Thursday, June 28, 2007

Confessions of an Unredeemed Distance Addict

Well, my all-night hijinx appear to have caught up with me in the most bitter of all ironies—the summertime cold. I laid about this past weekend, sleeping and eating, hoping to stave it off, but to no avail. Yesterday was the worst, I feel now as if I am on the mend.

It was first time in 9 consecutive weekends of riding, I went nowhere. Since the 200 KM brevet, I have logged a minimum of 90 and maximum 484 miles (four days) each weekend, totaling 1958 miles. Since Easter, I have averaged 163 miles each week and 202 in the last 9 weeks—the bulk in single outings, the rest in riding to them. None of this includes my 50+ miles of weekday commuting, errands, etc.

Without my weekly excursion, my legs feel listless. I pour over maps, making plans for every weekend through December. I fantasize about quitting my job, selling my house, giving away my possessions and just… riding.

Cold or no, I must wander this weekend.

I have become a mileage junkie.


Monday, June 25, 2007

Wetlands Research Project

I decided to take a weekend off.

Yes. A chance to heal up some of the chronic aches that annoy me until mile 50 and the true pains that flare up at mile 200. ‘You will not lose your form in a single week’ I told myself. The round-trip to the company outing at Ravinia Sunday night (06/17) would be 50 miles, more than enough. Yes indeed.

I half believed it all, until I packed a thermos full of coffee. After that, I just hoped the wine and Brazilian music would lull me into a drowsiness that would thwart my crazy plan.

But first was an overdue visit to the Womac/Furlong residence to meet new arrival Hazel.

The Fiestas Puertorriqueñas is in full effect, so I thought I would stoke the fire with some Jibaritos from Borinquen on California Av. in Humboldt Park.

En route, I rolled through some glass at the end of my block and instinctively knew I’d caught a flat, my rear tire is being quite low on tread with my recent surge in mileage. A few blocks later my suspicions were confirmed as the bike sagged around a corner, but I managed to limp along to the restaurant before I needed to stop. I had the duel misfortune of being unable to find the offending shard and breaking the nut off spare tube #1. Hence I started my adventure with only one spare tube —punctured— and a %50 chance of a repeat flat.

I arrived at Karen & Kevin’s with a fried feast: steak, pork and ham Jibaritos; buckets of Arroz Amarillo; Mofongo; Tostones; and cans of Guava juice. Hazel, 2 ½ weeks, hung out in the sling, when Kevin wasn’t performing the “football hold” with her. Karen nursed and dug in the garden.

The only bright side of my second flat was the smug sense of an excellent “bike intuition.” This time around I could find neither the cause of the deflation or even the puncture itself. Kevin gave me loaner tube and I was on my way.

I was running rather late on account of these punctures and abandoned my plan to ride up on the winding North Branch Trail, opting for a speedier and more direct route. I cut over to Pulaski/Crawford to Grosse Point to Ridge and Old Green Bay. I spied a tunnel at Willow Rd. and crossed to the east side of the Union Pacific tracks just in time for the lamest parts of the Green Bay Trail. Someday I will note where all of the suck sections are.

I arrived at Ravinia with 22 miles and coincidentally ran into Mike and Dave. We laughed a bit and discussed the last brevet. Then I moved on to the work picnic, chatting and drinking, noshing, and eying with contempt the significant others of my numerous workplace crushes.

By 11pm I was back on the road, flying past the mile long queue of expressway bound cars on Lake Cook Rd., carefully avoiding the occasional sudden, frustrated U-turns. I was just as relieved not to be corralled on the Metra with the drunken mass of train newbies. If ever there was a time and place for a bike…

I crossed U.S. 41 and opted to avoid the Skokie Valley Bikeway, instead snaking up a series of lesser-streets to Half Day Rd.—what I thought was the southern terminus of the Lake County section of the Des Plaines River Trail. (The trail has been extended south to at least Lake Cook Rd. and I have switched to a more recent map.) Tonight’s goal would be to ride the entirety of this crushed-limestone trail.

After a few miles west on Half Day, I jumped on an east-west sidepath near the river and immediately stopped at two odd structures (scroll down to page 6). Both were log cabin style, lodge like and accessible only from the trail and boarded up tight. The downside of solo traveling is being unable to breach such buildings as this should never be done alone.

