Wednesday, June 08, 2011

Plan, But Don't Plan The Outcome

I had been planning this half-solo, half-groupie ride for better than 6 months. PAC Tour would be riding the eastern half of Route 66 leaving Amarillo May 21st and arriving in Chicago June 5th. I would ride four days down to Litchfield where they'd enter Illinois and then ride back with them to Chicago. Perfect! Their finish motel is only 8.5 miles from my house!

So, the planning began--customizing and tuning my new-to-me Bacchetta Ti Aero, route planning, drop shipping supplies to myself along the way, test riding the bike with loaded panniers, etc.

Sunday, May 29th finally came: Day 1--Wilmette to Joliet. Dave Eidenburg would meet me on the road by Swedish Covenant Hospital and we'd breakfast at Ina's instead of our "regular" Lou Mitchell's. The 29th was also Bike The Drive with thousands of cyclists enjoying the freedom of riding Lake Shore Drive for several hours while the road is closed to all car traffic. Lou Mitchell's, being close to The Drive, would surely be overrun with cyclists, tourists, happy Holiday-ers, but probably few regulars.

Chicago's winter has been endless and the Spring, if you can call it that, has been ridiculous with cold, rain, wind, storms, and more. So,I was not surprised to awake Sunday, May 29th to find the temp in the mid-50's, fog that could best be described as pleuritic froth so dense it dripped off my handlebars and soaked my knee warmers. Oh, so glad it was 6:30 a.m. and no one was on the road cuz my visibility was, at best, two car lengths. I needed to wipe my glasses every 30 seconds just to see anything. Even considered turning around, loading my bike in the car and driving to Joliet. An option, yes, but decided to decide after breakfast with Dave.

Indeed the fog did lift, at least at Racine/Randolph; but by the time we reached Indiana/Roosevelt it had returned with a vengeance. On we rode to 71st/Cottage Grove where Dave would U-turn to go home and I would seep alone into the southwest side's blight and fog.

I wanted to pee before Dave left, but finding such a facility was a challenge since gas stations in ghettos don't typically have restrooms. But what did manifest was what would be the first of 4 close encounters-of-the-police-kind right there on the corner of 71st and Cottage--a Chicago Police Station!! While there the sky opened up with proverbial buckets which gave Chicago's finest a chance to check the hourly forecast for me and "bless" my route. Gave Dave a farewell hug and headed out into the drizzle, pizzle, and pour Oh Lord.

Vincennes, the road, turned out to be under construction (rough, grooved surface) so sidewalk riding, curb and water-filled pot hole hopping while praying my gatorskin tires would resist the everywhere detritus.

Finished the ghetto; breathed easily in the beauty of Beverly; then girded my loins for surviving my invisibility in the fog on unshouldered, 45 mph south suburban streets. Jumped the sidewalks many times to stay out of harm's way, playing the stop lights for lane space.

Old Plank Trail was music to my eyes, even paused long enough to call Kirk with an update of my continued survival. Fog still BIG, but being the only wheeled vehicle on the Trail, actually being the only creature on the Trail, didn't seem like it should be too hard until--the 7:00 p.m. darkness at 1:30 p.m. turned to 11:00 p.m. darkness; the fog on my glasses became blinding rain, and the hirsute foliage edging the trail alive, competing with my trail space. And so it went to New Lennox when the elements became more civil and a Police Station appeared at trail side. Close encounter of a police kind # 2.

Did he think it safe for me to cut through the east side of Joliet to get to my motel or should I take the extra 7 miles to route around the "iffy" neighborhood. He voted for the extra 7 cautious miles.

The Joliet Red Roof watched me pour water out of my shoes, pour out of my pannier rain covers, and pour out of my panniers themselves. Washed my bike with shampoo out of the motel waste basket and stomped around on my clothes in the shower and fell dead asleep at 5:00 p.m. awakened by Rhonda's call saying she was at the front desk ready to take me to Syl's for dinner.

Day 1 in the books, a day of wise riding, protection and luck. Grateful for them all.

Willing To Accept Help

Monday, May 30th, Memorial Day awoke with a welcome visage: warm, sunny, blue skies; not even a thought of rain in the air or in the forecast.

The new roads bypassed the truck-laden roads out of Joliet and 12 miles later I was on the frontage road of I-55 aka Old Route 66. Nothing could be sweeter after yesterday's hard-earned fog-sodden completion.

Oooops, the pavement ended. YIKES, was I so mesmerized I missed a turn? Turned around to find my maybe missed turn and, VOILA, my close encounter of a police kind #3. The Sheriff re-directed me through the unpaved road, onto Duck Pond Road, and finally Dresden, my red carpet into Coal City. Duck Pond Road was Avatar Forest magical with frogs singing, cottonwood puffs filling the air like huge snow flakes and cool tranquility.

