] They packaged up our meals - nice way to wreck dinner, Dad! - and found a place to take me in. Man, that ER blanket they wrapped me in was comfortable and warm. And everyone there was so nice. And no, I did not need medicine or any kind of physical treatment. I was dehydrated, but not severely so. The prescription: stop and buy a large bottle of Gatorade, then go home to bed. Oh, and by the way, spend the next 4 months dealing with ER insurance matters and this whole trip just cost about $200. And while you're at it, try to get Karen to feel real comfortable about me taking a long solo bike trip of any kind for the next 10 years.

So, the moral of the story is the title of the story: don't estimate, calculate! Of course if I had, I would not have even begun the daytrip. And I wouldn't have a great story to tell on myself. Now it goes something like this: 'My longest day trip? 160 miles. It ended in the emergency room.'

Tomorrow I hope to do a solo century ride on a vacation Monday. Thanks to Gmaps pedometer ( http://www.gmap-pedometer.com) I have mapped a loop that is supposed to be exactly 99 miles from and to my home. Given my track record, it shouldn't be more than ... oh, say, 116!