Roadside Repairs - Part the Third by Erin Wade

Although I write about cycling here a lot - it’s the majority of the posts on Applied Life at this point - I do try to vary the subject within that topic from week to week. But sometimes the fates have other ideas (apparently).

Last week I had a sudden, but fortunately non-catastrophic,disassembly of my left front axle to to write about. I wrote that up, got dressed for a ride, did a careful walk-around on the trike, and hit the road.

Somewhere just after mile 6 my rear wheel started to get squirrelly and, when I looked back at it (this is a bit of a stretching feat on the trike) I could see that it was uncomfortably low on air. I had a flat.

My first strategy was to hope that it had somehow just gotten the air knocked out of it (I know, I know - wishful thinking). So I pulled out the hand-pump that I keep in what is almost certainly a purpose-designed pocket on the back of the seat (there are several of these pockets on the back of my Catrike Pocket seat - it’s a clever design) and pumped it up. And it seemed to hold air, so I remounted and rode away.

...for maybe 100 feet.

Yes - then it was flat again, and it was clear something more permanent had happened to the tire. I’m frankly not sure what - there was no clear event to proceed this, but there I was, regardless (which is why I think the Norns may have been having a little fun with me).


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So there I was, a little less than halfway into my ride, and at the furthest point from home in the route, and I began to debate in my head about whether to call for a ride.

The thing is, I’ve never successfully changed a tire on the trike. It’s a little embarrassing to admit, but I’m actually not sure if I’ve ever done so on any bike or cycle. If I have, it’s been a very long time. And by successfully, I mean that I’ve tried on a number of occasions, but those efforts have ended up in failure for various and sundry reasons - either I’ve flattened the tube in the effort to install it, or I’ve been unable to get the tire back on the wheel, or encountered similar such issues. I managed to do both when I tried to change a tire on the Pocket myself the last time, and ultimately gave up and took it the 20 minutes down the road to the local bike shop. And that is my general approach, for better or worse, because I’d typically rather spend my time riding than repairing.

But here I was, at the side of the road, with a choice to either tuck my tail between my legs and slink off, or take a shot at rectifying the situation myself.

After a bit of thought I reasoned that there was very little to lose by giving it a try. First, I was already immobile and had a bad tube. This was pretty much the worst the situation could get, and if I failed I’d still be making that call for a ride.

Second, and more important, the situation was different than in the past. I’ve now watched the guys at Peru Bike Works change the tires on the Pocket’s wheels multiple times, plus I’ve spent a bit of time on the subject on YouTube as a result of my last adventure in this area, and so I’ve learned a bit about the technique. Perhaps even more important still, that watching made me realize that something existed that I, even more embarrassingly still, had previously been unaware of: tire levers.

You’d think that, in forty-plus years of riding, I’d have come across these little marvels before. I’m quite certain they are nothing new, and I fear they may be nearly as old as the pneumatic tire itself. Still, I had previously been ignorant of their very existence, and so every time I’ve tried to change a tire I’ve employed the tool within my toolbox that most closely seems to fit the task: a flat-bladed screwdriver. Which works, of course, to move the tire off and on the wheel, but routinely pinches or pokes and flattens the tube. At which point I then have to go to the bike shop...

This time, however, I was armed with both new knowledge, and new tools that were appropriate to the job. I was also emboldened by the fact that it was the 20" rear tire, which would probably be a little more pliable and easy to move than the 16" fronts had been. So I gave it a shot.

I rolled the trike to an easement area aside the street and started to work. I was in a residential area of the town of Mendota, which at least meant I was in the shade and out of the wind, and didn’t have to contend with traffic moving at rural road speeds near me as I worked. Of course, it also meant that I was on display to everyone in the neigborhood, making a public event of my potential failure.

The wheel came off of the back and out of the chain perfectly, and the tire levers absolutely did their job. I was, frankly, astonished at how easily the tire came off the wheel.

Wheel off trike

I inspected the tire and found no cuts or holes. And the leak in the tube itself had to be very small, as it would hold air for a bit before deflating. This was encouraging, since it suggested that the tire was fine to continue riding once (if) I managed to get everything up and running.

Tire off wheel

Going back on was a little more effort, but not as much as I’d feared it would be. The levers were a big help in this respect and, after noodling with it a bit, I was able to reseat the tire around the new tube. Then I went to pump it up with the hand pump and...

...nothing. The new tube would not hold air. I tried pumping it up for several minutes (or at least so it felt) with absolutely no progress made.

I really do not think I’d pinched it or damaged it putting it on. There’s no way to know for sure, of course, but I don’t think I ever even came near it, even with the tire levers, so I suspect it was faulty from the get-go. Fortunately I had another (I carry two tubes to match the rear, and three for the fronts, which always seemed like overkill given that I couldn't change them myself anyway, but sometimes things work out...).

I reversed the process, pulled the first tube off, put the second one on (I pumped it up a bit to test it first), and that one held air. So - you know - success!

I popped it back on, and continued with the rest of the ride. The entire process took a long time, relatively speaking - Cyclemeter says my stopped time on this route was nearly 52 minutes, and I can verify that 50 of those were due to the flat; So I certainly wasn’t speedy. But that was nearly an hour spent developing experience at something that, if I continue riding (and I will) I will almost certainly need to do again.

I had never before used either of the two tire levers, or the little hand pump (which I’d purchased for that pocket on the back of the seat shortly after getting the trike two years ago). This one use more than justified the purchase of both, and I’m glad I had them - and the extra tubes - along for the ride. I probably won’t be so quick to run to the bike shop next time this needs to be done.

And when I got home, I immediately ordered two new 20" tubes from Amazon - Fortuna favet paratus...

Father’s Day by Erin Wade

I have the good fortune to be an active person by nature. What I mean by this is that, as a general rule, I don’t have to drag myself off the couch and force myself to go outside and do something active. I’m at the other end of that spectrum - on days that I cannot go out and engage outside I feel a little trapped and start to get stir crazy.

I owe that good fortune to my father, Jim Wade.

He taught me so many things, and began those lessons early.

He taught me to throw and catch a baseball and swing a bat. I was in little league, first in Compton and then in Mendota. I continued on to senior league, and even played a little in High School. When it was needed he stepped up and coached me and my friends.

He showed me how to drive a nail and solder a pipe. I learned how to make a thing level or plumb, the difference between the two, and why these things are important. What’s more, he showed me what men could accomplish with their hands with a little time and effort and expertise; showed me by example time and again.

He taught me how to deal with a bully and throw a punch, and how to give fair warning before doing so. I said above that the lessons began early, and this was taught to me at five years of age. What’s more it was extremely effective (in a way that would surely be significantly problematic in the schools of today), and also had the effect of teaching me that, once employed, it was not a skill that had to be used often.

Though he taught me to defend myself, he also taught me never to raise my hands against women. This lesson was not just abstract - it was hands on, swift, and immediate, and delivered with far more care and kindness than the brash teenager who received it deserved.

He taught me to operate machinery of so very many types - from go-karts to minibikes to motorcycles, snowmobiles, boats, cars, and trucks. He taught me to drive a stick and how to turn into a skid. He taught me to back up a trailer - and tho I’m still working on that one, the fault there is on the student and not the teacher.

He taught me how to bait a hook and cast, and taught me the patience of waiting for a fish to bite. With him I learned the absolute joy of a shore lunch made from the incredibly fresh fish you’ve just caught. He later taught my child the very same skills.

Fishing with grandpa

I learned how to swing a driver and operate a putter at his hand. When I was very small he cut down an old set of clubs and re-affixed handles to them so they’d be the proper size for a young learner.

He taught me to ride a bike, and before that showed me the joy of riding by taking me out on his bike with him. He did this by hand-making a wooden seat designed to sit and balance on the top bar of the bike. It was an implement that would surely terrify new parents today, but it spawned a love of cycling that carries through to this day.

And there’s so much more that I could list here. Some of these lessons I use regularly and routinely, like cycling and driving, while others are much more occasional. But I value them all, and so many of them taught me more than the skills inherent, but also lessons about winning, losing, self-esteem, taking a fall - about life.

And in so many ways, all of this taught me perhaps the most important lesson of all - how to be a father. I’ve tried to pass those lessons along as best I can with my own child, and can only hope to have done half as well.

Thanks Dad - and Happy Father’s Day!

Roadside Repairs - Part Deux by Erin Wade

It’s been a little less than a year since I had a brake come apart a few miles into a ride. I was actually thinking about that event this past Sunday as I was getting the Pocket ready for a ride and, as a result, checked the brakes to make sure they were tight. A few seconds with the allen wrenches on each, and they seemed to be just fine.

Confident that all was good, I hit the road for a 29-ish (ok - 28.7) mile ride. Bucking the trend of this extremely wet season, it was a near perfect day for a ride: Sunshine, 69° (F), a relaxed (for the prairie) 12mph wind (Cyclemeter keeps track for me). Honestly, it would have been hard to ask for better weather.

As I came into the last third of the ride, I was heading south, with that 12mph wind at my back. The road was relatively level and I was running at a pretty decent clip, a little over 20mph (no bragging here - this was definitely with wind assist). And then something came up off the road.

Now, as anyone who rides can probably attest, tires do periodically pick things up off the road. On the recumbent trike you are much more intimate with your wheels, and so you become more aware of it when it occurs. Even more so if your front wheels do not have fenders, as is the case for me. It happens often enough that, at this point, one tends to dismiss it.

