Thursday, December 31, 2009

Pinellas Trail, Florida - New Year's Eve!

When the Northwestern Wildcats won a spot in the Outback Bowl in Tampa on New Year's Day, we thought: Road Trip! The original plan was to trailer the motorcycles down for a couple of days of midwinter riding.

Due to an ill-advised left turn at Royce Road, my car, the one with the trailer hitch, ended up in the shop over the holidays. I bought a trunk mount for my wife's car and brought the bicycles down instead. In retrospect, the bicycles probably turned out to be the better choice for what was essentially one day of riding.

Googling for "bike trails Tampa" before we left turned up the Pinellas Trail, a nearly 40-mile-long urban rails-to-trails path that starts in downtown St. Pete and wends its way north through the 'burbs.

After three days and 1,300 miles of driving, we got on the Pinellas Trail in the town of Dunedin. Turned out to be a charming little suburban downtown with quirky mom & pop restaurants and shoppes. It was overcast, but 73 glorious degrees. We quickly shed our sweatshirts and sweatpants. Shorts and T-shirts on New Year's Eve — what a treat for a couple of Chicago-area riders!

The trail is paved, wide, in great condition. There's something to be said for the lack of a freeze-thaw cycle. Much of the trail has a separate, smaller lane for joggers. The trail is also very well marked.

On the down side, the stretch from Dunedin for about 10 miles south had numerous cross-streets. I suspect the entire trail is the same way. All are very well marked, and local drivers are extremely courteous and wary of bicyclists at these crossings. But you're not going to maintain a steady cadence on this trail.

We stopped at Pinellas Trail Bicycle Rental and Repair in far south Dunedin looking for a long-shank U-lock to replace the one that apparently bounced out of my rack bag during the long trek south. They didn't have one, but the owner was extremely helpful and talkative. He seemed kind of lonely; if you're taking this trail, please stop in and talk to the poor guy.

It didn't take long until I was in full Mr. Pither mode: blissfully, stupidly happy and fully absorbed in the scenery. Spanish moss, bamboo, blooming hibiscus, banyan trees. A bridge took us over a small bay where curlews probed with mud with their long beaks.

Left: These railroad-signal-inspired sculptures let you know when you've entered another town. In this case, Largo.

A bit of the trail started to look a bit iffy just north of Clearwater. Some very run-down houses, graffiti. Just a short stretch, though. Through downtown Clearwater, the trail jogs through a series of sidewalks and surface streets, then back to the rail right-of way. We stopped after about 10 miles; I didn't want to overtax my wife, who's not a distance biker (Unless she's on a motorcycle).

The sun finally burst through the thin overcast on the way back, and the 10-mph breeze made the return journey just a bit easier.

Bottom line: If the 'Cats find their way to Raymond James Stadium again next year, I want to come down a day or two earlier and do the entire Pinellas trail. It was a very interesting find and a midwinter treat.

* * *

Later in the afternoon, I set out from the hotel to find what looked like a side road or trail along the Courtney Campbell Causeway. This turned out to be a hard-to-get-to, but very pleasant, stretch of pavement paralleling the highway across the northwest lobe of Tampa Bay. To gain access from the west end, one has to ride along the extremely busy highway for a few hundred yards and lift one's bike over the barrier — or — as I discovered on the way back, sneak through the DeVry University parking deck and do a few yards of off-roading.

Either way, the reward is about four miles of smooth pavement along a shallow, calm bay occasionally traversed by Boston Whalers on their way to or from the main bay and the Gulf of Mexico. A few fishermen work the rocky shoreline for snapper.

I rode fairly hard on the way out, working off the fish tacos and wine I was planning to have that evening. I took my time on the way home. It was a bittersweet ride in the fading light of a warm day -- the last warm riding day I would see for at least four months.

dsj 091231

Sunday, December 20, 2009

Cold toes!

OK, so it's 32 degrees, I'm bundled up and I get about five miles out and suddenly my big toes are smarting from the cold. I mean, ouch!

I wonder if the toe cages aren't conducting heat away from my feet. Next ride: wool socks. If that doesn't work, maybe I need to reinstall the basic pedals. Bummer.

Sunday, December 6, 2009


Going stir-crazy on a Sunday morning, I decided to give some cold-weather distance riding a try. Based on previous, overdressed and overheated attempts when the temperature was in the 40s, I didn't bundle up as much: just a T-shirt, sweatshirt, balaclava and winderbreaker/shell. Fleece sweats, thick insulated gloves, ski helmet. Trés fashionable.

