Friday, December 24, 2010

Yuletide tumble

Yes, I go out in public like this.

Went for about a 10-mile ride on Christmas Eve. Originally planned to hit the Fitness Center, but the place was slammed -- the lot was full, with cars roaming the aisles waiting for a space. That meant I’d probably have to wait for an elliptical and the pool would not be an option.

I’d noticed that the DuPage River Trail had been plowed. I’d rather be biking anyway. Went home and layered up as a light snow began to fall. Very pretty.

I jumped on the trail at 87th Street and headed south. The asphalt trail hadn’t been plowed edge-to-edge, but there was a four-foot cleared area mostly down the middle, probably done by a skid-steer loader (“Bobcat”). Not a great job of clearing the path, but any effort in that direction is much appreciated.
View from the DuPage River Bridge, looking east.
Used my Motorcycle Safety Foundation training to stay upright: gentle back brakes, brake before the turn, not through the turn, etc. The only surprise I had on the outbound leg was climbing a grade approaching the bridge over the mighty mighty DuPage River. The extra torque caused the back wheel to lose traction, so I fishtailed a bit. Recovered quickly, downshifted and finished the climb a bit more slowly.
Amazing view from the bridge. The river was partly frozen and the scene was blanketed in white. The photo doesn’t show the gentle snowfall. Magical.

(I hasten to note that the postcard-worthy scenery is meager compensation for living in an arctic hellhole that’s uninhabitable for seven months out of the year.)

At the five-mile mark, I decided to head back. The snow was falling a bit more heavily, and the trail was getting slick. As I pedaled back through Knoch Knolls Woods, the front wheel started coming out from under me. Sheer ice under a film of snow. I surrendered to the inevitable, and did a credible tuck-and-roll to my right, although I banged my knee pretty hard. My GPS,
extra headlight and pepper spray (dog repellent) skittered down the path ahead of me.

After rubbing my knee, gathering up my belongings and re-attaching the chain, I set off again. I got 50 feet before taking another dive, this time to my left. Decided to walk the bike for a while until the path got a little less hazardous.

Strange that I had passed over that very stretch on the way out without any problems. The surface must have reached some critical temperature/snow-depth combination after I had rolled over it the first time.

Once I reached Knoch Knolls Road, I decided to take the streets back home, since they were merely wet. Took the relatively long way home, stopping for a Diet Coke at the corner store.
Supposedly, we’re in for a thaw next week. I hope some of the snow and ice melt from the trail. Felt really good to get out this morning, and I need the exercise.

dsj 101224 

The mighty DuPage River, at about Ring Road.

Sunday, December 12, 2010

Bike commuting

Bridge over the east branch of the DuPage River,
Greene Valley Forest Preserve.
Haven't blogged much lately because I haven't really done much riding, other than commuting to work and back. I usually post about trail rides, but there's some trail involved in my one-hour, 13-mile ride to work (26 miles round trip).

I start out at about 6:30 a.m. I carry my work clothing and my ride-home shorts and T-shirt in a nifty suitcase I found at Bicycles Etc. It's essentially a standard roll-on suitcase with a pair of hooks designed to attach to a bike rack.

The first third of the ride is through suburban backstreets, where I wave to people walking their dogs. It's surprising how many of them -- men and women -- are out in their bathrobes. (Sorry, no pictures.)

There's a downhill run on 79th Street into the Greene Valley Forest Preserve where I've gotten up to 30 mph. Unfortunately, I have to bleed off all that good kinetic energy when I arrive at Greene Road. Why is there always a cross street at the bottom of a downhill stretch?

Sunrise over Green Valley Forest Preserve.
About 1.5 miles of my commute cuts through the forest preserve. I've seen deer, sandhill cranes, herons and egrets as I roll through the prairie and oak forest and over the east branch of the DuPage River.

A short, sharp uphill on 83rd Street is the real test of the commute. I always have to wait to cross Rt. 53, so I can't build up any speed before I attack the hill. When I started, I had to walk my bike up the last 100 yards. Now I can get all the way up without hitting the granny ring. Very proud the first time I made it to the top without touching the left shifter.

83rd Street and Woodward have off-street bike/pedestrian paths. I'm not sure they're an improvement over riding in the street, since there are cross streets seemingly every 50 feet. And of course, the drivers -- especially in the morning -- are sleepy, distracted, on the phone, or just looking out into the main street and not at me coming up the bike path. I've taken to riding in the street in the morning.

