Summary – day 04 – Chicago to Rochester (Sunday 23 June)

Estimated mileage: 122, actual: 126.5

Avg. speed: 15.5mph

We expected that today would be the longest ride of the whole trip, so we wanted to set off early. Perhaps inevitably then, we faffed about for ages packing our bags and fine-tuning our bikes, (all the sort of thing that we should have done last night). So it was about 8:00 am when we set off. There’s a bike path running for 26 miles along the Lake Michigan shore and we planned to follow it to its end at South Shore then south south east to Calumet City, south through Burnham, Lansing (past Lansing airport) and to join the east-west US 30 east, ‘Lincoln highway’ just outside Dyer. From there we headed east through Merrillville, Valparaiso, Wanatah turn south on 421 through La Crosse, San Pierre and Medayville, then turned east again on 14 to Winamac and into Rochester. The reason that we couldn’t just head south east to Rochester because the US grid system of roads means lots of right angles.

A cycle track from just behind Bonnie’s apartment block connected with the Lakeshore cycleway. Even before we arrived at the path we knew that the beginning of our journey was not going to be as straightforward as we hoped. We could hear loud music and cheering and clapping as we rounded a corner on to the cycle way we saw lots of people running – all running in the same direction and with numbers pinned to their jerseys. It was obviously some sort of race. I love running and was happy to watch them all go by, but there were so many if them and they were all coming from the direction that we wanted to go in. Some other cyclists travelling in the same direction were cycling against the tide and it was obvious that we were going to have to do that too.

We turned into the flow of runners and I knew how a cycling salmon might feel – riding against the current! After a minute or two I noticed that there were no men running. At first I thought that perhaps this was the tail-end of the race, but even then I’d expect to see at least some men. It eventually dawned on me that this was a women’s race. My suspicions were confirmed when I noticed that a large number of the participants were also wearing Women’s Half Marathon jerseys. Sometimes it seems I’m just not that observant!

Riding along the Lakeshore path with a steady stream of runners coming towards us wasn’t as challenging as we feared. The path was good and wide. Runners tended to keep right – so it was only when other cyclists, forced to ride on the left, were coming towards us too that we had to brake and dodge and weave about a bit. But any inconvenience was more than offset by the fantastic atmosphere and support that the runners were getting and giving each other. There was music and drink stalls and fine sprays of cooling water along the route. I thought my sisters: Lisa, Lynn and Jane who all run and sometimes run half-marathons together, they’d adore doing this one.

It was bright and getting warmer – the sky was deep blue and the lake shimmered. All along the shore were other runners and people walking their dogs. I glanced behind me experienced a shock as I took in the incredible view of the Chicago skyline and the lake. A women runner (not wearing a race number, so therefore not part of the competition) was sitting on a bench nearby. I asked her to take some pictures of us because I thought that they would look fantastic on the blog, maybe even as a new banner picture! She was happy to help us.

At the end of the track we paused by the entrance to the South Shore Country Club – it wasn’t obvious which way we should go next. Garmin was suggesting straight ahead on the main road, but we’d seen some cyclists turn left and under the arched entrance of the Country Club, so we wondered if a cycling path continued along the lake. We were checking maps and had more-or-less concluded that we should go on the road when a couple of cyclists out for a fast spin stopped at the lights. I asked them about getting further around the lake and they said that if we went along with them, they’d show us the way. I was a little uncertain – one had tri-bars on his bike and we’d be certain to slow them up. However, they’d offered and needs must, so we set of with them.

Chris and Dave were absolutely brilliant – they took us through South Chicago and Calumet quickly and along quiet roads. There were so many turns and roadworks that we’d never have managed this easily on our own. They saved us lots of time and trouble – thank you both: cycling gold stars for assistance.

