Cycling Resources

I&M Canal Early Summer 2019 by Erin Wade

I’ve been wanting to get back to the I&M Canal Trail this summer, but I’ve been reluctant given that the Midwest has become the equivalent of a northwestern rain forest this year. At the top of my list of concerns was the rather rustic stream crossing that appears about 2.5 miles east of Utica.

And by “rustic” I mean that you have to carry your machine over the water. There’s a bridge, of sorts but, given its positioning, odds are good that at least your feet will get a little wet. This is a picture of that crossing from last year:

The "bridge"

This Sunday the weather was just too perfect, and MLW and LB were away visiting family, so I was footloose and fancy free. I decided to give it a shot, and figured I could just turn around at the stream crossing if it was washed out. And if I made the crossing, I figured this would be my chance to cover the distance all the way to Ottawa - maybe stop in at Tangled Roots for a Kit Kupfer - instead of stopping at Buffalo Rock State Park like I had last year. Either would make for a great ride, albeit one option longer than the other.

The trail between LaSalle and Ottawa is a varied affair that I’ve discussed here before, but I’ll note again that it make for some very enjoyable scenery. There’s the canal historical site at LaSalle, the sandstone bluffs between LaSalle and Utica, the brief glimpse of downtown Utica itself, and then the more remote trail from there to Buffalo Rock. This was predictably pleasant and, at least when in motion, the bugs (which have been prodigious this year due to the rainfall) were a minimal problem even as I rode into the cattail lined portions of the trail towards the aforementioned rustic crossing.

There were a few puddles and soft spots as I progressed along this portion of the trail, and I did come across this section of water crossing the entire trail:

Early water crossing

It’s hard to tell from the picture, but the water is not a puddle - it was flowing from one side to the other. The flow was slow and gentle, so any fear of washout is a distant one, but it did serve to remind that the trail is a firmer canal towpath, and that it was all built in the floodplain of the Illinois River. And of course, it did make me wonder once again what I was likely to find at that crossing.

My curiousity was sated soon enough as I rolled up to the spot...

The rustic crossing

So - clearly what had happened here was that the stream had moved the bridge down a bit, one suspects during a higher water period, but there was enough solid (or semi-solid) material on the route to and from the bridge to make it passable. I was going to get my feet wet, that was clear, but I was wearing my usual summer riding footgear (sandals - Keens, and they are waterproof), so that wasn’t any big deal. I carried the trike across. I did sink in and gather material into those sandals, but I went back, sat down on the bridge and rinsed them clean before riding on.

Rinsing the feet

That hurdle cleared, I figured this was my day to make the ride the rest of the way out to Ottawa.

I was not correct.

The trail from this point eastward to Buffalo Rock is remote, without a doubt. You get peeks at water occasionally through the cattails and other tall wetland plants, but for much of it you are in a botanical tunnel of sorts - nothing to see but the trail ahead.

The wetland plants should have, perhaps, been a hint of what I was about to encounter, but I’d ridden this trail before without incident. Given that, I was surprised when I came across the first...

...I’m not actually sure what to call it. Clay soup, perhaps?

It was an expanse of very wet, soft, slippery exposed gray clay filling the trail from one verdant wall to the other, proceeding forward as far as the eye could see.

Clay soup

I’m sure in the dry this is just a bare and dusty spot - I didn’t remember anything about this area from last year’s ride to suggest it would be like this when things were more damp. Not that any of that mattered, because here it was, regardless of my recollection.

I gave it a moment or two of thought, and then figured "how much of it could there be?" and decided to tackle it.

It was slow going, to be sure, and there were many moments where I could feel the rear wheel slipping, and there were a couple of times where I had to provide front-wheel assist (wheelchair-style, but using the spokes instead of the tires because, well, yuck), but I got thru it without having to get off the trike.

I also got thru the second patch.

