Thursday, September 20, 2007

No Rest for the Righteous


Roger and I rode into the village. The routine was the same; the route zigged and zagged into the town center, past the church, and out again. This one was a little larger, a little uglier, with more pavement. Riders wrapped in Mylar blankets slept in doorways and bus shelters along the way. Roger spotted a pay phone.

We had slept, about two hours maybe, in a cafĂ© about two villages back. Oh what a place!! A charming little hole in the wall under siege by dirty, smelly, weary, soaking wet men. After a cheap feast of simple soup, pasta, and ham sandwiches, we crawled onto some mats in a back room. Free of charge. Hell, they even woke us at the prescribed time—they kept a log, a clipboard hanging at the door. Then jovial fellow with the premature graying hair and o-so-French stripey shirt served us coffee and pan au chocolat, still warm from the oven.

And when we departed, I felt like crying. I contemplated hugging the proprietors, but they were too busy and looked as weary as we. A simple “merci beaucoup” was all I could muster when I got their attention. They will never know how I truly felt about them.

But now, less than an hour later the overall lack of sleep was catching up with me. As we rode along the smooth, narrow back-roads of the French countryside, I became increasingly confused. I hallucinated we were on a Florida bike trail; I could smell the surf and hear the waves pounding the shore. I peered over the dune grasses to get a glimpse of the ocean. Instead, cows slept. Over and over, I forgot and remembered again.

Roger decided to call his wife. Without a moment’s hesitation, I dismounted, placed the bike on its side and laid down where I stood. I took no shelter and wasted not a moment looking for a soft patch of ground. I lay flat on my back, head cradled in my helmet, a steady drizzle on my face.

I heard the first few sentences of Roger’s conversation, but I was sound asleep within 10 seconds.

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Forgive me, gentle readers, for my extended absence from the Blogoshpere.

I am in a crisis mode right now. A long story involving various financial difficulties, a fallen tree, a collapsed porch, a leaking roof, a power outage, and a stop work order from the city of Chicago. Dealing with lawyers, contractors, utility companies and claims adjusters has left me “emotionally unavailable.” I’m sure you understand.

Regardless, I shall spare you any further suspense: I completed the Paris-Brest-Paris in under 87 hours, at exactly 1:59 pm, Friday August 24, one minute ahead of schedule. Organizers and participants claim it was the worst weather in 20 years, some say 50. It rained everyday, temps stayed mainly in the 50’s and we fought a headwind about 75% of the time. 27.7% the 5312 entrants —1471 riders— did not finish.

Rest assured, I will flesh out the details in the coming weeks. I do thank you for your continued patience.

In the meantime, you can see—and order— photos of me here.

And you can watch videos and interviews from the ride here. Try and appreciate the hodgepodge of unsorted languages as one of the eccentricities of the ride.

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When I awoke, Roger was standing over me. “O.K., Man, lets go.” I sat up for a moment blinking and dusted the grit and glass off my shoulders. I picked two ants out of my beard. I swallowed the rainwater in my mouth.

Painfully, I rose to my feet and mounted the bike. We rode off towards the dawn.

Friday, August 17, 2007

Au Contraire Mon Frere

Good News P-B-P-or-B-2007 followers!

You may track my progress in real time as I blaze across the French countryside!

Go to: http://www.paris-brest-paris.org/EN/index.php?showpage=64

And enter my “frame number”: 4675

Currently, you will read these results:

“le participant est inscrit mais non encore parti”

Which, cheaply translated, means:

“the participant is registered but not yet party”

But you see, this is where the internets are in error. For today, under the ruse of our monthly birthday club, my coworkers at Time Out Chicago surprised me with Good Luck party, complete with a bicycle-decorated carrot cake, a punch bowl full of Gator-Aide, and a basket assortment of electrolyte tabs, cliff bars, nuts, dried fruit and even my old favorite, combos.

