2014 Illinois – Day 1 – Kickapoo State Park to Pontiac: The requisites

Monday May 19, 2014, 101 miles (163 km) – Total so far: 101 miles (163 km)

There comes a time on every tour when every piece of gear and clothing has its place in a pannier, when each pannier finds its spot in your tent at night, and you can find things simply by feel. You can dress and pack in complete darkness. It is the rhythm of the road and your pack/unpack/sleep routines hum just like your tires on an empty, silent road.
But that time is not the first night. Consequently, when I wake up cold in the middle of the night, dressed only in bra and underwear, not only do I not have an automatic inventory in my fuzzy brain of my clothing options for warmth, but I’m also not sure which articles of clothing are in the pannier by my feet or the one under my head I’m using as a pillow. So I just scrunch down low in my bag and curl up in a foetal position. I sleep fitfully until dawn when I wake up on my stomach with my arms squished underneath.

There comes a time on every tour when you get chased by a dog. I achieve this at mile two, after a gentle climb through bright green pastures and rolling forested hills that draws me up out of the river bottom. The large dogs are not vicious, but they are most definitely intent on escorting me out of their territory. Actually, you could think of it as me taking them for their 1/8th of a mile morning run at 12 mph. I’m not scared so much as worried that they’ll get hit by the traffic on this busy road.

Dog chase concluded, I turn off onto a less busy road and climb gently into a high area. For the next hour or so, I undulate along through a wind farm where the turbines are all showing me their faces today. Yay, tailwind! The wind farms have names like “California Ridge”. The wind farms all line up with the broad, indistinct ridges that are terminal moraines from the Wisconsin glaciation. If you are as nerdy as me, you can actually look up glaciation maps online and match the moraine names to the wind farm names.

We pass through lots of wind farms today. They are situated along the top of ridges that are old glacial moraines. This is the side of the turbine you want to see facing you. It means the wind is behind you!
Some of the turbines seem to be a little out of place. They are also very noisy. It sounds like a plane flying overhead when you pass by them.

There comes a time on every tour when the wind, the distance between supply points, or the wildness in your spirit dictates that you do a century ride. Today, the wind suggests we are going to do this on Day 1. When I reach Gibson City 50 miles into the day at 12.30 pm, I conduct a quick assessment that goes something like this: ‘well, I feel fine. Nothing hurts. That looks like a teeny tiny town in which to kill an afternoon and there’s no official place to camp. Let’s take advantage of the wind’.

So with sunscreen reapplied, we sail northward for many miles on 1600E with the wind. We cruise up and down the gentle hills. The neatly manicured lawns of the rural homes roll down toward the road in long sweeps of green. Big barns greet us with gaping doors that look like open mouths. Their ‘faces’ are painted in red or white or have succumbed to fading in weathered greys. We pass by several hog farms. The long low barns with big exhaust fans emit a stench which hangs on the wind and follows us closely for many miles down the road.

But all is good. All is wonderful. You could not ask for a better first day on the road. I feel so alive and excited to be starting another four months on the road. There is nothing else I’d rather be doing than riding my bike at this very moment.

County roads in Illinois are great for riding. Most are paved and most are in good condition with little traffic.

By 2.30 pm, the wind is getting a little crazy, and it is a bit of a chore to keep the bike in a straight line on the westbound sections. But man, is it ever fun heading north! My attempt at getting into Pontiac on a back road is partially successful – only one part of the road that should be there is not (and doesn’t appear to ever have been). I guess the ‘white’ roads on my IL bike map are ghost roads. I backtrack a bit but make it out to an interstate motel pretty easily. The Weather Channel indicates that the wind is SSE at 24 mph, gusting to 35 mph. Yes, it felt a bit like that!

There comes a time on every tour when you realize just how lucky you are to have the time, health and resources to abandon normal life and go pedal away for some period. For me, this time is every single day on tour. I do not take this for granted. I am one lucky chick to be living this dream. It’s been a great day, and I’m so excited that there are months of this to come 🙂

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