Saturday, August 3, 2013

Day 10: Evanston, Illinois (90.12 miles, 792.09 total miles)

Today had a little bit of everything: rain, hills (sort of), heat, headwinds, and utter exhaustion.

Last night I had had a long evening to relax and rest up a bit.

I had a great dinner at this place right across the street that had tables right on the water. And after dinner, I was able to go back to my room and have a restful evening. I was happy to think that with the time change, I'd get an extra hour in the morning.

Alas, I woke up at 6 a.m. and try as I might, I couldn't fall back asleep. I guess the only thing that has trumped my exhaustion is the anticipation of the coming day. And so I got up and opened the curtains to discover that the morning was starting off as a rainy one. I quickly checked online and on the weather channel to see what the prospects were and it looked as though everything should clear up by the time I was done with breakfast.

And so I got ready, packed everything up, and went and had breakfast. When I was done, I got my bike and headed out. The rain was still coming down but it wasn't terrible. I stopped at the filling station right next to the hotel and topped off the air in my tires and continued on my way. But when I had gotten only about a quarter mile away from the hotel, the skies opened up. I quickly turned off the road into a gas station and stayed for a while just standing under the overhang. I wound up standing there for about half an hour as the rain got heavier and heavier.

At one point a local sheriff's deputy walked by me on the way to his car.
"Rough day for a bike ride."
"Well, as my dad used to say, 'It's all east of us now.'"
"That's good; I'm headed west. Trying to get to Chicago today."
"Chicago? You know that's about 60 miles, right?"
"Yeah, I've come a lot longer than that already." I told him about my trip and how I'd traveled here from D.C. traveling about 75 miles a day. I talked about the hills and the flats.
He pointed to the road leading away from the service station: "There's a pretty good hill right there." I nodded politely. It was an incline, to be sure. But compared to what I'd seen on this trip, it was nothing to be concerned about.

The rain eventually let up and I headed off down the road. The hill was one of the bigger ones in the area, but it was easily ascended. There was a nice downhill on the other side that was only ruined by the realization that I had made a wrong turn and wasn't supposed to be going that way. And so I turned around and biked back up the hill and made the correct turn.

The roads from here on out had some good downhills through some fairly wooded areas, which I was not expecting at all in northwestern Indiana. As the road headed back out onto flat farmland terrain, the skies started to darken again and it began to rain. But I was in pretty good spirits (and was still kind of wet from the earlier downpour) so I didn't really care.

Eventually, the route took me on to the Prairie Duneland bike trail, which was a nicely maintained trail and made the going easy. Eventually the skies cleared altogether and the temperatures started to rise under a bright shining sun. Because the day had been delayed, I was looking to make up some time. And that's when I noticed that the back end of my bike was swaying a little more than usual. I stopped and felt the back tire—it was soft. It was then that I remembered that while filling up my tires in the morning, I had never taken the valve adaptor off and tightened down the valve. I was angry with myself for making such a stupid mistake. But as I began to inspect the tire, it was clear that the cause of the leak was not air escaping through the valve, it was the air that was escaping audibly from the tire. And so I found a spot to sit and make repairs.

I found the hole easily enough in the tire but decided to use a spare tire rather than patch the current one. I knew that the patch job would take a while and as I said before, I was anxious to make up some time. I can always patch the punctured tire later and use it as a spare. As I was not near a gas station, I would need to inflate the tire myself. I used a CO2 cartridge to inflate the tire. As this was the first time I'd ever used it it took me a bit to figure it out but but once I did—holy cow. The tire inflated right up. It would still need to be topped off at a service station, but it was definitely rideable. So, thanks, Dad for that particular Christmas present!

The trail went right past a bike shop where I was able to top off the tire (and remember to take off the adaptor valve afterward). I talked with the owner of the bike shop who had started doing bike repairs after a career of auto repair. He was interested to learn how to get into doing distance riding. I told him what had worked for me: start small, add more miles over time.