Figured I'd stay close to home and do the Springbrook Prairie trail (see previous entry on this trail). When I arrived at the trail head, I slipped on my secret weapon: ski goggles left over from the same Breckinridge vacation catastrophe that produced the helmet I was wearing. On previous cold-weather rides, the icy wind made my eyes water heavily -- not just unpleasant, but dangerous since it was like trying to see oncoming traffic through a waterfall.

I snapped the goggles on and started down the trail. The crushed limestone was hard as pavement in the 32-degree morning. A light southwest breeze was starting up. The prairie was a sea of muted browns and grays under weak sunlight filtering through a milky sky.

The goggles were a godsend. Not only did they prevent the eye-waterfalls, they kept the upper half of my face warm. Soon I had to stop and lose the thick insulated gloves (an Ace hardware bargain-bin bargain at $4.99!) and open then armpit vents on the shell to let some of the heat out.

The trail wasn't as deserted as I thought it would be. I onyerleft-ed several joggers and nodded to biker or two as I circumnavigated the forest preserve.

Once I warmed up, the ride was actually pleasant despite the freezing temperatures. "I can do this," I said to myself. There's no reason to store the bike away all winter and content myself with a stationary bike at the gym or the trainer down in the basement. A 10- or 15-mile ride in two or three times a month will go a long way toward helping me maintain my sanity through the long winter.

And maybe those lunatics at Bike Winter are on to something.

Friday, November 27, 2009

A quick 10 on a cold day

Bright, glorious sunshine the day after Thanksgiving. I went to work for a few hours -- sweet productivity, all alone in the office with no interruptions! -- and figured I'd get outside for a while during the afternoon.

All geared up in my ski helmet, balaclava, windbreaker/shell and sweats, I set off on my standard 10-mile round trip to the grocery store for a few essentials.

It was about 40 degrees. A light but cutting breeze from the west-southwest, right in my face for the outbound leg.

It felt wonderful to be back on the Trek after what seemed like a month of overcast and drizzle. Far overhead, a flock of sandhill cranes croaked and clattered their way south. A man was pulling his snowmobiles out of storage, the day after I'd put my Harley into the shed for the winter. A woman was putting up Christmas lights. A couple bagged the last few leaves on their front lawn. A middle-aged man in shorts (!) and earmuffs roller-blading. Some sort of cold-weather fellowship had taken hold; all greeted me with a wave or a hello as I passed by. The chilly breeze was at my back as I headed home.

Tomorrow is supposed to be a few degrees warmer. If I can sneak away from the family obligations, I'll hit the limestone for a 20-miler.

Friday, November 13, 2009

Drivers, nasty and nice

Many, if not most, of my fellow riders on the Chainlink forums seem to have bad experiences with drivers on a daily basis. I feel pretty lucky in that respect. I can count the road ragers I’ve come across on three fingers — and only one instance that I thought was going to end in a physical confrontation.

... screen shimmers, minor chord plays ...

A major intersection in my neighborhood is undergoing a major renovation, forcing several thousand cars a day into alternate streets, one of which is a usually quiet four-lane boulevard that happens to be my usual bike route to the grocery store. Traffic is generally light enough that cars can easily pass me in the left lane for the half-mile stretch where there is no shoulder, bike lane or sidewalk and I’m forced to ride in the street.

One recent day, with traffic heavy and slow, I was in the right lane on my way home from the store, chugging along with a pannier bag full of double-fiber wheat bread and bananas. One driver, no doubt already annoyed because of the detour and heavier-than-normal traffic, pulls up three feet behind me and starts blowing his horn. Apparently, I was supposed to hurl myself, Trek 7100, groceries and all, off the pavement over the curb and into the parkway grass to let him by.

One assumes that his rage stemmed from his having to apply his brakes, which required the application of several ounces of pressure on a conveniently placed pedal, and having to drop his speed from 25 mph to 15 mph for several seconds, maybe as many as 20, until a gap opened up in the left lane and he could pass me.

When he got the chance, he pulled up alongside me and started yelling the usual stuff about “you don’t belong on the road.” Well-dressed, mid-thirties, nice car, about the kind of upwardly mobile professional dipstick you’d expect.

