Monday, October 5, 2015

Headwinds Across Illinois

Gusting winds were blowing me all over the road and sometimes off it for 160 miles on my home stretch run across Illinois from the Mississippi River to Chicago.  My water bottles weren't transparent, so I couldn't claim to have white caps in them, as did "Des Moines Register" columnist John Karras, co-founder of RAGBRAI, on one of his rides across Iowa, but I wouldn't have doubted if there were. If someone had stopped to offer me a ride, as happened in Nebraska in much milder conditions, I might have accepted, not only to be spared the danger and the strain of the conditions, but also because I had ridden this highway a couple times before.

A grizzled old-timer in a beat-up pickup truck did stop with an offer--not of a ride but rather of a five dollar bill.  It was a few miles past Mendota at about my halfway point across the state.  "I spent a couple years on the road myself," he said.  "I know what its like out there.  Here take this.  There's a McDonald's a couple miles up the road.  Have yourself a cup of coffee and something to eat. You're lucky to be passing through, as things aren't so good here.  Two of our three factories are closed up.  Lots of people are out of work and a good many of those who aren't have to drive a long ways to their jobs in other towns.  I'm glad to be retired." 

He wasn't the only kindly soul who wasn't particularly well-off who thought I might be a victim of these hard times and short on funds. The day before outside of Davenport I stopped to ask a bedraggled older fellow, who from a distance appeared to be a touring cyclist, for a cycling-friendly bridge over the Mississippi.  The bags adorning his bike were actually filled with aluminum cans and he was stopped along the road gathering more.   He said he lived in a tent in the nearby woods. After he gave me directions to the Centennial Bridge, I asked him if there was a grocery store up ahead.  "Do you need some money?" he asked.  "I could give you some."  

I felt as if I should have been the one doing the offering.  I'd pick up a pair of vise grips a few miles back.  "Could you use this?," I asked.

"That's in pretty good condition," he said.  "How much do you want for it?"

"No, no, take it," I said.  "I was just rescuing it from the road and looking for someone to give it to."  Then I pulled out a couple of bungee cords and offered him those too.  "No thanks," he said. "I find plenty of those myself."  

It was late in the day.  He advised me not to try to bushwhack in downtown Davenport as there were some unsavory characters there.  He is caught by dark on occasion in the city and has to be careful where he sleeps.   "I sleep sitting up so I can make a quick eacape," he said.  "There are punks who like to come along and give you a boot."  

I was sorry I was pressed for time, otherwise I would have asked if I could share his campsite in the woods. I knew he could keep me up late with his tales.  Though he might not have been monetarily rich, I could tell he'd led a life rich in experience.  He had not an iota of resentment or despair.  He was a survivor who was doing just fine.

I had to ride on a narrow sidewalk across the bridge and could only take quick glances at the river below as I tried to hold my line in the strong wind. I had visited the Carnegie in Moline a couple years ago, so I could head right out of town.  I crossed the Rock River before its confluence with the Mississippi and passed through the town of Milan.  A car dealership had a banner out front that might have been inspired by Huck Finn.

A llittle further, as dark fell, I camped along the Quad City International Airport, my first non-cornfield campsite in days.  The wind ruffled my tent all night. I had to wear an extra layer to stay warm in my sleeping bag.   In the morning several formations of geese passd overhead on their way south.  There wasn't a Carnegie Library along the route that I hadn't visited.  My stops were minimal.  I just grinded away into the strong wind between seven and eleven miles per hour depending on what the wind and terrrain allowed.  With 1,500 miles in my legs from Telluride, they were strong enough to put in close to eight hours of effort in the less than twelve hours of light at my disposal.  There was no relaxing or gliding in these conditions.  

Struggle though it was, it was satisfying to be out in these less than optimal conditions and persevering, watching the farmers in their huge combines harvesting their corn and appreciating a few early Halloween decorations.  One farmhouse just east of Walnut was populated by an army of nearly a hundred ghoulish characters, some hanging from trees.  One guarded the mail box.

Another supervised the sale of road kill.

The sun was setting.  I didn't want to camp too near this band of characters.  A few miles down the road I found a high and thick field of unharvested corn that provided enough of a windbreak that I thought the wind might have calmed down during the night.  But when I emerged from my tent I could see the nearby wind-turbines were still spinning and pointing in the wrong direction. On I pushed.  I had 90 miles to Janina's. I really wanted to make it this day even if I had I to push on into the dark. I knew once I got to the urban sprawl the wind would be somewhat blunted.  

I was within twenty miles when the last of the sun's light was gone.  I had turned on to 75th Street from highway 34.  It had a nice wide shoulder.  I'd never come in this way before and didn't know if the shoulder would hold up all the way to my turn on to Plainfield.  Before I could find out the air turned misty and my glasses became dewy.  My limited visibility became even more limited.  I survived for six miles riding with great caution.  I wasn't tired, but this was becoming a bit too stressful and perilous.  I had passed up several forests already, wondering if it was a mistake.  When I came to another, better judgement prevailed and I turned in.  At the speed I was going it would be at least two more hours of riding in the dark, sweating out each revolution of the pedals.  Rather than feeling defeated, I felt happy to have one last night in my tent.  It made my arrival at Janina's the next morning all the more joyous.  Though I was reveling in the completion of another great journey, I was already looking forward to being back on the road next month for a ride to Fort Benning in Georgia once again for the vigil honoring the six Jesuits priests and their housekeeper and her daughter murdered in El Salvador twenty-six years ago.


dworker said...

Steady, unrelenting headwinds are possibly the most demoralizing aspect of long-distance touring to me. Oh, maybe steady cold rain rates up there too. Keep them coming, George.

Edward Davidson said...

Enjoyed reading this, George. Hospitality is the domain of the poor.