Saturday, September 30, 2006

Bike Tour: Milwaukee to Winnetka

Ralph's knees were shot. We had to either shoot him or leave him behind. Ralph opted for the latter. Joe, another Marine friend that couldn't (or wouldn't) ride with us, agreed to drive up from Chicago and pick up Ralph. Since this was going to be my last day, Ralph agreed to haul a pannier bag full of stuff back home for me. At 10:00 am, after a complimentary breakfast of waffles, cereal, juice and rolls at the La Quinta Inn, Dennis and I headed back to Winnetka.

Our route picked up the Oak Leaf Trail, a 100 mile trail circuiting Milwaukee County. Our portion of the trail was an off street bike path skirting the Milwaukee River on a former railroad right of way leading us to Milwaukee's lakefront. Much of the ride was below grade and tree lined. I lived in Milwaukee ten years ago and the path went right by my old apartment. It had also been improved a bit as well. I remember the path being pretty run down in some areas.

The off street path ended near downtown Milwaukee and we biked by the Milwaukee Art Museum, a portion of it designed by Santiago Calatrava. It was the first time I'd seen the museum since they added the new wing. It was quite impressive.

We biked through Milwaukee's Historic Third Ward, a former manufacturing and warehouse district that is now home to art galleries, condos, and tony restaurants. The skies were getting darker and Dennis and I hoped to outrun the rain. We biked south through manufacturing and warehouse districts that had yet to be gentrified.

At around 10:40 am, while on Milwaukee's residential south side, it started to rain the hardest we encountered during our entire trip. The temperatures were already in the low 60s, so the rain and the wind made it seem much colder. Figuring we had at least six hours of biking ahead of us, I was not looking forward to a cold and wet ride. Once we got to the shoreline, the winds picked up and I was getting even colder. My Goretex jacket and a light long sleeved shirt just wasn't cutting it. I might have been dry but I felt really wet. Dennis was hanging in there quite well but I was not enjoying myself a bit.

At 11:15 am, I'd had enough. We approached an apartment building south of Warnimont Park that had a sheltered parking lot. I told Dennis I wanted to pull over and get out of the rain and wind for a while. I decided to put on my pants and another shirt. Then we noticed the sky was clearing. We only had to wait about five minutes for the rain to stop and to get back on our way.

The weather was better and I was warm again; so my mood improved considerably. But my butt was feeling the effects of three days in the saddle. I'd been using Bodyglide skin lubricant but even that didn't seem to be working anymore or I just hadn't used enough of it this morning. The thing about Bodyglide is that after spreading it all over the pad in my bike shorts, it initially feels like I've just dropped a wet pant load. Nice! However it now felt like my shorts were made of acid dipped steel wool.

By now we were back tracking. The sun came out and I had to stop at Puetz Road to take off an undershirt. We continued on and I had to stop again twenty minutes later just south of Botting Road to take off my pants. Now I was set for the duration. We took a break at the same liquor store in Racine and stopped at a Burger King in Kenosha where I had hoped to goop on more Bodyglide. Alas, I'd left it with Ralph.

It ended up being a pleasant day for a bike tour but I was tired, saddle sore, and ready to be home. My GPS was even giving up and flipping off at every bump. Rain always seemed to threaten and the gravel paths that seemed so smooth and scenic were now bumpy and routine. Fortunately we avoided a major rain storm that swept through northern Illinois.

We arrived home at 5:30 pm after biking 310 miles in four days.

Distance Traveled: 84.5 miles
Distance to date: 904.7 miles
Price of gas: $2.64

Friday, September 29, 2006

Bike Tour: Ludington to Manitowoc to Milwaukee

We had to get up pretty early because we had to board the SS Badger at 8:00 am for a 9:00 am departure. After a nice breakfast at the Four Seasons Lodging and Breakfast we pedaled a short way to the ferry landing. We were greeted by a short inspection by a crusty rent a cop and boarded the rust bucket. Unlike the Lake Express, there wasn't a specific place to secure our bikes. We were directed to wait for Mike who would tell us were to stow our rides. After about five minutes, Mike showed up and told us to park them under some stairs near a bunch of oily ropes and hoses. Nice! I had some bungee cord and was able to secure them to a pipe.
Then we went topside up a metal stairway with a sign warning us about the greasy rail. Nice! Upon arriving in the lounge, I was kind of lamed out (if that is a proper expression). The SS Badger is clearly an old ship. Lots of institutional blue chairs and vinyl. It reminded me of a prison day room. With the delay waiting for Mike, we also missed any chance of getting window seats.

Once we got underway, my opinion of our vessel improved. Since the lake was calm and the ship is pretty big, the ride was smooth and barf free. The cruise director (or substitute cruise director; some fella was apparently filling in for Todd, the regular guy) kicked off on board entertainment with bingo. The prizes were gift shop apparel, tchotchkes and soft drinks. Ralph and I both won a game. I picked an SS Badger T-shirt for Dennis. After a while the gaming shifted to SS Badger trivia; name of the captain, length of the ship, fuel, history, etc. I won a free soft drink. Then the game was name that tune. Dennis took the ship by storm with his vast knowledge of bubble gum pop. More free soft drinks. The four hour trip went by quite quickly and we were nearing the Manitowoc shore. I actually left with a very good impression of our cross lake trip. Plus it is a bit cheaper than the Lake Express. The one downside is loading and unloading takes about twice as long though. Oh well.

We left the ship at 12:07 pm. The weather was cool, cloudy and threatened rain. We were looking forward to strong tail winds after all of the stiff breezes we faced biking north in Michigan. But a nasty surprise was the slight wind from the south. We just couldn't catch a break. Plus we were facing the longest ride so far. We had to go all the way to Glendale, Wisconsin which is over 80 miles.

The crew stopped at a Manitowoc gas station to replenish our supply of junk food and soft drinks. A local guy was shocked when told our destination was Milwaukee. I began to question the wisdom of pushing so far. But we had a schedule to maintain; not much I could do about it now. So we set off south toward Sheboygan on County Road LS.

