Tuesday, May 31, 2005

Starved Rock Rocked

Starved Rock
Good trip.
15 people
Total Miles: 219
Wind: never at our back–almost always a direct headwind


Our self-serving map didn’t win the Critical Mass cheering election, so we busted off from the Mass pretty early to head SW. Only a few miles from downtown, and still well in Chicago it began raining so we stopped to don our rain jackets in a Burger King parking lot, peed and then continued pedaling. We were rewarded with the sight of a wonderful rainbow–and our first flat tire on Sam’s bike. While he and Sarah fixed the flat, we stood out in the wet at the Panorama at 27th & Kedzie before continuing onward.

At the end of Bethania Cemetary in Justice, we massed up because we were entering a ‘tricky’ part of the ride. On the corner of Frontage road we stripped off our rain gear and turned on our blinky lights. This was a long stop–first we waited for everyone, then people decided to go pee, then rain gear came off......yellow roses were found and distributed before we started moving again. Soon we came to a trailer park and wiggled through it until we stopped at a patch of trees. I think everyone but T.C., our leader, was confused. Word was passed back that we were to lift our bikes over a short fence and down a rooty, rocky dirt hill. Our bikes were loaded with camping gear and not only heavy, but really unbalanced between the front and back. At the bottom of the hill we had to again lift the bikes up a steep gravel railroad embankment and cross several rail lines. Once again–heavy bikes, steep climb and unstable gravel did not make this fun. Someone (Todd?) gave my bike a boost as I trudged up the incline.

Again after we crossed, we stopped for a decent amount of time. Gin and I relieved our bladders–and Sarah got a flat tire. We rode/walked our bikes to a highway overpass, where Sarah and Sam tackled Sarah’s flat as it started raining–hard. Again we busted out our raingear and ate cookies and trail mix. I actually wore my icky new rainpants and took off my skirt. A train rumbled along the tracks we recently crossed and we hoped the rain would stop. After the flat was fixed we continued on to the trailhead in rain that had slowed to about a drizzle. It was dark now and only our meager blinkie lights and some cat-eyes lit our path, before we were directed to turn them off and just let our eyes adjust to the darkness of night. My night vision has always sucked, so this was quite stressful for me. I rode the whole time bracing for a wipe out or collision of some type. We yelled "bollard," "hole" and "stick" to warn riders behind us of the obstacles we encountered.

Finally the trail ended and we found ourselves at the edge of a highway. Here we learned we would lift our bikes over the guardrail and into traffic. I have good upper body strength, and was the only single woman on the trip, so I always just hefted my bike onto my shoulder, but most people took help from others. My shoulders look dirty with bruises from this treatment. Anyway, I thought that our ride on Highway 71 was just going to be a short jaunt, but I learned that the last 15 miles was riding along this busy county highway (brothers–think hwy 57 or 67). We took the right lane together at some points, but at other times we thinned, separated and rode on or near the shoulder. The view of the group from the rear was terrifying because the red blinky lights looked pathetic alongside the speeding cars. Oncoming headlights completely blinded us and overwhelmed the meager red lights of our friends flashing up ahead. This part of the ride also felt dangerous because not only were we damn near invisible and unexpected on the rainy highway, but we were also riding fast in the dark and couldn’t really see or react to road conditions well.

At one point, the cry of "Hole" came too late, only to be followed by thumping and the simultaneous hissing of air and "Shit!" from my roommate John. He and Todd stayed behind to fix the pinchflat. We stopped at a gas station to again remove raingear, pee, rehydrate and eat some more. We cheered when John and Todd arrived and finally we continued on for the last few miles. Once in Joliet we were greated by the universal whooping of bar-hoppers shouting encouragement. We stopped again because poor Sarah had another flat tire–I tossed her a new tube and we happily talked about eating dinner and having a few drinks in a few short miles. In between us and the hotel was a steep open grate bridge that was No Fun to ride on. In Chicago these bridges are everywhere, but this was the steepest incline and decline by far that I have ridden. The wetness and the pitch made our weighted bikes feel super unstable, and I seriously thought I was going to lay down my ride at several points.

We trucked our bikes up to the second floor of the hotel and began unloading gear. John and I shared a room, while the other singles: Shawn, T.C. and Todd stayed in another, two other rooms were shared by two couples and Jan and Katy arranged for their own room. After unweighting our bikes, some of us rode for take-out Mexican food, while another group went to buy liquor. We received a dreadful call at the restaurant informing us that Will County has some ridiculous Draconian liquor laws and that we couldn’t buy liquor (besides in bars) after 11:00PM. Always resourceful, we changed our plans and ate our take-out in the restaurant while several people had a few beers. Then we crashed at the hotel.