Now, to be clear, I am not, and have never been, a person who enjoys playing in the mud. Before I got my trike my ride was a road bike, and I don’t own a mountain bike - the closest I come is my wife’s Schwinn Suburban - and if I did own such a machine I would not want to take it out when the trails were sloppy. It’s just not my thing. I say all of this so you will hopefully understand the "why" when I say that, when I came up to the third patch of this material I said "I’m not having fun any more", reasoned that there were bars in Utica and that they probably also sold beer, and turned around.

Of course, this meant that I also had to slog my way back through the other two patches, but that would have been inevitable if I’d kept going. And this was all very nice, once I got past the clay soup, and I rode along happily until I got back to the rustic crossing.

I have to get off the trike at this point in order to roll it down the walking path and cross. And when I did, I saw this:

No flag

What you are seeing, or rather not seeing, is my flag. The bottom half of the pole is there, but the top half, which holds the flag and my rear taillight, is gone. Just gone.

No flag

I made a comment questioning the parentage of no one in particular, and began to pace a bit. I walked back maybe a hundred yards and couldn’t see it. I realized I would have to ride back.

So I did, and made my slog again thru, and past, the first serving of clay soup, finding nothing. When I reached the second section I stopped, took a very long look at it and the increasing volume of gray clay coating my ride and myself, and decided that I could probably just purchase another flag and light. I turned around and rode back, tackling my fifth trip thru the clay soup along the way.

The rest of the trip back was more or less what you would expect, in terms of the trail. However, I did make a stop at the Lodi Taphouse in downtown Utica...

Lodi Taphouse

...and bathed my sorrows in an Evil Horse) Balmoral - an ESB), which is a style of beer I absolutely love, and which doesn’t often appear nowadays, seemingly lost to the sea of IPA’s and sours that microbreweries are pumping out.

If ESB isn’t your thing, however, they have a shocking array of beers on tap, along with a couple of ciders and a couple of mead options (really!). These were the offerings on the chalkboard when I was there:

Chalkboard

The Balmoral was lovely, and put a much more positive spin on what had become a rather frustrating ride. After I relaxed a bit I headed back out, covered the five miles back to LaSalle, packed up and headed for home. It occurred to me, as I rolled into view of the canal boat moored at the LaSalle end of the trail that, frustrating or not, it really is true that a bad day of cycling is still better than a good day doing a lot of other things.

...Which is where, under most circumstances, the story would end. But of course, now I needed a new flag and rear taillight. So the following morning I fired up my iPad and began my search. This did not go as expected, however, but that’s a story for another post...

TL:DR

  • The section of the I&M Canal Trail east of Utica, from the rustic crossing to Buffalo Rock State Park, as of 7/7/19, has sections of soupy mess that you may want to avoid or wait out until things dry up unless you enjoy riding in the mud.
  • The trail from Lasalle to Utica, and up to that rustic crossing, is just fine; and...
  • ...I can heartily recommend stopping in at the Lodi Taphouse for a refreshment as part of your ride.

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

Hennepin Canal Park Sign

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

This is not that Hennepin Canal.

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

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


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

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

Martin’s Landing

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

Dillon Home Museum Lot

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

Tunnel

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

Dam and Bridge

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

Pelicans

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

Bridge info

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

Bridge

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

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

Lock

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

Machinery

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

From there you can see the trail ahead.

Trail view

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

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

Yellow

White

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

Grass

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

After Buell Road the trail switches from asphalt to gravel.

Buell Road underpass

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

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

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

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

Culvert underpass

...to more intricate affairs:

Highway 40 underpass

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

Standing water

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

I88 underpass

I88 underpass underwater

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

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

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

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

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

Rte 172 underpass

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

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

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

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

Memorial Day Weekend Rides by Erin Wade

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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Tunnel Hill Trail - Vienna to Karnak by Erin Wade

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

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

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

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

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

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

Making Hay?

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

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

crushed stone

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

Wooden Bridge

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

Rail bridge

Every bridge that I crossed was well maintained.

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

Highway 45

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

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

Wetlands

Wetlands

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

Yellow

White

There are also mile markers along the trail.