The ride to Sheboygan was uneventful with the exception of a sign at Point Creek Road saying, "Bridge Out - One Mile." A detour would have added another two or three miles to our ride. So we took a chance and ignored the sign hoping the bridge would be passable to bikers or pedestrians. It turns out they were only doing surface work and we crossed without asking. The rest of the road skirted Lake Michigan and was mostly deserted.

Sheboygan was much like our other urban rides; not too special. I'm sure there are nice places to bike in Sheboygan but they weren't on our route. I was showing off my curb jumping abilities and punctured my tire through the sidewall; my extra thick tube no less. I quickly repaired the flat when Ralph noticed Dennis's rear tire was badly worn. His tire was almost worn down to the inner tube. We kind of freaked since we had no idea where we'd find a replacement. We figured our best bet would be a Walmart since bike stores seem to be so scarce these days. We gingerly pedaled to the closest gas station and asked where we might go. We just happened to be about five or six blocks from Wolf's Cycling and Fitness. Imagine! We kept thinking to ourselves how disastrous it would have been if we'd been out in the country somewhere. I suppose if I got my hands on some duct tape I could have bought a few miles with a patch of some sort. Fortunately there was no need. After buying a new Panaracer Urban tire for $20 we were on the road again logging only 45 minutes total.

Our next destination was Cedar Grove where we would pick up the Ozaukee Interurban Trail. The ride there bordered on miserable. We faced slight headwinds and cold rain along boring country roads. It wasn't raining too hard but just enough to bother me. My feet were getting damp and despite my Goretex jacket, I still felt cold and wet. When I'm in pain or in discomfort, I tend to focus inward. No more joking or socializing. So it was a silent ride for me. But at my most miserable Dennis would chime in, "Hey! What a nice looking barn" or "What beautiful fall colors!" Dennis can really soldier on and maintain a positive attitude even in the cruddiest of conditions.

At around 4:30 pm we came upon a railroad crossing in Cedar Grove which I assumed would be the start of the Ozaukee bike path. But it was a real railroad. I wasn't going to panic but I was a bit concerned. We took another break at a gas station while I tried to figure out where to go next. Ralph's knees were beginning to bother him. After refueling I headed out to reconnoiter our route. I headed to a local library thinking they might be able to help me. The librarian had a vague idea where the trail was but I needed better than that. Then a local mom gave me more detailed directions. The beginning of the trail was just down a major road nearby. After rejoining my buddies, we headed out and picked up the trail soon thereafter.

The Ozaukee Interurban Trail is like an autobahn for bikes. It is another "Rails to Trails" bike path and definitely worth making a special trip to ride it. Ozaukee County obviously spent a lot of time, money, and effort making this bike path. The have a terrific map of the trail including details of the towns it passes through. My camera was malfunctioning so I couldn't take any pictures of the nice farms, streams and bridges we biked by. But just click the above link and you'll get a good idea what its like. The path north of and into Port Washington is especially noteworthy; a verdant and wooded valley path leading to a picturesque downtown.

By now Ralph was slowing and in pain. Every stop and start caused him great discomfort. I guessed he hadn't been downshifting as much as he should have and muscled up too many hills. Dennis and I enjoyed the ride through all the scenic towns but Ralph's agony was gradually growing. The Ozaukee Interurban Trail also passes through Grafton, Cedarburg, Mequon and Thiensville but we really didn't get a chance to enjoy the sites. I could go on and on about this bike path but you just have to see it for yourself. I really wish we had something like it in Chicago.

It was nightfall and at 7:00 pm we stopped in Thiensville to put on our headlamps. Ralph and I donned our JetLites and Dennis wedged a handlebar lamp in the vents of his helmet. We were a halogen and red blinking train headed through the misted darkness.

The trail continues into Milwaukee County for about a half mile to Brown Deer Road. But it is only a crushed limestone path and hardly worth riding on. We navigated the night traffic on Brown Deer Road toward River Road via Range and Dean Roads. We biked past mansions on huge properties. Ralph's progress was slower still. I figured it would take only twenty five minutes to reach our destination but it ended up taking almost an hour. After biking down the Milwaukee River Parkway to Silver Spring Road we finally reached Port Washington Road where our hotel was located. I prepared them both that we weren't staying at La Quinta Inn and Suites but at the La Quinta Inn, three blocks further south.

At 8:26 pm we finally arrived. La Quinta Inn was the priciest of our three hotels but seemed the most modest. Oh well, welcome back to the big city. We cleaned up and ate at a nearby Perkins. Our friend Joe would be driving up from Chicago the next morning to take Ralph and his bike home.

Distance Traveled: 83.3 miles
Distance to date: 820.2 miles
Price of gas: $2.64

Thursday, September 28, 2006

Bike Tour: Muskegon to Ludington

We had a nice breakfast at the Holiday Inn and were on the road by 10:30 am. It was chilly and partly cloudy. The area around our hotel was kind of tired. According to the hotel staff, Muskegon was known for processing timber. Much of the industry has moved on however. It was evident from our ride through town. Not much going on downtown. On the plus side, not much traffic. Our route took us on country highways up to the twin cities of Whitehall and Montague. Not a very scenic ride but it got us where we wanted to go.

Whitehall and Montague are pretty towns on the shores of White Lake. Ralph and Dennis took a bathroom break at Big John's Pizza while I checked out the White Lake Chamber of Commerce located in a nearby restored train depot. According to Ralph, Big John wasn't big at all; in fact "John" was a teenage girl. It started to rain after Ralph and Dennis joined me at the C of C. The young lady on duty was devoted to duty and provided information on the local restaurants and where to find the Hart-Montague Trail (she pointed to the trail right outside the window).

Once the rain subsided a bit we went on our way. We biked across White Lake and admired the majesty of the Worlds Largest Weathervane. Unfortunately it indicated we'd be biking into a headwind. We each refuled with a chocolate dipped soft serve cone at the nearby Twisters Ice Cream, 8688 Water Street, Montague MI and waited out more rain.

