Archive for the ‘Midwest Logs’ Category

Iowa

July 9, 2008

“I-o-way, I-o-way, that’s where the tall corn grows”. After being in Illinois one day, from what I saw, the corn is taller here. Forget the corn. It was the concrete in Iowa. Iowa is into concrete roads.. concrete with NO shoulders. Yep, drop your wheel off the road in Iowa and it’s “sayonara sweetheart”. Concrete, at it’s best is perfect to ride on. However, concrete has no “give” so it cracks and then they must repair it by cutting out the bad section and replacing it with new, which, never is quite the same height or texture. As Peter wrote, we never thought Iowa had so much elevation change. We angeled down from Waterloo to Davenport but saw very little water damage. We did stumble upon a most forbidding looking prison in Anamosa, everyone just sat there with their jaw dropped.

Iowa was great to us. People very helpful and friendly. Drivers waved, waited for an open lane to pass us.. very nice. The farm homes along the road; clipped lawns, good repair, pride-in-ownership. Yes the small towns are taking their economic beating, not so with the country homes. Some, I am sure, are owned by people who do not farm at all. Iowa has some initiative to promote tourism which is very nice. Barns have quilt patterns painted on them. Very well done geometric colors carefully placed on certain barns. I stopped to take a picture of one and the owner, Liz, came over and told me about the initiative and later sent me the web site too www.grundycountyia.com/Quilt_Website/indexbq.htm

As in small town Iowa and other places, we are getting used to the snickers from the young men in Harley- Dale-Jr T’s when we showup for lunch. If there is one-upmanship here it’s because Peter and Ian ride with sponsorship prints on their jerseys. They look FAR better than NASCAR stuff. This kind of counters the spandex shorts.. which seem harder to digest.

Pounding through Illinois

July 9, 2008

In comparison to Iowa, Illinois has been a blast! We have everything. Great roads, sweet tailwinds, nice weather, flat country and¬†pleasant smells. I told my friend Bill that I would dedicate the ride in his home state of¬†Illinois for him. My friend, Bill; part gentleman, part comedian, part Bear fan and a very small part.. golfer.¬†Most of my Illinois traveling has been trying to find a way to bust through that clog¬†called Chicago.¬†However, I have seen a new face to Illinois in the last couple days and it’s been sweet. Tomorrow night, I’ll be Back Home Again in Indiana. Catch ‘ya¬†later.¬†

A day in the ride . . . Illinois to Indiana.

July 11, 2008

I suppose it was time I put something down in this trip log. But what? All the real participants have done such a wonderful job of this that I somehow feel somewhat intimidated at posting anything. However when Alex and I joined ‘Bubsbikeamerica’ for a day in Illinois-Indiana things did come to my mind . . . .

Lets start by saying I am totally in awe of anyone, let alone a family of three generations, actually doing this expedition on two wheel pedal power. I guess a family that bikes together stays together and that sure is the case here. Alex and I joined team ‘Bub’ in Kankakee Illinois. Alex was to ride with the team for a day while I joined Jean in wondering the roads ahead of them in my own car. However as it turned out I was enlisted in driving the ‘Bubmobile’ while Jean took Ian , in my car, to a hospital to have some tests done for an ailment he was then experiencing. Wow!! they trusted me with the ‘Bubmobile’ it was then that I really felt part of the days adventure. That adventure is logged into a small photo gallery called ‘Illinois Indiana Roads‘ .

I now know who the saint is in this whole endeavor and that person is Jean. After messing about with the bubmobile and following the three riders Dan, Peter, and Alex on various back country roads I realized that I could never do this for at least the 4 weeks that Jean had already been doing it. It would drive most people absolutely crazy. Just because you are in an air-conditioned vehicle while the others are pounding the roads in all kinds of weather does not mean you are lolly-gagging. In my case the main concern was the condition of the roads ahead and what might be a stopping point of rest. Country roads take on all shapes and forms and are not necessarily annotated correctly on maps. Because of this we ran into a few evil gravel trails one of which the riders actually covered. However once this was achieved it was decided not to pursue this punishment again. That’s where the ‘Bubmobile’ comes in handy, scouting for the best roads ahead and the shortest distance possible. Part of our adventure was covered by decent maps but once in Indiana the riders were picking the route as they went. Its funny how easy it is to loose your sense of direction in a car when the landscape is wide open and you are trying to follow others on bikes. Somehow I managed without looking ridiculous.