Which I did. At least initially.

But a second or so after seeing (or maybe feeling - it goes by very quickly) the debris, I heard it land.

...It made a metallic "ping".

Most road or trail debris is of the stick or rock variety, so a metallic sound is, shall we say, at least potentially troubling. So I slowed down, did a U-turn, and rode back slowly over the prior 1/8th or so of a mile (again, I was moving at a pretty good clip when it happened). I couldn't see anything from the vantage point of the trike on the way back, but I rode slowly back over the section again the other way. Again seeing nothing, I decided I was going to have to get up off the trike and walk the area to be certain there were no issues.

After a couple of feet I reached my turnaround point, and saw a wheel skewer laying on the road.

Now, for just a second, I swear what I thought was "oh - someone lost a wheel skewer here".

This despite the fact that the skewer was about six inches long, and I am literally the only recumbent trike rider for about 30 miles or so, as best I can tell. It clearly would not have fit any kind of traditional upright.

But that was for just a second. Ok - maybe two. (I swear I’m not dumb. Not really...) And then I looked back at my Pocket:

Wheel missing skewer

Wheel missing skewer

And so now I knew what I was looking for along that road. Or at least what else, now that I’d found the skewer. I needed to locate the two seating nuts (my term - I’ll bet they have an actual, technical name) that hold the skewer into the wheel and mounting bracket.


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I walked back over that 1/8th mile or so and, after several minutes of looking, found the outside one in the grass on the opposite side of the road. It’s forward momentum had apparently bounced and traveled it across the other lane of travel to rest there.

Outside nut

I carried the nut, a little worse for wear (though some of the scratching is from another incident) back and placed it on the seat with the skewer while I went to look for the inside one.

skewer and nut

It made sense to look for it in the general vicinity of the skewer. Where I found it, tho, was a few feet further down the road from my turnaround point - on pavement I hadn’t yet traveled.

Inside nut far away

Inside nut closer up

For scale, it helps to realize I did my turnaround right by the stop sign, which is also where I saw the skewer.

Piecing it together I figure the sequence of events was something like this:

  1. The outside nut worked its way loose and came off first. This was the item I saw/felt come loose and bounce away with the "ping".
  2. At that point the skewer was loose, but still on the trike. When I did my U-turn the skewer fell out as I hooked around. This probably gives an idea of how quickly I did the turns (recumbent trikes handle like go-karts - it’s part of the fun - but perhaps not advisable when your wheel isn’t, you know, attached).
  3. Shortly after the skewer exited the inside nut came free - either off of the skewer or off of the trike - and being lighter than the skewer, continued its forward momentum.

An inspection of the wheel found that the springs were still intact. The repair - such as it was - was the simple action of putting the pieces back together. The fix took considerably less time than the finding of the pieces.

But as I was doing that and then resuming my ride, some considerations ran through my head.

First - how amazing and fortunate is it that the wheel stayed on the trike? I suspect this owes in large part to the fact that the disc brake calipers are mounted to the frame and not the wheel, helping to keep everything in place. But all told, I probably rode a little more than a quarter mile (albeit slowly) with the skewer (axle) missing, including two U-turns - riding back over the area looking for what I found - before I got off the trike.

Second - how fortunate is it that I actually chose to stop? As I said, things being kicked up by the front tires is not an unusual occurrence, and I nearly dismissed it and kept going. I was about 20.5 miles into my 29-ish mile ride, and things were going well (or so I thought). I really did not want to stop. How far into that last stretch would the wheel have hung on for? And how rude an awakening would it have been when it came apart?

Third - how amazing and fortunate is it that I was able to find all three pieces? I was able to avoid calling the road support crew (also known as my wife and/or child) to come and get me, mostly due to dumb luck.

I’ve ridden over 1100 miles since the incident with the brake, so I’ve gotten more than my fair share of mileage without issue, I think. In fact, so rarely do I have any difficulties with my trike that I think I may have become a bit complacent with the equipment checks (I checked the brakes because I thought of it, but they were the only component I checked). All-in-all, I’m feeling pretty fortunate.

But - you know - I’m going to start checking things a little more regularly too. I think I may have used up my supply of dumb luck.

Fortuna favet paratus...

Hennepin Feeder Canal Trail: Martins Landing to Rte 172 by Erin Wade

Hennepin Canal Park Sign

The Hennepin Canal in Northern Illinois has garnered some attention in the cycling media of late, given its designated status as the "gateway" trail for the Illinois portion of the Rails-To-Trails Conservancy’s Great American Rail Trail Project. The Hennepin Canal Trail makes a great deal of sense in that role, given that it runs predominantly east to west, connects with the Mississippi River at the westernmost end, and covers over 100 miles of distance.

This is not that Hennepin Canal.

To be clear, it’s a part of the same canal system, but what I’m writing about in this post is actually the feeder canal - the man-made ditch that was dug to supply water to the Hennepin Canal itself. Back when the project was undertaken, it was designed to take water from the Rock River nearly 30 miles to the north, and divert a portion of it southward to fill the shipping lanes of the canal itself.

What does this mean, in practical terms, for the person going cycling on this trail? Mostly it means a slightly different view from the main canal (a portion of which I wrote about here, a little while back). Because it was not really designed to be a shipping lane the feeder canal has no locks along its distance - with the notable exception of the lock set at the entryway into the canal from Lake Sinnissippi on the Rock River. This is different largely because the locks make an interesting, historical set of distance markers as you progress down the main canal. But this small difference does not keep this portion of the canal parkway from being a beautiful place to ride. It’s also notable that Rock Falls and Sterling make for a fairly sizeable municipality for northern Illinois, which means restaurants, hotel accommodations, and a handy local bike shop - Meads Bike Shop, which recumbent trike riders may find handy, as they sell and services Catrikes - none of which you will find along the main canal.


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The Canal Parkway technically begins in Rock Falls, Illinois, just south of the Rock River, and there is municipal parking there for folks to begin their journey along the trail. However, I wanted to start in Sterling, Illinois - just across the River - because it also offered the opportunity to cross the bridge that runs across the dam. I suppose technically I could have parked in Rock Falls and gone back over the bridge, but that just seemed... silly.

So my ride started at Martin’s Landing in Sterling.

Martin’s Landing

This is essentially a trail head sited just to the side of the historic Dillon Home Museum. Be aware, if you go, that there’s no public parking here - the lovely brick lot is specifically for the Dillon House - but street parking is readily available just East of Martin’s Landing on 2nd street.

Dillon Home Museum Lot

Martin’s Landing sends you straight down to the Rock River, with a stone tunnel that takes you under the train tracks at the north end...

Tunnel

...and puts you in view of the lower side of the dam and the bridge that spans it.

Dam and Bridge

It also puts you in view, in the springtime, of pelicans and other waterfowl plying their business along the waterway. The pelicans themselves are a fairly recent phenomenon for the region, but a welcome one. They keep their distance, making a clear shot challenging with an unaided camera phone, but with some zooming you can see them.

Pelicans

At the entryway to the bridge there is an information sign off to the side.

Bridge info

And the bridge itself appears to be constructed in two sections, with the longer, wood-based portion covering the spillway, while a cement and steel component takes you over the gates.

Bridge

The change in the current makes itself known both visually and audibly.

Once you get to the other side you are at the entryway into the Canal Parkway. as you enter, you see the lock that controlled flow into the canal itself.

Lock

This particular lock is interesting, in part, because of the machinery that is still present at the sides.

Machinery

At least for the section of the main canal I rode, I do not recall any clear machinery on the locks.

From there you can see the trail ahead.

Trail view

The first portion of the trail is asphalt, and that continues along the Canal Parkway for about 3 1/2 miles. For those familiar with asphalt trails in Illinois, this is a predictably mixed bag. The harder surface lets you pick up some speed, of course, but our weather extremes have a tendency to buckle and bend asphalt in unforgiving ways. This trail is no exception. However, that aside, the trail moves out of the view of small town life into the appearance of remote nature in a hurry.

It’s mid-spring here in the northern hemisphere, and the plant life is abundant along this trail. Much of it, as can be seen in the trail pictures, comes in various shades of green, but there are patches of other colors along the way:

Yellow

White

And along with the flowers there are long stretches of wild grass ranging from green to reddish brown.

Grass

Maybe my favorite part of the nature on this ride was the ongoing game of tag I seemed to be playing with a Great Blue Heron. I tried to get a picture of it, but every time I rode close it would take off again. But she did show up on video...

After Buell Road the trail switches from asphalt to gravel.

Buell Road underpass

Later on it shifts from gravel to... less gravel, I guess (it’s dirt. Good dirt, but dirt). It’s a softer surface that gives the impression of perhaps having been last been graveled some time ago. But honestly, the gravel is more forgiving than the asphalt, and the latter surface more forgiving still than the gravel. The trike handled it well, and anything from a hybrid on down to mountain bikes will be fine. In the rainy season, at least, road bikes are probably going to struggle.

The other thing that goes with spring is rain, and this year has been exceptionally wet. Riding along a canal means water is a part of the mix, and the DNR has actuallyclosed portions of the main trail:

TRAIL CLOSED from Lock 26 (900 E Rd) all the way through and past Colona to Lock 29 at the Rock River due to the Green River flooding into the canal. TRAIL CLOSED from Bridge 3 (2160 E Rd) to Bridge 4 (2050 E Rd) just east of Tiskilwa, due to a levee break at Lock 7

There were no closure notices for the feeder canal, but this didn’t mean there were no impediments along the way. Multiple roadways cross the canal, and those crossings are punctuated by underpasses. These vary from culverts...

Culvert underpass

...to more intricate affairs:

Highway 40 underpass

But while they aren’t closed, that doesn’t mean that the rainy season doesn’t bring the water level up. On a couple of occasions, this meant fording my way through overflow:

Standing water

In most cases there is an alternative option - you can ride up to the road and cross there. Most cases, but not all. On occasion you can see the route, but there simply isn’t a trail up to the road. But the deepest area that I forded was the underpass for interstate 88 - so obviously, crossing at the road grade was not an option. I rode thru, slowly...

I88 underpass

I88 underpass underwater

On the trike you sit low, so there’s a risk that you are going to drag your tuches through the water. But if you lift at the handles and push your back against the upper part of the seat you can remain above it. But while I was able to keep my backside dry while fording my way through the I88 underpass, my heels were definitely dipping in the water while I was pedaling.

Speaking of rain, it’s been doing that routinely this spring, and for most of Memorial Day Weekend as well. I really wanted to get out to try this trail, so I got up early, eyeballed the weather reports, and timed my travel time and ride so that I’d finish up ahead of the incoming rain.

...I failed. Almost completely. I was able to catch most of my pictures and video in the first part of my ride. That was important, because it rained on me for about two-thirds of the ride. Now - to be clear - that’s no fault of the trail; that’s all on me.

I will ride in almost any weather, but rain is my least favorite riding situation. But I was dressed entirely in synthetics, and I was on a trail, so visibility was not an issue. And importantly, it wasn’t cold. So, you know, ride on.

Well, I rode on until I came up to this:

Rte 172 underpass

This was the underpass at Route 172. Unlike the other flooded passageways, I couldn't easily tell how deep it was. To be fair, I could have ridden up and over the road - the trail offers this option, and there’s a parking area at this point. But I’d planned on a 20-mile round trip, and this point was 9 1/2 miles (ish, ok - 9.45) in, so it seemed like the right point to turn around.

The route back up was damper (err - more damp?) than the way down, but I ended up playing Heron Tag on that direction as well. I have no idea if it was the same bird, but I like to think so...

It’s a good ride, but you’ll want to be aware that it’s pretty remote once you exit Rock Falls. There are a handful of minor facilities - trailside benches, an occasional picnic table. In the 10 (ok, yes, 9.45) mile stretch I rode there was one site with a porta-potty, and another (at 172) with an outhouse. However, aside from these options, outside of town there were no formal shelter options - if I’d wanted to take shelter from the rain I’d either have had to sit in one of the underpasses, or taken refuge in an outhouse. I don’t think this is uncommon for rural trails, but it is something you want to be prepared for when you go.

And if you like rides on remote trails, this one has a lot more to give. As I noted at the beginning, the feeder canal itself offers up more distance than I traveled by a factor of three; the entire canal system could readily offer up a half-century or more for the interested rider.

Memorial Day Weekend Rides by Erin Wade

Memorial Day Weekend is often looked at as the unofficial start of summer. It’s also the first long weekend of the season for most of us and, weather permitting, provides an opportunity for a ride or two that is longer or more adventurous than we might otherwise undertake. Given that, if you find some time for a ride in-between your cemetery visits and grilling of various meats, I thought it might be helpful to have information on some trail options. These are all places I’ve been in Illinois and Wisconsin. The post at each link will give trail descriptions as well as pictures and other information to help you decide whether to venture forth:

The Illinois and Michigan Canal Trail - Details my ride along the I&M Canal trail from LaSalle, IL to Buffalo Rock State Park. Several pics and details about the trail and the sights along the way.

The Hennepin Canal State Park Trail - Lock 2 to Lock 13 - The Hennepin is set to be a major component of the new Rails to Trails cross-country route, but my trip down this part of the Hennepin Canal was also a bit of a personal journey to find the site where my great-grandfather worked as a lock tender. It’s a very cool, and somewhat secluded ride - lots of pics and details about the trail and sights. Also notable - the Hennepin Canal Trail is the Illinois gateway trail for the new Rails-to-Trails cross country Great American Rail Trail. The I&M Canal Trail, above, is also a significant portion of it in Illinois.

The Rend Lake Trail - This trail runs around the lower third of Rend Lake in Southern Illinois, and offers river, water, and woodland views. It’s a little out of the way, but definitely worth checking out if you have the opportunity.

Wayne Fitzgerell State Park - This is a state park in Southern Illinois that I visited back in 2015. It sits along the banks of Rend Lake (see above), but this entry describes the riding through the park itself.

Military Ridge Trail - This trail runs through the Driftless Region of southwestern Wisconsin. It’s beautiful territory and well worth visiting. I’ve written about it twice - Once on an upright bike, and more recently on my Catrike:

  • Military Ridge Trail - My first ride down this trail, on an upright, big box store mountain bike, in November 2015. Ride was from Ridgeway to Barneveld

  • Military Ridge Trail Revisited - This post from December 2018 details my ride from Ridgeway to Blue Mounds, with a side trip up into Governor Dodge State Park.

Tunnel Hill State Trail - Vienna to Karnak - Tunnel Hill State Trail is rail-trail that runs nearly 45 miles, much of it through the heart of the Shawnee National Forest at the tip of Illinois. This entry descrIbes the southern-most 10-mIle sectIon through wooded wetlands, with pictures and observations of stops along the way.

And there you have it - make your choice(s) and enjoy!


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Tunnel Hill Trail - Vienna to Karnak by Erin Wade

I spent some time at the pointy end of Illinois recently, and this presented an opportunity to explore the Tunnel Hill State Trail.

Tunnel Hill is a rail-trail that runs more or less north and south for about 45 miles from Harrisburg to Karnak, much of it running through the Shawnee National Forest. For my part, 45 miles was a little ambitious (not to mention that I would have needed to get back to the car, so it would have been 90 miles...), so I started at Vienna and rode south to Karnak (and back), coming in at just over 21 miles.

I don’t think that I was aware before this that there was a "Vienna" in Illinois, but I should not have been surprised. This same broad area also hosts a Cairo (pronounced "Kay-Ro", thank you very much) and a Metropolis, and further north, near Springfield, there’s Athens (say "Ay-Thens").

I was aware of this trail because the recumbent trike groups on Facebook feature a member or two living in the area who ride it regularly, and make it look very cool. I am not generally an advocate of Zuckerberg’s monster, but specialty interest groups like this are the thing that proves the rule - if you are a cyclist with a FB account who is not in cycling groups, you are missing a bet.

Vienna was a convenient place to pick up the trail from where I was at, and I chose the route southward because the map suggested this would be a fairly remote and wooded route. Fair warning here - it does not feature the tunnel for which the trail is named. But it does feature a wooded ride with a variety of natural views along the way.

As you start out southward from the site office at Vienna you get a view of rolling fields through the trees:

Making Hay?

The rolling grassland appears to be hay in the making - you’ll see more of along route 146.

The trail itself is crushed stone, more or less, for the entirety of the route. It’s a softer surface, so the resistance slows you down a bit despite the largely flat presentation (or, at least, that’s what I’m telling myself).

crushed stone

Early into the ride the first of many bridges presents itself. Some are traditional wooden spans:

Wooden Bridge

But others appear to be the original rail bridges, supplemented with wooden guide rails on either end:

Rail bridge

Every bridge that I crossed was well maintained.

The state DNR site says the only tunnel is at Tunnel Hill, but this is not strictly true - there is a brief tunnel as the trail passes under highway 45.

Highway 45

Not the sort of tunnel you might name a trail after, but it’s there nonetheless.

As the trail moves past 45, the landscape turns to wetlands. The trail itself is elevated, and so up and out of the way, but the views are close by.

Wetlands

Wetlands

I was riding the trail in springtime, of course, so it offered up flowers along the way.

Yellow

White

There are also mile markers along the trail.

Mile marker

Given that the trail itself is about 45 miles long, it’s not clear what specific distance these are meant to denote, and websites on the trail appear to be silent on this point. But they still give sense of your progress along the route.

Heron Pond Lane crosses the trail, and the map indicates that that this leads up into Heron Pond Preserve.

Heron Pond Lane

My ride didn’t take me up that course, but I think I’d follow it next time. Or perhaps...

restaurant & winery

...I’d take the road to the left to visit the winery.

The map shows this as Cache River Basin Restaurant and Winery, and places it just a half-mile down the road. Google showed it as closing at 5 PM, which put me well past closing time as I rode past this point, but the restaurant is apparently open later. Illinois wine tends towards sweeter than I prefer in general, but I find it surpassingly cool that this feature is such a short distance off the trail.

A little further on the trail crosses into the village of Belknap.

Belknap

Belknap is tiny, even by rural Illinois standards. Wikipedia (which is never wrong) places the census in 2010 at 104 people, and you’ll see cattle and other livestock as you ride thru to the next clearing.

From there the trail remains pretty remote. Google maps shows this as a dotted line on its bike-mapping service, which would suggest a rough surface, but it wasn’t clearly distinguishable from the rest of the trail. However, you are accompanied by streams or wetland on either side. Including, at one point, a tiny bit of whitewater.

whitewater

You can hear this bit of rapids before you see it when approaching from each direction.

