Here's Jeff Reser on his Chicago reception & sendoff and he as well as he, Jason and Jim's exit from town:
Have patience with the beginning of your ride. Though you may have made thorough preparations and may have certain plans, any number of situations can arise in combination to test your agility and versatility.
Friday morning was rainy. I had a problem to resolve rather quickly before our noon presentation ceremonyon Daley square. A tire that I brought was too tight to fit on the rear rim and tore in the mounting. The wheel was a replacement I had pulled off my wife's bike the day before because I was not comfortable with a jiggle in the inner cassette body of my wheel. This was something that I had noticed in the shake down ride a couple of days earlier but for which there was no replacement quickly available. So, now I needed a new tire.
We called to Jim Redd who gave us the address of a nearby shop. The next tire began to tear as well so, after about seven minutes of Jason and my attempts in near panic, I applied shampoo from the tiny hotel bottle we had collected. This solution allowed the tire to slip onto the rim properly. Now all we had to do was get ourselves back to Daley Square in ten minutes! Not an easy task in mid-day Chicago traffic. Jason dumped me nearby and continued on to park the van. I made it just in time!
The ceremony Jim Redd had arranged went nicely between light rain sprinkles. Everyone was jovial -- even the tiny dog, wearing a special bike helmet, who arrived in a milk crate bungeed to a rear bike rack of her driver! There were bicycle enthusiasts of many varieties. Present were representatives of Mayor Daley's Bicycle Ambassadors, Chicago Bicycle Program Coordinator Ben Gomberg (from the same office responsible for the terrific progress Chicago has made in establishing on-street bike lanes and the installation of over 8000 bike racks) and some kind folks associated with the Critical Mass.
After a few minutes of introductions, Jason appeared and we were presented with a proclamation from the city in support of our National Bicycle Greenway effort. The three departing riders, Jim Muellner, Jason and I, had been given red pullovers from the Bicycle Ambassadors and
from someone in the crowd, fringe t-shirts advocating the depavement of Lakeshore Drive. I found this to be an intriguing concept and Jason later complimented the cleverly-adapted tsunami illustration they bore. (A side note is that Jim Muellner was observed the following week wearing one of these within the Des Moines city hall.) We were quite thankful for all!
We were invited back to the home of Jim Redd to make any final preparations and to discuss any route adjustments prior to leaving town on our bikes. I gave Jim a load of Kentucky Ale we brought up for the occasion. Unfortunately, we elected to depart rather than drink these with Jim and his friends. Other route suggestions were presented and we each agreed to ride along the route I had prepared until such time as we determined for ourselves that it would be more prudent to do otherwise.
Meanwhile, Jason hurriedly tweaked his pannier rack mounts. I think it was nearing 3:pm when we bid our most-gracious and accommodating host, Jim Redd farewell, took a group photo in front of his home and rode through an alley to begin feeling our way to the lake front upon our heavily-loaded bicycles. The sun was shining again.
We located the Lakeshore bike path and rode southward. It was nice to get this taste of Chicago shoreline and see the sailboats. We turned inland again at 31st Street toward Archer Avenue. 31st Street was quite compared to Archer. It ran through a nice urban neighborhood that reminded me of Astoria in Queens, where I once lived. I chose Archer because it was a proposed city bike way which led diagonally southwest toward the head of the I&M Canal bike path. I wanted to demonstrate support of this proposition as well as use this effective means of city egress connecting to Joliet. Hopefully, Archer will become an officially recognized corridor for bicycle commuters. The canal runs relatively parallel nearby.
The drivers of the cars and trucks on Archer were respectful of our right to ride there. By now it was
nearing rush hour and I was a little concerned for Jim because of the lower profile he displayed riding the tricycle recumbent. He did have three short flags protruding in various directions. Often I would ride behind him in certain circumstances. Jason did the same at other times. We asked Jim to pick the location of the meal stop he requested and ended up at a Polish Buffet. After eating ourselves silly, the traffic had died down a bit.
Archer becomes identified as 171 and takes many forms -- even having single-lane construction with orange markers on each side. Here, I hesitated for a second, looked back at Jim and Jason and said to myself, "Not many options at this point. Here goes everything!" and charged on through. Later we pulled off onto a short stretch of green canal path where I caught my breath and regained my senses. Once the canal path came to a loop, we were all glad to see that 171 had transformed again into a two-lane, tree-lined country highway.
Then came the rain! We pulled over and vested ourselves in rainwear, then continued. Jason spotted
a "D-Lux Hotel" near Lemont which would protect us from the increasingly bad storms. We had only made 28 miles by my cycloputer. This was short of our goal to reach Joliet by nightfall -- perhaps for good reason.
PS: If you are enjoying these "memoires" as much as I am in writing them, please consider clicking on the icon of the Medical Fund for Andrew Heckman and making a contribution of any size. His NBG departure from Chicago last year didn't go so well. I believe that the bicycle community should pull together like any other for our own. Thank you.
Andrew Heckman's icon can be found at http://www.bikeroute.com/NationalMayorsRide
Can you believe this? Now that his ride is complete, because, in an odd twist of fate, his Pocket Mailer broke, Jeff Reser is taking the time to reconstruct his ride from Chicago to Des Moines for us! WoW!! He also tells me there is video and many pictures forthcoming!! Here is how he and Jason began:
An inverted sunset to the west of downtown greeted us Thursday, as we rolled into Chicago past Gary, Indiana. What a sight it was! Some pinkish stratus clouds adrift high over the city, in an otherwise clear lavender sky, had obscured the sun until its wide, golden-orange face peaked downward, through a western clearing near the horizon. It lit the far-off glass towers with a trim of shimmering majesty.
My brother, Jason, drove as I navigated us through the maze of vaguely-familiar streets to the Hotel Allegro, where we had reservations. We unloaded our bikes and gear from the van with the cordial help of the hotel assistants and proceeded to check in - attaining a free upgrade without the need to demonstrate hula hoop adeptness. Perhaps it was the serious bike expedition gear that impressed the management?
Once all was safely stationed inside our visually-impressive, offbeat, deluxe room, we felt our way northeast to North Avenue near Damen station where we were to meet Jim Redd at the Handlebar Bar and Grill. Calling ahead, we learned that Jim had not yet arrived. We alerted him earlier that we might get a late start from Cincinnati.
Inside, the establishment it seemed quite to our liking - comfortable, softly lit and clean. The bar attendant took our draft beer orders and indicated our attention to an older, German-looking gentleman waiting at a small table in the rear corner, wearing a curious, rectilinear rear-view mirror attached to a forward-projecting wire which was zip-tied to the left shaft of his wire-framed glasses. This was none other than Jim Muellner, who had ridden his recumbent from DC and who was to accompany us on our leg of the NBG Mayors' relay to Des Moines. We introduced ourselves
and he kindly suggested we all take a larger table towards the front. When I turned to comply, Jim Redd was immediately behind us, wearing a medium-brimmed, white 1930s hat. He startled me with his sudden and cinematic appearance.
All comfortably seated, Jim Redd invited us to order freely from the menu before we began discussing the details of our route. He introduced us to other riders from the Chicago Critical Mass circle who had recently attempted passage along the Hennepin Canal bicycle path. Their reports came with a
recommendation to find another route, due to a deep pea-gravel surface recently laid along the trail. Soon our dinners arrived at the table - mine a delicious African dish with coconut milk which reminded me of my Bahian wife's Brazilian home cuisine.
My guess is that Jim Muellner had also spot checked the trail ahead in the few days awaiting our
departure. He too seemed eager to redirect us along more northerly roads. I was much too tired to commit to any decision on the matter, so after our wonderful meals and a photo session outside, we all bid one another good night and resigned to our respective places of lodging.
Subject: Des Moines was/is wonderful, the Mayor is a great guy.
Hi You All!
We did it, we had the event just before the rains came. Timing is everything. Lorna Davros from the Mayors office convinced the mayor he should be here for us, what an angel she is. And her Mayor, Preston Daniels, is very supportive and knowledgeable about what is going on and he participates. He made us all feel good about being involved in what we are doing.
We gathered at city hall and shook hands all around. It was fun seeing Jason and Jeffery again. Though we did get separated early on, we both had a great experience getting to Des Moines.
This morning in an attempt to meet up with Josh Lukins, the event organizer at Bike World, I hopped on the trail and unfortunately made a couple of wrong turns and wound up taking a 20 mile unexpected tour of Des Moines. There is some construction going on and I was rerouted and so turned around that when I saw the gold dome of the capital again I headed it for it and essentially restarted my ride. By now it was 10:30 AM, the time I had planned to be at Bike World. I really had to book it to get to Bike World so we could start our ride to City Hall. I know the Des Moines riders who read this will say. "Is this guy really going to find his way to the west coast?" Like Daniel Boone I have never been lost, just bewildered for a few days, today was one.
The city is very friendly, there was a concert along the river where the Shemekia Copeland group played and sang for us. The crowd loved her.
Des Moines has a wonderful museum covering the Civil War with lots of artifacts and letters from the soldiers.
The state capital with its gold dome is very impressive and came be seen from a great distance to guide you down town.
We thanked the many local riders who rode down with us and our fellow riders, Jeffery and Jason. Soon everyone was running for cover due to the rain storm and figuring how to get back home. I went to tune up my Raven for the next leg of my journey. With all the good wishes from everyone, from here it should be a breeze, hopefully a breeze from the east.