I may be cold and sweaty (yes, at the same time),
but at least I'm not doing this.
Two miles along the I-55 frontage road and through the Pleasantdale subdivision, and I'm through the gate and ready for a shower. There are some grungy but adequate shower facilities where I work.

I'm usually behind my computer and ready to go by 8 a.m., more than a little pumped by the exercise and feeling smug for having saved a gallon of gas and 19.2 lbs. of carbon dioxide.

But sigh, winter closed in. I have excellent clothing and feel that I could get to work without suffering frostbite or hypthermia, or even the occasional broken bone from sliding on the ice. However, I've learned from rides around the neighborhood that drivers (a) don't expect to see a bicyclist in December, and (b) won't move over for a bicyclist forced to ride around piles of snow along the road.

I eagerly await the usual "January thaw," where the snow melts away and the weather turns cold and dry. I'll give it another shot then.

Monday, November 1, 2010

Not very massive, but it's hard to be critical

About 25 riders met at West Aurora High School on mid-afternoon on Halloween. Attendance was down quite a bit from the first event — likely a lot of people were home waiting for trick-or-treaters or getting their kids ready to hit the candy circuit. The first ride, on Sept. 26, brought out nearly 50 bike riders.

Riders gather at Aurora West High School.
The Aurora Critical Mass rides are intended to raise awareness of bicyclists and call for more bike lanes in the city. To allow Aurora to get comfortable with riders in the streets, the events are being held on Sundays. With enough participation, the event will change to the last Friday night of every month. (Chicago’s Critical Mass rides are held on the third Friday of each month.)

The ride’s organizer, Melissa Stoneking, planned the ride for mostly two-lane roadways so the group wouldn’t block traffic. She’s an energetic and enthusiastic rider who waved at passing motorists and invited bicycle riders to join in.

The small, friendly group was a mix of ages and sexes. The ride proceeded at a stately 8-mph pace on the bright, cool afternoon. A young boy on the back of a tandem blew bubbles as we trundled along. It was difficult for me to ride so slowly at first; I’m used to going at least twice that fast on pavement. But it’s not a race, it’s more of a parade.

Self-portrait with Critical Mass.
We proceeded down some well-trafficked streets, and caused some minor backups. Surprisingly — to me, anyway — not one passing motorist yelled or flipped us off. On the contrary, there were many beep-beeps of support, and friendly waves.

Even if the event wasn’t “massive,” it was very enjoyable, and I plan to be a regular. I also learned from a co-rider that the Chicago versions don’t generally depart from Daley Plaza until after 6 p.m., giving me a chance to get there and join in the big one.

A pretty fall day and good company.
The next Aurora Critical Mass ride is tentatively set for March 27. Contact Stoneking at for more info.

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

“400” State Trail, Slight Return

"It was one of those perfect autumnal days which occur more frequently in memory than in life." - P. D. James

I stoked up for the day’s journey with my favorite small-town-diner breakfast of wheat toast, bacon and hash browns at my favorite small-town diner, Greenwood’s Café in Reedsburg, Wisconsin, on Oct. 9, 2010.

Parked the car down the street at the old train depot, scene of an 1874 protest by the townspeople that prevented the deportation of a well-known and respected Native American, A-Ha-Cho-Ka, and his extended family. Reedsburgians like to think this “helped convince the U.S. government to abandon its inhuman policy of Indian relocation.” Perhaps they’re right.

The depot is a small museum and also the southern terminus of the “400” State Trail, so named for a Chicago & Northwestern train that operated until 1963. It took passengers the 400 miles from Chicago to Minneapolis in 400 minutes, which is actually a pretty good clip, especially for a steam loco. The “400” State Trail — always in quotes — runs for 22 miles between Reedsburg and the town of Elroy. Of course, that town’s name put the damn “Jetsons” cartoon theme song on constant-replay in my head all day … Meet George Jetson … His boy Elroy …

Hanna-Barbera always seemed to put more effort into their theme songs than their actual cartoons.

It was a glorious mid-October morning. Bright sunshine in a bright, high blue sky, with a very light breeze from the south.

Trees were just reaching peak color: the trail follows the Baraboo River valley, giving the maples, aspens and oaks a chance to display their colors along the hillsides.