As you approach the end of the trail near Karnak, you’ll see the trail offshoot to the west.

Wetland Center

I didn’t have time to explore the offshoot, and it doesn’t appear to be an official part of the Tunnel Trail, but I’d like to do so if the future presents the opportunity.

Also at this intersection are some facilities for people and their pedal-powered transport.

Facilities

Shortly after this point you hit the town of Karnak.

Trail End

Karnak

I did not realize until doing my research for this post that Karnak also has its own Mediterranean/Little Egypt connection, sharing a name with a temple complex in Luxor, Egypt. I should not have been surprised.

The ride back was a delightful reverse of the ride down, with one exception offered up by Belknap. As I came out of the trees to the brief opening it offered, I was joined by a bit of company.

Baby

Momma

These escapees were presumptively from the fenced pen the calf was in front of, though I couldn't see a break in the wire. They were unperturbed by my presence, though the entire tableau gave the impression that momma was enjoying some particularly fresh grass while junior was worrying that they’d be caught, standing back by the fence as he was.

Aside from the occasional car on roadways that paralled the trail, I saw exactly two hikers on the entire 10 miles of the trail. I was otherwise alone for my ride. Solitude was the name of game.

Overall, this was a lovely ride with some very enjoyable scenery. I’d suspect that spring or fall would be the ideal times for this section of the trail - though it’s predominantly tree covered, which would help with the heat, I’d have to imagine mosquitoes would be prevalent along the wetlands as summer rolls in.

If the opportunity presents, maybe next time I’ll take that side trip and have a glass or two of wine...

Spring Countryside by Erin Wade

This past Sunday was my first longer ride for the season. Although I ride throughout the year, I find that my distances in the winter are generally shorter, and I try to choose routes that are closer to home in case I get into trouble. But once the weather starts to cooperate I can get out at further distances.

In this case, "longer" was right around 27 miles. My more typical rides run between 8 and 15 miles, and this mostly owes to available time - I often choose distances that I can manage within an hour, give or take, so I have time to get other things done. But we’ve been plagued with uncooperative weather over the past couple of weeks -first an unseasonably late snowfall, followed by copious amounts of rain. It’s been hard to get out between events, so I was itching to make up some mileage.

I laid out a route that took me through West Brooklyn and Inlet, and afforded the opportunity to visit Inlet Cemetery, a hidden graveyard that had been on my list to see (I’ve been engaged in genealogical research for quite some time, and my people are from the region - these visits sometimes offer the opportunity to find an ancestor or two). If you’ve never heard of these places, even if you are from Northern Illinois, don’t be surprised - they are tiny rural settlements, and well off the interstate highway.

One of the things that was made clear early on into the ride is the fact that the past winter has been very hard on our rural roads.

Potholes

Road wreckage

I drive these roads as well as riding them, so I was aware of the conditions, but coming across them on the trike provides a much more... intimate view.

The route took me straight west of West Brooklyn, and then a staggered ride northward. The ride overall was mostly on pavement, with a smattering - maybe 3-4 miles worth - of gravel. I don’t love riding on gravel, even on the trike, but the quality of the experience varies depending upon the condition of the road. In general, a good gravel ride, in my opinion, is going to be had on a road that is somewhat worn and broken in. You don’t want it so far gone that you are running into frequent potholes, but you want the passing of sufficient vehicle traffic to have carved tracks into the rock - essentially, so you end up riding on a well-packed dirt surface rather than raw stone. The roads on this particular course fit that bill nicely.

And once you get out on them you get to re-realize the rustic benefits of the path less traveled:

Fence line

Trike in fence line

The gnarled old fence lines whisper of times past, where these rare wooded areas in the prairie stood as pasture land. But the cattle and horses, while not entirely absent, are far fewer than in past.

Fence line and road

Turn and take in the whole scene - the fence line, the narrow gravel trail in conjunction with the light breeze and the solitude and one can briefly get a feel for what it might have been like living here during pioneer times. And when you are in these moments, you get an inkling as to why they stayed.

As you work north towards Inlet you move into a region that, before the turn of the last (twentieth) century was a large wetland. It’s since been drained down and the water that would otherwise stand atop the ground now evacuates through a series of ditches. These accompany you on the landscape, the straightness of line and regularity of curve the hint that they might not be entirely natural occurrences.

ditch pics

Ditch pics

If you know to look for it, Inlet Cemetery can be seen from afar off of one road, but you have to ride around to the other side to enter. It arrives at about the half-way point of the route that I picked, and it doesn’t, strictly speaking, have an entryway. One has to pick one’s way through about a quarter mile of grass strip to get there. It’s passable on a bike or a trike, taken slowly. I paused Cyclemeter for the side trip - I’d like to take this route again, but I likely won’t stop at the cemetery again. Plus, I didn’t want the pokey time riding through the grass to count against me. (More about the cemetery here, for those who are curious).

After a break at the cemetery for sight seeing, plus some water and a snack, I headed out for the second half of the route. The first part of this takes you out into open lowland punctuated by raised islands of trees. From here, particularly this time of year, it’s not hard to picture the swamp that was present not so long ago. In a month or two crops will conspire to obscure the true nature of the land beneath.

Swamp echoes

In some cases the lowland is lower still, and you get treated to brief views of ducks and geese relaxing (or are they - I felt they were eyeing me with suspicion...) along the shores of the occasional pond.

Suspicious geese

That all gives way, however, as the course turns to the south and enters the northern edge of Melugin Grove, which gives the pleasant change to tree cover and the rare (for northern Illinois) winding road.

long and winding road

This section of the route also offers up spring flowers for view, though they were apparently camera shy.

As the ride winds through to its end you may encounter a couple of things you don’t expect to see:

Is that...?

Yes, yes it is.

(There are a handful of tiny grass airstrips in the area, reflecting an era in which the world apparently thought we’d be traveling by plane from place to place the way we operate cars now).

And every great once it a while you might think you’d gotten slightly off course and ended up in Texas...

Longhorn

All in all it was a great ride - springtime in Northern Illinois at its best.

Trailer Project Part 2 - Cutting to the Bone by Erin Wade

I had a little time last weekend to move forward on my cycling trailer project. My goal is to take a dilapidated 2000 Schwinn Joyrider bike trailer and repurpose it as a utility trailer.

This second phase of the project essentially involved getting the old, mouse-infested canvas shell off of the frame, and deciding which portion of that frame to keep.

As discussed in the first post on this project, this old trailer had been sitting in the rafters of the garage waiting for the past decade or so for me to get around to it. In that time our rodent friends had chosen to take up residence within the confines of its shell. Folded down as it was to get it to fit in upper portion of the garage I suspect it seemed a pretty nifty space for the mice, keeping them all comfy and cozy.

For the record, you do not want mice to feel either comfy or cozy... they have not yet embraced plumbing or sewage systems, and it shows when dealing with their nesting areas.


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This meant that the old shell had to come off. Last Sunday presented with a nice opportunity for this. The day provided with a persistent wind that was strong enough to provide some olfactory relief during the task without being so vigorous that it discouraged outdoor activity. And believe me this: unlike assembling models with modeling glue as a kid, this was not a task to be undertaken in a poorly ventilated area.

I gathered up my tool box and took it out to the garage, and moved the trailer out into the breeze. When I’d first approached it I had thought about finding some way to neatly detach the canvas shell as one piece (I was one of those kids who also carefully removed wrapping paper from presents. ...okay, I’m still one of those kids...). There was no immediately obvious way to do this, however, and I quickly came around to the realization that I was just going to throw away the damn shell as soon as I took it off anyway. So the first tool I pulled out of the box was my utility knife.

The right tool for this job

This allowed me to take the bottom panel completely off. Honestly, it appears that, for the most part, either the shell is only partially completed and then sewn up around the frame, or perhaps the frame is inserted, partially assembled, into the shell.

Bottoms up!

There is one portion of the frame that attaches thru the shell, where the inner wheel mounts attach. I initially cut around those in order to get the bottom portion off and see what else needed to be accomplished.

cut around

I left the bits of fabric there at that moment in favor of working towards getting the bulk of the rest of the very stinky canvas material removed.

Leftovers

Leftovers

I later took them off by removing the wheel mount.

With the bottom off, mostly it looked as if the canvas shell would lift off of the frame. However, there were a couple of impediments to this. First is a lightweight aluminum 3/4 hoop that runs through the shell to provide some structure. That needed to be removed, and once the Velcro straps around it were opened up, it slid right out.

Hoop in place

Hoop removed

The second was a set of Phillips head bolts - one on each side - that attached the "seat" to the frame.

Seat screws

Both of these were rusted at the top - most likely due to mouse exposure, since they were on the inside of the shell (none of the other bolts were rusted). Once those were removed, the shell came off pretty quickly.

This left me with the frame:

Base and handle

The collapsible upper frame is there to provide structure to the canvas shell, and also offered a handle - this had been a convertible trailer that could also become a stroller of sorts. I also have in the garage the struts and front wheel that get attached for that purpose.

I looked at the trailer with this part of the frame attached from multiple angles. I could see benefit to considering keeping it on the bottom frame. The handle could come in to use both in terms of its original purpose (a handle), and potentially as a mounting point for other things. But what I think I’m mostly wanting here is a flatbed trailer to allow for versatility, which keeping the frame would make much more complicated.