34 miles and I was northbound on the trail. I’ve been here twice before, but never reaching the northern terminus. It’s quite pleasant as 85% of the Des Plains is forest preserves, largely due to the river’s shallowness and large flood plain making it unusable for industry. It crisscrosses the river in long, uninterrupted runs thanks to numerous underpasses. My only complaint is the tiny size of the signs posted at the many forks, the ½” lettering requiring a stop at every juncture.

I followed the trail, lights on, winding sharply through dark woods and cutting across cold foggy meadows filled by a thousand fireflies. Some of the bridge underpasses are so low you duck in fear. Loose gravel fills the water-worn grooves on the sloping sections, sending you into a slushy fishtail right when you’re riding the fastest. Despite the dampness, the bike and I were soon covered in a fine white grit.

At one crossing, I spied what was once the world’s largest wooden rollercoaster. You would think I’d be used to this by now, but stumbling across the landmarks of my childhood while cycling thrills me to the core. As a kid, the trip to “Great America” seemed an endless, mind numbing drive. Although I know better the distances involved and an hour of travel is now bearable, the years I spent traversing the suburbs via backseat have left their mark.

It was getting late, but I made minimal stops and kept pressing north. At 2:15 am and mile 66, I reached the trails end at Sterling Lake, less than a mile from Wisconsin. I unwittingly came within feet of tagging the boarder when Russell Rd. curved north, but since following the winding trail is further than riding to the border direct, I have no regrets about not crossing the threshold. Mission accomplished.

Now I needed to make some time. I shot southward on a series of Irish named streets to the east of the river: Kilbourne, Delaney/Delany, O’Plaine, St. Marys.

On stretches near the trail, I started noticing signs prohibiting riding of bicycles 3 or more abreast, one following each innocuous “Share the Road.” It amazes me that a municipality can post a sign chastising cyclists for rude behavior more specific in instruction and in language more stern than the one posted for the dangerous behavior of motorists. Of course, they can’t help the fact that there exists no law dictating a safe passing distance they might cite.

Pulling under a streetlamp I was treated to another odd sight: hundreds of Cicadas, moaning low, crawling and rolling around the pavement. I shot this video, which I cannot figure out how to post here in the blogoshphere. I nearly dropped the camera afterwards while swiping at the bloodthirsty locusts crawling up my legs.

After 6 am and I’m back in the city, repeating the suggested route aloud to keep on course: Canfield to Higgins to Foster to Central to Montrose. I rode all the streets, but somehow in a different order. I think I took California Av. south, getting in just after 7 am.

117 miles for the trip, so you understand why I took the train to work.


Friday, June 22, 2007

A Lovely Day for A Bicycle Ride

We last left our hero gloriously having completed 376 miles in less than 38 hours…

I awoke to knocking at the door. 11am. Housekeeping. “Not yet” I managed with some effort. She went away.

I slept about 12 solid hours. I took a long hot shower and moved slowly about the room gathering my things for the next hour. Picked up the greasy wrappers from a less than stellar victory meal. No alcohol sales after 9pm on Sundays, so no hangover.

After a heartfelt goodbye to the Super 8 employees, complete with promises of postcards from Paris, I began my journey… to the Delavan Family Restaurant, where I would have a decent meal (for once.) I opted to read the local-local paper from the preceding Thursday, dominated by the city council meeting concerning the road construction and minute details of the graduating class of 2007. I wouldn’t read the details of the horrific murder-suicide the night before, which had put this sleepy town in national headlines.

1:00 pm and I was on the road to Harvard. I did a careful inventory as I rode: bit of stiffness in my knees and ache in my elbow, some soreness in my hands and feet, but nothing that didn’t work itself out in the 20 miles to the train station.

Checking the schedule, I was dismayed to learn that the next train was 2 ½ hours off. I thought about sitting it out in the tavern or finding a shady spot to read. But the sun was shinning… a light breeze blew from the west… it was just the perfect day…

For a bike ride!

I had been quite concerned about riding 20 miles to the train the day after the 600 KM, but now I must tell you the truth: if I had known just how good I would feel afterwards, I would have saved myself $100 and ridden to the train that evening. Huzzah!

