Tuesday, October 27, 2015

2014: The miles roll by - Day 5

(Day 5 of my 2014 Connect the Dots Tour)

I slept well in the quiet campground, and woke to another sunless sunrise through grey overcast.

Breakfast in a bag ala Jet Boil
It was Saturday morning, and with only two days left, I had decided the night before I was not going to ride the two 100-mile plus days it would take to finish at home Sunday night.

With two good days, I could make it to the Indiana border, but not all the way home. In a couple of phone calls Linda and I worked out a tentative schedule, where I would meet her Sunday afternoon where I-74 crosses the Wabash River.

There was some sense of letdown, but I didn’t let it overwhelm me. I was still having a great time, despite the weather and other surprises. I wanted to stay focused on the fun, rather than being bound to a tough schedule. With the final plan in place, I looked to the day of riding ahead.

Some campground maintenance.
I was out of meals, so I would need to provision today, and find camping meals for the Jet Boil, if possible. I also needed some batteries for my taillight and headlight. Before I could hit the road, I had some maintenance tasks after 330 miles. My right / rear bar-end shifter was loose in the handlebars, which required some disassembly to resolve. I then checked every single rack, fender, chain ring, and bottle cage bolt, and that took care of a few more items.   I also went ahead and patched the two pinch flats from Day 2, so I now had three good spare tubes.

With my bike back together, I broke camp and was riding a little before 10. Once again my interstate impressions were betrayed, as I discovered that Effingham had a reservoir lake and active summer community of boating, cottages and vacationeers. I crossed a handful of feeder creeks before finally entering the outskirts of town. The quiet streets were soon overpowered by the rumble of interstate traffic, with a half dozen gas station and restaurant signs towering over the quiet ranch homes.

My 1 mile pickup ride over "brick & seal"
I always feel a quiet sense of satisfaction when biking into a location I have only driven too before. Over the years we have stopped in Effingham dozens of times for gas and meals, but never ventured more than a mile from the off ramp. But now it was another connected dot on my travels with a more intimate knowledge of the surrounding countryside.

I had hoped to hit a McD for 2nd breakfast (what can I say, I like the biscuits!), but I missed by 10 minutes. Then I spotted a Walmart sign, and decided to take care of provisions first. I wheeled my loaded bike into the front alcove, locked it, and smiled at the greeter as I headed in. The hunting and camping section had the 2 more meals (dinner and breakfast) I needed, and then I picked up some fresh fruit, a few more Clif bars, and batteries. I loaded everything up, installed the batteries and was ready to roll again.

On the way out of town, I found a bike shop, and that meant a floor pump! I stopped in and topped off the tires, and was set for the last two days. It was just after noon when I left the Effingham city limits.

It was more small farmlands and backroads as I rolled along. My destination was Walnut Point State Park, about 75 miles northeast. It was mostly grid roads paralleling I-57 for the early afternoon before turning east. The quiet back roads gradually moved me farther and farther east, and eventually out earshot of the interstate for the last time.

One of the biggest challenges continued to be fresh chip-n-seal, of in this case, small-rock, big rocks, pieces of bricks and seal. Yes, one road had a bunch of broken up bricks dropped in tar. It was about 20 miles out of Effingham when I hit a road that was impassible for a bike, or at least one with 700x28 wheels. I was between intersections and resigned to walking, and changed into my camp shoes to portage the bike, since the side of the road was also rock strewn.

After 10 minutes of walking, the road beyond the next corner was just as bad, and after another ¼ mile of walking, I was able to wave down a passing pickup to ask about the road ahead. The young driver thought it would go back to pavement in about a mile, and said he could give us (bike and me!) a lift. It was bumpy mile ride in the back the pick-up truck, sitting on an implement tire while holding my bike upright.  Thankfully that portage took me over the worst road for the rest of the day.

A unique trail between the towers.
I stopped for lunch in Mantoon, and from there I picked up the Lincoln Prairie Grass Trail, which took me east to Charleston. It was a very quiet rail trail, riding beneath and between a line of double power lines. It was crushed limestone, but I made very good time. I passed a few bike riders along the way, the first I had seen since leaving the Katy.

I was riding under overcast skies with temps in the low 70’s. I had not seen sun since the sunset in Hermann on the first day, but at least I had not had more rain since day 3. The winds were mild, but almost always headwinds. For all the expectations and concerns about heat and humidity, it felt more like early fall or late spring.

After I left the trail, I was riding mostly north. The overcast was again quickly darkening the early evening sky, and I made the campground entrance a little before 7:30. By the time I had checked in and set camp, the heavily wooded campground was gloomily dark under the overcast sky. 

Though my riding had been dry, there had been rain over the campground earlier that afternoon, and it had never dried out. By the light of my headlamp, I quickly set my tent, and then fired up the Jetboil for dinner. The campground was pitch black around me as I finished dinner, with a just a few campsites visible through the surrounding foliage. I actually turned on my bike taillight to find my way back to my tent, since there was no lighting anywhere near the tent sites.

It was after dinner that I realized the camp showers were on the other side of the lake, almost a mile away. I considered riding my bike, but the campground was so dark, I didn’t feel safe picking my way with a single cell headlamp. So I headed back to my tent and settled in for the night.

Saturday, October 3, 2015

2014: The Make Up Day - Tour Day 4

(Day 4 of my 2014 Connect the Dots Tour)

Drying out
Check-in at the Quality Inn went quickly. I was also able to get a ground floor room, a relief since I was not looking forward to taking my drenched gear and bike on an elevator. I rolled my bike into the tiled lobby, where I stripped all my panniers off the bike and loaded a baggage cart.