Mile marker

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

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

Heron Pond Lane

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

restaurant & winery

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

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

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

Belknap

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

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

whitewater

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

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

Wetland Center

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

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

Facilities

Shortly after this point you hit the town of Karnak.

Trail End

Karnak

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

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

Baby

Momma

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

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

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

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

Site Addition - Cycling Page by Erin Wade

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Desktop

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

Hamburger button

Clicking that will get you the list of additional pages:

Applied Life Other Pages

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

Cycling Resources

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

  • Trail Reviews
  • Life With Recumbent Trikes
  • Winter Cycling

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

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

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

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

EJW

Arizona Recollections by Erin Wade

I use a journaling app called Day One, and it offers up an "On This Day" feature which shows you what you’ve written about on, well, this day, in the past. I sat down with it over coffee this morning and brought up a journal entry about biking in Arizona five years ago.

I wrote about that ride and posted it here back at the time. It starts out like this:

Arizona Winter Ride

This was my view on my bike ride this morning.

I’d never been to Arizona before. In their younger years my child - LB - participated in competitive gymnastics, and one of the nice side effects of that was that we had sort of enforced family trips once or twice a competition season. I don’t think we would have been likely to travel there without this as a reason. That would have been unfortunate - it was truly beautiful - we spent time in Tonto National Forest and saw the cliff dwellings near Roosevelt Dam.

Roosevelt Dam

Roosevelt Dam

Cliff dwellings

LB at the cliff dwellings

And while all of that was wonderful I, of course, also wanted to have the opportunity for bike ride while I was there. It just seemed silly to squander the opportunity, so I searched for a place that would rent me a bike for a short ride the morning ahead of our flight home. This was easier than you’d think - there were, in fact, several places in the Phoenix area that rented out bikes. I went with Arizona Outback Adventures (AOA).

I was a little concerned that any rental place would see me primarily as a pain in the ass. I mean here I was, rolling in to rent a bike for something like an hour. I had no biking gear - no shoes, no helmet - and I was not a local or routine traveler to the area, so I represented no likelihood of repeat business in any volume. But I wanted to ride.

My concerns were for naught. The folks at AOA were wonderful - polite, helpful, gave me everything I needed. I really felt like I was working with folks that understood that need for a riding fix before taking that trip home. Afterwards I signed up for their email alerts for cycling trips, and I’d love to get out on one with them. I can’t recommend them highly enough.

While I wrote about that for Applied Life back then, I sometimes include things in my journal that don’t make it into the posts. At the time my regular ride at home was my Cannondale, and this gave me the opportunity to experiment with multiple "new" (to me) features. From my journal:

This was also an opportunity to try out a modern carbon fibre road bike - something I've been interested in. The bike they gave me was a Specialized Roubaix Elite Apex. This was a comfortable bike, lightweight, with the more current click-shifter setup. They put on toe clips for me. It was a nice bike, and worked very well, the new shifters took a little getting used to - they are more precise - one click equals one gear - but it takes a second for it to respond, as opposed to the immediate response from the older, rotation style shifters. All in all, very nice.

This was my ride before we hit the road:

Specialized in Scottsdale

I was out for just shy of an hour, and logged about 15 miles, give or take. One of the nice things about Cyclemeter is that it makes it relatively easy to go back and take a look at adventures like these, and that Arizona ride is marked off in there under its own route:

AOA 15 mile shop ride

In a way, this ride also saved me some money, because while I liked the Specialized, I didn’t fall in love:

Interesting to me was that it did not seem significantly nicer than my 1987 Cannondale. I liked it, to be sure, but not enough to, say, drop a couple thousand on it to trade up.

There was some unintentional foreshadowing there as well, because that statement was followed by this one:

This is a nice thing to learn, as it means I should wait until I can get something that offers a significantly different experience - here in thinking either mountain bike or tadpole trike (I so very much want a recumbent trike... )

Still, I really enjoyed that ride, and I found Scottsdale to be quite accommodating:

I asked about the traffic - many of the lanes were on 4-lane roadways. The folks at the shop assured me that Scottsdale is a "pretty bike friendly town". This was absolutely the case - all traffic treated me as if I was supposed to be on the road with them, with no horns, no angry passers-by. Probably my favorite example of this attitude was from the roadside maintenance crew. Two gentlemen were out there alongside the road, next to the bike lane, running weed whackers. Each of them stopped as I rode by to keep from hitting me with debris.