That’s amplified by the fact that the folding upper frame is attached on the inside of the bottom portion.

Attached on the inside

This would mean that any flatbed added would have to have holes cut in it to accommodate the upper frame.

So I took the upper frame off.

Upper and lower frame separated

However, I’ve mentally compromised a little bit by putting it aside in the garage in case I want to use it in future. To be honest, mostly what this probably means is that it will occupy space in the garage for the next several years, making me periodically wonder why I kept it, but for the moment I’m still hedging my bets.

I washed the frame to remove any remaining rodentius residue, as well as the general detritus of long-term storage. It’s clear the center section should provide a pretty decent support for a flatbed of some sort, and the existing bolt holes - perhaps with slightly longer bolts - would suffice to hold quite nicely.

View of frame alone

So now the next step is to determine what I want to make the flatbed out of. The simplest choice might be 1/4" plywood, but I’d like to explore other options as well to address weight and similar concerns.

First Recumbent Ride - Looking Back by Erin Wade

It It looks like we are actually entering the honest-to-goodness warm spring weather here in the Midwest (or at least I hope so). For many folks that heralds the beginning of the outdoor activity season, and lots of folks will be cycling. It’s also the time of year that people consider the option of moving to a recumbent trike.

In the spirit of that, I thought I’d revisit my earliest experience with my Catrike Pocket and compare it to current day. Her maiden voyage with me was almost two years ago, and these were the things I realized from that initial experience:

There are several differences from riding an upright bike that became clear on this initial ride:

  • You sit low. This is a given when you look at it, of course, but when riding down the road you quickly realize that you are at eye level with the top of the grass in an unmowed ditch. The value of the bike flag becomes immediately apparent.
  • Because of the height difference, extra care needs to be at intersections to be sure you can see whether a car is there.
  • You cannot see into the cars as they pass you from behind - the angle is too steep. Oncoming traffic, however, is much the same experience as on the upright bike.
  • At first the act of pedaling causes a bit of torque steer. This goes away with some practice (smoother pedaling), but it's a real adjustment (enough so that it's mentioned in the Catrike owners manual).
  • Riding this is noticeably more of a leg workout than with the upright. This seems be due to the differences in positioning. On the upright you can stand up on the pedals, of course, but you can also use more of your upper body to supplement by pulling against the handlebars. It is possible to brace against the seat back, which offers a different but similar benefit, but I didn't fully sort that out until about two-thirds of the way thru the ride. I suspect this also contributed to the slower ride time; it will likelly improve with practice.
  • In relation to the above item, I did a lot more shifting than usual. Some of this, again, will likely pare back with practice. Still, I suspect more shifting is simply a part of the deal.
  • Because the rear wheel is right behind your head, you are much more aware of mechanical activity of the trike.
  • Steering is immediate and awesome - it's like riding a pedal-powered go-kart.
  • Similarly, the brakes are astonishingly quick. I don't know if this is because of the design of the trike itself, or just a feature of the disc brakes - I've never owned a bike with disc brakes. But in either case, it's noticeably different from my Cannondale.
  • This is the first ride of any length I've taken in years in which my hands did not become numb from road vibration. In fact the difference in controls and position was quite a bit more comfortable than on an upright bike.
  • Having a full seat back - even when it's made of mesh - results in your back getting exactly as sweaty as you would think.

Now, nearly two full years into the recumbent trike experience, I can verify that some of these things are the same, while others have faded with familiarity. In the warmer months - and they don’t have to be a lot warmer, a 60° day will suffice - my back still gets soaked. And it still feels delightfully like riding a me-powered go-kart. Frankly, I don’t think that’s ever going to get old.

With experience, though, I’ve gotten accustomed to the riding position, and have learned how to see what’s coming, though I still use the flag, along with lights, to enhance my visibility to others. Some adjustments in mirrors and learning to use them has addressed the issue with detecting cars from behind.


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The issue of torque steer has largely vanished with practice, and my legs have accommodated to the different type of effort needed. I honestly don’t think about either of these issues any more, and I’m simply reminded of them because of looking back at this post. Riding on the Catrike has gotten faster over time as well.

I’ve gotten used to the brakes as well. Back in the early days I did have a panic stop moment where I nearly flipped myself forward out of the trike, but that was a one-time event.

I was right about shifting - I still do more than I remember doing on the upright. However, except in very hilly situations, I am able to spend most of my time on a single (big) ring. In addition, tho it’s a more regular event, it’s become second nature, particularly on familiar routes. It’s a part of interacting with the machine that I especially enjoy (I also preferentially drive a stick shift - there may be a relationship there).

And overall, it’s still a more pleasant and comfortable experience than riding the upright. As I noted a little while back, I still have my Cannondale road bike, but it mostly collects dust.

Whether upright or recumbent, enjoy your ride!

Hidden Benefit by Erin Wade

I’ve made no secret here of my love for my recumbent trike - it’s plastered all over this site. These machines have all sorts of advantages relative to diamond frame bikes, including better stability over uncertain surfaces, decreased wind exposure, lack of saddle and neck soreness - and the list goes on.

But today, on National Recumbent Day (in The Netherlands, according to Bicycle World) I thought I’d mention an additional benefit that doesn’t always come up:

Wherever you go on your trike, you automatically have a chair to sit in.


Enjoying this post? Check out our Cycling page for links to other cycling articles on Applied Life


Riding on a trail with a lookout to a beautiful lake view that you want to sit and look at? Ride the trike up to it and enjoy. Rest your feet up on the pedals if you like. Want to ride out to a picnic, but the table was left gross by the prior visitors? Sit on your trike while you eat (and curse the inconsiderate slobs who came before).

It seems a simple thing, but it is absolutely a reality. And it’s one that it’s taken me a while to take full advantage of. This weekend, tho, I finally took that step.

My child participates in high school athletics, and they lean towards running competitions. In the fall that’s cross country, and in the spring it’s track and field. These events are mostly held in the out-of-doors (a couple of schools in the region actually do have indoor track and field setups). Neither sport is really designed with spectators in mind - there are never seating areas for cross country and, while track and field usually offers bleacher seating, can we all agree that there is an age after which the bleacher is no longer compatible with the buttock?

Many people address this by bringing their own folding camp chairs and finding a location to watch. I’ve done this on occasion, but it has occurred to me that I have a device with a seat in the car most of the time that I could use. And to be honest, it’s been occurring to me for a while, but I’ve been self conscious about breaking out the trike at these events. I can’t say why, exactly - perhaps not wanting to draw attention to myself (there’s a reason why I usually ride alone, and it’s not my body odor. Well, at least it’s not just my body odor...).

But at yesterday’s track meet I decided that I am a grown-ass man, and I can get my tricycle out to sit on it if I want to.

Turned out to be an excellent idea! It’s far more comfortable than bleachers and, frankly, I think it’s more comfortable than a camp chair. Plus it has, you know, pedals, so you don’t have to carry things back and forth to your seating area - you just ride it there and back.

The comfort level makes implicit sense to me - I’ve often been out on rides for a couple of hours or more, and it’s never gotten uncomfortable. And I do have a neck rest, so when the mood strikes I can lean back and relax. And it did not appear to draw much undue attention, and what it did was positive. One of LB’s teammates complimented me on my "cool bike", for example. This is an addition bonus because my child does not think dad’s recumbent trike is cool (which mystifies me, to be honest - I get that Dad can’t possibly be cool, but how can you not think the trike is? I’ve failed as a parent somewhere along the line) and gave me a "really?" along with a patented LB eye roll when I started riding alongside them.

So there you have it - if you were considering a recumbent trike, and just needed one more benefit to make that final decision, here it is. Enjoy!

New Project - Trailer Part 1 by Erin Wade

I’ve had this bike trailer for well over a decade. If memory serves, it was a garage sale find, and it served for several missions of child hauling during LB’s younger years. With sufficient preparation - books to look at and drinks and snacks and such - LB would remain content to allow for an hour or more of riding time, and it added a different dimension (mostly additional weight) to my regular riding routine.

I’d hoped that this experience would also spur in my child a love of cycling the way that riding with my father had in me. Unfortunately my parental failure is complete - my child prefers running to cycling. The horror!

When LB got too big for the trailer we continued to use it to carry things - a cooler for refreshments or a picnic during a break, groceries on the occasional trip to the store. But when we moved from the city out to our homestead it got stored in the rafters of the garage, with the intention of getting it back down to ply into service again as a cargo hauler. Someday.

That was nearly 10 years ago.

I’ve been thinking about it more regularly lately, tho, with the particular idea of using it with my Catrike Pocket when I am on functional rides - e.g. trips where I’m using the trike as transportation and not just recreation. But the decade in the garage rafters has not been kind to the trailer...

She’s a dirty girl...

There’s the general dust and debris from sitting unattended in an outbuilding for an extended period of time. But I had a chance to look at it a while back when I was up on a ladder, and I knew there was going to be another, larger (or, if you like, smaller) issue - the mice had found it.

There’s a lot to like about living out in an intensely rural setting. The privacy, the open air, the prairie wildlife.

But not all the prairie wildlife is enjoyable. If you are someone who is now thinking "but mice are cute", I would submit that you are someone who has never actually lived with mice. When you live out in farm country you quickly realize that they are everywhere and that a field mouse, given the choice between living in the actual field for which it is named, and living in your home or another, similar structure, will opt for the latter every time. And it is surprising just how unpleasant and damaging such a tiny creature can be. They will get into cabinets, drawers, vehicles (that’s a fun surprise going down the road, let me tell you); they will urinate and defacate everywhere, and tear up whatever is around them for nesting material. I don’t love the mice.

