Friday, August 15, 2014

DuPage River Trail near Whalon Lake in Bolingbrook.
The trail is lined with prairie flowers on both sides.

Monday, August 4, 2014

Two Rivers (Half) Century

Two Rivers Century is a really pretty ride along the Kankakee and Iroquois Rivers. It’s sponsored by the Kankakee River Bike Club, which did a great job. Great SAG support, well-marked routes, and excellent cookies along with the standard bananas and Gatorade at the rest stops.

Entry fee was $30, which benefits the Greenways & Trails Fund of the Community Foundation of Kankakee River Valley, working with multiple governments to develop the riverfront trailways. Money well-spent, I think: the first couple of miles took advantage of a truly amazing paved trail along the Kankakee River.

The routes are set up with a nifty “loop” system. Add up the loops to get the length you want. I went with the Red and Green loops, which add up to just shy of 50 miles.

Along with riverside trails, the route wound through residential neighborhoods, forests, and farmland. Very little car traffic, even for a Sunday morning.

The corn’s looking especially robust this year. Lots of rain. This Illinois boy cannot wait for the sweet corn to start coming in.

Here are some of the hundreds of people who passed me along the way. I averaged 13.81 mph along the course, which I imagine most of these folks could do with two flat tires and a broken femur. The only people I managed to pass had wicker baskets on their handlebars and “I (heart) my grandchildren” jerseys.

One of several bridges, just before a very welcome rest stop. Those are dozens of flower baskets full of petunias (or something, I don’t know flower names) lining the bridge.

With about 10 miles to go, there was this wonderful shady stretch that helped revive me for the final push. It wasn’t overly hot — about 85 F — but it was humid. My left calf started cramping just as the finish line came into view. It was a near thing. I had been slamming water the whole way, but I probably should have been chugging Gatorade at the rest stops to replenish the salt.

Naperville Rotary Ride is next Sunday … I’m thinking metric, but only if it’s cooler and/or less humid.

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Thursday, September 19, 2013

Cue sheet and view from the starting line.
The "Four Star Bike and Chow" on Aug. 25 was a great time. I love exploring the back streets of the city. And bonus! Mary tagged along for the 22-mile route this year on a wonderfully warm, sunny day.

The ride is the longest running organized bike ride in Chicagoland and benefits the Active Transportation Alliance. There was a new twist this year: appetizers from local restaurants served at the rest stops. There were pierogies from the Red Apple Buffet, a landmark for Polish home cooking on Chicago's Northwest Side; and pulled pork sliders from The Smoke Daddy, an award-winning home for Chicago style barbeque. We didn't get to try to the samosas from Arya Bhavan, an Indian restaurant on Devon Avenue; they were served at the rest stops for the 35- and 62-mile routes.

As I found out on my first Four-Star Tour last year, this is
Pierogis were the local dish
at the Wrigley Field stop.
an extremely well-run event, with mobs of enthusiastic volunteers. In addition to staffing the registration and rest stops, many of those volunteers were stationed along the route to point riders in the right direction.

The first stop, about 10 miles in, found us munching pierogis at the corner of Waveland and Sheffield, in the shadow of the famous hand-operated Wrigley Field scoreboard. They were just OK. The pulled pork sliders at Seward Park, about 17 miles on, were better. The Star of Siam appetizer at the finish line was the standout: pad thai and a small crispy spring roll. These were just tastings, not meals, but that was OK. Ninety-degree heat is a pretty good appetite suppressant.

As I found out last year, the city is the star of this show. After the start at the University of Illinois at Chicago campus, our 22-mile route wandered through interesting back streets, more or less paralleling Halsted up to Wrigley and back.

I want to go back and investigate all the little shops and restaurants along Taylor Street just west of the campus. And if I ever move into the city, I want a house on a tiny one-lane, one-block-long street called Alta Vista.

A highlight of the finish-line festival was a troupe of young women dancing with BMX bicycles to a Lady Gaga song. It was really well done.

Tuesday, July 9, 2013

Bow waves

The effect didn't videotape very well;
it's actually kind of dark in there.
This plastic sheeting (at left) is giving me an interesting lesson in wind resistance. There’s a remodeling project going on here at work, and the facilities folks kindly put this sheeting up to keep the dust and debris levels down.

When I walk down the hallway, the plastic starts billowing outward — at first, just a half-inch or so right alongside. But as you proceed (at a fairly brisk pace, as I tend to do), the air-compression wave gets stronger and moves ahead of me as far as 15-20 feet. It’s a classic “bow wave” (think of the wave moving ahead of the bow of a boat). 

Yes, if I had to compare my normal bicycling speed to
a watercraft of some sort, it would be this one.
Obviously this is taking place in the relatively confined space of the hallway; still, this has given me a new appreciation for just how much air we’re pushing aside as we ride along on a bicycle and why it gets more and more difficult to maintain a steady pace the faster you go.

