13 October 2008

Hollow Man

With apologies to a serious poem:
"this is the way the [season] ends - not with a bang, but a whimper" (T. S. Eliot)

That's how I'm feeling about a premature steep decline in riding days, miles, and energy. A good ride on Labor Day was followed by a decent first Saturday in September. At this time of year, it seems like it's Saturday or no day, and the next Saturday was Chicago's monsoon season. The following 2 Saturdays found me at work for the better part of the morning. (OK, make that the longer part of the morning ...) - on beautiful days, one of which included a near-century ride with the boys.

The Saturday morning ride crowd are a welcoming, encouraging bunch, and a heck of a lot of fun to ride with. If I miss this ride, I haven't had a proper week of cycling. And if I get that ride in, I usually feel that the week has gone well ... even if it is the only ride of the week. So, to miss 2 in a row is rough.

On the last day of September I got home early enough one afternoon to put in about 45 minutes of laps in the neighborhood. It had been 3 weeks and 3 days completely off the bike. Bummer. That next Saturday, October 4, I coined my fall cycling slogan: "Every ride an exercise in humility."

In reality, though, thinking back to August, my last 2 rides found me drifting off the back of the pack. I have never hung on in sprints, and now I was losing it even on elevations that hardly qualify as hills. I could catch up in time, so at the time I didn't really think much of it. But coming back after a disappointing time off the bike, well it is downright discouraging. Every ride an exercise in humility.

The other day, when it coulda shoulda been a perfect fall 80-miler, I had to let the group go on and I turned back at mile 30. Looping back and taking a leisurely pace (which a couple of years ago would have been totally satisfying) I still got in 64 miles. For which, I do want to be - and, really, I am - thankful. But where is that energy?

And lest the group be misunderstood - my Saturday morning guys do not drop riders. If I had tried to keep going, they would have modified the pace for me. Maybe I would have recovered. It was exhilirating while it lasted. But it sure felt like I missed the Wheaties they all had that morning. I dropped out so no one would have to sacrifice a glorious outing.

Don't mean to whine. I just guess I'm ready for another round of ABD's Boot Camp, which starts up in a couple of weeks. Just in time? I guess so.

05 September 2008

Bits and Pieces, Random Facts and Photos

A few pictures from my 3-day trip. And some boring trivia to boot.
I find myself slipping into my adult children's post-modernism, with a weakening ability to tell a coherent sequential narrative. And a bike trip is nothing if not sequential, and dangerous if not coherent. But maybe the enjoyment of it is dependent upon neither adjective.

Day One
Here I am, ready to roll. I have gone several summers without a trip.
This is the right thing to do with my life ...

Route: Illinois Prairie Path from my intersection, Elgin Branch to the Fox River. Fox River Trail north through Elgin.

I have wondered about this structure for all the years I've ridden the Fox River Trail. It is on the north side of Elgin, along the river. Someone has spruced it up. If only the rest of the property supported the fantasy of this tower!

Route: continuing up the FRT into McHenry County, the trail progresses without interruption through Dundee and Carpentersville into Algonquin.

Crossing the river in Algonquin, IL. This has been the turn-around point on my annual Easter Monday solo half-century. For years, the day after Easter was my first long ride of the season. This is 25 miles from my house.

The trail goes through Crystal Lake, McHenry, and on to Richmond. IL Rte 173 west into Hebron. Bigelow Ave. in Hebron is Hebron Rd, west to Gasch and then State Line Rd. I turned south on Capron Rd. into the town of Capron where I picked up the Long Prairie Trail, nicely paved into Caledonia. Main Street Caledonia to Caledonia Rd., Kelley, Main, Argyle=Harlem to the entrance of Rock Cut State Park.

My campsite at Rock Cut State Park. What? There was nothing worth photographing, no photo ops, for 75 miles?

The view from my tent. When I arrived, all the spaces across the road were occupied. When a light rain began, they all packed up and left. Curious.

Day Two

The route: Leaving the Park on Willow Creek Trail takes one to Harlem High School at Gladys St. Continue west to Crystal, Frontage Rd (rte 251), Roosevelt/Machesney, Victory and pick up the Bauer Parkway Trail and bridge over the Rock River.

The path through Rockford provides several crossings of the Rock River. This is a classic Jeremy Taylor shot: the Trek 520, on a bridge, above a river. You can tell it's not Jeremy's bike, due to the lack of front panniers.
I didn't know there is a toll bridge in Rockford; happily the bike route is free!

Continuing on the Trail to the Sportcore, the Rock River Recreational Path winds through a large park, along the Rock and up to street level at Riverside Bridge.

I should have stopped to take a picture of this bridge while I was on it (a la Jeremy), if only to better show how beautiful it was. Nice wide planked crossing with beautiful large flower baskets. This shot is looking back at it. Too late to do it justice, though maybe in full sun it would have been splendid.

I finally managed to navigate downtown (confession: the cue sheets are clearer about this section than I gave them credit for. Having now ridden it, I see what they mean. But at the time, I just wasn't getting it.)
The Guardians of Rockford. An awesome public sculpture, and maybe the coolest thing I saw - man made or natural - on the entire trip. Sure, some would have stopped to take pictures from various angles, etc. ...

Through western Rockford via Winnebago St. bridge and Cunningham St = Cunningham Rd.
For future reference, don't even bother trying to find the trailhead to ...
the now-infamous Pecatonica Path - my first view of it. Or rather, the first time I saw it and knew what it was. I may have seen its trailhead, a small field of mown grass leading to what looks like a deer path. According to the GIT cue sheets, that really must have been the trailhead. This is the first road crossing to the west. It's pretty cool, but definitely not for a touring bike, with or without gear. Single track, I'll grant that. The most amazing part of the short ride? (I was still so stubborn about the cue sheets that I thought, well maybe it will get better. Duh.) The most amazing part was the vast number of finches that scared up as I went about 100 yards down here. I love goldfinches - they are my "good cycling omen" bird (don't tell my theolgian friends I said that) . And when I got back to the road I was covered in pollen. That was interesting, too.

The route was aided by the excellent Illinois DOT bike maps, which guided me to and through Winnebago and Pecatonica and on into Freeport. South out of Freeport on Baileyville Rd., east on whatever is the name of the road that intersects at the town of Baileyville.

I don't know what town these stacks are in. At this point I am south and east of Freeport, the sun is shining. The wind (unseen but not unknown) is evidenced in the plumes. My caption on the photo, "this can't be good." Here I am finally headed east, on the road that intersects Baileyville Rd. at Baileyville. But before Co Rd 9 into Leaf River, toward Oregon. The next day, between Oregon and Sycamore, I would see these behemoths again. Yeah, I agree. I'd rather see the Rock Guardians.

Day Three
My campsite in Lowden State Park, Oregon. This trip, not such scenic campsites. Now, if this were a video clip with audio, it would be much more telling.

Route home: Daisyville Rd to Brick Road. Brick has a steep climb up away from the river, and rolls eastward for quite a way.