The trail itself is packed limestone screenings in very good condition for most of the route. For long stretches, it’s packed down so hard it’s almost like pavement. The route is the usual rails-to-trails straight-and-level, and it crosses the meandering Baraboo River what seems like 20 times. Most of the wood-planked bridges are set between the riveted steel plates of the old railroad bridges. The bridge decks are a little chewed up from snowmobiles; apparently the trail sees heavy use in the winter (Speed limit for snowmobiles is 55 mph — at night? Really?)

Seven miles into the ride, I arrived in the familiar town of La Valle, the closest town to our cabin. There’s a water fountain and flush toilet for trail users, with signboards providing the history of the namesake rail line. There are a couple of good restaurants in town: River Mill, a very roomy, comfortable sit-down family restaurant and bar, and Trail Break, a fast-food/pizza place.

I had ridden the La Valle-to-Reedsburg stretch of the trail before, but now I was in Terra incognita. The trail soon led through a deep, shaded cut in the rolling sandstone hills; coming out the other side, fall colors exploded like fireworks under the bright sunlight. Canada geese massed in cutoff ponds on either side of the trail, awaiting whatever mysterious signal sends them south. It was so absurdly beautiful I laughed out loud. The miles flew past as I eagerly absorbed the views.

Soon I was in Wonewoc, searching for a fountain Diet Coke. None to be had. A longer stretch now, each mile more breathtaking than the last. I found a Kwik Trip gas station at Union Center, bought my fountain Coke and an apple and took a break in their trailside park. A great place to stop: clean flush toilet, water fountain and comfy benches. The one I rested on was a 1996 class project by a student named Brian, according to the plaque. Well done, Brian!

Just a few more miles brought me to the end of the “400” in Elroy. Daughter Judy … Jane, his wife …

The old train depot in Elroy (don’t start, brain) has been converted to a museum and Gift Shoppe where you can buy trail souvenirs and ice cream or rent a bike. I hadn’t been aware of it, but the “400” segues directly into the Elroy-Sparta State Trail, 32 miles of limestone famous for its trio of tunnels. But that’s another blog post.

After a short look around, I pointed Discovery 7 south and started back. The southerly breeze had kicked up a bit, to maybe 10 mph. Not a big deal on a relatively short ride of 22 miles, I thought.

I was wrong. The breeze and the limestone — as hard-packed as it is, it’s still not concrete — added up. My legs were complaining by the time I got to Wonewoc. I was getting seriously hungry, too. I had resolved to try the Trail Break restaurant in La Valle, based on my having noticed the words “cold beer” painted along its roof line on the way out in the morning, along with “pizza,” “burgers” and “salads.” But La Valle seemed a thousand miles away.

Finally, blessedly, I was ordering a Coors Light and a burger at the Trail Break. Both were delicious. The beer was cold, as advertised on the roof, and the burger was a generous, hand-formed patty cooked just right. The staff was friendly and attentive. Recommended.

Somewhat rejuvenated, I chugged the last stretch to the Reedsburg depot. Total for the day was 46.4 glorious, wonderful miles.

I spent the late afternoon fishing: I caught and released exactly one nice bluegill. I wasn’t trying very hard. I was very tired, I had cold beer in the boat with me, the water sparkled in the sunlight, and this late in the season I had the lake pretty much all to myself. It was more of a boat ride than a fishing trip.
Started feeling kind of nauseated and a bit shaky in the evening — in retrospect, I was probably dehydrated. I’m sure the beer (both at the Trail Break and two while fishing) didn’t help.

Next time, I’ll drive to … that town at the end of the “400” … and try the trail with all the tunnels on it, and remember to drink more water than I think I need to.

#   #  #

dsj 101012

Wednesday, July 14, 2010

"400" State Trail, Wisconsin

Recently took a ride on the "400" State Trail. (Every sign you see has the quote marks.) it's a 22-mile trail in the beautiful driftless area of SW Wisconsin. Left early on a Saturday morning from the town of LaValle, a town of about 500 some 20 miles west of the Wisconsin Dells.

The Corner Express Gas-Bait-Liquor Store in LaValle is
one place you can buy $4 daily permits for the
"400" State Trail. It's also THE place to be at 7 a.m.
Saturday morning. Inside, folks were playing
cards and drinking beer. I love Wisconsin.