Love to all, Jim
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Here is Jeff Longtin's upbeat report from his and Peter's failed mission to make it to the Des Moines proclamation ceremony on time. As you will see they got hammered by a freak storm and some routing snafus. And yet in true cyclist's fashion, Jeff does underscore the joy of having done the ride! WoW:
The storms that Peter and I dodged (almost) all day yesterday (96 miles worth) descended upon us while overnighting in Story City, IA. While the whole day was expected to be rainy, we didn't have to deal with it too much but it probably did slow our pace for the day. Unlike previous days where we just had a plan to go southward as far as possible before dark, today had the pressure of trying to cover a lot of ground and make it to Des Moines in time for the 12 noon mayor's meeting.
Till today, the days were pretty much corn, corn and more corn, but today seemed consumed with a need to always know the time and how much of a chance we still had to make the Des Moines party. Actually, Peter and I made good time all day skipping food or rest breaks in favor of munching while riding to keep the momentum going toward Des Moines. We did stop briefly to repair Peter's rear rack as it had lost it's mounting screw holding it to the rear dropout. No big deal to fix as we got some mechanics wire and put it back in place. Time lost: 10 minutes tops.
We arrived at the far NW side of Des Moines (Polk City to be exact) and admitted to ourselves that we were going to be too late to join the others for the big ride into town but we were darn close to being able to make the proclamation ceremony if we had a quick route in. We called in and were advised to jump on the city trail as it would take us right downtown. Sounded good but we soon found out that the trail was the most awful route possible, especially considering our deadline. The trail is shown on the IA bicycle map as a clean, straight line all the way downtown but we soon found ourselves doing endless S-turns, loops that went in and out of the woods (hey, didn't we already ride by that?), and killer hills that nearly all required a drop to the granny gear. At this rate I figured we'd be lucky to make it by the weekend. Peter decided we'd locate a road, any road, get out of this purgatory, and make a road rally into town. Here comes a kid riding the opposite way on the trail holding up a radio as he says "storm warning!". He kept riding. Hmmmm...
Peter and I traversed down a hill from the trail and onto a roadway. Yes! Now we're on our way!
Hmmm...sky is kinda black all of a sudden.
We ride on.
About two blocks later, the sky opens up with a torrential downpour complete with hail and a fierce wind to finish it off. Gotta press on and make our meeting. Suddenly a man appears on our right yelling at us to come into his business and take shelter as we're under a tornado watch and storm warning.
Six miles from downtown and we're stranded!
I call my son, Mitch, downtown who has travelled to meet me and take me and my bike home and hear that the weather is fine downtown as our surprise storm hasn't arrived there yet.
Peter and I wait out the storm over a coffee and a Diet Coke, make small talk with employee Megan, check our e.mail, and finally take off when the rain tapers off a bit.
By the time we arrived, when it hit downtown, the storm had chased away everyone who had been at the city hall ceremony. Jim retreated to his hotel across the street and the brothers Reser to the public library a few doors down. Peter and I pulled in and Jim quickly appeared from nowhere with an outstretched hand to welcome us. Jeff and Jason Reser soon showed up as well and we gathered for a picture on the city hall steps. After handing off our proclamations to Jim, we all said our good-byes and went our separate ways as quickly as we had come together. I guess our adventure had come to a conclusion already.
It was a great ride!
Thanks Peter for sharing the road, spirit, song (it's a beautiful day in the neighborhood...), and yes, the tequila.
Thanks Jim for your spirit, energy, and efforts. You are an inspiration to all!
And thanks Martin for your work with the National Bicycle Greenway and the Mayor's Ride! Let's make next year an even bigger event!
Signing off for now...
God's blessings and safe travels to all!
cyclogical recumbent bicycles
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This just in from Ro Fischer, senior aide to Pittsburgh Mayor Tom Murphy. I have her permission to make it public:
Hey Jimbo: Ro here..........just read your latest entry to the Pocketmail Lady..........must say that you jumpstart my mornings here in the 'burgh. I get to my office at 8am - pour my first cup of coffee and immediately check my email to see if there is a message from Jim! I am literally "seeing" the country from your eyes - and loving it. Especially the wildlife end of it. I know that you are battling wind, rain and those blasted hills so that I can sit in my office and enjoy the ride - but please don't stop.......you've become a folk hero in many folks' eyes.........and I just told Martin that you need to be a "Movie of the Week!" I told you last month that I wanted to be your agent when the movie deals start flying....I just haven't decided who should play the illustrious role of Mr. M. I'm working on it. Is you car still at Denise's here in Pittsburgh? I hope so because you told me you would come see me when your ride is over. I would love to have dinner with you so I can hear all the stuff you were too tired to send via pocketmail............take care and ride safely...............roseMerry
Here is some funny most, excellent writing from Peter Borgen who left yesterday with Jeff Longtin for Des Moines. If you want to see who he and Jeff are, you can find their bios at: http://nbg.bikeroute.com/Events/Mayors_Ride/bios . There is also a picture of them with St. Paul Mayor Randy Kelly at our ride schedule: http://www.bikeroute.com/NationalMayorsRide
This is Peter writing, and I'll try to be brief, cause I'm exhausted. We started the day at 11:30 with a meeting with St. Paul Mayor Randy Kelly, who talked with us for about 20 minutes about who we are and what we're doing (both as individuals, and NBG as a group) and the importance of fitness in general and biking in particular to the well being of the community, and then he read his proclamation for us and declared today, Tuesday June 6th, 2003 to be National Bicycle Greenway Day in the city of St.Paul. We then took some pictures, with him in his suit and us in our biking getups. If all went according to plan, you should have them by now as someone in his office was going to email them right away.
We then set off on our adventure. We stopped off at the library where I work (almost directly on our path out of town) for a couple of quick pictures, but you'll have to wait for those as they were taken on my conventional camera. Then we left town via Robert street, aka highway 3. It's a fairly heavily traveled street with lots of big box businesses, fast food, dollar stores and pawn shops. We stuck to the rather dilapidated sidewalk until we cleared the inner burbs and quite suddenly the road changed to a two lane with wonderfully accommodating broad shoulders and considerably less traffic. It wound through stunningly (and literally) pastoral scenes of small family farms, hobby farms and the like. There were also occasional colonies of cookie cutter homes and a few McMansions, but they don't bear further mention except as relates to sprawl and the dislocation and/or destruction of what came before. But that's another discussion entirely.
Generally the weather was good and all our equipment held up, though Jeff won't let us leave town tomorrow until my chain is properly greased. I guess the soaring arias of my chain squeaking aren't all that soothing to his ears. I can work with that. While all of our town to town travel was on the shoulders of motorways, I was quite pleased that many of the towns we passed through had bikeways along our route. Let's hope over time these get longer and more ubiquitous until they become the rule rather than the exception, and we actually achieve a national greenway.
Peace and safe rides to all,
And now for some blatant ideational plagiarism from our friend Denise:
- mileage: approximately 60
- top speed: no idea; neither of us has a bike computer
- birds sited: 3 hawks of at least two different types, 1 heron, lots and lots of ducks, and innumerable species of small birds, most of which I can't identify
- doe, a deer, a female deer: 1
- fa, a long, long way to go: yes
- trees with their entire trunk covered with toilet seats: 1, and I swear I'm not making this up. I got the picture to prove it, but you'll have to wait in that one too. Obviously some people have lots of time on their hands. - words by which I've exceeded my previous protestations of brevity: many, and then some.
Here is Jeff and Peter's ride today:
Peter's notes here: We rode from Owatonna, MN to Nora Springs, Iowa today and it was an absolutely beautiful ride through farm country. We only took one significant wrong turn, but it was okay because I'd lost my sunglasses, so we had to backtrack anyway. The good news is that we found both the road we meant to be on and my glasses.
Without further ado, I give you the numbers, and then I sleep for many hours:
- miles traveled: 80, as near as we can approximate
- number at our send off rally in Owatonna: 9 or 10, plus random coffee shop customers
- number who rode along to escort us out of town: 4, including the mayor
- time spent fiddling, adjusting, lubing my chain and gawking at bikes in Jeff's shop just south of Owatonna: about an hour (for the record- he was right about my chain- it doesn't make pretty screeching sounds anymore, but it works much better.)
- animals sighted: * horses: lots
* cows: herds and herds
* dogs: minimum one per farm, usually more, almost all barking
* chipmunks: 2 seen, the rest far too wise to be seen
* deer: 2 plus one fawn.
* birds: 3 hawks, 2 pheasants, 1 heron, 2 geese with their 7 fuzzy goslings, and many, many of the smaller birds I don't know so well.
- Nice old farmers who stopped to help us navigate: 2, in one truck which they shut off while we chatted. * Minnesota jokes they made: only a couple. *time spent: around fifteen minutes. - number of yards decorated with bowling ball motif: 1, and of course I got a picture
- cost of a small town steak dinner: $6.95
Peace and safe journeys,
As Peter & Jeff got their ride started, and as the brothers Reser also bear down on Des Moines with a broken Pocket Mailer, they tell me they are still having a blast, the indomitable and truly mighty Jim Muellner made his 350+ mile trip to Des Moines 2 days ahead of schedule! Not bad for a senior citizen on a three wheeled bike! This guy is amazing:
Hi You Gorgeous People:
There is always a nice feeling when you reach another goal. When I saw the bike path close to my route I headed for it. The formal name is Chickaqua Valley trail. It starts on the east in a small town called Baxter, Iowa. And in it is Granny's Diner. The Best in Baxter according to yours truly. The town does have a few other stores.
Baxter is about 30 miles outside of Des Moines so it's a nice place to rest, before finishing off your day. According to more than few locals, the trail I was looking forward to riding was supposed to be mainly down hill. But it's not. And the down hill that wasn't a down hill lasted for 20 miles.
While in route, I saw some unique hats on the trail customers. One, for example, looked like a hat made from that oiled fabric Wyoming raincoats are made from. You could tell it was not from Wyoming though, it had that tractor oil look to it. Some young fellas rub the bill of their hats on the cement to give it that worn look. This fella had the original.
There must have been a few farmers there as they had that stern look and wore hats that said Auction Sales. They said yup a lot. When I asked them about the trail they all knew it was downhill into town so I knew they had never ridden it.
The birds and cotton wood trees filled my morning. Wood thrush, bluejays, bluebirds, gold finches, cardinals, butcherbirds, orioles and lots of red-winged black birds. Saw some black and white birds, black and white upper wing, black heads, white strip across the lower wing and body, also some white on the back of the body. Anyone want to venture a guess? What I think is the butcherbird is grey, with a black tail and a white ring along the ends of the tail feathers. Is that its correct name?
The last section into town is on Hwy 65 and then to Hwy 6 again. I sure am not fond of concrete roadway once it starts deteriorating. The breaks are always so sharp, whereas asphalt has sort of a softened edge to it.
The toughest part of the ride is going under or over an expressway. Once a driver gets within sight of a freeway their mind set changes and they speed up. They seem to forget they are not yet on the freeway. Also, there usually are no bike routes thru these areas that a biker can follow, it is each man for themselves. Anyon have any suggestions?
The day is beautiful, life is great and I am ready for a break.
I want to compliment the drivers here in Iowa, they all give a bike lots of room without complaint. Your reporter right here entering Des Moines.
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Jason and I had breakfast in Pella at a hip little cafe called Smokey Row. Still feeling that high-octane margarita from dinner, we sat and wrote postcards home. After, we took a tiny tour including the bike shop on the plaza square where we were informed that the card to my wife and child displayed a photo of Wyatt Earp's boyhood home. "Wow, really?", I replied to the young man while trying my best to recollect just who Mr. Earp had been. Thinking, "Hmmm, . . . poet, . . . writer, . . . actor, . . ." we left the shop laughing to ourselves. "Ah!, . . . western gun slinger!", I later professed to Jason.
The full-scale windmill was actually the museum entrance to the historic old town. I asked the women attendants if Wyatt Earp had been an outlaw or a sheriff. They laughed and replied that he was in fact both at different times in his life. A colorful fellow, it seems.
We mounted up on our trusty steeds and headed out of town west on University from which we picked up the Volksweg Bicycle Trail to Red Rock Lake. The trail starts out as a suburban sidewalk of sorts, to the left of the street. Then it crosses to the right at the lake campground entrance. We rode fourteen miles around the north slopes of the lake on this fun trail, winding through wooded areas, over long wooden bridges, over hills and past scenic lake overlooks. We make some interesting video along the way. It was bright and sunny with just a hint of moist haze over the water and puffy clouds overhead. The temperature was perfect for riding -- a little cool if you stopped. At the trails end, we took G28 west to 14 south, across the lake on a very long bridge to G40 west toward Pleasantville.
The southwestern horizon was dark -- barely distinguishable from the otherwise blue sky. We knew this could be trouble so we tried to outrun whatever was brewing there. For a good time it looked like we just might clear its western edge as the menacing clouds grew darker and larger. Thoughts of more tornado activity entered our minds and I tried to imagine what I might do if we would encounter one out here. Hopefully, someone would have a cellar, . . . or maybe there would be a culvert we could crawl into. I once saw a Weather Channel documentary which said that a bridge overpass is actually the worst place to take shelter because it concentrates the wind into its ends like a funnel. The famous video of a family surviving in one featured a very tiny tornado.
With Jason pulling far away in front, the wind whipped up in our faces, bringing us to a 6-7 m.p.h. struggling crawl. This continued for about an hour until finally came the rain. We had pushed far enough west that we just got a short cooling shower before the sky cleared again.
At Pleasantville, we stopped at another convenience store. Across the street was a young man selling produce from the tailgate of a pickup. This hip-hop dressed Latino teenager asked where we rode from when I crossed to inquire about the tomatoes. When I said "Chicago," his eyebrows raised in disbelief and he jumped off the tailgate to offer me a free tomato! "Wow, you really earned this one, man! How long have you been riding?", Kenneth asked. I quickly told him about our adventure and cause for the NBG before thanking him and riding on. That was pretty generous and nice of him! A pleasant place, this Pleasantville.
The homegrown tomato fueled the return of my lead. The energy just didn't stop! We hammered across highway 5, which our map still had indicated as a two-laner. At first we kept a good draft line going but Jason dropped a little off the back as we passed Hartford. His determination caught up with me at Carlisle and we traded off the lead while weaving our way into suburban Des Moines.
Martin Krieg called as soon as I entered Verizon's service reach nearer town. We were able to inform him that we made it before the phone cut out again. I got a call through to Josh at Bike World, when closer in, to ask when the shop closed. I think he was surprised we had arrived Thursday after all. They would close in just an hour at 7:pm so Jason raced onward up the bike trail along the Des Moines River with me seconds behind. I began to rain again so he rode on ever faster across town. He officially beat me by a couple of seconds to the store where our ride was officially over! We congratulated each other and entered to meet Josh and the others at Bike World right at 7 o'clock. Josh gave us the scoop on the next day’s schedule and after we caught our breath, we thanked him and rode off to find food and lodging downtown.
Jim Muellner had arrived a day or so earlier, according to Josh, and was reportedly recuperating from his fantastic advance on Des Moines in a luxury hotel near City Hall. It was good to know things went well for him too and that he'd be able to join us in Firday's bike parade to meet the mayor.
+ + + + + + + + + + + + + + + + + + + + + + + + + + + + +
One final plug for the Medical Fund for Andrew Heckman.
Thanks for reading, everyone! Sorry for the delays as I stuggled to squeeze out these last few trip reports in my busy post-vacation schedule. We had a blast dreaming, training, planning, riding and writing for the National Bicycle Greenway. More people should!
Whoever designed that new web page did a terrific job!
Andrew Morton, you rule! Great work this year and in creating the inspiring ride photos and stories from last year!
Immense appreciation for Jim Redd who also inspired our participation and did a great deal to facilitate it! Long may you ride!
Flat tires experienced with both bikes on this trip: zero!
Lifelong memories: countless!
Recipients of our partially-used, well traveled but still fresh sack of ground Millstone Foglifter coffee: the Bike World staff
T H A N K Y O U , M A R T I N K R I E G ! ! !
Até logo pra todos do mundo da bicicleta!
Jeffrey and Jason Reser
Wednesday, June 4 2003
Washington, Iowa is a mid-sized town with a good deal of charm. We first noticed the architecture as we rode in and around on our bicycles last evening from the agricultural surroundings. In the center is a large square with all the shops facing across the street to a central park and fountain. I once encountered this traditional layout in Tripoli, Greece, high in the central mountains and probably thousands of years old. Though Washington has much to offer on the perimeter, it was this central plaza that Jason and I chose to highlight in our visit. More than once, he commented on how nice this town seemed.
In a sense, this has been a reversed vacation for us -- traveling to and reporting on the very places that most tourist traps invest millions to attract vacationers away from. If people could learn how to see and experience the true beauty of a place, they could have so much more than is available for the fifty-dollar entrance fees of theme parks, which try to capture the essence of real places like this, in an overtly commercialized and freshly-painted manner. We are not missing the crowds in the least.
On the way to find breakfast, riding back to Washington's square, I found what I believe is the most beautiful house I have ever seen. I made a mental note to photograph it while leaving because there is no way I could write an accurate description here. The extra-pointed white face boards extending below the roofline were extraordinary.
(Note to Editor: Please provide link to house image here)
In the plaza square, we asked a young man scraping paint from a doorway if he could suggest a good place for breakfast. He was from out of town; but an elderly couple, window shopping, noticed our loaded bicycles and overheard our question. They strolled over and offered a couple of suggestions, emphasizing that Wingas Restaurant, across the square, was most likely what we sought. We thanked them for and took their recommendation.
Wingas was indeed it! Within a late-fifties time capsule, this well-preserved island of modernism within a sea of the now second-to-last century, boasted lighting and other fixtures not unlike those currently found in on an IKEA web page. This was a true, family-owned-and-operated dinner. That pride was obvious on the joyful faces of the women who greeted us. In a section further back from us was a traditional gathering of what must be the local morning show. Older farmers, bankers, businessmen and merchants were exchanging newspaper stories, pointed jokes and gossip over breakfast while Jason and I enjoyed our pancakes, eggs, bacon and coffee. Perfect! We might have slipped in and out unnoticed were it not for our brightly-colored jerseys. Later, we were wished well on our journey by the kind Wingas staff.
