The bicycle diaries: Exploring Illinois and Missouri

 
Published7/6/2008 12:03 AM

I'll be quite pleased if July can come close to the variety of cycling I enjoyed during the month of June.

Starting with helping to involve a few co-workers in the Chicagoland Bicycle Federation's Commuter Challenge, I had the real pleasure of riding with people who hadn't been on a bike in 10 years. It really is true that you never forget how to ride a bike.

 

Then on June 21-22, six friends and family members joined me in riding the National MS Society's Tour de Farms charity bike ride. Starting with the Friday night campout on the grounds of Northern Illinois University in DeKalb, the whole weekend was a blast. It didn't take long for the memories to dim of finishing Saturday's 100-mile route with 25 miles into a strong headwind. At the finish line there were plenty of cheering supporters followed by delicious food, live music (from my daughter's new favorite band, Fair Herald), and timely liquid refreshments provided by the kind folks at Goose Island Brewery.

Sunday's ride featured new routes north of DeKalb that offered quite a few wooded areas to provide welcome variety to the traditional corn fields that we've become so accustomed to seeing on that ride each year. The route ended with my daughter challenging me to a spirited sprint to the finish line as dozens of enthusiastic supporters lined the road. Knowing that cycling doesn't captivate her 14-year-old interests like it used to, I'll treasure that sprint for a long time.

Most importantly, my team of seven riders has raised nearly $9,000 towards the fight against Multiple Sclerosis and the ride as a whole is approaching $1.2 million raised. Fundraising is still under way so if you'd like to lend a hand, visit www.RideForMS.org.

Due to the limitations of coordinating time off for a vacation with friends, I then ended up driving south the very next morning with six buddies from Elgin to ride a portion of the famed Katy Trail west of St. Louis in Missouri.

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This adventure began the next morning with an Amtrak trip (including bicycles) from Washington, Mo. to Jefferson City. Things worked out quite well for us as heavy storms drenched our train while we traveled westward and we were left with dry skies for the rest of the day. We disembarked, hopped on our bikes and crossed over the Missouri River to join the 225-mile limestone-surfaced Katy Trail State Park.

Time constraints limited us to only riding about a third of America's longest "rails-to-trail" project this trip, but what we did experience was quite enjoyable. We had to stay attentive while riding as every couple of minutes a 3-4 inch lizard would scurry across the trail in front of us. Startled indigo buntings would captivate us as they took off with their brilliantly iridescent blue wings. We also encountered box, painted, and snapping turtles sunning themselves on the trail and were compelled to stop when a huge boulder marked with historical river flood stages made for a scenic group photo.

We spent that evening 40 miles to the east, at a very welcoming bed-and-breakfast in Rhineland called The Doll House. While the interior decorations were a bit frilly for my tastes, the accommodations were outstanding. For dinner, we treated ourselves to an amazing German meal at the Stone Hill Winery's Vintage Restaurant in Hermann.

During the next morning's ride, I had a very memorable experience as we spotted a fawn bounding along the trail about 30 yards ahead of us. After a little prodding from my cohorts, I chased and caught up to it just long enough to enjoy a few breathtaking seconds of observation of its graceful movements. It wasn't until after it leapt sideways toward the river that I realized that mom might be in the vicinity and have objected to my behavior. Ah, well, I like to think that I helped the little guy practice escaping from a future predator.

Even with our limited time on this trip, I saw enough of the Katy Trail to recommend it to anyone visiting central Missouri. There's a wealth of information about the trail available at www.bikekatytrail.com.

Todd Underwood covers cycling in the Chicagoland area. To contact him, e-mail todd@peppergroup.com or write to c/o Daily Herald, 385 Airport Road, Suite A, Elgin, IL 60123.

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