There were practical reasons for the trip to the Quad Cities. We had purchased a replacement vehicle for the 2005 Toyota Matrix driven by our daughter. Her car was deemed a total loss by the insurance company after the accident this past May. It took 5 weeks of working with the insurance company of the other driver to get a settlement worked out.
Damage. Pain and Suffering. Signing off with hospitals and health insurance companies and body repair shops. No, wait. The body shop guy never had to do anything after the initial estimate. But he did give good advice on shopping for a new car. Don't bother trying to break even on the deal, he warned. Impossible, really.
But finally we picked out a vehicle and just by chance, out of the 15 cars we researched, it worked out that we found virtually the same vehicle she had been driving, and with less miles on it. So we bought it.
Now that we had the replacement car, the plan was to drive the "new" (used car) west to the Quad Cities (Rock Island, IL.) where she is working on an internship at a radio station. Then she'd drive me back to Dixon, Illinois where I'd unload my road bike and ride back to our home in suburban Chicago.
Had the route all planned. There's a well-paved country road that starts near Dixon and goes all the way to Kaneville, 14 miles from our home. That would be the main artery of my bike trip.
Our daughter dropped her father in the parking lot of a Walmart in Dixon. During the drive over from the Quad Cities she related that her boss had asked why she'd been driving a rental car and heard the whole story about how a young driver had rear-ended her 2005 Matrix and caused it to be totaled. She explained the plan to deliver the car and then drop me back in Dixon, from where I'd ride the 65 miles home.
Her boss was bemused. "Well, at least you know you're dad is crazy."
The weather was cooperating for the most part. Party cloudy skies and temps in the mid-70s. Perfect for cycling. But there was one catch. The winds were from the east. That almost never happens in Illinois. Ever. Maybe twice a year. And today was one of those days...
I stared ruefully at the quivering roadside trees on my morning drive out to the Quad Cities. Felt mocked by the slowly whirling wind energy turbines and those stiff little American flags waving the stars and stripes on little farmsteads across the state. Crap, I thought. Wonder how bad the wind will be when I try to ride against it?
You can only pedal into it and find out.
Before heading east from Dixon, I stopped for a nature call at a Citgo service station. As always, the cycling kit draws lots of attention from small town eyes. It is best to stand tall, look serious and buy really crazy looking food that no one in their right mind except a cyclist would eat. So I bought a shiny looking hot dog for less than $2 and wolfed it down right on the spot.
"Not really good training food," I muttered to the counter girl.
"What's training food?" she asked.
"I'm riding back to Batavia," I said by way of explanation.
"Good luck with that," she said, and went back to serving her other customers.
The wind was bad at first. And so was the hot little greasy notion of that hot dog in my stomach. But one quickly gets used to the discomforts of the road when there is a long way to go, especially when you're pedaling.
The road shoulder on Route 38 (Lincoln Highway) was substantial and clean. Even the monster trucks whizzing by had plenty of room to pass without scaring the crap out of me. I sipped my Gatorade and built up momentum, not even wishing there was a group on which to draft against the wind. This was my ride.
Rather than ride blindly past the small town wonders of north central Illinois, it was a pleasure to stop and capture pics of worn out towns and forlorn old cemeteries along the way. There was a farm implement graveyard too. Tractors and combines and someone's old hopes rusting away beside the road.
My red Felt bike with its skinny tires is a trusty implement, too. We've gone 18,000 miles together since I bought her. Now my tan lines reflect the lifestyle of a cyclist, but they look no different than a farmer tan used to look in the 1970s. Shirtlines and all. Perhaps there is a kindred call to these country roads.
Up and down we go, the Felt and I. We stop to look at the wonderful metal cemetery sign in a little town called Steward. And another metal arch that says Afton Cemetery in DeKalb County. That's the same name of the cemetery where my father wants to have his ashes buried along with my mother, who has waited patiently inside a can since 2005 for me and my brothers to deliver her and Stew to an eternal resting place in Upstate New York. Be patient mom. There's a stiff wind today. And dad's still doing alright, other than he's in the hospital again. We get used to that.
On longer bike rides the MPH dial stays hidden and I focus on the cadence, RPMs, or revolutions per minute. Keep it between 80 to 90 on a windy day and you're moving along well in a middle gear. But temptation reigns. So I do check the speedometer and find that it reads 17.7. Not bad on the flat against the wind.
Every 15 miles or so it is time to text the wife, a cycling buddy, my brother out east and my daughter to let them know how it's going. Making progress. Doing fine. My daughter texts back: "Speedy Gonzalez."
The road ahead has a favorite natural occurence; a mirage of water on the road. How is that not a miracle? But the wind seems to blow it away as the Felt and I approach. The miraculous is often shy, it seems.
Crossing I-39 and approaching DeKalb the road is familiar turf from weekend rides but the road is better than I remember. It's possible to kick it into a higher gear and really crank. A few more sips of Gatorade and a bite of Clif bar and the road keeps rolling beneath skinny wheels. 44 miles. 52 miles. Finally I reach Kaneville and the quaint purple building housing the Hill's Country Store (you really must go there when you're in the neighborhood, great ice cream...) where one more Gatorade goes well with a mini-pak of Pringles. I've earned a few fake potato chips. My Clif bar is half gnawed and it is full of good stuff supposedly. Time for some salty road food. To get me home.
Finally there. It takes 4 hours and 3 bottles of Gatorade to make it back home. My wife gives me a little applause and my brother texts "fkn awesum."
Sometimes a guy just has to roll. Everyone around me understands. The challenges of a lost job. Caregiving for both a wife and father who are sick. Helping sons and daugther make good decisions. Staying strong through the humbling gifts of others. That sounds strange to say, but being the recipient of kindness is sometimes the hardest thing a man has to do. So you need to ride and think about these things. And if a little wind blows in your face, well, what did you expect? Life is that way.
By the end I realize, this ride was not entirely for me, although a good part of it was. The rest was pedaled to help me think and keep it together for all of them. Somehow, one must always find ways to keep it rolling.