I really appreciated the cycle-friendliness of the area, as well as the sights. I also missed the weather back home, but I was considering the trade-offs:

All that, and the view! I wouldn't move to Arizona just for the weather - I mostly enjoy winter in Illinois. But for that sort of biking environment... Well, that might be something to consider.

As one might expect, the Arizona weather from five years ago contrasts considerably with the Illinois weather of today. I don’t have the exact temperatures from that day, but suffice to say I was riding in short sleeves. And this morning?:

Illinois Morning

None of which is to say that I’m pining for Arizona. Even as I’m writing this and reminiscing my winter riding gear is going through the wash, getting ready for today’s Sunday ride.

...But short sleeves in January... ?

2018 Cycling Year in Review by Erin Wade

It’s our tendency right about this time of year to look back and consider what the past 12 months have looked like. Now, to be clear, this is a review of my year in cycling, not, say, the industry or the race scene, or what have you. It is most certainly not a review of your year in cycling (and how creepy would that be if it were?).

It is always important, I believe, to remember to compare oneself to oneself, not to others. I periodically have to remind myself of this, particularly when undertaking something like this. And with that in mind, with some Decemberists playing in my headphones, and with the help of Cyclemeter, I took a look at the data:

Distance

Perhaps the simplest, but most telling, data point to look at is distance as compared to previous years. For better or worse, for this year I set myself a personal goal to get to 1000 miles. This seemed reasonable, given that my distance for 2017 was 937.51 miles - I knew I wanted to increase my riding time overall for 2018, and I wanted a distance that would represent improvement over the year prior year, but was attainable. And I suppose I should note that, while the goal represented only 62 or so additional miles over the year prior, 20 17’s mileage reflected my greatest distance since I started keeping track. Prior to that my best year - 2014 - was 752.47 miles.

To make a long story short, I’m pleased to say I met the goal. Mileage for 2018 as of this writing sits at 1358.29 miles.

I say "as of this writing" because it’s the 30th of December, and I’ll take at least one more ride before the end of the year (today), two if I can squeeze them in. There’s a part of me that would like to bring the number up to an even 1400 (I also like things to be at right angles on my desk - don’t judge me...), but while that’s not impossible, it would be pretty challenging for me - my average distance per ride for the year is just under 13 miles.

So - this year compares favorably to prior years. I first started using Cyclemeter back in 2011, with the first entry appearing on July 30th of that year. Years across that time are shown in the graph below:

2011-2018 by year

Obviously there’s a pretty sharp increase in 2017 that continues into 2018. This may be due, in part, to a change in activity focus. Back in 2014 my child and I started taking martial arts - specifically Tae Kwon Do - together. This was a new activity for LB and a return for me, and I suspect that’s the reason the years subsequent to 2014 see a drop off in riding time (time in class, at tournaments, etc). As LB moved in to high school, however, their interest (understandably) waned, and I made the difficult decision this year to stop going and focus more on riding. I want to note, also, that this is due primarily to convenience - the school we attended was an hour away (this made sense with respect to my work activities) but is otherwise a great place with wonderful instructors. But that hour drive contrasts with the fact that I can ride right out of my driveway at home.

Still, while that definitely played a role, more of it has to do with what I was riding...

Machines

Breaking down the riding distances narrows down when the increase in riding really took place:

2011-2018 By Month

Looking at things this way shows a pretty significant uptick in riding distance back in June of 2017. There’s one particular event that occurred in that month that speaks to why...

2011-2018 By Month - Catrike Pocket

I got my Catrike Pocket in early June of 2017, and took my first documented ride on June 4th. I say "documented" because, of course I had to ride it around the yard a bit when I first got it home. But the 4th was the first I’d gotten it fully up and running with Cyclemeter tracking it.

