It's no secret that I look for any excuse to ride my bike.
Combining transportation with exercise and recreation is a win-win-win in my book. Mix in a new destination and the experience is elevated to what I like to call "adventure-cising".
Bicycling somewhere entirely new gets my heart beating faster. I clip into the pedals with an extra boost of nervous energy. Will there be an actual bike lane or is the local traffic unaccustomed to sharing the road with bicycles? Will I spot my next turn or will I roll right past it? What obstacles will I encounter? My senses are heightened as I pedal tentatively in the direction I have only studied on a map.
Such was the case this past weekend when I was presented with a true adventure-cise opportunity.
My son and I rented a U-Haul truck one-way to his new home at Western Illinois University in Macomb. The usual 4-hour return car trip would be replaced with a leisurely, not quite three-hour train ride back to Naperville. When I purchased my ticket on-line, I couldn't help but notice the "add a bike" option. It took me all of one second to add a space for my bike to the shopping cart.
Amtrak couldn't have been more accommodating to a cyclist. On this particular line, I was able to carry my bike right into the passenger car and lay it down in the oversized baggage area, kitty-corner from my seat. I was pleasantly surprised at just how comfortable the train car felt. There was more legroom than an airline seat. There was also a nice sandwich and snack cafe with reasonably priced fare. There was even a full-size restroom. Three hours on the train was far more enjoyable than any three-hour flight I had ever taken.
When the train stopped in Naperville, I carried my bike off the train, strapped on my helmet, pulled on my gloves, and looked for a way out of the maze of one-way streets surrounding the station. I knew that I needed to ride north - I just couldn't remember the name of the cross street that would get me across the tracks. I was pretty sure I'd figure it out once I got rolling.
The first thing I noticed when I stepped outside the train was just how unseasonably cold it was for a mid August morning. There was a nip in the air and some very ominous clouds to the east. When you book a trip months in advance, you are always at the whim of the weather gods. I considered myself pretty fortunate since I was heading straight north and avoiding a potential thunderstorm. I had already met my thunderstorm quota for the season.
The moment I found the correct northbound street , I realized that the weather gods weren't entirely smiling down upon me. I found myself riding into a headwind of 15 - 20 miles per hour straight out of the north. I would have to contend with this for the next thirty seven miles. It seems that we cyclists can never fulfill the wind quota.
Bicycling suburb to suburb is almost as challenging as finding public transportation for inter-suburban commuting. The 'burbs were made for cars - not trains, not buses, not pedestrians, and certainly not bicycles. Less trafficked streets through residential neighborhoods aren't interconnected. A cyclist is forced to choose between busy four-lane thoroughfares or a patchwork of side streets, local bike paths, regional rail trails, forest preserve trails, and the occasional sidewalk. It's a good thing that Google Maps can provide directions specifically for bicycling.
Unfamiliar streets, a strong headwind, and the realization that there was no way I'd make it home in two and a half hours raised my heart rate before I even started riding. This added uncertainty created an adrenaline rush that makes adventure-cising even more beneficial than your run-of-the-treadmill gym workout.
Despite the fact that my bike ride would take longer than my train ride, it went by much faster. Instead of glancing out the window at an unbroken landscape of farm fields, I was now winding through the wooded trail surrounding Herrick Lake. Instead of sitting contentedly inside a metal tube racing along a steel rail, I was sitting atop a steel rail racing beneath a canopy of trees along the Illinois Prairie Path. I was no longer observing the business end of small towns that time seemed to have forgotten. I was zipping through vibrant suburban neighborhoods past soccer fields and playgrounds.
Every minute I was on the bike, I couldn't help smiling. I wasn't forced to sit behind the wheel of my car for four long hours. I had carved out some extra time for an intense cardio workout. I was even sampling four different bike path systems (Herrick Lake, Illinois Prairie Path, Poplar Creek, Paul Douglas) in a single weekend outing.
Adventure-cising - it's as easy as riding a bike...