Biologist on a Bike

Day 50: Devil’s Kitchen Lake, IL to Cave in Rock, IL


Distance: 74.28 mi
Average Speed: 10.6 mph; Max Speed: 40.1 mph
Elevation gain: 4,385 ft
Average Temp: 88.9 F; Temp Range: 71.6-111.2 F


Subtitle: bad to worse and back again.

My alarm went off at 3AM this morning. I didn’t grumble nearly as much as I might have done a few weeks ago, but rolled off my sleeping pad and stumbled out of the tent…

Where I woke up, Day 50. More precisely this is where I went to sleep on day 49. It was too pretty to only get a pre-dawn shot of.

…to discover a raccoon had pulled one of my panniers off the picnic table, dragged it at least 8 feet away (impressive, as it was probably several times the raccoon’s weight), had chewed a hole in the side, and was proceeding to make a mess with my instant “cappuccino.” Jerk. It ran off when I yelled at it, but the damage had already been done. I carried the torn bag back to the table and realized that something else was missing as well: my cook pot and one of my cups. This took a bit longer to find, as they had been dragged in the other direction. In fact, a few feet further and they would have been in the trees and I likely wouldn’t have seen them at all. The cup is a loss, because the jerk of a trash panda actually ripped the bottom off it. The cook pot was unharmed, thank goodness.

Hole in the pannier.

How did the trash panda manage to pull the bottom off my Sea2Summit cup like that?

I took down the tent, haphazardly stuffed all my gear into the panniers, and walked everything up to the shower house to sort and clean it indoors and with more light. So much for my early start. I filled the cook pot with water and set it on the stove to boil, the best method I could think of to effectively clean it. Then I emptied out the torn pannier, washing off each Ziploc bag or food package in turn and setting them out to dry. Once that was done, I took the pannier outside to the drinking water spigot to wash it off. It wasn’t just raccoon cooties I was worried about, but the jerk of a pannier wrecker had made a sticky mess of my sugary instant “cappuccino” that had to be cleaned.

My fuel canister, the one I started the trip with, died mid-boil, so I pulled out the spare I bought back in Colorado when I thought the big one was running low. That finished the job. I dumped the boiled water out of my cookpot, I wasn’t in the mood for heating more for my non-instant coffee options. By the time that all was cleaned and repackaged to my satisfaction (thankfully the hole in the side of the pannier is small enough that with careful packing nothing should fall out spontaneously) it was 4:40.

The road I was on this morning was not quite as well-paved as some of the others that I’ve ridden pre-dawn, so I had to keep a lookout for bumps and dips and the like. It was also a lovely setting, from what I could see. A narrow country road lined on both sides by forest with old trees large enough that their crowns likely would have shaded most of the road even at midday. I was almost sorry to have missed seeing it in daylight, but the fact that the humidity left me drenched in sweat well before dawn made me rethink that wish. I wanted to spend as little time in the heat as possible.

Feather duster flower tree (not it’s real name, but how I’ve been thinking of it)

Feather duster flower tree view 2

The first town on the path today was listed as having a convenience store, so I bent my thoughts in that direction, anticipating a large cup of coffee to stave off my growing irritability. Coffee addiction is not a benevolent master, kids, and I knew a migraine-level withdrawal headache was just waiting for an opportunity to take hold should I not feed the monster. I found my coffee in time, though, and sat in the booth (the convenience store had a restaurant area in the back) nursing it for about 20 minutes before setting out again.

The weather app on my phone had a red bar on it today, warning of a special weather statement to do with the heat and humidity. They weren’t kidding. I don’t think there was a single point in my day where I wasn’t sweating buckets. But I did have plenty of water with me, so that was good. I also think my body has acclimated to the heat somewhat. At least as much as it is possible to acclimate to 90 F heat with 100+F heat indexes.

And then my day went from bad to worse. I’m riding along, listening to an audiobook to distract myself from constant mental griping about the hole in my pannier, and over the audiobook and ambient noise I hear a ping from somewhere below me. It took me about 30 seconds to identify the cause as a broken spoke on my rear wheel. Just what I needed.

Broken spoke

I walked the bike to the next spot of shade and pulled out my phone. Miraculously, I had cell service. A quick google search gave me a dozen choices of sites that would tell you how to replace a broken spoke, but no advice on how to manage to ride on one safely to the next bike shop, or even if that was possible. So today’s shout-out goes to Tamago Bikes in Hyde Park, Chicago, the same shop that built my dynamo hub for me. I called up and got some good solid advice on what to do immediately (loosen the two nearest spokes to compensate for the loss of tension), how to keep the wheel functional as much as possible (several times a day check the wheel and adjust spoke tension as necessary), and what to look out for as a sign that it was time to bite the bullet and find somebody to drive me to the nearest bike shop (sudden rapid loss of tension in multiple spokes).