My primary machine prior to getting the Pocket - which I still have and ride - was a 1987 Cannondale SR400. It’s a lightweight, 12-speed aluminum road bike. It’s a machine that I have professed my love for many times over the years. It’s elegant and simple and visually (to me) always looks like it’s ready to move.

Cannondale SR400

I’ve said here that this is a bike that I still have and ride, and this is true. But it’s less true than I would have thought. If you’d asked me to estimate how often I’ve ridden the Cannondale this year, I’d have estimated it at a half-dozen or so times.

It’s once. Exactly one time.

I took out the Cannondale last on October 14th, for a ride into town to take a picture of a historic marker and to pick up something from the grocery store. And I took it explicitly because the Catrike was in the shop getting new tires put on. What’s more, looking back thru the data, the last prior ride was October 10th, 2017. I had literally not ridden it for over a year before that outing.

I actually rode rental bikes more frequently in 2018 than I did my Cannondale. Not much more (three outings), but more. The only more neglected machine was MLW’s Schwinn, which I would occasionally take out for snow or gravel, but which hasn’t come off the garage hooks since December of last year (and that only because I wanted to compare it to the Pocket in the snow).

I can’t really decide whether I should feel bad about any of that or not. What is clear, however, is that the recumbent trike has had a huge effect on the amount of riding I’m doing, as well as what it looks like. I like to recline.

Trips

While, as I noted above, most of my rides this year start and end at my driveway (this is an advantage to living out in the hinterlands), I did manage to get out and see some new things. Mostly this involved exploring new trails and routes. Probably my two favorites were the Illinois & Michigan Canal and the Hennepin Canal paths. While they are both canal paths, the experience between them is quite different, with the I&M Canal path offering access to multiple communities along the way, and Hennepin offering mostly nature and solitude.

Occasionally traveling offers opportunities to explore less familiar areas, and a trip along the Rend Lake bike path did just that for me, as did a longer ride along the Military Ridge Trail last month.

Catrike Pocket at Rend Lake

For that last trip I also learned a thing or two about transporting my trike on the outside of my vehicle. ...and it’s clear I have a bit more to learn on that front. Or perhaps I just can’t ever take more than one person with me...

I also rode in the Farmondo again this year, a group cycling event put on by Tempo Velo cycling club and sponsored by Mead’s Bike Shop. For the second consecutive year I was the only person on a recumbent trike in the event. That it’s the only group event on my roster for the past two years says much more about my temperament than the event, which is actually well organized and a lot of fun. And while it’s not technically a competition, the experience provided (for me) a handy reminder about who it is I should compare myself to (see above).

Next Year?

So where does that leave things for next year? Broadly, that’s fairly simple. I’d like to ride more and further. 1500 miles seems like a safe goal, and that’s probably what I’ll set for the year.

I think I’d also like to find more trail routes and try them out. This is often a little more challenging for me simply because, like martial arts, driving to a trail or path competes with riding right out of the driveway. But it does offer the opportunity to see new and different places, and (at times) to chronicle them here.

Along those lines, I think I’d like to travel further along both the I&M and Hennepin Canal trails. The notion of riding the I&M to Ottawa and stopping in at the tap room at Tangled Roots or getting some sushi at BASH is appealing (though riding back might be more challenging afterward. If the opportunity presents I’d love to get MLW a trike so she can join me for those types of trips.

The Hennepin Canal route has a visitor center that I stopped a few miles short of and would like to see. It also has campgrounds, which suggests the opportunity to bike pack and camp. This is a notion that I find romantically attractive, though might struggle to fit in to my actual schedule. We’ll see what time allows.

Bike Ogle County by Erin Wade

Twice in the past month providence has placed me in the small town of Oregon, Illinois. In both cases, providence presented in the form of high school Cross Country meets, the most recent of the two being the sectionals race. Apparently some people, my offspring being one of them, like to spend their time running across uneven ground for multiple-mile stretches. I’d like to think they do such a thing simply because they have not been made aware that machines have been invented to make their efforts so much more efficient, but alas, I assure you, my child has been introduced to cycling, and yet chooses to run. It’s frankly mystifying...