I continued along the path which became the Oak Savannah Trail and then as it angled back north the Erie Lackawanna trail. All three trails are built on old railways, and so tend to be pretty straight and level. But these are railways that go through the middle of towns, as many of the railways do. Which means that unlike the bike trails of the Washington area that I'm used to, these ones intersect streets and roads with a high degree of regularity. It means that there's a lot of stopping and slowing down on the way.

As I approached the Illinois line, the wind began to pick up. A strong headwind that was making the going a little difficult. In addition to which it was also moving storm clouds into the area. After crossing the border, I headed north along Wolf Lake into ever darkening skies. As I turned toward Calumet Park, the skies opened up again. I stood for a while under a railway bridge, waiting for the storm to pass. Eventually it let up and I began to make my way north again.

And then, after wending my way through the streets south of the city, I came to the end of the block and saw this magnificent sight:

There in the distance was Chicago, and beyond it my ultimate destination. Eventually, I picked up the Lakeshore Trail that runs along Lakeshore Drive the entire way. This was a magnificent bike path, but it was also the path for joggers, rollerbladers, and mosey-ers. As I got closer to downtown, there were more people to bike around. I was pleased that often I could still overtake other cyclists, even after so many miles. Now, let me be honest, I also got passed a lot. By those real biker guys. You know the ones, with aerodynamic helmets and skintight jerseys and shoes that clip in to the pedals. Those guys flew by me. But I was able to pass most of the other cyclists so I didn't feel completely wiped out.

As I continued along past The Loop and headed uptown, I could feel my energy starting to wane. First, Lakeshore Drive is 17 miles long—so much longer than you think the city will be. Manhattan is only 9 miles long; D.C. is only 10 miles long on its longest side. Chicago just seemed to go on forever. I've had that experience when driving it, but when you're on a bike and really tired, the experience is even more profound. As the miles wore on and I would get passed by an increasing number of cyclists, I felt like I should apologize or explain: I've just biked here from D.C.; I'm not normally this slow. That competitive streak I have in me was still there—I just no longer possessed the energy or ability to do anything about it.

Of course, at the time I was operating under the assumption that my ride would be about 75 miles today. After mapping it out, it turns out to have been 90 miles long. And the last 10 miles or so seemed to go on forever. But I arrived, in one piece, safe and sound.

It occurs to me that even on days when I was utterly tired, there was the anticipation of the next day giving me some energy. As I suggested before, it's probably the reason I wasn't able to sleep in late most days. But now with the knowledge that tomorrow I don't have to bike even 10 miles, I can feel the last remaining units of energy ebb from my body. 790 miles on a bike take their toll on you and I can feel the crash coming. It'll be well earned when it does.

This whole trip was an ambitious one from the start. The total distance was more than twice what I had traveled in one bike trip before. But while there were certainly days when I doubted whether this could be done, in the end, it could and I did it.

There is still a lot to process about this trip. But as I think back on the last 10 days, there is a lot I will remember: the bumpy ride along the Potomac and the the views overlooking the Shenandoah; the ups and downs over the ridges of Virginia and West Virginia; the charm of Cumberland and the brutal ascents across the Alleghenies; the helpfulness of Aaron as he guided me to my place of rest for the day; the hospitality of the Kerrs amidst a rainstorm; the easy and beautiful ride along the Monongahela and the Ohio River; the deluge I was caught in in Western, Pennsylvania; the Primanti's style hamburger with the fries on top; the long inclines into Ohio and the first 90 mile day; the devastating winds that drew out my next day into an ordeal; the great friendliness of the peoples of Ohio and Indiana; the dirt by ways and rustic farms of Amish Country in Indiana; the visit with two old friends in Goshen; the rolling hills of Indiana and the bumpy roads of the back country; the long bike paths of northwestern Indiana and Illinois; the long and beautiful ride along the lakeshore; the feeling of relief as I pulled up to Mary and Ed's house; the feeling of satisfaction at having accomplished something big that I set out to do.

