Tuesday, May 29

Still processing the holiday weekend...

I left Saturday morning in rain--with a new rear tire. But the downpour was brief. Met up with more rain once getting into WI; fortunately, it too was short. Still, it was a bit cooler and far grayer than I like. Yet, the ride was nothing short of spectacular--even with a few slippery moments.

Although Madison was my destination, I spent little time there as their "Mad Marathon" and "Brat Fest" were enough to keep me away. Besides, after reaching Madison I was exhausted from the wind gusts and feeling a bit shakey. Thus, I rested and planned for the roads I'd take to the next day.

Sunday morning, I headed west. Brilliant decision, I must say! The journey to Spring Green, WI can only be described as exceptional! Spring Green is home of Taliesin, the Frank Lloyd Wright home and now school of architect. It is a place replete with history, intrigue and mystery--more on that later. There, I nearly blew my entire trip budget on the house tour and the Taliesin gift shop. Getting to and from Taliesin deserves a separate ride report! Even with the whipping winds, the roads to and from there were gorgeous--nothing detracted from the splendid beauty of this scenic valley.

Monday, more riding and lots more pics. I will write up the highlights of Monday--of which there were many! Did the whole touring thing and enjoyed every moment of it--well, almost. I missed the Ridge Runner Tour from New Glarus to Blue Mounds. I simply ran out of time. As it was, I didn't arrive back to IL until 9pm, just as it was getting dark. The tour would easily have added another three hours to the trip--no way did I or do I ever want to be out on those country roads at night--there is no blacker blackness.

For now, here are the pics from the three day trip. Those strange, odd shaped dagger-like icicles descending from the ceiling or sprouting up from the ground are stalactites and stalagmites, respectively, from Blue Mounds, WI. More on that later too.

Visited Little Norway and Mount Horeb, two towns that wear their Norwegian roots proudly. Trolls are omnipresent. Ride reports to follow.

Photos of my trip are here.

Friday, May 25

Bike inspection saves my butt!

Since returning from Kankakee, I haven’t inspected the bike—even though I’ve ridden almost daily. Given that I’m planning to spend the next three days in and around Spring Green, WI I thought it was a good time to inspect the bike. Took the side bags off (I can’t get the bike on its center stand without removing them). The oils looked fine. The chain had some “give” but seemed within the allowable slack limit. Some bolts and hard stuff needed tightening. Then, the tire inspection. These are relatively new, well, to me anyway. I have about 4,000 miles on the Michelin Pilot Powers. I slowly turn the rear tire. I remove a tiny white pebble. Slowly turning…Something shiny catches my eyes. I look closely and it looks like the head of a nail. Yikes! I tug at it a bit but it is flesh with the tire. Dang! It is definitely a nail. "There goes my weekend," I mutter. It is late Friday. I call Motorworks. It’s so strange getting a female voice when I call now. I like it. She tells me I can bring it in but there is no guarantee that they can get to it tonight, I might, she says, need to leave the bike overnight. There goes my Saturday morning 7a.m. departure!

I get to the shop, the bike rides well and I wonder what would have happened if I had not inspected the bike and motored off on a four-day trip. I shutter at the thought. When I get to the shop, the young woman explains to Milan what the problem is with my bike and instantly Milan, who is recovering from knee surgery, tells her he’ll take care of me. He walks out to the alley to inspect my bike. He too pokes at the nail and confirms my suspicions: I need a new tire. I am not the type who’d want to patch this. If on the road, I’d patch it to get to the nearest dealer. Milan checks their stock and returns to tell me that they have a rear Pilot Powers. I am feeling lucky! I love the sticky Pilots but I would have taken any tire in preference to being sidelined over the weekend.

They pull the nail out (see photos) and the unmistakable sound of air seeping out surrounds the tire. Again, I think of what could have happened if that tire had gone KABOOM on the highway or along one of the desolate back roads. I shutter again.

While chatting about the bike, Steve, who taught the motorcycle maintenance class I took last year, chats to me about bikes and about tweaking, tightening and inspecting one’s machine. He touches my windscreen and thinks it is a bit loose. On closer inspection, he points out that I’ve lost one bolt. “Bikes vibrate, so things come loose,” he tells me. He changes all the bolts holding the windscreen so that there is not an odd, mismatched bolt among the others. This is the kind of small thing that this shop does all the time that makes a huge difference to a customer. That personal touch makes you feel that you and your bike matter. I tell you, I love my shop! The care they always give transcends the norm.