There was even a giant poster of yours truly superimposed over the streets of Paris and wishing me “Bonne Chance!” on my little ride. The entire staff came streaming by asking the details and wishing me well. I don’t know if one man's demented vacation was ever so thoroughly celebrated.

I am truly humbled and touched.

Thanks,

T.C.

Thursday, August 16, 2007

Yes, We Did Not Go to Starved Rock

Starved Rock Ride 2007, Friday July 20 to Monday July 23.

The 9th annual Starved Rock Ride would be one of our most ambitious, traveling through 4 states, with individual participants utilizing bicycles, ferries, trains and –for the 2 new sets of parents—a mini-van.

Day 1 Chicago to Milwaukee and across Lake Michigan to Muskegon, MI.

I stayed up all night getting ready, as is my custom. Walking the dog I saw three helicopters hovering less than a mile off. My first thought was that someone had shot a cop; but then I remembered the City only has one chopper. Instead, it was a house fire.

I called at 9am to let the boys know I was en route. They would stop by to drop off an unneeded stove at Todd’s and head out, using my least favorite phrase of all time: “you’ll catch up with us.” To catch up with someone riding a moderate 12mph pace and 15 minutes advance, you need to ride 15mph for a full hour.

I hustled for half an hour, my right foot already starting to pain me, after spending all night on my feet pacing/packing mode. After a few garbled communications, I pulled off the Skokie Sculpture trail to wait and rest. In my zeal, I had overshot them. Soon enough Kevin, Josh, Todd and Shawn rolled up.

We ran into a cyclist at the terminus of the Trail. I told her of my grand scheme to incorporate every bicycle-outlawed roadway in the north shore in our route, at which point she scolded us, agreeing with Evanston’ ruling class that bikes should not interfere with motor-traffic. “If you get a ticket, you deserve it” she warned. “And I’M A CYCLIST” she reminded us.

Yeah, an Uncle Tom cyclist.

Later we observed her riding the sidewalk along Green Bay Rd. “IF YOU GET A TICKET YOU WILL DESERVE IT!” I shouted with glee. “AND I’M A CYCLIST!”

After parting ways with Kevin, we continued north, riding by the Great Lakes Naval Training Facility and the evil looking Abbott Laboratories. We quickly located the statue likeness of Benjamin Kubelsky, native son of Waukegan, IL. In Zion we lunched at sketchy looking place that turned out to be quite good, with a varied menu. I was happy to fuel up after missing breakfast.

After that, we crossed the border and were soon on a lovely stretch lakeside in Kenosha.

We had been making good time on the Red Arrow Highway, but as the day progressed we pushed harder and took less frequent breaks, until finally, it was a flat out race to the Palimino.

We trickled in shortly after 5, doing the 90 miles from home in a little more than 8 hours. We each ordered a hearty meal and many beers, taking much comfort in the fact that the ferry was only a mile up the road.

After procuring the necessary provisions for our lake-going voyage—a case of Pabst and a fifth of Bourbon—we rolled over to the Lake Express, the fastest and most uninterestingly named ferry on the high lake. She was late, so we lay about the staging area drinking and fraternizing with the other passengers. No single women, so we passed the time with Photographer Peter Skiba who was there working on a project.

The crossing was uneventful. I myself was too tired to go topside for the view, but the pain in my foot prevented me from sleep, although photographic evidence to the contrary may soon be forthcoming. After a blown engine delayed us further, we unceremoniously rolled off the vessel amidst the impatient motorists.

We could see our destination, Muskegon State Park, from the port, but had to circumnavigate Lake Muskegon for lack of a bridge. A bike trail led us along, but we eventually abandoned it for the interstate-like multi-lane nightmare roads led us to North Muskegon. I privately had my doubts we were on course, but the street names changed to my liking and over an hour later we found ourselves at the evening’s respite. Once near the shore, the night sky was incredible.

At 2am eastern time we toured the densely populated camp ground. (We had no reservations anywhere on this trip counting on the turn-no-cyclist-away factor.) Reassembling at entrance, we were discussing our illegal options when the rangers pulled up, with narrowed eyes. “May I help you?”