This days ride took a few turns as the riders ran into to a washed out bridge and could not cross the river as planned. After some discussion the route was changed and brought us back together in the very small town of L ‘Erable . We had lunch in the town tavern with the local patrons eyeing us a bit (clothing an all). However the conversations gradually picked up and we felt somewhat comfortable in the end. There was a photo OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA         with description of the bridge failure, that happened a few years back, prominately displayed in the tavern for all to see. However this was not annotated on any map we had. I wonder if this little community will ever be able to put that bridge back together. Reminds us that the infrastructure of this country cannot last forever and needs constant maintenance. Who will pay. . .who will pay . . . ?

After ending the day in Rensselaer Ind. (Aprox. 75mi ride) the riders were bushed but all seemed in good spirits. Alex and I had to take leave soon after arriving to get back to Rockford Ill. and Madison WI that night. During the day ride the weather was fairly decent, sun with a little humidity. On our way back however and heading Northerly we ran into very heavy lightening and thunder storms with rain and some hail. This was the most spectacular lightening show I had ever seen. It lasted about 3 hrs. Sheet, ball, vertical, horizontal, and everything in between lightening. At one point there was a brilliant flash with fingers of energy more or less streaking horizontal that looked like a ‘hand’ reaching out towards us. Amazingly the riders missed all of this and I suppose were lucky again. I couldn’t help but think what an amazing adventure to cross the USA on biles. Alexander and I were grateful that we could take a small part in this. Maybe Alex would like to do this adventure sometime in his life. But for now, it was Just a day in the ‘ride’ . . . .

Western Illinois — one wild ride

July 12, 2008

I’m writing this post from our rest day spot of Lafayette, Indiana, which as most of you know is next door to where all of us lived for a long time, West Lafayette. We’re here so mom and dad can see old friends, so we can meet up with my brother Eric and his family, and so we can just rest a bit.

I want to write, however, about one day’s ride in western Illinois, from Moline south/southeastward toward Hennepin. This day was an epic ride, although in ways that we didn’t really anticipate at the outset. Most of the ride, about 65 miles, was on a multi-use trail called the Hennepin Canal Parkway. When planning the ride a couple days earlier, dad and I noticed this trail on the map. Hmm, looks good, runs in the perfect direction, let’s take it!

Well, the trail started perfectly enough in Moline: flat, smooth and of course carless. After about three miles, this situation began to deteriorate. Soon we were riding on the kind of surface eerily similar to the road surfaces in Oregon (see our posts from that part of the trip to get a sense of how much we just loved those roads). Basically, this surface, which we’ve called chip-n-seal, consists of stones that jut up out of a kind of tar surface. Really, really rough.

Unfortunately, even this surface didn’t last long. Soon we hit other, hmm, even more interesting surfaces. Soon we were riding on mixtures of gravel, sand, and mud, and even encountered gigantic weeds that had grown up on the surface of the road. I kid you not: absolutely huge weeds whose full blooms spread almost the width of the trail, forcing us to dodge them. For long stretches we were riding on a kind of mishmash of sand, dirt and gravel, a surface apparently enjoyed by horses, judging by the many hoofprints and copious amounts of dung. At two points we had to ride over huge piles of sand that appear to have been dumped there randomly, as if some state highway guy had decided in 1958 he was going to start paving the thing, got the program going by depositing the raw materials at strategic spots along the way, then got fired for coming up with the idea. Inevitably, we had a couple of flats, delaying our progress substantially.

We stuck with the trail despite these problems, however, for a couple of reasons. First, the direction was, as I said above, absolutely perfect: a diagonal running southeast, cutting across Illinois in exactly the direction we needed to travel. Taking roads would have added another 20 or 30 miles to the route. Second, as you might judge from the trail description, the canal was a pretty wild thing, completely undeveloped and isolated from almost all the towns in the area. As a result, the entire length of the canal is a kind of spectacular wildlife greenway and thus worth experiencing. We saw an unbelievable collection of birds, small mammals, turtles and other creatures.