The next stop was Riders bicycle shop, just a couple of short blocks northeast. I needed a certain-sized wrench to readjust my brake pads. Jason wanted a couple of items as well. It was just a few minutes before opening, so I flipped my bike over out front and began trueing my wheels. The proprietor arrived with a small town joke in asking why we were loitering. "Hadn't one of the neighbors offered you the keys to go on inside?" He was pleasant and helpful. While I continued adjusting the breaks with his tools, he told us about the history and current state of Iowa's famous RAGBRAI annual roaming bicycle festival.
He also gave us the historic lowdown on the Kewash Nature Trail we had come to discover and report about. It seems, not everyone was in favor of its creation from an abandoned section of railroad line. There was controversy as certain farmers believed the land should be rededicated to their estates. Some complication arose as the current landowner families were not all the same as those from whom the railroads had 'acquired' the 'right-of-way' in the first place. (I recalled seeing a recent film about true cause of Jesse James and his gang of railroad resistance.) The local populace won in their need of recreational venue so the nature trail was preserved along the old track bed.
We were soon out riding this beeline to Keota, Iowa, through the trees and fields under a huge blue sunny sky. It is paved with coarse-ground sand permeated by tiny plants and grass. I commented that a greenway doesn't get any greener than this! We were able to quietly penetrate beautiful, rural Iowa areas without noise and distractions from automobiles. At first, there were small, rusty bridges across creeks winding through the woods. Later, we passed through rolling hills of fresh-spouted fields. This opened out into a flat agricultural plain toward the western end. Here we waved at farmers on tractors, or a group of them conversing in a field around an old truck and equipment. Cattle slowly pivoted their heads in tracking our progress with perked ears and whipping tails. We finished riding the entire length in under two hours -- admittedly fast as we planned to reach Oskaloosa by evening.
A couple of old farm gentlemen in a gas station convenience store advised our route westward from Keota, on roads indicated by our map with the least auto traffic. First was New Era Road to Harper, then V67 south to 92. While riding along this way and even earlier, Jason was attending to the business of his Newport, Kentucky bike shop. I was amazed at how he could direct the outfitting of upscale clientele even from here -- attending to the detailed specifications of their needs from memory via cell phone. He was well supported on the other end. Once we left the Verizon service grid, or after he wore down his batteries, the race was on to town after town along highway 92 for use of the next available pay phone. There were people who depended on his personal attention to details and he wasn't going to let them down.
I entertained myself throughout much of the afternoon by clocking my time behind Jason hill after hill. He was a speck on the highway ahead and I knew I was being punished for having kept the lead across the canal paths and the Kewash. I'd pick a tree or intersection that he'd pass from my vantage atop each hill. Usually it only took me one and a half minutes to reach these points -- sometimes two and a half. Then I stopped to photograph a river crossing, longing for that fly rod I had wanted to bring. Whenever Jason rode out of sight, he could always be found at the next payphone. I ran across the Mahaska County Nature Preserve, where I rode in and created video of egrets and a large population of loons. A relative, Charley Leach, had told me that these black and white speckled, duck-like birds would only inhabit absolutely clean, fresh waters. I could almost taste the fish dinner these waters could yield to a less-pressed bicycle traveler. "Okay, . . . I'd better wake up and go find Jason again."
Riding alone into Oskaloosa, our goal for the day, I was greeted by inconsiderate six-wheeled pick-up trucks pulling out onto the road behind with wide trailers of beat-up racecars. Giving a single prolonged warning blast on the horn, the one in the outside showed no indications of yielding as they both accelerated and caused me to flop over a concrete curb, at the last second, into the grass for safety! There in the hot late-afternoon sun, I completely blew a gasket -- disregarding what might have ensued if that dung head hopped out with a tire iron. I'm sorry but if someone has enough time to blow the horn, they can take their foot off the gas pedal! Cyclist do have a right to the streets; and not just insofar as they do not inconvenience motorists in the least. By right, I could have commanded the entire lane rather than the right-most two feet, if I desired. I guess the grassy bank was the smart choice when dealing with these types. Jason was just up the street a half block enjoying ice cream in the shade while watching for my arrival. Some show. I'm sure Oskaloosa would have been a nice place to visit. We now set our sights on Pella, another 18 miles northwest. Jason stuck near me along the way, coaching me onward and soon calming me with conversation and his witty humor.
The route he chose, 163 was a divided four-lane highway. Not heavily travelled and with a wide shoulder, it was new and frictionless as we glided across the farmlands. We reasoned that it was safer than 92 and that it held potential for a parallel bicycle greenway on the land allocated to it. Going the extra distance into Pella was well worth it!
The home of both Pella Windows and the Vermeer Company, Pella is a micro-Holland of the heartland. Here they have reconstructed canals and architecture of Amsterdam and a full-scale replica of a Dutch windmill! In the evening afterglow, we found a reasonable hotel, took some commemorative photos and released with killer margaritas and dinner at La Cabana Mexican restaurant. I'm not sure if it was actually the long ride or the single drink, but after one sip I joked with Jason that he was driving back to the hotel.
Tuesday, June 3 2003
Tuesday greeted us with a spectacular breakfast buffet within The Lodge hotel in Bettendorf. Martin, called afterwards, encouraging Jason and I to arrive earlier than planned in Des Moines. He informed us of a grand reception party being planned for Thursday evening there. Before accepting this challenge, we would need to weigh the loss of time we had wished to spend discovering and reporting on the various attraction Iowa had to offer. I also didn't want to commit to being there before Friday morning in case of delays caused by potential foul weather. But we also needed to consider the wisdom of ensuring our appointment with the mayor at noon Friday. If we were to camp at Red Rock Lake, as planned Thursday night, we would need to ride into Des Moines from there Friday Morning.
Josh also contacted us. He was appointed by our NBG sponsor, Bike World to make the arrangements for our reception. He even offered us a place to stay Thursday evening or Bike World's shower facility if we came in Friday morning. Thankful, I remained non-committal to an early arrival. It was nearing 11:am and we would have a little over two days to reach Des Moines or three full days to be there Friday morning. Josh informed us that the shop was actually about sixty miles from the campground. Somehow it looked like only forty on the map. In fact, incorporating plans to ride the Volksweg Trail and enter the city along the Des Moines River from the southeast, it would be well over sixty miles. I realized that in order to do this, we would need to break camp at 5:am from Red Rock Lake and make very good time into town. We really appreciated Josh's input about that distance.
Leaving the hotel, we went to get extra film and digital video tapes before making a break into the gloomy weather back toward the Mississippi and the bike path southwestward. Jason bought better rainwear at an outfitter close to the hotel. I wanted to take a look to see if they had a small fly rod that I could fit on my bike while Jason rode on to get the tapes and film at a different store. Later, as I passed along the roadway alone, a man drove by in an oversized white pickup truck demonstrating his articulatory skills with a less-than-civil suggestion that I utilize a bicycle pathway rather than the street. Then, showing greater evidence of his superior intellect, he pulled into a nearby parking lot and went inside to shop. I had to laugh aloud at the lack of foresight this man had in leaving his shiny truck unattended in the lot after such discourse. Certainly, I did not key his gas hog but the mere thought was entertainment enough! Jason and I laughed about this later as I recounted the experience. I guess, in the least, I should have left a note on his windshield, much like a cold-war paper bomb. A paper key job? Too bad we were in such a hurry to leave town.
We took that gentleman's suggestion and did find the suburban bikeway for a few blocks on a diagonal in our direction toward the river. It was nice and we compliment the city for having made it available to its residents. Then we zigzagged on streets again, some of which were still of old brick after all these years of asphalt availability. Additional points to Bettendorf for sticking with the brick!
At the river, we rode the Great River Bike Path again as it wound in its serpentine way to Credit Island Park. That was fun! Next we picked up a brief stretch of the busy highway 22/61 while looking for Concord, a small river road.
Route 22 out of Davenport was virtually a hardware store. Every conceivable type and size of fastener was available, strewn along the curb and in the grass. Lots of electrical material too. I was convinced that one could find whatever one needed by keeping a watchful eye. I made a voice note about that on my cell phone; then Jason stopped ahead to ask me for a zip tie. I kid you not! . . . Right where I placed my left foot in stopping to accommodate him, there was the exact bolt that I needed for my pannier rack! Picking it up in disbelief, I showed it to Jason who casually pronounced, "Yep, . . . that's the one." Eventually, I gave him back the bottle cage bolt he lent me, put some bar soap on the treads of my find and easily turned it in to secure the rack.
We turned left onto Concord, and were glad. It was a quiet respite from the trucks on 22 and we rode it right along the Mississippi River, though tall trees. I looked like a rain cloud had just swept by here, leaving everything wet and fresh smelling.
After Concord dropped us further down on highway 22, I realized why we were so fortunate to have been turned back by the rain the night before. An endless 'convoy' of long quarry trucks roared past for miles as we rode by one of the largest stretches of rock pits I've ever seen. Riding this at night in rain would have been certain death. Huge plumes of dust drifted across the road like heavy fog. I could see Jason riding ahead with his nose buried in the short sleeve of his jersey. This reminded me of being mid-pack at a Mammoth Mountain NORBA race! Cowboy Junkies music filled my minds ears as I recalled the lyrics about how quickly silicosis set into coal miner lungs. Clearly, this would not be a part of a National Bicycle Greenway anytime soon.