We chatted as we rode, Chris works with IT for a small finance broker in downtown Chicago. They weren’t exposed in all the debt-swapping or easy credit shenanigans, so they’re doing ok. He competes in triathlons, which is something that I’d love to try, (geddit?!), so we talked about that for quite a while. I told him about my recent conversion to running over the last two years and about how much I love it. I do wonder why on earth I didn’t do it sooner. Dave used to work in public policy but now has a job in a small business – I never found out quite what he or the business does, he didn’t volunteer to tell me and I didn’t quite feel able to ask. If you’re reading this, Dave, perhaps you can let us know. Dave pointed out the painted marks on the roads that mark cycle ways or the routes of cycling events – he pointed out that they might be worth following when we’re routing as they’re likely to be on quiet roads.

We were really making good progress and Chris asked me if I knew the film The Blues Brothers? I said of course, did I remember the bridge jump? No – I saw that film in about 1982. Well apparently there was a famous bridge jump scene and were about to cross That. Bridge.

Now any of you who have been following us on previous trips and read through the USA West Coast cycle ride blog will know that I am a nervous and have some trepidation about crossing bridges on a bicycle in the United States. This is because (a) I really don’t like heights – and some of the bridges are really high!
(b) Many bridges are narrower than the roads that feed into them – so the cycle lane is often narrow, too, or even non-existent. In any case cyclists often are squeezed up close to the parapet – which means that it’s hard to avoid seeing over the edge and down from the corner of your eye – even if you’re staring resolutely ahead.
(c) The parapets in most of the bridges that I’ve crossed in the US are absurdly low. I suspect that they were never really built with the intention that they’d be crossed so close to the edge by people walking or on bicycles. I often experience an irrational fear that I’ll fall off and over the edge.

Some Super-Scary-Bridges really make me sweat and get my heart pounding, so I approached the East 95th Street Bridge in Calumet with some trepidation. Perhaps sensing my nervousness, Chris chatted about that award-winning smoked fish restaurant by the bridge – how was he to know that I’m vegan and that this wouldn’t help?! We rolled onto the hulking black metal bridge and I discovered a new horror – the bridge surface was a metal grid – it was possible to see through it and all the way down to the brown fast-flowing water below. Not. A. Nice. Bridge. – even if it is a movie star.IMG_3839

Shortly after crossing the East 95th Street bridge we parted ways with Chris and Dave – they pointed us down a cycle track that would take us to the trail to Burnham and Lansing and skirt south of Gary – which was our intended route. We must have slowed them down – they were really kind to help us out. I was reminded about something Bonnie said to us: “Cyclists are good people” – I’ve almost always found that to be true.

We arrived at ‘historic Lincoln highway US30’ quickly and turned east. Lincoln highway was one of the first waymarked roads for cars to cross the US – it was opened in 1913 and runs from San Francisco to Times Square, New York. Much of the original route has been by-passed or widened now – but some original sections remain and there’s an association dedicated to preserving and promoting it as a historic artefact. This year is the centenary year of the Lincoln Highway.

We left Illinois and came into Indiana after about 30 miles of cycling. then through Dyer, which I thought was a nice pretty little town until I saw a monument outside a church – a white crucifix, maybe 6′ tall, with a bright red ‘bleeding heart’ on it and the message: ‘In memory if aborted babies’ Ugh, how disgusting and disgraceful – how low will these kind of people go? Sanctimonious bastards. I’ll not be visiting Dyer again maybe I should let the local tourist office know why.IMG_3841

We were hungry and it was almost lunch time, we were a bit worried that we’d soon be getting into very rural Indiana farm towns where I might struggle to find anything vegan to eat, so we stopped at a sandwich restaurant called Panera in Merrillville. After we’d eaten we were chatting to a couple with a beautiful rescue puppy. How can people just abandon dogs? They were heading off to the beach. We talked about out trip – he was into running, so we talked about that too. We’d been thinking about coming off US30 east as it was getting quite busy, but they assured us that this was just because we were at the junction with a major north-south route: 65. The road would quieten down in a mile or so, so we decided to risk it.