But by far the coolest thing that happened on this day’s ride was our ride over the Illinois River, just after the trail ended. As one might suspect, finding bridges over major rivers that are safe for bikes/peds isn’t exactly easy. We had to ride in the car over the Missouri and Mississippi, sadly, simply because there was no safe way across on a bike. In plotting our course for the day, dad and I noticed that the only bridge over the Illinois appeared to be an interstate bridge, although it wasn’t entirely clear from the map we had. We figured we’d wing it — generally speaking, a bad idea on the bike.

Well, when we arrived at the bridge we discovered that it was, in fact an Interstate. As in, an Interstate Highway. We stopped at the base of the on-ramp to contemplate what we were contemplating, which is whether we were going to gin up enough courage and lose enough brains to actually do this. Prominently displayed was one of those signs that said:

ABSOLUTELY PROHIBITED ON INTERSTATE HIGHWAY

… Non-motorized vehicles, horses, pedestrians.

Now, we’ve all seen these signs getting on the Interstate, and I’m fairly certain that all of us have at one time or another thought, What kind of idiot rides a horse on the Interstate? If uttered among others in the car, this is usually followed by peals of laughter, much head-shaking, and complete disbelief that it’s even necessary to post a sign warning people not to walk or ride or a horse on the Interstate because of the self-evidently stupid nature of the proposition.

You have now met your idiots. Realizing that we had no choice (mom was off in the plains of central Illinois, finding a place to stay), dad and I screwed up the courage and lost enough brains, mounted our bikes and rode up the on-ramp. We focused on hitting the Interstate at a point where there weren’t any oncoming cars, which in this case was an easy thing to do, as there was almost no traffic. Realizing this at the top of the on-ramp, I decided to, as we bikers like to say, put the hammer down to try and get the 2 or 3 miles of this experience over with as quickly as possible. I quickly dropped dad, leaving him for vulture bait. Ahead of me loomed the bridge over the river, which was ramped sharply upward (to let barge traffic pass underneath). I hit this thing at full chat and absolutely buried myself to get up and over it as fast as I possibly could. A couple of cars and a truck passed by, thankfully without so much as a honk and a “What the hell are you idiots doing!!?” shout.

Two things went through my head as I crested the bridge. First, the bridge was really really high, maybe 100 feet over the river, and the guardrail was disconcertingly short. It would have been a bad time for a strong crosswind to blow me into the guardrail, which would have ended in an up-and-over scenario to certain death below. Second, as we were very much breaking the law at this point, I was kind of worried about the state patrol pulling up and arresting us for some kind of federal offense. I had visions of spending the night in the Bureau Junction, Illinois jail. Still, it was kind of cool being an outlaw. My mind started singing a line from a horrible heavy metal song I heard about twenty years ago: “Breakin’ the law! Breakin’ the law”. Come and get me, copper!

Down the other side of the bridge and into Hennepin, the Interstate ended, merging with a state highway (as it turned out the Interstate at this point was just a spur, which explained the low traffic volume), and I slowed to a stop to wait for dad. Up he came. We exchanged the requisite high-fives, both of us knowing we had just done something that you normally don’t even consider doing. In retrospect, what we did wasn’t very dangerous, given the stretch of Interstate we rode on, but it makes for a good story.

Suffering

July 13, 2008

I’m writing this post from our hotel room in Lafayette, on our last day here before we hit the road again tomorrow. It’s occurred to me on and off during the ride that many of the people reading the blog aren’t cyclists and thus don’t have a sense of what riding long distances in open country is like.

To be frank, the riding at the outset of the trip was physically and mentally painful. We made that point obvious, I think, in our original posts, which is why I would throw out words like “pain” so frequently. Were it not for the spectacular scenery over the coastal and Cascade ranges in Oregon, I suspect the physical requirements of the ride might have made us seriously reconsider just what it was we had gotten into. Our problem was — and I can admit this now — that none of us, save for my friend Brian, were in good enough shape. Granted, all of us could ride 50 miles without much of a problem, but the kind of serious effort required for the 75- or 80-mile rides up and over mountains is another proposition entirely. For anyone who’s started riding a road bike and has done their first 30 or 50 mile ride, you know what riding distances longer than your body’s prepared to deliver feels like: the numb wrists, aching back, headaches, burning legs, cramped feet, sore crotch, aching shoulders, and on and on. On a long ride, nearly everyone at some time asks themselves why they are putting themselves through the experience. On very long rides, the sheer distances combine with the physical effort to wear down one’s resistance, revealing just how much will power one actually possesses. However, while the body is in pain and is therefore doing the screaming, the real culprit is the mind, which simply isn’t prepared to deal with the consequences of another 40 or 50 miles on the road, and which is all too willing to concede the body’s wishes.

