Monday, June 06, 2005

Chain o' Lakes Bikepacking

Another weekend, another bike-packing trip. This time, I was invited along to a trip to the Chain O' Lakes with the CDOT boys: John (roomie), Grant and David. Bikes are Finally allowed on the commuter Metra trains, so we took the train west to Geneva and then rode about 60 miles north to the Chain O' Lakes state park, just short of the IL/WI border (Or the Cheddar Curtain as John likes to call it).

The ride was great because we actually had a bit of a tailwind and none of us dawdle too much. About halfway there, and less than a mile after a long lunch, rain started falling. We ducked off of the road onto a small parking lot in the woods to don raingear under some trees. I lobbied for us to stay there and wait out the storm, that I thought would last only a few minutes. Soon, though the rain was coming down in sheets, the wind was whipping like crazy and we were standing in a puddle as the water poured down from the road. We decided to look for better shelter. As we biked on the trail, tree branches were falling around us (I ended up dragging a big branch longer than my bike!) so we ran onto the back porch of the first house we saw. The owner was there watching the storm and he welcomed us. I was completely soaked, because I didn't see the need for raingear in 80+ degree weather (I prefer wet from rain instead of sweat). I tried to wring water out of my skirt, but it didn't seem to do much good.

Shortly the storm ended and we hit the path again--it was a mess of branches and a few miles later there was a big tree fallen across the path. We carried our bikes over it while trying to avoid tripping and getting scratched by branches. After many miles of drizzle, the sun finally came out and my clothes dried out (except for our sodden socks). There was steam coming off of the black pavement and we again rode in the heat and sunshine. Around Crystal Lake there was a steep hilly, curvy part that would have probably been a lot more fun and less scary if the water, wet leaves and branches weren't on the trail. I'm a chicken though, so I rode my brakes a lot. Going up a really steep hill, my bike started feeling really, really weird. Then my right foot unclipped and I lost my momentum and was forced to dismount. My horror and embarrasment was relieved when I saw that my gear was hanging haphazardly--an innertube tie-down had snapped, causing the unbalanced feeling. I trotted my bike up to the peak and retied my gear as the powerlines hummed and crackled angrily above us.

At the last town before the park, McHenry, we stopped at a grocery store for food and booze. $100 were spent--much more than my cheapskate nature would have sprung for. Oh well, we had good cheeses, breads, nuts and fruit for dinner and breakfast the next day. This last leg of the ride was super fun for me--there were rolling hills and straight aways with young corn or prairie growing besides us. I felt peppy and tried to set the pace, but for the most part the boys didn't follow (I slowed down/stopped periodically to regroup). I don't think my odometer went below 18mph for these 10 miles and I usually was clocking 19 - 20 on the flats. Too. Much. Fun.

Then we went through a super small 'town' of the church/gas station type and biking started feeling pretty hard. Grant jumped ahead of me and slowed down our pace. I went from eagerly leading to struggling to maintain second position. I figured I just hit some sort of physical wall from the earlier fast riding. Then a few miles later when we were basically in the park, I noticed a rythmic humming noise and stopped to check it out. Sure enough my rim was rubbing hard against the rear brake. Without momentum, my wheel barely wanted to move for about a third of its rotation. I released the rear brake, but it still rubbed pretty hard. I stayed behind with my damaged bike while the boys went to the office to check us in. Biking the mile or so to the site took a lot of effort with my rubbing wheel, since the last miles of rubbing stole a lot of pep from my legs.

At camp we hurredly set up our tents, started a fire, showered and commenced eating before a big thunderstorm rolled in. Several times we ducked into John's tent with our dinner during false alarm rain. The tent John brought wouldn't remain waterproof in a storm, so we agreed that he would stay in my tent (his good tent that he was lending me). His tent became the 'party tent' and we littered it with beer cans, wine cups and random food. Then at night we distributed the remaining food amoungst ourselves to take inside the tents to protect from the coons who were greedily circling the campsite. John and I slept head to foot in the warm tent and remained dry through all of the storms. I learned that John snores and didn't get much sleep with the cramped quarters, snoring and thunderstorms.