The rails-to-trails conversion follows the route of the old Chicago and Northwestern route from Chicago to Minneapolis, which the trains traversed in 400 minutes. Pretty good time for steam locos.
Picture of the "400" bombing through LaValle 
in its heyday, from an informational signpost
in the center of town.

Trail is limestone screenings in good condition. Smooth and fairly hard despite the recent heavy rains. The particular morning I most recently rode it, the trail surface was damp; there was just enough moisture to make the trail grit stick to the tires for exactly one-third of a rotation, then fling itself into my hair with uncanny accuracy.

Looking back over my recent posts, I notice a tendency to wax poetic about flowers. I’m not usually a flower type of guy. But this year has been exceptional, most likely because of the regular rainfall and damnit, I’m secure enough in my masculinity to say I’m enjoying the pretty pretty flower show very much. This ride was no exception. The trail was just lined with flowers of every color and shape -- including a few types I’d never seen before. Breathtaking.

The Baraboo River makes several appearances  as you ride southeast. The muddy water carries a fair current as it meanders through forest and farmland.

Nearing the town of Reedsburg, a good Samaritan homeowner placed a  large jug of cool water and paper cups along the trail, with a note urging thirsty trail users to help themselves. There was a small bench to rest on and a flower bed. Small-town America in a nutshell. I drank two cups full, and left a thank-you note. From here on in, if anyone asks what America means to me, I’ll talk about the person who gives thirsty trail riders a drink of cool water and a shady bench to rest on.
In Reedsburg, I stopped for breakfast at Greenwood’s Café, a breakfast-and-lunch hole in the wall that is my favorite restaurant in the whole wide world -- I can say that with some authority because I’ve been to restaurants all over the world.

I sat at the counter and read the Reedsburg Independent newspaper over wheat toast, bacon and hash browns while a pretty waitress kept up an endless stream of fountain Diet Coke. Bliss.

All too soon came the last bite of hash browns and the $6 bill. A quick 7.5 miles back to the car and the fun part of the day was over. Time for the chores that are part and parcel of owning a cabin in Wisconsin. 

Detail from a mural on the side of the
Lakeside Foods plant in Reedsburg.

Saturday, June 26, 2010


I've been averaging about two bicycle commutes per week. It's about a 25-mile round trip. The route goes through suburban backstreets and into the Greene Valley Forest Preserve on the tree-lined 79th Street. The first half of the ride goes over a ridge between the two branches of the DuPage River. This is the view uphill going north (toward home) on 79th.

The route cuts through the forest preserve for about a half-mile on a limestone trail. The spring has been wet and warm -- the wildflowers have been loving it. Every week seems to bring a new mix of flowers along the trail.

Yes, there's a 150-foot hill. It's actually a huge pile of trash covered with dirt and grass.
I'm really enjoying the bicycle commute. Just wish it would stop raining so I could do it more often.

Thursday, June 17, 2010

Loveland Trail, slight reprise

Hit the Loveland Trail again during a recent visit to the Cincinnati area. It's as excellent as I remember [See my previous post]. Went east from the Train Stop Inn, a mile or two from the King's Island Theme Park (excellent roller coasters, I'm told by those in the know). My son accompanied me for the ride on a real sauna of a day: about 90 degrees and 80 percent humidity.
The trail is a delight to ride. Smooth, level asphalt. Peeks at the Little Miami River, small creeks tumbling down the hillside.
Lots of wildlife. Not five seconds after Steven wondered aloud if we'd see any deer — there they were alongside the trail: two does and a spike buck. We also saw muskrats and a woodchuck, along with dozens of cardinals, goldfinches and other birds we couldn't identify.
We rode as far as the town of Morrow, where we stopped for ice cream at Miranda's, a nice little shoppe in what used to be a bank; you can peer into the small vault in the side room. I usually dislike air conditioning in any form, but it was welcome as we cooled down with butter pecan (Steven) and chocolate soft-serve in a cup (me).

 The ride back was uneventful and very pleasant. At the finish, we cooled off with a beer at the Train Stop Inn. It's great to be able to knock one back with your son. Total was about 20 very humid miles.
The next day, hit the trail again solo for a quick 10 miles going the other way. There was a fun little festival in the town of Loveland, where a band shouted its way through "Land of 10,000 Dances." The driving beat echoed along the hillsides and soon I was keeping time with the crank. Fun stuff.

dsj 100617

Thursday, June 3, 2010

Great Western Trail

Sunday, May 30, promised to be a warm, humid day with a strong south breeze. Luckily my plans were to ride the western section of the Great Western Trail from Leroy Oaks Park, St. Charles, to Sycamore and back -- all east-west, so the wind wouldn't be a factor.