After a while the rain subsided again and the sky appeared to clear a bit so we set off in earnest on the Hart-Montague Trail State Park. This 22 mile trail is the first "Rails to Trails" path in Michigan on a Chesapeake & Ohio right of way. It is paved and runs through the towns of Rothbury, New Era, Shelby and Mears.

It was nice to be off the road again and on a dedicated bike path. The trail is tree lined, flat and in some places, so straight that you can barely see where it ends. We zipped right by Rothbury, which might be a nice town, but since we were on a roll we didn’t take the opportunity to check it out. New Era is a small country town with a nice rest area for bicyclists. We took a break and read a bulletin board that had a history of the town and then continued on our way. Shelby is a larger town and also has rest area for bicyclists including a bulletin with more local history and a poster for a 2004 Breast Cancer Walk. There is also some type of gem dealer advertising along the trail that has a showroom and theater(?), if one is interested in that sort of thing. We blew right by Mears without even knowing it. Upon heading northwest I realized we missed a turn. Mears is on the map but it isn’t a very big town; so it was easy to miss.

So we had to leave the bike path and head out on the roads again. The roads were smooth and mostly deserted in this area of apple orchards and small vineyards. We headed north on 60th Avenue and progressed well until crossing Harrison Road. Apparently in these parts an avenue can also be a two track sand path. At first it didn’t seem too bad and we could still manage ok. But as the track got hilly, the sand got deeper in the low parts and we were forced to walk our heavily laden bikes. Ralph breaking down in laughter didn’t help either. I didn’t see what was so damn funny. I was a bit panicked that I’d be leading these guys through the forest until nightfall. Fortunately after about two miles we eventually made it back to hard surface.

Soon thereafter we reached Pentwater Lake and another scenic ride leading to the town of Pentwater. Pentwater is a picturesque town with plenty of places we could have stopped to eat if we had gotten there in season. But we did find a deli and restocked with the junk food necessary to continue on our journey.

We next biked past Bass Lake along North Lake Shore Drive which was lined with summer cottages and cabins. After that we biked near Lake Michigan and encountered a series of hills that seemed to come one after another. This was dogging Dennis in particular. Eventually we reached the top where there was a reservoir and a hydroelectric dam of some sort. From our level we couldn't see the water though. It was if they built a giant above ground swimming pool. Then we had a dramatic downhill on Iris Road that lead us to Pere Marquette Highway. Marquette Highway is pretty busy and luckily for us we didn’t have to travel on it very long. We turned off on a side road and headed into Ludington.

We were passed by a fancy pants road biker shortly before we finally reached our destination, Four Seasons Lodging and Breakfast (not a bad place; I’d stay there again if the need arose). We checked in and asked the desk clerk for a good place to eat. She recommended Jamesport Brewing Company and PM Steamers (I thought she said Cleveland Steamers). We cleaned up and headed out for something to eat. It was nice to walk around and be off our bikes as we checked out the town. I forgot to pack regular clothes so I had to wear sweatpants and a t-shirt. We decided on Jamesport Brewing Company merely because it was easier to find. It was a good choice; a lot to choose from on their menu and lots of good beer for my pals. Dennis was smitten with Pabst despite puking it up the night before. Unfortunately they only offered higher end beers. But enough already; we ate and went back to the motel to sleep.

Distance Traveled: 63.2 miles
Distance to date: 736.9 miles
Price of gas: $2.71

Wednesday, September 27, 2006

Bike Tour: Winnetka to Milwaukee to Muskegon

At 9:30 am, Ralph, Dennis and I set out for Milwaukee on the first leg of our journey. We served together as lieutenants in a Marine Infantry Batallion during the first Gulf War. We're now in our early forties and fighting off middle age.

The long range weather forcast is not good. Rain, thunderstorms, and colder weather are predicted. This morning is sunny and mild though.

I'm on my Cannondale T2000, Ralph is riding a Surly road bike borrowed from a member of the Evanston Bike Club (EBC), and Dennis is riding a Trek 1100 borrowed from another EBC member. I was also able to borrow a pannier, trunk bag, and an additonal Phantom JetLite. I've plotted our route on my Garmin GPSMap 60C so I won't have to stop and consult maps along the way.

Ralph insists on a morning cup of joe, so we warm up with a short ride to Starbucks in Glencoe IL. After that we start our ride in earnest on the Green Bay Trail taking us north through Highland Park.

I really like the Green Bay Trail because it is straight and flat. It was converted from the North Shore Electric Railway right of way that provides the route for much of our trip to Milwaukee. Because it is a week day, the Green Bay Trail is relatively empty. We encounter a handful of walkers and only two bicyclists that I can remember. More about the Green Bay Trail. And even more about the Green Bay Trail.

After Highland Park, the trail turns into the Robert McClory Bike Path. We have the path pretty much to ourselves until reaching the state line. But prior to reaching Wisconsin, we take a detour to a Clark Station at 9th and Sheridan in Winthrop Harbor for drinks and snacks. I buy a quart of chocolate milk and nosh on some left over pizza from dinner the night before. More about the McClory Bike Path

Crossing a bridge over Russell Road, we are now in Wisconsin and on the Kenosha County Bike Path, a continuation of the North Shore Electric Railroad right of way. It is much like the McClory Path, straight, flat, and tree lined. The weather continues to be clear and mild. We ride three abreast and talk about the crappy old days in the Marines. But the trail is a joy; cornfields, farms, and wooded areas. It is well maintained too.

At 89th Street in Kenosha, the trail abruptly ends with city streets. We continue north on 30th Avenue, a busy concrete street. For some reason the bumps cause my GPS to conk out. One of the weaknesses of my GPS is that the battery terminals can get loose and a jerk of the unit causes it to turn off. After miles of urban riding, we get back on the trail at 35th Street. The trail isn't initially as pastoral as it use to be but it is good to be back. After a few miles, we're back in the country side.

