Monday, March 29, 2010

In which Mr. Pither cheats death!

A good ride at Waterfall Glen Forest Preserve on a cool early spring day, despite the five seconds of abject terror.

Took the bike to work with me today, and hit the trail at about 4:45 p.m. Winter has not been kind to the 9.5-mile loop; it's very hard -- oddly pavement-like for a limestone trail -- but carpeted with lumps and bumps from hoof- and footprints. Here's hoping some automotive patrols by the Forest Preserve District rangers and a lot of bicycle tires smooth the surface a bit.

During my previous trip around the loop, I noticed an odd tendency for long downhill runs to end in an abrupt hairpin turns that force the rider to brake away all that wonderful momentum. I decided to try going the other way around -- clockwise -- this time to see if it worked better in that direction. The verdict: not so much.

I departed from the Lemont Road trailhead, figuring the cool east wind would assist on the return half of the loop. Well, the fact that most of the last quarter of the trail was (by Illinois standards) fairly seriously uphill negated the tailwind.

As I noted before, the main trail isn't particularly well marked. I reached a crossroads (crosstrails?) and guessed that the main trail would be the one that didn't involve a 90-degree turn.

Bzzzzzt! Wrong, stupid bicyclist with your arrogant directional presumptions!

Hey, it's steeper than it looks.

In fact, the default straight-ahead option took me straight into the GLACIAL RIDGE DEATH PLUNGE. OK, I have to admit there was a small sign that said something to the effect of "Slow: steep downhill, loose gravel." And wow, they weren't kidding. I was pushing 30 mph with my front tires slithering drunkenly through the gravel. I didn't dare hit either brake. All I could do was hold it together and do my best to stay upright. Which I did, somehow.

I stopped at the bottom of the hill for a few out-of-breath profanities. Once the adrenaline receded to merely fatal levels, I noticed what a pretty little spot it was. A rock-strewn Sawmill Creek trickled under a graceful steel bridge. Songbirds arced across the small clearing in the tiny valley. The trail ambled across the bridge and ... back UP an even steeper hill with more loose gravel. After chugging my way up on the granny ring (OK, I admit it, I walked it up the second half), the gravel/limestone petered out and became a thin dirt track in the grass. It took me a while to find my way back to the actual loop trail.

A 50-yard stretch of the trail just west of the poverty prairie is under water. I imagine it will dry out by summer, but for now, you can walk along the railroad tracks and bypass the swampy bit. After that comes the major uphill assault. I think I acquit myself pretty well for a flatlander, although I'm certainly feeling it now in my calves.

I'll definitely hit this trail a lot through the summer months. Lots of variety and challenges. Maybe I'll even figure out how to stay on the stupid main loop.

dsj 100329

Thursday, March 25, 2010

Villa St. Benedict

These wonderful paintings grace the foyer of Villa St. Benedict in Lisle, Ill., a former girl's school and convent. The building is now an assisted living center my grandmother calls home. They take excellent care of the woman who gave me my wanderlust.

Now that the weather is warming up, I can bike there in a half-hour, and plan to do so as often as possible.

The paintings are by a Mr. Malinovich of Chicago. The Yugoslavian native had academic training in church decorations.

From left to right are:

  • King Wenceslaus (you hear about him every Christmas) distributing food to the needy.

  • The Sacred Heart of Jesus. His heart, apparently, is the patron of the Benedictine Sisters of Sacred Heart Monastery.

  • The last meeting of St. Scholastica and St. Benedict.

There are a trio of similar paintings on the other side of the foyer. Next time!

Tuesday, March 23, 2010

Must ... resist ...

Arrgh. A beautiful day. I hate it.

Sunny, light wind, pushing into the upper 50s: perfect bicycling weather. And 500 yards from where I'm sitting is one of the southwestern suburbs' most interesting trails (PDF).

I also have a prior commitment this evening, so I can't take advantage of any of this.

Maybe tomorrow.

Bike computers, feh.

Yet another expensive, electronic bike computer fizzled out on me. This last one lasted a whole 500 miles, then stopped registering my speed and mileage. Magnet alignment looks fine, plenty of battery left. It just stopped working. Another $39 down the electronic rathole.

Looking for a replacement on, I found ye olde-schoole analog-mechanical speedometer for $15. One week later, here it is gracing the dashboard of Discovery 7. Had to mount it in that low-slung mode because the cable was exactly one inch too short for the regular above-the-handlebar position.

Seems to work just fine, for now. [Update 4/3/10 - it lasted 50 miles.]

And it looks like something that would have been at home on my 1970-vintage Schwinn Stingray with the green vinyl banana seat and patented Nutcracker(R) five-speed shift knob. Heh. I loved that bike, he said in a really high voice.

Monday, March 8, 2010

Flat-tire season is under way!

Unusually pleasant weather this past Saturday morning: sunny and warm (If you call upper 30s warm) with a light southwest breeze. Usually an early-season bluebird day is cold and windy.

Couldn't let this kind of a gift day get away, so I bundled up and headed north to visit Grandma at the assisted living center at St. Benedict, about five miles away. A mostly pleasant run down Bailey and Wehrli Roads. The paved trails running along Wehrli were still snow-covered, however, so I stuck to the streets.

During my visit with Grandma, Mary texted and asked if I wanted to hit Joy Yee for lunch. I was halfway there anyway, so I just continued up to Ogden Ave. Bonehead mistake was to take Naper Boulevard. The street has no bike lane or sidewalk, and there's an underpass. North of the underpass, there's a curve as well, so the four-wheelers can't see you as you chug your way up the incline. Should have taken a bit longer and found a backstreet route.

But I survived the ride and had a wonderful lunch of Chinese broccoli with oyster sauce and fish-ball soup with glass noodles. Joy Yee's food is mostly middling, but Mary loves the mile-long menu and the Asian-style noise and bustle of the place. Portions are plentiful enough so that dinner is taken care of.

Sunday dawned sunny and warmish as well. Rain was predicted (and did) move in by mid-morning, so I bundled up for a quick ride. Only made it 10 feet down the driveway: rear tire was flat.

I seem to remember going *years* between flat tires. Now I've had three in the last 300 miles. Are tires getting thinner, or am I just putting more miles on 'em than I used to?