Bicycling Jefferson County, Illinois
Saturday, April 16, 2016
Saturday (April 16) was the inaugural deTour Through Jefferson County ride. Jeff and I were unsure we were going to participate because we had both been sick. For days, we debated whether or not to do the ride. The “cons” to riding were the facts that we had both been sick, the weather this spring had not been good for outdoor riding, and some of the roads on this route scared me. The pros were the fact we had a chance to support a local ride, we were familiar with most of the route, we had been Spinning at Cycle 1 throughout the winter and had been working out at Anytime Fitness (me with a trainer, Marcus Norris) to gain muscle strength. Our fitness was good even if we weren’t 100 percent healthy and hadn’t yet had rubber on road. Another factor in favor of riding was the fact that Jeff had spent a great deal of time caring for our bikes and they were ready to ride. We decided to do the ride. Then we debated which route to do: 30 seemed like too little; 62 seemed like too much.
The 30 mile route coincided with the 60 mile route starting at the National Guard Amory in Mount Vernon traveling through Woodlawn and then to the town of Waltonville where the 30 milers would turn around and do an out an back route and the 60 milers would turn east to make a loop ride back to the start. Jeff and I made a pact that we would ride to Waltonville and decide once there whether or not to turn around and head back to the Armory or soldier onward toward Bonnie.
So with that plan in mind we arrived at the Armory and prepared to start the ride. Cycling has allowed us to meet many wonderful people over the years. The nice thing about a hometown ride is that you get to see those people and chat a little as you are readying yourself for the ride. Unfortunately, most of those people ride much better than I do and that’s the last time I see them for the day. The atmosphere was friendly chaos as waivers were signed, bikes were unloaded, shoes were changed, numbers were pinned onto jerseys and riders were called to the start line for instructions.
After the instructions for the ride were given, we pedalled off into the bright sunshine. We left the Armory pedalling northward on Shiloh Road for a few miles and then we turned west onto Richview Road. It was easy going at first, but there were many potholes to avoid. Winter had not been kind to the roads of Southern Illinois. Richview had a couple of gentle rolling hills, but was overall an easy ride. From Richview Road we turned south onto the Woodlawn Road. There were several larger rollers and I must admit they slowed me down more than I would have liked. Still, I felt good and strong.
We rolled down the last hill and into the village of Woodlawn. I would have rolled on to Waltonville, but Jeff spotted the rest stop at the Woodlawn Grade School and turned into the first entrance. I was already past it, so I turned into the second entrance. Communication in marriage and cycling is an ever-improving art. Once there, I found I really did need the stop and was thankful to the Woodlawn Grade School for their hospitality and provision of indoor bathrooms.
For the first leg of the ride, Jeff’s bike was making a horrendous noise. It sounded like a flock of geese. I’m not exaggerating. Intermittently, the bike gave loud squeaking and honking noises which were not conducive to the normally peaceful state of mind one achieves when riding a bike. We knew Pat Work, good friend and owner of The Bike Surgeon Carbondale, was helping with the event. Jeff called him and spoke to him about his noisy bike. He learned Pat would be at the next stop in Waltonville. So, we left Woodlawn and went squeaking and honking down The Waltonville Blacktop a.k.a Hall Lane southward to Waltonville. The road was tar and chip and in fairly good repair. Traffic was light and aside from Jeff’s noisy bike, things were going well. As we neared Waltonville we hit some rolling hills. Soon the hills flattened out and the pavement smoothed. We entered Waltonville and found the second rest stop.
The second rest stop was at a small church in Waltonville. I left Jeff to talk to Pat about his bicycle while I took advantage of indoor plumbing. Isn’t that a wonderful invention? Then I found the snacks and indulged myself on fresh strawberries: delicious! I also indulged in a string cheese and one Reese’s cup. Pat ascertained Jeff’s bicycle’s rear wheel bearings were out of adjustment causing the wheel to wobble and rub on the brake pads thus causing the bike to sound like a flock of geese and create more friction thus causing Jeff to work harder than he should have been. In just a few minutes, Pat’s genius had us back on the road without the geese.
Once on the road, we headed east on Route 148 toward Nason. This is one of the roads I did not want to ride. There was a moderate amount of traffic, but it wasn’t as bad as I feared. We only road the highway for a few miles and then we turned onto Saddleclub Road. Saddleclub Road was rough with more chip than tar. At the Waltonville rest stop, we had spoken to the SAG driver and event volunteer, Jamie Veach, who had warned us about some tricky spots in the road where other riders had fallen. We heeded his advice and avoided danger. We followed Saddleclub for a few miles then turned south into the wind onto North Nason Lane and then we met the Bonnie Road and turned east onto its smooth pavement and had an easy ride through the north, shallow, marshy end of Rend Lake. The bright morning sun was making the Lake sparkle. It was a splendid day. Jamie drove past a couple of times checking on our progress. The ride was going very well. Without warning, my stomach started growling and like Wimpy from the Popeye cartoon, I was dreaming of cheeseburgers. It was 10:30 a.m. Jeff laughed at me, but admitted to also being hungry. We were happy to find the third rest stop on the lake (at a location ) just west of Bonnie. Once again our rest stop hosts were members of the National Guard. We had a chat with a young lady who is a Junior in high school, playing softball for her school and serving her country 1 weekend a month in the Guard. I admire her gumption, drive and dedication. She and a young man I assumed was her boyfriend offered us water, grapes and some of the most delicious cookies I have ever tasted. Unfortunately, they had to warn us not to use the porta-potty. It seems a swarm of red wasps (20-30 was the estimate) had inhabited the potty. I wasn’t worried, the ride had been well-supported so far. I assumed the next rest stop would have functional facilities. I assumed that since Jamie knew we were on the route, the next rest stop volunteers knew we were coming. Well, you know what they say about assuming.