The path is mostly the familiar rails-to-trails limestone. About five miles is asphalt-paved, starting from the town of Wasco. (You wascolly wabbit! Sorry.)

Most of the path is in such great condition it might as well be paved: very well tramped down and smooth. There was lots of bike and jogger traffic until past the paved bit, when it suddenly got very rural and isolated. Myriads of flowers along both sides: purple, white, red. Trail is fanatically straight and level: you can see the white limestone ahead of you for what seems like miles, all the way to the vanishing point.

The trail parallels Route 64 (North Avenue), so it can be a bit noisy, especially on a Memorial Day weekend when it seemed like every motorcycle in the state was heading west.

Between the "town" of Virgil (epicenter of the great Illinois quake of '10, magnitude 3.8) and Sycamore, the trail turns into an ATV track for a mile or two. Not an impediment, but you can tell you're not in suburbia anymore. A couple of short quarter-mile stretches of could be better-maintained.

Arrived in Sycamore very thirsty and hungry. After a stop at a gas station for a couple of bottles of water, I had lunch at the Dairy Dogs. Make sure you specify no ketchup on your "Chicago style" hot dog.  (The stand was operated by a couple of 16-year-old girls who didn't know any better. Otherwise I'd have thrown a shit-fit. Ketchup on a hot dog. Jebus.) Otherwise, the Dave Berg dog was just OK, nothing to write home about.

I must be getting good at this: I covered 37 miles in 3 hours and 8 minutes, arriving at the car a sweaty and ready for a rest, but otherwise OK. This after a 20-mile ride the previous day!

Wish I had some pix but somehow I deleted them off the camera. Just imagine the Prairie Path, only straighter and flatter, with farmland on either side carpeted with three-inch emergent corn sprouts.

dsj 100530

Benedictine University and Green Trails

About a 20-mile ride through the neighborhood this morning. Went to visit my grandmother at Villa St. Benedict, then stopped for breakfast at the Big Apple Pancake House: A Sun-Times, two eggs scrambled to death – dry! – wheat toast and bacon. After my five or 10 thousand years in purgatory, I’ll ascend to heaven where it will be a bright, sunny spring morning much like today's, and that will be my breakfast order.

The weather is just … perfect … one day each year. I think today was that day. Brilliant sunshine, not a cloud in the sky, light east wind (unusual direction), about 85 degrees F. I was in full Mr. Pither mode coming home from Villa St. Benedict: bicycling in a state of oblivious happiness.

Decided to explore the grounds of nearby Benedictine University. I’d passed by the campus a hundred times, and have attended a bunch of DuPage Dragons baseball games at the stadium, but I’d never actually poked around on the campus.
Notable discoveries:
  • There is a pretty little 10- or 15-acre lake. Panfish scattered away from the shoreline as I approached. Oh, yes, I'll be back with a fishing rod.
  • A beautiful shrine to the Virgin Mary, and a short mulched trail with the stations of the cross.
  • A well-kept cemetery on the western section of the campus includes the final resting place of Abbot Procopius Neuzil, whose most excellent name I could just say over and over. Procopius Neuzil. Procopius Neuzil.

    As I admired the cemetery, I kept hearing a strange, stacatto series of musical notes. I followed the sound to its source: the Rosemont Cavaliers marching band xylophone players were practicing nearby, working on the timing of a particular short riff.

    Heading south from Benedictine toward home, I decided to explore the Green Trails network of asphalt bicycle/walking trails. What a gem! Twenty-five miles of smooth asphalt trails wind through residential neighborhoods, along backyards and around small lakes, parks, grassy open areas and small wooded sections.

    This is not a good speed-training track, though. Lots of kids on tricycles, joggers, mommies with strollers and blind corners. Take your time and enjoy the intense suburban-ness of it all.

    Tuesday, May 25, 2010

    Travels with Fred

    Biked to work again today, accompanied by Fred, my friend and neighbor. Fred's a *real* bicyclist, and I hope I didn't hold him back too much.

    He pushed me just a little bit — the way he attacks a hill is something to see, especially considering he's got 15 years on me. We covered the 12.5 miles to Argonne in 61 minutes. A little better than last week, but I'd like to trim that down to 50 minutes.