John's party tent had standing water inside the next day and camp was sodden and gross when we woke up. After eating more gouda and roquefort cheese, fruit and bread Grant and I attempted to true my wobbly wheel. We then discovered that I had a broken spoke! Yikes--I've never done that before, but I guess the extra weight of the gear causes extra stress. I am pretty sure I remember going over a small, steep hole almost immediately before riding became hard--so I think that was the culprit.

Luckily, Grant had a Kevlar spoke with him (basically a cord with mounting attachments) that we (Grant, while I watched) used to repair my wheel. We didn't get the wheel very true, and I still couldn't close my brakes without a lot of rubbing. (I'll try to get a picture or two up in the next week). This concerned me, and I began petitioning for a detour around the hilly, curvy part since my braking ability was compromised.

Once we got on the road we encountered a pretty strong headwind and Grant, John and I joked about it being the return trip from the Frozen Snot Century all over again. Actually, it wasn't nearly as bad, but still biking felt a lot more like work than fun. I pulled for the first 10 or 11 miles before we hit a nice trail and rode abreast with Grant and I leading. Only a few miles later we saw a lake and decided to stop. Gatorade was purchased and I wiggled into my swimsuit and hung my sweaty sundress on a post to dry. We swam and sunned ourselves for a while before continuing on to the nearest Metra station, because we were all sick of the wind and wanted to get back to Chicago ASAP.

A good time all around and after drying our tents on the porch, showering and doing laundry--I was quite tired out. I need to get my own tent and larger paniers, so I don't have to jerry-rig my gear. Bike-packing is so fun, and I can't wait for more trips. The only problems are that I got some sunburn at the beach (knowing we were riding south, I didn't bother to put sunscreen on my back--and then layed on my belly on the pier for a while: D'ho!) and my feet and legs were apparently a buffet for the mosquitos at the campsite. Still this is a small price to pay for getting to spend another weekend almost entirely outdoors.

Random Note--if I get married, I am totally registering at REI instead of Crate and Barrel. Fuck glassware and placemats.


At 10:40 PM, Blogger clark said...

you better believe bike camping rocks! I myself have only done a few, the last one being an excursion on rail-to-trail (mostly unpaved) towing a BOB-style trailer. Ain't nuthin' like knowing that all you need ( for the time being ) is right there with you and you are hauling it around using thine own legs.

btw.. what happened to the Starved Rock story? I was amazed and humbled by the nuttiness of riding on a highway. Don't think I will be doing that soon; Michigan drivers would probably try to flatten me..

At 2:17 AM, Blogger Frick said...

untrue wheels suck.
My rear wheel is extremely out of whack. I tried adjusting it, (now that I have a spoke wrench) but soon realized I don't have a clue what I'm doing. The only instructions I can find recommend "tightening the loose spoke." They all feel the same though! I did another adventure race two weeks ago with a brutal 20+ mile section, and actually chose to loosen the rear brake into uselessness rather than have it rub. Bad, bad idea.

dido on the REI thing. I say there should be a new tradition that if you don't think you're going to get married for a long time, you can cash in on the wedding presents now, when you actually need them.

At 10:48 PM, Blogger jojo said...

I've been looking forward to bike-packing all winter long, so I'm very excited that the season is finally upon us. As for riding on highways, it was a county highway, not an interstate or freeway--those are freakin' scary. During the day, riding on highways doesn't feel particularly dangerous to me--at least the Chicago cabbies aren't darting around for fares.

I HATE truing wheels. You don't tighten spokes based on how loose each spoke feels. You need to loosen and tighten the spokes to pull the rim into alignment. Tighten the spoke originating on the side of the hub in the direction the rim needs to travel, and loosen the spoke to each side of the one you tightened (the spokes pulling the rim in the "out of true" direction). Only give each spoke a quarter turn at a time.

Also the righty-tighty/lefty-loosey thing needs to be considered from the viewpoint outside of the rim.

Disclaimer: Even as I give advice, tonight I stopped by Kevin's shop and had Adrian, a mechanic, replace the spoke and true the wheel.


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