Thursday, August 16, 2007

Yes, We Did Not Go to Starved Rock

Starved Rock Ride 2007, Friday July 20 to Monday July 23.

The 9th annual Starved Rock Ride would be one of our most ambitious, traveling through 4 states, with individual participants utilizing bicycles, ferries, trains and –for the 2 new sets of parents—a mini-van.

Day 1 Chicago to Milwaukee and across Lake Michigan to Muskegon, MI.

I stayed up all night getting ready, as is my custom. Walking the dog I saw three helicopters hovering less than a mile off. My first thought was that someone had shot a cop; but then I remembered the City only has one chopper. Instead, it was a house fire.

I called at 9am to let the boys know I was en route. They would stop by to drop off an unneeded stove at Todd’s and head out, using my least favorite phrase of all time: “you’ll catch up with us.” To catch up with someone riding a moderate 12mph pace and 15 minutes advance, you need to ride 15mph for a full hour.

I hustled for half an hour, my right foot already starting to pain me, after spending all night on my feet pacing/packing mode. After a few garbled communications, I pulled off the Skokie Sculpture trail to wait and rest. In my zeal, I had overshot them. Soon enough Kevin, Josh, Todd and Shawn rolled up.

We ran into a cyclist at the terminus of the Trail. I told her of my grand scheme to incorporate every bicycle-outlawed roadway in the north shore in our route, at which point she scolded us, agreeing with Evanston’ ruling class that bikes should not interfere with motor-traffic. “If you get a ticket, you deserve it” she warned. “And I’M A CYCLIST” she reminded us.

Yeah, an Uncle Tom cyclist.

Later we observed her riding the sidewalk along Green Bay Rd. “IF YOU GET A TICKET YOU WILL DESERVE IT!” I shouted with glee. “AND I’M A CYCLIST!”

After parting ways with Kevin, we continued north, riding by the Great Lakes Naval Training Facility and the evil looking Abbott Laboratories. We quickly located the statue likeness of Benjamin Kubelsky, native son of Waukegan, IL. In Zion we lunched at sketchy looking place that turned out to be quite good, with a varied menu. I was happy to fuel up after missing breakfast.

After that, we crossed the border and were soon on a lovely stretch lakeside in Kenosha.

We had been making good time on the Red Arrow Highway, but as the day progressed we pushed harder and took less frequent breaks, until finally, it was a flat out race to the Palimino.

We trickled in shortly after 5, doing the 90 miles from home in a little more than 8 hours. We each ordered a hearty meal and many beers, taking much comfort in the fact that the ferry was only a mile up the road.

After procuring the necessary provisions for our lake-going voyage—a case of Pabst and a fifth of Bourbon—we rolled over to the Lake Express, the fastest and most uninterestingly named ferry on the high lake. She was late, so we lay about the staging area drinking and fraternizing with the other passengers. No single women, so we passed the time with Photographer Peter Skiba who was there working on a project.

The crossing was uneventful. I myself was too tired to go topside for the view, but the pain in my foot prevented me from sleep, although photographic evidence to the contrary may soon be forthcoming. After a blown engine delayed us further, we unceremoniously rolled off the vessel amidst the impatient motorists.

We could see our destination, Muskegon State Park, from the port, but had to circumnavigate Lake Muskegon for lack of a bridge. A bike trail led us along, but we eventually abandoned it for the interstate-like multi-lane nightmare roads led us to North Muskegon. I privately had my doubts we were on course, but the street names changed to my liking and over an hour later we found ourselves at the evening’s respite. Once near the shore, the night sky was incredible.

At 2am eastern time we toured the densely populated camp ground. (We had no reservations anywhere on this trip counting on the turn-no-cyclist-away factor.) Reassembling at entrance, we were discussing our illegal options when the rangers pulled up, with narrowed eyes. “May I help you?”

After much typing in silence it was agreed we would crash at the secluded group campground. Sweet. It was 3 before we were in bed. 106 miles for the day.

Day 2: Muskegon State Park to Van Buren State Park

We arose late and ate the breakfast meal at a bagel shop we had observed inbound. I charged my phone, stole some liquid soap, filled the water bottles—all the necessities of proper time management. Over breakfast we came up with three satirical slogans mocking Todd’s “CTA: TAKE IT!” bike jersey: 1) “CTA: TAKE IT (or leave it.)” “CTA: TAKE(ing) IT(‘s time.)” “CTA: TAKE IT (up the ass)”

Nobody else seemed up for the monument/grave of Captain Walker and his branded hand, but as luck would have it, we ran plumb into it.

The lake on the wrong side wreaked havoc with my sense of direction and almost immediately we were off course. Not having proper maps compounded the problem. The only thing that made it better was that everyone else’s sense of direction seemed to off in the same way. Well, once they were into the whiskey. We ate blueberries.

Shawn’s panniers were of a design he’d found on the internet, utilizing two empty cat litter buckets. Waterproof and solid. The only thing that puzzled us was that one bucket claimed to contain a “bonus” 3 pounds, yet both were identical in size. Perhaps they just used heavier gravel?

I myself was using a brand spanking new set, front and back, of fully waterproof Ortlieb panniers, in yellow. The new design is very smart and highly adjustable. Unfortunately I forgot to install an insert in the hangers of one bag and had to resort to a pinkie size stick to keep it from rattling (thanks Shawn.) I also lost some hardware in failing to tighten a hook into position. 5-star bags none the less, available at Rapid Transit Bike Shop.

My other experiment on this trip was switching from Vaseline to Bag Balm for my sensitive parts. It was vast improvement in the arenas of comfort and durability and washes out easier to boot.