First order of business was procuring a suitable map, which I would find at the first filling station. At the ridiculously large scale of 1 ½” to the mile, it would need to be refolded on the handlebar bag every 20 minutes and could tell a man everything he ever wanted to know about McHenry County. Needless, I used it to wander the county roads, eventually ending up on IL120 and stopping to inspect some Cicadas.

I spun around downtown McHenry, IL a bit, birthplace of my stepmother. From there I jumped on the Prairie Trail, lesser known pathway running from the northern end of the Fox River Trail into Wisconsin and not to be confused with the Prairie Path. This state seems so desperate to name everything after the landscape it totally obliterated.

The last time I rode this section of trail was 2000(?) Back then I did it on a trip to Fox Lake, on a bikes-on-Metra pilot program, when bike access was but a dream.

A short paved section of trail just north of Crystal Lake features some steep rolling hills and sharp corners, riding like a roller coaster.

I got into Elgin and thought about continuing, but the pain in my toes had started to flare up and the dog was expecting me, so I bought some tall boys and boarded the 1st train home.

74 miles for a lazy summer day.


Tuesday, June 19, 2007

Most Humble Thanks

Before I return you to our regularly scheduled program, "Tomfoolery Towards Paris," I would like to take a moment to express my gratitude to more than a few individuals.

Thanks to all who have e-mailed and called with their support and good natured ribbing. Double thanks to those who have done so via “comments.” I am delighted that so many friends, old and new, near and far, have supported me in my endeavor.

Thanks to Mike at Cal’s for encouragement, advice, goo and keeping me on course in the middle of the night, in rural Wisconsin after 22 hours and 235 miles.

Thanks to Julie & crew (Ben, Ben, Snacks) for sharing hotel costs, the ride up & back, and general support. It was fun hanging with everyone, let us not become strangers!

Thanks to The Great Lakes Randonneurs for organizing a world class brevet series through scenic southern Wisconsin and to all my fellow members for their advice, insights and camaraderie.

Thanks to my riding buddies Lauren, Adrian, Lawyer Jim and Greenfield for accompanying me (or allowing me to accompany them) on rides, be they brevet, midnight rambles or camping excursions.

Finally thanks to all who have watched Daisy Dog in my absence: my roommate Steve; Lawyer Jim; and, most particularly Bob Matter, who has house/dog-sat more times than I can recall— sometimes not even receiving a cold beer or clean towel for his effort. Without their help I could not disappear for days at a stretch to pursue my own warped dream, knowing that the hound is in good hands.

My unlimited Love to you all,


P.S. Bad Dog!!

Friday, June 15, 2007

That's SUPER, Randonnuer (but don't let it go to your head)

I kind of forgot exactly which side of Union Station the Van Galder picks up, but I found it with 4 minutes to spare. I loaded my bike into the luggage area, partly for expedience sake and partly hoping not to be charged. It sort of worked, but it’s long story involving driver neglecting to fully close the baggage compartment door until we were outside of Rockford and waiving the $10 bike fee to avoid a paper trial of the blunder, I suspect.

The fare was $25—many times the Metra to Harvard, which zipped passed us as we slowly swam along the traffic of the Interstate. I’ve noticed modern bus lines tend to avoid the downtown areas of all but the biggest cities, stopping instead at odd malls and filling stations on the fringe of town, so I didn’t get to see much of Janesville.

I had stupidly left my Wisconsin Bike Fed map (as well as the CBF map) at home (Rule #1: you can never have too many maps.) I also left the mapquest directions to the motor-lodge on the printer. Regardless, I had plenty of time and it was a loverly day, so I blindly set out on a course parallel to U.S. 14. I decided to make a 5 mile detour to visit Carvers Rock County Park. I didn’t find the “Historic Gravesite” but ended up on some scenic hilly rural roads, where some smart-ass highway workers had worked out the equation pictured right.

After 34 leisurely miles I arrived at the Super-eight. A man stormed out of the office incensed over the high-season rates. Fight the power brother, but I had no alternative but the pay the near $100 per night. I left a note for the organizers at the front desk detailing some road closures, laid about my supercooled room and was asleep by 8pm.

Saturday June 9. Up at 4:45. Showered. Sunscreen and ointments. Registration. Breakfast. Chatted. Stretched. At 6am the 16 or so of us were off.