But what these trips into Oregon offered for me (aside from the enjoyment of cheering the team on) was the realization that Oregon, and more broadly, Ogle County (of which Oregon is the seat) is actively courting cyclists.

As you ride into the downtown area you will encounter planters with decorative arrangements featuring various and sundry bicycle displays, and you’ll encounter this at the northeast corner of the county courthouse:

Ogle County Display Picture is a screenshot from the bikeogle website

I noticed all of this on my first visit through, but didn’t have time to more thoroughly investigate it. But the second trip did allow, particularly with MLW’s help, and I was able to gather some information. At first I assumed this would be references to a dedicated bike path or two in the region, but that was incorrect. Rather, the county has laid out different road courses that cover the region, with each focusing on different sites that one can expect to see along the way. They’ve then taken each of these and put it together in detail on a dedicated website at: www.bikeogle.com

Now, to be clear, I have not yet had an opportunity to ride any of these routes, but I am familiar with the region. The routes appear to be quite thoughtfully put together, and leverage the natural beauty and historic sites that the region offers. The Rock River) flows through Ogle County, and it is home to Castle Rock State Park and Lowden-Miller State Forest. It’s also the home of the Blackhawk Statue, and multiple other historic sites. At least one of the routes cheats a bit by dipping into Dixon, Illinois, which is in Lee, rather than Ogle county, but it’s for good cause.

The ten routes outlined range from 19.5 miles to 45.5 miles, offering options for people with different levels of skill, motivation, or perhaps free time. Most of the routes are on secondary rural roadways, which, in north central Illinois farm country, means roadways where drivers are quite accustomed to encountering slow-moving vehicles. If you are comfortable with road riding, most of these routes will be in your wheelhouse. One of the routes does take the rider up Illinois Route 2, which is a beautiful, winding and twisting section of road that travels right along the Rock River - I’ve driven in many, many times. It is busy, however, and may be a little intimidating for those less comfortable riding on the road.

All of the routes begin and end at the depot in Oregon, ensuring a route where the rider can bring their ride and park, comfortable they will return to the same spot. And fortunately, that spot is in downtown Oregon, which though a small town, is still lively with restaurants, bars, and stores. And the routes themselves each provide multiple things to see, including sites like the John Deere historic site in Grand Detour, and the Ronald Reagan boyhood home, among others. One can take a leisurely ride to sight-see, or a more speed-focused ride. And the site offers descriptions of each trip, including sights to see and a bit about the nature of the course chosen:

FullSizeRender.jpg

Included in the description of this route:

Finally, you turn right onto Oregon Trail Road leading you back to town. It takes you through wooded countryside and roller-coaster hills before turning right into Oregon Park West (4). (Emphasis added).

This helpfully lets you know what you are getting yourself in for if you choose this route.

To me, this is an incredibly thoughtful approach for the county to have put together. Yes, one could certainly have mapped out such routes oneself, using google maps or a similar approach. But incorporating the sites seen here would take hours of work, and a considerable knowledge of the area. Here it is done for you, with some 10 different options so you can go again and again. It’s almost certainly designed to bring people into downtown Oregon and spur interest for travel in the county itself, and why not? It has many things to offer.

If you are a cyclist who lives in the region, or if your travels will bring you into the area, this site can be an excellent resource for figuring out where to ride - I’d recommend adding it to your bookmarks and checking them out.

Cycling Resources: Google Maps by Erin Wade

One of the tasks that goes with cycling is sorting out routes to ride on. While it’s fun, at times, to simply pick a direction and see where the road takes you, much of the time it’s good to have an idea of where you are going, and how you are going to get there. This is especially true when you are trying to add distance to your regular routes. It’s pretty easy to use any mapping software or - if you still happen to have one about - a paper map - to sort out a five or ten mile ride. But as ride distances climb it becomes valuable to have a way to lay out clear routes that will work for the desired distance, and, particularly when riding on public roads, for safety purposes (it’s not fun to suddenly find that you’ve come to a point where your only choices are to either ride along a heavily traveled highway or backtrack).