Eventually the trail crosses into Racine County. We only know this because of the bike trail signage. Otherwise it is a seamless transition. But again the trail gives way to city streets. The upside is a liquor store adjacent to the bike path. Dennis's bike computer puts us at 50 miles. Sick of chocolate milk by now, I purchase a liter bottle of Dr. Pepper for my bottle cage. The three of us started the ride with 70 ounce Camelbaks. Having taken only one sip, I empty it out and stash it in my pannier for the remainder of the tour. We take a meandering route through Racine until we pick up another bike path north of town. It appears to be along another railroad right of way but I'm not sure if it is the same North Shore Electric line.

After a few miles the trail ends at 5 Mile Road and we take Highway 32 north. By now it begins to drizzle. Hwy 32 is a bit hilly and Dennis falls behind. The ride isn't quite as pleasant with all the vehicular traffic speeding by in wet weather. I guess I was hurrying in order to get this part of the trip over as quickly as possible. We suffer on this road until we can turn to the east on Ryan Road in Milwaukee County which quickly takes us north on 5th Avenue, a quiet county road with intermittent views of Lake Michigan.

By now the rain has let up and the ride is again pleasant. The ride north is part of the Oak Leaf Trail, a bike route ringing Milwaukee County. At College Avenue we leave the streets and take a bike path through Warnimont Park in South Milwaukee. It is a nicely paved winding trail through wooded and prairie parkland. The trail gives way to parkways and another off street path along some windy bluffs fronting new lakefront apartments in Cudahy.

The crew is getting tired and we finally reach the ferry landing at 4:00 pm where we will take the Lake Express to Muskegon, Michigan. Our boat doesn't leave until 7:00 pm, so a Lake Express staff member suggests we grab a bite at the nearby Palomino's, 2491 S. Superior Street, Milwaukee, Wisconsin. It is a terrific tavern with a big picture window so we can watch over our bikes and a juke box with songs from my college days. Dennis and Ralph gorge themselves on fried foods and dollar Pabst Blue Ribbons.

We trundle back to the ferry terminal at 6:00 pm. We are quickly inspected by security and wait to board inside. By now it is a little chilly and I've put on pants. At about 6:40 pm we ride our bikes aboard and hang them on wall racks on the vehicle deck. We go to the upper passenger deck and take our seats and wait to cast off. Dennis has been wary of the voyage since he is prone to seasickness and the waters look a little choppy. We are quickly underway and once we reach our top speed of about 35 knots, Dennis is no longer his bubbly self (although his stomach probably is). Dennis succumbs to seasickness, fills three barf bags, and finds a corner of the deck to lay down. So much for the dinner at Palomino's. Ralph is feeling a little rough as well and goes outside to gain his equilibrium. I've never suffered from seasickness, so I stay seated and watch over our stuff. Fortunately the voyage only lasts 2 1/2 hours. Once the boat stops, Dennis regains his perk and we all yuk it up.

We land at about 10:15 pm local time. After a short night ride, we arrive at Holiday Inn, Muskegon Harbor. After warm showers and cable TV, we rack out for the night.

Distance Traveled: 78.9 miles
Distance to date: 673.7 miles
Price of gas: $2.75

Monday, September 25, 2006

Gone Touring

On Wednesday myself and two friends, Ralph and Dennis, bike to Milwaukee and take the Lake Express Ferry to Muskegon, Michigan where we will spend the night. On Thursday we bike to Ludington, Michigan and overnight there. On Friday we sail on the SS Badger to Manitowoc, Wisconsin and bike down to Milwaukee. On Saturday we bike back home. The weather forcast is rain and colder. Terrific.

Thursday, September 21, 2006

Draft Rejected!

Got a 6:00 am start. Again I used my helmet mounted Phantom Jet Lite to illuminate the first part of my ride this morning. It was a clear morning so I could have just done without it though. It was a very pleasant and cool morning but ten miles into my ride my legs felt a little weak. At first I thought I was biking into a head wind but the nearby flags told me otherwise. Then I thought maybe a tire was low but that wasn't the case either. Then I realized my previous ride's racing was the culprit.

At Oak Street Beach I was passed by a racing bike rider and a road bike mounted commuter. The racer I let go by. But I went after the commuter. I was drafting pretty well and at Delaware I made sure to make my presence known by asking if he minded my drafting. I guess I startled him (he had earphones on) and he swerved off. I repeated myself but he demurred saying it was too dangerous and he peddled off. At first I thought, "Geez! What priss." In retrospect I realize I was doing the biking equivalent of panhandling. Why should he let some total stranger not only leech his air and but also potentially put him at risk? But my ego was also a bit bruised because he was faster than me. He turned off at Randolph so he wouldn't have been much help anyway. So I also consoled myself in the thought that he hadn't been riding as far as I had at the time too. I can be such a child.

Distance Traveled: 24.3 miles
Distance to date: 595.8 miles
Price of gas: $2.84

Wednesday, September 20, 2006

Blitzed Again

Terrific weather for bicycling. Left for home around 2:30 pm because I worked an early shift. Sunny and high 60s. Not a lot of people on the Lakefront Trail at this time of day. Passed a road biker around North Avenue beach. He looked like he was enjoying a relaxed pace. But like many before, I guess he took my passing him as a personal challenge. Around Fullerton, he passed me by and like Pavlov's dog, my conditioned response was to go after him. Some riders zip by me at such a good clip that I don't even think twice about trying to keep up. But those that are just a bit swifter than me are the bane of my existence. I have to run them down no matter how much it wears me out. This guy looked like he had a lighter bike, an obviously lighter load, and was probably younger than me as well (most people on the trail are). I kept up with him pretty good. By leaching off his wind I was able to coast every once in a while and conserve what little energy I had left in me. He was much better accelerating though. When slowing down for turns he was much better at picking up the speed again and it really tired me out. Just north of the Wilson crossing we had to nearly stop for some toddlers in the path. After that I was done. He was able to get back up to speed like a sports car whereas I accelerated like a loaded RV. Fortunately he turned off at Lawrence because I was spent.