I went in to get a tired taken care of. I left with bolts tightened, chain adjusted, new tire and a whole lot of excellent bike information and guidance from the guys.

I am Madison and Spring Green bound!

Tuesday, May 22

Ride Report: Kankakee, IL: “Ride like a River”

In anticipation of DD (darling daughter) coming home Saturday, I took a short ride on a bright, beautiful, breezy and clear Saturday. Away from Lake Michigan, temps climbed beyond 80 degrees.

Before heading out, I stop by Motorworks to have new foot pegs installed. The racy blue metal pegs are hugely annoying—feeling buzzy through my boots—on rides over 100 miles. While there, I decided to have Queenie washed, which would save me from doing it later. Besides, Queenie would enjoy the ride better if she were clean. With new pegs and a new shine, we headed south for Kankakee, IL, taking some less traveled back roads.

I follow Historic Rt. 66 to Harlem Avenue/IL- 43 south to reach IL -171 south. This is a familiar route to me given my trip last season to Kankakee State River Park. I remain on IL-171 until US-45 S and there I stay for about 40 miles. This is a fast, nice road that the farther south one goes, the more the landscape becomes rural. Lots of farms and open land mixed in with swanky new homes and old country houses up and down yonder. I wanted to pick up CR-8 but took an unexpected turn that led to more backloads. Eight miles or so later, I was in the hinter areas of Kankakee.

I want to photograph two Kankakee Frank Lloyd Wright homes. They are on Harrison Ave. Like many river towns, this one splits streets. What doesn’t go through resumes on the other side of town. But it’s a curvy street-town and the pick up points can be tricky. Harrison is like that. It is one way going north. Indiana Ave is one way going south, where the Lemuel Milk Barn sits and sounded like another photo opportunity. Harrison is one street east of Indiana. I rode around a number of times trying to find my way. Eventually I did, but Harrison isn’t the kind of street on which one can pull over easily. I can’t be certain if I spotted the Frank Lloyd Wright’s homes, both of which now are privately owned. I did see two homes that might have been FLW’s but I didn’t stop to photograph them. In retrospect, I am now certain they were indeed Wright’s style. I did find the historic Court House, the historic public library but no Lemuel Milk Barn or the State Hospital, which according to the town’s website is worth a look-see. I ended up not caring much about the sites and enjoyed riding around more than stopping and shooting. I made a brief visit at the state park again.

By 6:00 p.m., I was tired and hungry. I called the house and learned that DD had missed her flight and would be arriving Sunday, which meant a visit home of less than 24 hours before leaving for the University of Madrid. I caught I-57 north. Although the northbound traffic was light, my presence must have bugged someone because a car passing in the left lane threw a soda can (with soda in it) at me. It was no accident. The can was hurled back just as the car passed me. I watched it flying backwards, hitting the ground after lightly bouncing off my lower leg. I’m good at not panicking. I did not swerve, I did not duck, I did not freak—any of which can be disastrous on two wheels. I did imagine possessing a radioactive laser that could project from my front turn signals that I could activate
and incinerate the car and its occupants.

About 25 miles later, I stopped at a Borders Books to pick up the June issue of Rider (my complaints that my June issue never arrived only resulted in an extension on my subscription—not a June issue replacement). I came across an apt editorial by Mark Tuttle, Jr., called, “Ride like a River.” He reminds us to enjoy the ride, don’t worry about getting lost, or even fret about running out of gas. Tuttle says, “The river ebbs and flows, and in riding like one so should you. ...if you don’t care where you’re going, you’re never lost, but even if you do care the exact route just isn’t that important…And if in taking the impromptu way the only thing that ends up separating you from your goal is a chain-link fence, well…there’s always wire cutters.”

I know we’re supposed to avoid it if we can, but I like night riding. Anonymity has its advantages. At 9:00pm I headed home, fully enjoying the dark pre-summer night, as the beam from my single headlight led the way.

