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