And it really IS a Brick Road. Or at least, it used to be. In this section, they have maintained, preserved, or restored the brick in homage to the past. I don't know, maybe the county was tired of answering the question. But it is pretty cool. I noticed that here cars heading west into the intersection experience this stretch of brick as a rumble strip. A little kinder and gentler than the usual.

Brick to Co Rd 4 past Payne's Point to Lindenwood Rd. Lindenwood stretches even longer eastward. I was on it a long, long time, when I saw a cyclist in my mirror. It was inevitable that this unencumbered rider was going to overtake me. But hey, I was the one having fun today! We greeted each other as he passed, then I read his jersey "don't mess with Texas" - and again I missed riding with my friend Tom.

A quick connect on Esmond to Old State Rd on to IL Rte 64, good old North Avenue, and I was in Sycamore. Practically home! But not before a stop at Elleson's. Mmmm, donuts. Elleson's is a destination in its own right.

The eastern edge of Sycamore is the western terminus of the Great Western Trail, east 18 miles to St. Charles at Leroy Oakes Park. Through town to the Fox River Trail, south to the Geneva Spur into West Chicago. 3 options to home from there, I chose to ride past Wheaton Academy on Hawthorne, Indian Knoll to Geneva Rd., and ...


Day three: jiggedy jig

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.

03 September 2008

Day two: what trail?

The cue sheets of the Grand Illinois Trail have been upgraded since I first rode the southern 75% of this sweeping loop. I remember there were some funky or obscure directions then. So far on this trip, apart from a mis-named street and a road I somehow missed, the GIT was doing all right by me. Friday began with a sense that I would be able to push west to Frankfort and then decide what to do about that Galena destination. So far, so good.

It's never fun packing up a wet tent, but breaking camp went surprisingly well, and after checking in with my Karen, I was on the road shortly after 8. The reload of the bike also was a pleasant surprise, and I rolled out of Rock Cut without rattles or tipping. Well, I rolled out of the campground ... actually identifying the path out of the park (Willow Creek Trail) was another matter. Thankfully the park's signboards ('you are here' is a reassuring message) were clear enough to make an informed guess at the way out. Through the park, along Willow Creek (apparently), and past Harlem High School, and then it was back on city streets in a Rockford suburb.

First cue sheet problem, "continue east on Gladys Dr" ... umm, but I believe I am heading west at this point, I haven't yet been on Gladys Drive, and going the opposite direction would put me in a classroom or cafeteria. Follow instinct, in that case - they have to mean west.

Instinct plays a significant part of any bike ride, navigating any new route, and especially touring. I often feel that there are times I am just giving my bike freedom to lead ... I love this especially when I am casually exploring a new cycling area. Rockford, it turns out, is fairly careful about marking its streets and the main recreational path that takes cyclists through town. But it was while in Rockford that I began to wonder why in the world the GIT route is not marked more carefully and completely. Well, expense, yes I get that. It would be interesting to know how much it would cost for a little logo plate to go up on existing signs and poles at key turns and crossings on streets and roads. Or a symbol painted on the road to indicate GIT turns. Either this is a regional resource meant to be increasingly and widely used, or it is just a good idea for the most diligent and intrepid touring cyclist. (I am neither.) Still, I must say that the cue sheets and the city's marks made it fairly easy, though not quick, to get through Rockford.

Then again, a little more signage? Would it be too much to just clarify a turn here and there? Or maybe in a new city, in an overcast day, before a true breakfast, with plenty of uncertainty ahead of me ... maybe it was just me. Working my way through downtown Rockford got a little complicated and I missed a turn. Well, it wasn't like being disoriented on a bicycle in the Loop, certainly. Downtown was pretty quiet for the 9:00 hour, and 1 hour, 40 minutes after leaving the state park I was on the west side of Rockford, 20 miles down on a day that could go as many as 100. It was here that I realized what a great decision it had been to not press on the night before. I thanked God for it.

Sound the ominous chord. Cunningham St becomes Cunningham Rd, and it is pleasant to be back in the country. It's a quick jaunt on a road with a narrow shoulder, then a turn to find ... No way, they can't mean that! Here's the short version: unless you are riding a mountain bike and want to enjoy some flatland single track, Do Not Under Any Circumstances consider taking the Pecatonica Path. Disregard the GIT cue sheets, regardless of the weather, if you are loaded for touring or riding any kind of road-worthy cycle. For all practical purposes, it does not exist.

I have marked my cue sheets accordingly. "Pecatonica" is an anglicized form of the native American word for murky meandering water" or "crooked river." Try to enjoy this some other way. I spent the rest of the morning, and the early afternoon, trying to see if there was any part of the trail that could I could actually ride. The 1/2 mile or less that I was on was beautiful with wild flowers and prairie grasses and more finches per linear meter than I have ever seen. But it was no touring bike trail. It is really negligent to keep this feature on the GIT cue sheets.

Long story short, I crossed the path at several points, thinking that maybe this time it would be traversable. It never was beyond a few meters in the little towns it goes through. Thankfully through the good service of the Illninois cycling maps, I could both enjoy this increasingly rolling country and stay on the roads to get to the towns I had my sights on this day.

Mile 30, 2 hours, 26 minutes, and my morning average speed was 12.4mph. It was time for breakfast, and Winnebago, IL, had just the place for me. Fraiche was the first cafe I saw, but I was certainly not going to be comfortable in a place with a French name, 3 hours into a ride after a night without a shower. No, it was "Village Family Restaurant," just beyond, that my bike led me to. It's sign as a Pancake House and its claim to Southern Cooking were not to be ignored. A storefront location, clearly a locals' place, it instantly reminded me of Southern Kitchen in Los Gatos, CA, a favorite of son Chris and a must-eat place when we visit him. And the breakfast I had there was worth the long, slow ride to get there. I ordered the German Breakfast special: potato pancakes (made fresh right there), 2 eggs and bacon; apple sauce for the pancakes, and perhaps the most classic cup of small town restaurant coffee I've had in a decade. And the waitress knew how to wait on a cyclist: she offered to refill my water bottles, asked about the ride, left the water pitcher on the table, was ready with the coffee but also understood that practical considerations kept me from that extra cup. And when she asked "will that be all?" she was not surprised when I asked, "ummm, do you have a sweet roll, or a cinnamon role, or something like that?" Mmmm, was it good! A quick trip to freshen up, after a long leisurely breakfast, and I was ready to roll out of Winnebago and on to ...

Where? Now it was beginning to look like the day could slip away from me. Freeport would be a cinch. But what was possible beyond that? I resolved to get there and then decide, but was already thinking that a turn back toward Oregon, IL, was the most likely option.

At this time, I still had vain hopes of actually spending time on the Pecatonica Trail. At the time, now knowning the etymology of the name, I was trying to find ways to play on the Latin Peccata, sin. Well, it may have been a sin to call this a cycle route trail, but it was stupidity to keep trying to make it work. Finally, at 4 hours, 21 minutes and 57.3 miles, I was on a street corner in Freeport. My average speed had risen to 13.1 miles. Man, I was cruisin'!