Fluid unload and reload at the Coal City ACE and on my way again, except not really. Heading South out of Coal City was the beginning of 25-30+ mph winds and temps that reached 95 for the rest of the day into Bloomington. No worries. I had plenty of daylight for the remaining 90 miles, plenty of bottle fuel, bars, and all would be fine. Plus, I would pass through Gardner, Dwight, Odell, Pontiac, Chenoa, Lexington, and Towanda. I could cool off in the service stations, no biggie.

By the time I reached Odell I had a disquieting sense that all was not fine. This was only the 4th day in 2011 I had ridden in Illinois with short pants, short sleeves, and short fingred gloves. I was not heat-acclimatized.

I had a serious bout of hyponatremia several years ago in the Cochise Classic--the result of coming out of the temperate October climate in IL and into the heat of AZ for the one-day ride. I've been told having had one bout of hypoNA predisposes you to future bouts.

By Pontiac I'm huddling in the shade of The Pontiac Family Kitchen's awning and putting ice under my helmet and down my shirt, the first of several more such attempts at cooling. The wind is picking up with each hour of the day and is solidly and relentlessly in my face. Pontiac's bright spot was a conversation with the Pritchards, long-time curators of the Pontiac Route 66 Museum, who were leaving the Family Kitchen.

By Lexington I'm seriously questioning whether I can make it to Bloomington, yet my options are none but to keep moving forward. Sat for a long while with as much skin as I could put on the cool tile floor of the Freedom Oil Convenient Store with ice under my cap and inside my shirt downing Hammer Endurolytes like Pez Candy, and having no idea whether I was ahead or behind with electrolyte replacements. I'd only peed once in 8 hours, not a good sign. Drinking nauseated me and even Lays Classic potato chips, the only convenient store food I can eat, wouldn't't go down. My caloric intake for the day was downright puny--a Larabar and a couple of bottles of fluid.

I'm in trouble. Big trouble.

My elapsed speed has been reduced to something like 8.5 mph with all the stops I've needed to make to slow my heart rate down, cool off, etc. Stopping once again under an overpass between Lexington and Towanda I have my #4 close encounter of a police kind. Steve Kennedy, State Police pulls up along side me, gives the thumps up sign in questioning and I return with the thumbs down. We chat, would I want to put my bike in his back seat? That was downright humorous. I smiled the first time since the Avatar Forest. Can you even imagine getting a Bacchetta Ti Aero into the back seat of a sedan??? I thanked him for his kind offer and pressed on down the road toward Towanda. He says he'll send another officer out a little later to check on me. It was a relief to know that someone knew I was out here.

Once again my cool down ritual at The Fast Stop in Towanda with 11 miles to go. Each of these 10 mile stretches seem like 25 or 30 on regular days. Four miles out of Towanda close encounter of a police kind #5 this time it's State Police Officer Eric. He says a lot of people are worried about me and we're going to load my B into his trunk and he'll SAG me into the motel. With tires, weapons, first aid kits, and more in his trunk, I think it is a full miracle we were able to lay the B on top of it all and bungee the trunk lid with my cable lock. It was only 7 miles, but it felt like 30.

After checking into my room I reached for my phone to call Kirk and my phone was GONE!! I know I hadn't been thinking clearly for several towns, but my last memory with my phone, which I could have sworn was in Towanda, was moving it from my hip pouch to the pouch on the back of my bike seat so the dripping water from the ice in my shirt and under my cap wouldn't drown my phone. Phone lossage was indeed a show stopper. I had to call Kirk via the hotel room phone. Amazing I even knew his number since he's speed dial "K".

Decision made. I would need to layover in Bloomington an extra day to recoup and regroup including buying a new phone. Did call the service station in Towanda to see if my phone had been found. No such luck, although the thought of riding 24 miles round trip to pick it up, had it been there, sounded like an over-the-top challenge at the time.

Sometimes when I fall short of a goal I beat myself up with a cacophony of self-talk. This was not one of those times. I had planned well, trained well, and was fully ready. There is no way I could have heat-acclimatized for mid-90's and high winds in one day. After all, I had been wearing winter or storm gear up to this very day for 6 months!

I was grateful for the SAG; grateful for having had the hyponatremia experience several years ago so I could, at least, knowledgeably try to manage my physiology; grateful for Hammer products to give me the confidence that I had supplements at hand designed to support athletes under such conditions; grateful for 5 different Officer Friendlies along my way; grateful for the Pritchards who brightened Pontiac for me;grateful for Paul, the La Quinta Proprietor, who was genuinely relieved to see me arrive safely; and grateful for Kirk at the other end of the hotel phone line who, as always, was full of support and constructive problem solving.

Day 2 in the books.