Perhaps the most honorable word in professional road cycling is “suffering”, which in that context means the attempt by a rider to dig into his reserves as far as possible to win or in some cases — say, after a heavy crash or in brutal weather — even to finish a race. To have suffered, genuinely and massively, is considered by cycling aficionados as the bravest of all feats, for cycling is a sport steeped in oceans of pain. It is pushing one’s body and mind past their limits that separate the heroes from the goats, and to earn a reputation as a rider willing to suffer allows entrance into the ranks of cycling immortals.

Now, what we are doing here on this trip doesn’t begin to approach the extraordinary efforts put in by professional cyclists. In many ways our trip isn’t even the hardest possible trip by bike across the U.S. — that honor goes, without question, to those who ride unsupported. The mere thought of towing or carrying 80 or 100 pounds of gear up and down the mountains of the west, or pushing that mass against a strong headwind, makes me shake my head in disbelief.

Still, our ride is difficult, undeniably. We have had moments of genuine suffering: the climb to the top of the Teton Pass; the very long, last day across eastern Wyoming to the Nebraska border; fighting brutal headwinds in Iowa; laboring under a hot sun in humid Illinois; doing a full day’s ride despite feeling under the weather. Each time we’ve had to fight some kind of obstacle, encounter some type of discomfort, overcome a substantial amount of pain.

In contrast to the first part of the ride, however, we are in much better shape now. My legs are harder and my body slimmer (for which I’m grateful, because I was about 15 pounds overweight when we started). Our average speed is a good two or three MPH faster now than when we started, meaning that whereas our average was around 15 MPH at the beginning, now we regularly ride 18 to 19 MPH, weather permitting.

Greg LeMond, the first American champion of the Tour de France, reportedly once said that in cycling, it never gets easier, you just get faster. Our bodies are now capable of much more than when we started. Riding 80 miles in normal conditions is now a bit like taking a walk, but on occasion cycling rears its deliciously brutal head and delivers a painful object lesson in suffering, slapping us with a stiff headwind, the hot sun, an intemperate road, or an unexpectedly steep climb. Those moments make cycling, to be honest. May they never end.

Dogs of war and peace

July 15, 2008

Tonight we’re in Sidney, Ohio, due north of Dayton. Today we rode with my brother Eric and one of my dad’s former students, Zach. Eric and his family met us in Lafayette a few days ago, and we’ve been riding with him for the past two days. Sadly, both he and Zach had to abandon the ride today and return to their real lives, so for the first time on the trip we are down to the three of us (mom, dad and myself). Kind of strange, really.

In any case, I wanted to write about something we’ve been encountering for the past few days: dogs. Yes, dogs. To our great surprise, we didn’t have to deal with this particular genre of four-legged beasts for most of the trip. I’ve surmised the reason for this was that until the Midwest we were riding on major highways, U.S. 20 in particular, which had the effect of keeping us away from houses.

Since Illinois, however, all this has changed because we’ve been riding on tertiary roads. These are the roads that don’t appear on the maps that you buy at the gas station. As a result, a lot of the residents along these roads seem to think that it’s ok to let their dogs off the leash and trust that they’re smart enough to not get splattered by passing traffic — generally speaking, a very bad assumption when it comes to dogs (the intelligence part, I mean).

Now, there appear to be two types of four-legged friends. The first type are the dogs of war. These are the beasts who appear to be threatened by anything passing by except a car or truck and will move heaven and hell to get to it to rip to shreds. Now, the demands of this job far outstrip the physical capabilities of most of these dogs. Our tormentors have included a Jack Russell terrier (which got an “A” for effort if nothing else), a miniature collie (the experience was a bit like being chased by a furry tumbleweed), and the world’s smallest poodle (I’d call it a French poodle but doing so would be an insult to French poodles).