My thoughts wandered along the tiny map lines indicating route 92 on the south side of the river. For a long time I had been torn about whether or not we would take this instead to Muscatine. The lure of camping at Wildcat Den State Park had caused us to cross into Iowa last night. Now I wondered if the little town of Andalusia, Illinois is nice or if it would have been a variation on this mess. Would 92 be the scenic greenway we had sought? Too late to find out this year; but if someone knows, please send me an e-mail sometime.
Route 22 became better by the time we reached the turn for Wildcat Den State Park. I had taken the lead again so I turned north to visit an old water mill there. Rolling hills of wood-lined pastures now took our minds off the hell we had passed. The historic mill was nestled on a creek along our right side. It defied time and 'progress.'
We took some photos while Jason made a small snack of Millstone coffee grounds from the bag in my pannier. Perhaps this landmark reminded him of the brand mark? I tried some too for a tasty, crunchy lift while pondering all the little things I gave away, or left behind, for the sake of shaving grams off my load. I gave Powerbars to Jim and Jason early in Chicago. I left a bunch of extra zip ties near Joliet. A clothes pin at Utica. What little I had left to shed of whatever seemed essential while preparing for this trip found a new home. I even gave a small roll of clear packing tape the mill caretaker rather than pitching it in the trash. Somehow though, this relatively huge bag of coffee had remained on my bike like a sack of black gold.
The caretaker advised us on the small country roads we could ride from there to Muscatine. "Their will be a long hill at first and then a series rolling ones across the plateau but certainly nothing you boys can't handle." Preferring this to the trucks along 22, we set out for the hills. They were mild, like what we were accustomed to in our region along the Ohio River valley. Of course we now had loads exceeding fifty pounds but we had already been training with these since Chicago.
Near the top of one climb, a farmer pulled out a ways in front of us on his tractor pulling a manure spreader. These are used to distribute onto the fields as fertilizer livestock waste cleaned from barns. It is a handy unit to have for organic farming. We had a tail wind working more than one way in our favor as this equipment moved along at about sixteen miles per hour. I made a humorous voice note on my cell phone, recording that we were debating if it would be prudent to pass this odoriferous rig and thereby alter the benefit of the wind direction. Fortunately, the road took a turn in our favor, shifting the breeze off to the side. We hurriedly passed on the next down grade with a friendly wave to the farmer.
We kinda circumvented Muscatine, in our effort to gain back a margin of time. Our apologies to the resident cyclists there. Had we arrived from highway 92, we would have crossed the Mississippi, passing through downtown. Hopefully this would be a better direction for future NGB rides. We did stop at a KFC to the north, just off 22. By now this road was a four-lane, divided highway again, but thanks to the extra-wide shoulders, we were safe. Incidentally, Jason says that chicken is a good food for endurance cyclists. I take his word on such matters. Besides the namesake of KFC, referencing our great Commonwealth, they do have an attractive combination of mashed potatoes with biscuits and gravy. This is known to me as quick-stop rocket fuel for bicycles. The chicken adds a readily-digestible protein, per Jason.
With all that in our craws, we were back out on G-28 west by 3:pm (I think). This was Jason's choice. He surprisingly took the navigator's seat -- meaning that he was now making me pay for all those times I kept ahead of him on this ride. G-28 is a good road for bikes. Wide and rolling with very few cars. Scenic for cow lovers.
Jason called me once on the cell phone to ask if everything was good. "I'm just rounding that last left atop the hill. I'm alright. Thanks!" I had actually stopped briefly to dig out and swallow an Aleve tablet. I once asked my doctor, and later my physical therapist, if my occasional knee discomfort meant I should cut back on bicycling. The replies were identical -- "Absolutely not! Keep doing this healthy thing that you love. Take Aleve if your knees bother you a little. The alternative, riding the couch, would be the worse activity in the long haul of life." I tried Aleve shortly thereafter and was amazed by the many hours of relief one tablet provides. Today was the first time since Chicago that I resorted to a painkiller. After a few minutes, I felt fine!
Both Jason and I had identical Iowa maps that I requested sent from the department of transportation. These displayed roads by statistics of auto use per day and they showed any bicycle paths in green. I even gave another to Jim Muellner back at Jim Redd's house. They are great for navigation with the exception that they don't have markings for minor rivers and streams. We were heading to pick up a bike path along the Cedar River. With Jason so far in front that I couldn't see him, I found the river but not the path southward. Cell phone service was sketchy again, too. I stopped to take photos from the bridges then continued west on G-28 into Conesville.
According to some local Mexican residents who were kind to give me free water, there was no gravel shortcut to Washington, where we planned on stopping that night. This meant I would need to head south on highway 70 to Columbus Junction. It was only seven miles so I rode hard to catch my brother. Soon after I stopped for ice cream in Columbus Junction and called to leave a message for Jason with my wife, Jason rolled up from behind! Go figure. He had found what tiny trail there was along the Cedar River and I apparently rode on by. He said it was a dirt singletrack. Lucky guy! Happy to be reunited, I asked him for use of the only bike pump we had to cap off my tires.
We rode quite hard together all the way to Washington as the sun fell before us onto the distant perspective point of highway 92. We had fun joking and conversing along the way. W kept a draft line with me leading down the hills and Jason leading up again. Who knows where we were getting our energy by 8:pm but it felt great and did not taper off. Long-distance haulin'! ! ! In fact, as we rolled side-by-side into town just before dark, we kept riding around and around until we had thoroughly scoped out the restaurants, hotel options, beer store and bike shop. This cooled us down enough that we could eat without fear of leg burn. Jason opted for Italian on the north side of the main square. There, we were informed that we had ridden over 90 miles since Bettendorf!
"Tomorrow were going to start out riding the Kewash Nature Trail," I informed Jason.
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Please have one less beer each week this month and consider contributing your subsequent savings to the Medical Fund for Andrew Heckman. Then resume normal consumption thereafter, rewarding yourself for having done good.
Thanks! Jeffrey Reser
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Here what follows is some beautiful writing from Jeff Reser. It details his first two days out of Chicago on his ride to Des Moines. I've had it a few days and did not send it sooner because his Yahoo account puts in carriage returns after each line. And what that has required a lot of hand work on my part so that our blog, where it goes next, does not make a mess of it.
Here is a man who has fully captured the essence of what the NBG is all about. And in case U missed it, he is also the man who created our beautiful Mayors' Ride logo that U see at our schedule http://www.bikeroute.com/NationalMayorsRide and on the icon strip at the bottom of our BikeRoute.com web pages. I have one more of his reports to do and just in case U missed it, with Jim Muellner's pages developed, I was also able to complete the Des Moines page. See http://www.bikeroute.com/NationalMayorsRide/DesMoines2003 . So now here's Jeff:
Between the occasions of blaring civil alert sirens, I composed and sent a message about the tornado watches in the area. Jim was in his room, Jason had gone to sleep and I had finished my shower and lay writing more with the PocketMail device. Thirst and a pang of hunger prompted me to stroll up the highway to a BP station, about 300 yards away, for Gatorade and a pack of peanut butter crackers. Yeah, well, that's really about all that looked good at the time. I also picked up a new Illinois road map because I had been navigating with torn out pages of an old Rand McNally truck route book (just for quick visuals -- Chicago has a pretty good map up with layers that you can select or deselect according to your interests -- even bike routes. It is available from the official city site and is what I used for some of my research in January.)
Another ways further up the dark suburban road, there were many emergency or police vehicles with lights flashing. Thinking this might have been the scene of a tornado touchdown, I walked on up to investigate. Way too many police cars were blocking the road with traffic redirected through a series of lanes marked off by orange cones in a large parking lot. There were many people waiting to be processed past inspectors. When I asked one of the officers what was going on, thinking 'man hunt' or something, the young officer (looking at my Gatorade, crackers and map with a slightly bewildered and surprised expression, perhaps resulting from my sudden appearance in the darkness) said it was just a routine sobriety test. I responded that I had never seen such a grand scale blockade. Realizing how odd this must have seemed with what I was carrying, I added that I was riding my bicycle to Des Moines. He smiled and said, "This is an operation of the State of Illinois. Thanks for traveling on a bicycle! You're better off. Good luck." I walked back to the hotel while conversing with my wife on the cell.
Jason and I awoke and began quickly preparing our things. Hearing Jim pulling his bike out from his room next door, I greeted him to ask about an agreeable departure time. He was in good spirits and we made small talk of the weather sirens. By 8:45 we were checked out and rolling onto the highway -- Jason with a hot cup of lobby coffee in hand, sipping and pedaling.
The sky was hazy and the cool air blew sometimes in our favor but generally on a diagonal from the front. I led a brisk pace over the small rolling hills to keep momentum into the breeze and up the grades. Breakfast was on my mind! We compared ideas about where to stop as we elected to roll past a small bakery.