But I digress. I’d noticed, back when I was up on the ladder last, that mice had nested in the trailer, and this meant that I was not going to have the option of just getting it down, hooking it up, and going. The body of the trailer is mostly canvas, and that material was going to have been soaked with rodent effluent. It was going to have to go. Which is part of why it’s taken me a while to get to this - it was going to be a project.

I don’t like mice

my kid used to sit in there

Using one of these old trailers as a base for a different design is not a new idea, not original to me, to be sure. I have a well documented dislike of Facebook, but the recumbent trike groups within Facebook are an exception to that rule, and lots of people more capable and creative than I have gone through and modified these items to good effect. In the hopes that folks will understand that mimicry is the sincerest form of flattery, I’m going to copy from some of what I’ve seen and see what I can put together with this.

One of the questions I had to begin with is how to hook it up to the trike. It’s meant to attach to the lower rear bar at the back of a diamond frame bike. That bar is bigger on the Pocket, and not easily accessible with the frame bags in the way (and I don’t intend to use the trailer all the time, so it won’t replace the bags - they are staying). For the moment, at least, I’m thinking that it can connect to the rear cargo rack:

I think this may work

view from above

I think that may work, though it does put the trailer at a bit of an angle. I’ll have to think it thru a bit.

New Project

Any project that I start competes somewhat with my actual riding time, so I don’t anticipate this will get done in a hurry. But I’ve gotten the thing down out of the rafters in part so that it’s in my way, and thus has to be contended with. That should help ensure that I deal with it sooner rather than later - you know, not another ten years...

Site Addition - Cycling Page by Erin Wade

I have been writing and posting on this site since May of 2010. Applied Life is something more or less of a traditional "blog" site, by which I mean that I write about the things that interest me here. The initial focus - and the tag line - for the site was Science and Technology in Everyday Life. Hence the name.

The very first post on the site was my review of the original iPad back in 2010 (TL:DR version - I liked it). And much of those early years reflected that type of topic, with occasional excursions into things like TV shows or books, or music that I like and music that I don’t.

But more recently the site has become much more focused on cycling in various aspects. I’ve been a cyclist off and on for most of my life - when I was a kid it was our primary mode of transportation, and as an adult it’s one of my two favorite forms of exercise (the other is martial arts). Given that, it’s probably not surprising that cycling has been a part of this site since early on. My earliest cycling focused post appeared in December of 2013 and it was about winter cycling. But the topic of cycling was an occasional one until I got my Catrike Pocket.

That machine has caused considerable changes both to what I do and what I write about. I’m cycling more - more time and further distances - than ever before, and it definitely affects the things that are on my mind, which is, ultimately, where the material on this site comes from. In my head I sometimes muse over changing the name of the site to Applied Trike...

I’m probably not going to do that, but the volume of cycling material does mean that it seemed to me like it might be getting more challenging to find some specific things on the site. As such, I put together a separate page with some links to a series of specific articles that might represent topic areas people are looking for.

The page is just called "Cycling", and depending upon how you are coming to the site - e.g. via desktop/laptop or mobile device it will appear in a couple of different ways.

On the desktop you will see a menu of words across the top right hand corner of the site, one of which is "Cycling":

Desktop

On your mobile device - and my analytics say that’s how most people find their way here - that menu is in the hamburger button (the three little lines that denote a menu) in the upper right:

Hamburger button

Clicking that will get you the list of additional pages:

Applied Life Other Pages

Choosing ”Cycling" will take you to the Cycling Resources page:

Cycling Resources

What you will find there is a list of selected articles under specific topic areas related to cycling, including (to start with):

  • Trail Reviews
  • Life With Recumbent Trikes
  • Winter Cycling

As I noted, this is a list of selected articles, so it’s not exhaustive by any stretch of the imagination. Still, it should provide access to articles that provide longer-term reference information, and which seem to be among the more popular on the site. If you are a person who enjoys the site because of the cycling posts and want to refer someone here, this page would be a good place for them to start.

I will plan to update it and add to it over time - particularly in the area of trail and equipment reviews and so on. I will also likely include a link to it in posts about cycling to make it easy to find.

I said that I’ve been cycling off and on for most of my life, and that is true. But my enthusiasm for cycling has really grown over the past couple of years. I can see by the number of visitors that there are a lot of other folks who are also enthusiastic about it. I appreciate your time and attention here at Applied Life and I hope you will find the new page helpful.

And - of course - I also needed to update the tag line, which is now: Science and Technology - and Cycling! - In Everyday Life...

EJW

Seasonal Goals by Erin Wade

Last Wednesday took us over the calendrical hump into official Spring, and thus far the weather seems to be agreeing. Here in Northern Illinois we’ve seen temps in the 40’s and low 50’s over the past wee, with suggestions of numbers sneaking into the bottom end of the 60 degree range next week. Skies are also appropriately gray and threatening much of the time - depressing, but on track.

I am, of course, a year-round cyclist, so the riding never really stops. However, it would be fair to say that the variety of riding changes during the winter. When the snow falls and the air bites I tend to stay closer to home, and the routes available naturally become limited to what is cleared and open. Given this, the arrival of the fairer season gets me thinking about what type of riding I’d like to do in the warmer months. Given that, I thought I’d share some of the goals that are running through my head for the next couple of seasons.

More Trail Exploration

In my region we have two long-distance trail systems - the I&M Canal Trail and the Hennepin Canal Trail. I’ve ridden on each of them, but only one time each, and for shorter distances. I’d like to get back to each of them and spend more time and distance on both.

For the I&M Canal trail I’d at least like to extend out my rides to get from LaSalle all of the way into Ottawa and back, and I’d like to do that more than once, incorporating some sight-seeing into it. The trail passes through Utica on it’s way, which offers some interesting options, as well as Buffalo Rock State Park.

The Hennepin Canal trail is much longer than the section that I rode along last summer, and it is also listed as a primary component of the Rails-to-Trails cross country course. I’d love to go further along it as well. In addition, Hennepin has both the primary east-west course, as well as a feeder canal system that runs from Rock Falls southwards to the main canal. Lots of territory to explore and enjoy there.

There are other trail systems in the broad region that I’d like to get myself out to see, if at all possible. I’m primarily a road-rider, in part because getting out on trails requires car travel, which I often have plenty of during the work week. Still, the trails offer an opportunity for variety that I’m sometimes missing at home. Likely there will be reviews of these if and when they occur.

New Road Routes

A while back I put up a post about Ogle County’s cycling website. I think this is an excellent resource, and it’s a credit to the county that they provide it. Unfortunately, similar resources don’t exist closer to home. I’m hoping to establish some routes closer to home that provide a similar experience to what is detailed in their site. This will take some work, so it may not happen quickly (or I suppose, at all), but I’m hopeful.

Longer Rides

As is perhaps hinted at in the sections above, I’d like to see if I can’t incorporate longer rides into my routine. I had my highest mileage year on record last year, but my average ride was just under thirteen miles (12.94 for you sticklers out there). I am always impressed with the people who do century rides, and that’s something that I aspire to, but my available riding time makes something like that pretty challenging to fit in without significant planning.

Most of my regular rides are in the 8-14 mile range. I do have a couple of regular routes laid out at longer distance, but I think I’ll need some variety to make them more interesting to do with any sort of regularity.

Looking Forward

I’m sure there will be more to come as well, but this is where my head is at the moment. Spring brings hopes and possibilities!

A Final Gift for the Season by Erin Wade

I am not an early morning exerciser. Virtually every Sunday I try to get myself out for a ride, and this is so ingrained in my head at this point that I think of it by name - my Sunday ride. But it’s not an early morning activity, because I reserve Sunday morning for coffee, contemplation, and writing.

But this morning was different - I was out before virtually everything (well - except the coffee. Nothing happens until I’ve had at least one cup of coffee...)

This winter has been an odd one, even for the extremely variable Midwest. The first third or so of the season was unusually warm - perhaps to lull us into a false sense of security - and then became a powerhouse of snow and wind off and on for a couple of weeks. That polar vortex was followed by a shift into the wrong kind of winter, giving us an ugly patchwork of tired, retreating drifts and frozen mud.

But we’re now moving on to the end of the season, spring is right around the corner on the calendar, and most of the snow has melted away.

Well - I guess I should say had melted away.

When I got up this morning and looked out the window it became clear that the weather gods had offered up a winter cycling gift for the last part of the season. The ground was covered in a blanket of snow - and not just an odd, out of character late-season dusting. No - this was a solid inch to inch-and-a-half or so of actual powder.

Porch handrail

In short - real snow for real winter cycling.

But it’s mid-March. Snow at all this late in the season in northern Illinois is - or at least was (thanks, climate change) - virtually unheard of and, when it occurs, it’s flurries or at most just a light dusting. The abundance I was seeing out my window just doesn’t happen. And it certainly wasn’t going to last.

Warming up

I checked the handy-dandy weather app to find that it was 30°, working its way up to a high of 41°, and the above-freezing temps were set to start showing up in the very near future. This meant if I wanted to play in the snow it was going to need to be soon. So I took the drastic action of deciding to set aside my Sunday routine, completed only my most necessary of necessaries, and geared up to ride.