I looked him right in the eye and blew him a kiss.

It took me years to figure out that the finger isn’t the right response if you want to both confuse and enrage a self-important blowhole. A finger says, “You have succeeded in making me angry,” when what I really want to convey is, “Your rage is pathetic and I refuse to be a party to your dysfunction. Not only that, but I don’t even take you seriously.”

The silliness of a blown kiss seems to be such an unexpected response that the self-important blowhole’s brain kind of short-circuits. A matronly woman in a Lexus responded by sticking her tongue out at me while she almost drove off the road, which gave me the giggles for days. I hope she still blushes with embarrassment when she thinks about her 2nd-grade-playground reaction.

Well, Upwardly Mobile Professional Jerk swerved in front of me and slammed on the brakes, apparently preparing to respond to my gesture of affection with violence. Anger-management issues and a complete lack of perspective, that’s an attractive little package you’ve got going there, Bub. How’s that play with the ladies?

I pulled the U-lock off the handlebars and started to dismount, but the driver apparently decided against parking his car on a busy four-lane boulevard and attacking someone who was most likely in better physical shape than he. After a fist shake and some not-very-nice words, he drove away.

... screen shimmers ...

Actually, most of the drivers I come across are too nice. I’ll come rolling up to a four-way stop (of which there are 17 million in Naperville), carefully adjusting my speed so that the car that always seems to be simultaneously approaching the intersection can do the standard "California Roll" through the stop sign and proceed ahead of me. That way, I can just blow though afterward and not lose my cadence.

However, if the driver sees me, he or she almost always comes to a complete stop. Then I have to stop too, because I (a) don’t trust a car driver as far as I can throw a Buick, and (b) I want to be a good bicycle ambassador and stop for the stop signs when someone is looking. After an awkward exchange of “you go ahead” waves, we of course both start across the intersection at the same time, stop, and repeat the waving. Sometimes this Dance of the Four-Way Stop goes on for three rounds until somebody just goes through the damned intersection already.

I’d almost prefer drivers who’d ignore me and just crank on through the stop sign with just a token tap on the brakes. Those drivers are predictable. It’s the nice guys who give me fits.

Monday, October 26, 2009

Upgrade the ride?

I like my bike. A lot. Discovery 7 has been veddy veddy good to me. The Trek hybrid has been instrumental in my weight-loss program (now at 57 lbs. and counting — I’m the original Fat Cyclist). However, I’m thinking about getting an actual tour/road bike.

After a long ride, like last week’s meander down the I&M Canal Trail, I noticed I’d lost feeling in a few of my fingers, especially the ring finger on my left hand, the one with an actual ring on it. I think the handlebar angle is just five degrees or so too far back – just enough to cock my wrists at an angle and mess with the grip. No big deal, I could just replace the ‘bars, I suppose.

But for the longer rides I enjoy so much, 20+ miles, I think I want the drop handlebars to cut down on the wind resistance, and fenders to keep the limestone grit out of the chainrings and cassette (not to mention my water bottle – urrrgh.)

Where I think I’m headed is a good road/tour bike for the weekend expeditions: Cannondale Touring 2 or the Trek 520, something in that range -- but I’m open to suggestions! I’d keep Discovery 7 for local rides and grocery shopping.

I’ve got about 15 lbs. to go to reach my goal weight. When I hit that mark, and maintain it for a month or two, I think I’m going shopping.

Sunday, October 18, 2009

I&M Canal, take II

A personal best today – 38.7 miles, from Channahon to just past Morris on the I&M Canal trail. And it may just have been the most enjoyable bike ride of my life.

Drove on I-55 south to Rt. 6 west, and followed the signs to the trail access. The Lonestar Restaurant and Lounge in Channahon provided the traditional pre-ride diner breakfast. Pretty good food, and the waitress might have called me “hon” if she had seen me there before.

This time, I set off in the correct direction from the trail access (see my earlier entry on the I&M Canal for a description of the bass-ackwards map signboards).

Lock #8 and the locktender's house.

The Channahon access is right where the Kankakee and Des Plaines rivers come together to form the Illinois River. As you head west, the canal is on your right and the Illinois is on your left. If you’re doing this on a brilliant fall day under a crisp, cloudless sky, with the water a brilliant sparkling blue and the maples on the hillsides exploding with red and gold, well, there was so much color it was almost painful to behold. "Spectacular" is about the only word for it. Just about every time I looked up, I gasped.