Along Granville some jerk driver was probably trying to impress his girl by hugging the parked cars and not letting me pass. I know I shouldn't be passing on the right but I can quickly cruise through Granville while all the cars get bogged down at the stop signs. Jerk off had his fun until I was able to speed off at another intersection that was free of parked cars. But another car unknowingly did the same thing. I gave the car's fender a little knuckle rap just to let them know I was there so it wouldn't squish me. I freaked out the driver and she braked quickly. When the car came closer to me at Clark I gave an apologetic wave so she wouldn't think I was a total A-hole.

Distance Traveled: 24.3 miles
Distance to date: 551.5 miles
Price of gas: $2.89

Tuesday, September 19, 2006

Video of the Week: Biking Down a Japanese Volcano

This looks like footage from a Japanese TV show. I believe they call it Super Terrific Happy Hour. Anyway, this guy gets up to 172 kph (106 mph) until his front fork fails on him.

Monday, September 18, 2006

Cool Morning Ride

Used my helmet mounted Phantom Jet Lite to illuminate the first part of my ride this morning. Unfortunately the battery wasn't fully charged and I had to switch it off before it was light out (you hurt the battery if you let it run down all the way). At Lawrence or Wilson I spied a road bike mounted commuter far ahead. He had a good pace and it took me until around Gordon Terrace to catch up to him. Unbenownst to him, I believe, I drafted off him for a good while and quite enjoyed the lift. Around Diversey he slowed down. So I passed him and let him know I'd cut into the wind for a change. We shared the duty until he exited the trail at Randolph.

Roosevelt Road was pretty backed up from Wells to Canal Street and blocking the bike lane. So I had to resort to slaloming through cars. Kind of exciting but not something I'll make a habit of doing.

Distance Traveled: 24.3 miles
Distance to date: 527.2 miles
Price of gas: $2.89

Sunday, September 17, 2006

Bicycling to Grandma's

The whole family hit the Green Bay Trail for a bike ride. It had been a long time since I'd ridden with my wife, Christine. I had to give her 20 year old Schwinn Mirada a little tune up prior to departing. But it was in really good shape and just needed refilling the tires and a little cleaning. Joseph was on his Huffy and Eric was in his seat mounted on the back of my Bianchi hybrid. We headed south from Tower Road. Joseph wore his new backpack and insisted on stopping at every bridge to take out his water bottle for a drink. Needless to say it got a bit tedious after a while. Fortunately the last bridge is at Cherry Street and we could make some progress for a change. We biked to Indian Hill and rather than turn around we decided to continue on to Christine's mom's house. Then Christine and I biked back home later and picked up the kids in the car. Grandma was quite surprised that Joseph was able to bike almost four miles.

Distance Traveled: 7.3 miles
Distance to date: 502.9 miles
Price of gas: $2.89

Saturday, September 16, 2006

Still Another Ride With the Boys

Took sons Joseph and Eric on a late morning ride on the Green Bay Trail to Orchard Street and back. Joseph tends to lean to the left on his training wheeled Huffy to the extent that he is almost wearing the tire down to the metal. He got a kick out of putting his sippy bottle in my bottle cage. So much that for a while we had to stop about every 100 yards so he could take another drink. While on our umpteenth break some Evanston Bike Club riders went by; quite a friendly crew. Made our usual stop at Hubbard Woods Park to watch a Flying Gaonas trapeze class.

Distance Traveled: 3.7 miles
Distance to date: 495.6 miles
Price of gas: $2.99

Adventures in Selling a Used Bike

Last summer I had a 2003 Cannondale Scalpel 3000 that I needed to unload. The bike is a high end cross country bike whose features were going to waste since I wasn't racing anymore. I considered selling it on eBay. But I just didn't want to risk letting the bike go for a rock bottom price on top of having to pay a percentage. So I put a $2.00 ad in MTB Reviews classified's and it ended up working out great. My ad had a lot of information about the bikes's condition and past use as well as a full view photo of the bike and a composite photo of the bike's major components; crank, rear derailleur, shifters, front brake.

Within a day I was contacted by one of many Nigerian scammers. I wished I saved some of the emails because they were hilarious. Their emails are so transparent that I wonder how anyone is ever fooled. They initially ask a few cursory details about the bike to which I dutifully reply with the slight hope they are legit. A very short time later they write back saying it is the bike of their dreams and offer to buy it immediately. They also offer hundreds or even thousands more than the asking price along with some crap about a friend picking it up or some other trash that entails my sending cash back to them(!). In the first few cases I gave them my cell number and my work address to send the check (I've heard these guys sometimes FedEx the funds all the way from Africa. Imagine how much that must cost!). Within a week or two I got a check. I think I received one or two checks via regular mail from the UK and Spain. The sender's name never even matched the person in the emails. These guys must have been trainees. The checks were obviously counterfeit; the small security printings would have misspellings and the typesetting would be misaligned.

Some people are actually fooled by this scam and deposit the checks. Shockingly some banks even accept them. Then the dupe ships off the item for sale along with the cash difference (minus some dough for their trouble). Eventually the bank gets wise and the dupe is held responsible despite the bank accepting the check in the first place.

In my case, the scammers waited a bit and then emailed asking if I'd received the check. I strung them along. I'd either write that I hadn't gotten the check yet or ask they send another one for one reason or another. One guy even called from Africa. Eventually I guess they got tired and went away.

I did receive a good number of legitimate inquiries though. The prospective buyers asked for a lot more information than my Nigerian friends. I took lots of photos and sent them off. I ended up saving an email with a half dozen photo attachments so I wouldn't have to go through the laborious process every time someone asked.

The eventual buyer knew much more about my bike that I did. He even informed me that I had the size wrong. After a lot of back and forth which included my taking off the front derailleur (he wanted to see if it had been put on too tight and pinched the aluminum frame-it did) he bought the bike for my asking price. He said he was buying it for his girlfriend. What a guy! Through my online investigating I learned he was actually a reseller and his girlfriend story was likely bogus. But why should I care? He paid the best price and I hope he made money on the deal.