Total distance: 160 miles
Saturday, May 19, 2007

Sunday, May 20

More Rustic Roads--BMW International Rally '07

I do not now and probably won't in the near future own a BMW motorcycle. That doesn't, however, preclude me from looking for the next bike. I love Queenie and think that I shall keep her no matter the next ride, but the desire to travel along unpaved roads grabs me now and again and I find myself looking around--no harm in that, right?

I've sat on the Suzuki V-Strom; I like what I've read about it. Even it's odd looks appeal to me. But it felt top heavy and it's tall. Lowering the bike is possible, but I wouldn't want to monkey around with that set up. Perhaps a new seat or re-sculpturing the seat might do the trick so I can flat foot the bike. I'm tippy-toe on it now and that doesn't inspire confidence. So far, I've found no opportunities to test ride one of these adventure riding fun machines. This bike is relatively inexpensive to own and maintain and aftermarket accessories are robust.

Then I discovered some of the BMW bikes. By comparison to anything Suzuki makes, BMW are expensive to own and maintain. Perhaps if I'm worried about that, that's a sign--these are not the bikes for me. Hmmm? Yet, I like a lot of things about the F650GS. It has a venerable history of adventure riding. "Rabid" is the only way to describe many of its devotees. The F650GS has a very manageable seat height--several inches lower than the 31.5 inches on my gal-pal. What I don't like is the single engine. What I know about engines can fill a thimble and from what I've read, I'm convinced that these engines are excellent. I just know that I like the sound of a twin engine. I cut my teeth on a V-twin and the imprinting remains strong. If I'm going to hear an engine sound while riding, let it be one that sings my tune.

I sat on the BMW F800S and F800ST models at the motorcycle show here in February and neither "Wowed" me. I like them both but neither as separate bikes. I desired a blend of the two. I love the ergonomics of the F800S but would want the looks of the ST. I don't like the ST's seating position at all. And the new 650s (moto, challenge and xcountry) are bikes I'd need a ladder to mount. I like the standard, naked R1200R but frankly, it didn't "Wow" me at the show either. Besides, I'd have to add even more $$$ to get that bike where I need it to be able to tour comfortably. BMWs already cost two arms and two legs. What's more, I don't need a displacement that large--it would be a waste on me. Wouldn't that be like riding a Porche Turbo Carrera just to do grocery shopping at the local market? Is there something I'm missing when I say I don't see myself needing anything (non-cruiser rider, here) beyond the 650cc-800cc range?

I'm planning (if I can find a hotel within 100 miles!) to attend the BMW International Rally in West Bend, WI. It will be my only chance to test ride these bikes. In addition, I will get a chance to do more Rustic Roads to qualify for a State certificate, which is different from the 10 ride motorcycle awards program.

I learned today that the BMW rally is featuring the Rustic Roads tours. Read their recent, interesting write up on the fun that these roads engender. The really neat thing about WI is that the way the Ice Age effected certain regions in the state, shapes the unique terrain and dramatic landscape. While the riding will take you across diverse spaces and places across WI, you can be certain that the roads will be always fun, unique, challenging and interesting.

Now if only I can find a hotel...

Wednesday, May 16

Ride Report: WI--Rustic Roads Tour

Left Saturday morning for Wisconsin. I took the Lake Michigan Circle Tour route and because I departed later than I wanted, I immediately encountered heavy traffic, which I could have avoided had I gone to bed earlier the night before. Had I left three hours prior, these roads would have been my own! I traveled up US Hwy 41 north, better known in Chicago as Lake Shore Drive (LSD). Even though the heaviest traffic is always right after you exit LSD on Hollywood, until reaching Evanston, IL, this is one of my favorite routes out of the city. Leave before 10:00 a.m. and it will become your favorite too. Guaranteed.
The weather forecast predicted unseasonably warm weather. The 70s temperature made two wheeling it sheer sweetness. I wore the silver TourMaster Transition jacket to see how it would fare for the weekend. At highway speeds of 65mph, one flaw was the neck area. No matter what I did, I couldn’t get the neck flap tight enough to prevent chilly air from sending occasional shivers down my neck. Too late to dig out the neck scarf I toss into the luggage.

