Biologist on a Bike

Summer Shakedown Tour #1

June 24-25, 2017


A month ago, 60 miles was a Very Long Day. After completing 60 miles with a partially loaded bike (18 lbs of gear) during Bike The Drive, I was in enough discomfort that I texted a friend “I. Hate. Stairs.” And yet on this day I had about 38 lbs of gear and was heading out on a 73 mile course.


With a 84 mile return trip the next day.

I had also decided that I did not want to miss my martial arts class that morning, so I set off on my 73 mile ride into the unknown at 12:35 after a strenuous morning workout.

Genius it was not. But hey, I was excited.

Striking a pose in front of my fully loaded bike before setting off.

And so, off I rode. The first 17 miles were on Chicago’s lakefront path, familiar territory. The bags attracted about as much attention as you would expect in terms of stares and witty comments like, “That’s a lot of bags,” and “You running away from home or something?”

By mile thirty the excitement was tinged with a healthy dose of anxious energy. I was leaving familiar territory at about the same time that I was reaching the point in my ride where I would be further from home than I was from my destination. No turning back now.

Well, not exactly. I was grateful to note that a significant portion of the route followed the Metra tracks. It’s nice to have an escape plan.

There are some nice cycleways in the north suburbs, if you don’t mind riding next to high power electrical lines. The birds certainly didn’t mind hanging out there, which is how I came to realize that I had left my camera battery home plugged into the charger. No shots of goldfinches this trip.

Lesson Learned: check to make sure the camera has all necessary components before packing any of the components.

It wasn’t until mile 50 that the route took an interesting turn, metaphorically speaking. I had trusted Garmin Connect with the majority of the route planning, only tweaking a few things based on the Strava Heatmap. When the route took me onto a busy state road with fast traffic and little to no shoulder, I realized I should have looked at the heatmap a little (a lot!) more carefully.

Entering Wisconsin

Leaving Illinois for Wisconsin, at last.

I kept on because what else could I do, and eventually ended up on the quieter, less populated county roads that I had wrongly assumed would be the majority of the ride once I got outside Chicago and the outlying suburbs. By then, a recurring knot in my right calf was acting up, making inclines more than a little uncomfortable, and I was wondering if I was ever going to cross the state line into Wisconsin.

That would happen when I was about ten miles from my destination, as it turned out.


A dirt road with grasslands on either side.

This is not an acceptable road for a loaded touring bike.


The route I had planned then hit me with another unpleasant surprise. Instead of a too-busy road my surprise this time was the exact opposite: a bumpy dirt road that, had it not been getting uncomfortably near to sunset I would have attempted to detour around. The beautiful views in the park only partially compensated for the jostling ride.


Wide open spaces in Bong State Recreation area.



The Garmin route then lead me unerringly to the campground, which was great except for one thing. Having entered the park by a service road/equestrian trail meant that I hadn’t passed the Entrance Station where I was meant to check in to my campsite and receive a tag that would tell any rangers passing by in the middle of the night that I was allowed to be there.


Two trucks, one pulling a large trailer, in a queue at the entrance station.

I didn’t expect there to be a line.

I asked a fellow camper how to get the tag everyone else was displaying on their campground, I suppressed a sigh and backtracked to the entrance station where I waited in line with vehicles much bigger than mine. And every minute the sky was darkening due to a combination of threatening clouds and setting sun.



A quick jaunt — well as quick as I was capable of given that it had been a long 78 miles when I was expecting 73 — back to the campsite and I was soon setting up camp while wearing my rain gear to protect against the brisk wind and threatening rain. Only after the tent was set up, the panniers hastily thrown inside, and a garbage bag wrapped around my leather saddle was I able to relax.

Foreground: an empty picnic table, a black touring bike with a plastic bag around the saddle leaning on a tree. Behind them is a green tent with bushes behind that.

All set for the night.

I extracted my stove and heated water to re-hydrate my dinner. I was more than a little chilled at this point, and longing for a hot drink. The only thing I had packed was coffee, though, and I was not about to ingest caffeine so close to bedtime. The hot meal would have to do. Then, breaking one of the cardinal rules of camping, I took my meal into my tent, wrapped myself in my sleeping bag, pulled out my kindle, and read in my warm little cocoon.