I think I fell asleep just after 2:00--John stayed up later reading. The state of the hotel room was damn funny to me, because it demonstrated how different John and I am. My gear was thrown in a heap just inside the door with bags torn open as if attacked by bears. Fearful that my sleeping bag was wet, I unstuffed it and draped it across a chair. John took a more deliberate path and neatly laid out his gear and hung his clothes on hangers instead of piling them on the table. His shoes were neatly paired and tucked out of the way. Order and Chaos were the two opposing sides of the room. John showered before bed and I didn't bother.

46 Miles, post critical mass


I awoke, showered and peaked outside. Sarah was sitting outside her room, patching tubes and the weather was lovely. I started re-packing my gear in consideration of what items I wanted most accessible for the day. Soon we heard Michael knocking and yelling "Five Minutes," or as John said later, "Thanks for taking on the the thankless role of being a Dick this morning." I was just barely packed and John was still sleeping in bed: Kevin was running around outside in just a towel. As we gathered downstairs, the boys thought that the girls 'planned' to wear skirts together because all but Gin and Katy were skirted. Nope--they are just damn comfortable.

Finally, after we all checked out we rode through the parking lot and onto breakfast--but then Jan announced that he had a flat and the whole group groaned because we weren't even out of the hotel parking lot. Most of us ended up riding the few blocks to breakfast. The diner wasn't very full, but it took us a long time to get served. Jan and Katy fixed his flat before we ordered food. Our breakfasts were huge and many of us glutted ourselves. Outside, we suntan lotioned ourselves and slowly became ready to ride. After only a few blocks trying to find the trail, we were lost and backtracked. We rode for another few blocks and then realized that Jan and Katy were missing. Todd took off to find them and we waited. Sarah found a frisbee and her, Sam, Karen and John started flinging it about. The rest of us waited and griped about our late start and considered pressing forward. Finally, Todd returned with them and we learned that Katy had a flat tire. Not a good start.

But then we got on the limestone Illinois and Michigan Canal State Trail and took off. We rode basically in one or two clumps, two abreast for many (25?) miles before reaching the first Lock along the canal. Here we stopped, ate, peed, took pictures and goofed around. Jan and Katy were somewhere behind us and people were considering whether or not to wait for them. Hui Hwa and Mark decided to leave before the rest of the group and the rest of us shortly followed. I don't quite remember how it happened, but sometime afterwards, T.C. and I met up with them and we all rode together for most of the rest of the ride, switching positions to chat with different people.

At one rest stop, I accidentally pissed on my own skirt. Smooth move. I washed it out at a gas station where we stopped for Gatorade a few miles ahead, but was still unhappy about it. I have peed often outside, and haven't peed on my own clothes since I was a child (shoes don't count). Grrrr.

At this rest stop, we discovered a problem: T.C. couldn't get ahold of the Park Campgrounds. There are weird rules that require people to A) reserve a campsite for the whole 3-day weekend, instead of just the days they are staying, and B) require people to be there at particular times (3:00) in order to claim the site before it would be sold to others. We obviously weren't there on Friday night and wouldn't get there by 3:00 either. Unfortunately it was almost 3:00 and the park wasn't picking up their phones for us to let them know that we were going to be late, But still wanted the spot.

Eventually T.C. and I paired up and rode ahead together, chatting and leaving Hui Hwa and Mark behind. We had planned to meet up with the rest of the group in Marseilles for lunch, but weren't paying attention and overshot the town by several miles. Cell phone conversations occurred and we hoped that the rest of the group would catch up, but they wanted lunch immediately. They also informed us that Gin had fallen into the Canal! We decided to ride to Ottowa for lunch, but I wasn't very hungry and really wanted to get to Starved Rock soon and hoped to convince someone to ride ahead with me. Once in Ottowa, T.C. had the same idea and we quickly shared an ice cream sunday and then pushed onto Ithica. Mark and Hui Hwa went for real food. We picked up our pace because we didn't need to let others catch up. I was concerned about keeping up with T.C.'s pace, but he didn't think I would have a problem.

Arriving in Utica we stopped at Duffy's for a drink before tackling the big hill up to the state park. The city had been hit with an amazing tornado the year before and was still recovering. T.C. knew a lot about it and chatted it up with the bartender for quite a while and discussed the damages. Apparently the city's tourism suffered greatly and three tourism-related businesses closed down since the tornado. Even though I grew up in a small town, it is odd to be reminded of close communities that know and feel each others' problems that closely.