As my energy is at an end, that all too short list will have to do for now. With 790 miles behind me, this road has come to an end. All that is left to do now is sleep.

The map of today's route, with elevation:

- Posted using BlogPress from my iPad

Location:Evanston,United States

Thursday, August 1, 2013

Day 9: La Porte, Indiana (54.83 miles, 701.97 total miles)

It's not really about the conditions, it's about the morale.

Sun, rain, heat, cold, wind, mud, hills, flats: they don't so much affect the ride as how you feel about the ride. And how you feel about the ride affects the quality of the ride itself.

For example, when you're going over rolling hill terrain, as you find in suburban Maryland and Virginia, there are sizable hills to be sure, but often going down one is exhilarating and gives you enough momentum that you don't mind the next hill. In fact, you often find yourself racing up it at a higher gear than you would have otherwise expected. You feel good about the ride and you perform better. Conversely, when you're coming along and it's been nothing but flat, a sudden—and small!—hill will come up and you find yourself straining to climb it. It's not just the lack of momentum from the previous downhill, it's the mere existence of this hill that is morale sapping. And the hill becomes more tiring than it's worth. I felt like that principle was demonstrated often today.

This morning I set out from my hotel and biked through Goshen. My route took me onto a bike path that went its way through a park (Mullet park, amusingly). It was not a long trail and the park not huge, but it was surprising how wooded it felt on this trail. The trail emerged onto a street that put me on a county road for the next 15 miles or so.

That county road was, as with the previous ones, rail straight and after getting out of the residential areas of Goshen turned into nothing but farmland again. A few miles down the road, I came across one of those huge irrigation rigs, spraying water across the crops and, at times, across the road. I watched it go by a couple of times and noticed that the irrigation spray was creating a rainbow as it shot out. For some reason, however, I didn't really time my crossing of this thing well; and wound up getting sprayed by it. But I was in good spirits and getting wet didn't bother me. See, it's a question of morale.

Now, because I can't (and wouldn't want to) bike on the Interstates, the routes tend to be patchwork. That is, with rare exception, my route does not simply follow one road across the state. In fact, my route consists of a lot of right angles as I turn left and then right, right and then left, working my way across. On the days when I've been able to write out my directions as well has use the GPS map, that's okay, but a day like today had too many turns to do that, and so I was making extensive use of the GPS map (which drains battery life quickly).

As I was going along, I noticed that the wind was starting to pick up. The Weather Channel had predicted 11-20 mph winds from the northwest. As long as they weren't from due west, it shouldn't be too much of a problem. Or so I hoped. I tried to push forward, even when the gusts were strong, trying to exercise a little mind over matter and to keep my morale up. Sightings of newspaper boxes for the local Elkhart paper The Truth were amusing to me, because (1) that's a pretty gutsy claim for any paper to make, and (2) "the truth" is what the Russian newspaper Pravda means. And that reminded me of a saying the Russians used to have about their two major dailies, Pravda ("The Truth") and Izvestia ("The News"): "There's no news in The Truth and no truth in The News."

[Just now the program I'm using to write these blog posts crashed and I lost everything after this point. I had some really good stuff here and will try to remember what I said, but my experience is that inspiration is never as good the second time around. Sorry about that.]

After about 25 miles, I stopped to get some water and take a break at a Sunoco station. While standing in the shade of the overhang by some out of service pumps, a piece of my trash fell and started to blow away and so I went to pick it up. No good deed goes unpunished. In bending over to get the piece of trash, I caught my shirt on a piece of metal, tearing it and scratching me across the side. And so was the first use of my first aid supplies on the trip as I applied an alcohol prep pad and a bandaid from my kit. See, it's things like that that'll sap your morale. That and having to change your torn shirt in the middle of a Sunoco parking lot.

