Wednesday, August 8, 2007

Not the Soda Pop, the Bombs

Backlog Ride Missive #2: July 15, 2007

I’d worked up a tight schedule to keep—being that this was a 150 mile, train to train ride. Sunday morning the trains sleep in, so I would have limited time, not hitting the road in Elburn until after 10am. From there I wanted to check out Franklin Creek Natural Area, revisit Dixon, wander the remains of the Green River Ordinance Plant, hit the pharmacy in Amboy for a malted milkshake, hit Shabbona Lake State Park and catch the last train in Aurora at 11:20pm.

To keep the surprises to a minimum, I made an extensive itinerary, including a detailed route, restaurant options in each of the towns, sights to see, mileages between cities and turn by turn directions to the train station. I then forgot it atop the printer. Sigh.

The train was packed with bikes, so much so that I have made it a personal rule to arrive a minimum of 20 minutes before departure to ensure a spot. I settled in with my coffee, maps and some info and aerials of the GROP. I noted with glee the location of an O’Rourke Rd. and added it to the schedule.

By 10:15 I was on the road-- Keslinger – and not long after crossed from Kane to De Kalb, the road becoming more rural. Merrit Prairie (pdf) looked nice, but I was good and passed it up. I counted 15 beer cans in a one mile stretch of this road, Miller Lite the local beer of choice by a large margin.

I caught a flat shortly before noon and limped along to the first tree I could find. Glass. I hustled and was back in action within 15 minutes. Kesslinger turned to gravel as was indicated on the IDOT Map-- one of the only benefits of the set. I headed south on 23.

At noon I had 28.5 miles on me and was running a respectable 15.1 mph average, up from the 11mph ride from home to the Loop. Approaching Steward, I began to see sport cyclists in oncoming droves. Some sort of organized ride, I surmised. I said hello to every goddamn one of them and, for the Tri-fags, even rang the bell. In town I came across a playlot sign proclaiming “Conor O’Rorke” to be “forever in our hearts.”

Shortly before 1pm I had another puncture. This time I found only the hole in tube and a matching one in the tire. Swapped out my last tube and was done in 10 minutes.

I braced my self for action when the Camero pulled up, but he did a three point turn and headed back the way he came. I soon realized why: the road ahead was a very coarse gravel, as was the cross road. O’Rourke Rd. would be about 3 miles of it, round trip, a tough, slow ride. Sadly, I prioritized GROP and choose to abandon the pilgrimage to my namesake road, knowing that I shall likely never again be in the position to visit it.

Looking to the north for I-88, I saw the ominous cooling towers of the Byron Nuclear Power Plant, signaling my approach to the Rock River. Ahead was another sight that no longer appears odd to me—a blackbird tormenting a red-tailed hawk.

At 2pm I was in Franklin Grove, IL. I’d done 52 miles in 3 hours and 25 minutes of actual riding time. Considering the flats, I was making good time, but still pretty far of my summer goal of a ‘decent’ ride: 50 miles in under 3 hours.

In dire need of water, I stopped in the town park which lacked fountains. Noticing some kids exiting an administrative building, I grabbed my bottles and headed inside, where 75 people were busy devouring some sort of fundraising breakfast. All eyes were upon me as I casually walked to the sink and filled up.

Wandering through the town, I overshot the road leading to the entrance of the Franklin Creek Natural Area and had to back track 2 miles. There was quite a descent into the park, which had a few picnic shelters and extensive equestrian facilities. Most of the roads were rutted, coarse gravel. The “old mill” was sort of a bust, really a re-creation. (The elevator kind of gave it away.) The paddle wheel was made entirely of steel, but produced a lovely bellowing, melodic grown.

At 3pm I had 65.5 miles and was fighting a headwind into Dixon. The only eatery open was a Thai place, not my first choice for middle Illinois, but it turned out to be quality. Fat dumplings for an appetizer, delicious iced coffee. The Panang curry was excellent except that the beef tasted bland and rubbery. Tragic, really to ruin such a carefully made sauce with inferior meat.

