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: