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.