I paired up with Ken for awhile. “I wonder what the people in these towns do” he wondered aloud as we passed through suburban Edgerton. We speculated on their livelihoods and the local economy. This in mind, I procured some locally produced snack food items at the first checkpoint, Landjagers and strawberry licorice, both rather fresh and excellent.

We caught up with Mike and Dave in New Glarus just long enough to say hello.

In Sauk City I was famished and ate two “hoagies,” rather suspicious looking oval shaped hamburgers from under the heat lamp. This was a major mistake, I felt like puking all through the hills to Baraboo. Finally, I stopped to lie in the grass for a while, in a light sleep even, until Ken caught up.

I rolled into Lodi with the wind at a dead calm and met up with Mike, Dave, Johnny (from Turin,) and Bill. I departed with them dusk was soon upon us. We tripped 186 miles, the halfway point en route to Sun Prairie, where I was quite pleased with myself to have caught up with Jim, Thomas and another rider.

I reapplied the ointment… Ok. I have been less than forward with you until this point, but we must discuss the reality of the leather chamois. It is mandatory that the padding in my shorts be greased in some fashion, to prevent chaffing, so I apply petroleum jelly to them as well as my ‘sit bones’ and other sensitive parts. Hey, if slathering my ass with Vaseline makes me less of a red blooded hetero male, then… uh, well… well it just DOSEN’T ok?

A graduation kegger bonfire beckoned, so sweet the bare shoulder sirens I nearly missed a turn. I rode ahead a bit to trip 200 miles at the 18 hour mark. The same damn bumps jarring the same damn pains on the approach to Edgerton, where the need for warm food reduced us to the MacDonnald’s drive-thru.

Bill was wired on caffeine pills, talking a mile a minute. It was hard to hold it against him, as he had apologized in advance. Mike and Dave (and Ken, somewhere behind us) had all gotten less than 2 hours of sleep the night before, per usual. Myself, I was plodding along wearily, the wrapped haystacks looking like giant pillows. I’d nod off, snap to with a swerve and ride on the adrenaline for a few minutes. We hit the motel, 250 miles in 23.5 hours, an hour-fifteen improvement over the last brevet and another personal best.

The coming of the dawn had helped a bit with the sleepiness, but I decided to abandon my plan to ride straight through, opting for 1 ½ hours of blissful sleep on the conference room couch.

Sunday June 10. The nap made all the difference. I departed with Jim, Thomas and Johnny at 8 am sharp. I didn’t expect to keep up and didn’t, but the roads were pleasant, the weather beautiful and my spirits high.

The route for the last 126 miles traversed entirely new terrain, not far from Kettle Moraine. A few folks had warned me of some hills in the first leg, the largest of which was a steep valley of Sugar River, where I hit 42.7 mph on the descent. The roar of the Cicadas was incredible here, like police sirens, a drum corps and heavy machinery at once.

I ate an omelet sandwich outside the East Troy checkpoint and hit the road fast. Somewhere in the next leg I passed Bill heading back, about 30 miles ahead of me having forgone sleep. He appeared lucid.

At the Whitewater checkpoint, I came across a rider with a broken spoke, tire rubbing the frame. The wheel was a shop loaner and the deep V made the nipples inaccessible. He was a mere 45 miles from the finish, but not planning on going to Paris. “Now I get to go drink beer” he smiled viewing the bright side.

Closer to the halfway point were Johnny, Thomas and Jim on their return. It was all business at the half way mark, the checkpoint in Jefferson. 3 miles back out I encountered Mike and Dave, who had opted for an 8am wake-up call. Some time later I swapped shouts of encouragement with Tom and Alan.

Bluff Rd. was particularly a scenic 8 mile stretch of two lane blacktop, with picturesque farms and Georgian style brick homes. It was here that I broke my longstanding St. Louis to Chicago record of 334 miles in just over 35 hours, tripping a mile over in over an hour less: 335 in <34>

There are numerous variables to consider in comparing the rides. This ride was rather hilly, while that one was almost entirely flat. This was a loop and that was one way with a wind advantage. For this I have trained, for that I just jumped on the bike. Balmy June vs. freezing November. A cat nap vs. no sleep. 30 lb bike vs. 17 lb bike. 27 gears vs. 1 fixed.

Ultimately, I rate the St. Louis ride as vastly more difficult due to simple geometry. A touring bike aims to suspend you in the most comfortable position possible to coax the miles out of your body. Sitting on track bike is the like crouch of a cat pouncing ceaselessly. The fact that I could even attempt an additional 40 miles, was proof enough. The day after St. Louis, I hardly got out of bed. May it stand as my most difficult ride forever and all time.

Back through East Troy, I headed for the hills. I had been riding conservatively all day awaiting them, but they were not as fierce as I had remembered. When I climbed out of the Sugar River Valley I was high as a kite. A warm wind came up behind me, caressing my twitchy legs and adding miles to the speedometer.

My feet were screaming, but I didn’t care; I smelled blood. For the first time in all four brevets, I kicked it into the large chainring. I hung in the drops, head down, sweat steadily streaming from the tip of my nose. 16, 18, 20 mph. OK, OK, OK, was repeatedly spray painted along the shoulder as if the road was crying uncle. I did a 7 mile straightaway in 25 minutes.

7 miles. 4.5 miles. 3.5 miles. Approaching Delavan. I see the giant ocho, there, in the distance. Motherfucking stoplight. I coast into the parking lot and practically into the lobby for my last stamp. 376 miles. Final time: 37 hours and 47 minutes.

I am a Super Randonnuer. I am qualified for P-B-P. I am going to Paris.


Additional Photos at

Friday, June 8, 2007

A Brief History of Ride

Ok. We’re in real time, people. I catch the Van Galder bus to Janesville, WI, in 15 minutes. Metra’s Bluesfest Blackout, mind you. From there it’s a 21 mile ride.

In preparation for tomorrows event, a brief history of my long distance bicycling.

1996—I can remember my first long ride. From my apartment at Broadway-Clark-Diversey all the way up to Lawrence Av. and back. When I tell people at work they cannot believe the distance —15miles.

1997—Long forays into the suburbs hugging the curbs of major highways in insane Saturday afternoon traffic. I stop into work and loudly announce I have been to Wisconsin and back—ON MY BIKE!! I complete my first century—the Harmon 100—on a mountain bike with knobbies.

1999-2001—I ditch the Rockhopper for a marginally better machine—a Bianchi Pista (an off the shelf track bike.) The night rides begin. Somewhere the 120 mile threshold is crossed.

2002—Ridding buddy Craig Ludington accompanies me on a 170 mile/17 hour Peoria to Chicago ride. Weary and confused, we eat MacDonald’s in Joilet, only to find 3 dozen taquerias immediately around the corner. In September, Greenfield and I ride 420 miles from the Rosemont Blue line to St. Paul, MN. 143-156-91-30 are our insanely long 3.5 days over Wisconsin. Here I perfect my patented sitting on the crosstube at 33mph maneuver, as the fixed gear has the cranks spinning faster than I can keep up with bombing the hills of Baraboo. We arrive to Pro Bike/Pro Walk as gods.

2003—An attempt to ride non-stop from St. Louis with Adrian Redd and Grant Davis is thwarted by my most spectacular motor-vehicle collision ever, over the hood, off the windshield and onto my head. The next month, I do the trip solo to ‘celebrate’ my 30th birthday. Late November and my water bottles freeze solid—I thaw them in my pants. I push through incredible knee pain for the last 50 miles, track bike as torture rack. A 14 mile mistake puts me at 334 miles in just under 36 hours.

2004 to present—nothin’ much.

This weekend is the longest ride I have ever attempted.

I am anxious and afraid.

May God have mercy upon my soul.


Wednesday, June 6, 2007

Southland Adventure (aka the Case of the Phantom Pile)

Lawyer Jim has been looking to do some night riding, so we hatched a plan for a Sunday night/Monday morning thing this past weekend. Negotiations regarding a starting time were tense, but fruitful. He would work his regular Sunday shift at Boulevard & then teach his wheel building class, I would arise Sunday evening and go to work Monday morning. Ultimately, I don’t know which of us suffered more.

I ate a breakfast of three soft boiled eggs—a treat since I have been eating 3 a day sans yolks—and my new secret weapon: oatmeal with peanut butter and honey. The concoction was delicious and kept me going for several hours, a thousand thank yous to my roommate Steve for the recipe.

After some final scrambling, we departed my house at 11:15 in the PM and shot straight down Kedzie Av. Our first stop would be the Evergreen Park of Evergreen Park, IL bordered by Chicago on 3 sides and home of the world’s most famous arnarcho-primitivist. Anyway, I’ve always noticed this diamond shaped park on the map and meant to check it out. An uneventful visit, though the grid interruption set us in the wrong direction twice.

