Bike shorts? Check. Short sleeve jersey? Check. Sunscreen? Check. Meet-up point? Check.
Sometimes even the best laid plans fall apart at the very last minute. The sunny 70-degree day fails to arrive. An unnoticed little bridge over a very impassible creek is cordoned off for decking repairs. The early morning rain leaves muddy ruts on that one small section of trail you forgot was unpaved.
Such was my ride on the very first day of 30 Days of Biking.
The plan was simple; pick up my friend Joel and ride north to meet up with our friend Javier. It was the usual weekend "pickup" ride along the Fox River and Prairie Trails. While the group size varies, some of us start the ride in Elgin while others jump on in Carpentersville and Crystal Lake. Sometimes we ride north. Sometimes we ride south. We always stop midway to eat or drink beer (or both).
Weather.com showed the sun breaking through the clouds and warming up nicely by noon. While the original forecast had called for mid-70s (and sometimes upper 70's), mid-60s with an 8mph wind out of the northeast would still be enjoyable as we rode the rolling, twisty, tree-lined trail along the river.
I spent an hour or so cleaning my bikes, airing the tires, and swapping pedals. Joel was visiting from Georgia so he would be borrowing my Iseo while I rode the trail on my Impulso road bike. When I picked Joel up at his mother's house, he was in a tank top and shorts, ready for a reprieve from the muggy 80-degree days he had been experiencing back in Athens. I had pulled a lightweight wind shell over my short sleeve jersey and we headed to the trailhead. Joel insisted that he was quite comfortable despite the overcast, 50-degree start to the afternoon.
Meanwhile, Javier had sent me a text message stating that a bridge was out along the trail and he would be unable to ride down to join us. His planned ride from his house to the trail would have to take a northerly route for the day. There was no on-bike detour around the closed bridge. Joel and I were on our own.
Joel's mother's house is located near the Caputo's store on Randall Road in South Elgin so we decided to start there. We could stock up on fresh food after the ride and haul our respective groceries back in the van rather than on the bikes.
I hadn't ridden east to the Fox River Trail on the bike path that parallels Silver Glen Road in more than five years. We crossed the new bike bridge over Randall Road and headed toward the FRT via the River Bend Bike Trail. Not much had changed along the paved trail rolling quickly downhill toward Route 31. There was still the long-jump pit and steep stairs just before the dangerous crossing at Route 31.
Apparently some forward-thinking planner decided that the best way to warn cyclists of the dangerous street crossing was to install the equivalent of the runaway truck lane used in the mountains. As you roll quickly toward the intersection, you hit the sand pit, stop abruptly, and tumble over onto your side. This is far better than encountering a short, steep staircase at the last minute or rolling directly out into cross traffic. It's also cheaper than, I don't know, warning signs, flashing lights, a traffic signal, and a well-marked crosswalk that didn't involve a staircase...
If the sand trap hadn't changed with the addition of the $2.5 million Randall Road Bike Bridge one mile to the west (and ironically the reason the bike bridge needed to be built to safely connect the FRT with the Randall Road bike path and Great Western Trail), I should have known that the unpaved section through the Blackhawk County Forest Preserve would also be left unimproved. Transitioning to the crushed limestone on my thin racing tires caused me to momentarily regret choosing this route.
But then I remembered that that very morning the professional racing team Vacansoleil-DCM was racing the very same Impulso road bike over cobblestones at the Tour of Flanders in Belgium (13th place for one of the only aluminum bikes being raced that day). The bike was designed to take crushed limestone and more. And at a lot faster speed than I was riding to avoid the series of mud puddles that quickly erased an hour of bike detailing...
Joel and I headed north under an overcast sky that made the early-budding trees and ground cover appear dull and lifeless. There were plenty of people out on the trail - solo riders, walkers, runners, families, a guy on a bike with a two-cycle gas engine (essentially an old-school motorcycle) and a young mom on a late model Schwinn Stingray, or as Joel put it, a motorcycle without an engine. I guess we all had planned to be on the trail and were going to make the most of it, despite the disappointment with the forecast.
At a little over twenty miles into our ride, we encountered the dreaded sign that Javier warned us about. Two small bridges over a relief channel that drains an old quarry into the Fox River were closed for repair. While their respective spans are not wide, there is no way to portage either on foot or bypass them on lightly trafficked side streets. There were no suggested detours posted along with the laminated signs stapled to the mile marker posts. One half-mile of impassible trail separated the two of us from Javier and a more epic ride for the day.
Keeping with the plan, we turned around and headed to Emmett's in West Dundee. It was the first brew pub stop of the new season. Joel ordered the red and I ordered the 1am Ale. Not the core-warming beverage we needed for a 50-degree, 14-mile ride back to Caputo's, but exactly what we needed to bring back memories of rides from seasons past.
Despite the obstacles, that's what bicycling is about. Getting outside, enjoying a good workout, hanging with friends, and building memories. And that's precisely what the 30 days of biking "unofficial" challenge is about.
One day down, 29 to go. Where will my bike take me today?
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Keep riding and be safe!