The trail is the standard limestone screenings in good shape. There are a few short, 50-yard stretches that have been patched with gravel, mostly in the three miles between Locks 6 and 7 and Lock 8. After that, the trail is in very good condition, at least as far as Morris and about two miles beyond, which is where I hit the 20-mile mark and decided I’d better turn around.

The mile markers include factoids about the I&M Canal, such as: "Canal diggers often demanded that whiskey be provided as part of their wages because they believed it would protect them from diseases." Yah. "Diseases," got it. Payday must have been interesting back in 1846.

I really needed a Diet Coke at the halfway point, so I left the trail at Morris and explored the downtown area, looking for a fountain (personal peccadillo: it’s a fountain Diet Coke or nothing. No cans or bottles, please).

Downtown Morris was deserted on a Sunday morning, but uptempo music was playing through speakers mounted on the lightpoles. Stoplights dutifully cycled for no one. Yes, it was creepy.

The Jacob Michael Eckstein towboat (5,600 horsepower) rumbles past the Discovery 7 (.4 horsepower).

Found “The Bigger Bite” sandwich shop and got my coke, but not before the woman behind the counter warned me about “all the homeless people” that live along the towpath. I hadn’t seen anyone but yuppies on expensive bikes (no fixies; that trend hasn’t really hit here yet) and retirees on tandems. Chalked it up to urban legend.

I chugged back east, ruefully noting my average speed dropping as my legs gave out. Twelve mph, 11, 10 ... Then the bicycle gods smiled on this unworthy one in the form of a nice breeze from the southwest. The 15-knot zephyr definitely helped get me through those last five miles.

Arrived back at the car wobbly-legged and ravenous – I absolutely vaporized a Subway six-inch chicken teriyaki on wheat on the way home. Pretty sure I could have eaten three.

I’m not ready for the Century just yet – but I’m starting to think it just might happen next year, and probably on the I&M Canal Trail.

There's lots of online info on the (more interesting that you'd think) history of the canal, including maps 'n' such.

Saturday, October 17, 2009


Saturday was one of those intensely bright fall days. The summer haze is gone, leaving the air clear and sharp. Trees are just beginning the process of changing color; contrasted against the intensely blue sky, it's a cacaphony of colors.

Had a lot of errands to run, figured I'd shrink the carbon footprint a bit and take the bike. It was 42 degrees when I left the house. Warmed the core quickly by keeping the pace up around 15 mph. The breeze chilled my chest despite the layering.

First stop: the new "Eggsperience" pancake house for some fuel. Normally I shy away from places with cutesy names, but I was hoping against hope for a nice diner-type place with a counter where guys (women don't sit at counters) leave their newspapers for the next customer to read and the waitresses call you "hon."

No counter. Waitress did not call me "hon." Noisy, lots of families. Food was very good. Sigh.

I headed off toward the hardware store, but got sidetracked by a windbreaker I saw in the window of a new store specializing in overpriced clothing and shoes for runners. I took the plunge and bought an $80 Pro Velocity Super Microft Teijintex "shell" (It's not a "windbreaker" - you can't charge $80 for a "windbreaker"). I rationalized the purchase by telling myself it's also a safety measure, since it has reflective strips all over it. It also boasts a "moisture management system," which used to be called "water repellent" back in the Stone Age.

But where has this thing been all my life? The difference was amazing; I was much more comfortable. I especially liked the zippered vents in the armpits: makes it simple to get the heat balance just right.

Hardware store for toilet parts. Casey's for lunchmeat and vegetable oil. Peterson's for a bottle of chianti to go with tonight's homemade pizza. A stop back at home to empty the pannier bags, and back on the road to Radio Shack for replacement computer speakers.

Came back via the DuPage River Trail, a short but spectacular paved bike/running path. I'll write more about this trail next year - right now it's blocked by construction at 75th Street, and there's a new segment under construction that will extend the trail all the way to Whalon Lake in Bolingbrook.

Total for the morning was 21.1 miles and about $200.

Monday, October 12, 2009

A quick 10 on a cold day

My standard 10-mile run to Jewel on a cool — all right, cold — overcast October afternoon. Needed wheat bread and Bac-Os for my standard diet of salad and low-sodium turkey sandwiches. Also I just needed some damned exercise. I felt turgid from a greasy breakfast and sitting in a car for the better part of two days.

