Wednesday, May 16, 2007

Places from the Internet, Places from the Map

Adhering to a rigorous training ride schedule involves sacrifice, dedication and a high level of level of discipline. On Saturday, I arose promptly at 9:30. PM. After sleeping 12 solid hours.

Ok. It sounds bad, but sleeping all day Saturday was rather productive in the grand scheme of things. To squeeze in 12 hours of riding before Mothers Day festivities, I was going to have to get creative with my circadian rhythm. I had stayed up about 24 hours straight, spending Friday night puttering about, cleaning my apartment and cooking numerous tuna casseroles. I was now well rested, primed for another 24 hour day.

I caught the 12:40 PM Metra MD West Line destined for downtown Elgin. Although this is rather early for us city dwellers, this is the last train out for the suburban party crowd and I witnessed the motion of the train knock more than one drunken idiot flat on her thong’d ass. (Mental note: pick up drunk chicks here later.)

Detraining carefully past the puke puddle—she even managed to coat the full length of the handrail— I reset my cyclometer, which I’m sure picked up the 63 mph max from someone or something other than me, and rode off at 2:00 AM.

Doing these distances is giving me the opportunity to travel foreign roadways and hit some places out of the normal striking range, places I’ve meant to visit for years. On this ride I wanted to roll through DeKalb, and then checkout Shabbona Lake State Park which I had pondered on the map. But mainly, this ride was a pilgrimage. My first destination would be Huntley, and the ruins of Shireland.

60 miles northwest of Chicago, Shireland was an amusement/ theme park based around Shire horses. Opened in the late 80’s by the man who invented upside-down spray paint, it was a near immediate failure. The large draft animals were unused to crowds and freaked out on opening day, which was fine as the general public had limited interest in medieval horses-of-war anyway. Shireland now sits as a testament to the sheer blindness a man’s passion can cause.

I had read about it all years ago and seen it once, to the north of Interstate 90 on a trip to Rockford. Lacking a street address or aerial photos, I decided to search for it Ponce de Leon style—wandering the area blindly based on exaggerated rumor. I carefully followed the route I had laid out while sipping coffee on the train, crisscrossing the Interstate.

Hugging the Interstate in this fashion exposed me to some god-awful exurbia. Perfect blacktop roads to nowhere. McMansions built by farmers-cum-speculators, next to their collapsing barns. An outlet mall. A skunk ambled across his former home in this new sprawling subdivision —maybe 50 ‘homes’— being built simultaneously. The rate and scope of development is truly frightening.

After a few hours of searching, stopping to check the map and retracing steps after dead ends, I was beginning to think I had missed it, but at the end of a long stretch of hilly highway the local highschoolers call roller coaster road, stood the doomed fairgrounds in all their dilapidated glory. I put myself in the right frame of mind and hopped the fence.

The place has not aged well since the photos I saw were taken (2002.) Most of it is gone, the rest overgrown with weeds. A little graffiti, a little broken glass. Pretty ok.

I was startled by the dawn. It was nearly 5am and in the first 3 hours of my excursion, I’d only gone 20 miles. I jumped on the bike and rode 12 miles or so northwest to Marengo and them headed immediately south, into the wind, which had shifting from the east.

At 8:30am I stopped in DeKalb, to eat half my veggie burger and baked potatoes with cheese and broccoli and drink some coffee. A light rain steadily increased and I was damp and a bit cold. In addition to the food and thermos of coffee, I was carrying several maps, a lock and a full change of street clothing (including low top chucks.)

I checked out “Peace Road Trail” a paved number running along the power line right-of-way but quickly abandoned it for the road. I am always extra cautious when riding any roadway who's name would lend irony to my being killed on it. If I ever encounter "Happy Bicyclist Rd." I'm walking. But traffic was still light and the rain let up.

About an hour later the engine was sputtering, courtesy of my low fat meal. I hadn’t noticed a single open convenience store on the route, but fortunately for me the filling station in Shabbona had an extended variety of the “touring cyclists 4 food groups”: fatty, starchy, salty, and sugary.

Un-fortunately for me, Shabbona was about 30 miles from Aurora, which itself was 17 miles from Grandma’s house in Downers Grove. Why I had assumed it to be closer I do not know. It was after 11am and although it was heartbreaking to have come to the door step of Shabbona Lake State Park only to leave without a spin around the grounds, I knew I was already destined to be late. I settled for wolfing down my turbo caloric food in Chief Shabbona Forest Preserve and hit the Lincoln Highway.

I have always depended on big, mean ass highways when I need to burn up the miles. They’re always labeled, whatever the map and well signed, so there’s little chance of getting lost. They’re more direct and flatter. If the town has what you need, it’ll likely be on the main road. And manipulating 60 mph traffic with your body and bike provides that little extra adrenaline to keep you at an honest speed.

While not exactly pleasant, Sunday + Holiday = Mellow and I had zero problems with irate cagers, even as traffic increased. The cross wind let up a bit too and I consistently moved the needle towards the 10mph overall average each hour, achieving it by the time I landed at Grandmas—about an hour late.

Total for the trip: 137 miles in less than 14 hours, including the ride to and from the train. Not bad, considering my initial dawdling, my load, the wind and rain.

Special thanks to Lawyer Jim for stopping by Sunday morn to release the hound.

T.C.

1 comment:

Lawyer Jim said...

Shireville- very interesting. I would have liked to join you on this ride I think. I always enjoy destination rides.