Friday, June 30, 2000 - Chicago to McHenry

The 4th of July holiday came on a Tuesday in 2000, and work was closed Monday and Tuesday. It seemed like a prime opportunity to cover a large portion of the Grand Illinois Trail in one big trip. I also arranged to take Friday afternoon and Wednesday off, giving me 5-1/2 days to ride. If I could make it to Princeton by 8 AM on Wednesday, I could take my bike on the Amtrak back to Chicago with more than half of the GIT under my belt. Since I had just ridden my first century, the Trek 100, two weeks earlier in less than seven hours, I thought I could plan 100 miles a day if I started out first thing in the morning and rode until dark. I made motel reservations accordingly. On Friday night I would stay in McHenry. It was only 50-odd miles away, but I wouldn't be leaving home until mid-afternoon. On Saturday night I would stay in Freeport, about 100 miles from McHenry. Since I assumed Galena would be booked solid on a holiday weekend, I aimed beyond and made reservations at a Super 8 in Savanna, another 34 miles past Galena and 96 miles from Freeport. I had never toured before, and I would learn a few things about scheduling!

I had a very busy week of preparing for this trip. I probably spent... let's see... $95 for REI panniers, $45 for a rack, $55 for a big REI handlebar bag, $65 for an extra pair of cycling shorts and a raincoat, and maybe $50 for other stuff--film, compass, journal, rearview mirror, maps, electrical tape, etc. Sheesh, that's $300 worth of stuff--as much as my Cannondale H300 hybrid bike cost.

My wife was worried about this "crazy idea" of mine. I felt bad because the only reason she said she didn’t mind was because she had misinterpreted the word "alone." She thought I meant without her, but instead I meant without anybody else, just the bike. She reluctantly let me go after she found out the truth. She'd probably blame herself if anything happened to me--she said she was afraid that if something happened, my family would say, "Why didn't you stop him?" I didn't deliberately mislead her so I shouldn't have felt bad, but I still did.

The rookie bicycle tourist was careful to coordinate bags, bike and clothing!

I rolled out around 3:30 PM. Since I just bought all this stuff, I had no test rides, no practice at all with a load. It felt a little sluggish at first. I was concerned that maybe the tires wouldn't be able to handle my 200+ pound body with all that touring gear besides. Plus, the rack was rated for 30 pounds, but I had no idea how heavy my loaded panniers were. I had tried hard to reduce weight, though. I could have brought twice as much clothing for the planned five-night trip, but I settled on two pairs of cycling shorts, a couple pairs of socks, a lightweight jacket, two jerseys, and a lightweight pair of loose-fitting tights in case it got cold. In any case, my worries were unfounded, and my bike took well to its new use.

I pedaled on familiar neighborhood streets toward the North Shore Channel path that would take me out of the city. I had ridden and run on this path many times, and it was one of my favorites. It was never crowded, and the street crossings were sparse by city standards. This pleasant and familiar path was a good way to start my trip. I just pretended I was on my morning ride and just happened to be carrying some extra things and not coming back for a few days. At least some of the butterflies left my stomach. At Church Street in Evanston, I headed east to Turin Bicycles to pick up a folding spare tire. My handlebar bag was already sagging down into my brake and gear cables, so the service guys gave me a couple of rubber grips that they use to install handlebar accessories for free, much appreciated. I installed the rubber grips, tightened the screws, and it was fine. In fact, the mounting plate hadn't budged by the time I removed it more than 600 miles later.

I left Turin Bicycles and headed north through Evanston and Wilmette, zigzagging on city streets until I came to the beginning of the Green Bay Trail. This trail was once the right-of-way of the North Shore Electric Railroad. I saw occasional reminders such as concrete bases that once supported overhead electrification. I paused in Glencoe, the first of seventeen "checkpoints" that I had to document as part of the GIT Trail Blazer program, to take a few pictures around 6 PM. I wasn't sure exactly what constituted the Glencoe checkpoint, so I just took pictures of a few things along the trail in town.

Glencoe's rather graphic signs warned people to clean up after their dogs.

Veterans Memorial Park was one of the prettiest sights along the Green Bay Trail.

I continued north through Highland Park and onto the Robert McClory Path through Lake Forest. Next, I headed west on the North Shore Path parallel to IL 176. This was another rails-to-trails project using the defunct North Shore railroad's right-of-way. People started saying hello to me on this path, whereas on the Green Bay Trail everyone ignored me or passed in silence. I had a funny moment as I rode west into the sun--my own shadow spooked me in my rearview mirror!

The North Shore Bike Path had signs for the Grand Illinois Trail.

When the North Shore Path ended in Mundelein, I was on my own in choosing a route. The League of Illinois Bicyclists provided cue sheets for the route along the Illinois Prairie Path through the western suburbs of Chicago, but those for the northern alternate route of the GIT had not been developed. I picked up Hawley Road, a recommended route on the Chicagoland Bicycle Federation (CBF) map. It was great through Mundelein, very wide and bicycle-friendly. Then at IL 60 & IL 83, I got some bad news. Hawley was closed for construction, and the detour put me on busy IL 176 for a longer distance than I had intended. I pushed hard and tried to cover the distance as quickly as possible. It still seemed much further than it was. Finally, I left 176 on the edge of Wauconda at Fairfield Road, a nice road with a decent paved shoulder. I took that to Bonner Road, which was good, especially where there was a bicycle lane after crossing US 12. It dead-ended at Darrell Road where I went north to Burnett Road and west to River Road. This street had a fair amount of traffic, and I was disappointed to see the paved shoulder spoiled by " wake up" rumble strips. This route led me to Moraine Hills State Park, my second GIT checkpoint. By now it was 8 PM and getting dark, so I couldn't linger at the park. I leaned my bike up against the sign at the entrance, took a picture, and then continued northwest on River Road.

As daylight faded, I reached Moraine Hills State Park.

At Miller Road, I turned left and crossed over the Fox River on a fairly new bridge. Miller then curved and turned into Bull Valley Road. At IL 31, I turned south a short distance to the Ramada Inn-Tamara Conference Center. I leaned my bike against the wall outside, removed my handlebar bag (where I kept cash and credit cards) and walked inside. The desk clerk asked me if I was checking in. A couple guys hanging out in the lobby looked me over and one said, "Yeah, he needs a Jacuzzi... the works!" The clerk apologized because the check-in process was slow, but I told her that I was just happy to be off the road. She gave me no trouble at all about my bike, to my relief. Never having toured before, I wasn't sure how motel clerks would react, especially in a nicer place. I had already rehearsed all my arguments, but I never had to use them. In the room, I unloaded my bags (how convenient it was for the bike to carry them in for me!), ordered a pizza and took a shower. Life was good.

For the day, I rode approximately 50 miles in about four hours, averaging 12.8 mph. My data wasn't exact on this trip because I hadn't set my cyclometer to automatically start and stop. Although I usually stopped it when I took a break, sometimes I forgot to restart it when I got rolling again. Argh!

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