You would think that, by this point in the season, the novelty of a ride in the snow would have passed - that this is something that one would feel only as the calendar rolls us into those early days of winter. Some years that just might be true, but this really did feel like a gift, it’s ephemeral nature making it all the more precious.

Undoubtedly because of the warming trend for the day, the road was untouched by plows, offering only tire tracks from the occasional passing vehicle.

Road pic here

Because of the lateness of the season, this ride offered an auditory extravaganza that one does not typically experience when riding in the white stuff. Yes, you do have the crunch of the snow under the wheels (a thing I comment on often and always love), but today all of that was accompanied by the bird calls, most notably those of the returning Red Wing Blackbirds.

RWB

These well-dressed gentlemen of the prairie are the true harbingers of spring out here. You can have your silly robins with their garish outfits - they don’t hold a candle to the toughness and determination of the RWB. And besides, you can hear the blackbird’s trilling call for miles. You know they are here by sound long before you see them.

I took a little longer on the route for this ride than usual, taking some final pictures and so on. This was likely my last opportunity to lay my tracks in fresh powder for most of the remainder of the year. It seemed reasonable to savor it a bit.

Trike Tracks

Rare Opportunity by Erin Wade

This past Friday offered up a rare home office day, and an even rarer opportunity to ride my trike for actual transportation.

The overwhelming majority of my riding is recreational. Though I’m on country roads most of the time, it’s on loops designed to get me back around to my start, and to enjoy the trip along the way. This is a reality of my work situation - I travel a lot, and none of it is within a reasonable ride distance from home. When I’m not off-site I work out of a home office, which is wonderful, but my spouse objects when I bring the trike inside to ride the 10 feet from the bedroom to the office...

Friday presented with the perfect confluence of location and opportunity - working from home, and enough open time to ride, rather than drive, to the post office.

It’s an eight-mile ride one-way, almost entirely on rural backroads. It’s about a half-hour round trip by car, all things considered, and takes somewhere between an hour and 10 minutes to an hour and a half cycling (depending upon the day and depending upon me).

I always enjoy riding, but there’s something extra-special to me when I get the opportunity to ride to an actual destination. This might sound odd to the folks who commute via pedals on a regular basis, but it makes for an additional feeling of purpose to the ride that I really enjoy.

Now, to be clear, I’m not trying to claim any particular level of virtue here. While I try to do what I can for the environment - driving fuel efficient cars, using LED lighting, etc - I don’t for a moment delude myself into thinking that this very occasional 16-mile trip even rates as a drop in the bucket in comparison to my routine motor vehicle usage. This is, in fact, one of the things that people often don’t think about with respect to country living - a natural consequence to being away from everything is that you have long distances to get to everything. You spend a lot of time in the car.

But that sense of purpose is there, and I enjoy it.

And so I gear up for the ride and get the trike ready, checking the bags to make sure I have enough room in there for any mail that I might be bringing back. I also check and double-check to make sure I have the mailbox key (which I have forgotten at least once on on of these forays). Then I hit the road with my sense of purpose in hand (or maybe in the bag - my hands are occupied with steering after all - have to re-think that metaphor) and head out.

I ride the same route that I drive for the trip, but it’s all different at cycling speeds. You get a chance to see the things along the way and enjoy them at a more human level. This can be, of course, both for the better and the worse.

The better is this hill, which appears early in to the third mile of the ride.

Hill pic

It’s a relative high point that drops rapidly into the valley carved by Bureau Creek. It is, unsurprisingly, the source of my top-speed measure for this ride (coming in at 34.55 gravity-assisted mph). It’s warmer, at 39°, but still winter, and the snow still sits along the sides of the road and banks of the creek.

The bad is the dogs which chase the trike - virtually every single time on this route - a mile or so afterward. They chase the car as well, when I drive this way, though the feeling is very different, as any cyclist knows. I’ve been riding in the country a significant portion of my life, and I’ve been chased by dogs many a time; You learn to contend with it. But I always worry about the dogs where this is allowed to occur. Whether car or bike, when they are chasing they are in the middle of the road, and there is no variation of this scenario that is safe for the animal. Growing up out here I lost two dogs to the road, so perhaps I’m particularly sensitive to this, but still...

A few miles later and I’m rolling up to the post office to check the mailbox. Lock the wheels on the trike, get the key from the bag (which I have ensured has room for any mail I might pick up), go inside and open the box to find... nothing.

This is not a terribly uncommon occurrence, opening the box and finding it empty. On most days, when I take some time out of the work schedule to drive to the mailbox I’m frustrated to find it bare, my efforts fruitless, my time wasted.

But this day is different. This day I got to ride, and ride with a sense of purpose. The fact that it is empty doesn’t take away from that. If anything, it means that at least I didn’t have to spend still more time sitting in my car just to find out there was nothing there.

This day I got to ride.

Tailwinds by Erin Wade

So. Last week I wondered how windy was too windy to ride.

Gee, I wonder which direction the wind is coming from...

In a lot of ways that post was part of my process of trying to decide whether to brave the elements, or whether I finally had found an excuse (besides lightening) for not going out on my Sunday ride.

The thing is, you can only read so much about a person riding across Antarctica in higher winds and lower temperatures for days before all the mental whingeing about whether or not to head out for an hour or so seems, well, a little pathetic.

So - you know - I rode.

I decided to head out on the route that I’ve now come to call Rocks 8. This is the gravel route I put together to take advantage of snow cover and freezing mitigating the unpleasant effects of the gravel. I reasoned that it was a relatively brief route and remained close to home, so if safety became an issue I would be an easy rescue. And besides, once the warmer weather comes I will likely avoid the gravel portions of this route, so I might as well enjoy them while I can.

It’s a route that runs in a square, and that square, given the Midwest road grid patterns, runs on the cardinal compass points. This means that the eight mile route is about two miles in each direction - two miles south, two miles east, two miles north, etc. Suffice it to say that my ride maps are often, well, pretty dull.

The wind last Sunday was coming directly out of the west. Westerly winds are the predominant pattern in this area, and this day was point on. The wind speed during the ride, according to Cyclemeter, was 38 mph:

38 mph winds

Cyclemeter offers up graphs of your ride speed across the miles of distance traveled, and then compares it to your "official" or reference ride (by default, it’s your first recorded ride on a given route). On the graph, the purplish dotted line is the reference ride, and the blue line is the current ride:

Graphical differences

Can you guess which part of the ride it was during which I had the west-to-east tailwind?

I did a more in-depth analysis of the effect of the wind on my rides a while back, but it still amazes me somewhat how much of a difference it can make. The elevated section on the graph runs between mile two and three, smack in the 20-30mph range. It’s notable too that this section is entirely across gravel and, while not involving immense climbs, isn’t entirely flat either (which accounts for some of the up and down in speed). I’d be lying if I said I didn’t push a bit during this section - how could one not? Fast is fun! But for reference, my average speed for the year prior was 11.86mph, and the overwhelming majority of that was set on my Catrike Pocket, which is what I was riding for this outing as well.

You can see the headwind section as well across miles six and seven. My average speed for mile seven was 5.38mph. That’s better than walking, but not a lot, and really gives some credence to why Maria Leijerstam chose a trike for her Antarctic ride - you’re starting to get down to speeds where it would be difficult to stay upright on two wheels. For fun, the headwind also makes it hard to catch your breath at times, and throws bits of debris into your face.

It also brings the overall averages down to earth. Despite that section running between 20-30 mph, and a top speed of 30.60mph on mile three, the average speed for the route was only 8.95mph. This is still better than two minutes over my median speed for this route, but it illustrates how much the headwind cuts into the time.

At the end, though, you definitely know you had a workout. Maddeningly, Cyclemeter does not appear to take the wind into account with respect to calorie burn. How exactly it counts calories does not appear to be explained on its otherwise very detailed help section, but you have to enter your weight for it to work, so it seems to be based upon that vs. your ride speed and distance. For this brief, slow ride, then, it credits me with using 399 calories. I suspect that, in reality, I burned that or better during the headwind section alone.

Overall, tho, west to east, I’m not even sure the trike needed me...

How Windy is Too Windy...? by Erin Wade

I begin my Sunday mornings in a similar fashion most weeks. I get up earlier than I intend (by force of habit), make some coffee and perform my ablutions, and think about where I will go for My Sunday Ride.

I try to get out to ride at least two days a week. I’d love to do more, and I do if the opportunity presents, but my goal for bare minimum is the two days. My Sunday Ride is an important component of that goal because Sundays are, all told, the day that I’m most free to get that ride in.

As I ponder a ride here this morning, however, that contemplation is accompanied by a soundtrack of howling and gusting wind. My iPhone’s weather app tells me that we are sitting at a wind speed of more than 30 miles an hour, and my ears are in general agreement with that assessment. All of which suggests the question: how windy is too windy to ride?

Wind speed

Any cyclist knows that the wind can have a huge effect on the degree of forward progress one experiences when riding. (I spent a little time going over my personal numbers on the effect of the wind here a little while back). Still, I’m not riding for transportation, I’m riding for my physical and mental health and the general enjoyment of the activity. And as far as that physical health part goes, the resistance a strong headwind offers is really just a bit of frosting on the cycling cake.

...right?