I’m compressing and pushing a fairly significant air column out of my way just walking at 3-5 mph.  Imagine what’s happening at 15 or 20 mph, let alone a Tour de France pace.

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Thursday, July 4, 2013

Independence Day Ride

Went for a long-ish trek this morning on the Joliet Bicycle Club’s Fourth of July ride. The plan was to meet some members of The Chainlink and go for a moderate-to-slow ride for 30 miles, after which I was hoping to group up with one or two members of the group to extend the ride along the 45-mile route.

The selfie, taken while riding through the only
100 feet of shade on the entire route.
Well, the crowd at the start/finish point, Plainfield South High School, was large enough to foil the plan of just wandering around and looking for people who looked like they were wandering around looking for people. At about 7:30, I got antsy and decided to get on the road.

The route was very well marked, and the cue sheet was easy to follow. Unlike, say, the North Shore Century, where you’re turning every quarter-mile, today’s route went through the ramrod-straight roads north and west of Plainfield. Turns were sometimes seven miles apart.

Since I was riding solo, I had planned to do the 45-mile route, but on a southbound stretch, into the 5-10 mph breeze, I started to flag. The guy who had been drafting me for a couple of miles went around. Yeesh, I thought. Only 10 miles in and I’m about to throw a lung. Pelotons of sleek young jerseyed bodies flashed past me. I’m getting old and fat and tired, I thought. I should sell this bike and buy a rocking chair.

The course turned back north, downwind. With the decreased wind noise, I heard a faint scraping sound. I thought maybe I had picked up a leaf or small stick, which had lodged in the brake assembly and was rubbing on the tire. I stopped, examined both wheels.

(Must have been five people slowed or stopped to ask if I needed help. My fellow bicyclists are great people.)

I picked up the back end, spun the back wheel. It immediately stopped. Crap, I thought, the wheel’s
Met a guy in the parking lot who had
realized my two-wheel dream: a
bike rack on his motorcycle.
bent. But a little experimentation revealed that the brakes were the culprit: they had been about half-locked for who-knows-how-many miles.

I felt a huge sense of relief. It wasn’t me, it was the damn bike.

Well, I thought, all I have to do is disable the back brake and I’m on my way. Just have to be careful, and fix it when I get home. A close examination revealed a teardrop-shaped bit of plastic on the caliper. I played with it, and the brakes released. Huh.

Long story short: that little bit of plastic (I think) allows you to adjust the brakes to compensate as the shoes wear down. Somehow, I had hit that bit in such a way to tighten it about halfway -- maybe when I wrestled the bike out of the back of my SUV. When I hit that upwind stretch, the added resistance started to really make itself felt.

Shadowfax cockpit, somewhere north of Plainfield, Ill.
Well crap. I got back into the cockpit and -- with the resistance gone -- relatively rocketed the next five miles to the rest stop in Platteville.

But I was pretty sure at that point I wasn't going to make 45 miles. The extra work had taken a lot out of me. I sighed, ate a wonderful plum from the abundant food on the table, went back for another, and got back on the road.

By the time I got back to the high school (despite the last loooooong uphill mile on Caton Farm Road), I was actually feeling pretty good. I considered maybe heading back out for a quick 10, decided to save it for Saturday.

Total was 32.34 miles at an average speed of 13.88 mph. Not bad for a 52-year-old with a Frankenstein knee and the parking brake engaged. I think I’m ready for 50 miles, maybe a metric, and looking forward to my annual North Shore Century ride.

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Wednesday, April 3, 2013

1st Long-ish Ride of 2013: Fox River Trail

March 31, 2013

14.47 miles, average speed 13.75 mph

On the first mid-50s day of 2013, I drove to downtown Aurora, parked just west of the casino and suited up. Equipment: Trek Madone 3.1 and a new Camelbak “Mule” backpack.

A representative sample of the Fox River Trail.
Mostly straight (there are a few surprisingly curvy fun bits!)
and paved. Good to excellent condition.

Good gravy it felt wonderful to get back on the bike outside. Grinding away on a trainer in the basement is, at best, adequate preparation for real cycling. It works most of the right muscles, but it doesn’t provide the sensory input -- the sights, the sounds, the smells, the decision-making -- of actual bicycling.

I dodged a few twitterpating geese and ducks as I settled in on the northbound paved trail on the west side of the Fox River. Familiar sights greeted me along the way: the looping arches of the I-88 bridge, the North Aurora Dam.

On the northbound east side of the river, look for a small sign that
says "Cave -->."  Walk down a few steps, say hello to the
old gent fishing for cats, and check out the actual cave.
It ain't Mammoth Cave, but what do you want for nothin', rubber biscuit?