Bloomington: Recoup and Regroup

Given the events of Foggy Day 1 and Steamy Day 2, meeting PAC Tour in Litchfield would not be doable.

First order of business on Day 3, this my day of recoup and regroup in Bloomington, was a bike ride to the Library to plan my route to Lincoln where I WOULD meet up with PAC Tour to ride the last 3 days of their eastern half of the Route 66 Tour. One of my learnings from my several years of self-guided touring is to remember to build in "cush" time to manage through the occasional unplannables. Without some cush-time, the unplannables will, indeed, bite you in the kneecap. The events of the last couple of days definitely fell into the category of unplannables.

Google on the Library Computer found me my route to Lincoln, the local Starbucks, and the Verizon Store; all my needs can be met with these 3 finds.

Sipping a Chai Latte on the Starbucks' patio on the corner of Washington St. and Veterans Parkway when 19 y.o. Barrista Jason, on break, sat down at my patio table to swap bike and riding stories. His longest ride is 50 miles; he rides a vintage Schwinn. He's a tiny little guy whose smile is twice the size of his whole body. He'd easily make weight as a Jockey for sure. His big, fawn eyes went dreamy imagining what it would be like to have the freedom to ride the country. Fun to be a part of planting a dream in a young'n's heart.

Off next to the Verizon store and served there by Andre, a 48 y.o. born-again Christian, 6-months retired world-class, professional body-builder wrestler and inspirational speaker. My B parked in his store gave him license to swap stories about the mental aspects of our sports. Check him out on YouTube. He sold me an iPhone with a ballistic proof shocking pink case. Not sure I need all that protection, but right now I'm practicing being willing to accept help.

With Tuesday as a Recoup and Regroup Day, I was ready to roll out of the Bloomington La Quinta and say farewell to Paul, the proprietor, and his 2-week-old baby girl on Wednesday, Day 4.

I am not a fan of Cracker Barrel, but that was the only restaurant within walking distance of my La Quinta. Another thing I've learned is I need animal protein especially the morning of a long ride or when on multi-day tours. So, stopped at Cracker Barrel with my loaded B for a carry-out order of a couple of sausage patties and met Todd, a local business man, who was interested in where I was going, my route, whether I'd ridden in the Madison, WI area, his hopes to do so, etc. We must have spent 30 minutes pouring over maps, and his making call after call to city hall and the parks dept trying to figure out where I could pick up the trail to Shirley, IL.

I left Bloomington in perfect weather, Thank You!--warm, breezy, pure sunny delight. Even found the path Todd had worked so hard to find for me, but with no thanks to the folks who answered his calls at city hall or the parks dept.

Stopped in Atlanta, IL at a service station and was nearly to Lincoln when a 16 y.o. on a BMX trick bike rolled up along side of me; he'd been chasing me down since Atlanta. He'd never seen a recumbent before and just had to see it up close and personal. Satisfied, he turned around a rode back to Atlanta.

A most sweet conclusion to Day 4.

Riding In The Pack With PAC: Lincoln-->Pontiac

Always feels like a homecoming when I rejoin PAC Tour whether it be for a Transcon, a week of Desert Camp to break the monotony of Winter, or just to ride with them a few days on one of their longer journeys, which is the case this week.

Today we're riding about 80 miles from Lincoln to Pontiac savoring the sites of some of Illinois' Route 66 lore, like the Paul Bunyon Hot Dog Statue, The Palms Grill Restaurant rich with homemade pies, Funks Grove Maple Sugar, and lots and lots of 50's memory lane in Pontiac.

Jim Hlavka under Paul Bunyan in Atlanta, IL

Breakfast at The Plam's Grill in Atlanta

One of many murals in Pontiac

Mike and Nancy Meyers on their Rans Sevo Recumbent Tandem


Me again

Bikes parked outside The Plam's in Atlanta for a breakfast of homemade pies

Jim, Don, Al, and me at Baby Bull's in Pontiac

Next To The Last Day--on to Willowbrook

Pix say it best.

Jim under the Gemini Giant in Wilmington

Another mural, this one in Wilmington

Another hot day for Lon and all the riders

Final dinner at the Route 66 famous Del Rhea

Lon auctioning the Route 66 map for $750 to Lenny. Proceeds will support Lon's educational projects in Peru.

End of Route 66--The Tour and The Road

Next time I ride with PAC it will be 2012 and I'll be an Arizona resident--WooHoo!

A HUGE thanks to Susan Rosenblatt for being the resident photographer for the entire trip. You did an awesome job.

Last rest stop before Lou Mitchell's for breakfast

Almost There

Susan Wells, Susan Rosenblatt, and Susan Reed

Buckingham Fountain

Chicago style mural in an underpass

This bike as traveled the entire Mother Road

See you on the next Route 66 PAC Tour

Once again, pix say it best.