The ones we really fear are the big, angry dogs, those that not only want to rip you to shreds but have all the capabilities to do so: big, fast and full of venom. Most of the time these dogs don’t see or hear you until it’s too late for them, i.e., you’re already at their yard before they notice, meaning they pick up the chase just as you accelerate away from them. In that case, the battle is no contest and the dog has lost — which, I might add, gives us considerable Schadenfreude (I’ve even yelled insults at these dogs, just to rub salt in the wounds; of course, they don’t speak English, or German for that matter, so the effects of my expletives are, I’m sure, lost on them). What we all fear is the big, angry dog that sees/hears you before you get to their yard, in which case the dog is in the catbird’s seat, so to speak. Here, you’re in the middle of a trigonometry problem, and you’re about to fail miserably. We’ve all decided that if a dog were to cut off our route by barging into the road ahead of us, the solution would be to charge it and yell at it simultaneously. If the dog is smart (again, a dangerous assumption) it will get out of the way, you’ll sweep right past, and you will have reestablished your tactical advantage. If the dog is dumb (a far safer assumption), it won’t move, you’ll hit it going full chat, probably slice it in half and you’ll do a head-flip right over the bars, which may or may not kill you. Let’s hope we don’t encounter this scenario.

The second type of dog is the dog of peace. These are the dogs who seem to be very happy to see us, and show it via much tongue-lolling and tail-wagging, followed by either the world’s most apathetic chase or no chase at all. By far my favorite suh dog was a black dog with a brown nose, who was lying serenely under a tree in its yard, staring peacefully at nothing in particular. It may or may not have noticed me going by — it was hard to tell because its expression didn’t change and it never looked up. There was something about this particular dog that struck me, something I can only describe as Zen-like, almost as if it was deep in dog-meditation and couldn’t be bothered by the mundane trappings of this world. It was the Buddha of dogs.

Family Reunion Minus One

July 16, 2008

As I mentioned earlier, Julie and Eric/family were to meet us in West Lafayette, IN upon our arrival. And they did. We had a wonderful time with them¬†and also¬†with some friends and neighbors we knew while living there.¬†We went to a great water park,¬†visited Purdue¬†and old friends, took family photos in front of¬†Purdue’s main fountain,¬†rode past the old homestead wishing we could get inside for one last look, relaxed with neighbors in their back yard, had a¬†great dinner out with friends,¬†and attended an Indianapolis Indians baseball game¬†while stuffing ourselves with junk food until it hurt. It was a jam-packed two days but we enjoyed every moment. Julie and Ian left Sunday (will explain Ian’s departure later) and Eric and family left Tuesday afternoon.

The biking started again on Monday and Eric joined¬†us for two days of riding. Karen and the kids did various kid things while he rode then joined us at the end of the ride for the rest of the evening. What a trooper Karen was to shuffle kids around while waiting to be with¬†us at night.¬†Those little grand kids, Kirsten and Cameron, are as cute as they come and so much fun. I miss them already. Eric did great with the ride¬†and kept up with the others as though he had¬†biked all the way from the west coast too. Oh yes, we also had a former student of Dan’s, Zach,¬†who rode with us for one day. He’s a big biker and did 80 some miles as though it were nothing. Thanks for joining us.

Well, Ian left the bike trip and went home to Wisconsin with his mom because he has lots to do to prepare for his freshman year in college, like orientation, selection of classes, buying books and clothes, and much more before leaving for that important year. He also wanted to be with his high school friends again before they all scatter too so when mom Julie came, that was a good time for him to leave.

We tried to change his mind, of course, but mostly¬†for selfish reasons. He was so darn much fun to have around. We couldn’t imagine finishing the trip¬†without him. His subtle sense of humor¬†just cracked us¬†up and when¬†he was¬†the lead rider¬†and well ahead of the pack, he’d hang out with me at the car waiting for them to catch up. He and his¬†Uncle Peter kidded¬†one another¬†which always brought waves of laughter from the group.¬†When he rode¬†in the car¬†while recovering from the flu, we’d talk about the generation thing and choice of music¬†because he’d listen to the most god awful¬†music¬†imaginable…..or I¬†would drive him¬†nuts with¬†my need for news.¬†He spent hours text messaging friends and texting¬†at night, under the covers, thinking we didn’t know.¬†Our threatening¬†to throw that thing away didn’t phase him a bit.