After much typing in silence it was agreed we would crash at the secluded group campground. Sweet. It was 3 before we were in bed. 106 miles for the day.

Day 2: Muskegon State Park to Van Buren State Park

We arose late and ate the breakfast meal at a bagel shop we had observed inbound. I charged my phone, stole some liquid soap, filled the water bottles—all the necessities of proper time management. Over breakfast we came up with three satirical slogans mocking Todd’s “CTA: TAKE IT!” bike jersey: 1) “CTA: TAKE IT (or leave it.)” “CTA: TAKE(ing) IT(‘s time.)” “CTA: TAKE IT (up the ass)”

Nobody else seemed up for the monument/grave of Captain Walker and his branded hand, but as luck would have it, we ran plumb into it.

The lake on the wrong side wreaked havoc with my sense of direction and almost immediately we were off course. Not having proper maps compounded the problem. The only thing that made it better was that everyone else’s sense of direction seemed to off in the same way. Well, once they were into the whiskey. We ate blueberries.

Shawn’s panniers were of a design he’d found on the internet, utilizing two empty cat litter buckets. Waterproof and solid. The only thing that puzzled us was that one bucket claimed to contain a “bonus” 3 pounds, yet both were identical in size. Perhaps they just used heavier gravel?

I myself was using a brand spanking new set, front and back, of fully waterproof Ortlieb panniers, in yellow. The new design is very smart and highly adjustable. Unfortunately I forgot to install an insert in the hangers of one bag and had to resort to a pinkie size stick to keep it from rattling (thanks Shawn.) I also lost some hardware in failing to tighten a hook into position. 5-star bags none the less, available at Rapid Transit Bike Shop.

My other experiment on this trip was switching from Vaseline to Bag Balm for my sensitive parts. It was vast improvement in the arenas of comfort and durability and washes out easier to boot.

Mid day we New Holland Brew Pub and Todd ordered samples “of everything you brew.” Much to the chagrin of the barkeep, I duplicated the order and the four of us sat sharing the full range. Josh did some recon, taking careful photos and mental notes for his own upcoming brew pub.

I new it would happen, months ago when I scoped out the maps, but we ended up on the I-96, the Gerald R. Ford Freeway. The debate subsided once we passed a sign proclaiming a 70MPH speed limit. Funny how these Interstate fuckers never think to put up signs prohibiting peds & bikes on the road itself, just at the on ramps.

We took the nearest exit and made our way to Van Buren State Park, 90 miles for the day. Michael, Gin, Lisa and the babies had out waited the baffled teenage park staff until, once again, the organizational camp site was relinquished. Having diner --Gin’s signature lentil goodness-- and cold, draft home brew waiting for us there was divine.

We entertained the young’uns and they entertained us.

Day 3: Van Buren State Park to Warren Dunes State Park

After a lazy breakfast, Gin, Lisa, Josh, Shawn and I hit the road, leaving Miguel and Violet in the care of their daddies.

We hit up the Venetian Festival in St. Joseph, a day late for Kansas, but in plenty of time for various greasy, salty and meaty treats. After some snacking, we inadvertently split up and lunched at two different mediocre establishments. Josh accompanied a lactating Lisa whose need to feed was building.

Onward we rolled, crossing paths with the fellas & babies south of town.

Again, we were quickly off course, adding miles to our easy day. The “Google Maps” printouts I had prepared were woefully inadequate. Major roads were not labeled, sometimes even those of the route itself. The names of the towns were printed in nearly the same font as those of streets, and placed above roadways for maximum confusion. I have made it my 2 year goal to get a phone with internet for maps, aerials, businesses and points of interest on the fly.

We all rendezvoused at a first rate ice cream shop and did the final stretch to Warren Dunes State Park proceeding directly to the beach. The lake was cold and refreshing. Shawn and I swam out to a buoy. Speculating the depth we shot down to the bottom, a jarring 8” below our feet and immediately burst to the surface in a fit of laughter.