I hugged the lakeshore as much as I could to reach Racine WI. I stayed on Sheridan Road until forced to detour near Highland Park. Back on Sheridan, I rode it to State Highway 137, where the two split somewhere beyond North Chicago. Highway 137, which is closer to the shoreline, carried me across the state line to WI where I met highway 32 (Sheridan Road) again. First WI town is Pleasant Prairie, where I stopped at the WI visitor’s center. Before leaving, I studied the map. One man came up to me and asked, “What kind of bike is that—it’s cute, never seen one look like that.” I love a man who loves my bike. I paused to considering explaining the aftermarket accessories but just said, “Thank you—she is cute.” Before mounting the bike, another man came up. He looked serious and I braced myself for something strange. Without a smile on his face, he said, “Now if you are a real biker chick, you’re supposed to be riding a Harley.” He stretched out the word “Harley.” Then he smiled. In my friendliest, fake voice I said, “Well, I guess I’m not a biker chick since I don’t ride a Harley.” He insisted, however, that I was a biker chick (just riding the wrong bike). I resisted the temptation to get into a conversation about bikes and ride preferences. I needed to get to Racine and he was trying to make a connection.
At 4:30ish, I pulled into the Comfort Inn on Prairie Street, right off Washington Street aka US Highway 20. The ride was exceedingly windy and for the first time, I felt the weight of exhaustion in my arms from rigorous countersteering. What I appreciate about Comfort Inns is that I can usually park my bike outside my window. In addition, it is always a plus to have in-room wireless Internet. I rested a few hours and hunger led me to ask about places to eat. The Main Moon 2 is where the locals consume “excellent” Chinese food. “Excellent,” it was! Even though it was well after 9pm when I arrived, the little storefront was hopping with a robust carryout clientele and a few eat-in customers. The Szechwan Shrimp, fried rice and shrimp egg roll I ordered (which I should have photographed before eating part of it!) are worth another trip to Racine! Best shrimp egg roll I’ve had. Period.

Sunday morning. An overcast, gray sky and temperatures in the upper 50s did not look encouraging. A hint of rain was in the forecast and in spite of an unfriendly chill, I enthusiastically prepared for the Rustic Road Tour (RR). I had re-read the state booklet and had brought with me Barbara Barber’s Sunday Rides on Two Wheels: Motorcycling in Southern Wisconsin, which has detailed maps of many wonderful WI tours, including a 143 miles Rustic Road Tour that will make one easily eligible for the 10 Rustic Roads needed to qualify for a motorcycle patch from the WI motorcycle award program.

Patch or no patch, these are roads a motorcyclist will want to ride for the sheer challenge and charm. The topography is amazing. WI played a huge part in the Ice Age and evidence of remarkable glaciations is ubiquitous, particularly in the southern region. In Racine County, the effects of glacial action are captured most dramatically. The hotel was less than 10 miles from the first Rustic Road. The state has done a great signage job. The brown and yellow signs were easy to spot “up a ways,” giving me plenty of time to change lanes and turn off. The most difficult part was getting a picture of the sign with the bike and/or me in it. For the most part, road shoulders were nonexistent, mostly there was gravel mixed with grassy patches. Natural dips at the edges of the road also made stopping attention-grabbing. One time I stopped at the road's edge and put my right foot down in a deep slope. My foot slipped on the gravel and Queenie began to dip too far to the right. Thank you adrenalin! I caught myself –and Queenie—in time. Still, it was a shaky moment.
RR scenery is amazing. To become a RR, a road needs to be country/rural, possess interesting topography, beautiful scenery, historical significance, wildflowers, and vast farmlands. By definition, the roads are “less traveled.” One can ride and not see another moving vehicle for long stretches of time. Although, isolated, I rarely felt lonely. Lots of farm animals and little critters darting across the road kept me company. I stopped to photograph two horses and they immediately looked up at me. It seemed as if they were talking about the bike or me. The brown horse stood perpendicular to the white horse bobbing its head. They occasionally looked at each other and then back in my direction. Finally, the white horse came near the fence as if to check me out. I think they wanted to know what kind of horse I was riding. Lots of horse power out that Sunday.
RR road speeds tend to be slower than on other roads nearby. On some of the roads, however, the speeds reached tummy-tickling levels, particular when traveling over moraines and drumlins (I think that’s what they were). I loved the many twisty, curvy roads that demanded my full attention. Reduce your speed where indicated. Not only because some of these roads have sand and pebbles at the edges, but also because the banking and angles of the roads can come upon you swiftly. I will admit that on some roads, I was able to take the twisties at faster speeds than posted. However, some of the RR required a second pass through and it was then that I upped my speed but only curves that were gravel and sand-free. All the RR roads I followed were paved; some, however, are unpaved. If only I had a Suzuki V-Strom or a BMW F650GS on this trip.