Our little foursome became¬†close¬†because of¬†this bike trip and the thought of¬† losing one¬†during the journey was out of the question.¬† So when he decided to leave, I must admit, we were disappointed. But¬†when we looked at it from his perspective, we knew, in our collective hearts,¬†he did the right thing. And you did, Ian and you need to know we have adjusted to being three. So,¬†enjoy¬†the rest of the summer with your friends and when we dip that front tire in the Atlantic, we’ll toast to a heck of a journey and thank¬†you for adding to our lifelong memories of a job well done. We love you.

Take care everyone.

Around Ohiopyle

July 21, 2008

I love the names, Ohiopyle, Confluence, Ramcat, Harnedsville, Markleton and many more too numerous to mention. These are really small communities along a remarkable bike path that runs all the way from southern Pittsburgh, PA through parts of Maryland,¬†and right into the heart of Washington, D.C. It’s a 335 mile bike/hike trail that is heavily used. Dan researched this trail before the trip and decided they’d ride part of it and then go off the trail and back on rural roads in order to go the shortest distance to the shores in Delaware. But that plan changed overnight once they began riding the trail.

Half of this trail¬†consists of¬†fine gravel that is¬†very well groomed which¬†is¬†a delight to ride. The other half is not as good but bike able. And since it follows¬†a riverbed and was the old railroad track, it is¬†flat with an exceedingly small¬†rise and¬†descent. Thus it made sense to all of us that they bike this trail into D.C. and then find rural roads from there to reach the Atlantic. Taking the path meant no more traffic to fight which includes very large coal trucks that move fast through narrow, winding, mountainous rural roads. They wouldn’t have to climb¬†mountains that go up for miles and can reach¬†18 degree¬†climbs in some areas and¬†they would no longer have to ride on roads without shoulders, where parts of the road disappears due to this truck traffic, and/or are in terrible, bumpy or stony condition. The decision to ride the trail was an easy one and it was made quickly.

As for me, I’m no longer stressed about their safety and that’s a really good thing so I am elated and relieved they made this decision. My only responsibility now is to meet them for lunch and at the end of their biking day. There’s no road along the bike path so I’m out there taking major highways until I have to meet them.¬† I then wind my way through beautiful mountains to do so.¬†Life is good.

Yesterday we went to Frank Lloyd Wright’s “Falling Water” house designed in 1935 for the Edgar J Kaufmann family, a very successful Pittsburgh deparment store owner. (His stores have been bought and sold over the years but are now the Macy stores that are so familiar to us). The setting of the house is over a waterfall within the Bear Run Nature Reserve and it’s well worth planning a trip around in order to visit this place. What a spectacular house. Once again, you can see how Wright integrated man with nature.¬† Much of the horizontal spaces are cantilevered out, jutting over the falls. It’s breathtaking and you wonder what holds up those spaces. Inside, the home is just as wonderful – simple horizontal lines everywhere, terrific use of local stones incorporated into the walls, stairs and floors, basic but well-designed furniture, low ceilings, large stone and wood fireplaces¬†everywhere, small but intimate rooms,¬†and large spances of¬†windows¬†with few obstructions¬†because of the view. He certainly was a genius and far ahead of his time. Oh yes, he loved stairs, simple and short ones¬†and they are everywhere in the house. To see this¬†was definitely a highlight of this trip.

There is so much more to report on like all the wonderful people we are meeting along the way. I now feel comfortable stopping people on the street, walking into any store, filling station, tavern, or restaurant to ask directions or to find out about roads, places to stay, etc. Everyone is so helpful and when they find out we’re going across the U.S. on bikes, they¬†become curious and ask lots of questions. What a great country we live in and 99% of the people are¬†terrific. This trip has reinforced that for me.

It’s now Monday. Last night it rained hard for a short period of time. Today, the guys ride the part of the trail that’s not well groomed so it could be muddy in part due to the rain. We hope not but they’ll soon find out. They changed their tire size to accommodate a soft surface so it’s on to the bike shop to pick up the bikes.

Anyway, have a great Monday.

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