Farmondo 2019 by Erin Wade

For my third consecutive year I decided to enter the Farmondo - the group ride put on by Tempo Velo bike club, based in Sterling, IL. The event is three separate group rides of different distances - 20, 43, and 80 miles. Each year I’ve participated in the 43 mile ride. It is not a race - not technically - just a group ride where you are timed, your time is rank-ordered against the other riders, and the information is then publically posted for the world to see.

I was excited for the ride this year because it’s my first year with my Catrike Expedition. I have been finding that the Expedition is faster than the Pocket that I’ve been riding the past couple of years, and I wanted to see if that would hold true over a longer ride (43 miles is the longest I’ve ridden thus far, and so far I only go that distance once a year - in this event), particularly over the hilly terrain that the Farmondo covers (if there is a hill around Sterling, they’ve found it for this ride).

So it was with that in mind that I headed out last Sunday morning with the trike in the back of my Honda Fit.

Knowing that there was rain in the forecast, and that the event ran regardless of weather, I’d purchased rain gear the day before and packed it up in the pannier bags. I also spent time the day before getting all of my lights on to the charger and setting up a new battery mount for my phone since I would be using it to track my ride stats and to listen to podcasts or audiobooks on the ride (in one ear only, of course).

Things did not go as planned.

A Series of Unfortunate Events

It’s about 45 minutes from my home to the starting point in Sterling. I gave myself plenty of time to get there, or so I thought. But while I was riding through Dixon - about 35 minutes from home - I realized that I had not taken any of the lights off of the charger. They were sitting at home, happily sipping electrons off the grid and, most importantly, not on the trike or in the car with me in any way, shape, or form.

After a bit of self-flagellation I mentally set this aside - nothing I could do about it at that moment; I certainly did not have time to go back - and continued on course.

When I got there I looked at the immediate weather, which was a light mist, and looked at the radar, which seemed to be offering more of the same going forward. I made the executive decision not to put on the rain gear (though I did keep it in the panniers), reasoning that I would get damp, but not so much so that I’d be uncomfortable, and not nearly enough to justify the trade-off against the bulk of the rain gear.

Then I hauled out the trike and started to get things set up - flag on (I almost always just keep that in the car, so I had it along) and went to hook up the battery for my phone and found that it was, well, also not there.

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I’d thought that I had put it in the mounting position the day before, but I must have set it aside while working on prepping other things. I say "must have", because finding it "not there" led to a search of the car to see if it had just fallen off, if I’d set it somewhere else, etc. But it was simply not present.

This offered up an interesting problem, given that it limited what I could do with the phone. I’ve got an iPhone XS Max, which has pretty good battery life, but GPS is a battery hog. I’d been doing longer rides without the backup battery tho, and it had come thru when I left the screen dark most of the time and just checked in on my pace periodically. This is what I determined I would do.

But processing that threw me a bit and, more importantly, slowed me down. So I found that, as I was walking the trike up to the starting line in the parking lot, they announced "riders ready?"

I was not.

I pulled the trike up to the side of the group and mounted. I did not have my helmet or gloves or glasses on yet. I reasoned thru my options, put on my helmet and clipped in, and put everything else in my sweatshirt pocket, figuring I could put them in as I rode. Because I was to the side and not in the pack, I let the entire group go by - I didn’t want to cut anyone off - and took my position in the absolute rear of the pack. It’s a timed event, so this didn’t seem like a problem. I’d be compared against my start and stop time, not my position in the pack.

All good, right? I rode forward down the first straightaway, just behind the rest of the group. I rounded the first corner, rode forward another hundred feet, and heard a "click" on the pavement.

I think anyone who rides regularly can tell you that you become accustomed to a certain array of sounds as a part of the experience. There is the sound of tires on water as you go through a puddle, of stones as the come up against a fender or the frame, and all of that occurs against the backdrop of the mechanical sounds of the machine.

The "click" was not a familiar sound.

I knew the sweatshirt pocket was not an ideal location for storing anything, being open on the sides. It’s not ideal in general, and even less so in the reclined position of the trike. But it was only going to be for a short time, right? Well, it was clear that I’d dropped something, though I wasn’t sure what.

I turned around and rode back. I passed the truck that brings up the rear of the group and said "dropped something" to him as he went by. Another couple dozen feet and I found my reading glasses (stoopid middle-aged eyes) there on the asphalt, miraculously undamaged. I picked them up and turned around and started pedaling back the other way, now behind that pace truck.