I had a soda at the McDonald’s in Batavia. The Camelbak was fine, but the first tank of water tasted like plastic. I emptied the bladder and refilled it at the fast-food joint: much better. I headed back along the east side of the river. A steady supply of cool water, ever-ready via a tube on my shoulder, was very welcome. I investigated North Aurora Island Park, then headed back along the west side. All too soon, I arrived back at my car.

Decoration on the State Street Bridge over the
(you guessed it) Fox River.
The Camelbak is excellent -- or will be, once the water stops tasting like plastic. The backpack portion holds just the right amount of stuff: a long-shank U-lock, wallet, keys, sandwich.

Winter has not been kind to me: I was really tired after this short ride. Better start working on my stamina if I’m going to meet my goal of completing three 100-mile rides this summer!

15 miles down, about a thousand to go.

Tuesday, September 25, 2012

North Shore Century 2012

I wish I’d felt better that Sunday morning. Yeah, I drank a half-bottle of shitty Beaujolais Nouveau Saturday night, but I think it was the 1.25-lb slab of salmon that I’d grilled for dinner that did me in. Mary was out of town, putting in some sweat equity at the family business, the Straits of Malacca restaurant, so I had for dinner something Mary wouldn’t like: fish that actually tastes like fish.

When the alarm went off at 4:30 a.m., I felt a touch nauseated, figured I was dehydrated from the wine, slammed some water. A large Diet Coke at the 24-hour McDonalds and the big mistake: a sausage biscuit. Normally I can handle a glob of grease like that but for some reason, Sunday, it was the kiss of metric death.

I arrived at Dawes Park in Evanston at 6:15, navigating my way through several hundred of my bicycling compatriots to meet some Chainlinkers. Was great to meet some of the folks I’ve corresponded with on the message board. I’d said I was going to do the 62-mile route; a Chainlinker named David said he would join me.

My biking buddy David.

Note: David rode his bike from his home in Oak Park to the start point in Evanston. Then he planned to ride the 62 mile route, then ride on back to the home town of Ernest Hemingway. Crazy noble bicycle hero.

For the most part, the
pavement markings were
excellent. I missed a few.
We set out about 6:45, heading north into Evanston, into Wilmette with its million-dollar mansions, then into the back streets of Glencoe and Kenilworth, with their 10-million-dollar mansions. Deer nibbled picturesquely on one estate lawn, barely bothered by the bicyclists gliding by. This was my first time riding with a friend on one these organized rides, and it was great. He was good company.

At the first refreshment stop, at the 18-mile mark, I was pretty sure I wasn’t going to make the whole 62 miles. I was horrendously nauseated and a bit shaky, but there were too many people around to make a good puking an option. (Yes, I am an introvert.) I allowed to David that I would prefer to to the 50-mile route -- frankly I was considering turning around and heading back along the way we came. David expressed sympathy and didn’t press me. He took the 62-mile spur and I took the 50-mile route.

The bike path along Sheridan Road. A delight.

I found out later that he’d hit a pothole or something and crashed, knocking himself out but (not surprisingly) managing to bike back home to Oak Park. I feel bad that I wasn’t there to assist for his hour of need. On the other hand, I don’t know what I would have been able to do except call 911. And then puke.

I hope David (a) recovers from his accident, and (b) doesn’t consider me a lightweight and will ride with me again.

Somewhere along the way after the first rest stop, I started to feel better. In fact, I started to feel hungry. Not having eaten a bite at the rest stop, I nibbled the Clif bar I had stashed in my trunk bag.

A glimpse of Lake Michigan somewhere in Wilmette.
At the second rest stop, at Sunset Woods Park in Highland Park, I finally felt OK. I had a pretty good vegetarian sub sandwich sampler, courtesy of Captain Nemo’s (which I’d never heard of before but will forever more patronize when I get a chance).

A swig of Gatorade and I was on my way for the downhill run. Lots of twists and turns on this ride; I spent a lot of time consulting my cue sheet. But just before noon, I found myself back at Dawes Park, in Evanston.

Cyclemeter (the iPhone app I use to track my bicycle miles) had been giving me fits during the ride, telling me that GPS coverage had dropped out for various points for so many minutes. David had been having the same problem; I tried shutting off “Location Services” for everything but Cyclemeter, and that seemed to work. Too late, though, since the GPS had dropped out for more than a half-hour, and probably more. 

The Baha'i Temple in Evanston.
“The doors will be open to all sects —
no differentiation; and by God’s help
this temple will prove to be to the body
of human society what the soul is to the
body of man.”
I arrived in Dawes Park after doing the half-century route. The official route is about 50 miles; given the detours I took after missing a marker here and there, I’m figuring I did at least 52.

A long ride home back to Naperville, listening to a relatively boring game ‘twixt the Chicago Bears and St. Louis Rams (might as well have been listening to a Scrabble match). Next year, I am so doing the full 100 miles again.

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