    It was already in the low-70s and very humid when we left at 6:30 a.m. This afternoon's ride home should be a real pleasure for this warm-weather fan.

    dsj 100525

    Tuesday, May 18, 2010

    11.9 miles to the bowl of oatmeal

    Happy National Bike to Work Week!

    Why yes, yes I did bike to work today, thanks for asking, prompted by the unofficial participation of my workplace in the League of American Bicyclists' "Bike to Work Week" event. I enjoyed the ride very much — enough that I'm probably going to be a fairly regular bike commuter this summer and fall.

    Google Bike Maps (hereinafter GBM) did a bang-up job of creating a bike-friendly route from my home in Naperville to Argonne National Laboratory's West Gate. The map did need a tweak here and there — just a matter of clicking and dragging the route line to a more-direct street — but 90 percent of the route was perfect. (To access Google Bike Maps, pick "bicycling" when getting directions on Google Maps.)

    Fuel for the commute: a bowl of oatmeal and two strips of microwave bacon. Channel 9 News said was 47 degrees when I left the house at 6:30 a.m., dressed in sweatpants, hoodie sweatshirt and a windbreaker. A helmet, of course. Printouts of the route were at the ready in my handlebar bag, as was a radio tuned to the local sports talker. My backpack held a change of clothes and necessaries for a shower.

    Your commute looked like this ...

    ... and my commute looked like this.
    Neener neener neener.

    The route took me though leafy suburban backstreets, then down 79th Street to Greene Road. GBM provided a great shortcut through the Greene Valley Forest Preserve's pathways.

    The delightful, partly paved mile and a half wound through prairie and forest alive with birds. Red-winged blackbirds perched on rushes near a small lake. Snowy egrets padded through the shallow water. A bluejay: brilliant blue and white with an incongruous, ugly squawk. Goldfinches with their sine-wave flight paths. I took one wrong turn on the maze of trails in the preserve, but all too soon, I was looking at Rt. 53 directly across from 83rd Street and staring at a steep uphill. That climb up the ridge presented the only serious bicycling challenge of the morning.

    A smooth bike lane on Woodward Ave.,

    Soon I was gliding east along 83rd Street, and then west on Woodward Avenue, both of which have wide, smooth asphalt bicycle paths separated from the roadway. I stopped for a Diet Coke at the BP station at Boughton Road, where I peeled off my windbreaker and gloves.

    Up over I-55 — the inbound lanes already clogged at 7:15 a.m. — and then along Frontage Road. A quick squiggle through the subdivision brought me to the Westgate Road and the laboratory's western entrance.

    Shower facilities at work, while not luxurious, were adequate to the task and the patient bicyclist is rewarded with hot water after only a few minutes' wait. I arrived at my desk at 7:50 a.m. The ride was 11.9 miles long, which I covered in 69 minutes, as measured by my cheapo GPS unit.

    I wasn't particularly tired in the morning although I did notice I needed my mid-morning snack (a banana from the coffee shop) about an hour earlier than usual. Got pretty yawny in the afternoon; perhaps joining in the Running Club's 2-mile walk at lunch was pushing it.

    The ride home was assisted by a very welcome 20-mph tailwind. It was 12.8 miles in 68 minutes. The day's total: 24.7 miles by bicycle, and a two-mile walk. Yah, I'm tired.

    My Toyota Highlander hybrid gets about 25 mpg in the city, so by riding my bike today, I avoided burning about one gallon of gas and the attendant generation of 19.4 lbs. of carbon dioxide, per U.S. EPA estimates. To be sure, that total is offset by the pound or two of CO2 generated as I huffed and puffed my way up that hill on 83rd Street.

    Gonna ride the Harley tomorrow, to give the legs a break, and try the bike commute again Thursday.

    dsj 100518

    Friday, May 7, 2010

    DuPage River Trail / Whalon Lake

    Tried the new DuPage River Trail on a temperate, breezy spring day. Parked in the DuPage River Sports Complex at Washington Street and Royce Road in southeast Naperville.

    The brand new, paved trail is a short but scenic segment of what will eventually be a world-class ride: an off-street, paved route from downtown Naperville along the DuPage River to 188th Street. Currently, the trail runs from downtown Naperville to 87th Street; the segment from 87th to Royce Road is under construction (It's also blocked off at 75th Street due to a major intersection reconstruction project.) The route I took this day will be a spur off that main trail.