I like to shop at Casey’s, a family-owned store, but at five miles round-trip, it’s gotten to be too “close” now that I’m riding almost every day. I’ve taken to hitting the Jewel on Rt. 59, which is about twice as long a ride.

The tires were down a few pounds in the cold, so I topped them off. I donned my ski helmet, a souvenir from last year’s ill-conceived skiing vacation. I’ll probably never go skiing again, but the helmet has nice cloth ear flaps and works extremely well for biking in the cold. Gloves and a bright orange sweatshirt.

I stash my reusable shopping bag in the pannier— I’m all about the carbon footprint, baby!— and set off into the damp chill.

I’m slowly finding back-street alternatives to the four-lane, divided nightmares that carry most of the east-west traffic in Naperville. There are sidewalks, but they’re rough and overhung with tree branches. Unfortunately, none of the streets go through, so it’s two blocks forward, two blocks sideways, one block backwards.

Once the muscles start to work, the chill rapidly recedes. There’s no wind to slow me down and make my eyes water. The streets are quiet on a Sunday afternoon. I settle into a rhythm and do the five miles to the store in about 20 minutes.

I’ve been dreading the idea of hanging up the bike again for five months and waiting out the winter. Maybe I don’t have to, if you believe the lunatics at If the ski trip taught me anything (aside from “skiing is for other people”) it’s that it doesn’t really take that much physical activity to keep a properly dressed person warm at 15 degrees F.

Maybe I’m just deluding myself, but maybe I won’t be so quick to stow the bike away this year. What the worst that could happen, besides frostbite, hypothermia and death?

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Springbrook Prairie, Naperville

Seems to me I should take note of the trial I ride most often, the 9.5-mile wonder that meaders through Springbrook Prairie. I'm blessed to have a nearly 2,000-acre forest preserve with a world-class bike trail just a short ride from my house.

The trail itself is just a couple of years old. It's in outstanding condition and well-drained: it rained more than 1.5 inches in the last two days, but by this afternoon, the trail surface was dry and hard, without any ruts or mushy spots.

The wide trail mainly follows the perimeter of the property. Most of the preserve is low, rolling prairie. The trail also passes through a small wooded area -- I've spooked deer from the trail early in the morning.

On a humid, warm late-September afternoon, prairie plants were in a last-gasp bloom: acres of yellow (goldenrod?), with purple and orange flowers underneath. Milkweed pods bulged, ready to burst. Goldfinches played tag in the tall weeds lining the trail.

Along the eastern horizon, a line of towering cumulonimbus clouds had formed where the humid air was lifted by a cool onshore breeze from Lake Michigan, forming thundershowers. I could trace the line of small thunderheads from Gary to the Wisconsin border.

The trail itself is not much of a challenge, but I'd recommend Springbrook Prairie highly for a smooth, scenic ride.

Sunday, September 20, 2009

Chicago lakefront ride

Took a short ride on Chicago's beautiful lakefront path on Saturday, Sept. 19. Had to dodge numerous clots of rubbernecking tourists and scramble to avoid pelotons of Lycra-clad tour wannabes, but it was still a blast.

We parked in the Millennium garage, and took the lakefront path north to Belmont. There, we turned west about two miles there to find the Roscoe Village "Guinness and Oyster Fest" that I'd found in an online listing of Chicago neighborhood festivals.

Turns out the fest organizers had found an actual sponsor: LandShark Lager, a Jimmy Buffet WorldWide Amalgamated Corp. (registered trademark, all rights reserved, see dealer for details) brand. Also, the organizers apparently hadn't paid their bribe to the Chicago Health Dept., so they weren't allowed to serve any actual raw oysters.

But for a "Guinness and Oyster Fest" featuring neither Guinness nor raw oysters, it was a darned good time.

The band playing while we were there, a local, Skynyrdish group called Hello Dave, had the crowd tapping and nodding and provided a nice vibe for the setting. Mary found the Landshark Lager passable. The "oysters Italiano" were greasy but good, and the fried oysters offered by John's corner bar were small but crispy-tasty and nestled on a little bed of cool coleslaw. Well done.

A headwind slowed us down on the way home, but it was cool southeast breeze off the lake. In all ways a very pleasant 14-mile ride. Not a lot of places on the planet with a view like this.