Friday, September 15, 2006

Finally Riding on Properly Inflated Tires

After suffering three pinch flats in two days and consultation with Howard at the Compleat Cyclist in Dolton, Illinois, I realized my tires weren't properly inflated. I purchased a tire pressure gauge and sure enough, I was riding my 2002 Cannondale T2000 touring bike at 40 psi when I should be at 90-120 psi. Before my ride home from work the following day I only inflated my tires to 75-80 psi though. That is a lot of pumping with my compact bike pump and my ride is rough enough already. But I did notice a difference. My bones got a bit more rattled on every sidewalk and roadway seam but I seemed to get more power in my pedaling. Well duh!

The weather this afternoon was great. Sunny and high 70s and just a little wind. At Roosevelt Road and South Clinton, I was nearly creamed by an oncoming car turning left. I blame myself despite having the right of way though. I was going down the bike lane at a nice clip passing to the right of a UPS truck stopped at the corner. To the turning driver I'm sure I came out of nowhere. Fortunately for me he hit the brakes in time. Something to remember.

I chatted with a couple on a Co-Motion tandem between Ohio and Oak Street Beach. I was really envious. When my boys are older, my wife and I would like to purchase a road tandem so we can bike together. Not that we can't bike together now, but I like to go faster than she does. Then I passed a leisurely big guy on a road bike near North Street Beach. Like myself, he probably being passed personally. About a half mile later he passed me and I nearly killed myself trying to keep up and draft. I made a nice meal of his dust.

My pedals began to squeak in Evanston from the previous day's wet weather riding. It got too annoying so I pulled over on Isabella to lube them up a bit. I stopped pedaling to see how far I could coast. I went about three blocks.

Distance Traveled: 24.3 miles
Distance to date: 491.9 miles
Price of gas: $2.99

Wednesday, September 13, 2006

Worst Day Ever!

There was a light rain this morning and the Chicago area forcast threatened even heavier weather. I left my car, raincoat and umbrella at work the previous day. Since I was going to get wet either way, I decided to bike in and make the best of it. After donning my Goretex jacket and Neoprene booties, I was ready to roll at 6:00 am. My booties did a decent job keeping my feet from getting wet but I was getting a little sweaty in the Goretex. The ride was fine until I hit a pothole on Ridge in front of Evanston Hospital and suffered a pinch flat in my rear wheel. I got an extra tube out of my seat pouch and got busy. I was able to remove the wheel without taking off my pannier and was back on the road within 15 minutes. I would still arrive at work early. My only concern was that the spare tube was a 700x19 for a 700x25mm tire. I crossed my fingers and rode on.

The Lakefront Trail was practically deserted. I was the only biker until around Montrose, a commuter on a road bike screamed past me. We exchanged hellos and I drafted off him as long as I could. At Addison I realized keeping up with him was a pipe dream. He cruised away and by the time I passed Belmont he had vanished in the distance. Just as well, my middle aged legs aren't meant for such punishment (although he looked just as old if not older than me).

The rain was still light but I sensed some sogginess in my left foot. I guess the Neoprene is far from fool proof.

If getting soggy wasn't bad enough, I suffered another rear wheel pinch flat somewhere around the Oak Street curve. I sensed my ride was a little more labored and the bumps seemed a little harder. The tire wasn't fully deflated but I could tell something was up. I soldiered on since I only had about five miles to go. But after crossing the Chicago River I realized I had to do something or I'd ruin my rim. I stopped just south of Wacker Drive and reinflated my tire. I could hear the air escaping but I hoped it would hold long enough to get me a bit further so I wouldn't have to patch my other tire in the rain.

After clanking past Monroe Street, I realized I was kidding myself. At this pace I would be pumping up my tire every other block. So I pulled over to a park bench, took off my jacket and got busy once again. Then the rain really started to pour. Patching a tire with an old patch kit is quite challenging. I only had one patch left and it was much too big for the tire. Plus my tube of cement was nearly dried out and now had a gummy consistency. Needless to say, the patch didn't take. So I decided to retreat to the Millenium Park Bike Station where I might be able to buy another tube. Fortunately I didn't have any early appointments at work.

I trotted my bike over the winding bridge spanning Columbus Drive and eventually got to the bike station. Luckily for me the bike station and its little shop is open at this hour. Unfortunately the guy on duty didn't have access to the repair shop where all the spare tubes are kept. They didn't have any repair kits on sale but they did have some rubber sleeve that supposedly patches a hole. At $3.99 it was about the cost of a whole other tube and seemed like a goofy solution. So I decided to just do a better job patching one of my tubes now that I had a roof over my head.

About 10 minutes later I got my tire patched and was back on the road. I finally arrived at work at 9:00 am; about an hour and fifteen minutes later than I should have. Another unlucky break was that the female custodial staff was cleaning the locker room. So I had to wait another fifteen minutes to take a shower. What a morning!

Work brought me out to Dolton and I bought a thorn resistant tube at Compleat Cyclist.

Distance Traveled: 24.7 miles
Distance to date: 467.6 miles
Price of gas: $2.99

Tuesday, September 12, 2006

Video of The Week: Bike Chase

My jaw dropped when I first saw this video. Click this link to see the background of this chase.

Another Rainy Ride

It had been raining off and on since mid-morning so I checked the Chicago area Doppler radar to see if I was in store for a wet ride. I was due to leave work and it appeared that a nice rain shower was moving in from just west of the city. Oh well! At least I'm better prepared than I was the last times I was caught in the rain. In my pannier I now carry an LL Bean Stowaway Gortex rain jacket. It bundles up into a nice pouch for easy storage. It can jet kind of hot but the dual zipper helps me ventilate.

The Lakefront Trail was relatively deserted. It was still pretty wet in places but for the most part I was dry. Taking a few extra days off helped my legs get back to full strength again. So I felt pretty strong on my ride.