Michael had again scored the organizational site, only to abandon it for the more desirable ‘primitive’ sites (ie no electric.) The sites were well spaced, with plenty of foliage, soft sandy soil and the standard great fire pit. In short, grade A, except for the ceaseless drone of the Interstate, which negated all the aforementioned positive quantities. Ugh.

We crowded around the stoves preparing a pasta diner and noshing appetizers. I was against so many olives in the sauce, but it turned out wonderfully. Josh disappeared and returned with his shirt full of black berries. I don’t think those stains are coming out. We sat around the fire and I toasted several perfect marshmallows.

Day 4 Warren Dunes to Chicago.


What did we eat for breakfast with our strong coffee? We packed up and left Todd and the women-folk to mind the wee ones.

We decided on the longer route of trails—the Calumet, the Prairie Duneland, the Oak Savannah, the Erie Lackawanna. It was good to have a bike map again (check here for an updated PDF.)

Another tourist destination that met with much protest was the 1933 World’s FairHomes of Tomorrow” which were brought to sandy Beverly Shores via barge after the festivities. Regardless, I persisted and we made the mild detour. They have fallen into disrepair, but are currently being fixed up, some by private individuals and some by the State.

After many miles, photos and dictaphone notations, my camera ran out of juice. To bad.

After riding out the Prairie Duneland to it’s endpoint in Hobart, we ran into a couple of 60 year old roadies on carbon jobbies who made it their day’s good deed to escort us to the Oak Savannah, zig zagging along the unsigned route.

At the Trailhead they bit us farewell took off with a start, but Josh jumped on their tail and rest of did the same. Soon we were enjoying a 20mph pace, drafting them on our fully loaded rigs, which we did all the way to the Erie Lackawanna, where we said our goodbyes again.

At some point, perhaps subconsciously, we decided to hit up the Three Floyds Brew Pub in Munster, IN. I’ve been there twice, once on Mark Sinclair's ride and the following year when I organized the same event in his honor.

Not having approached it from the east, we sought it out by landmarks—bike paths, train tracks and a water tower; or perhaps it was the sweet hoppy aroma that led us to it’s miserable industrial park location.

When we arrived to find it closed. It was like Clark Griswold at Wally World, except there was no Moose to punch, only the gardener. Good thing we didn’t hit him, as he turned out to be the patriarch of the Floyd family.

Josh, a former Goose Island Brewer, asked him a few questions and made a call or two. Within a few minutes we were standing inside, beers in hand. Nice work Josh and eternal gratefulness to brewer (brewmaster?) Barnaby for his incredible hospitality, serving up samplers of numerous varieties.

We also shot the shit awhile with visiting brewer Teri Fahrendorf, who keeps a fantastic blog of her cross country brewery tour. With her was Matt Van Wyk, Brewmaster at Flossmoor Station back in our home state, who graciously offered to buy us the first round at his place. We made haste.

A light intoxication in the hot afternoon sun made taking our lane on Glenwood Lansing Rd. a bit less nerve-wracking. Soon we were at our third brewery of the trip, enjoying another assortment of fine beverages, pub fare and the last of Michael’s cigars.

Josh and Michael could not resist the allure of the Metra Electric, which practically stops at the brew pubs back door (it is a former rail station.) Shawn and I bid them farewell with a gift of a bungee and continued the journey north, up Kedzie, saying our own good-byes at 55th.

104 for the day. 340 for the trip.

T.C.

See all the SSR2007 Photos Here



Wednesday, August 8, 2007

Not the Soda Pop, the Bombs

Backlog Ride Missive #2: July 15, 2007

I’d worked up a tight schedule to keep—being that this was a 150 mile, train to train ride. Sunday morning the trains sleep in, so I would have limited time, not hitting the road in Elburn until after 10am. From there I wanted to check out Franklin Creek Natural Area, revisit Dixon, wander the remains of the Green River Ordinance Plant, hit the pharmacy in Amboy for a malted milkshake, hit Shabbona Lake State Park and catch the last train in Aurora at 11:20pm.