I hadn’t stopped often on the ride. Partly this was because I wasn’t feeling hungry and partly it was because I was racing the sunset. It was not surprising, then, that I was still hungry when I finished my meal. I fished out my bagels and peanut butter to address that small issue.

Then, finally, worried about the possibility of rain and the unreliability of plastic shopping bags, I took one of my front panniers and placed it over my bike saddle, making a mental note to buy a saddle cover before my next trip.

I had partially inflated my sleeping pad before dinner. I should have left it that way, uncomfortable though it might have been, because when I topped it off, the side seam blew out. Not just a little hole, no, a two-inch-long gaping mouth had opened on the side of my sleeping pad, rendering it all but useless. Well, I had been eyeing newer, lighted, more compact sleeping pads in the stores for a while but had resisted the purchase since mine was functional. Time to look at the silver lining; now I had a reason to get a new one.

The night was cold but I soon warmed up in the sleeping bag, and at one point woke up uncomfortably hot. Still, I slept well enough to wake up a few minutes before my alarm.

First things first. Coffee. We’re talking serious caffeine dependence here.

Sign reading "Please come again"

Leaving the park.

Then I packed up camp and took a lovely 10 mile ride along deserted gently rolling country roads to a diner where I had some spectacular stuffed french toast (stuffed with cream cheese, bananas, and raisins, topped with strawberries and with whipped cream on the side) and scrambled eggs. The diner was just across the street from the Racine County Fairgrounds, where I headed next, as my church was holding a bi-regional service there.

A plate of french toast topped with strawberries

Breakfast, cooked to perfection and seasoned with hunger.




After church there was a picnic. I joined some friends, eating another one of my bagels with a healthy dose of peanut butter, and accepting offers of fresh fruit and veggies to round out the meal. Then, knowing that i had a long way to go, I headed out.

The ride home was by a different route, and I very quickly ran into problems. There was construction on Route 45 and I had to detour. The lesson of the day is to actually follow the detour signs, because my one attempt to jump back on Route 45 several miles down the road probably added five miles to my ride.

A long, mostly empty, two-laned road stretching off into the distance.

The call of the open road.

For at least the first third of the ride, the roads were beautiful, open, and gently rolling. That last part was a problem, though, since the knot in my calf had only gotten worse overnight and was now twinging with every downstroke of the pedal. When it gets bad it mimics the pain of a stress fracture on my upper tibia, and it was starting to do that now. Wrapping it in an ace bandage helped a bit, and without that I doubt I would have made it home without resorting to catching a Metra train.

The front wheel of a bike with panniers still attached to the rack. A hand is holding up a spoke tool in front of the wheel.

When I got the multi-tool, I didn’t even know what this bit did.

During my ride to breakfast I had noticed a bit of a wobble in my front wheel. As I traversed the aforementioned rolling hills, that wobble began to concern me, especially on the downhills. About 20 miles into the ride I found a park and took a break, being mindful to eat while I tried my hand at re-truing a wheel for the first time. Thank God for the internet, smartphones, and informative YouTube videos. I did manage to get it back on track and the wobble was gone. I gave myself a pat on the back for managing that.

Just like the ride out, however, getting back into the city meant navigating some roads that were very, very clearly not meant for a bicycle. There were multiple honkers, any number of silent seethers, and at least one imprecation shouted out a window before I was back into safer territory.

A shadow silhouette of loaded bike and rider.

Shadow Rider.

At long last, I hit Chicago’s lakefront path. The far end is about 17 miles from my house, but the familiarity – and the blessed lack of traffic – were soothing. I was once again racing the sunset, but at least this time I was racing the sunset to my apartment, not to a campsite where I would have to struggle to set up in the dark should I lose the race. Still, the shadows were longer than I would have liked by the time I got to my door.

Thanks to the detour, what was supposed to be an 84 mile day became a 91 mile day, my longest ride ever.

But I had done it. My first bike overnight, my first solo overnight, and my two longest ever rides all in the span of two days.

Not bad.

It was time to plan the next trip!

Adventure on, friends!

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