The beginning part of the race in Sterling crosses a four-lane section of Route 2 at a stoplight-controlled intersection. The police actually cordon that off for the riders. Unsurprisingly, however, when the pace truck went thru - visually signifying the end of the group - one of the two patrol cars, the one dealing with traffic to my left, or closest to me, pulled away. This left me stopped at the stoplight, and falling further behind.

The other officer had remained and saw me. After a cycle of traffic he very generously stopped and directed traffic to get me through the intersection ahead of the changing light and got me on my way (my enduring thanks to him!).

I was now far enough behind now that I could no longer see any of the group. After the stoplights they make a left turn through the neighborhood, which took them out of view. I’ve ridden this ride twice before, so I knew that was the case, but I honestly wasn’t sure which left turn the route took, and I’d been watching the traffic, not the group, while I’d been sitting at the intersection. That uncertainty actually caused me to briefly wonder if I should just pack it in and call it a day, but I took my best guess at it, and about four blocks later came across the pace truck, patiently waiting for me (my enduring thanks to him as well). A block or two later and I could see the tail end of the group having turned right at Challand Middle School and followed them. I felt much better actually having people in view.

I was also breathing pretty hard at this point, since my pace was a little higher than it might otherwise have been this early on, trying to make up for lost time and catch the group. And I don’t care how many times you tell yourself that your position in the group doesn’t matter because it’s an individually timed event, you still want to catch up to (and pass people in) the group. Plus, you know, I’d lost actual time by turning around and by sitting at the stoplight.

The Rest of the Ride

Once I got past that comedy of errors, everything started to level out and work just fine. To ensure sufficient battery life for ride tracking I opted not to listen to any audio on the ride. This made the ride a more meditative experience in some ways. I ride that way sometimes outside of this, but this was a long ride, and I usually like some entertainment as a part of things.

That decision allowed me a little extra battery life for some video and pics along the way:

The video is from mile 7 of the 43-mile group route. I’m probably going 14 or 15 miles an hour in that segment. And importantly, I think I’m gaining on someone (!).

If you like the scenery of the Illinois countryside (and I do) this is a lovely ride overall. It’s also interesting to me because your ride takes you past at least four cemeteries - one in the town of Sterling (where you turn left to stay on the route, I gambled, and turned out to be right, thankfully), and the others mostly tiny rural affairs that dot the countryside out here.




It did rain for the majority of the ride - you can see that the sky is steel gray pretty much throughout. My executive decision on the rain gear turned out to be a good one. I wore linen pants for the ride as well as a rash guard. Both sets of items have the benefit of drying quickly (linen is a great material for warm weather where you want to cover up rather than using sunscreen - I prefer it to spandex for riding). The only fly in the ointment was my cotton sweatshirt, which got very hot about four miles in, but I didn’t want to stop and lose more time taking it off. The upside to that was that by mile 10 it was so thoroughly drenched that it was no longer warm, so it ultimately worked out.


The folks at Tempo Velo always have a spread out for the end of the race - tacos made on the spot, beer and soda available (and the beer is always interesting - I had a Harp), and this year they had custard from Culver’s in the mix as well. It was a smaller group at the end this time, most likely due to the rain, but those who came and rode got to eat and drink well.



After the ride the results get posted online. It takes a little while for this to all get done, but once it is, it’s there for you to consider. My goal this year, and every year, is to do better than last. And as I mentioned, I also wanted to see how much the Expedition seemed to contribute to increased speed/decreased time.

Obviously, my muck-up at the beginning had an impact on my time. I turned around, I got stopped at a stoplight that the event timing expects you to simply be able ride through, and I spent the first several minutes of the ride futzing around with getting gloves on and such, which is not an ideal path towards increased speed.

So here’s the deal: I was faster than last year.

2019 Results

That 3:17:53 for this year compares to 3:20:46 last year. I’ll grant that it’s not a lot faster, but it’s still an improvement of nearly three minutes (2:52), all with a series of unintentional self-induced impediments along the way.

In terms of how much of it is due to the new trike, and how much is due to me, I’m gonna chalk most of it up to the trike. I did condition my way up to the ride distance this year, but my training was fairly similar to last year. My average speed for the ride, however, was up from 13.09 mph last year to 13.29 mph this year (according to Cyclemeter), and I was definitely carrying more weight in terms of both the trike (which is two lbs heavier than the Pocket) and the rain gear in the bags.