    It's about two miles from Washington Street to Whalon Lake. The trail is mostly a gentle downhill grade as you ride eastward, paralleling Royce Road. The asphalt pavement is baby-butt smooth; silt fencing from the construction still lines the riverward side. The trail passes through open prairie and patches of woods. The DuPage River meanders through the park.

    A small lake sits above the river next to the trail; it must be fed by a spring from the higher ground to the north. I stopped to watch a small largemouth bass patrol the weed edge.

    All too soon, thanks to a tailwind and the grade, I arrived at the Whalon Lake complex. It's a two-year-old facility with a small lake -- a former limestone quarry -- as its centerpiece. It has excellent facilities: toilets, picnic tables, covered pavilions and a dog park (the dogs are having a blast running around inside the fenced enclosure, which is a joy to watch). The lake is stocked with largemouth bass, bluegill, channel catfish, and crappie -- Catch and Release only, yay.

    The lake is limited to boats 16 feet long or less, and no gas engines are allowed; you can launch your dinghy at the disconcertingly large ramp and pier big enough to handle a cabin cruiser. The paved trail loops around the 266-acre lake. It's about 1.5 miles around.

    I actually worked up a sweat on the return trip: the long, gentle uphill grade combined with the steady 20-mph headwind from the west to make a moderately challenging ride.

    I'd highly recommend this trail for families with kids looking for a pleasant hour or so on a gentle path. The scenery is wonderful.

    Once construction is complete on the segment from Royce Road to 87th Street -- sometime this summer or early fall -- this is going to be one of my favorite local rides. The DuPage River Trail will eventually connect to the Illinois Prairie Path to the north, and the Virgil Gilman Trail to the south.

    Wednesday, April 7, 2010

    Little Miami Trail, southern Ohio

    Visiting the in-laws near Cincinnati this past weekend. Great people but I'm not much for coffee-klatching and it was a warm early spring day perfect for a bike ride. A few seconds of Googling found me the Little Miami Trail just a couple of miles away.

    Coolest thing about a paved trail: when you take a pull on the water bottle, you don't get limestone in your mouth.

    This 78-mile, paved trail more or less parallels the Little Miami River and the rails-to-trails route of a former railroad. I got on the trail at the Train Stop bar, just west of the King's Island Theme Park, and headed south into the wind.

    The smooth, well-maintained asphalt is 10 feet wide. It's patched in many places but not *stupid*
    patched, like it would be in Illinois. The patches were professionally applied and smoothed so that there wasn't a big bump or wide cracks.

    I can't wait to ride the trail again when we return in June. Once the the trees leaf out, sections of the trail are gonna be like riding through a green leafy tunnel. There are very few cross streets, so I could really get into a rhythm.

    The Little Miami Railroad ceased operations in 1962; a few reminders remain, like this rusty mechanical signal. Abraham Lincoln rode the Little Miami route on his way to Washington after his election.

    I was riding on the far south end of the trail. It was perched
    about halfway up the east side of the bluff along the Little Miami, providing a great view of the scenic river. On my left, the steep hillside was occasionally cut by v-shaped gullies carved by small trickling creeks.

    All too soon, I reached Milford, about 15 miles from where I started. My map showed the trail ending there, but it kept going another five miles or so.

    The wind began to kick up as I passed through Milford -- I really started to feel it as the trail
    left the riverside and entered some more open country. Blowing dust kicked up by the gusts cut visibility to a half-mile and sent grit into my eyes. I actually caught up to a guy in a Livestrong Jersey with big-time calves. We were both knocked back to a 7-mph pace by the now-howling wind. I stopped at a Shell Station for a Diet Coke and a breather.

    I think the trail kept going, but some dark clouds were rolling in on the wind and I decided to head back. I rode through a short, refreshing rain shower, and arrived back at the Train Stop tired and very ready for a beer. Carl's a great bartender -- tip him well!

    BTW, my new mechanical speedometer crapped out 3.9 miles into the ride and only 45 miles after I installed it. According to Google Bike Maps, it was 22.5 miles from the Train Stop to the Shell Station. 45 miles for my first long ride of the season?! Pavement really makes a difference --- after 40 miles on limestone I thought I was going to lose a lung.

    Do not shoot the motorcyclists.