Having my Catrike does make a difference in this calculation, at least a bit. The lower profile nature of the trike does absolutely make the wind less of an issue, of course. This is part of the reason that Maria Leijerstam chose one for her record setting ride to the South Pole.

Of course, spending a little time reading about Maria Leijerstam’s ride across Antarctica makes one feel rather wimpy about the question one is asking for this very post. She was contending with 50mph winds and temperatures so low that the sweat was freezing in her boots. So, you know, it offers a bit of perspective there...


I realize, as I look back over the past couple of weeks that I’ve spent a lot of cognitive effort and writing time on complaining about the weather. I’d like to say that this is not my fault, and rather to lay the blame at the feet of, well...

...of February. That is, assuming February has feet.

Looking back over the past few years in Cyclemeter, tho, it’s clear that February has issues. While my amount of riding varies across time, the second month of the calendar year is routinely one of the lowest both in terms of riding outings and distance traveled. It is the shortest month, of course, so that may be a variable as well, but I suspect that a calculation of average distance per day across the months would also put February routinely at or near the bottom.

If it would just be more cooperative we’d get along so much better, February and I. But to be clear, this is all February‘s fault.

Be Careful What You Wish For by Erin Wade

It’s clear that sometimes The Fates just like to give you a bite in the ass.

Of course, last week I wrote complaining that we were having the wrong kind of winter, just then in Northern Illinois. You can go back and look at that for details, but the gist is that everything was all:

... a patchwork of worn snow drifts, ice, and frozen mud underneath a steel-gray sky.

As I often do, a little while after writing and posting I geared up for my Sunday ride. I mean, I’m gonna complain about the weather, but that’s not going to keep me from getting out and riding. As my child has heard me opine on multiple occasions, if you wait for the perfect day, it will never get done.

By the time I had geared up, however, the snow gods had apparently read my post (I’m sure they have nothing better to do, right?) and decided to show me a thing or two. The snow had already begun to fall when I walked out to the garage to get my trike ready. Once I hit the road it was falling in earnest.

Ask and ye shall receive...?

It quickly became the sort of weather I don’t typically do a road ride in, primarily because of reduced visibility - not mine, but that of drivers. But at that point I was already committed, so I pressed on.

I’d made the choice to go with my glasses and not goggles, which had... interesting results. I spent a lot of time clearing gathered moisture off of the glasses, which would have been the case with the goggles as well. The goggles would have prevented the ice buildup on my eyebrows, however...

That problem aside, however, it was everything you hope for from a winter ride - the peace and solitude of the snowfall, the crunch under the wheels (you really can’t overemphasize the delight of that sound), and a visual display that absolutely fits the description of winter wonderland.

It’s still, clearly, not something that the general public is ready for. The demonstration of that on this trip was provided by the car pulling up with the young man who lives down the road from me, rolling down the window and checking on me to make sure I was okay. I was halfway through the ride - well away from both our houses - so it was a chance encounter; I was clearly a sight he was not expecting to see.

Ultimately it was just under 14 miles on a familiar route with Old Man Winter thoughtfully providing just what I’d asked for. All at once.

But hey - the ice has since melted out of my eyebrows.

The Right Kind of Winter by Erin Wade

I enjoy winter, as a general rule. I enjoy cycling in the cold, I like the crunch of snow under the wheels, seeing the flakes fall about me as I move down the road or trail. The changing of the landscape as the snow shifts and changes with the wind and temperature adds variety to what would otherwise seem monochromatic.

But it has to be the right kind of winter.

Over the past few days in Northern Illinois we’ve moved beyond the polar vortex, and had warming temperatures - so warm, in fact, that the abundance of snow that fell just before the severe cold has significantly receded - followed by a drop back below freezing. Now, what remains is a patchwork of worn snow drifts, ice, and frozen mud underneath a steel-gray sky. This is a part of winter that it’s harder to be enthusiastic about.

The road. Does it beckon?

The warming and freezing leaves your typical uncleared cycling trails covered in a layer of uneven ice that can potentially be traversed, but is so unpleasant to ride over it resembles a roadway of randomly scattered rub strips. There is probably someone out there that wants to tackle that as a technical challenge, but I am not that someone. And this leaves me out exploring, on one of my regular ride days, city streets that are fine, as far as it goes but offer only, shall we say, uninspiring views of houses and yards.

It’s the general mood for the week, and for this morning. And it is, frankly, something that absolutely falls in the category of first world problems. I will get out and ride today. I will do so through the countryside that I enjoy. I will do it in the winter weather, which I also enjoy.

But I’d prefer that it be in the right kind of winter.

I can’t be the only one, can I?

Gravel Subdued by Erin Wade

I don’t like gravel.

I live in a rural area - grew up here, in fact, though I moved away for quite a while and then returned. Gravel has always been a part of life out here. The road that live on now was gravel for most of my childhood, and parts of it still were up until a couple of years ago. Although it has since been paved, many of the secondary roads around us remain covered in loose rock.

I’m sure gravel has its benefits, but from a road user perspective it’s hard on things. It’s hard on your vehicle, chipping paint and throwing dust on things. And it’s particularly hard when cycling. On an upright, or diamond-frame (DF) bike riding a gravel road is a matter of carefully finding the narrow paths through the surface where the gravel has been worn away and hoping against hope that an errant rock doesn’t find your front wheel and take you down.

And wiping out in gravel? I suppose, technically, a gravel road is a softer surface to fall on than is asphalt. I mean, after all, the rocks are simply sitting on top of dirt, right? But this does not account for the hours (and sometimes days) of picking rock after rock out of your skin. Ugh.

When I got my Catrike Pocket one of the things I was looking forward to was being more comfortable on gravel. But while my recumbent trike is my preferred ride for virtually every option, it isn’t able to tame all of the issues gravel has to offer. That risk of falling is gone, of course, but the ride over rock is still very rough and uncomfortable, and the layout of the trike is such that soft material - for example, loose gravel on an uphill track - causes the rear (traction) wheel to loose hold, and you find yourself sitting and spinning with no forward motion.

And I’m aware that they make gravel bikes, and that fat tire and suspension bikes and trikes are a thing. But I’m the (apparently somewhat rare) cyclist who really doesn’t collect bikes and trikes. I like to have a well rounded machine that does most things well, and I find my Catrike fits that bill.

But it means that I map out my rides so that I can avoid riding on the rocks.

It occurred to me last weekend, however, that the snow-covered nature of our roads this season might offer up an opportunity.

Out here in rural Illinois the plows go to great effort to clear primary highways down to the asphalt. Liberal application of spark showering blades combined with road salt means that, for the most part, a heavily traveled roadway with a state or national numerical designation is going to be showing pavement. But on the secondary roads the plows content themselves with removing the drifts and ensuring the road is passable to traffic only. They remain coated in white.

This is pleasant to ride on - last week I mentioned the delightful sound of snow crunching under the wheels. But it occurred to me when I was trying to decide where to ride last week that it also had the potential to be an equalizer of sorts. That is, a snow-covered road is just a snow-covered road, regardless of what is under it.

That thought in mind, I decided to give it a go. I don’t have to ride far to get to gravel, and I ended up laying out an eight mile circle (well - it’s a square circle - we’re in farm-grid country, after all) that included four solid miles on the gravel.

So the first, simple part is that it worked. If you didn’t know these roads were gravel ahead of time there’d have been no way to tell simply by looking.

Intersection at Gravel and Asphalt

This is taken at a gravel and asphalt intersection. Which is which? I know, because I was there...

More importantly, there was no way to tell by riding on it either. Turning off of the asphalt and on to the gravel was an indistinguishable change as far as my backside was concerned.

What’s more, this opened up an opportunity to travel down roadways that, although nearby, I hadn’t seen in years. I hadn’t realized, for example, that the house down one of the roadways is, apparently unoccupied - no sign of activity, of attempt to clear the driveway or get a vehicle through. There was an old barn that I remember playing at as a kid that I see is now gone, and I passed at least one house that, if I’d ever seen it before I don’t remember doing so.

Hidden creek

big sky country?

These are small things, but they are part of the joy of cycling through the countryside, and offered some novelty, some fresheness from my typical routes. In fact, I took the route again yesterday, moving my usual Sunday ride up a day because a) it looked like the weather today was going to be inhospitable and would turn the roads to a slushy mess (and so far that is true); and 2) it was simply gorgeous yesterday - too gorgeous to pass on the opportunity.

It might seem surprising that this possibility hasn’t occurred to me in the past - I do a fair amount of winter cycling. Still, the reality is that most of our winters here really don’t offer extended periods of snow cover. It’s typically cold, but real snow on the ground and the roads for an extended period of time is a rarity. This may be the first season since I started winter cycling that the opportunity presented itself.

It’s an ephemeral opportunity at best. It was 40° here yesterday, and the snow cover on the asphalt was already transitioning away. There were even sections of the gravel starting to show thru.

Gravel showing thru snow

It’s already 40° again here this morning, and the surrounding world is blanketed in the thick fog that rises as the snow releases its hold on the earth. It’s 40°, on its way to 41°, with a low also well above freezing, and a projected high for tomorrow of nearly 50°. The snow - even with the prodigious volume we’d received - will be gone soon. There might be more - the forecast speculates some for next week, but we all know how reliable that is. Odds are that, even if it happens, it will be fleeting. That’s just the way it goes here.

But for a short period of time, a few days, and two rides, it opened up another part of my little world.

Trike in snow