Anyway--the Hill. Damn did it suck--and damn did I suck air as I huffed my way up the long, steep, curving hill. Each time I rounded a bend and hoped that the hill ended, but it seemed to go on forever. T.C. is known to be a really strong rider, and I was concerned that he would think I was a huge sissy on the hill. I also thought that he was right behind me and going my pace to be courteous. Towards the end I dropped into the small front chainring and just spun up the hill--I think this should have been done earlier, because the hill was much easier to spin up than to try to hammer up. I really don't know how to tackle long and/or steep hills, and living in Chicago doesn't give me any real opportunities. At the top I finally turned around to commiserate with T.C.--but he was quite a ways behind me. When he caught up we bitched about the hill and he said that he thought it almost killed him. Cool. Why am I always concerned that people will think I am wimpy?

Katy and Jan called us shortly after we scaled the hill to tell us that they wouldn't make camp that night, but instead would camp about fifteen miles away and meet us the next morning. Katy's daughter would come to the camp in their vehicle (nicknamed the "Canyonero" by Katy). I immediately determined that my tent and other unnecessary gear would hitch a ride home in this SUV--at least it's good for that.

Onto the campsite and we learned that our sites had been given away and that we would have crappy, open (as opposed to wooded, walk-in sites) child-infested sites. Grrr. The guy in the station was also a total tool, too. Once at our site, we set up our tents and were pretty much disgusted by most of our 'neighbors'. There were tons of RVs with their generators humming, American flags flying and tons of kids on motorized scooters and mini-bikes. What. The. Fuck. This is camping nowadays? People had fucking TVs!!!! Campfire pits were replaced with big grills. There were a few remaining hours of daylight, but the camps all seemed full of people just hanging out--why weren't they hiking? Seriously, most of these people should have just stayed home and barbequed for all of the nature and activity that I observed them experiencing.

I went to take a shower and on the way there I saw some of our group ride up. Woo Hoo! By the time I came back, there were more tents set up and people were starting to cook dinner. Mmmm. Then I learned something both wonderous and horrible: there was a second entrance! This second entrance didn't have a tortouos hill and therefore T.C. and I were the only two who had climbed that monster. Oh well--it's nice to know for the future, and I was clean and unpacked when I found out, so I took it in stride--although I did tease T.C. about it, of course.

After dinner we stood around the fire passing a flask of whiskey, telling stories and singing every once in a while. Good stuff. I stayed up drinking with Todd and Sean before swathing myself in my sleeping bag to heat it up by the fire and then bunking down. I didn't sleep very well that night and often woke up cold.

The next day was fun. We awoke and lounged around for a while before heading to the buffet to gorge ourselves before hiking. Many packable desserts were smuggled into our bags for the ride home--tehehe. As much as our group of hungery biking, hiking people ate, it was nothing compared to the food a lot of other (obese) diners were packing away. Watching the other patrons waddle to and from the buffet with their piles of food was fascinatingly disgusting. Several people couldn't even walk between the chairs without their hips or guts rubbing against the furniture, and yet they still made repeat trips for more greasy food. blech.

After feeding we hiked to the top of Starved Rock, passing many huffing, puffing people along the way. There were also many people dressed or geared completely inappropriately: I saw several pairs of sling-back stillettos and other impractical shoes and far, far, far too many strollers. How the fuck do you expect to carry a stroller up hundreds of steps, or a steep rocky trail? If your kid is too young to walk, then he should be light enough to carry in a snuggly or a hiking rack thingy. If he's too heavy for this, then he can goddamn walk himself. I don't understand seeing parents with 4, 5 and 6-year olds in strollers: They Can Walk Themselves!! To the person who complained, in all seriousness, that there should be an elevator: Yes, I shot you a dirty look. Why? because you're an Idiot and deserved it. Not all of the world need be accessible for the lazy and stupid to ruin.

At the top we sang Illinois First's song, "Starved Rock" amidst perplexed stares by the other tourists. Continuing onward we hiked to some waterfalls and played in the cold water. Many, many people had carved their names or symbols in the sandstone, altering the natural beauty. The impulse to add my own marking was strong, but I refrained. Considering cave paintings, this must be an almost innate desire for humans to mark where they have been. As we walked back along the river, I was again disgusted by the carelessness of people. The shore was littered with soda and beer cans, disgarded tackle, bait containers and various other trash. Slobs. I probably 'leave more than footprints', but I would never, never, never purposefully litter anywhere--much less an area of natural beauty.

After hiking we had some drinks on the patio of the lounge and then snuck into the whirlpool/pool/sauna combination. Ahhhhh........ Back at camp others prepared dinner, so there was warm food at our arrival. Then a beautiful, complete rainbow appeared, soon to be shadowed with the faint outline of another! A complete double rainbow--amazing. As night set we made s'mores (T.C. is a s'mores snob/nazi we discovered) and sang some more songs around the fire. Our plan was to leave early the next morning.


