Meandering thoughts about pedal powered living…


Monday, April 19, 2010

Weekend Bicycle Tour

The weather has been getting warmer and sunnier, and I have been itching to take some longer rides. So, when I had the opportunity to teach a Bicycle Camping class for a Boy Scout event I decided to turn it into a weekend adventure. The event was going to be held at a scout camp in Wilmot Wisconsin, about 60 miles from my home in Evanston, and since I was supposed to be inspiring Scout leaders to try bicycle touring, it seemed to me that I would lose some credibility if I drove my bicycle gear up there.

I decided to break from my usually route mapping tool, and give the new Google Maps bicycle route finder a try. I hadn’t really heard much about the new Google feature, good or bad, so I thought it would be a good opportunity to give it a test run. So I just entered my home address, and the camp address, and let Google plan my route. At first glance it seemed to do pretty well. As best as I could tell from the map, it kept me off of major roads, it utilized bicycle trails and it didn’t add excessive mileage to the trip in the process. Another added bonus, was that Google has a print option with the Maps feature where the final printout gives you turn by turn directions, and each step is accompanied by a map. So my final printout gave me very nice turn by turn cue cards with maps included, and it was free!

Weather forecasts had predicted 15-25 mph winds out of the Northwest, so I knew I was going to be fighting the whole way there. That, plus adding some buffer time, incase I got lost using my new maps, I figured it would take me about 6 hours to get to the camp, rest stops included. So I set out about 6:30am on Saturday Morning.

It was beautiful, but quite cool. My thermometer was reading about 35 degrees. The wind hadn’t really picked up yet, so I was able to make some good time early on. It was really nice riding. Crystal blue skies, and with the warm weather we had been having recently all of the flowering trees were in full blossom. The first 35 miles of my ride was almost entirely on bike trail. This made for a great relaxing start to the trip. I pedaled along listening to birds, seeing signs of spring everywhere, and enjoying the warm sunshine. Around mile 20 I made a brief stop in Lake Forest to meet up with my Dad, who had decided to ride part of the way up there with me. After topping off water bottles, we continued to pedal north.

A few miles north of Lake Forest the Green Bay Bicycle Trail ends and we made a quick connector jog over to the Robert McClory Bike Path. The Green Bay Trail is a paved bicycle path that is relatively sheltered by trees and greenery. The Robert McClory Path switches to crushed limestone and is a bit more exposed. The crushed limestone and the wind definitely made for a good workout.

About a half mile from the Wisconsin/Illinois border we left the McClory Path and moved onto some rural roads. Just shy of mile 40, the two of us stopped at a truck-stop diner and had some well earned breakfast. At that point my Dad decided to call for a ride back home, and I was off for the last leg of the ride.

Up to this point the Google Maps directions and been fairly straightforward. Looking at the last 20 miles, it looked like I was going to be weaving my way through county back roads, smaller subdivisions and the like. This would be the real test. This is also where the riding became even more beautiful. The day had warmed quite a bit and was now pushing the upper 50’s. The road opened up and I was pedaling through beautiful farm land full of horses and small lakes. I did have the occasional farm dog charge across a yard to get my heart racing, but fortunately all of them were fenced in or tied up.

I found that as I continued, the Google Maps did a great job of taking me on the low traffic roads, and did an excellent job of navigating me through some neighborhoods. I was actually really impressed. The miles ticked away under my wheels and I was able to really just settle in and enjoy the ride rather than worry about the navigation.

The Friday before this trip, Some friends and I had decided to do a Mountain Bike ride down in the Pelos area Southwest of Chicago. I love the challenge of mountain biking, and I think that the intensity of mountain biking forces you to focus your attention on the technical aspects of biking. I think that I am finding more and more that I really get a much deeper enjoyment from bicycle travel. I love riding long rolling roads that allow me to enjoy the physical challenges of biking, but also give me the opportunity to really take in the scenery around me. I still love riding on great technical singletrack, but I think my heart is in traveling by bicycle.

As I came to the last couple of miles of my ride, I was getting excited about arriving. I was tired and hungry, and ready for a long break, but I knew I was getting close, so I pushed hard to finish strong. As I approached the last intersection before the camp entrance, I saw this ghost bike.

For those of you unfamiliar with ghost bikes, they are a memorial to cyclists who have been killed on the road. They are placed at the scene where they were killed. You can read about them here:

I don’t know why, but it made me really emotional. I have seen a number of ghost bikes in the city, but I had never seen one out on a country road. It caught me off guard, and just reminded me how blessed I am…and how important it is to be thankful for every moment that we are given.

So after a short stop and a moment of respect, I continued on. I was able to make it to the camp in just over 6 hours.

I taught several programs, and it seemed like people responded well to them. I hiked around a bit, camped out, ate some great Dutch-Oven cooked meals prepared by the Scouts and then crashed for the night.

Sunday Morning was even colder, I woke up and found ice on my tent and bike tarp. The sun was just cracking the horizon when I shoved off for the ride home. The ride home was just as beautiful, with the added bonus of having that Northwest wind at my back.

The more I experience bicycle travel, the more I love its simplicity and the beautiful opportunities that it provides to connect with God, nature and other people. On a trip like this you will very often see things that will make you laugh, think, cry, reflect, pray, sing and just about anything else. I think that is one of the joys of bicycle travel, it is basically about experienceing life firsthand, and with that comes great joys, great sorrows and great challenges. But life is really about getting there, not getting there.

1 comment:

  1. Just read the post...really enjoyed the account of your ride to Crown!

    I have a route to Crown...let me know if you want it.