And despite all of the chaos, Cyclemeter, which tracks stopped time (the race timing does not - it’s all event time) finds that I was sitting stopped for less time this year than last. I didn’t purposely stop this year or last, so all of the stopped time both years was in situations where traffic required it - e.g. waiting at road crossings and such. So apparently I did have some good luck in there, even tho it didn’t feel like it in the moment.

All in all, and the comedy of errors aside, it was (and always is) a fun event. I was once again the only trike rider in the 43 mile event, but I was not the only trike rider that day. Another gentleman, with a Villager he’d rode in the 20 mile event, and I met and chatted for a few minutes afterward. It was good to see and touch base with a like-minded soul.

And good to put this ride down in the books.

Sizing Things Up by Erin Wade

As I mentioned when I first wrote about my new Catrike Expedition, part of the reason that I went forward with getting the new machine was because MLW had expressed an interest in riding a trike as well. Like many people, she remembers enjoying riding bikes when she was younger, but finds the riding position - and especially the seating options - of a DF bike to be ...unforgiving.

If there had been any question that this was a desire in earnest, it was erased by the fact that, within a day or so of my setting up the Expedition, she was already out riding on the Pocket, using a pillow as a spacer to reach the pedals. This, of course, because the Pocket was still sized to me.

Any time a new person gets on a bike of any kind, things need to be adjusted. The seat and handlebars on a DF need to be raised or lowered, for example, to fit the height of the new rider. The same is true for a recumbent trike, but the process is different and, at least at first blush, a little more intimidating.

This is because, for many types of recumbent trike, re-sizing means re-setting the distance of the boom - the telescoping portion at the front of the trike that holds the pedals - and then either shortening or lengthening the chain.


The first part, I think, sounds pretty straightforward. The boom just slides in and out, and so it’s somewhat analogous to moving the seat on a DF bike. It’s that second part that gives a bit of mental pause: shortening or lengthening the chain.

I mean, all of us with any experience with bikes as a kid know what a chain is; it’s that thing that lets the pedals move the bike forward, and also the thing that catches our pants, gets grease on us, and periodically falls off, making us unable to move while our friends, not realizing our crisis, continue to ride away...


What we didn’t learn, most of us, was how to _do_ anything with the chain except oil it periodically and re-set it on the sprockets when it came off, incidentally cursing that oil for now being on our fingers. (I still remember the revelation I experienced when my dad showed me how to more readily re-set it by flipping the bike upside down - perhaps my first real-world lifehack).

This means that approaching that portion of the re-sizing seems a bit of an arcane, black art - a bit of sorcery known to the grizzled bike shop wizards of old, but a power which the novice knows not how to harness.

But: I’ve been resolved to learn how to do more things myself, my localest bike shop being 20 minutes away. And while MLW had devised her own solution for reaching the pedals, it seemed like it would probably be nicer for her to have it actually sized to fit her. So it set forth to tackle it on my own.

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The first thing I did was consult the folks at Utah Trikes on how to do this via their channel on YouTube. They actually have a very nicely done video that shows how to go through the process, including how to set the gears before doing so (tho you’ll want to watch it a couple of times, because that’s a brief aside several minutes in).

Then I marked the old spot on it for me with a sharpie, loosened up the quick releases on the boom, had MLW sit down on it, and went to slide the boom in and...

...nothing. Wouldn't move.

I’d been expecting it to slide right in, so I was a little surprised at the complete lack of movement. But, faced with an obstacle, I did what any red-blooded American male does:

I hit it.

By which I mean I smacked it at the front with the heel of my hand. This was successful, as far as it went, except it made my hand sore very quickly. I commented that maybe this would work better if I had a rubber mallet.

I made this comment standing five feet from my toolbox which, incidentally, had a rubber mallet sitting on the floor in front of it. So, of course, I continued to hit it with my hand. I point this out in part so that you will understand the grace and kindness my wife exhibited when she quietly said "you know, there’s a mallet right there" and completely refrained from appending "dumbass" to the end of that sentence.

Turns out the mallet worked at least as well as my hand, and with considerably less incidental discomfort. Who knew? (Yes - MLW knew, that’s who).

Once the boom length was set I... let it sit for a few days.