Next was a visit to Tally’s Corner, a Chicago neighborhood at Pulaski and 103rd, adjacent to Xavier University. The greedy nuns at the Sisters of Mercy sold off the land to developers in the early 1980’s who built 146 brick homes for Cops, Firefighters and other City employees who are required by law to live in the city and flock to its furthest extremities. Also uneventful.

We made a stop in Alsip, at the locked gates of Holy Sepulchre Cemetery, wherein lies the final resting place of a dictator of unimaginable power, matched only by that of his son. We would have to find some other place to piss. Zero for three.

Things were looking grim when we doubled back in an attempt to find the entrance to our fourth destination, Bachelor’s Grove cemetery in Midlothian. However, we found the angled entrance off the Midlothian Turnpike and followed the broken asphalt path deep into the woods. The abandoned burial ground was worth the trip, eerie and full of busted graves from the 1920’s. This one was covered with trinkets. The inscription on the stone in the foreground read simply “INFANT DAUGHTER.”

Preparing to leave, we were startled by an approaching flashlight. The sway was a little too erratic to be a cops swaggering, but had us nervous none the less. At about 50 feet, I hit them with the cateye. Some hushed anxious murmuring was quickly followed by a hearty hello. After some pleasantries at a distance, they asked about the location of the cemetery, to which we guided them.

They were twentysomethings, considerably older that we thought when we had passed them walking along the road a mile back. Neither were they Goths dressed all in black (the darkness can really mess with your mind.) A cheerful trio of characters akin to a modern Scooby Doo Gang: the pretty southern belle; the charming hipster boyfriend; the mutton chopped gentle giant. They asked us if we had seen the disappearing-reappearing ghost house, likely to entertain us with the story. I told them I didn’t put stock in such things and snapped a photo.

Continuing south, we conversed about the delights of night riding: the ability to traverse roadways unthinkable during waking hours traffic; the coolness of the evening; the emptiness of the trails. “This [Sunday night] is thee absolute best time to be out” Jim noted. His philosophy is refreshingly simple: “When the choice is to ride or not to ride, ride. You seldom regret it.”

Our last destination was the Nathan Manilow sculpture garden at Governors State University. We stopped to check the map, realized we missed our turn by 500’. The night air was chilly and damp, my sweat soaked bandanna refusing to dry.

“Underwhelming” was how Jim described it. The giant Paul Bunyan sculpture was slumped to show his “weariness and age,” but he just looked hunched. They were interesting and the campus looked nice anyway. Another locale crossed off th’ list.

43 miles at our half-way point, into the wilderness where the Madison & State based numbering system labels its last street (265th in Crete?) We headed back up Governor’s Pkwy, which would become Crawford then Pulaski. We cut over to the north section of the Tinley Creek Trail System, but zigged when we should have zaged and were unceremoniously dumped on 151st street westbound in a strange land where north-sound streets are numbered as well. We cut north on the horrid pavement of 82nd street and did some time on Crawford in the building morning traffic. Jim was now going on 22 hours. Kedzie was only marginally better so we took California at the earliest chance—71st street-- all the way to Fulton.

We had a rolling good-bye at 6:30am/7.25 hours/90 miles. I took a long, hot shower and sat with the dog awhile on the back porch before heading to work.


Friday, June 1, 2007

I played in Peoria

The plan was simple. Get an early start Sunday and ride, fully loaded, to Lacon, IL 20 miles north of Peoria. Greenfield was riding from Joliet (thank you Metra) camping at Starved Rock in Utica on Saturday night. With perseverance and a bit of luck I would overtake him sometime before our evening’s destination Lacon, otherwise at the town tavern.

I arose at 3:00 am and fried some potatoes with onions and garlic and eggs sunny side up.

At 4:30 all was quiet in the neighborhood, which is good because the neighborhoods were East Garfield Park and Lawndale. The narcotics industry is the single largest employer in my neighborhood, but this time of night is sort of a shift change. The night before, snaking along the side streets home from Logan Square, I encountered many young entrepreneurs. Their pitches are friendly and sound downright wholesome. “It’s good,” one called. “You can taste it.”