I headed on down the road which began to have more and more hills. It was not the size of the hills or their incline that was problematic, it was their existence. This was Indiana. It was supposed to be flat. Ohio was flat, why wasn't this? I just wasn't in the mood for more up and down, even though these ups and downs were nothing compared to what I had been through or what I'm used to from back home. I tried to keep my morale up, even noting that most of the places I was biking through resembled the opening credits of "The Middle":

All day I had been mulling over the question of where I would stop for the night. My original plan, that tried to pick stops every 75 miles, had me stopping in La Porte, Indiana tonight. However, since I had had to bike 95 miles yesterday, I could conceivably go farther than La Porte today and thus have an even shorter distance tomorrow. Kate had even suggested staying somewhere on the Indiana Dunes coast. Traveling there would be a little out of my way, but might be worth it. Part of me was... embarrassed?... at the thought of only biking 50 or so miles today. Now, back home on as Saturday, a 50 mile ride around the region would be a good, long ride. But after having biked 80, 83, 91, and 95 miles in a day, biking only 50 miles felt like slacking.

But then came Crumstown Trail. I'd been biking along Johnson Road and came across the intersection with Tamarack Road, which I found amusing, having gone to Tamarac High School. I snapped the picture at left and noticed up ahead some construction vehicles parked on the left side of the road. I biked past them sheepishly for having taken a picture of a street sign, but then noticed that all three drivers of all three vehicles were asleep. The vehicles themselves were unusual, with four tires across the front of each. They also bore signs that said, "No driving on new tar."

I passed them and turned onto Crumstown Trail—a road so appropriately named that not even Dickens could have done better. The first part was enjoyable, but as I crossed some railroad tracks, the surface changed abruptly to newly laid asphalt. See, I'm familiar with this stuff from some of the rural parts of Upstate New York that I'm from. They basically come down a dirt road, spread tar all over it (even blackening the edging grass), and then lay down gravel on top of the tar. The gravel sticks to the tar and eventually is compressed into a passable surface. It was clear that I was now biking over a newly laid down surface, the black tar visible between the pieces of gravel.

It was rough going and an uncomfortable ride. And it went on for miles and miles. Not even witnessing an epic battle between a crow and a hawk (the crow won) with all kinds of cawing and screeching made this experience better. Over the course of the day, the wind had been getting stronger and increasingly from a direction that was no helpful.  And I discovered that (1) I was longing for the dirt roads of Amish country; and (2) what was left of my morale was gone. I was going to stop in La Porte. That would be far enough for today.

Eventually, I approached another railroad crossing. I hoped it would turn into more passable roads. As I got near I heard a whistle and saw the crossing bars coming down. As I approached, a freight train came roaring by—not traveling at the leisurely speeds the one I'd seen in Clyde had. This one was flying:

After the train had gone I was able to cross the tracks and soon was back on smoother pavement. I kept encountering more hills. Again, they weren't steep ones or tall ones, they just existed and that was enough for me to be annoyed. At the foot of one hill, I decided to take a water break. As you can see from the picture, it was not a terribly big hill. But at the end of nearly 700 miles of biking I was just done with them. It did make for a pleasant looking scene, which is why I took the photo. I noticed while stopped that my phone's clock and set back an hour, meaning that I'd crossed a time zone line without realizing it. This actually made me happy, as it meant that I'd get one more hour of rest in my hotel when I got there.

I set back out toward La Porte. The remaining 10 miles or so were slow in going and it felt like I was not getting anywhere. Eventually, I reached La Porte. "La Porte" is an old French phrase that means, "We don't spend any money on road maintenance." The condition of the streets in the residential neighborhoods I passed through was appalling and at times more uncomfortable than Crumtown Trail.

I arrived at my hotel at 2:16 p.m. local time and got to my room and cleaned up. And then took the most glorious nap. I lay down on the bed with book in hand and was out. I clearly needed it.

My plan for the evening is to rest, relax, and restore as much as I can so that tomorrow when I set out for the final 75 mile leg of this journey, my morale will be up to the task.

The map of today's route, with elevation data:

- Posted using BlogPress from my iPad (though it crashed once and only partially uploaded this blog once, requiring yet another retype, so don't be too impressed.)