To keep the surprises to a minimum, I made an extensive itinerary, including a detailed route, restaurant options in each of the towns, sights to see, mileages between cities and turn by turn directions to the train station. I then forgot it atop the printer. Sigh.

The train was packed with bikes, so much so that I have made it a personal rule to arrive a minimum of 20 minutes before departure to ensure a spot. I settled in with my coffee, maps and some info and aerials of the GROP. I noted with glee the location of an O’Rourke Rd. and added it to the schedule.

By 10:15 I was on the road-- Keslinger – and not long after crossed from Kane to De Kalb, the road becoming more rural. Merrit Prairie (pdf) looked nice, but I was good and passed it up. I counted 15 beer cans in a one mile stretch of this road, Miller Lite the local beer of choice by a large margin.

I caught a flat shortly before noon and limped along to the first tree I could find. Glass. I hustled and was back in action within 15 minutes. Kesslinger turned to gravel as was indicated on the IDOT Map-- one of the only benefits of the set. I headed south on 23.

At noon I had 28.5 miles on me and was running a respectable 15.1 mph average, up from the 11mph ride from home to the Loop. Approaching Steward, I began to see sport cyclists in oncoming droves. Some sort of organized ride, I surmised. I said hello to every goddamn one of them and, for the Tri-fags, even rang the bell. In town I came across a playlot sign proclaiming “Conor O’Rorke” to be “forever in our hearts.”

Shortly before 1pm I had another puncture. This time I found only the hole in tube and a matching one in the tire. Swapped out my last tube and was done in 10 minutes.

I braced my self for action when the Camero pulled up, but he did a three point turn and headed back the way he came. I soon realized why: the road ahead was a very coarse gravel, as was the cross road. O’Rourke Rd. would be about 3 miles of it, round trip, a tough, slow ride. Sadly, I prioritized GROP and choose to abandon the pilgrimage to my namesake road, knowing that I shall likely never again be in the position to visit it.

Looking to the north for I-88, I saw the ominous cooling towers of the Byron Nuclear Power Plant, signaling my approach to the Rock River. Ahead was another sight that no longer appears odd to me—a blackbird tormenting a red-tailed hawk.

At 2pm I was in Franklin Grove, IL. I’d done 52 miles in 3 hours and 25 minutes of actual riding time. Considering the flats, I was making good time, but still pretty far of my summer goal of a ‘decent’ ride: 50 miles in under 3 hours.

In dire need of water, I stopped in the town park which lacked fountains. Noticing some kids exiting an administrative building, I grabbed my bottles and headed inside, where 75 people were busy devouring some sort of fundraising breakfast. All eyes were upon me as I casually walked to the sink and filled up.

Wandering through the town, I overshot the road leading to the entrance of the Franklin Creek Natural Area and had to back track 2 miles. There was quite a descent into the park, which had a few picnic shelters and extensive equestrian facilities. Most of the roads were rutted, coarse gravel. The “old mill” was sort of a bust, really a re-creation. (The elevator kind of gave it away.) The paddle wheel was made entirely of steel, but produced a lovely bellowing, melodic grown.

At 3pm I had 65.5 miles and was fighting a headwind into Dixon. The only eatery open was a Thai place, not my first choice for middle Illinois, but it turned out to be quality. Fat dumplings for an appetizer, delicious iced coffee. The Panang curry was excellent except that the beef tasted bland and rubbery. Tragic, really to ruin such a carefully made sauce with inferior meat.

I stopped by the boyhood home of our 40th President of the United States of America. He was actually born in Tampico, not far from here, but Dixon fosters a heavy rivalry over the Gipper. A hideous sculpture stands in the courtyard, which I photo’d while flipping the bird.