I took Kedzie to Ogden which I would follow (U.S. 34) for the next 50 miles. I took care to follow the motor vehicle swept pathways, avoiding the glass strewn areas of the broad boulevard. I stopped to photo this SUV. On the ground lay a baseball bat, snapped in half. I put the camera away and got back on the bike.

To keep track on the map and absorb my surroundings, I habitually speak aloud the name of each street as I cross it and the attempt to recall the name of the last. We frequently watch this video at work and singing it whenever somebody says “Washington” has become a running gag, so I did a verse every time I crossed a roadway bearing his name.

I crossed the Fox River in downtown Oswego at 7:40 am at mile 40 and was in Plano by 8:30 am—for a respectable 50 miles in 4 hours. Here I took time out for a self portrait and to gorge myself on pork tacos at Taqueria I know. When a car full of hipsters with thoughtful hair and ironic glasses passed, I knew I was getting close to the Farnsworth House.

I turned onto River Rd. and initial suspicions set in as I passed 1800’ of barbed wire fence and numerous locked security gates. Finally I came upon the “Visitor Center” situated like a checkpoint. I walked into the glorified gift shop, full of van der Rohe inspired lamps and cooking utensils.

“How may I help you?” said the cheerful attendant.

“I’d like to buy some snow tires” I replied in my head.

“Well, I’d like to see the House.”

“Do you have an appointment?”

Uh oh. “Um, no… do I need one?”

“Let me see if anyone is available.” I pawed through the carefully folded, neatly stacked t-shirts, one each small, medium, large and extra large. She reappeared with a docent in tow.

“Now, the cost is $20” she smiled sweetly.

“Good Gravy!” I said, wide eyed. “Uh… I just want to take a peek. Might there be some sort of discounted look-see rate?”

“I’m afraid we only offer discounted rates for groups of 10 or more.”

I looked carefully to each side. “No, I’m definitely not a group of 10 people.”

We sat silent, blinking. “Sorry to have wasted your time” I said and walked out.

I’m sure that the tour would have been grand. I’m sure that the $20 would go to upkeep. I’m sure there is a need to keep an eye on visitors. But all I wanted and had time for was a gander and it irked me that there was no more accessible rate. I knew I should have just ridden around that stupid shack.

None the less, I should not be thwarted so easily. Immediately, I started hatching a plan. If the house sits on the river it must be visible from the other bank, right?

Right. I rolled into Sliver Springs State Park and sure enough, found a well worn park bench across from the House, which was heavily obscured by foliage. I sat down, dialed information and was patched through to the gift shop.

“Hello, this is T.C. O’Rourke. I was over there a moment ago, you remember, the fellow on the bicycle?”

“Yes, of course”

“Well, I’m across the river now. I believe I can see the House. It’s rather near the bridge, is it?”

“Yes, yes it is.”

“Well I just wanted to alert you it is viewable from here. There is some tree cover, but I’m certain you’re loosing revenue. Have you considered a privacy fence?”

I crossed the Fox for a third time in Ottawa, 8 hours and 84 miles. Route 71 was detoured, so I called Greenfield, thinking he might have the skinny. “Where you at?” “I’m in Ottawa.” It was noon and he was 10 miles short of where he should have woke up. Best laid plans, I guess. We arranged to meet at the Kroger’s super-market.

Greenfield must have had 100 lbs of gear strapped to his rig, testing for his imminent cross country trip. We decided to follow 71. We rode along discussing his new machine, my newish machine, adjustments to be made, and gear to bring.

Passing by “the Rock” without a pint at Duffy’s felt a little strange, but it’s one hell of a hill on the way back. You might remember Utica was devastated by a tornado in 2004. 8 people died seeking refuge in the basement of the Milestone, a 100 year old limestone building. I visited later that year, surveyed the aftermath and chatted with the Duffy’s proprietor about his insurance claims, the rebuilding of the town and the Milestone. Afterwards, the gent on the next stool leaned over and said, in a quiet voice, “The Milestone was my bar, man.” Duffy’s was now the only game in town.

We entered Starved Rock from the east and I powered up the steep hill like it was a speed bump, three gears up from the lowest, fully loaded, with 90 miles on my legs. All the mileage appears to be paying off, ‘cause people, I’ve never taken a hill like that in my life.