We’d set the length on a weeknight, and some time ago I learned to let new and longer projects wait until the weekend, when I have more time to struggle with them. Otherwise I become frustrated with the need to leave things partway completed - better to do it all at once. And given that I hadn’t changed a chain length before I didn’t know how long it was going to take me.

When I did sit down with it I first started with simply locating the master link on the chain. The chain on a recumbent trike is long - much longer than on a DF bike - and as I slowly worked my way through it I found myself wondering if I was simply cycling through the same sections of chain over and over again. I solved this by cleaning off a couple of links so I’d have a clear, shiny reference point (turns out there may be a benefit to not routinely cleaning your chain... kind of).

Once I located the link I started working on getting it apart. I did not have a master link tool, but I reasoned that it looked a lot like a set of needle nose pliers, and I certainly had those, so they would work just fine.


Well, no. After about five minutes of aborted attempts I decided that maybe it would be better just to ensure I had the right actual tools for the job, hopped in the car and headed out to my localest bike shop: Bike Works in Peru. The folks there were, as usual, very helpful. I explained what I was doing and they put together the items I needed and got me on my way. I was literally in and out in less than 15 minutes.

And what a difference the right tool makes! It literally took seconds to open the master link with the tool once I put it in play. This is a thing that I have had to learn over and over again across the course of my life - maybe this time it will stick (Narrator: It didn’t).

My experience with the chain tool was similar to that of the master link tool. It took a little longer to sort out just how to seat the chain and just far I would have to push the pin in in order to get it thru, but once I sorted that out it just came apart as designed.

As laid out in the video, I’d taken a picture of the position of the derailleur before I started moving things, pulled the two ends of the chain together until the derailleur position matched the picture, and put them back together. Bob’s your uncle - I was finished!

Well, I thought I was. I set up an improvised rope and pulley (using a garage rafter in lieu of the actually pulley) to get the rear wheel off the ground so I could cycle thru the gears. I was pretty pleased with this:

Rope and pulley

It worked a treat, and I began to spin through the gears on the big ring, pleased to see that it hit them all, and then again to see it on the middle ring. And it worked okay on the small ring, except that the chain was dangling slack in the top few gears. Which meant I hadn’t taken out enough chain.

In the area of true confessions, I’d taken my picture of the rear derailleur with the chain in a different position on the rear sprocket than they recommend in the Utah Trikes video. I’d realized this fairly early on, but I figured, you know, as long as it’s all in the same position at the end it’ll be fine, right?


So, again: no.

And now I didn’t have an accurate picture to use for reference. What I did have, tho, was another trike that I could set up with the gears in the same position and hopefully that would approximate the correct orientation for the derailleur. Which is why you see the orange Expedition sitting behind the Pocket here:

Expedition as reference

I got the gears on the Expedition into position and used that to eyeball the derailleur angle on the Pocket. Now I can’t honestly say whether it was a brilliant idea or just good fortune, but it actually worked (they say sometimes it’s better to be lucky than good)!

And there you have it - One Catrike Pocket, resized for My Lovely Wife. We also ordered her up a new flag to go with it, and she’s ready to hit the road.

Pocket Sized Up

Catrike Expedition - Differences in Setup by Erin Wade


As I mentioned last time, when I ordered my new Catrike Expedition I chose to do some things differently from how they present on my Catrike Pocket. While I love the Pocket, I’ve had two years of riding experience and research to consider what I might do differently the next time around. As such, the configuration I arrived at was mostly stock, but with a handful of extras, primarily:

  • A right-side mirror with mount
  • A full fender set
  • The Utah Trikes rear cargo rack
  • A set of pannier bags (Axiom Seymour Oceanwave P25’s)

Let’s talk briefly about the why of these in turn:


The Pocket has grip shifters - you twist the handlebar in order to shift gears. That allows for an option of putting the mirrors right on the end of the handlebar. The Expedition (and I believe actually the entire Catrike line now) has bar end shifters occupying the end of the handlebar. This means that mirrors have to go on separate mounts along the steering mechanism. A left-sided mount comes stock, but I realized fairly early on with the Pocket that more mirrors was better, both for a broader rear-view as well as from a built-in redundancy perspective, so I ordered a right sided mount as well. One of the nice things about that is that the mirror mount also allows for additional mounting points for accessories.


The Pocket did not have fenders when I got it, and still does not. This is a thing that I find I regret every time I ride thru a puddle, every time it starts to rain, and certainly any time I’m dealing with mud. The fact that it still does not have them is due in part to the fact that I’ve struggled to find fenders to fit the 16" front wheels (tho there is at least one option for the rear). Suffice it to say I’ve spent a fair amount of time with dirt-speckled forearms, and I was hoping to find a better way this time around.

I think the fenders look good on the Expedition, but it is clear to me that the rear fender setup is going to be a source of some noise on the road. I’ve been able to isolate most of that (a couple of carefully placed bits of sticky Velcro - soft side), and what little remains I think will be a fair trade off against the mud-stripe that would otherwise appear on my back.

Probably the one limitation that they do otherwise present is in how the mirrors are mounted. At the suggestion of folks on the Recumbent Trikes group on Facebook I mounted the Mirrorcycle mirrors without the little vertical arm on the Pocket.

No vertical arm

This has the effect of decreasing vibration a bit, making it a bit easier to see what’s coming up behind you. Where the mirrors sit atop the fenders on the Expedition doesn’t allow any room for that option.

tight fit

And actually, it’s not clear they allow room for it without the fender - the mirror might hit the wheel. I could possibly adjust the position of the mount in future, but I’ve left it for now - we’ll see how much the vibration bothers me.

Rack and Pannier Bags

The Pocket does have a cargo rack, and by the looks of it, it may well be from Utah Trikes (actually, given that the Pocket’s boom is painted, I suspect it may have been ordered from UT by the original purchaser, since this is an option they offer). It works well, so I knew I was going to want one on the Expedition. The Pocket also came with the Arkel frame bags, which I thought were an elegant use of space when I first saw them, and I still think they are.

Arkel bag on Pocket

Unfortunately, it is sometimes the case that an elegant design is not always the most practical or effective alternative. I find the Arkel bags can be challenging to get into and/or to zip up at times, as the zipper is very close to the frame. And while they make good use of the space in the arc of the frame, that also means their size is limited and the shape, dictated by that arc, isn’t terribly space efficient. But probably the biggest issue is more mine than theirs - the way the zipper sits, if you forget to zip it up and ride away, odds are good that you will lose your stuff.

I am... good at losing stuff. I’m good at it without the help of the design of these bags, and they have conspired to abet that tendency on an occasion or two in the past. So I wanted a design that closed at the top, such that if I failed to zip it, wouldn't start leaving a trail of breadcrumbs made from my gear.

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I went with Axiom Seymour Oceanwave P25 Panniers. The name is a mouthful, but key components to these for me were the additional size, the top opening feature, extra side pockets, and a carry handle for them when off the trike. This last item is a bonus in case I ever need to park the trike someplace where I’m concerned about someone getting into the bags (I did a brief search for lockable bags and didn’t find any, tho I’ll bet they are out there). I don’t carry a ton of gear, but the additional space in these actually leaves room for things like a sweatshirt or other changes of clothes, which is a thing I’ve often wished for in the mixed weather of spring and fall.


Other Differences

Not on the list of differences are a couple of things that I didn’t get (or at least, haven’t yet). On the Pocket I have a Power-On Cycling headrest. The Pocket did not have a head or neck rest when I got it, and the degree of recline to the Pocket’s seat isn’t such that I felt it was really necessary (tho it is nice to have from time to time). But what this item did offer was a higher mounting point for a rear light, as well as a convenient handle for walking the Pocket.

You only have to get a flat tire three miles out one time to realize how much you want a handle to walk your trike by. Or so I hear...

But the Expedition comes with the Catrike neckrest as a stock item, and it also sits a bit taller. I think it’s quite likely that I’ll still end up ordering another headrest from Power-On, but I figured I would try out the stock arrangement before shelling out the coin.

I also didn’t order, and thus have not installed, the heel sling kit from Terratrike that I have on the Pocket. As with the headrest, it’s not due to dissatisfaction with that item - I actually find the slings work nicely, particularly with an addition retention strap across the top of the foot. But I while I’ve been riding bikes of one stripe or another most of my life, I’ve actually never used clipless pedals. I thought it might be worth giving it a try so that at least I have a frame of reference for comparison.

I ordered a pair of Shimano Cycling Sandals for this purpose. I wear sandals for three seasons of year, cycling and otherwise. My preferred sandals are Keens, but it appears that they have elected to stop making the Commuter Bike Sandal (I actually emailed the company to verify this - they are really what I wanted). In fact, cycling sandals are, for some reason, a rather difficult thing to find in general, and where I could find them they were often either out of stock or not available in my size (and I’m an inch shy of the national average height - I’m not an odd fit). Is it possible that I’m the only one with feet that get hot when riding?