Not far from Merrillville, puncture #1 (Matthew, rear). We pulled into an opening off the road and set about repairing the puncture on what was effectively someone’s front lawn. That someone turned out to be mother and son Sean and Linda. They were the second couple who deserve a gold star for helping cyclists out. they came out to see if we were ok and I asked if they minded us pitching up on their lawn. “Not at all”, they said. And they asked if there was anything they could do and they kindly refilled our water bottles. I chatted with them, while Matthew fixed his puncture. Lynda’s dad was a prof at Valporaiso University – so we laughed about academic neurosis. I suggested that they put my cycling wanderlust down to that. Sean was a man after my own heart – he liked trains – real and model. Linda said that there was a good railway museum that we should visit – was it in Pittsburg or Baltimore? If you’re reading this Linda, leave a comment to remind me (turns out it’s in Baltimore – the Baltimore & Ohio Railway Museum). We gave her our blog address, so hopefully they’ll be able to remind me, (I’m getting old and forgetful now – 52!). I talked about the world’s largest model railway that we saw I’m Berlin at Alexanderplatz:

I said that they should come to the UK to visit railway museum at York:

Sean and Linda – if you want to make a trip to the UK – you’d be very welcome to stay with us and be happy to go to York to see the railway museum again, we could go on a steam train ride too – we do that with Matthew’s father and aunt quite often – it’s great fun. I reckon that visitors all the way from the US would have a good chance of having a go on the footplate!

On to Wanatah – billed on the town entrance sign as ‘The crossroads of Indiana’, and it certainly was for us because here we turned left off the Lincoln Highway to head south. Just over 60 miles to go.

As we turned south, it immediately became apparent that this leg of the journey was going to be tough. There was a southerly wind blowing – it was relentless and we were on a dead straight north-south road through open fields for about 30 miles. Inevitably our average speed dropped markedly. There was hardly any respite, the only trees were in the little towns on the route – they were really little And there was only about three of them along the road: La Crosse, San Pierre and Medaryville. The wind has a tendency to make me a bit cranky … (Matthew thinks: “How could we tell the difference?!”), so I just got as low as I could on the drops, gritted my teeth and got on with it. I had to stop every 8 miles or so to stretch my back, but it wasn’t too bad. We’d ridden through the heat of the day and the one thing that the wind was good for was blowing incredible sweet scents in our direction: mint and bergamot. That was a real treat.

Inane conversations on a bicycle, part n of nn, (where n is a huge number and nn is significantly larger)

So we’re pedalling along side-by-side and I have a thought that leads to a conversation that goes something like this:

Me: Did you check that the hotel we’re in tonight stocks soya milk or if they can get some in for me?
Him: No, I forgot. I did check that they would be able to store our bicycles though.
Me: harrumph.
Me: (feeling a bit optimistic): Perhaps there’ll be a grocery store there that will still be open where we can buy some.
Him: It’s possible. Richmond will be biggest place we’ve been to today, after Chicago.
Me: Richmond?
Him: Yes.
Me: Richmond?
Him: Yes.
Me: What do you mean Richmond?
Him: Rochester.
Me: Thank goodness for that. Richmond’s in Yorkshire and Rochester’s in Kent. We’d be seriously out of our way if we were heading to Richmond.

The last 30 miles were beautiful. We turned east after Medaryville and so we no longer had the wind coming at us. It was blowing less strongly and coming from our right – it helped to cool us. Having ridden through the heat of the day, the temperature was starting to fall. The road was quiet, with hardly any cars, the sky was huge, the sun was behind us casting longer and longer shadows out in front of us and bathing everything in a soft golden light. Birds were singing and swooping back an forth. It was the Magic Moment of the Day – a perfect end even though we were tired.

While we were on this road a huge dog called Barwell who’d been resting in his garden caught sight of Matthew and chased after him, loloping and bouncing along – not at all in a aggressive way, but in a “Hello there friend, please play with me, can I come along with you for a while?” kind of way. He was beautiful and looked a bit sad to see us go.IMG_3847

We arrived in Rochester – and guess what? A 24 hour grocery store sold us some soya milk! Very happy about that.

1 thought on “Summary – day 04 – Chicago to Rochester (Sunday 23 June)

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