Mid day we New Holland Brew Pub and Todd ordered samples “of everything you brew.” Much to the chagrin of the barkeep, I duplicated the order and the four of us sat sharing the full range. Josh did some recon, taking careful photos and mental notes for his own upcoming brew pub.

I new it would happen, months ago when I scoped out the maps, but we ended up on the I-96, the Gerald R. Ford Freeway. The debate subsided once we passed a sign proclaiming a 70MPH speed limit. Funny how these Interstate fuckers never think to put up signs prohibiting peds & bikes on the road itself, just at the on ramps.

We took the nearest exit and made our way to Van Buren State Park, 90 miles for the day. Michael, Gin, Lisa and the babies had out waited the baffled teenage park staff until, once again, the organizational camp site was relinquished. Having diner --Gin’s signature lentil goodness-- and cold, draft home brew waiting for us there was divine.

We entertained the young’uns and they entertained us.

Day 3: Van Buren State Park to Warren Dunes State Park

After a lazy breakfast, Gin, Lisa, Josh, Shawn and I hit the road, leaving Miguel and Violet in the care of their daddies.

We hit up the Venetian Festival in St. Joseph, a day late for Kansas, but in plenty of time for various greasy, salty and meaty treats. After some snacking, we inadvertently split up and lunched at two different mediocre establishments. Josh accompanied a lactating Lisa whose need to feed was building.

Onward we rolled, crossing paths with the fellas & babies south of town.

Again, we were quickly off course, adding miles to our easy day. The “Google Maps” printouts I had prepared were woefully inadequate. Major roads were not labeled, sometimes even those of the route itself. The names of the towns were printed in nearly the same font as those of streets, and placed above roadways for maximum confusion. I have made it my 2 year goal to get a phone with internet for maps, aerials, businesses and points of interest on the fly.

We all rendezvoused at a first rate ice cream shop and did the final stretch to Warren Dunes State Park proceeding directly to the beach. The lake was cold and refreshing. Shawn and I swam out to a buoy. Speculating the depth we shot down to the bottom, a jarring 8” below our feet and immediately burst to the surface in a fit of laughter.

Michael had again scored the organizational site, only to abandon it for the more desirable ‘primitive’ sites (ie no electric.) The sites were well spaced, with plenty of foliage, soft sandy soil and the standard great fire pit. In short, grade A, except for the ceaseless drone of the Interstate, which negated all the aforementioned positive quantities. Ugh.

We crowded around the stoves preparing a pasta diner and noshing appetizers. I was against so many olives in the sauce, but it turned out wonderfully. Josh disappeared and returned with his shirt full of black berries. I don’t think those stains are coming out. We sat around the fire and I toasted several perfect marshmallows.

Day 4 Warren Dunes to Chicago.

What did we eat for breakfast with our strong coffee? We packed up and left Todd and the women-folk to mind the wee ones.

We decided on the longer route of trails—the Calumet, the Prairie Duneland, the Oak Savannah, the Erie Lackawanna. It was good to have a bike map again (check here for an updated PDF.)

Another tourist destination that met with much protest was the 1933 World’s FairHomes of Tomorrow” which were brought to sandy Beverly Shores via barge after the festivities. Regardless, I persisted and we made the mild detour. They have fallen into disrepair, but are currently being fixed up, some by private individuals and some by the State.

After many miles, photos and dictaphone notations, my camera ran out of juice. To bad.

After riding out the Prairie Duneland to it’s endpoint in Hobart, we ran into a couple of 60 year old roadies on carbon jobbies who made it their day’s good deed to escort us to the Oak Savannah, zig zagging along the unsigned route.

At the Trailhead they bit us farewell took off with a start, but Josh jumped on their tail and rest of did the same. Soon we were enjoying a 20mph pace, drafting them on our fully loaded rigs, which we did all the way to the Erie Lackawanna, where we said our goodbyes again.

At some point, perhaps subconsciously, we decided to hit up the Three Floyds Brew Pub in Munster, IN. I’ve been there twice, once on Mark Sinclair's ride and the following year when I organized the same event in his honor.

Not having approached it from the east, we sought it out by landmarks—bike paths, train tracks and a water tower; or perhaps it was the sweet hoppy aroma that led us to it’s miserable industrial park location.

When we arrived to find it closed. It was like Clark Griswold at Wally World, except there was no Moose to punch, only the gardener. Good thing we didn’t hit him, as he turned out to be the patriarch of the Floyd family.

Josh, a former Goose Island Brewer, asked him a few questions and made a call or two. Within a few minutes we were standing inside, beers in hand. Nice work Josh and eternal gratefulness to brewer (brewmaster?) Barnaby for his incredible hospitality, serving up samplers of numerous varieties.

We also shot the shit awhile with visiting brewer Teri Fahrendorf, who keeps a fantastic blog of her cross country brewery tour. With her was Matt Van Wyk, Brewmaster at Flossmoor Station back in our home state, who graciously offered to buy us the first round at his place. We made haste.

A light intoxication in the hot afternoon sun made taking our lane on Glenwood Lansing Rd. a bit less nerve-wracking. Soon we were at our third brewery of the trip, enjoying another assortment of fine beverages, pub fare and the last of Michael’s cigars.

Josh and Michael could not resist the allure of the Metra Electric, which practically stops at the brew pubs back door (it is a former rail station.) Shawn and I bid them farewell with a gift of a bungee and continued the journey north, up Kedzie, saying our own good-byes at 55th.

104 for the day. 340 for the trip.


See all the SSR2007 Photos Here