It’s worth noting that purchasing the sandals means that right out of the gate this is an expensive experiment - the sandals cost nearly three times as much as the heel slings, and they obviously won’t work for winter riding. I’m determined to give the system a fair shake, but it will have a hurdle to clear to be better.

Going Forward

And those are the differences going in. I’ve been out on the new trike three times thus far, and I’ll be heading out today. It is a different experience than the Pocket in multiple ways - I’m liking it, to be sure, but it’s different in ways that are interesting, at least to me. After I get a bit more seat time we’ll discuss.

Time to ride...

Capture the Flag by Erin Wade

Last week I wrote about my early July trip down the I&M Canal Trail from LaSalle to almost the Buffalo Rock State Park entrance, a trip that involved mud pits, and resulted both a filthy trike and a lost flag and rear light.

No Flag
No Flag

The flag that I lost came with the trike when I bought it back in 2017. In my mind it really is a part of the character of the trike. It’s featured in many of the shots of the trike on this site. I was frustrated and tired - and sick of wet, muddy clay - when I gave up looking for it, but when I did that, my intention was to purchase another, identical flag. The following morning I fired up my iPad and began my search for just that.

Things went south quickly.

The flag in question was a Soundwinds design, the owner of which is retiring and selling off his stock; my flag was sold out. This was very discouraging, and the similar designs in stock, tho very nice, just weren’t what I was looking for 1.

My cheapness gene was also starting to kick in, and I was beginning to balk at the prospect of dropping money on a new flag and new rear light when I could have looked longer the day before.

So I set the iPad down and felt bad for a couple of minutes, and then an idea occurred to me. I looked up my route on Cyclemeter in map view, and I’d made it a good portion of the way into and thru Buffalo Rock. With any luck, I thought, if I came in from the other side - from the Buffalo Rock entrance to the trail - I’d only have to contend with one of the clay soup patches (the one I chose not to ride thru the day before).

There’s a big assumption or two in there, I realize. Based on the map, I was probably only a mile or so from the Buffalo Rock trail entrance when I’d stopped, but there was the real possibility that the entire mile was soup. I hoped not, but it was possible. I was also assuming that the flag would be wherever it came off the trike - that no one else would have come along and picked it up. This latter item seemed a fair bet, tho, simply because I had been the only soul on that section of the trail for the entire ride the day before, despite it being a weekend.

I debated whether or not to bring along the trike or simply walk the trail. I hadn’t yet cleaned it up from the day before, and if I could ride the distance it would go much more quickly; but if it was all soup that would be a wash. I decided to bring it along, and figured that, if I found the beginning of the trail at Buffalo Rock to be soup, I could just leave the trike in the vehicle, but then I’d have it if riding were an option.

This turned out to be a good call, as I was relieved to see that the first, visible portion of the trail westward from Buffalo Rock was dry and intact. This meant that, for a half-mile or so at least I could move forward with pretty good progress.

And then I encountered the soup.

This particular batch also had an additional impediment, as there was a tree down across the trail about 25 feet into the clay soup.

Tree in soup
Tree in soup

Given that I was going to have to portage the trike over the tree, and that the tree wasn’t very far into the soup, I decided just to carry it up to the tree. A Catrike Pocket weighs about 33 lbs unloaded, probably 35 or so with my gear. I was certainly still carrying my kid around when they weighed that much, so it seemed reasonable.

I listened to and rued the repeated "thuk-thuk-thuk" of my footsteps in the muck as I walked up to the downed tree, and stepped over it with my left leg. As I set my foot down, I felt a sharp, stinging sensation in my left calf.

Literally a stinging sensation.

I looked down to see the Yellowjacket stinging me, ended its existence, and quickly stepped away from the tree. As I looked back I could see a couple dozen of them swarming around this side of the tree near the ground. Either they had nested in the tree before it had fallen, or it disturbed a ground nest when it fell. Either way, they were not happy about it (and besides, Yellowjackets are aggressive assholes anyway), and one of them had decided to take it out on me.

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It’s been a long time since I’ve been stung, and I was not nostalgic for the experience. It took nearly a week for the bright red spot on my calf to fade and, in the interim, it provided a sensation I did not recall from prior events - it itched. A lot.

That was for future me to enjoy however. I continued to carry the trike another quarter-mile or so until we got to dry land. I tried to wipe and/or shake off as much of the clay as I could from my sandals, and began to pedal forward.

I was quite surprised when I saw it.

I’d expected to find it - if I found it at all - laying on the ground to one side of the trail or the other. That’s primarily where I’d been casting my eyes both the day before and during the bulk of this particular mission. The reality was something... different.

Flag in the distance
Flag in the distance
Flag up close
Flag up close

To be honest, it hanging there like that was initially a little creepy - reminiscent of something you’d come across wandering lost in the woods trying to shoot a documentary. I wondered for a moment if perhaps someone else had come along and found it, and hung it up so that, if the owner came looking, it’d be clearly visible. But that did not appear to be the case.

On the vine
On the vine
On the vine
On the vine

The closeup here shows it as I found it. The streamer at the top of the flag appears to have gotten wrapped around a hanging vine, and then lifted it up off of the lower half of the pole. The connection where they join isn’t loose, exactly, but it is pretty easy to slip on and off. I may need to add a bit of tape to increase friction at the connection.

Once I got over that initial creepy impression I was simply relieved. Though the trip took me out of my way for the day, it did save me the cost of a flag and a rear light (and I seem to go through lights at a prodigious rate anyway).

I lashed the flag to the rack on back and went back to once again tackle the clay. I rode thru it on the way back, at least up to the Yellowjacket tree. There I stopped a little short and considered strategy before trundling thru.

"Considered strategy", I say, like there were a lot of options. Ultimately it just involved making sure I had a good, firm hold on the trike and then going over the trunk as quickly as possible without slipping and falling in the clay soup. And there I was actually successful (yay) - gotta take the wins where you can get them.

As the day before, I emerged from the trail with both myself and my trike coated in gray.

It wasn’t gray when I got it
It wasn’t gray when I got it

This particular adventure was different, tho, because I knew what I was getting into. Of course, this did not cause me to gain any newfound fondness for the sticky, slippery, sucking mess that is muddy clay (not that I’m bitter) - I won’t be signing up for a mud-soaked cyclocross event any time soon - but I was in much better spirits upon arriving at the trailhead. So much so, in fact that I decided to ride back the other way, towards Ottawa, for a couple of miles. Besides, I reasoned, I really didn’t have a better way of getting the extra clay off of the tires...

  1. The Soundwinds website says that some of their designs were going to be taken over by Premier Kites "later in 2019", and that a link would be included on the site when that happened. There was no link one the site when I looked at it - there still isn’t - but I decided to go over to look up Premier Kites anyway, just to see what they have to offer and, sure enough, they had my flag design in stock.  ↩

Known Unknowns and Unknown Unknowns by Erin Wade

roadside attractions

In my day-to-day life I think of myself as a person who is somewhat technically inclined. If you are having issues sorting out how to do something with your technology - your iPhone, your Mac, and yes, even (grudgingly) your Windows or Android device - odds are good that I can help you out with that. I’m even somewhat mechanically inclined, or at least I was in a past life. For much of my 20’s and early 30’s I did the lion’s share of maintenance on my own vehicles - oil changes, spark plugs, brakes - and only went in to the mechanic for more involved activities and repairs (Honda timing belts, for example, were beyond my ken).

Bicycles and other HPV’s are relatively simple machines. Yet despite my technical history, I am often surprised - and frequently stymied - by how little I actually know.

Some of this is simply due to experience. As a kid I learned to do things like raising and lowering my seat, and adjusting bent handlebars, both from necessity (the former due to growth, the latter typically due to misadventure). I got considerable practice with re-seating slipped chains as well. But when it came to other skills, like changing tires, and certainly when we move on to the more mechanically intricate components of a derailleur system, I confess to have been largely mystified.

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As a kid, issues with these components would simply have to wait until I could get my Dad to help. As an adult, returning to cycling after a hiatus borne by focus on work and schooling, I found that it was generally preferable to let the local bike shop handle the areas where my knowledge base and skills were lacking.

This worked out fine when I first started back riding. While I was enthusiastic and enjoyed it, in those early years of return my riding time and distances were relatively modest. My need for LBS intervention was largely limited to annual checkups and occasional rear wheel straightening on my relatively ancient Cannondale SR400.

However, a couple of related factors have caused me to have a change of perspective on this front. The second of those factors is the fact that my riding time and distances have increased considerably over the past two years. My records in Cyclemeter go back to 2011, and before 2017 my highest mileage year was 752.47. What’s more, that was in 2014, and my mileage dropped in 2015 and 2016 to 547.18 and 260.49, respectively.

Come 2017, however, my mileage increased - to 937.51, followed by another bump to 1372.14 miles in 2018. I’m on track to do a similar distance (and hopefully further) for 2019.

That increased distance is undeniably due to the first of the factors: In June of 2017 I got my recumbent trike - a 2012 Catrike Pocket. As I’ve detailed elsewhere here, while I’ve always enjoyed cycling, the recumbent trike really kicked that into high gear.

I’ve realized, though, that the trike does provide some interesting implications from a maintenance perspective. About a decade ago we made the call to move to a rural setting. This is a great thing when it comes to going riding - instead of piling things into the car and driving to a trail, most of the time I literally just head out of my driveway - it’s miles and miles of riding pleasure at my doorstep.

However, living in the boondocks also means that everything is far away. While I talk about my LBS, in reality the localest bike shop is a half-hour drive. And while they are great and always helpful, the Pocket is somewhat of a specialty item, and the nearest Catrike dealer is nearly an hour’s worth of travel time distant.

None of that is to complain - I knew what I was getting into when I moved out here. What it does, though, is help to refocus my attention on the need to learn some things about maintenance and repair. Realistically, now, if I can’t fix it myself it means that I can’t ride the trike, at least not until I can fit in a trip to the shop. It’s a different situation than back when I lived in a city with a bike shop nearby, and amplified a bit by the specialized nature of the trike.

(I do still have my Cannondale as a backup, but in general, I’d rather not take that option).

So - I’m learning. I’m quite certain I still have a ways to go. As I detailed here, a couple of weeks ago, I managed to successfully change a tube myself for the first time, along the side of the road. But I’ve now also had to change that tube twice more since, leaving me trying to figure out what the unknown unknowns are about the situation, and realizing how little I actually know about wheels and tires. With the help of some of the very friendly folks on the Facebook recumbent trike groups I’d gone through and done my due diligence in terms of inspecting the wheel and tire itself for debris. But I’ve now also realized that I didn’t ever know what rim tape was or what it was for, and it appears that mine is in need of replacement... (more on that in the near future).

Making that particular potential issue now a known unknown. And if that fixes the recurrent problem, it will move the the known category. If it doesn’t, well, then clearly there’s another unknown unknown...

Bottom line, however, I have to gain a wider base of knowledge and practice - remove the unknowns - if I want to continue to ride and ride further distances.

And I do.

Cycling Gear - San Pellegrino by Erin Wade

I do not, as a general rule, use cycling-specific clothing.

This is not to say that I don’t have clothing that I wear to go cycling. I do have specific articles of clothing that I reserve for cycling - a specific pair of shorts, a couple of shirts and rash guards that I alternate between for riding. But I don’t own bicycle shorts, don’t wear bibs, don’t have cycling shoes, etc. I find that similar, all purpose gear typically costs less than task specific items, and is suitable for multiple uses. For example, I’ll wear components of the same gear for hiking and cross country skiiing as I do for riding, depending up on the time of year.

However, Father’s day brought an exception to that rule. For the holiday MLW purchased for me a San Pellegrino cycling jersey.

Me and San Pellegrino

It’s resplendent in bright orange - my favorite high visibility color and my second favorite color overall. It’s incredibly lightweight, vented, and extremely comfortable, with additional venting available through the simple act of zipping down. I wore it for its inaugural ride the afternoon of Father’s day, and it’s been on every ride since.

It is a traditional cycling jersey, so it has the pockets on the back. I was initially a little concerned that it might be uncomfortable on the trike, but the pockets are barely noticeable. And it all means that there’s a bit of me in the middle of the trike that is just that much easier to see.

So - as you can probably tell - I really like it. The only problem now is that I’m philosophically conflicted. You know, because I don’t wear cycling specific clothing.

Except for this. And philosophically conflicted or not, I’m gonna keep wearing it!

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...


...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.


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.


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.


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


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:



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


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 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!

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

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.



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



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 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.


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.


Shortly after this point you hit the town of Karnak.

Trail End


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.



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.


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...


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

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":


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...


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.


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.


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.