Barber’s book notes the road challenges and I agreed with her often. However, one section that she said was particularly “challenging,” I didn’t experience that—perhaps my skills are improving? Yes, I had to pay close attention as the twists and turns were consecutive and often tight. A speed fanatic would need to be careful but I did not feel the difficulty, only my own squealing joy and a sweet sensation of floating. Looking up at the trees, the leaves provided a cover that felt like embracing arms. The temperatures reached the mid 70sF and all was well.

I’ve heard many people say the Midwest is flat and boring. Come to WI to see the effects of glaciations. Kettle moraines, drumlins, eskers, lakes—lots of evolutionary miracles that make this an attractive and geographic wonder. I agree with Barber when she warns to be careful of the hilly areas as one can become airborne. Riding these roads, particularly around RR-11 and RR-36 are fun, tricky and potentially problematic if riders do not control their speed. The roads climb high and the descent is dramatic, sometimes abrupt and always fast. The experience reminded me of Riverview, a theme park in Chicago in the 60s.of my childhood. These hilly roads made my stomach get that elevator-drop feeling, which is both good and bad—in a good way!

Did I mention the scenery? The farmlands, animals, wildflowers, old weathered and dilapidated barns and modern day farms glistening in the sun--and the unmistakable wealth of some of the homes I crossed, made the whole area diverse and rich with history and modern change. For the most part, the ride carries you on quiet, remote lands where history and geography celebrate a long marriage. I finished the required roads to apply for the motorcycle patch. As goal-oriented as I am, I now know that I would have done this tour without an award incentive. Definitely worth a long day ride or weekend trip.

The ride home seemed long. I made it longer by avoiding the toll way.

Day total: 254 miles
Weekend total: approx. 357 miles
RusticRoad Tour pics

Saturday, May 12

Rustic Roads Bound

I’m off to spend a weekend riding some of the many Rustic Roads (RR) dotted throughout WI. RRs are state designated roadways, singled out for their scenic beauty, hilly and twisty terrain, landmarks and the breath-taking geological manifestations that sparkle across the Wisconsin landscape.

WI has created an attractive RR motorcycle award program where one rides ten of the paved or unpaved trails to become eligible to receive one of the state’s attractive motorcycle patches. All I need to remember is to photograph each brown and yellow RR sign with Queenie and me in the picture. I’ll submit my proof and voila, a RR motorcycle patch will be mine. When I’m 80 and wearing purple, I’ll have a nice little memento to reflect upon.

Ten rides sound doable. A couple of day or weekend trips to our northern neighbors could make this an amazing adventure. So, this is my weekend! I’ve mapped out a 147-mile trip that commences once I reach WI that will allow me to explore twelve RR. I’ve factored in some wiggle room, as I might want to take a few well-selected detours. All I desire is decent weather, the wind at my back, and my mind and body fully focused on the ride. Sounds like a fabulous, fun way to spend my Mother’s Day weekend!

Tuesday, May 8

Ride Report: Rockford, IL--Gardens and the Oldest HD Dealership in the world!

Although the weekends have be great weather-wise, I haven’t become organized enough to do an overnight trip. Saturday was cloudy and cool, but definitely ride-worthy. Yet, I stayed in and did some much-needed domestic chores. Besides, Sunday promised to be better. Turned out to be a repeat of Saturday--mid-60s, cool and breezy, with occasional wind gusts—one of which slide the tail of my little gal pal slightly but enough for me to yell, “Whoa Nellie!”

Headed out Sunday at 9:30am--later than I wanted (again!). I took the expressway for approximately 40 miles of the 100 miles out. I picked up US 20 West to IL-72 West and picked up US 20 west again, all the way to Rockford. Both roads had enough smooth straight-aways, rolling “hills” and long sweeping curves to keep me entertained. The open space gave the wind full reign and forced me to crazy-glue my hands to the handle bar.

