Range Roaming – Illinois 2013 – Day 1

A sneaky start: Forest Glen Park, IL to Monticello, IL

Monday April 15, 2013, 67 miles (108 km) – Total so far: 67 miles (108 km)

Yesterday, there was a wind advisory current when my parents dropped me off in the deserted tent campground at this park. They unloaded my gear with a few tears and much trepidation. I assume part of the fear comes with any departure of a child on a solo adventure, no matter the offspring’s age or competence. But part of the fear, I’m sure, is one that I share: the long-range weather forecast looks like absolute crap with below normal temps and above normal precipitation for the next 10 days, continuing the crap weather that has been present since I arrived in Indiana on 27 March. The whipping wind and the barren, wintry landscape yesterday would not have given them confidence that I was going to be riding off into a landscape of sunshine and rainbows – as all parents wish the world would be for their kiddos.

Our first night campsite. It is windy until late at night – the sound of branches clacking a reminder of how early it is in Spring.

I wake at midnight to the roar and whirr of wind in the canopy. It sends the barren branches clacking together in a cacophony of sound. A tree in the distance creaks as it gives way to the wind, and then groans as it rebounds. My head groans, too, silently wondering how we are going to ride in the morning if the wind keeps up like this. On this first night of the trip, I’m not really a happy camper. In addition to the unsettling wind, the ground is cold and damp; my breath is all condensation and clamminess.

However, morning’s first light reveals a thin overcast sky and only a gentle breeze. Yippee! I’m ready to do this. I’ve been ready to do this every day for the past 2.5 years while I was stuck in an office conducting research at what was a frustrating and glacial pace. I’m so ready for this ride, we’re packed up and ready to go by 7.15 am.

I slip under the entry gate bars – the simple combination lock of 3 years ago has been replaced with a large, keyed padlock. But the bars are quite high, so it’s easy to slip through. Not 5 minutes down the road, I see the ranger on his way to the park. I smile and wave, as I’ve just snuck out of the park without paying for a site. I saw the ranger vehicle come down the campground road last night, but he turned around in the upper parking lot, most likely assuming no one was camping in the walk-in sites since there were no cars. I don’t feel too bad, though, because the water hadn’t been turned on yet, so there were no services to really pay for anyway.

Because the water hadn’t been turned on, and I stupidly did not think about this before my parents left yesterday, it has been about 16 hours since I’ve had anything to drink. The coke machines weren’t on yet, either. Consequently, I’m incredibly thirsty, and this consumes my thoughts for the first five miles of the ride. Once to the nearest town, I fill up my Camelback and drink 2 litres of water. Oh, does that ever taste fantastic!

The thin overcast slowly turns to a thick, grey sheet of stratus. 25 miles into the day, I hit light rain and the headwind picks up. The rain dries quickly but the sky grows darker in the distance. I ride hard and just beat heavier rain to Tolono. There I find shelter in the overhang of an abandoned building on the main drag. I snack, I stand, I stretch. The rain continues beating down in waves of mist and big, fat drops. After a while, I give up on waiting this out. I don all the rain gear and commence forth into the wet.

Typical scene from day one… and the rest of the week to follow. Clouds, barren fields too wet to plow, a pretty dang flat landscape… but good quality pavement and virtually no traffic out on these county roads.

It is just as well. The rain continues off and on for the rest of the day. I will somewhat dry between showers but get absolutely drenched twice more before reaching Monticello. There is not much inspiration in the landscape. It just looks sodden, barren and cold. Even the dog that gives chase turns tail when I yell “Go Home!!”. There is no activity in the fields, no activity outside. The farmers are playing a waiting game with the rain, too.

Let’s add some rain a few different times – just enough to stay wet for the remainder of the day. Nature is just welcoming us to what will be a wet few weeks.

The tent camping in town is a no go. The toilets haven’t been opened yet and the river in the park is flooding. So I get a newly remodeled room at a cheap motel for $40 cash. This is good because it storms throughout the night, the intermittent light from large flashes of lightning finding their way through gaps in the curtains, reminding me that spring can be a violent mix of winter and summer. It’s not a bad first day on the road – just a pretty wet one. However, I am so, so excited to be riding that the rain has failed to dampen my spirits.

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