At Greenwood and Hinman in Evanston it started to rain hard enough for me to pull out my rain jacket. Fortunately it didn't get too hot. It was actually a pretty comfortable ride. After turning west on Isabella, my pedalling seemed to get tougher. After I crossed the L tracks I realized my front tire was low. I stopped and re-inflated it to see if that would be enough to get me home. I immediately heard a loud hissing and saw tiny bubbles throughout my sidewalls. The leak wouldn't get me more than a block. So I took out my spare tube and using the tire levers in my Topeak Alien multi-tool I repaired my tire and was back on the road in ten minutes.

The skies totally opened up at Tower and Green Bay in Winnetka. Fortunately I wasn't too far from home. I would still have been OK except for my soggy feet. I wish there was a quicker solution to preventing wet feet besides my Performance Neoprene booties. They work well, but by the time I'd be able to wrestle them on in a rainstorm I'd be soaked completely. I guess life really sucks sometimes.

Distance Traveled: 24.3 miles
Distance to date: 442.9 miles
Price of gas: $2.99

Saturday, September 09, 2006

Buying My Used Bikes Online

I've bought two bicycles online; a 2003 Cannondale Scalpel 3000 cross country bike at MTB Reviews classified's and my 2002 Cannondale T2000 touring bike on eBay. Buying online is inherently risky but it can also save a lot of money. If you do your homework you can buy the bike you want and not get cheated. Obviously my buying only two bikes doesn't give me exhaustive experience in this but I learned a few things for the next time I decide to purchase my third bike online.

In the winter of 2003 and 2004, I was into adventure racing and needed a light mountain bike for the upcoming racing season. For some reason I decided I wanted a Cannondale Scalpel. I don't remember why now, but just like my decision to join the Marines, it seemed like a good idea at the time. A new Scalpel cost between $2,000 to $5,000 depending on the components and front fork. Used models were much cheaper. For a few weeks I trolled eBay. I was looking for one in the $1,000 to $1,500 range. Only a few offerings piqued my interest. I realized that buying a used bike required patience and flexibility.

At the time I preferred eBay to web based classified ads. EBay's rating system and anti-fraud measures provide a better sense of security than just buying from some guy online. But the limited time frame of an eBay auction forces a buyer to rush his decision to purchase. In all of the eBay listings of bikes I liked, none had ALL the information I wanted. So I had to use eBay's "ask the seller a question" process to get more details. Sometimes the sellers responded and sometimes they didn't.

On a lark I checked out was for sale at MTBR's classifieds and saw the 2003 Scalpel 3000. I really, really liked it. It was priced at $2,000; beyond what I had budgeted. However it was a terrific deal and would be a great racing bike. The seller was a sponsored racer who got a new bike every year. He also provided his name, address, and phone numbers. With a little due diligence courtesy of Google I was able to confirm his identity and even find a photo of him racing my new bike. We exchanged a half dozen emails and he provided plenty of additional details about the bike and its condition. I was pretty satisfied he was on the level and trusted his assurances the bike was in good shape. So I agreed to the purchase and recieved the bike within the week. Except for a few cosmetic dents on beneath the crank, the bike was a bit dirty but exactly as described. I was very satisfied with my purchase and it served me well for the year that I raced with it.

Family and work responsibilities resulted in my "retirement" from adventure racing in the spring of 2005. I'd considered using the Scalpel for riding to work and even bought a rack that could be mounted on a full suspension bike. But it was ridiculous to use such a bike for commuting; almost as ridiculous as commuting in a Hummer or Range Rover. So I decided to sell it and purchase a touring bike with the proceeds. I was still stuck on Cannondales since they also make respected touring bikes. So my next pursuit was finding either a Cannondale T2000 or T800.

At the start of my search, neither EBay nor Road Bike Reviews classified's listed any Cannondale touring bikes for sale in my size; they just don't manufacture a lot of them compared to other models. But by using eBay's saved searches feature, I was emailed everytime there was a new listing for a T2000 or T800. After a few weeks the T2000 I would eventually purchase came up for auction. It was being sold by a guy in New England who toured with it extensively. He and I exchanged a good number of emails and he was able to provide lots of additional photos of the bike. Unfortunately he wasn't actually with the bike at the time of the auction. He was out of town and could only tell me about the bike from memory.

I was particularly interested in several areas of the frame that appeared to have big scratches in the finish. I realized these were only cosmetic issues but if I was to resell the bike I wanted to make sure it looked as good as possible. This was especially important to me from my recent experience selling my Scalpel (which I'll address in detail in another post). And like the Scalpel 3000, I really, really liked this bike. It was glossy black and in pretty good shape. I'll admit that a bike's appearance is important to me. These days some bikes seem to have such goofy color schemes. A bike could be in excellent shape and have terrific components but if it is sky blue with yellow decals for instance, I won't even consider it.

With all the photos and the good communication with the bike's seller, I was confident in the purchase of this bike. I was ultimately the high bidder at $900 for a bike that retailed at $1,600 but also included a few upgrades. Had the bike been a less desirable color, I probably wouldn't have bid as hight. But I got the bike and I was very happy with my purchase.

Before the seller was to ship the bike, he emailed to tell me that there were scuffs and scratches in the finish that were worse than he described. He was willing to let me off on the purchase but we settled on free shipping. I've had the bike for over a year and I still love it. It is rugged and rides great and was a terrific deal in my opinion.

When I purchase my next bike, it will most likely be a used bike and online. The internet is a terrific resource and with patience and a lot of pestering for details and photos, I'm confident I can keep from ever getting burned.

Thursday, September 07, 2006


Another cool and quiet morning. I encounter a bike commuter at Broadway and Granville. He is equipped with either a mountain bike with semi-slick tires or a road bike with pretty wide tires; he's pretty tall so I couldn't tell which. We pass each other for various traffic reasons until we get to the Lakefront Trail. On a pass while on the trail he indicates his leading is probably temporary. I retort by asking if he minds my drafting. I guess with my dropped handle bars or something he figures I'll be faster than him. After a while I pass him and he stays with me. Then somewhere around Montrose I begin to fade. He passes and drafting off him is the only thing that enables me to keep up. Every time we switch off I lead less and less. Then after North Avenue Beach he pretty much takes over the lead for good. My leaden legs just can't keep up. As acknowledgement of my lameness I compliment him on his ability to cut the wind. He responds with something but I can't hear him over my heavy breathing. At Randolph Street I pick up some speed and take over the lead again as a gesture of at least attempting to do my part. Fortunately he turns off at Monroe Street which allows me to limp on at a more realistic speed.