On Harrison Avenue in Rockford, one can find Kegel's, the oldest Harley Davidson dealership in the world. They’ve been in business for 97 years! How could I not stop! I expected the place to look its age but its quarters look new, snazzy, and gigantic. In addition to the dealership, you can buy all the HD items imaginable—two levels worth. A 50ish style diner is on the premises, the smells of which wafted through the showroom. From the looks of things, HD riders might do a regular Sunday pilgrimage to Kegel’s place. It’s easy to see why. It must be a great meeting place to see the latest HD brands (if that’s your thing) and grab a bite to eat with friends.

A couple of the sales personnel told me the insider route to get to the Anderson Japanese Gardens – far easier than my map indicated. I was tempted to have lunch at Kegel’s but the sky was getting grayer and more overcast. I decided to wear chaps today because of the hassle last week at Starved Rock (needing to find a bathroom to change into hiking clothes shoes). The chaps were easy to peel off on the spot, eliminating the need to go back and forth to the bike to store and retrieve gear. Within minutes of parking, I was ready to hit the trails.

The gardens are touted as among the best Japanese Gardens anywhere and I believe it. Calm came over me as I strolled along the crunchy-graveled paths. Even though people were out, the gardens conveyed a peace, a quiet occasion and a wonderful break before setting off to return ride home.
I shot a roll of b&w and far too many color pics to count. The grounds were magnificent and I felt transported to Japan. I hope the pics do some justice to the gardens. A goose was one highlight. S/he seemed to want his/her picture taken.

I came close to it and it didn’t seem pestered.
It stood still and turned a couple of times as if to present only its best side. It kept looking at me, being surprisingly cooperative and patient. Garden visitors have probably made the geese there feel comfortable around people—and cameras. I just had the feeling that this bird felt like s/he was the star attraction at the gardens.

The return trip was uneventful. Stopped at a PotBelly’s for a tuna sandwich and strawberry Smoothie and to map check for a different route home. I decided to take the toll way part of the way. That was a strange experience.
I don’t have a transponder that allows me to zip through the booths without stopping. To expedite matters, I strategically placed money in one jacket pocket and in the diagonal pocket along the right leg of my chaps. Still, stopping was tedious. At one booth, a nice toll collector told me to “take your time; I’ll lift the bar when you’re ready.” That was kind of him as I was fumbling to replace my glove while nervously feeling that I was holding up the line of cars behind me. I had to apply brakes and get into neutral so that when I actually stopped, I’d be immediately ready to remove one glove, dig in my pocket, pay, take the change, place it in my pocket, put on my glove, make sure I Velcroed my jacket cuff to ward of the cold rushing up my sleeve at 75 mph, get in first gear, and watch for the slippery-greasy spots on the ground. Whew! By my third tollbooth, I had things well choreographed. Great ride definitely worth taking if you're near.

Made it home safely around 6:30pm.
Sunday's day trip: total distance 214 miles.

Saturday, May 5

HAPPY National Female Ride Day—May 4, 2007

I must admit I hadn't remembered the date. I recalled reading about it long ago but totally forgot about it. So last night when I was dog-tired and wanting only to get on my PJs and snuggle up with a good book, I got up, donned my gear, fired up Queenie and took off for a short ride. It was Friday night, after 8pm. Downtown Chicago. The weather was warm (low 60s) enough to fill the streets with strolling couples, tourists and local residents walking their pint-sized, wanna-be dogs. Traffic was robust. I rode down the Mag Mile—there is no other city as beautiful, particularly at night. Period.

Went to Whole Foods and met a guy who works in the fish department. I asked him about the soup, which he told me was seafood gumbo but really turned out to be fish chowder, which had it not been superb, I would have returned to the store. He asked me what kind of bike I rode and this led to a banter about motorcycles. Turns out, he’s wanted to ride for a long time. He’s now a bicyclist. Increasingly, I’m meeting people who were serious bicyclists before they gravitated to motorcycling. He’s interested in taking a safety course so I was happy to recommend Ride-Chicago. We talked safety and gear for awhile. He sounds like a good one to add to our ranks.

While my support of National Female Ride Day was brief, I did participate in my own small way. The calendar is marked for next year. Perhaps then, I can do something more befitting.

Wednesday, May 2

Vinny to the rescue...