At 5pm I was at 80 miles and approaching the remains of the Green River Ordinance Plant, with a nice NW-W wind behind me. Redbrick Rd. turned to shit. I came across a bunker. Sticking my camera inside, I was surprised to see the flash had illuminated a piece of farm equipment. I turned onto O’Malley Rd. at the corner of which a lone resident ran into her house. South of the main bunker storage complex, I came across a simple cross bar gate with large gaps and slipped inside.

I rode up and down a few of the parallel roads. Each of the bunkers was storing equipment. Whole area seemed to be used by some sort of outfit trucking extremely explosive materials. I passed under large hopper I’m assuming is used to fill the tanker trucks.

Coming to a weed-choked impasse, I decided to turn back to find my point of entry. Moving towards it I was chagrined to see a large red pickup parked diagonally across the trail. Shit. I put on my best smile and waved as I approached.

The large man inside did not exit. “You are not authorized to be in here” he said sternly. “Did you come in through the main gate?” “Uh, I came in back there, I think” I said, pointing in no particular direction, just away from my point of entry, which was well marked with no trespassing signs. “You can’t be back here. Which way did you come in?” “Uh, well, I’m not 100%, I think it was the main gate…” I continued to play dumb. “This is Red Brick Rd., right?” I said gesturing towards O’Malley. “Oh, no… that’s O’Malley” he said softening some.

Our exchange lightened and I quickly changed the subject, explaining my ride and my hopes to see the bunkers. He nodded in understanding.

I bid him good day, quickly cursing myself for not asking about other structures in more public areas and for not recording a covert video of the exchange. Next time.

I cruised the area spotting a smokestack, but ultimately opted to investigate the mysterious, large, light colored area on the aerial images. It was the Lee County landfill. Another case solved, Sherlock Dumass.

It was getting on 6 when I left the GROP remains, 87 miles done with 6 hours in the saddle. I had slipped to a 14.2 mph average.

I was eastbound on Sterling Rd. with a killer tailwind, doing 20mph without even trying. The road was smooth, with no traffic. Everything was bathed in the warm light of the early evening. Windmills appeared ahead. I tripped 100 around 7pm.

I hit Amboy which was mostly closed and stopped into a filling station for provisions. I skipped taking off my helmet, sunglasses and camera in the interest of time and got bemused looks from the other patrons, including a weird breed of rednecky hipsters. The famous pharmacy soda fountain was closed, so I left town in a hurry, pausing to commemorate crossing the Green River.

8pm, 112.3 miles and I'm starting to ache a little. The topography around Paw Paw was rolling hills. I was 5 miles behind schedule which means I have 38 miles to do in the next 3 hours.

Somewhere along this stretch, I lost my 5 LED tail light. Luckily, I still had the Planet Bike Super Flash model, which can be seen from space. My philosophy is that you should have extra lights as to serve backups, but to use them instead of just carrying them around. I have also found that, while motorists should respect you regardless, they do more so when you are lit up crazy style, especially out in the sticks.

Will I never get to see Shabbona Lake?

Around 10:30 I was making my approach to Aurora. I took a series of out-of-the-way turns to stay on the ‘prescribed’ route, but zigged when I should have zagged and ended up doing a horrific stretch of route 30, which would have been bad enough without the moonscape pavement, heavy traffic and the road construction. After a harrowing sprint in the wrong direction, I had no alternative than to turn around and do it again.

I rode a nice little section of the Virgil Gilman trail until it abruptly ended, dumping me at a point unknown, once again proving that it’s a good idea to stick to the streets when you need to get anywhere.

Lucky for me, train stations are marked on the CBF map. I was delighted to see Walter Payton’s Roundhouse restaurant, and dismayed to find it closed. No growler for the train ride home. A crazy guy with no money was thrown off the train at the route 59 station— the last place in the world I would wish to be broke.

$5 for the weekend pass and 155 miles for the day.

T.C.

All the ride Photos: http://www.flickr.com/photos/tcorourke/sets/72157601311311911/

See the Route Here


Friday, August 3, 2007

Blog Housekeeping (to avoid actual housekeeping)

Hello Loyal Readers,

I’m tidying up here at Paris or Bust 2007.