I did all that, which took me a while, since it’s tricky to try and get a wheel true without a wheel stand. For good measure, I also repacked some of my gear to move more weight to the front wheel. And then I started out again, trying to pay attention for any rear wheel wobble. This is difficult. Front wheel wobble is easy to spot, as it shakes the handlebars. I’m not used to paying that kind of attention to the back wheel, but I did my best.

At my next convenience store stop, which was only a few miles later, I treated myself to a large soda while I chatted with the proprietor. They had wifi, so I also took the opportunity to check my emails, trying to think of how I could get this situation fixed. I’m planning to meet with a family member in Berea, who will drive me up to Lexington for a rest day. I could likely find a bike shop there. But that’s 5 days and about 300 miles from now. Then I remembered something else: an offer to meet with a fellow crazyguyonabike cycle tourist. I sent off an email asking if it would be possible for him to pick up a spoke and bring it with him when we met.

A moth resting on a sign at the convenience store.

Then it was back into the heat to plod my way towards my final destination. I’ve gotten the hang of listening to my audiobook on hills now. There’s a button on the side of my iPod nano that can control volume as well as pause and restart playback. It also does a few other things, but mostly I trigger those by accident. When I’m about to head down a long or steep downhill, I reach back to my jersey pocket and pause playback so I don’t lose anything to the rushing wind. Then, once on level ground again, I restart the book. This was enough to keep me distracted from my spoke issues as I rode, if you ignore the periodic stops to make sure the wheel wasn’t too bent out of true. During one of these, three separate cars stopped to ask if I was alright, one warning me to be careful of cars coming over the hill too quickly. I thanked them all for their thoughtfulness, and kept mucking about with the spokes until I felt good to ride again.

The fawns are moving about more and more these days.

Cave in Rock is decorated with brightly painted bikes like this one.

I got to the state park campground, picked out a campsite, and went to the camp host to pay for it. He said there was a better site available near the shower house, and I jumped at it, even though it meant taking down my tent and putting it back up again. That’s worth it to be near the showers and flush toilets rather than pit toilets. It also puts me near other people: nobody else was in the tent area.

Then I went back into town for dinner. I was hot, grumpy from my day, and in no mood to cook. I was also feeling a bit wonky, possibly from not enough calories or electrolytes, so letting somebody else do the hard part of making dinner seemed like a good idea.

The butterflies liked my saddle

As some have predicted, being a vegetarian is a bit hard in this part of the country. Oh, its easy enough to make my own meals, but eating out is hit or miss. Pizza is becoming one of my favorite foods. Rosie’s Kitchen has 12in pizzas with up to three toppings. I opted for mushrooms, olives, and green peppers. And I downed the entire thing without even a hint of protest from my stomach.

Delicious pizza

I also got a reply to my email asking for a spoke. He could bring me one, he said, but offered to do me one better. If I wanted, he would meet me on the trail and give me a ride to a bike shop about 15 miles off the TransAm trail. Now I can have a full-blown fix in 2 days instead of 5. Pizza and a solution to a problem; maybe the day isn’t so bad after all.

Roadkill count: 4 birds, 1 deer, 1raccoon (but not the jerk that ate through my pannier, more’s the pity), 1 skunk, 4 unknown mammals


Map Day 50a

Map Day 50b

9 thoughts on “Day 50: Devil’s Kitchen Lake, IL to Cave in Rock, IL

  1. Linda Schmelzer

    I’m out of breath just reading about your day! What an adventure! Hang in there! Virginia beckons. Stay safe!!

  2. Flashen

    Glad to hear there is a good solution to your spoke issue. I’ve been concerned since I saw your tweet a few days ago. Keep on truckin’ … uh … biking!

  3. Andrew Roth

    I went to Dick’s sporting goods and got some special pack tape that may help the pannier issue. As far as the lotorians are concerned, do try to stay on their good side. After we completely mess things up, they will be our successors. Never mind the apes, it’s gonna be Planet of the Raccoons.

    See you soon.

  4. Connie Joki

    I’m glad the day ended on a positive note. Never heard of a broken spoke but I suppose like anything it can break and cause problems.

    Stay safe!

  5. Rhoda Freeman

    Oh my, Cindy, You are handling this remarkably well, as you have the other issues. Glad you got good news at the end of the day and may it cool down sooner rather than later!

  6. Suzan Lauder

    You’re in great spirits considering the setbacks. I suppose everything could be worse. You have good skills and resources and use your head in a problem situation. That’s gonna get you home. Have fun!

  7. Leslie Diamond

    My mother and grandparents called the feather duster tree a Mimosa tree. Obviously not the scientific name, but it’s what we called them in Texas 🙂

    As for the raccoon, little guy was curious! I don’t know that I could’ve stayed as mad at him, but I definitely would be all about cleaning the raccoon cooties. LOL! Raccoons do carry some nasty bits and bobs around with them, but they’re so cute.

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