Bike touring. It's the ultimate freedom fantasy.
You. Nature. Everything you need to survive - and not a single item more - strapped securely to your bicycle. Inspiring sunrises. Stunning sunsets. Nothing but the uninterrupted hours between to discover new places and reconnect with your inner self.
It's a dream shared by many, yet only a relative few ever take a month, a whole summer, or an entire year off to realize their grand aspirations. We read their stories, make mental notes about the routes they've enjoyed, bookmark tents and touring gear on our browsers, and then return to our regularly scheduled lives. "Someday" we mutter to ourselves. Someday...
Fortunately for each of us, we don't live in a world where our choices are all or nothing. Go big or go home is just a silly slogan for monster truck bumper stickers and spam emails. One doesn't have to ride across the entire continental US to enjoy the freedom of bicycle touring. A great event is happening right here in our own backyard and it only requires a single weekend of our busy summer.
Trails For Illinois offers GITy Up - a weekend tour of two of the rail trails featured in the Grand Illinois Trail system (hence the GIT in GITy Up). Think of it as a wine tasting party. Or a time share getaway without the high pressure sales pitch. You can even bring the kids along.
The best part about GITy Up is that all you really have to do is show up with a bike and the determination to ride 50 miles over two days. You don't need a special touring or adventure bike. You don't even need to figure out how to strap your tent and luggage to the bike you have. GITy Up will haul your overnight stuff while you pedal along and enjoy the scenery.
What could be easier?
This year's route runs from Wheaton to Aurora to South Elgin and back to Wheaton along the Illinois Prairie Path and the Fox River Trail. It's a great triangle that takes you through quiet neighborhoods, wetlands, prairies, farms, forest preserves, and along the tree-lined banks of the Fox River. One would be amazed at the diverse scenery that is so neatly hidden within the Western Suburbs and Fox Valley (sights you'll never appreciate, let alone notice, traveling by car).
The surface of the IPP is crushed limestone that can easily be ridden on a comfort, hybrid, mountain, or road bike (might be a little bumpy in places). The Fox River Trail is paved with a few on-street detours and one or two short, crushed limestone stretches. There are very few unregulated street crossings, making the majority of the ride stress-free for parents supervising children riding their own bicycles. You may feel like you're out in the wild, but in reality, you're only hundreds of feet from your normal, comfortable surroundings.
Trails For Illinois' Tumblr blog features images of the fun had by all on last year's inaugural ride. This year's ride is scheduled for Saturday, July 20th and Sunday, July 21st and is limited to 200 participants. Full information is found here.
I wish something like this was available the first time I decided to try a self-supported rail trail adventure. But that's a story for another time...
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Keep riding and be safe!