A public thanks to Vinny, fellow blogger, for pointing out that I inadvertantly duplicated several paragraphs during the formatting of the Starved Rock ride report. Stuff happens when you're sleep deprived and rushing off to work. I'm long-winded enough, no need to add even more to the blabber. THANKS, Blog Buddy!

Ride Report: Starved Rock (and a man who leans)

Sometimes the best made plans conk out. I deliberately did not take a long ride on a beautiful, weather-perfect Saturday because I had planned to do an overnighter Sunday/Monday. So, I spent Saturday fulfilling many of life’s demands—I even went to bed at a decent time. Yet, I was bright-eyed at 3am. I read, wrote a few things, read some more, made a fruit smoothie and when 8am rolled around I felt myself getting sleepy. Driving tired in a car is bad; operating two-wheels when tired is a death wish IMHO. Tried to get a few hours of sleep but never really reach REM. Thus, I couldn’t get myself together to leave until well after 11am, which to me is about 5 hours later than I like to leave.

Took out the trusty map, looked at all my yellow highlights around IL, and instantly decided to head southwest to Utica, IL, home of Starved Rock State Park. By this time, it was 11:30am. Although I was no longer tired, I was still poking around. Decided to mount the GPS to the bike. That took another 30 minutes. Decided to wear different pants. More time wasted. I packed two cameras, another set of clothes and my hiking boots. I was beginning to think I shouldn’t ride; I ignored my gut and blamed my looniness to a sudden onset of adult attention deficient disorder. I promised myself that if I rode the bike and didn’t immediately come to attention, I would call off the ride. Safety is always my first priority.

The one thing that gets me focused right away and melts away (momentarily--at least) life’s, stressors, pressures and distractions, is mounting my gal-pal. I don’t have a death wish so I know I absolutely must be centered on what I am doing. When I ride Queenie, my attention is zeroed in on the task of riding. I talk to myself during rides so that I’m in continual check with myself, what’s happening around me, how I’m feeling, and the feel of the bike. And, if things don’t feel right, I pack it in.

Getting through Chicago was my first ride challenge. As I eased Queenie southbound along Michigan Avenue, a throng of people and cars filled every inch of space. Way too many drivers were sightseeing and changing lanes randomly; Cabbies forever playing Pac-man ignored my presence; and bicyclists, they treated every vehicle or person as a cone weave opportunity. A mile of stop-and-go didn’t faze me. I felt great! But it was the turn in a curve with an immediate stop (if you’re not paying attention there you can fagittaboutit—you’re going to go down) that told me what I needed to know about this ride’s future. I straightened up the bike and put on brakes. I felt good.
Before leaving, I felt scattered, literally walking from room to room, fiddling with a Sekonic light meter, making journal entries, reading about Ilford film, which, 20 years ago was my film of choice. I ended up with the feeling that I wasn’t ready for my overnighter. I had wanted to do the Rustic Roads (RR) tour in WI. If I do ten of them, (yes, I know I am too goal oriented, but still…). I would get a motorcycle patch—yippee! I had planned to go to WI, ride some back roads, hike some trails, get a good night’s sleep, get up early on Monday and do the 147 miles of RR, and then head back to Chicago. My late start fouled up everything!

The late start meant no back roads to Starved Rock, unlike last year’s trip. I hopped on Lake Shore Drive for a short connection to I-94 west and on to I-55 South. The I-55 traffic was surprisingly light for the next 45 miles. I kept the speedometer within 10 miles of the post speed limits. I loved the spots where the posted speed was 65. I find Interstates potentially zone inducing if I don’t talk to myself, which I did the entire trip. I picked up I-80 near Minooka, IL and it became my track for another 45 miles or so.

I stopped in Minooka to stretch my legs. I’ve not experienced leg cramps the way I did on this trip. I tired moving my knees up, repositioning my foot, flexing it—nothing eased the cramp. This bothered me by forcing me to think of something other than the road. I hate stopping on such roads and feeling like a sitting duck. The cramp soon became a pain and I imagined a blood vessel erupting any minute. I saw myself falling off the bike and being run over repeatedly. Eventually, the leg cramp relaxed some but would happen again before I reached Utica. Hmmm? It also happened twice (once rather badly) on the return trip. "The old gray mare ain’t what she used to be," I guess.

