Illinois 2010 – Day 7

Lincoln to Macomb: Sailing, or so it feels

Wednesday May 12, 2010, 93 miles (149 km) – Total so far: 319 miles (514 km)

I set my alarm for 5 am so I can call my husband in Australia. I tell him it’s been stormy but I’ve had some good tailwinds, one day of bad headwind and that I’m having the time of my life. We talk for 15 minutes, then I doze for another hour before turning on the Weather Channel. It’s raining and it doesn’t look like it will clear for some time. So I put on all my rain gear and front pannier covers and then head out.

There’s a bit of thunder as I withdraw some money at a bank ATM and I can see several folks with furrowed brows wondering what I’m doing riding in the steady rain. I negotiate the traffic at the I-55 on- and off-ramps with ease and head west on Hwy 10. I only need to ride this for about 3-5 miles before I can turn off onto county roads again to work my way up to Hwy 136. The road is busy and has a 6-inch shoulder, but luckily most of the traffic is going the other way – into town and work. As I turn off onto county roads, the rain lightens, then eventually stops.

Morning rest break – it’s not too often that there’s somewhere to lean the bike along these county roads.

Again, I’m riding nicely paved roads and only getting passed by one or so cars each half hour. I love the big barns and the corn fields that stretch to distant rows of trees along creek lines or property boundaries. And again, I’m being assisted by a southeasterly wind, though it’s not as strong as 2 days ago. I decide early on that I will try for Macomb today.

Flat cropped valleys interspersed with low hills used for grazing on the less productive soils – very typical scenery the first half of today.

In the late morning, I come across a ROAD CLOSED sign. I’ve ridden through some sections of road earlier in the day that had obvious indications of being flooded at some point – so I stop to consider my options. Crap. None, really. Go back east against the wind for 5 miles and then head north to Hwy 136 or head north a couple miles on a gravel road to get back to something paved. The gravel road has big stones and no real tire tracks to follow. However, a Fed Ex truck comes from the ROAD CLOSED direction and I decide he must have come through somehow. I reckon if he can drive through it, I can walk through it.

So I head down and find that, indeed, there’s water over the road. Road crews have put in a bunch of soft pea gravel in the first section, and I am able to walk the bike over this squishy bit. The next section, the water has no noticeable current and is about 6 inches deep. I’m able to ride through this slowly, noting on my way through that this must be a frequent occurrence because there is moss growing on the roadway in the water!

Western Illinois has had a lot of rain lately.

I pass more flooded fields and notice that the roads are rougher here where the soil is sandy. The final few miles into Havana are on Hwy 136. The shoulder is just a token in this bit, but the traffic isn’t too heavy. I ride up a steep hill and then cruise downhill into the old downtown. There’s some guys setting up carnival rides for a street fair, and there have been obvious efforts to rejuvenate downtown, but the place is pretty dead and has obviously seen better times. There are a bunch of people in a Chinese buffet restaurant so I decide that will do for lunch. I order a dish and take a table where I can watch my bike. The locals are all subtly glancing and checking me out, but no one is game enough to say anything to me. I feel oddly like a zoo animal.

Midway through my meal, what I assume to be the health inspector arrives. He’s a well-dressed guy about my age carrying a clipboard as he heads back to the kitchen. As he heads back out he comes over and asks if he can have a seat. I say ‘sure’ and he asks about my trip. His brother has ridden coast-to-coast and he, himself, has a collection of old Schwinns that he is restoring. He wishes me well and says someday he plans to do a big ride, too. After so many rather negative encounters with folks in Illinois, this brightens my day. And all the locals, whom I’m sure strained to listen in on our conversation, have had their curiosity satisfied second-hand.

Riverfront park in Havana, IL. There’s camping at this park but I didn’t go down to have a look – there are storms coming.

The sky looks threatening to the west, so I turn on the weather radio and sure enough, there are storms headed this way. What to do? Just go for it, I decide. I think I’ll only catch the edge of them. The bridge over the Illinois River is a narrow, steel affair and there’s heaps of grain trucks coming and going from the grain handling facility by the river. I run a red light to get a headstart on the vehicles behind me. There is a bit of a shoulder and it is a matter of staying between the huge tire-eating spaces of the drainage grates and the white line. It’s a bit hairy and the edge railing is disturbingly low at bicycle-thigh-height. You can see the river below through the drainage grates. I sprint as best I can, listening to all the hard corn kernels from the grain trucks crunching under my tires as I try to simultaneously look ahead and in my mirror AND avoid the drainage grates. I’m up the uphill side and pedalling furiously down the other side before any cars catch me. Luckily there’s a gap in on-coming traffic on the downhill side as the passing cars go by and all is safe and well.

The Hwy 136 pavement on the west side is all fresh and smooth and I have a good shoulder until the junction with Hwy 24. From there to the next junction, the pavement has been ripped up and the grooved road base is all that remains. There’s no shoulder and occasionally some big potholes that I have to ride around. I stop once and get off the ‘road’ when I can see a truck approaching from behind, but I let the cars figure out ways to get around me. There’s intermittent rain here, and thunder and lightning off to my right, so I’m not stopping. Finally, I come to new, fresh pavement once again, and this glorious new pavement with a nice shoulder lasts almost all the way to Table Grove.

Since lunchtime the wind has strengthened and is blowing me along quite nicely. Along the way, I have to stop for ‘ROAD CONSTRUCTION’. In effect, it is a big front-end loader scooping up tons of corn cobs and husks from the roadside ditch and depositing them in a haulage truck. The flooding rains have sheeted across the field and carried all of last year’s corn debris into the roadside drainage. This has blocked up and then started to spill across the road. It’s a five-minute wait until our side is waved through. The stop/go guy says, as I go by, ‘boy do you have a good wind with you today!’. I smile and say, ‘yep, and I’m riding it as far as I can go.’

After the good pavement ends before Table Grove and I’m forced to ride far into the lane to avoid the holes, cracks and crumbling white line, I decide to get off Hwy 136 and take county roads into Macomb. I stop for a quick break in Table Grove before spending the rest of the afternoon riding through rolling fields – this part of Illinois is not flat! As I’m going north and west, the southeasterly wind is pushing me along nicely, and I stand up on the downhills to give my butt a break and to act as a sail. It’s pretty fun to stand up, elbows out and fly down the little hills coasting at 20 mph.

Oh, thick, beautiful loamy soil – what the Aussie farmers would do to have soil like this!

I come into Macomb in a residential area and make a few ‘wrong’ turns, but eventually get to the main part of town. I somehow intuitively find the library, after a bit of riding and several times of seeing the same cop car cruising around seemingly tailing me. What the – surely I don’t look that odd? At the library, I ask the young chick for a phone book and a recommendation for a motel. All of the rather sketchy looking, but friendly and helpful, library patrons are giving me tips on places to stay. ‘Oh that place out on the east side has rooms, but most people there live there’. ‘No, don’t send her there, they just did that big drug bust.’ The young chick draws me a map of a bicycle-friendly way to get to some of the more reputable hotels. It is the first time I’ve seen bicycle lanes on the trip. I get the next-to-last room at the Super 8 and the Indian lady gives me a $15 discount just because I’ve ridden 92 miles on my bicycle that day.

Ave speed: 11.5mph

Max speed 26.7

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