We reentered the Bonnie Rd, climbed the steep ramp to the overpass, crossed I-57 and rolled through Bonnie. We quickly crossed busy Highway 37 and climbed the steep, pothole filled road over the railroad tracks and somehow managed to stay upright. We rolled out of Bonnie and turned north on a gravel covered road. Jeff made some sarcastic, but honest remark about needing a mountain bike for this road. We needed to be careful, but were able to manage the road until we once again met Saddleclub Road. We traveled eastward on Saddleclub. The road surface was better, but still a little rough. We weren’t on Saddleclub long before we turned south onto another county road and into the wind. We wound around rural Jefferson County in moderately strong winds on rough roads. My quadriceps were not happy and my saddle region was even grumpier. One of the things I had hoped to accomplish at the last rest stop was to reapply chamois cream. That didn’t happen and I was paying for it. We were near the half-way point of the ride and I was getting cranky body syndrome. It’s that point where there is no real injury, but you start noticing all the little pains: the shoes feel too tight, the hands get a little numb, the neck is a little stiff, the body just feels a little restless on the bike. It is at this point, the will to finish starts diminishing. You can train the muscles and the cardio in the gym; however, training the mind to overcome adversity truly gets forged on the road. My mind was whining. I was doubting our choice to go the metric century. I was mentally fatigued and not mentally tough. I began playing games with myself to keep the momentum going in a forward direction: make it to that post and you can stop; ok, make it to that little weed and you can stop; good, make it past that pothole and you can take a break. I never did take a break or a stop. After a few minutes of this self-talk, I switched to focusing on pedaling round pedal strokes. I focused on good form all the way around the pedal. I focused on pulling my shoulders down from my ears, bending my arms at the elbows and pulling the elbows close to my body, not allowing them to “chickenwing” outward. Good form is a good defence against fatigue and cranky body syndrome. Finally, we reached Log Cabin Lane.
We turned onto Log Cabin Lane and all the crankiness of my body and mind left me. The road surface was smooth as glass. The wind was to our backs. We were pedalling well and our speeds increased. Once again, cycling became a joyous activity.
We cycled on to the end of Log Cabin Lane and I was dismayed to learn we were going to be riding on busy Highway 142. We paused, waited on traffic and had some water then we entered the highway and headed to Opdyke. The traffic was moderately heavy, but polite. We entered Opdyke by the highway and I was on the lookout for the next rest stop. I needed it.
We turned north on North Opdyke Lane, crossed the rough railroad tracks, passed a church, climbed a hill, passed another church, passed a school and then found a dilapidated metal building with a faded community center sign clinging to its weathered front. This was our rest stop. It was deserted. We were greeted by a pile of ice dumped in front of locked doors. Do you know what else is in Opdyke, Illinois? NOTHING!
There were several people out and about doing yard and house maintenance. I was hopeful one of them might be a volunteer with a key, but they had little concern for the discomfort of two lycra-clad cyclists. Jeff phoned event volunteers. They were apologetic, but had no key and no helpful solutions. The closest open facilities were several miles away in Summersville. Summersville Grade School was the location of the next rest stop, but those volunteers had also closed up shop. So, we planned to ride to Summersville, go off route a bit, and stop at the Huck’s Convenience Store.
For reference, most rides advertise that the later rest stops close at 3 or 4 p.m. We arrived at the Opdyke rest stop just a little after 1 p.m. It was not out of line to expect it to still be open especially since the event volunteers were aware we were still on the route. I would have assumed they would have waited on us, but you know what they say about assuming.
The problem with many charity ride events, particularly when they are new, is that the organizers compare them to putting on a 5K run, which requires less of a time commitment from volunteers. The other mistake they make is they ask for imput from local elite riders who ride fast pace lines and don’t consider there will be slower riders whose goal is merely to finish the distance, not break speed records. If you put on event then you either need to support all riders or advertise that you don’t intend to do so.
We continued our journey along the marked route north of Opdyke. It was not a comfortable ride for me. Jeff, being a guy, did what he needed to do and was fortunate no one caught him. We rolled through the countryside where most of the houses had outhouses behind them and I strongly considered using one, but was concerned with what I might find behind the door and rolled down the road.
We came to the end of North Opdyke Road and stopped at the intersection with county road. Looking up into the cloudless blue sky we spotted the white head of a bald eagle soaring high above us. His beauty, strength and freedom inspired us.