I gassed up and as I stood outside drinking water, I met two men: a Harley Davidson rider and an elderly gent. The Harley rider, dressed in his go-to-meeting clothes, passes me on his way into the store. He says, “I have a motorcycle, a Harley Davidson, and on a nice day like today I should be out riding, instead I’m going to church with my grandson.” He stretches his arms, palms up and looks pleadingly into the sky. He looked perturbed. I told him he‘d probably get some extra points choosing church over riding. He said he hoped so. At the same GasMart, in the same spot, I meet an elderly gent around 5ft 4inches who exits the store and begins walking toward me. His face is hard to read. He wears a snarl. I size him up and feel that I can land some punches and kicks where they would hurt. It is a bright day so I’m thinking he wouldn’t really try anything, right? He comes too close to me and leans in my direction and with a drawl that ignites my “regional-bias,” he says, “You from ‘round here?” Now, by itself it’s an innocent question. He asks, however, in a way that reminds me Carroll O’Connor, the bigoted sheriff in the movie, The Heat of the Night, when he asks Sidney Poitier where he’s from. Then the man leans out again. My muscles tighten and I casually put my water down in case I need to drop it quickly to reach for his throat. I want to say, “Who wants to know.” Instead, I just say, “No…I’m from Chicago.” He leans in again. “Tell me…[leans out] how much [leans in] does the police let you get away with on that thing” [leans out ]. I tell myself not to allow the accent to throw me off. On his last lean out, I noticed a sly smile on his sun-damaged face. I tell him, I think they’ll let you do within ten. He smiles, leans in and turns to walk away, but not before adding: “That’s a nice little rig you got there.” Rig? Wow! I’ve never heard my bike (or any bike) referred to as a rig! I thank him for that.
The rest of the ride was rather monotonous but a few tacky road signs provided a little entertainment. Starved Rock State Park is situated in the town of Utica is a popular motorcycle destination. Literally hundreds of ear-splitting bikes. I passed by groups of riders and by what looked to be club hangouts, where bikes were parked deep and thick with their uniformed riders standing sentry. It all made me really think about the whole “loud bike save lives” perspective. Does it, really? Is there any research on this? As I rolled into the park, which has beautiful twisting roads and curves, the thundering I heard near and far from motorcycles only got on my nerves. Throughout my time at the park, every now and again, I would hear the booming and roaring from bikes. Those who don’t ride probably detest the sound. I ride and I hated it. So do loud pipes “save lives”—maybe so if all people want to do is flee from the racket. Frankly, I thought it all just annoying. All I wanted to do was disassociate myself from that noise. The weather was in the low 80s. I saw many women riders and I was surprised to see so few absent any gear—lots of bar arms, shoulders, midriff, and gloveless hands.

By the time I changed my clothes, donned my hiking boots, loaded up the old SLR, dug out the digital, I had dismissed the noisy bikes and thought only of the trek to the Rock. According to legend, Starved Rock’s name comes from the Illini’s decision to camp out on the top of a huge rock, away from the reach of the Iroquois, whom they were battling. Rather than leave the rock and surrender to their enemy, the Illini starved to death.

I must get some Draggin' Jeans for trips like this. It was a pain to trudge to the Visitors’ Center to change clothes, and then back to the bike to store the clothes, and then do it all over again before leaving. The park was abuzz with activity, which forced me to park in the farthest lot. Given this, it took more than 30 minutes to change in and out of my riding gear. With riding jeans, I can remove the armor and change shoes. Note to self: before the Lake Superior trip, fix this.

Carrying a loaded backpack and a helmet locked to the knapsack up steep climbs, exhausted me far sooner than it should have. I had missed a couple of weeks of power walking and I felt like a sumo wrestler. Dang, I hate when that happens! Some findings: The GPS and bike odometer show interesting discrepancies. At one point, the bike showed 50.4 miles, the GPS showed 51.6. At another time, the bike showed 94.2 miles versus the GPS, 97.2—that’s a significant disparity. Can somebody tell me why? Does it mean that the farther I go the great will be this gap? Alternatively, is there a point at which the mileage difference will converge and be more similar than dissimilar? Curious…

The return trip was super highway all the way, boring but fast.
Total Distance: 203.4 miles -- Sunday, April 29, 2007