I am truly beat once I get to work. Normally I arrive feeling invigorated. But the strenuous pace is definitely wearing me down. I'm parking the bike until next week and will let my body recover.

Distance Traveled: 24.3 miles
Distance to date: 418.6 miles
Price of gas: $3.09

Wednesday, September 06, 2006


It was hot and sunny this afternoon. Fortunately the flags outside the office hung listless; no stiff headwind today. Good thing too. As soon as I started north on the Lakeshore Path from the Field Museum I didn't seem to have my usual get up and go. I felt really heavy. I was passed by a member of the US Postal Service Team at Jackson but had absolutely no drive to chase him down. He eventually turned off at Navy Pier. Other than feeling like I was biking through molasses, the ride was terrific.

When I got home, my thighs felt all tingly and climbing stairs was more of chore. I usually go for a walk with my wife and sons after dinner. But I begged off and am going to go to bed early. I need a good nights sleep for my morning ride in. If my car wasn't at work I would take more time to recover. I could take a train in but I'm planning on taking it easy on my ride tomorrow.

Distance Traveled: 24.3 miles
Distance to date: 394.3 miles
Price of gas: $3.09

Tuesday, September 05, 2006

Tuesday Grind

It was misty and wet on the roads this morning. Lately my rides to work have been starting before full daylight. I really enjoy the solitude. The towns of Winnetka, Kenilworth, Wilmette and Evanston are still asleep as I ride through. It is only as I get to the end of my time on Clark Street or crossing Broadway that people start popping up. As the sun rises my engine seems to get into full gear. But there haven’t been many opportunities to engage in friendly competition with my fellow riders. Morning traffic on the Lakefront Trail seems to have dropped off in the last week. I have a nice tailwind so my cruising speed was in the 17 to 20 mph range.

I passed a gentleman on a mountain bike near North Avenue Beach. He picked up his pace and tried to hang on to my rear tire but he couldn’t keep up. I know exactly how he feels. When I was riding my Bianchi Hybrid, I took it personally (and still do actually) if someone zipped by me. I attempted to keep up with some road bike riders. They must have thought I was really kidding myself. And they were right of course. After a quarter mile (if I was lucky) I’d burned out, was totally spent, and dejected. In short, I was a total goof.

After passing Navy Pier I saw a yellow shirted road bike rider off in the distance. I was gaining on him as I hit the Lakeshore Drive straightaway south of Monroe Street. But I faded and couldn't keep up with his pace. He slowed for the Lakeshore Drive underpass near the Field Museum. Lucky for me he went in another direction. Otherwise I would have had to run him down. I'm like a dog chasing cars. I just can't help myself.

Distance Traveled: 24.3 miles
Distance to date: 370.0 miles
Price of gas: $3.11

Monday, September 04, 2006

New York City Bike Race

These guys are crazy! This is a wild video by Lucas Brunelle.

Saturday, September 02, 2006

Another Ride With The Boys

Took sons Joseph and Eric on a ride today. Joseph on his $40 used Huffy and Eric in a child carrier. Biked the Green Bay Trail from Tower Road to Elder Lane and back. Joseph still hasn't grasped the concept of watching where he is going and collided into a tree and a kid's parked bike. Also stopped at Hubbard Woods Park to watch another Flying Gaonas trapeze class.

Distance Traveled: 3.9 miles
Distance to date: 345.7 miles
Price of gas: $3.16

Friday, September 01, 2006

Jelly Legs

Perfect weather for bicycling. The traffic on the Lakefront Path was much lighter than I'd expected. I guess all the bikers, runners, walkers and bladers got out of town early or something. Just as well, I blew out my quadriceps on the first leg of my ride.

An article I read yesterday reinforced the notion that it is more efficient to pedal in a circular motion vice pushing down on the pedals. I've known that for years but I figured on today's ride home from work I'd concentrate on doing just that. I was biking east on Roosevelt Road toward Grant Park making sure to pull up on the pedals along with the pushing down; doing my best to pedal in that circular motion. In short, by the time I got to the Lakefront Trail, my legs were tingling like I had just climbed forty flights of stairs. I had either botched the entire technique, just tried too hard or, more likely, done both. I had another case of Jelly Legs.

I suffered my first bout of Jelly Legs in Boston about ten years ago. My wife Christine and I were visiting my cousins Kateri and Jeannie and walking around Bunker Hill. Kateri said she had a little contest going among all her visitors to see who could get to the top of the Bunker Hill Monument fastest. I was game so I shot up the zillion steps while Kateri waited below. Huffing and puffing as I reached the top I tried to be nonchalant. A family of four were there enjoying the view and I didn't want to look like a total goof slapping the wall and running back down. So after walking around a bit while trying not to breathe too hard I scooted back down the stairs. On my way down I passed Christine and Jeannie making a saner ascent. After reaching ground level I croaked, "What's my time!" All Kateri could do was bend over laughing. I'd been had.

For the rest of the day I could barely walk. At one point I was sitting on a park bench shouting "I've got jelly legs! JELLY LEGS!" just as a runner strided by in short shorts. He jerked his head in my direction obviously thinking I was talking about him. The guy was probably thinking "Jelly legs?! I've run in fifty Boston Marathons!"

Meanwhile, back on my ride, by North Avenue I'd recovered a bit. Drinking my putrid Accelerade also got me moving well again. Near Foster Avenue Beach I took a break to watch a Chicago Police Boat tow a foundering catamaran out of the surf.

Distance Traveled: 24.2 miles
Distance to date: 341.8 miles
Price of gas: $3.16