First a shout out to my one and only corporate sponsor: Boulevard Bikes. My dear mate Kevin Womac has graciously donated a pair of Rivendell Roll-y Pol-y” tires to our cause (aka my vacation.) I am touched by his generosity.

Kevin built my machine up last year, patiently answering my endless, fretting questions and meeting my every specification at a price that did not pay his rent. It has truly been a dream to ride and has brought me much joy. Nate, Doug, Adrian, Jim and John will fix your rig or assist you with purchasing a new one.

Secondly, I have added a limited list of links to relevant websites & blogs. Lawyer Jim’s unique blog mixes legal advice, alleycat racing, his recent southern tour and his Time Out Chicago delivery antics. John Greenfield’s Bars Across America chronicles his cross-country tour and descent into alcoholism. The “trail” may not all be grand, but Jennifer’s Grand Illinois Trail Blog is bigger than all that and a great read to boot.

Lastly, I do appreciate all who stop by to read my self centered ramblings about my various hijinks. But a blog is a ravenous beast whose appetite for comments can never be sated. I know thinking up witty comments on the spot can be daunting (I keep a list on hand for office birthday cards,) so I offer you a generic list from which to cut and paste:

“Wow, T.C. I can’t believe you rode 62 miles in 2 hours! Those Metra trains sure are fast!”

“IMHO Ur blog is FUBAR, LOL. BBW for NSA QPTZHH, ASAP. OMG! WOOT!!”

“RE: DISCOVER CARD FSB. Mr. O’Rourke, agents from my office have made numerous attempts to reach you regarding your considerable…”

“Enlarge your Pen1s, this is the stuff Ron Jeremy uses”

Thanks for reading,

T.C.

Wednesday, August 1, 2007

My Aquatic Life on the Serengeti

Hey, like wow, August 1. The July 1 ride was my last real dispatch, I’m 4 rides backlogged on th’ ol’ Blog. Oh dear. Too busy planning and executing rides to report on them I suppose, as I ain’t getting much else accomplished with my life.

Anyway, here’s the next Sunday in our series: July 8, 2007

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Metra was blacked out again, so I opted for the 8am Amtrak to Joliet, planning on exploring more of Midewin, the confluence of the Des Plaines and Illinois rivers and, time permitting, the area south of the Illinois, which varies from state recreational areas to strip mines.

I was half way to Union Station when I realized I had forgotten my pump; I didn’t even stop to check—I just knew. I pack by wandering around the house grabbing things at random and adding them to the pile on my living room floor, until it feels done. Ironically, I have a checklist taped to my front door for my far simpler daily routine.

A lesser man might have thought this an unfortunate event, a stroke of bad luck. But I know differently. Better to make such a realization now, than to discover the mistake attempting to fix a puncture. 22 miles from nowhere. Without any water.

I returned home and sat on the stoop with a happy dog, looking at the CBF map. No westerly route looked appealing and I realized they would have only appeared less so on the way home. I decided to venture into the Southland yet again, checking out a few places I had been forced to skip over on the last ride. I would ride south to the Old Plank Road Trail and complete it end to end. I set out south on Kedize. It was 7am.

I made a quick detour to roll through Lithuanian Plaza, 69th Street adjacent to Marquette Park, a stretch full of private taverns and other old, white-flight holdover businesses.

Otherwise I was all business, having learned my lesson about dawdling on the last ride. By 8am I was crossing 83rd and by 9:30 I had done 36 miles at a cruising average of 13.8 (not too shabby) to be at the eastern end of the Old Plank Road Trail. The OPRT offered some relief from the southwest wind and is an A-1 trail as they go. I stopped for some farmer’s market kettle corn in Frankfort, and munched on it while rolling down the path, leaving a trail of it behind me.