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Waterfall Glen Forest Preserve

Tried the Waterfall Glen Forest Preserve main loop after work. A scenic 9.5-mile ride and a good workout in wonderful weather: 77 degrees, partly sunny, light SW breeze.

The preserve is on Cass Ave, just south of I-55 between Darien and Lemont. Started at the ski-equestrian trailhead off Cass Ave. The sign doesn't mention bicycles, but doesn't discourage them either.

The trail itself is the familiar limestone screening, in very good condition. Having done most of my rides on fanatically straight-and-level rails-to-trails paths, Waterfall Glen offered the unusual chance to climb hills (actually glacial ridges) and negotiate some tight curves.

The grip shifters got a good workout as the trail undulated through beautiful stands of oak trees. Discovered that the front derailleur wouldn't shift to the smallest chainring. The hills weren't steep enough to make the malfunction a serious issue, but it was annoying. Obviously, this Illinois boy doesn't get to use the serious-uphill sprocket very often, but I want stuff to work like it's supposed to.

It seemed like every hill had a short, steep climb -- and every descent ended in a sharp 180-degree switchback that required a hard brake to walking speed. All that good kinetic energy wasted on heating up the wheel rims! I went around the loop counter-clockwise; I'll go clockwise next time and see if reverse pattern is more energy-efficient.

The trail passes through stands of oaks and maple, savanna and a "dolomite prairie," where the bedrock lies very close to the surface; the shallow soil is home to various kinds of rare plants. Interesting to see the various landscapes roll by. Informative signs are posted along the way.

The main trail could be marked a little better for newbies. There are several spots where the trail splits and the bicyclist has to guess which one is the main trail and which is a dead-end spur. Granted, there are map boards at most of these splits, but a simple "Main Trail -->" would be welcome so you wouldn't have to stop to orienteer. I'm all about the momentum, baby. But a very minor issue.

Overall, a great place to ride. I'll be back, especially since I work nearby.

Side note: The Waterfall Glen Forest Preserve bike trail is part of a "Route 66 Trail system" of off-road paths and comfortable roads for bicycles, equestrians, hikers, and more. I had been unaware of this interesting concept. More info and downloads online.

Saturday, August 22, 2009

I&M Canal Trail State Trail

Tried my luck on the I&M Canal State Trail today. Started at the trailhead in Channahon State Park.

<-- Lock No. 6

The bike trail is built on the old towpath, where mules pulled the barges along more than 150 years ago. The state park is home to lock #6, built in 1848 to acccomodate towboats plying the canal.

Headed off in exactly the wrong direction, thanks to some cartography-class dropout. Hey, Amerigo Vespucci, north is generally UP and west is ON THE LEFT!

Realized I was going the wrong way about two miles down the trail. Decided to keep going anyway.

It's a gorgeous trail, paralleling the Aux Sable Creek and the I&M Canal. There were egrets and herons looking for fish, and turtles sunning themselves on fallen tree branches and rocks. I may bring a fishing rod next time; some of that water looked very fishy to me.

The day was breezy and unusually cool for mid-August - just 70 degrees. It was downright chilly in the shaded stretches, and just barely comfortable in the sun.

The trail ended after about 9.5 miles just at the Joliet city limits, so I turned around and headed back. Next time, I'll try the other way, toward the west.

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

DuPage River Trail extension

I see the City of Naperville has broken ground for a 2.5-mile extension of the DuPage River Trail. It'll connect the south end at 87th and Ring Road to the intersection at Royce Road and Washington. In addition, I notice there's a new paved trail across the street from the DuPage River Sports Complex into the forest preserve toward Whalon Lake. Cool. This is going to be one heck of a nice bike ride when it's completed.

They're planning a new bridge across the DuPage river, so if I want to go south I won't have to risk my life on the narrow Washington Street bridge or take a 12-mile detour around on Naper-Plainfield.

The new segment will be open next summer.

Supposedly the trail will go all the way to 115th Street, eventually.

Thanks, Naperville!

News release and map.

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

Toe clips and kicky sandals

Just a quick 10.7 miles on a warm, humid summer evening. I left right after dinner with the intention of determining if a male person could buy a pair of work shoes in the new mall along 75th Street.