The hotel clerk had given me with a handful of used cleaning towels for my bike, and some plastic trash bags I could use underneath my gear. That let me wipe my bike down before I rolled it to my room. In the the room I spread out the trash bags a began unloading my bags.

This had been my third day of riding, and that meant it was laundry day for cycling clothes. When I had asked about a laundry room, the hotel did not offer one, however they did do laundry for $10. So I changed into my (thankfully) dry camp clothing, and took my 3 days of cycling clothing down to the front desk.

With the laundry was taken care, I finished unpacking rest of my things to let them dry out. Just about everything was wet and I ended up with gear draped everywhere in the room. One pleasant surprise was that that the day of rain had removed the white “corrosion” that had frozen up some of the zippers on my panniers.

With the housekeeping done, I ordered a pizza and sat down with my iPad and Google maps to evaluate where I was. I had ridden 45 miles, and combined with my wrong turn the night before, I was now over 40 miles behind my plan. I was spending the night near where I should have been eating lunch, or even second breakfast! While I would save some time by not having to pack a tent the next morning, I still had a lot of miles to make up over the next few days.

By the time I had finished my pizza, it was time to run down to the front desk for my laundry. I had requested no drying, so three days of cycling clothing were now added to the gear spread across my room to dry. It was finally time to settle in for the night.

I woke early and began packing. There were still some lingering showers, so I took my time in loading and enjoyed some fruit and bagels on the hotel. It was overcast and the roads were damp, but no rain was falling as I rolled out at 7:30 am.

Into the corn - Illinois Nickel Plate Trail
I had been able to fully recharge both my backup batteries, however I was still nervous about running out of “phone” too early. So I started the habit of checking the GPS maps, and then putting my phone into “Airplane” mode for few miles. (I had given up any hope of recording the day’s ride.) I soon became adept at flipping this mode on and off while rolling, thanks again to the Eclipse Handlebar bag.

My previous day and ended climbing the Mississippi river bluffs, so I was already riding on the Illinois prairie. Just a few miles east of the hotel, I connected with a local trail network and was soon riding the Illinois Nickel Plate Trail, heading north east. The trail was paved to the city limits, then I was back on crushed limestone. I was making great time riding through fields of tall corn, soybeans, and winter wheat. I soon crossed under I55, and after passing through Alhambra, I left the trail and began heading due east on county grid roads.

This is flat Illinois?
Using the Google and iPhone map apps, I was able to navigate a mix of county grid roads and state trunk roads, alternating east and north roads, crabbing my way along, roughly 5 to 10 miles north of I70.   After a three decades of driving I-70 across Illinois, it is easy to think the state is flat. When you bicycle the back roads, it becomes apparent that I70 just happens to be where Illinois happens to be flat! The riding had a lot of up and down, crossing streams, creeks and small rivers. Thankfully, the none the climbs were as steep as those in Missouri, and many were easy roller coasters, shifting back and forth across the freewheel and chainrings. The load adjustments of the the prior couple of days made my bike more easier to control while climbing.

More corn (& beans) ahead
I decided to continue a grazing meal schedule for first part of the day, picking up a muffin, cookies and a couple of GatorAdes from a quick shop, and then eating while rolling. I was still under overcast skies, and was again riding into a headwind. While it was not raining, the humidity was so high there was a damp chill to the air, even though I was sweating through my jersey, the occasional cool patch of of air had me slipping on my rain jacket to avoid chilling throughout the day. It was one weird week of August weather.

As the day went on, I cycled on through the small towns of Sorento and Panama. A little after 1 in the afternoon, I was finally at my original day 3 destination at Coffen Lake, with almost 50 miles in. I then set my sights on making it to Effingham, which looked like another 50 miles. Overnighting there would leave me 25 miles behind schedule, though still having a good chance of making it home on Sunday.

The Conductor with his orchestra.
Passing though another mile wide river bottom, filled with miles of soy beans, coming up to the edge of the road.  As I approached the small climb out of the bottom, a single tree in the center of opening seems to be poised as a conductor of an orchestra, another picture I had to pause for.

I kept moving east. As I70 angled north, I had to ride a busier state route for at least the next 15 miles. For this stretch, I took my small headlight and set it up as a strobe tail-light on my left pannier. For the most part, all of the overtaking traffic gave me plenty of room. Anecdotal, but a datapoint on the trend toward riding with running lights.

Small Town Memories
By late afternoon I was running parallel to I70 on old US40, and could here the the muted rumble of big diesel trucks across the corn fields.  at about 70 miles I stopped aat small quick shop for a reload of Gatorade and snacks. An hour later, a little before 6pm I stopped at a McDonalds for a sandwich, a coke and some recharge time for phone and batteries. I was again stimied by only having a single charger, but I got my phone back to over 80% before hitting the road, passing through the rest of Altamont on may way out of town.

It was sill light overcast, and for a while it was almost a misting rain; I didn’t mind since I was wearing my rain jacket for visibility anyways. My eastward travel was again reducing my daylight, and after a 5 mile run north, I turned east to head straight into Effingham. I was at almost a hundred miles at 7:30 with less than a half hour of daylight. Based on my my phone maps, I was at least 10 miles out, and would be on the road until dark at best. Finally, after another half dozen miles, I found a campground sign. Not wanting to ride after dark, I settled for 107 miles, and called it day, Only the next morning would I learn it was over 10 more miles through Effingham to my planned campground on the east side of town.
A square mile or more of Soy Beans

I quickly set up my tent, and used the JetBoil to prep my dinner by twilight. Eating with my headlight, and despite the the overcast, it was easy to tell I was far away from any big city lights. There were only a few RV’s on the other side of the campground, and no tent campers close to mine. It was very quiet as I settled in for night four on the road. I was less than a ½ day behind schedule, with a good forecast ahead. It was time to get some sleep.