I had ridden the trails 20 miles (I only counted 18) by 11am and immediately headed on to Joliet to see about a return ticket. Things had heated up and upon reaching the train station I pounded two 20oz sodas—not such a good idea in retrospect. I stumbled into the super-cooled Amtrak lobby and stood at the desk to secure my passage home. Out of sight, two employees were engaged in casual banter and did not respond to my persistent hello’s —although they were no more than 15’ away. Eventually they appeared, acting as if they’d never heard me. “Welcome to Amtrak: How May We Delay You?”

I completed my business and headed out to explore a few Joliet destinations.

First up was the Joliet Ironworks, along side a short paved segment of the Illinois and Michigan Canal Trail. Not much remains of the remains, but it gave me a sort of pueblo cliff dweller vibe and had some left leaning plaques abut the hard lives of the people who worked there.

From the ruins I spied my next destination: Joliet Prison. Did you know it was designed by William W. Boyington who did the Water Tower on Michigan Avenue? Ah, those were the days, where even prisons would be designed by a prominent architect! I was a little disappointed to see that the door Jake exited as been long since fenced over.

For some odd reason I skipped over several fine taquerias and ended up at a lousy Dairy Queen on the outskirts of town. I sat at a picnic table, slowly broiling my brain in the sun as I choked down a Grade-D hot dog, my appetite suppressed by the extreme heat.

I picked up the Wauponsee Glacial Trail (PDF) and headed south to Midewin. The limestone trail was dry and gritty, covering my bike and legs with a fine white dust. The white reflected the heat and an almost blinding light. Will County’s Sugar Creek Administration Center offered a water source, but the ‘environmentally friendly’ design (surrounded by a sea of asphalt) offered not a lick of shade for the weary traveler.

Pushing on, I passed Route 66 speedway and the Manhattan Metra station and exiting the trail at Hoff Rd. where I turned directly into a fierce west wind. I limped along, sometimes as slowly as 8mph, exhausted, hungry and dehydrated. I fantasized about the lovely, shady spot in the park where I would nap.

Finally arriving at the park, I found my dream spot on Turtle Pond where I collapsed and dozed off with a cup of coffee in my hand. When I awoke, a Kingfisher was sitting in the tree in front of me.

I put on 10 tough miles wandering around the park, riding further and further down the increasingly ridiculous-bad trails, until I came to a locked gate blocking the rail crossing over Route 53. I turned back on another trail, using a weighted, self closing gate to enter and exit a cattle grazing area. Perched a top a bunker, baking in the sun, I surveyed my Serengeti like surroundings and realized how cool this place it.

The old munitions buildings, the bunkers, the roads returning to nature, the empty vastness, but more than anything the car-freeness. By bike is the only way to really see this place. Two trips in two consecutive weeks and I could think only of my next visit.

The song remains the same. Screw around too long and race for the train. Oh, T.C., will you never learn?

On my last trip I had noted that Route 53 wasn’t as bad as I’d remembered from my marathon St. Louis trip in ’03, during which it had literally thrown me into an irrational, profanity screaming rage. This time around the section I took matched my memory— concrete segmented with large jarring cracks every 10’ and roaring traffic. I finished the last of my water. The wind had shifted hard out of the south and I was pulling 22 with a little effort, but lightheaded confusion was setting in.

I veered into the first gas station and lost control of the front end, bouncing hard off my hands but landing on my feet. My front tire was way soft. I walked right into the locked doors and had to complete my dazed transaction for Gatorjuice through the ghetto style glass turnstile. I didn’t even wait for my change. I pounded it, producing an almost immediate stomach cramp, then put some air in my tire and jumped back on the death-route.

For all my drama in getting there, the train was late. I should have called. We sat on the platform listening to the folks at Silver Cross Field drinking beer and cheering. When the train arrived we crabby passengers were informed we would be utilizing the Rock Island line tracks, which we did at about 35mph, and which was followed by a triple backup track maneuver to pull into Union Station. Luckily for the other passengers, I had a pair of seats to my tired, sweat stained, reeking self.

When I returned home I had only 113 miles for the day, weighed 7 lbs less and was slurring my speech.

T.C.