Some time later, a quaint cafe appeared on the east side of Archer in Lockport. "This is the ticket," I
thought turning across the street. No complaints from my companions who somehow managed to beat me to the entrance. Pancakes from scratch, cinnamon apples and coffee! Jim had oatmeal. At the next table was a near perfect Harry Dean Stanton look alike but I'd have a heck of a time explaining who that is. Self amusement: What's the likelihood that either have seen Repo Man, Paris Texas, Fool for Love, . . . Pretty in Pink? Minor generation gaps in both directions. I mentioned the likeness but in competing with heavy scarfing activity, it didn't even register.
We noted from inside that the breeze had converted itself almost entirely into a tailwind. With that it
wasn't long before we were all riding down the highway wondering at which point it would be best to actually get back on the canal, avoiding 'trail staccato.' Moving air carried us joyfully into Joliet.
Along the way, we saw where a micro twister had busted up trees and had strewn junkyard car bits about a long, thin line crossing the road. We rode past an old limestone prison and over a rusty-colored bridge where we began seeing excellent signage indicating directions to the historic Illinois and Michigan Canal trail head. This is what we came to ride; and I believe we were all in good spirits.
I was particularly happy because I had been researching this as a section for the National Bicycle
Greenway since late December. The objective was to plan and ride a route interconnecting the urban areas of Chicago and Des Moines -- promoting it for cross-country touring and day-to-day bicycle commuting alike -- as Martin Kreig explained this difference from other bikeways that seem to avoid cities altogether. My self-inflicted challenge was to find more local interest and beauty than the often-reported flat, monotonous 'cornandbeanscapes'. Twenty something years ago, Kal Kowal, a professor at the Art Academy of Cincinnati, said while reviewing one of my photos, "The majesty of the Midwest is often found in what lies BENEATH the trees." (He's from Chicago.)
My wife, Marta and I noticed the Hennepin Canal on the road map in 2000, while en route to Red Wing. With our mountain bikes on the car top, we were looking for places she could ride as a novice. The canal remained hidden from us in our fast 'transgression' on Interstate 80. We did not stop.
The NBG relay reports of Jim Redd ignited the spark in my mind that this canal, along with the I&M might make a nice greenway to Moline. On the web, there was mention of some bicycle trails along each, so I sent my proposal to Jim via email seeking his perspective. In January, he excitedly replied that trails did run the length of the canals, therefore we could practically "ride the entire width of northern Illinois on canal towpaths!" I responded in reply, "That sounds like a greenway to me!" So I've been training and dreaming since those snowy, housebound days -- waiting to get out here and see what potential these historic byways hold.
You could imagine how Jason and I felt to be on the outset of this exploration as we pulled onto the I&M trail. Well, all those strange and beautiful yellow flowers atop cattails, those white egrets taking to wing over Jason and Jim Muellner, those mallards and Canadian geese with offspring, and those hundreds of turtles upon anything that protruded out of the water all played their rolls as mood enhancers -- setting the stage for an enchanted ride.
Jim was always pointing out something I might have missed and sharing his perspective. If I may speak for Jason, we both enjoyed this opportunity to get to know this inspiring guy we had read so much about and from. Since he had scoped out parts of these pathways earlier, he was helpful in guiding us around some smaller, unconnected parts along Archer. Jim and Jason took greater interest in the historic messages posted about every half mile along the way. I had a new digital video camera to experiment with, so relied often on Jason and Jim to tell me about the more noteworthy bits. I did find myself stopping more often to read them myself.
Ah, but how time passed.
Something had to happen in these gardens of Eden. We got hungry. An overdue stop in Morris for way too much pasta at a restaurant J son picked, a long rest and a few bike adjustments later we were back out on the trail with over half the necessary distance yet to cover. It was 4:15. To reach Des Moines on time after the meager twenty-eight-mile day we had Friday, we would certainly need to camp near Starved Rock at Utica. We had discussed this over our meals.
Jim later stated that he wanted to take it easy and continue reading the historic signs. I accompanied
him now and then as he did so. In switching to ride with Jason for a while, I thought nothing as Jim fell
further off the back. He seemed to always pass again when I stopped for photos. Occasionally, I'd look back at the end of a long straight section to see Jim rounding the last bend, enjoying the ride. Laughing, we all took photos of one another as we progressed. Jim later wrote of seeing a coyote and I suspect it might have been a mechanical theme-park animal because it had done the same thing for us -- running along in front then lunging headlong into the bush.
"Can You Hear Me Now?"
At Seneca, Jim was gone. We waited for twenty-five minutes, amid insects composed solely of wings and teeth, and were out of range of outgoing Verizon service. Marta called, so I knew Jim could still reach us in case of emergency. He had been talking more about traveling by roads so it also occurred to me that he might be flanking us on highway 6. We moved on.
It was amazing how much more visual pleasing the canal became in evening sunlight. Jason and I took a quick tour of Buffalo Rock. The view of the Illinois River is worth the extra little climb! There is a giant oak tree up there beneath which I got a great shot of Jason on his bike. We rolled back down onto the trail where we noted three camp areas -- "A", "B" and "C". These were the close potatoes that we would return to if nothing was available at Starved Rock State Park, a few more miles away.
Arriving to Utica by dark at 8:30, we ate in the "River City Cafe" (if memory serves me). I sent a message to Jim via PocketMail but didn't spell his name correctly. Thought I'd get a automatic note right away if it didn't go through. I did get a message about our embarrassing mileage of Friday from Jeff and Peter who were coming down from St Paul. Their words were of encouragement and well wishes.
After dinner we rode with lights, in the near freezing but clear night, up the road to the state Campground. Only several handicapped sites were still available. Considering the late hour, we determined that one less empty accommodation for the disabled would probably not make a difference. We'd move our tents if it did.
Rest didn't come easy in this much-colder-than-expected weather. I was laying shivering, thinking about the day's events and Jim's disappearance for much of the night. At about 3:am I dressed in my rainwear. This warmed me quickly and I got to sleep -- Pink Floyd music still softly emanating from another campsite.
Monday, June 2 2003
Pssst, . . . . Its 5:30 am and there is a peach-colored star elevating over the corn sprouts and peeping through the trees at our Hennepin Canal campsite. We call that life-giving one the sun. Out in this argararian terrain its easy to see why the Egyptians worshiped it. Dew is on everything. Jason is fast asleep, as are those boys camping nearby. I'm going to take a photo of our camp, make a little video of the canal and steal away for a test drive of Jason's new KHS CX100 bicycle just like I said I would. Shhhhh, . . . . Be vehy, vehy qwiet, . . . we'ah huntin' agua.
Jason's bike is devoid of panniers at the moment, so its prime for a true test of the pure species. Just a small tweak of the seat post elevation and I'll be out of here. One minor tell-tale scratch or scuff and my goose'll be cooked. Just look at her! Crystal blue with white and black lettering, angular drop bars, state-of-the-art shifting and breaking mechanisms. Seat-stay shock absorber. She's a real beauty, mate.
Okay, we're off, rolling across the grass. So far, not a peep out of the brake pads. Let's take her across the gravel parking lot and up onto the country road. Oooops!, . . . the gravel on car lot is a bit deep in the middle and I nearly washed out. That would've been it! I'll have to be more careful. Hope Jason doesn't notice the greyish scuffs on the sides of his tires. Great, . . . its just rock dust and wipes right off.
Alright, I'm on the road and she's performing wonderfully as I tick up through the masterfully-indexed rings. I noticed that Jason finished the last of his sport drink last evening before going to sleep, so in fact what I'm doing is going to see if I can find a jug of water at the nearby town shown on the map, Atkinson.
Its a little further than I thought. My legs are still a bit weary from all that racing yesterday. Jason is a young mountain bike champion on the expert level, so it wasn't a small feat to evade this guy, who is about half my age, in our bike tag game. I'm paying for it today, believe me. This little suspension feature below the seat is sure helping, too. These country roads weren't laid with the best asphalt equipment. Best to keep a fast spin going rather than the slower, power cadence of yesterday.
Too Early for Even the Roosters
I arrived in Atkinson and all was quite. Even the giant grain elevators, which seem to be the major industry there. An elderly painter and his early-twenty something apprentice could be heard setting up to recoat the local bank. I asked them if there was a convenience store. After more than a pause, the elder pointed across the street to a redish building and said that the general store should be open in about ten minutes. Then he continued about instructing his assistant. I thanked him and rode around the block to kill time. They've a beautiful, distinctively-styled church in this town. The bell tower almost looks Russian orthodox. It is probably of Scandinavian heritage.
I pedaled back to the camp site watching the sunlight on the hazy, vastly-stretching fields. Somehow it was a longer way returning than when I arrived. Must have been the wind direction. There were clouds moving in from the northeast. Jason was still asleep, so I wasn't caught. I wondered if he'd notice that the water had mysteriously arrived with other breakfast snacks. I repositioned his seat post and began to break camp. It doesn't matter how much of a lead I get on him -- he always packs up all his stuff a little faster.
The KHS was an impressive ride, by the way. Not at all skittish. Quite well balanced. The cross tires felt equally at home and quick on the pavement.
Storm Moving In
The accelerating wind smelled like rain so I woke Jason for a Poptart, sunflower seed and mozzarella breakfast. Mmmmm. We headed onto the trail again with the assistance of that breeze and sustained a 15 mph average over the various stone or sand toppings. We passed several groups road racers out for morning training along the canal. There were fishermen in bass boats, a beautiful new log house and the largest tree trunks I've seen in quite a few years. The many creatures of mother nature and their offspring watched as we zipped by. Jason, now just somewhat off the back, was keeping a good pace with me. Some older German cyclists asked me how far we had ridden. They were headed for Chicago via the canal paths. With a smile and a big thumbs up, we pressed onward.
