Day 1: Chicago to New Lenox, IL

15 Aug

Day one was hard, really really hard. I was in the saddle for 9 hours – and went about 59 miles. There were a few things I was missing, the most important of which was a good route.

After breakfast at Open Produce with Jeff and Steven and Kevin (thanks for seeing me off, guys!), I headed out of Chicago on Marquette Rd (67th St), then turned southwest on Archer Ave to meet up with the I&M Canal Trail. Archer was a nightmare. Sidewalks lasted less than a block and curbs were 5 or 6 inches tall, and there was no shoulder. I trudged down until I hit I-294, which Archer crossed on an overpass, still with no shoulder, and 2 lanes of traffic in either direction going about 50 mph. I was already exhausted, and there was no way I was going to ride on that pavement. I called Mom from the gas station – the first of many map-research calls of the day – and she led me around and over to Archer close to the I&M Canal trailhead.

But the trail was closed. Luckily for the first few miles there’s a trail on both sides of the canal(s), so that was no big deal. But then the one side ended, and the far side was closed again. I followed a few other cyclists on it anyways, wrenched my cart under a fallen tree across the path, and kept passing construction signs that said “bike path closed to thru traffic.” Which was obviously me, but I kept going anyways, afraid that my only option to get to Joliet was still Archer Ave.

The I hit an impasse, a construction sign on a fence and a hole big enough for a bike to pass through, but not my cart. And that’s when it got really hard. Maybe you’ll hear the frustration in my voice here.

I made it over the bridge, and to New Ave, which was pretty awful, so I took a side road, which nearly broke my spirit completely, because I had to push my cart up all the hills. I had a little breakdown on the side of the road, but Dad motivated me to get to my warmshowers.org hosts, Gary and Debe’s house in New Lenox, 10 miles east of Joliet.

And oh, wow, am I glad I did it! Gary and Debe were fantastic, as were their daughters, so incredibly welcoming and generous. They knew all I really wanted when I arrived was a shower and some food, and then they called over an amazing local cyclist, Billy Lang, who fixed my pannier problem with a couple of pieces of string, recommended a direct, pleasant route for day 2, and even got a friend of his to agree to escort me. He even gave me his Illinois bike maps, which is welcoming considering how massively my DeLorme atlas failed me earlier in the day. Thank you!

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