Twilight was setting in as I was setting out at about 7:30 p.m. I tried to ignore the reality: days are getting shorter. Summer will soon draw to a close. It won’t be long before …

I pushed the gloomy thoughts away and soon settled into a moderate pace, assisted by the new toe clips. Where have these things been all my life? Why isn’t this general knowledge? I installed them just two weeks ago, and already they seem indispensible. Being able to pull as well as push on the pedals has added a good 2 mph to my average speed, and definitely increased my endurance.

The warm, wet air turns comfortably cool when converted to a 12 mph breeze. I swisshhh through small puddles from the day’s heavy rains. The red strobes — the small one on the back of my helmet and a much brighter one mounted on the rack — are doing their job: cars are giving me a wide berth. The headlight on my helmet, a small, one-bulb LED, is surprisingly effective. It wouldn’t cut it out on a dark country lane, but in the well-streetlighted suburbs, it’s more than adequate.

The new mall is well-stocked with fashionista shoppes that will no doubt close within two years: Nordstrom Rack, Loehmans,
Whole Foods, World Market and a Hallmark Store. If I needed some darling kicky sandals, some arugula tips and a sappy birthday card, this would be the place. For a nondescript pair of brown leather work shoes, not so much.

But I’m not too disappointed. It’s a nice night to ride. I take the long way home.

Saturday, August 15, 2009

Whew! Almost 36 miles

What the heck was I thinking? Took the Batavia Spur to the Fox River. North to .. well, I missed the Geneva Spur and almost ended up in Elgin.

<-- What is this structure in Warrenville? If somebody knows, please fill me in.

Backtracked to the not-very-well-marked turnoff and headed southeast. Have to acknowledge the wooden switchback that carried me up the Fox River palisade and into the woods beyond.

Looped back at the Wheaton split, where a very nice couple, stopping to help a guy consulting a worn map, confirmed that I was on the right track. The last five miles were seriously pushing my current stamina -- or were they? I arrived at the car majorly winded, laughing-out-loud proud of myself and only slightly concerned about dropping dead from congestive heart failure.

Turned on the air-conditioning in the car on the way home, and those of you who know Mr. Never-Warm-Enough realize what that means. That wheezy-itchy-phlegmy feeling in my chest told me I’ve worked the ol’ power plant a bit too hard. Apologies, cardiopulmonary system: I had your best interests in mind when I started.

Total for the day: 35.9 miles. I am tired, but jazzed.

<-- The Geneva Spur, heading east.

Folks, I’m nearly 50 years old, and I tackled almost thirty-six miles of mostly-unpaved trail today. My knees are complaining a bit, and I was a little coughy when I got home, but otherwise: eat my limestone dust!

Gonna fly airplanes with Flight Simulator 10 all night to relax and rest. Bleacher tix for the Cubs game tomorrow. Hope there aren’t a lot of stairs.

<-- Got my minimum daily requirement of iron with just a couple sips of the water provided by this pump along the Geneva Spur.

OK, I'm just a bit shagged out. Can you tell?

Sunday, August 9, 2009


“Discovery” was a cheap yellow Huffy I got for my birthday when I was 12 or 13 years old. It was the classic 1970s 10-speed. I named it after the spaceship in "2001: A Space Odyssey." A decal from a Space Shuttle model kit covered up the weenie "Scout" on the top tube and made it official.

That bicycle freed me.

I was a geek loser less-than-nobody in high school. But with the ten-speed, I could escape the neighborhood and explore. I rode north as far as O’Hare Airport, and watched 747s swoop down just yards over my head. I rode west to the Churchill Woods Forest Preserve and threw stones in the river.

Weekends were filled with exploration. My friend Dean and I rode the Illinois Prairie Path from Villa Park all the way to Elgin, a round-trip distance of more than 30 miles over (at the time) barely improved path. We swam in the Keeneyville Quarry. We held our noses and negotiated the humpy compressed dirt track along Salt Creek.

Riding the same crushed limestone of the Prairie Path 35 years later, I pondered the question of how many bikes I’ve owned since the original Discovery. The bikes I remember: the Nishiki my grandmother bought me when I was a sophomore in college- a Rolex precision watch of bicycles – it got stolen three weeks later. A Fuji mountain bike I rode for years as a young adult, the nubby tires steadily wearing down on the streets.

I figure my current bike must be about the seventh I’ve owned since the original, so it’s the Discovery 7. A 24-speed Trek 7100, it's the first bike I’ve ever purchased because that’s the bike I bloody well wanted, instead of the bike I could afford.