Before noon, we had rode past the last road crossing and down to the very end of the canal at the Rock River. Out on a tiny peninsula at the mouth of the canal, we took a commemorative photograph. This documented a personal historic occasion for ourselves and we had a little taste of how Lewis and Clark must have felt at the Pacific.
We felt this was a glorious moment for the National Bicycle Greenway. Demonstrating for ourselves, what the locals here knew all along -- Illinois already has a near complete greenway in place! No cars permitted. The most feasible next steps would be to simply connect up the trail pieces along the river by Archer in Chicago and to make a link between the two canal paths near La Salle. This is a giant Start, . . . and its safe.
We only had some roads to ride across East Moline. These started with highway 84, which was two lanes across the Rock river; and what we should have stayed on through Silvis. Instead, we rode along a suburban strip plaza road called Colona. Then we headed north through more quiet neighborhoods on 7th Street to the Mississippi River and the Great River Bicycle Path. Riding southward on this path was pretty fun, with its curvilinear layout snaking into downtown Moline. Along the way we passed trail users of nearly every type and age -- Roller Bladers, bicyclists, runners, hikers, speed walkers and folks in wheelchairs. What we were most thinking about was lunch, however, as we drew nearer and nearer a landmark green suspension bridge. We stopped for a quick peak and another photograph at the Quad Cities Convention & Visitors Bureau, in a historic railway station right off the bike path. Another shot in front of the John Deere museum, were combines and tractors were on display, juxtaposed by the urban setting.
Riding a couple of blocks eastward on 5th, I found it! Lunch, that is. Lagomarcino's soda, candy and ice cream shop. From the front, it looks like just that -- an old-fashioned candy store. But poke your head in and look to the back and you'll find a turn-of-the-last-century diner where you can sit in authentic, tall darkwood booths and enjoy tasty sandwiches and delicious old-style sundaes! We did just that. They had a photo history of town square on the walls. Even of the horse-drawn wagon days. The family that runs the place are of the same that began it a hundred years ago. You'd be hard pressed to find kinder, more helpful people too. Upon departing, they assisted us with directions to the nearest post office and coin laundry. The rain had finally caught up with us so we decided in was wash day and rode off through the wet streets.
It was while washing our clothes that I finally had time to call PocketMail service to find out what could be done about our communicator, which was displaying a faded screen and then just quit while I was typing. I was instructed by the knowledgeable and friendly people in PocketMail Customer Support on how to perform a cold restart. Since, the communicator has functioned perfectly! The only trouble is that an identity code, needed to relay messages back to my PocketMail account, was now missing and would have to be reinstalled at the service center. I felt bad because the PocketMail people tried to think of anything they could to get us another unit overnight. The catch there was that we were a moving target for delivery. Fedex can't deliver to a postmaster of whatever town we would be in next; and I couldn't imagine them cruising Iowa G 28 in search of two blokes on loaded bicycles. As advised, I continued creating the daily entries so as to retype them at home. Hey, its a computer, . . . these things happen on rare occasion. It still made a reliable travel alarm clock!
The rain continued through Monday evening. Riding further along the bicycle path into Rock City was great, even though wet. Mistakenly, we rode out onto a little island with a network of singletrack and fish-shaped directional signs. Crossing into Davenport, Jason and I made a futile attempt to get further down the road but were turned back by a real long, solid downpour. We had hoped to make camp at Wildcat Den, halfway to Muscatine. Fortunately, we were being looked after by some protective force that didn't want us on highway 22 in near darkness. We'll tell you why that was best later.
Checking options via cell phone, Jason booked a hotel for us which was only six miles back. I would soon thank be thankful. The Lodge in Bettendorf had offered him a special rate and indeed it was! This place is the hunt-castle dream of any road-weary knight of the middle ages. No expense was spared in its architectural detailing and Tudor decor. Plush beds in lieu of humid tents won me over. We got a great night's sleep after finding out where Jim had gone by using their in-room, high speed internet for a gander at the NBG rider reports. Got a call from Martin Kreig the next morning, who seemed surprised we were at a place that provided that service. If you're ever in Bettendorf, consider staying at The Lodge and don't miss having breakfast in their atrium lounge!
Sunday Morning, June 1 2003
The sun peaked over the horizon, through the crisp morning air and shined onto the walls of our tents. Weary, I rolled over a few times then climbed out to set up the tiny camping stove we brought.
Definitely feeling a bit groggy, I put a filter into a Melita cone and filled it with fresh ground Millstone Foglifter coffee. Slowly pouring the quickly-boiled water over grounds and watching the brew dripping into the cups is always a pleasure. I love to make coffee this simple way.
I placed an aromatic cup outside Jason's closed tent flaps and observed how quickly he commented on the vapors drifting within. Soon a hand emerged and snagged the cup. "More," came the request for a second, with the empty cup relocated outside from beneath the flaps. Before I had time to repeat the process, Jason was out laying his sleeping bag to air and stuffing away his tent. Millstone is well worth the extra eleven-ounce bag weight in my pannier.
We broke camp and were soon rolling down the long hill toward the river. "Let's set the max speed for today!" I shouted while shifting into high and pounding on the pedals. I kept an eye on the cycloputer as it climbed, "25, 29, 33, 35, 36, 37.1" it read when I was tucked into my most aerodynamic position. On a fully-loaded bicycle, this feels like 100 mph, with the air in your face! Nearing the bridge, I began to pedal again, the bike shimmied and I felt a fast vibration. Before gaining more frequent flyer points in an over-the-handlebars "endo", I elected to apply the rear breaks. Jason screamed past toward the bridge.
A small bolt on the drive side of my pannier rack had sheered, allowing the rack end to begin milling my chain and smallest cassette ring. "Hmmm, this might eat up some time," I thought as Jason disappeared over the bridge crest. Fortunately, I was able to pull the rack end out to the other side of the dropout and ride very slowly across to where Jason stopped. I had given my spare bolt to Jason, in Chicago, to help secure additional supports on his rack attachment. We wheeled over to a nearby breakfast cafe converted from a yellow 1920s arts and crafts home. Out front, Jason examined the conditions and offered me a bolt from one of his bottle cages. We were soon enjoying delicious stacks of pancakes and eggs on the front porch without a care. "Coffee refill? . . . no thanks."
I bought sunblock from a local Utica outfitter and we began riding westward again on the I&M Canal trail. There were three algae-covered turtles on a log. It looked like a family with a baby, mother and father. I made a video of them for Marta and our eight-month-old son, Otto to one day view. I missed them both even though we were talking frequently on the cell phone. An ear bud with a microphone facilitated phone conversation while I rode. It was easy to describe what I was seeing to Marta in this way.
Jason and I continued to trade off stopping to read any new historic tidbits on the now repeating signs along the trail. My house is along the Ohio River and so I can relate to the former commercial barge traffic along this scaled down waterway. Ohio River barges are identical to those running on the nearby Illinois River to our left. My mind began to wander and I found myself thinking about the barges on the Ohio. They churn downstream with mountains of coal on each, passing day and night. Strangely, strong diesel barge engines are propelling mountains of coal upstream, day and night as well. Surely an economics or marketing professor can enlighten me on this. You'd think it would be more economical to burn the upstream coal at an upstream generator and use downstream coal somewhere downstream. In any case, I've always enjoyed watching them pass.
We rode the I&M Canal trail to the small loop at the very end. I shared our mission for the NBG with a curious local mountain biker we met. Then we doubled back a half mile to cross a bridge into La Salle, Illinois. Something pleasant about it took me back to our childhood town of Milford, Ohio. Here though, there were larger hills to climb along highway 6 west.
On an agricultural plateau outside of town, we passed produce stands and fields stretching to the horizon. This is a nice taste of all we might have seen had we not traveled along the canals. We turned southward on highway 29 in search of the Hennepin Canal. It was a nice road to ride along -- slightly less traveled than 6. On both, vehicles were never a problem. Someday, I'd like to ride along 29 or 26 further and follow the Illinois River all the way to the Mississippi. Not this time.
Climbing out of a wooded ravine, I tagged Jason, thereby challenging him to a game we've played since he was very young. He knew our standing rules meant he would have to ride a small loop before coming after me. I spun rapidly to the top expecting him to catch me in no time.
The only other rules are that bike parts or tires may not come in contact in the tagging process and that only hands, arms or knees may be used to tag your opponent. Otherwise, it just doesn't count. We experimented with tire tagging years ago and wisely ruled out that practice years ago as well. Time out may be called only when your pursuer is clearly more than two bike lengths away.
This game helped pick up our pace as we rode into a steady frontal side wind. Much to my surprise, Jason never caught me after quite a long run (though he might report otherwise). I was feeling pretty strong for age 41 and little sleep. Thinking after a while that we'd do better working the wind in a draft line, I had slowed considerably to allow him to pull in behind. We traded off leading for a few miles.
