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


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.