I stopped by the boyhood home of our 40th President of the United States of America. He was actually born in Tampico, not far from here, but Dixon fosters a heavy rivalry over the Gipper. A hideous sculpture stands in the courtyard, which I photo’d while flipping the bird.

At 5pm I was at 80 miles and approaching the remains of the Green River Ordinance Plant, with a nice NW-W wind behind me. Redbrick Rd. turned to shit. I came across a bunker. Sticking my camera inside, I was surprised to see the flash had illuminated a piece of farm equipment. I turned onto O’Malley Rd. at the corner of which a lone resident ran into her house. South of the main bunker storage complex, I came across a simple cross bar gate with large gaps and slipped inside.

I rode up and down a few of the parallel roads. Each of the bunkers was storing equipment. Whole area seemed to be used by some sort of outfit trucking extremely explosive materials. I passed under large hopper I’m assuming is used to fill the tanker trucks.

Coming to a weed-choked impasse, I decided to turn back to find my point of entry. Moving towards it I was chagrined to see a large red pickup parked diagonally across the trail. Shit. I put on my best smile and waved as I approached.

The large man inside did not exit. “You are not authorized to be in here” he said sternly. “Did you come in through the main gate?” “Uh, I came in back there, I think” I said, pointing in no particular direction, just away from my point of entry, which was well marked with no trespassing signs. “You can’t be back here. Which way did you come in?” “Uh, well, I’m not 100%, I think it was the main gate…” I continued to play dumb. “This is Red Brick Rd., right?” I said gesturing towards O’Malley. “Oh, no… that’s O’Malley” he said softening some.

Our exchange lightened and I quickly changed the subject, explaining my ride and my hopes to see the bunkers. He nodded in understanding.

I bid him good day, quickly cursing myself for not asking about other structures in more public areas and for not recording a covert video of the exchange. Next time.

I cruised the area spotting a smokestack, but ultimately opted to investigate the mysterious, large, light colored area on the aerial images. It was the Lee County landfill. Another case solved, Sherlock Dumass.

It was getting on 6 when I left the GROP remains, 87 miles done with 6 hours in the saddle. I had slipped to a 14.2 mph average.

I was eastbound on Sterling Rd. with a killer tailwind, doing 20mph without even trying. The road was smooth, with no traffic. Everything was bathed in the warm light of the early evening. Windmills appeared ahead. I tripped 100 around 7pm.

I hit Amboy which was mostly closed and stopped into a filling station for provisions. I skipped taking off my helmet, sunglasses and camera in the interest of time and got bemused looks from the other patrons, including a weird breed of rednecky hipsters. The famous pharmacy soda fountain was closed, so I left town in a hurry, pausing to commemorate crossing the Green River.

8pm, 112.3 miles and I'm starting to ache a little. The topography around Paw Paw was rolling hills. I was 5 miles behind schedule which means I have 38 miles to do in the next 3 hours.

Somewhere along this stretch, I lost my 5 LED tail light. Luckily, I still had the Planet Bike Super Flash model, which can be seen from space. My philosophy is that you should have extra lights as to serve backups, but to use them instead of just carrying them around. I have also found that, while motorists should respect you regardless, they do more so when you are lit up crazy style, especially out in the sticks.

Will I never get to see Shabbona Lake?

Around 10:30 I was making my approach to Aurora. I took a series of out-of-the-way turns to stay on the ‘prescribed’ route, but zigged when I should have zagged and ended up doing a horrific stretch of route 30, which would have been bad enough without the moonscape pavement, heavy traffic and the road construction. After a harrowing sprint in the wrong direction, I had no alternative than to turn around and do it again.

I rode a nice little section of the Virgil Gilman trail until it abruptly ended, dumping me at a point unknown, once again proving that it’s a good idea to stick to the streets when you need to get anywhere.

Lucky for me, train stations are marked on the CBF map. I was delighted to see Walter Payton’s Roundhouse restaurant, and dismayed to find it closed. No growler for the train ride home. A crazy guy with no money was thrown off the train at the route 59 station— the last place in the world I would wish to be broke.

$5 for the weekend pass and 155 miles for the day.


All the ride Photos:

See the Route Here