The Hennepin Canal
We rode down a long, scenic and gradually curving hill on highway 29, across rail tracks and a small bridge. Suddenly, I looked back asking, "Was that the Canal?" I had mistaken it for a small river. We asked a mother riding the bike trail with her young children. "I don't know what its called but it goes all the way to Tiskilwa," she replied. Looking at the map again I concluded that this was indeed the Hennepin. We progressed up the trail after wishing them all a pleasant day. It was 2:30 pm. Tiskilwa was only a few miles upstream. The canal and trail continued on.
The official Internet site of the canal mentioned a bike path and a service road. I believed that what we were riding on was the service road and looked for a path on the other side of the canal. There was nothing more than a footpath through the grass atop the tow way. Kevin, a conservation official we later encountered, explained that we were in fact riding on the bike path and the other side, with grass and weeds, was the "service way."
The car-width bike path was covered with a varying-sized, translucent pea gravel that crackled beneath our tires and sometimes shot outward, much like wet orange seeds pinched between your finger and thumb. It was never the dreaded, deeply-laid rubble which could cause bicycle riders to wash out and crash, as reported. Rather, it offered little resistance as we easily rolled over it. Other areas were surfaced with a thin layer of limestone sediment that reminded me of the cat-litter sands of Mammoth Mountain, California. In terms of being a greenway, I much prefer these surfaces than asphalt, which is made from tar, a petroleum product. What we were riding over seemed completely natural. Sometimes, it was quite smooth, like riding on textured glass.
My bike is a haul master! A ten-year veteran of MTB racing, this full-suspension, American aluminum GT RTS with a Halson fork and American Classic hubs is now outfitted with 1-inch-wide Continental Avenue street slicks. It holds its own on the road and singletrack and was selected for this journey, rigged for touring, because of its proven durability and comfort. I completely rebuilt it before this trip, lubricating most everything with a home mixture of extra-virgin olive oil and graphite. For years I just used the olive oil in the fork, which is still as good as new. If someone can offer me scientific reasons why I should not do this, please write. Most everyone just kinda snickers when I tell them about the oil. To me, it is organic and that counts.
Jason has a brand new KHS CX100 cyclocross bike with thin cross tires and a rear-mounted pannier rack. Pretty sweet! It has a tiny shock absorber located above the seat stays. Later, I'm gonna test drive it when he's not looking. He said he too was having no trouble riding the canal path gravel with his tire dimension.
Dinner and Evening along The Hennepin Canal
It was almost 4:pm when we pulled into Wyanet. We passed nice people working in their gardens and yards, children playing on the school grounds, a couple of empty biker bars and we located a gas station / convenience store. Chicken nuggets for Jason and a Nathan's Famous Frank for me, which bought back memories of the Coney Island boardwalk. We also shared a medium pizza. The local law officer pulled up in a Suburban-like unit and waved with a smile as he entered the store. He soon departed while slap fighting and teasing an apparently-familiar teenager from the town. I made a video of the canal from a distance, showing how it was invisible within the landscape, then we rolled back out onto the canal path with a fresh supply of Powerade.
We passed people in canoes and families fishing along the grassy banks beneath huge branches spreading from giant oak, poplar, and sycamore trees. Blue Heron stood in newly-sprouted fields like surrealistic muses watching the descending sun. It was an idyllic setting. A best-kept secret of the heartland, this canal was not used very long before it became obsolete -- replaced by reliable advances in trucking. Now it serves as a recreation area for local families and outdoors enthusiasts. The conservation officer we met, Kevin, told us that it was listed on the American Heritage Trail. They had been making a lot of restorative and recreational improvements and have plans to continue these programs. He was quite pleased that we would bring the Hennepin to the attention of the National Bicycle Greenway and informed us that primative camping permits cost $7, . . . if you happen to see one of the officers. We were happy to support their efforts with our fee.
We played bicycle tag again, racing westward at an average 13 mph. Jason had been pulling away from me at first. Then I stopped and placed a Tru-fit neoprene knee support on my left knee -- not the kind with supports but just the tube, which added a degree of warmth and comfort. Those really help if you begin to feel a little joint discomfort while riding. Soon, I was hammering along the trail, beating Jason to each road crossing, throwing my arms in the air as I rode out of the giant culverts and proclaiming my victory to any present fishermen or other cyclist. I felt like Lance Armstrong.
At dusk we quickly made camp at Lock #3 near Atkinson, Illinois. There were about five early-teenaged boys camping and fishing there, who asked us many questions about our ride from Chicago. They were amazed at our progress, intentions to continue to Des Moines and with our cause for the NBG. These guys were beginning their summer break from school and planned to fish all night in the canal. While they interviewed Jason, I received a call from Marta, and continued setting up my tent while speaking to her in Portuguese. It was really funny because the young boys couldn't see that I was using the ear bud and cell phone -- imagining that I was babbling crazily to myself. When one came over to investigate and realized that what I was doing, we all had a pretty good laugh! They invited us to sit by their fire later, but with the sound of water falling strongly through the locks near our tents, Jason and I were soon fast asleep. It’s difficult to remember a more sound sleep than that night.
Hi Wonderful People:
We survived the storm but boy was it cool this morning. Goose bumps everywhere to be sure, but with Jeffrey's guidance we were clipping along at 18 to 23 mph. My speed has increased considerably since my 4 mph Ohio hill days, but I am still not as fast as Jeffery and Jason. And yet we did get warm.
The ride along the trail was truly beautiful, what with the flowers that waved at us. There was such a variety it is hard to list them all. Tiny little white flowers with yellow center buttons, Wild roses with 4 or 5 petals, little delicate flowers that looked like Chinese lanterns, some were even doubles. Some looked like trumpets, some so delicate that they would be destroyed by the slightest breeze.
As I was looking for more flowers I started noticing the variety of leaf shapes, some round, some long, oval, ruffled edges, some pointy and others smooth. They reminded me of little tongues that were reaching out to taste us as we passed. The larger ones, like the wild rhubarb might have wiped away my whiskers if I would have let them.
Even the grasses where competing for my attention. Some were long and slender, others whisper thin. Some had little heads that looked like Russian turrets. When I picked one, inside I found miniature little turrets that spilled out when I removed the thin covering.
Here along the trail is one most fascinating world. I recall a scientist holding a shovel full of dirt once and he was saying that the amount of life in that one shovel full of dirt is amazing. The amount of life we saw today was also amazing. I stopped counting great herons after I got to 20. There were just too many other things to concentrate on them.
Once I saw bright blue birds and scarlet cardinals. If there were only a white bird it would really be a patriotic ride. Just than a wood pecker with a white ring around its neck flew by, perfect. Mother nature is such an artist.
Today as we rode we found the name for our ride painted on the side of a bridge ---"The J". It was printed inside of a big round yellow dot. Perfect name for Jeffery, Jason and Jim's ride to Des Moines. Jeffery even took some pictures of it and us.
Broke a weld on my seat so got separated from the brothers Reser. As I biked along the trail I spotted some storefronts that looked welding related. I pulled in one and asked the guy if he could weld aluminum. He hesitated, so I asked him if he had a welder. Well yes came the reply. Dave Fessler, owner of Tree D & K, of Seneco, Illinois saves the day for Jim. He let me weld the part and in a short time I was back on the trail. Unfortunately I never caught up with Jeffery and Jason. So we are on our own tonight. They had plans on camping at some point about 10 miles further on, but it was dark, so I crashed in a small motel in Ottawa.
Also enjoyed a nice meal at Woolys steak house.
Time for nighty night, Jim
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I've been meaning to send you a message, and now that you're in my old neck of the woods, I couldn't wait any longer! I've really enjoyed reading your posts. Sounds like you're enjoying Illinois. It's a beautiful time of the year to be there, if you can avoid the thunderstorms. The day of my fateful ride, I waited out a doozy in a barn in Flag Center outside Rochelle. As you no doubt know, you don't want to mess with those good ol' Midwestern thunderstorms, just pull over and enjoy the light show! It's hard to believe that June 2 will be a year since my fateful ride. It seems like another era and another planet.
I also wanted to offer my personal thanks for doing this ride. I sure wish I could be there with you. I'm even envious of all the riding in the rain you've had to do! I doubt if you're going through Dixon, but if you are, let me know, I'm sure my Mom and Dad will be willing to put you up (and put up with you!) Pretty soon you'll be at the Mississippi, and you can look at a map of the United States and easily see just how far you've come. That must be one heck of a sense of accomplishment!
Anyway, keep up the good work and keep fighting the good fight. Lisa and I will be sending good thoughts your way. And watch out for those Illinois drivers!
Regards from your friend,
Okay world, this is my very first PocketMail transmission!
Liking it so far. Can't wait to write from the trail. Must mow the lawn for now. It's still acceptable as training because it is almost 75% on a 45 degree slope. Yes,... Kentucky!
Hey, does this thing have a spell check function? Maybe not. Oh well; I don't either.
Just one more week left before we'll be starting our journey from Chicago. This composer is so easy to learn that I have no worries about being proficient by then. That is if I don't keep forgetting to pressthespacebar.
My brother, Jason invented a neat bracket to attach the front of my pannier rack to my full-suspension bike. I love that there is still plenty of room for ingenuity in bicycle outfitting. Now to fine tune things and give it all a shake-down cruise over the long weekend.
Don't forget a special tribute to those who have afforded us these freedoms.
Best regards, everyone.
Good luck to the IND-CHI "wriders"!
West Covington, Kentucky
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