A bridge was out so we hit the grid of idyllic county roads working our way to route 26, which follows the Illinois River. Greenfield had Wiki’d Lacon, a town of 2,000 people. 99.09% white. There were three taverns, we did the Twister on a recommendation and somehow ended up with Fruit Loop flavored Leinenkugel. On the artistic front, a poster depicted an egg screwing a chicken. A semi-coherent drunkard attempted to dissuade us from the big jam band festival across the river in Chiliwith warnings of drug sniffing dogs and the National Guard.

I ended up with 145 miles for the day. We camped the night in Marshall State Fish and Wildlife Area, where our camp hosts Ken and Carmen graciously allowed us to shower in their RV. We ate cheddar fortified mac and cheese and fully cooked brats over the fire watching the antics of our coked up neighbors. They set the stage for the total chaos later in the evening, when we called the cops on a dude restraining a drunken woman and running around with a golf club screaming and banging on cars. The cops showed up, arrested someone else. Then it was group hugs for all and back to non-violent shouting until 5 am.

We had a leisurely breakfast of toaster pastries and coffee and were on the road at noon.

Peoria was about 20 miles. We stopped into a thrift where I grabbed a clean shirt for the train and Greenfield searched for something embossed with the phrase “I played in Peoria.” After rolling through the desolate holiday downtown, settled on “Old Chicago” which was founded by some dudes from Boulder, Co. The menu featured the “Chicago Seven” pizza and Greenfield and I smugly wagered that no one in the establishment knew of the dirty hippies.

We confusedly detoured into an East Peoria neighborhood and lost more time stopping at the ice cream cone shaped building, as appears in the Illinois volume of that “Moderately Weird Shit” book series. Exiting the town we finally encountered Brood XIII. ‘Bout friggin time.

I did the math and started panicking. It was now 4:30 in the PM. Train departs at 8:06 PM, from Bloomington-Normal, approximately 35 miles away, the specific location unknown. Tight, mighty tight and all the time with Greenfield in my ear about how we had enough time. He stopped to tighten his handlebars and I kicked up two gears, loosing sight of him.

The first guide sign along US 151 confirmed my fears that Bloomington was further than we had guesstimated. It was 28 miles to town, into a heady crosswind, in 2 ½ hours. I strived for a 13 mph cruising speed with minimal stops. I was drenched in sweat.

At 7 pm the phone rang. It was Greenfield calling to say we had plenty of time.

I made one last stop for Gatordrink and a 6 pack of tall boys for the train (or possibly the hotel room) and asked directions to the Amtrak station. The filling station attendant narrowed it down 50% to “Normal.”

I hit the streets of Bloomington without slowing, turning northbound to on the main drag through Normal, noting the tracks on the map, all the while on hold waiting for an Amtrak agent. Finally, I spied an Amtrak sign, the first in the series that would guide me to the station at 7:52 pm, 72 miles from camp.

I kept my neck craned for Greenfield but it was a long shot. I had busted ass to keep my pace of 13 for the last three hours. If he had done 11 mph, with all that weight, and stopped as little as I, he’d still be a full 32 minutes behind me. It was truly hopeless.

So imagine my surprise when he rolled up at 8:03 PM. “Funny, I would have thought the train station in Bloomington-Normal would have been in Bloomington.” He had even spent time cruising downtown Bloomington looking for it! He ran inside to obtain his ticket, while I scratched my head.

We weren’t out of the woods yet. When the train arrived, the assistant conductor asked if we had screw drivers to remove our wheels, as the bikes would need to be stashed in the overhead racks due to the crowded holiday train. We assured her we did. What we didn’t have were tickets for the bikes. This was because roll-on service is not offered on this line, but nobody appeared to know this but us. I gave her the old “they told me to buy it on the train” line but she demanded I go into the station to procure them. They would hold the train.

The conductor at my side we waited as the agent fumbled around trying to get the computer to sell us a bike ticket for a train that doesn’t allow bikes. After 2 minutes the annoyed conductor bellowed “FORGET IT! WE’LL SELL THEM ONE ON THE TRAIN!” Greenfield had already boarded with my ride, so I sweated his monster load up the stairs and to the back of the packed train.

We stashed the bikes, changed our sweat drenched clothing and settled in the snack car with our cans of High Life.


See all the trip photos here and John Greenfield's New Tatto: