Saturday, September 16

Sojourner Rides Three Presidents!

Disclaimer: I did not vote for any of them! There was no blue dress involved.

Still, I did three Presidents on a recent ride of 218 miles! It all started with a keen desire to follow a popular street in Chicago. It's Rt. 38, better known to Chicagoans as "Roosevelt Road." The eastern most tail of it is steps from my downtown start point. On a map, Rt.38 seems to stretch west forever. I take it, winding my way through diverse neighborhoods on a warm Saturday with the aroma of each ethnic group's cuisine filling the air, tempting my nostrils and brain to stop and eat, eat, eat.

As I leave familiar Chicago streets, the north side of the road is, at one point, lined with graveyard after graveyard. Passing through, I remember calling it "cemetery row." Eventually, the roads elongate, become long and flat and westward with few people out and about--contrary to the congestion back east on Chicago's Roosevelt Road. Early morning riding is simply the best!

After going through some trendy, upscale environs like Geneva, one comes to rural areas such as DeKalb. Continue west and reap the rewards of... cornfields. Miles and miles of cornfields. Nothing spectacular or challenging about the roads, they are just there--flat and occasionally slightly curvy. Crossing railroad tracks breaks the monotony now and again. However, those flat out, straight road have their own merit. They are hushed. Passing through the small towns of Ashton, Rochelle and Franklin Grove engenders a connection with nature. The sound of birds and an occasional "moo" from a cow is a far more welcoming call than a cabbie honking at you or a "traffic cop" blasting a whistle at you just because you're crossing the street while reading!

Heading west, one cannot miss the signs for "Historic Lincoln Highway," which is aka Rt. 30. This is my second nod to a President. I've taken Lincoln Highway many times but never this far west. I hop on and it snakes through some old, tiny villages that look as if they all decided to thumb their collective noses at time. Franklin Grove, IL--my personal favorite--is one town that prides itself with maintaining history. Soon after turning into the town, I see a large red, white and blue painted sign along side the building's front. It announces the Lincoln Highway Association National Headquarters. It is housed in an ancient building. A group of dedicated volunteers continues to do all they can to restore, maintain, and manage this tiny operation.

Inside the headquarters, I meet Lynn, who encourages me to sign the visitors' book and hang around to chat. Lynn is gregarious and doesn't need to hawk the items in the shop, which has tons of Lincoln Highway memorabilia, trinkets and antiques that locals place on consignment. After talking to Lynn, you just want to buy stuff. I am limited by my knapsack--and funds. Lynn knows the history of Lincoln Highway and imparts it with vitality that only a dedicated volunteer can. You'll learn everything about the bricks and mortar of the building, the volunteer efforts to keep it going, the construction of Lincoln Highway, and all the town history that only and insider can reveal. Lynn tells me about a relative, who not only rides a motorcycle but also builds them! On the spot, she calls his mother to find out if he has a website. He does. (I'm still looking for the url she gave me).

If you ever go by Franklin Grove stop in, say “hello” to Lynn, and sign in. You won't be disappointed if she's there and you'll learn a lot of regional history too.

Continuing west, I come to Dixon, IL and the childhood home of the next President: Ronald Reagan. His birthplace, Tampico, IL is still many miles west. The Reagan family rented five houses in Dixon. Two have been destroyed; two are privately occupied and not open to the public. The "museum" house stands on a street now named in honor of RR. The house is manned by enthusiastic volunteers who will tell you more than you will remember about the boyhood of Ronald Reagan and his days in Dixon. I watch a ten-minute film that was way more interesting than I thought possible; I tour the house, learn a lot of regional history, but ultimately I leave the house disappointed. NO JELLY BEANS!

Someone told that there were jellybeans on this tour, in honor of President Reagan's passion. Perhaps I misunderstood. I kept waiting for my treat. NOTHING. It's rude to ask about it. I'm thinking, I'll get my reward at the end. But when the door opens for me to leave, I do so. Nothing! Not even a "thank-you" for coming all this way to visit the house of a president I did not even vote for! Later I learned that they do not just give you the jellies, you must buy them in the gift shop! Tricked! That's how I feel. Oh, well, I only really like the red ones anyway. I won't say I wouldn't have visited had I known about the jelly beans ruse...but getting there was oh so sweet thinking a treat awaited me at the end.

I planned my return trip to follow another familiar road. I take Rt.64 all the way into downtown Chicago. Now I know that North Avenue is congested whether one is in Chicago or in the boonies! The only thing that made this an enjoyable eastward ride was going through towns like Sycamore and St. Charles. However, you must be comfortable in heavy traffic! Many malls --both small and large, line Rt.64. Where malls exist, there are far more chances for a motorcyclist to become road kill by inconsiderate, bad-driving, cell phone yakking shoppers. Construction is robust along parts of Rt.64. The best way through is patience, covering the front brake at all times, and owl-like head rotations to regularly scan for what's near you or bearing down on you! Still, the ride is worth it as there are wonderful, fun moments when one is not needing to avoid impatient drivers and only inching forward in bumper-to-bumper traffic.

Doing Presidents...a great way to have spent a recent Saturday.

Pics: Presidential Ride/Rt.38