Google Maps offers a free, readily available resource for this.

The first, simplest thing that it offers is cycling directions.

Cycling Directions

Usually this results in a route that avoids higher traffic areas, and it provides other information in a fashion that is specific to cycling - for example, travel times are at cycling speeds, and it gives a general impression of the terrain over the course of the route.

It also includes maps of biking trails and routes, identified in various shades of green lines on the map. The picture below shows biking trails in and around Rock Cut State Park in Rockford, Illinois.

Rock Cut Biking Trails

Unfortunately, it doesn’t provide a key, so you are left to interpret on your own, but the Google blog says the following about the key:

  • Dark green indicates a dedicated bike-only trail;
  • Light green indicates a dedicated bike lane along a road;
  • Dashed green indicates roads that are designated as preferred for bicycling, but without dedicated lanes

Some of the maps also show red, or perhaps brown, lines which were perhaps added in later (?). Based upon some familiarity with one of the areas they show up in, it appeared to me that these were either hiking or off-road trails, and that seems to be supported by this article on using Google maps for cycling on Lifewire.com. That article also offers step-by-step directions about how to use the cycling directions, though they appear to be specific to a desktop/laptop interface. In Google Maps for iOS, you tap the layers button in the upper right-hand corner:

Tap the Layers button...

Then select the cycling option in the menu:

...then select the cycling option

This will turn on the cycling route overlay so you’ll see bike trails and such on the map. You also want to make sure you select "biking" for the directions when you punch in your destination. This means that your directions will be set for cycling rather than driving, so if you use Google Maps for driving directions, you’ll want to remember to switch it back when you are in the car.

That Google Maps offers cycling directions isn’t new - it’s been around as a feature since at least 2010 - but it’s one of those things that you only really notice when you have a use for it.

The cycling specific directions are a great feature when you are trying to determine how to get from one specific location to another, but Google Maps offers another feature that is extremely helpful when trying to add distance to routes: the Measure Distance mode.

To turn this on using Google Maps for iOS you want to find your starting point on the map, and do a long press to drop a pin. This will bring up a menu on the left that includes "measure distance":

Measure Distance

(Note that, if you accidentally tap on a notable feature, it may not offer this option, so you may have to re-adjust your starting point slightly. I had to do that for this example, because I apparently tapped on just the right spot for Lock 2 of the Hennepin Canal for my first try).

Once you’ve selected this option, you’ll get a blue circle with a dotted line, and a distance readout at the bottom left hand corner. The trickiest part of this to get a handle on is that you don’t move the blue dot, you move the map under it. As you move the map the dotted line will extend. When you reach a turning point in the route you are exploring, you tap the "add point" button in the lower left-hand corner. This sets a marker and allows you to move the line in another direction (without it turns will get lost and the line will move at a diagonal direction - cool if you a traveling as the crow flies, but otherwise doesn’t work for the rest of us). This means that you’ll only need a few points set for a route with a few turns and mostly straightaways, but a lot more for routes that curve and turn. My example below marks out the distance for the Hennepin Canal Trail, which has a combination of straights and curves:

Hennepin Canal Trail

I’ve zoomed out a bit to give a larger picture here, but you can zoom in pretty close to make the map more precise as you are making it.

Ultimately, this lets you lay out a route for the distance you want. I find myself using it often to select routes for the distance I want in a way that avoids major thoroughfares, and takes me in a circular route from start to finish while avoiding re-covering the same territory as much as possible.

I don’t necessarily love Google products as a rule - I use Apple Maps on iOS for driving directions, don’t use their office software at all, and don’t generally use them for search. But I do generally try to use the best tool I can find for the job, all other things being equal. For cycling routes and directions, and for finding cycling trails, Google Maps is absolutely a step above.