Tuesday, May 2, 2017

Madison, WI to Champaign, IL: People, Rain, and Wind

When I last left off discussing my travels, I was in Madison, WI, spending the week with friends. I left Madison on Monday, April 24th, headed for Chicago to visit my cousin.

Thanks, Mandy, for the photo.

Wisconsin was mostly kind to me on my way out, despite the rain and headwinds on the way in. Just outside of Madison I met another cyclist who had just gotten a flat tire. He was commuting from around Lake Mills, WI into Madison, a 30 mile commute. This, he said, was his race training, as he didn’t have time otherwise (my applause to him! We could all save a lot of time, not to mention gym fees, if we combined our exercise routines and our commutes…). He’d looked down to read a text from his wife when he hit a bolt in the road and blew his tire. I lent him my tire iron to get his tire off since the one he had wasn’t working so well. Coincidentally, his wife worked for Trek, the company that made the bicycle I’m currently riding.

These ducks said goodbye to me when I left Madison.

Most of the day was fairly non-eventful. I was self-navigating on county roads through small towns, and stopped for water a few times. The last town I passed through for the day was La Grange, which consisted of a combination bike shop and cafe. The bike shop, I believe, got most of its business from the hundred or so miles of trail just up the road at Kettle Moraine State Forest -- many cars with bike racks were seen that day.

I stopped at the cafe to get water and was approached by Jacob, a graduate student from Racine who had been out mountain biking for the day. He was interested in touring one day and offered me dinner in exchange for touring advice -- okay! He had done tours on the order of a few days before and someone once bought him dinner, which was, in his words, “awesome,” so he was passing it on. I hope to pass it on one day, too.

It’s harder to find stealth camping in areas that are mostly farmland, but I did find a thin strip of trees off the road just south of La Grange.

The next morning I headed off towards Kenosha, where my Warmshowers host was for the night. Again, fairly uneventful: lots of farms and small towns. About 15 miles out from Kenosha, however, I didn’t find a city on the map that I expected to, and as a result, ran out of water. I resolved to stop at the first house I saw with someone in the yard to ask for water. Thus I met Dave, who gave me more than that: he invited me in and gave me an orange, and a slice of banana bread made by his girlfriend. Turns out he was also into biking, but just as a medium to get out on the lake to go fishing. He seemed like someone I would’ve enjoyed getting to know better, but I didn’t want to take up too much of his time, and I already had a place to stay in Kenosha.

Getting into and out of Chicago proper was surprisingly easy. Less than a mile from my host in Kenosha was the Kenosha County bike trail, which at the state line to Illinois became the Robert McClory bike path. Of the short 45 miles I had that day, about 35 were covered by trail. The weather was indecisive -- the forecast had called for rain the night before, which didn’t happen, then rain by noon, which didn’t happen, then when I arrived at my cousin’s, rain 30 minutes later, which didn’t happen. It would sprinkle at times, as if saying, “I could rain if I wanted too…” and I was enticed to put on my rain jacket unnecessarily, but it never came down at any meaningful rate. I was, however, unnerved by the amount of broken glass on the trail. I was fairly confident in my tires (Continental Touring Plus) as I had used them cross country, but still wanted to ride over as little glass as possible. I did end up getting a flat that day, but it was due to a random piece of metal, not glass.

Turns out pollution affects more than just the environment...

I foolishly thought I was only going to spend the evening there, but I was enjoying seeing my cousin and her housemates so much that I stayed an extra day (the headwind might have had something to do with it, too).

On Friday the 28th I left Evanston and, thanks to the low wind, was able to get on the lakeside path and take it all the way past Chicago proper down to the southern suburbs.

The bicycle path is beckoning...

The rain was, again, undecided about what it wanted to do, and it never did more than sprinkle. I met Chip, who was riding along the lake as well, and was interested in touring himself -- we rode together for a while before reaching his turn off, and then, I waved goodbye to tall buildings and headed again into the suburbs…

That night I stayed in Chicago Heights with another Warmshowers host, Chris and Danielle, who were… well, frankly, wonderful. We bonded over cats, Disney, Harry Potter, and video games, and had a very close, 100+ point game of Ticket to Ride. Chris got the 8-train tunnel, and that was what sealed his victory, though by just a few points.

They shared cycling stories of their own, and frankly, a lot of their story in general, which was wonderful to hear. I felt, again, we would have been good friends if I lived nearby, but this was a one night stay.

Shortly after leaving Chicago Heights I got into farmland again -- even more boring than Wisconsin’s farmland though, Illinois farmland is almost perfectly flat, and all the roads are in compass directions in one mile squares… but, I did have a tailwind, so it wasn’t uncommon to find myself at 18-20 mph with very little effort, which is saying something on a fully loaded touring bike. Also, it rained. Finally. The sky seemed to let it out slowly at first, as if exploring something it had wanted for a few days (...), and then it came down hard. At first I was peeved and worried about getting wet, but after a while the rain sort of became normal, and at times it was rather peaceful, just floating along in the middle of nowhere.

That night I stayed with yet another gracious host, Doug, who, among other things, collects Christmas decorations. His house had at least 12 themed Christmas trees and 3 giant santas. It was really quite impressive. Usually at this time of year everything would have been in storage, but he got tired of paying for storage and was building a shed, but the shed wasn’t done yet… so I slept in a room with a cardinal-themed Christmas tree, a tree with only metal ornaments, two Santa Clauses, a model house, and a collection of ornaments that… well I don’t know what they were called, but there were a lot of them.

The cardinal tree.

The next day (Sunday, April 30th) I left with wind from the east, but it would shift to come from the south, and at times, I had a 17 mph headwind. Those times, I got off and walked. If I didn’t, my speed was reduced to 6 mph, sometimes 4 (walking is 3). More than once I found myself in the lowest gear on flat road. The wind was not gracious. Nor was the rain -- whereas the day before, it had made up its mind, on this day, it was on and off and on and off, at least four or five times.

I recalled more than once that I quit my last tour about 200 miles early because of the weather in the rural midwest. I wasn’t about to quit before even making it out of the country, but it took a lot of grit to make it through that day. I also had 80 miles to do -- I’d only done 50 the day before, choosing to stay with Doug at low mileage instead of outdoors at medium mileage because of a storm during the night. I was glad to have stayed indoors (during the storm, the wind gusted up to 33), but needless to say, I would have rather done 80 miles with a tailwind and 50 with a headwind than vice versa. The only good thing was since the roads were all exactly a mile apart, I had constant reassurance that I was making progress.

Finally, I made it to Champaign -- and Rachel! Rachel is a friend from college I stayed with on my last tour. She now holds the record of having hosted me on every tour. I’m writing this from her apartment. I’ve been well fed (on Sunday we went to an all-you-can eat… they didn’t know what they were getting into… or maybe they did: by the third helping I was getting mostly rice), well entertained, and well hugged. It will be a shame to go back out into the wind, but adventure calls. Indiana is less than a day away, and I’m sure it’s not quite so windy or rainy there… right?

Entertainment on the road.

1 comment:

  1. Your Warmshowers hosts sound amazing, as does Rachel! So sorry about the wind. Love you, Mom