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.