Here again, I failed to learn and apply the lesson of Thursday. I did actually look for some place to get water, on my way through Freeport. But I rode south out of town without having done so, mostly because I was too stubborn to go off route for it. By this time, my optimism about finding water was truly unfounded. But, ride south I did, on Baileyville Rd. In spite of now ample evidence, I reasoned that there would at least be a vending machine in this little town. It turns out Baileyville Rd does not even actually go through Baileyville ... you have to actually turn west and ride agout 50 yards or so to get there. And no, as you have already surmised, there is nothing really to be seen or had there. Even along "Commercial St."

Well, I had to get off Baileyville Rd. at that intersection anyway, and 50 yards west is not hard to backtrack. I headed west, on my way to Leaf River, the next likely town. By this time I was starting to feel the effects of the sun which had finally broken through about noon; the effects of the wind, which was pretty stiff out of the south (the direction of my route out of Freeport); and the effects of the long long low incline from Freeport to Baileyville. The afternoon was not going to be pleasant. I had enough liquid to keep me from panicking, but not enough to guarantee me a safe ride all the way into Oregon.

Slogging my way up Baileyville Rd into the southern wind, I thought that sign to German Valley looked promising. It's just hard to say - there might not be any "there" there, but it would have got me a respite from the wind as I rode east. Well, it couldn't have hurt ... my stop in Leaf River was all but a bust as far as refueling. I had plenty of food with me, and way more Gatorade powder than I needed, especially given my dwindling supply of water. But thank God the Leaf River Fire Department keeps a soda machine in working order. The Sierra Mist was my hydration salvation, the little shady park was my natural cooler, and as I took stock of my situation it was obvious that I needed to continue south into the wind, a little east, and had to get to Oregon before dark. The arrival at a campground with enough light to set up was no longer a shoo-in.

And, by the way, where the heck was everyone in Leaf River? Had they already left for the football game? Here I was at 82.6 miles, 6 hours and 19 minutes of riding behind me, my average speed had dropped to 13mph. And I had been fantasizing about Casey's General Store for a couple of hours already.

I was under the impression that every little town in Illinois has a Casey's. I don't know why. I had been stiffed often enough even on this trip. What keeps me dreaming like this? Maybe German Valley has one, I don't know and probably never will. Hey, tonight I can't even get a Casey's website to appear! On my way out of Leaf River I kept trying to get into places that might have water fountains - post office, closed; city offices, closed; library, closed. The Library was closed, before 5pm on a Friday?!? What is with this town? I began to pray that I would see someone out in their yard, and I could stop and ask for some water from a garden hose. It was a long, lonely, starting-to-be-parched, disappointing stretch into Oregon. It would have been very different had I simply gone off route long enough to find a convenience store in Freeport. What a dope.

To my very great pleasure, my ride into Oregon - I came in on a short stretch of Rte. 64 rather than take quieter roads and add several miles to this now-disappointing day - was almost completely free of auto competition. The road was in good shape, and coming from the west there is a beautiful long sweeping descent into downtown. Rather like riding into Lake Geneva from the west on WI-50. Only, on this day at this time, no cars! And there, on the very western edge of Oregon's downtown ... my fantasy come to life: Casey's General Store.

I know what I can get in a Casey's. I can get pizza by the slice, hot or cold sandwiches, of course any kind of candy or energy bar, chips, beverages. Every Casey's I've been in while riding has seemed surprised to have a cyclist there. Surely I'm not the only one to ever stop in? But the great thing Casey's has is a case of ice cream novelties. This day's ride ended with a Triple Chocolate Dove ice cream bar, a short can of Pringles, and the largest bottled water I could get cold. I sat in the grass by the curb and re-fueled to my heart's content, knowing that on the other side of town (what, a quarter mile further on?) I would be able to get supper. The girl at the counter asked if I wanted a bag. No, I said, I'll take it like this. "Do you eat this stuff while you ride?"

Supper was also long anticipated. There could hardly fail to be a Subway in Oregon, and in fact I'm pretty sure I knew that for sure. A 12-inch sub fits nicely under the flap of a Camelback Rogue, so I was well supplied for my last short mile or so up to Lowden State Park. It was kind of critical that there be a campsite there; I wasn't sure I could make it to the other state park on the other side of town.

Sure enough there was. And for $10 I got a site and access to running water, flushing toilets, and a hot shower. Now that is a great way to end a day full of disappointing cue sheets, a stiff head wind, and ignorant hydration decisions. After setting up camp and devouring my sub and Pringles, I took a brief walk through the campground then settled in to a quick review of Hebrew vocab and, as it got dark, another episode of "Wait, Wait." You know, after all, it really doesn't get much better than this!

28 August 2008

Day one, on the road

So I rolled out of the driveway at 7:40am. Sun was shining, the bike was tight, the trail promised about 4 hours of fairly hassle-free riding until I hit the quiet country roads west of Richmond, IL. Oh, nuts! Still in my good glasses, not the ones I clip my mirror to.

And that was the only glitch in the day. No kidding!

The Illinois Prairie Path provides 3 options west to the Fox River Trail, which runs the length of, oh I guess it must be Kane County along the river. From my intersection we can go due west on the Geneva Spur, through West Chicago to ... well, Geneva. Or the Elgin Branch, northwest through West Chicago, Wayne and probably Bartlett to South Elgin. (Why isn't it called the South Elgin Branch of the IPP? I never thought of that before. Elgin is actually along the Fox River Trail.)

One thing I noticed real soon. And I thought of it, monitored it, throughout the day. I love my Trek 520. It's built for "loaded touring" and its motto (back when I bought it) was "go for a ride, come back in a month." As if. But I can dream! Anyway, it had been a while since I actually did load it up for a long self-contained ride. And what struck me Thursday - I really wasn't looking for this - is that the bike is actually even more comfortable loaded than not. It is a great bike for a long ride that does not require speed. I guess it's the combination of the geometry and the steel frame. But man, what a sweet roll set up for touring. I am really eager to get front panniers and the whole experience. That really surprised me, and I am convinced it is more than just the euphoria of starting a new trip.

As I set out, I said a simple prayer. I talk to God, and I trust him for lots of things big and little. I also do not believe God is obligated to make my life comfortable and in fact is not all that likely to do so, for purposes I don't need explained. But on this day, I set out with the prayer, "Lord, I would sure like to have a trouble-free ride." (It is a real pain to fix a flat on these wheels, even without having to take off all the bags and gear first!) "But, if I do have trouble, help be to keep my head about me, think things through, and not get frustrated or discouraged." Call it hedging my spiritual bets if you will; the reality is the second part of that prayer is more what I need than the first. "And if I can help others, that would be cool, too."

I met my timing goals along the way through the day. 12-mile mark at the junction of IPP and FRT, one hour - check! Do the math; yes, average speed accomplishments are very different when touring. I feel a good day is being on the road 10-12 hours, averaging 12-13 mph during the pedaling bits. First pit stop, north of Elgin at 17 miles - check! As I approached this stop I noticed again the refurbishing of a trail-side wonder. Sure, Illinois does not have mountains, but we do have a castle ... or at least a castle turret! Just beyond the castle, just before the pit stop, I called out for the first time on this trip, "Are you OK? Do you need anything?" A young mom and her 2 boys were alongside the path, and mom was trying to fix something. In an amazing rarity, I actually could help - the chain had come off on the little single gear bike with coaster brakes. I realized that we could get off the chain-guard, and then it went on pretty easily. As we worked it was fun to talk with the young boy, to promote ABD to his mom who had just ridden her first race, and to roll of thinking "All in a day's work for ... Bicycle Repair Man!"

I thought, 2 hours to Crystal Lake and that lovely roadside/trailside park aong the highway (S. Main St.?) - check! A good second pit-stop and a water fountain. Getting through Crystal Lake can be a little awkward. The route is clearly enough signed but crossing the highway, and the perpetual construction at a key intersection, make it just a bit inconvenient. Once through there is the thrill and the agony of cycling through Stearns Woods. The firecest descents and the toughest climbs along any of the trails in this system, not easy on a pleasure ride ... and an interesting challenge loaded for touring. North of Stearns Woods the path runs through McHenry County, McHenry, Ringwood, and Richmond. If you stay on this trail, it will dump you out in Genoa City, WI. So, you can ride from my house to Wisconsin all on trail (marked bike route). Friend Jeremy points out that it is 50 miles from Winfield to Genoa City by this route, making a tidy trail century ... which curiously I have never done myself.

Richmond, 4 hours - check!

Thus far, the cue sheets from the Grand Illinois Trail were unnecessary. As I approached the Broadway St. trail crossing in Richmond, 4 cyclists were straddling their bikes there, chatting. Ya gotta love running into chatty cyclists at rest. Talk is obvious: where are you headed, where and when did you start, look over the gear, alternate route options, weather and traffic. A couple of these guys had in fact cycled out to Galena (but not "toured out" to there, I think), and all had headed west of town to Hebron. They encouraged me to stick to the highway with a good shoulder instead of follow the Hebron Trail as noted in GIT. Sounded good to me, after nearly 50 miles of trail and not knowing what the HT was going to offer for a surface. The shade I would have welcomed; I guess it's a nicely canopied stretch. But IL-173 is in fact broad-shouldered, and I was on a distance mission, so that's how I rolled into Hebron.

Now, arriving in Hebron intact without a hint of fatique or dehydration, not to mention without bonking, was the first real accomplishment of the day. I had kicked the Hebron Bonk curse. I can now tour again. Yea! Not to mention that Hebron is a great place to stop for lunch or even just a dairy treat. At Dari. We drive by it every time we go to Lake Geneva, but I'm not sure we've ever stopped there. It was my lunch destination, and I enjoyed their $5 pork BBQ, fries and soda (choosing of course the classic, locally rescued soda Green River). A bit of conversation about the bike and the trip ... I would think folks in Hebron were more used to seeing touring cyclists going through on some GIT trek. I guess not. It was kind of funny, though ... everyone assumes - or maybe just hopes - that you are riding cross country. "Still," they basically say, "Wheaton to Galena, that's really something."

Lunch stop: 56.1 miles, 13.4mph average speed, 4 hours 5 minutes.

As I got ready to roll again, I asked the girl at the counter where I would find "HEB-ron" Road. She gave me this look like I was speaking another language. I thought, you know, the name of the town you live and work in?? Then, "oh, HEEB-ron" Road. Silly me, with my biblical pronunciation. I got the direction I needed, but it's a good thing I asked, because right there in town it isn't actually called Hebron Road, no matter how it is pronounced. It's actually Bigelow Ave. As with so many roads like this, the town name applies to the section that actually leads to, you know, the town. In town they often take another name.

Now, here I made a mistake. I would make it again on Friday. It is so basic, and I've done it enough to know better. Never leave town without completely filling all your water and sport drink bottles. I still had "plenty" - surely enough to get to the next town - so I took off with only one full Gatorade and a less-than-full Camelback.

Heading west on quiet country roads, the next segment divided into three 8-mile sections and a 7-mile jaunt. 8 Miles west, 1 mile north, 8 miles west on State Line Road (I guess it has one lane in Wisconsin and one in Illinois, so I think I did actually get some miles in WI). I somehow missed the sign for Burr Oak Road, though the cue sheet gave me ample information to look for it. So a mile farther on (as it turns out) when I saw Capron Rd., I took it south into Capron, where I hopped on the Long Prairie Trail and took that into Caledonia. By arriving in Capron, I think I missed a trail head, and I later thought that would have been another opportunity to re-hydrate. (I would come to see that we really can't count on anything of the sort on these trails.) Long Prairie Trail made me think, for some reason, of the Great Western Trail between St. Charles and Sycamore; if the GWT were paved.

By now the skies were glowering. Wind wasn't bad, and the temperatures were holding steady, but it was looking stormy, and I had plenty far to go, still. There were a few stray sprinkles but no organized opposition to a dry ride. At my arrival in Caledonia I had logged another 31+ miles. And here at a key juncture of this Trail, again, there was no water. Another thing I re-learned on this trip ... a lot of these small towns really don't have vending resources, either. So here I was with weather building, liquid refreshment dwindling, and a decision ahead of me.

Rock Cut State Park was not too many miles hence. I would get there with my daily miles at just under 100. Under ideal circumstances, I could continue through Rockford, cover maybe up to 30 more miles, and camp within striking distance of a day's ride into Galena. But these weren't ideal circumstances, and I had injudiciously left HEEBron without full liquid supplies.

So, I took the Rock Cut option, arriving there at about 4pm. The campground registration office seemed surprised to find a solo rider on a self-supported ride. Doesn't anyone follow the GIT?? But they had plenty of sites, and I settled into one across the road from the lakefront. No showers ... I have always been under the notion - now at last disproved - that all state parks had running water and showers. Here I was at 97+ miles and little chance of a good wash up. Oh well, I had my cook kit and soap. And the park has a little cafe open until 7. So I set up camp, cleaned up as best I could, then rode back around the park to the concessions area. But not before we had some precipitation. It was kind of strange. I don't know if these people were already preparing to leave, but I'd say 3 or 4 campsites dismantled and left when it began to rain lightly. That was really curious. Fair weather campers? Day-trippers? I don't know, but it did make for a nice quiet night in the campground!

Thursday's ride to camp: 97.1 miles, 13.8 mph, 7 hours 5 minutes.
After cycling to supper and back: 104.7 miles, 13.4, 7:44

And so, to bed after reviewing Hebrew vocab and listening to a "Wait, Wait" podcast. In the night, a loud CRACK, and there was a bit of a prolonged thunder storm. Never quite directly over the park, so it was more delightful than worrisome. Later in the night, I could hear the rain coming from behind me (whatever direction that was); you could hear the rain falling as it moved through the trees, then it would fall on the tent and move on. A lovely sound, and we so seldom actually see the rain-line. It is very comforting, somehow, to hear it. There was very little wind, barely discernable, and these showers moving through.

Later in the night, before dawn, a great horned owl sounding nearby. Oh, I love camping!

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!

09 August 2008

Is this heaven? No, it's Portland

Twice this summer I have found cycling clubs to ride with in other cities. Back in June I joined an exhilarating rural club ride, managed to hang with the riders up front (well, they may have managed to keep in mind that if they dropped me I was lost, alone, in rural Michigan!), and finished a 36-mile ride with an average speed of 20mph. OK, so that's not Tour speed, but it was the longest ride for me at that average speed. The Grand Rapids Rapid Wheelmen proved to be a friendly club, and their rides have 2 interesting aspects that were new to me: 1) they purposely have a faster and a slower pace group for the same ride, so the fast riders don't have to hold back and the slower riders don't worry about being dropped; 2) ride leaders have printed cue sheets because even though the start location is the same, the ride isn't the same each time.

I don't get around all that much, but my experience this summer has definitely made me committed to scouting out cycling clubs and organized rides when I travel to other cites. A group ride with locals will introduce me to routes that I would not naturally discover in a short visit; a club ride will always seem safer riding in an area where I do not know what to expect from auto drivers, dogs, etc.; and cyclists are generally just such friendly people. I've seen that in ABD, the club I ride with.

A week ago I returned from a week in Portland. Why I was there for a week is another story, and it, too, is an awesome adventure. This was my 4th summer to travel to Portland with my wife, who goes there for a work-related conference. My first trip out, 3 years ago, I found an excellent shop that rented high quality mountain and road bikes. Waterfront Bicycles is truly a great find in a bike friendly city. (They've just changed locations; they are still along the water front - Willamette River - but they no longer rent Felt bikes. Oh well ...) This year I arranged for a 3-day rental, took my own pedals and shoes, arranged to keep the bike at the hotel at nights, and prepared to enjoy this beautiful city, and cycling where when you look up you can see snow-capped mountains. Ummm ... we don't get that in Illinois!

I found online a local club with an amazing weekly ride schedule. Portland Wheelmen Touring Club has several big rides a year, but 2 - 3 rides every day of the week all summer long, including morning rides. So on Tuesday I rode from the hotel, about 11 miles to the start point. There I met a group of about 8 men who were trying to decide who were going to ride which distance/loop. It was pretty easy for me to agree that as a newbie, as a flat-lander, and as the unknown quantity on a rented bike, I would go with the short group. It would be a ride of some 32 miles, crossing the Columbia river into Washington, circling Lacamas Lake in Camas, WA, and stopping somewhere (in Vancouver?) for an excellent cup of coffee and a pastry at a local Italian coffee shop. One could get used to riding with a group like this! These guys were all easily 10-15 years older than my early 50's - their experience riding this terrain (which, granted on this ride was hardly mountainous) was ameliorated by their age, so I could pretty well keep up with them. And it was a beautiful ride, even the light rainy bits, with good camaraderie. And that great cup of coffee.

In 3 days of riding - trail (paved), bike lane, bike route - I covered 175 miles. I crossed countless intersections, rode on all kinds of surfaces - residential, arterial, bike/pedestrian lanes on an expressway bridge, downtown streets, etc. All but 32 of those miles were ridden solo. I was completely impressed with the "shared road" attitude of drivers and cyclists alike. I never saw a cyclist jump a red light. Not once did a car fail to stop at a striped cross-walk when I was there on a bike or on foot. Not once in 3 days, 175 miles of riding. That can hardly be coincidental.

Yesterday, back here at home, I took a ride on my touring bike. I didn't feel up to riding solo on the roads, so I decided to get on the Prairie Path from my neighborhood, and ride as far towards Wisconsin as my available time would allow. From where I get on the path, it just starts to get "rural." The path may go 2.5 miles or more between street crossings. Along the Fox River, the Trail gets more urban/suburban again, then after about Carpentersville there are again some longer stretches of path. It was a lovely day for a long ride, and parts of the path are newly paved and the river and other natural features make this route as good as it gets.

But I found myself longing for the Portland experience. I am a native Midwesterner, so I can get over not seeing mountains on my rides. Sure, it would be nice, but it just isn't here. No, what I missed was the sense that drivers give a rip about courtesy to pedestrians or cyclists. By contrast to my 175 miles without a single cross-walk failure, in yesterday's 86 miles only once (1 time, out of uncountable crossings) did a car stop at a striped crossing. I am convinced that this driver stopped only because the group in front of me consisted of Mom/Dad/Child. And of course, the driver of the large expensive vehicle from the other direction did not even slow down, so it was good that the father ahead of me seemed kind of confused about what to do with someone properly yielding to his family!

What created the Portland cycling ethic? Is that even possible in suburban, metro Chicago? If I entered a striped cross-walk to timidly exercise my Rules of the Road right, would I lose my life, or just suffer the glares, honks, and gestures of motorists wondering where I get off?

Several years ago I pretty much gave up on riding the Prairie Path, for any number of reasons, none of them the Path itself. Yesterday I was sad to realize that here is yet another reason to stay on the road and off the path: a cyclist can't even get a break sticking to the relative safety of that route. So, give me the streeet and road, and a group of any size, and I'll happily roll anywhere.

27 May 2008

Just try to Bike to work day

Well, I'm told May 15 was Bike to Work Day in the Bay Area. Son Chris frequently does so anyway, so he stayed the course and was joined by scores of people unused to his morning commute. They all were unused to the 99-degree day that surprised them.

I don't think it was Bike to Work Day as such in my town. But I had decided the night before that I would in fact again bike to work, but with a twist: I would turn my 3.5 mile, 20 minute casual commute into a 40+ circuit and give myself 3 hours to get to the office.

I was on my way at 6am, dressed for yet another cool morning ride, with my cycling tights over cycling shorts and under nylon shorts. All very stylishly black. Over this, a cool-max long shirt and a pullover cotton shirt on top. My touring bike is set up for commuting, with a rack to handle the rear pannier, and cage pedals so I don't have to change out of clip-in shoes.

At about 7 miles out I hit a bump and heard "something." I stopped, checked to be sure I hadn't lost anything, and then went on my way. I had some miles to cover and no time to lollygag. I hit other bumps along the way - the Illinois Prairie Path is a great resource, but it can be a challenging ride, especially when one is normally on the street/road. It was a fair morning, though a bit cool, and I made pretty good time. I even pulled into my office lot a few minutes before 9:00, noting that my ride time was just 2 hours 48 minutes, and my distance 41.some miles.

I also noted that my rear pannier was missing. Yikes! When and how had I lost that? And how could I not know it, not hear it, feel it, sense it? In the bag were my office clothes, my watch, some lunch, and my U-lock. OK, now what to do? The bike can be kept indoors, so that is OK. I look like a read jerk the farther I walk away from the bike, but at least I have an outer layer that does not scream "bike dork!" I'm not walking around on cleated shoes. Nothing in my bag is irreplaceable and I have my wallet on me.

Do I head back along the path, right away, in hopes of finding the bag? What are the chances? Do I cut my losses and just ride straight home at the end of the day? In the end, before calling my wife and whining to her, I decided to put in 5 hours at the office, then re-ride my route, scanning - almost certainly in vain - for a bag dropped anywhere from 5 to 8 hours earlier. A fool's errand, to be sure. And so it proved to be. No bag to be seen along that route. And it could have been anywhere, so what did I expect? It would probably be picked up and kept or tossed - nothing of any great value, and no ID. It might be in a ditch, and never seen again by humans.

So, in the end, I got an 83-mile day of cycling, but I think it was the least satisfying 83 miles I've ever had. I lost 3 hours of office time, and I still had to get back in the evening to conduct a choir rehearsal. So the day was a loss and a waste. After choir I had some lengthy and detailed errands to do at home. Karen and I left early the next day for a quick trip to Minnesota.

In the office Thursday, explaining why I was dressed so inappropriately, this became a dumb story to tell on myself. Friends in Minnesota always ask if I'm still cycling ... so I got to tell this fresh dumb story on myself. And really, you know, it wasn't that bad. Apart from my clipon sunglasses, the bag itself was the most valuable item I lost, and nothing was irreplaceable.

Imagine my amazement when, Saturday night, back home, checking email, I saw an email from an ABD club member. ABD is an awesome group of riders - serious or casual, they are a nice group of people. The email from Allison said she had been called by the DuPage Forest Preserve asking if she knew me. What?!? Well, it turns out that I had forgotten about a little piece of paper that was in my bag: Allison had responded to a club message board question by sending me a fax at the office, on another day I had ridden into work. That fax was in an inner pocket of my pannier. The Forest Preserve police had gone through my bag, found the fax, and used it to track me down. Amazing.

And here's the funny thing: the time Allison wrote, 3:15pm May 15. Or, in cycling terms, at about the time I was 1/3 of the way back on my search for this bag! About the time I was rolling from the Aurora Branch of the IPP on to the Batavia Spur. Later I learned from Allison that she actually had 2 calls from the FP police before she called them back ... it seems they were concerned that maybe I was a hiker that had gone missing. As I consider this story, it is filled with good people doing good things. I am humbled.

But I left town again Sunday for 4 days, so it was a full week later that I recovered my bag from a very kind officer at FP headquarters. Everything was there, even the now way-past-disgusting pizza I had so looked forward to on May 15.

The dumb story on myself turns out to be a great story about my cycling club. But it is an even better story about a kindly Providence, a God who is kind enough to even take care of little, inconsequential things. My life would be no worse, in any way, for losing this bag and all its contents. But it is so much richer for having regained them: it refreshes my amazement at God, and my love for people and what we are capable of.

That's an adventure worth living.

27 April 2008

almost, and then some

Saturday was the day. Long-awaited, much-anticipated. I missed last year's start to the brevet series, coming as it did on the heels of the adult onset of asthma. Lat year, by the end of April I was already dealing OK with the breathing, but I had lost way too many training miles to reasonably consider doing the April 200k. This year I had 4 100-mile weeks in, and the week leading up to this ride I got in 97 of my planned 100 "warm-up" miles. Almost.

10 days before this ride, I learned that a friend and his buddy were going to try this ride for the first time. I had planned to ride alone, simply by default. So I wheedled my way in on a ride and 2 cycling partners. Jeremy and Pat are recent gung ho touring cyclists - and they have really gone after what is my favorite way to cycle. (But I just never get out that way anymore.) So I knew they would be serious, well-equipped, probably pretty strong, but that they wouldn't press the tempo too much.

Any day is a good day for riding. Saturday held its share of surprises: after a string of 70-degree days during the week, Friday night brought rain and thunderstorms. Saturday was cold, overcast mixed with mostly sunny, and WINDY! How windy was it? With the wind at the back, and us going 25mph, we could still feel the wind at our backs. That's windy? How windy was it? It was blown-off-the-road windy. It was smallest chain ring pedaling downhill windy. But I get ahead of myself.

A quick check of weather.com late Friday evening gave me the chance to add a few bits of clothing to my bags: long gloves, balaclava, rain jacket, and an extra pair of socks. All of which were put on in the windy upper 40's temperatures at start time: 7am in Delavan, WI. No, it wasn't raining, and it didn't rain, but I needed that extra layer as a wind break. About half-way between the 1st and 2nd controls (check-in spots), with the sun out and the wind sort of at my back briefly, I thought it was warm enough to shed the balaclava, gloves and rain jacket. Well, I often leave the first item just around the neck if I don't have a turtle neck on. The short gloves turned out to be OK. But taking the jacket off was a big mistake. Big mistake. I put it back on a few miles down the road ... that wind just wasn't allowing the sun to "stick."

The mid-point of this out-and-back ride was 65 miles and change. The route was basically a series of roads headed west and north from Delavan to Verona, WI. The northerly roads had a slight cross-wind effect, where you felt the wind but also felt you were getting some help. But the westerlies were into them. WSW at least, and as already noted, clearly higher than 25mph. Gusts much higher. 14 of the final 16 miles were directly into this wind, in 2 stages: 7.7 miles (1 mile respite headed north) and 6.2 miles. "Disheartening" Jeremy called it. "Bitter" and 'brutal" come to mind. I was not alone, I'm sure, in vowing I would never ride like this again.

Two years ago, when I reported on this ride, I noted how much I hate hills. Let me amend that. I hate wind!

Naturally, on the turnaround, this all changed. The wind became our friend. The all-too-brief respites from the wind on the way out (short sections headed north) became manageable slogs against the wind on the way back. And those long hauls into the westerlies, turned around, turned to some exhilarating stretches returning. At the Kwik Trip that was our turnaround rest stop, I know I was on the verge of dehydration. (Believe me, I know dehydration! click here and scroll down to "don't estimate - calcumate!") I took care to drink, drink some more, and eat a variety of fuel. And with the kindly assistance of this glorious wind -- which had been my enemy just minutes before -- the body recovered.

Not to say that one feels rejuvenated at the end of a 200k day. Actually, at 127 miles, this is a 203k ride. And then some. But at least this time I could dream of attempting a 300k ride. Two years ago I got back in the truck with every intention of giving up cycling all together!

Jeremy and Pat proved to be excellent cyclists, and good companions. We did not stay together on our ride west, though Jeremy and I had spells together or in the same group. But in Verona we stayed until Pat was ready to go, and we 3 hung together all the way back to Delavan. Indeed, though I have the most miles of training rides, they did get in first. And special kudos to Pat, who, I learned, had only about 24 miles of riding this spring, and did this ride on a brand new bike, complete with a stiff leather saddle! Now that is awesome.

23 April 2008

The century before the double century

It's time to see if I can do this thing!

Saturday is my first ACP brevet in two years. Until last week, I thought I would be riding alone. Then after choir one of the basses asked me about the Randonneurs brevet, and we found that we were both registered. Naturally I wheedled my way into making it a 3-some. (Jeremy and Patrick are touring buddies and co-workers.)

At the end of my solo ride last Saturday, my outdoor miles were at 400 for the season. My goal for this final week of prep for the brevet has been to cover 100 miles before Friday. Another century week. The English century week before the metric double century day with the 200k ride out of Delevan, WI.

If tomorrow works for a longish ride into the office, I will have my first century by the time I get home for supper. Then Friday off the bike; Karen and I will spend it in the car instead, with a day trip to visit her parents in Michigan. A late return (and some significant furniture moving at this end, at that end, and again at this end) will mean a short night's sleep.

Saturday will begin around 4am, continue with a 4:30am start to Delevan for a 7am brevet start time. The 200k route will take us through a couple of small towns, north and west a bit (as I recall it) to Sun Prairie, then back pretty much the same way. We are allowed 13 hours on the clock. Two years ago Tav and Jon and I logged 8 cycling hours ... I have a feeling that this week our total time will be significantly longer. And that is something I welcome! Give me a decent day, and leisure pedaling, and good company, and someone else driving home.

18 April 2008

The Ride that wasn't, then was

My Saturday morning riding buddies inspire me, each in their own way. Jon B. in particular inspired me to re-think when I can get in miles. He has long commuted to his job, from Batavia to Glen Ellyn, through much of the year. This is no easy feat through the traffic-sodden west suburbs of Chicago. Now Jon is preparing for the 24-hour challenge, so he is building more miles. And how does he do this, with a busy FT job and a young family? Well, he has added his riding time before his commuting time, on occasion leaving his house at 4am and arriving at work after completing 100+ miles!

Well, says I, I have lights for my bike. I should try riding early. And so, 2 days ago, I set out to do.

I checked the hour-by-hour report on weather.com, and then mapped a route on Google maps based on the fairly stiff wind that we were getting through the night and would continue during the ride hours. I laid out my clothes, and go things ready for an early start. Set the alarm, then of course slept terribly for excitement, and hearing the wind howling.

But I rolled out of the driveway as planned at 5:30am. (Hey, I'm no Jon B!) One mile down the road I realized that I had left without my helmet. I have ridden with a helmet for 26 years ... one never takes off without one - especially in the dark?! So I went back and started over. Three miles down the road I reached for a drink ... no water bottles. After a helmet, hydration is my highest riding priority. On my planned 50-mile ride I would not come across a place to buy sport drink or bottled water, for at least an hour; which is too long for me.

At this point, I realize that this was not going to be the morning for my first early ride. So I decided to just do one of my casual loops and call it a bad start to a good idea. When I pinged a rock, I naturally thought "what if I flat?" And then realized that I had won the trifecta of forgetfulness ... because I had forgot my pump, too; the third item that is a "must" for a long, solo ride. Well, I didn't need it (or the water, or probably the helmet neither). And I determined to not let it ruin my day. I finished my 12 miles and, since I had already planned to go into work late, treated myself to a leisurely hour or so of reading in our sunroom.

The next day, which was supposed to bring rain, showers, and possibly thunderstorms, turned out to be gorgeous. Warm, slightly overcast sun, and almost no wind. Naturally there was no way I could take time away to ride. (It is a fallen world, after all.) But this morning, ah this morning I gave the early ride another shot. And having learned from the incomplete ride 2 days ago, I got off at 5:30 with everything I needed. And I got in 53 miles, at 16.7mph average, in 3 hours 10 minutes. Now, that's worth getting up early for!

12 April 2008


So, winter just won't stay away from Chicago. (Not that I'm complaining. Light snow sprinkles today are nothing compared to the 7" Minneapolis is supposed to get ...) To make sure I got some riding in this week, I set off on Friday at 8:30am. It was 60 degrees, and was only going to get cooler through the day. Sun was out, and the wind over 10mph from SSW - predicted to change to SW by noon.

So I set off west and south, hoping to ride out 30 miles more or less, on and off, into the wind ... then sail home with the wind at my back! Good plan, and it worked surprisingly well for about 21 miles. Out through Fermi lap and Batavia, then south on Deerpath Rd. The westerly streets were kind of invigorating: the wind was more south than west, so as long as I could stay on the pavement (not a guarantee, it was quite gusty) I could keep up a pretty decent pace. I sort of dreaded the turn on to Deerpath, which is basically a direct N/S road. But there again, I was more pleased than put out by the progress. I should have known what was coming.

Thinking that I would head west get my miles in that direction, I turned on to Talley Road, when WHAM, it was obvious that the wind had shifted and I was now getting it full blast. This stretch of about 2 miles was the toughest slogging I can recall on flat dry pavement. Riding it solo was a bummer. At one point I "drafted a farm house" ... it was uncanny, getting relief from the prairie wind by a lone farm house in a sparse stand of trees; but there is no mistaking: for about a quarter mile there was a distinct respite from the wind. Then back at it until Bliss Rd. And was it ever!

At Bliss, the wind was nearly directly at my back. From an all-out effort to maintain double-digit speed headed west on Healey, within a few hundred yards headed north on Bliss, I was hitting about 25 mph. And so with little exception, I had a great ride for my return leg.

My hoped for 60 miles ended up just under 50. When I got back to Winfield I thought I'd make a loop around and come in from the east, down MacArthur to my 'hood. By this time, I was thinking what a wimp I'd been, and could it really have been so difficult to keep going west out there by Sugar Grove? Well sir, when I turned onto MacArthur headed west the wind again hit me full force, and then I remembered.

And it really was OK to cut the ride a bit short, the better to ride solo another day.

It would have been a good day for a group ride; or even to have a partner to trade pulls into the wind. Oh well, we ride when we can. Which this morning, it was commonly (and wisely) felt that we couldn't. So instead of heading out for our 7am jaunt, we met in a toasty restaurant for a hearty breakfast and talk of bikes and life. And that is really OK, too!

08 April 2008


Dr. Oliver Sacks has sat in my pile of books since Christmas. A gift from Kathryn, it is something I probably would never have picked up on my own. My 3 oldest kids had all read an essay in The New Yorker that appears in this 2007 collection of essays by noted author/neurologist.
Musicolphilia: Tales of Music and the Brain kind of freaked me out for the first couple of weeks. Part I: Haunted by Music is a fascinating collection of the brain's capacity to expand or (truly frightening) limit one's musical perception and appreciation. But the collection on the whole is a tremendous display of the amazing human brain, specifically as it relates to musical phenomena.
Some of it is fairly technical - though even then Dr. Sacks has an extraordinary talent for communicating to laypersons. Thus his impressive list of well-known titles: Awakenings, The Man Who Mistook His Wife for a Hat, and An Anthropologist on Mars, just to list 3 titles with which I was familiar before receiving this gift. I'm not sure I will take on any of the other titles on my own, though I'm sure that if for some reason I had to they would be engaging and entertaining reads.
Lately I have taken to saying that my adult children take me places I'd never go on my own. Thanks, Kathryn, for this trip to my worst fears ... and the glories of the brain.
Well, then I took Kathryn some place she'd never go on her own, either. To Lou Mitchell's for breakfast. Gotta love Lou's. That is it's own adventure, the same last Friday as it was 25 years ago ... with the exception of the late lamented Lou.

Tour of California

Well, time has lapsed. And in any case, I could hardly have written better about this amazing trip, than Chris has. So, simply by way of intro:
After watching the ToC via the internet in its first two years, this February I went out to take in a few days of professional cycle racing with my first-born. It is pretty cool - the Tour arrived in CA the year Chris did. He is in his 3rd year as a northern Californian, and this is the 3rd Tour. I had never seen professional racing live. This is an interest that we are enjoying together.
Chris' cycling is largely commuting (and he gets over 1,000 miles per year that way alone!). Mine is more recreational on the serious side, but far short of competitive cycling. We had a blast.
See his fun report on his own excellent blog. (And how nice - his title is a nod to this lame blogspot)
And photos, too, for Days One, Two, and Three of the 2008 Amgen Tour of California. Chris had to limit his day Four because of my flight plans, but he did catch the end of that Stage Three in San Jose.
Great trip, great way to spend some vacation days, great company, and a sure bet for an annual repeat!

25 February 2008

Cycling Lit

So the most recent truly awesome adventure is yet to be posted. No time for that now - I got out to the Bay Area to see the first 3 days of the Tour of California, with my son. More on that later. For my travel reading, what better to take on this junket than a travel book, and a cycling travel book at that?

My good friend Neal has often recommended Eric Newby, English travel author. Is he still living? Oh, I guess not. Well, Neal specifically pointed me to this book because of our mutual love for cycling. So I took with me for the trip to CA, Round Ireland in Low Gear. In 1985/86, Newby and his wife Wanda took 4 cycling trips in Ireland, each covering a different region. This is no love song to Ireland, though they clearly appreciate the Irish. And it is no air-brushed travelogue - cycle touring Ireland in December and January? Give me a break.

Yet, oddly, even the worst days in the book gave me the wanderlust, the urge to be on the road with a loaded bike, lots of time, and an open road.

Newby's writing is engaging, entertaining, and informative in a way that I always associate with English authors. His life-long love of bikes and cycling is evident, and he devotes some space(very little, but just enough for my taste) to some historical and technical matters of interest. Not so much to make the non-cyclist's eyes go all googly, but also not enough to satisfy mechanical wonks either, I'm sure.

I look forward to reading other Newby books, of which there are obviously many! But I hope to find some in audio book form to put on my iPod and listen to at night, after a long day in the saddle, on the open road, with a loaded touring bike, in a strange land ... even if it is my own strange land.

29 January 2008

A truly awesome topic

I have 4 amazing grown children. For immediate purposes, their excellent qualities are exhibited in their extraordinary gift-giving. As a parent, one endures a stretch when it seems a child will never "get" altruistic giving. When giving and receiving are somehow mixed together or otherwise confused. But now with 4 adult children, all in their 20's, it is fun to see how well they choose gifts for one another.

And I have to say, how completely delightful it is to receive gifts from them! Some dad, huh?

Youngest son, Andrew, ROTC student in his 4th year at U. of I., gave me The World Without Us by Alan Weisman. It is an engaging read in a field I never spend time in - science. It is also a work of creative imagination: what would happen to this earth if suddenly but not catastrophically all humanity ceased to occupy the planet? What would happen to what we have built? What would happen to what we have almost wrecked? What would happen to the scars we have inflicted? How would animals - wild and domestic - survive? How long until what appears to be inevitable now (human-induced changing climate) either culminates or abates?

Sure, there are political and scientific assumptions and agendas here. Natural selection, all the global warming discussion, etc. But there is also great story-telling, and for me I found the book created a longing for "the new creation" that the Bible promises.

Story-telling: especially compelling are the stories of abandoned places that nature has claimed or is claiming. Pictures of abandoned lands, at risk, but with wildlife returning. And so on.

I find I can't do justice to the thread and contents of a book like this. But I can recommend it!

I am now back at work on the present from daughter Kathryn, Musicophilia, Oliver Sacks. More later! Reading is always an adventure ... made more so now by my grown kids.

18 January 2008

War in the Heavilies

I grew up heavy. Pretty heavy. Stout. "Fat and happy." My junior high P.E. teacher called me "Bubbles." I showed him - the summer between 8th and 9th grade I ran (literally, ran) everywhere and lost I don't know how much weight. Mr. Tracy was also the coach of 9th grade football, and when the season started he did not recognize "Bubbles."

Sadly, that didn't last long, and I was soon heavy again. I wrestled heavy-weight, did my time on the offensive line in football, and really really enjoyed eating. When I gave up team sports - well, sport of any kind - the battle was lost. I graduated high school weighing in at ... way more than I should have.

But not before winning a school bike race (because I was the only one in my high school with a 10-speed bike) and being the marching band drum major (largest drum major in our conference; I wonder if they could ever take that uniform back in well enough to be used again?). And - most amazingly of all, to me and to everyone who knew us - not before winning the heart of, and being won by, a little slip of a beautiful intelligent girl who stuck with me long enough to marry during college.

And could she cook? Could she woo? Could she, could she, could she coo? Has anybody seen my gal?

Sorry, diversion.

Yes, she could cook. 2 years later my weight was up up up and finally during my senior year of college I had had it. That year I lost 40 pounds, and have since been engaged in an ongoing conflict with my weight.

30 some years later, and the conflict ebbs and flows. (Can conflict ebb and flow? It must have to do something else ...) This year's great victory was celebrating Christmas under 170 pounds. Probably not since junior high have I been at that weight at the holiday. Two weeks later, however, I was several pounds beyond my self-imposed ceiling (170), and this week began with the statement: "This means war."

War in this context goes like this:
South Beach Diet, Phase 1 is all out war. (SB is the healthiest diet of the many I have been on over these many years.)
South Beach Diet, Phase 2 is house-to-house combat.
Maintenance dieting is an ongoing police action.
Today I moved on to phase 2 in the current spate of "war in the heavilies."

The adventure continues, and today's hour+ on a bicycle in the basement is just a part of that. My little slip of a beautiful intelligent wife is a huge part of that. Cosmetics, if I'm honest, is a part of it. But enjoying a healthy life, energy for work and play, and the prospect of long-distance cycling with my grandchildren is perhaps the greatest motivator to keep funding this war, regardless the phase.