Kevin and Karen made us nut and raisin-studded outmeal for breakfast and we packed up our gear. I shamelessly left my tent, camping pad, sleeping bag and garment bag with Jan and Katy. My load was considerably lightened, and I only took one panier back home on my bike. tehehe. Most other people left behind their gear, too. A few boys (Sam, John & T.C.) took all of their gear home.

I felt absolutely great going home. At first we rode two or three abreast in a solid, drafting pack. A few people stopped for a picture at Bianchi's Pizza, John got a flat and Karen had a blow-out, requiring Michael to ride back with a spare tire. The group got spaced out and I rode in the front of the pack. For about 7 miles I felt like riding faster than the group over the open, hilly roads. I pulled ahead and stepped it up to 18-19 mph and left most people behind because it was more fun to go fast. I ended up stopping and biking pretty slowly until Mark caught up with me and then we rode together at a more moderate pace.

We re-grouped at gas station at about 30 miles and then T.C., Mark, Hui Hwa, Todd and I headed off again just as the last group pulled in. At some point Todd, T.C. and I pulled away and lost sight of the rest. I lead and we went pretty fast as the boys drafted behind. Towards the middle of a steep hill, I seemed to lose all of my steam and struggled to make it up the rest of the way. I stopped for a red light just as the boys pulled up alongside me. I asked them to look at my rear wheel, and Todd confirmed my suspicion: flat tire, mile 43.

After crossing the intersection of, we pulled over and I began fixing my tire in the hot sun. Already the straps of my sundress were getting crusty with salty sweat. I found a staple in my tire and was replacing the tube when others from our group passed us. I used a CO2 cartridge to fill the tire and people watched with interest, because most hadn't used or seen this method of filling a tube. They especially liked the ice-cold cartridge at the end on such a hot day--sure as hell beats getting more sweaty using a pump. The rest of the group rode on and Todd stayed behind with me as I put the wheel back on my bike and gathered the gear I had strewn about. We biked pretty fast to try to catch up with the group before stopping in Aurora for lunch.

At one point, a semi-truck passed us with only about 8 inches from from my shoulders. This stretch of road didn't have a paved shoulder, and instead dropped off into gravel. It was pretty freaky, because unlike cars that whip by too close, the semi seemed to go on forever. Plus the air around semis creates turbulance and suction. I don't know the physics involved--but I do know that under the wheels of a semi is not a place I want to be. Todd cursed fruitlessly as the semi recklessly passed us. I'm glad I was riding in front, because seeing cars come too close to my friends (or other bikers in general) freaks me out more than when it happens to me. For the most part the drivers were pretty considerate, though.

After reaching the group about five miles before Aurora, we had some confusion about how to reconnect with the trail, and backtracked and wiggled a bit. Then a few miles on the trail, Shawn's seatpost bolt broke. He and Todd went back a few miles to a bike shop to fix it, while the rest of us moseyed onto lunch. We lingered at the restaurant/brewery for a long while as the entire group trickled in. It was decided by Todd, Karen and myself that the Hbar would open up upon our return to Chicago for our group. Woo Hoo!

Shortly after leaving the restaurant the group splintered and Hui Hwa, Todd, Kevin, John and myself broke ahead on the limestone trail. At an underpass, Kevin and Todd pulled out a pipe to smoke, and Hui Hwa, John and me continued. We rode another 20 miles (the expected afternoon 'ice cream' stop) and waited for the group. They didn't show, so we went off the trail for frozen custard--keeping an eye on the trail crossing for our group. We didn't understand why they weren't showing up, and finally hit the trail again.

A few miles into our last leg of the trip, we called the group and found out they were already in the outskirts of Chicago! WTF? We picked up our pace and raced back to the Hbar, where food was out and drinks were poured for us. The mystery of how everyone else got ahead of us was solved when we learned that we had taken a 10-mile detour on the path network. Oops. John had lead us, and he seemed upset and embarrased about this error. No big deal--we were the only ones who rode over 100 miles on Memorial Day, so I actually thought it was cool.

After dark we closed down the Hbar and rode home. I basically crashed out without showering or really unpacking my gear. Good Stuff. 104 miles on Sunday.


At 11:26 PM, Blogger clark said...

Well, goddammit, that was a really fine piece of bike touring reportage. Your writing style is easy to read and keeps interest, unlike my own attempts at this blog thing.

Remember ( someone else told me this ) " whatever does not kill you makes you stronger". I am talking about the bike touring thing here, not blogging! It sounds like it was memorable trip, and I wish to one myself soon. Frankly, I want to take half a year off from everything and just ride with my loaded bike, and I don't really care where. But home ownership dictates that I have a real job and pay real payments!

At 9:26 AM, Blogger sui generis said...

Thanks for finishing this story and getting it back up, jojo. I read the first part and wanted to hear how it ended! Sounds like an awesome time.


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