I loaned it to my son when he left for college, and bought myself a brand-spankin’ new Gary Fisher. A semester later, we traded. Well, Dad demanded his Trek back, and the kid reluctantly gave it up. The kid considers his bicycle transportation; Discovery 7 and I are soul mates.

I own a fishing boat, a Toyota Highlander, and a Harley Superglide. But the mode of transportation that really frees my soul is a bicycle. The bike is the self-propelled spirit of discovery.

Third time's the charm

Took the Prairie Path Aurora Spur on Saturday, Aug. 7. Low overcast, humid, spitting drizzle.

<-- Discovery 7's dashboard, including ancient steam-powered GPS.

Dick didn't join me, for reasons that can only be described as "smart."

Path was mushy and slow from the previous night's rain. Not promising, but I set out anyway.

After about 5 miles of working way too hard to plow through the slimy limestone, I told myself I'd only go as far as the Fox River in Aurora, then turn around. I was panting hard.

Right at the Aurora city limits, though, the path turned from crushed limestone to baby-butt-smooth asphalt. OK, I said to myself, I'll keep going as long as the pavement holds out.

South along the Fox River, across the New York Street bridge at the casino, then north back along the river on the opposite side. Still paved, and lovely.

<-- Flowers along the Fox River near downtown Aurora.

Sun started peeking though the clouds as I passed through North Aurora.

By the time I hit Batavia, it was mainly sunny and extremely humid. Stopped at Bulldog's for a huge salad.

Rode the Batavia Spur back to the car. Total: 28.5 miles.

<-- The bike definitely needed a wash and a lube after the ride.

Friday, August 7, 2009

Flattered again!

Glass: 2
Bontragers: 0

Take two. Took a day off of work, defying the rain gods, with the goal of trying the Aurora spur > alternate north along the Fox River, west to Wheaton along the main leg and back along the Batavia spur.

Carbo-loaded at the excellent Pancake Cafe at 75th St. and Naper-Plainfield: wheat toast, hash browns ("lightly onioned") and wonderfully thick bacon. Hit the Prairie Path at the Winfield Road parking lot just north of I-88 at 7:30 a.m. Weather cool and cloudy, perfect.

At the split, took the Aurora spur for the first time. Impression: not as pretty as the Batavia spur; the path parallels high-tension lines and there are a lot of power switchyards along the way. Interesting, I suppose, if you're an EE grad.

Puttering along about six miles into my ride, the now-familiar pshhh shsssh shsssh shsssh shsssh shsssh, godddamnit. The puncture was right at last week's glass gash, opposite the valve stem.

I had all the tools I needed to patch the leak - I love that CO2 cartridge repair kit! - and got back to the car OK. I had Bicycles Etc. replace the tubes and tires, front and back. Expensive at $194 with an extra tube and two extra C02 bottles, but I need to trust my wheels.

When I had the flat a week ago (see last week's blog entry), I'd wondered aloud in the shop if the tire sidewall had been compromised, and the folks at Bicycles Etc. either hadn't understood my concern or figured I didn't know what I was talking about. Apparently my concerns were justified. Do I blame them for not insisting/recommending a new tire, or were they being conscientious in not selling me a $46 tire based on a run-of-the-mill flat? I give them the benefit of the doubt, mainly because they adjusted both front and back brakes for free while they replaced the tires and tubes. The bike will stop on a freakin' nanoparticle now.

Gonna try again tomorrow with my friend Richard. This time, definitely!

Bontrager tires vs. glass shards

Sunday, Aug. 1

Glass: 1
Bontragers: 0

Guess I can't really blame the tires. Some a-hole smashed what looked like an entire pane of window glass -- not round-edged, crumbly car-window-glass -- on the Prairie Path at Rt. 56 / Butterfield Road / Batavia Spur. I kinda noted the glassy glint coming over the crown of Butterfield, didn't pay too much attention.

Phhhht ssss sssss ssss ssss ssss sssss shit.

Piece of glass as long as my pinkie sticking out of the tire. Three-mile walk back to the car. Visit to Bicycles Etc. in Lisle because I'm too much of a lazy bastard to change a flat and there's a Country House branch office next door with the world' s best hamburger.

In my dreams, whoever threw that window glass smack into the path of dozens of bicycle riders is sentenced to pick up every shard with his/her teeth.