We turned west and wound our way through the small community of Marlow. From there, we headed north on Harmony Lane. At the intersection of Harmony Lane and Route 15 an event volunteer met us with water. It was helpful since Jeff was completely out of water and I was running low. I got the feeling he wanted us to quit the ride, but we chose not to quit. He then told us he was going to go ahead of us and pull up all the signs that let motorist know there are cyclists on the road. It was around 2 p.m. I guess getting those signs back in storage was more important than our safety. We did pay $25.00 per person to ride this event. I was a little grumpy about this turn of events. Of course, riding for miles without an available bathroom tends to make one grumpy.
We traveled on Harmony Lane until we turned onto Fairfield Road and headed west toward Summersville. The rolling hills east of Summersville were very tough at this stage of the ride, but I made it through to roll into Summersville. We passed the marked turn for the Tolle Road and headed to the Summersville Huck’s Convenience Store.
We cruised through the parking lot and parked in a shady spot along the side of the building. Jeff stayed with the bikes while I went inside in search of the bathroom. I wandered around the store looking in the usual places, but not finding it. Oh yes, this is the one where the one bathroom is toward the front of the store. You need to enter a creepy little hallway, make a sharp right turn then a left turn followed by another sharp left turn, enter a small closet not much bigger than a port-a-potty and then thank your lucky stars and your trainer that you have been doing yoga and squats to contort yourself into a position close to the toilet. It was not the Ritz, but I gave thanks to God for it.
After taking care of my primary objective, I moved on to the next physical need: FOOD! My objective was to find some quick acting carbs and some protein. I felt like a Viking on a raid. I started my raid at the soda case selecting two small cans of Coca-cola with Santa faces on them. I hoped they were still good. Then I selected the largest bottle of Fiji water I could find. Next, I picked up a King Size Reese’s Peanut Butter Cup candy bar. To satisfy Jeff’s request, I grabbed some snack crackers: 1 package of pepper jack cheese cracker sandwiches; 1 package of peanut butter cracker sandwiches. I felt the cracker sandwiches didn’t give us any real good protein. I thought maybe I would pick up some almonds, but then I saw the Turkey Jerky sticks and they spoke to my stomach so I added them to my plunder. I’m not actually a Viking, so I went to the counter and paid for all my goodies then went outside to join Jeff at the bikes.
It felt somewhat depressing to sit and stare at the dumpster on the oil-stained parking lot. I turned around and took a step off the sidewalk to the back of the building and felt a cool breeze on my face. I noticed there was a small piece of green land with a few trees that was park-like in appearance. I chose to sit with my face to this view and felt myself relax. Isn’t it amazing when you choose to look at beauty, you change your whole attitude. Jeff soon joined me and we sat on the concrete curb with our feet on the grass eating our delicious snacks. I’m not sure any gourmet meal could taste as good as that Jack’s Link Turkey Jerky did at that moment.
After we had consumed the soda and treats, refilled our water bottles and stretched, we remounted the bikes and navigated through traffic to find Tolle Road. We turned onto Tolle Road and slowly pedaled toward Mount Vernon. We had stopped long enough at Huck’s to get stiff. Our muscles were not wanting to work and were throwing little temper tantrums. Slowly, our leg muscles loosened and pedaling became a little easier. Unfortunately, the traffic did not let up. It was moderately heavy, moving fast, and not as courteous as it had been out in the county. Before long, we found Pumphouse Road and followed it toward town. We crossed Casey Fork Creek where there was a small dam and waterfall which made a pleasant sound and tranquil scene. Then we had a rude railroad crossing and we were turning on Warren Avenue in Mount Vernon.
We wound around the north side of Mount Vernon eventually finding Richview Road. Richview is a busy road, but the drivers were very courteous. We rolled past the museum and then found a great downhill. Sadly, the road surface was very rough. I was happy I managed to control the bike and not ride the brakes. I think my bike handling skills are improving. I’m growing more confident with every ride. In my mind, the ride was going to be all downhill from here. In reality, it was not. I was exceedingly tired when we encountered the steep ramp to the overpass over I-57. I told Jeff that I didn’t think I could make it. He didn’t reply. I told him I needed a pep talk. He didn’t reply. Sometimes your partner helps you and sometimes you have to find your own mojo deep within yourself. I fought for every pedalstroke, but made it up to the top of the overpass. Jeff then spoke and said, “See, you made it.”
We made it to Shiloh Avenue and headed to the Armory. I was losing my will to pedal. Saddlesores were making me anxious to be off the bike. The traffic was heavy and rude. I was somewhat surprised the road was being so heavily traveled then I remembered that it is the Highway to Hell (others may call it Wal-mart. To each his own). Again I was thinking this was a flat ride to the Armory. Again, I was wrong. There was a little ramp to allow us to pass over I-64. It really isn’t a long, steep, or hard hill; and yet, I heard my soul cry out in anguish at the thought of it. I did power over it. Soon the Armory and our little red car was in sight. We rolled over the bricked parking lot to our car. There was not another soul in sight. I didn’t mind. It felt great to complete this ride.
We began to load bikes when we found on our bike rack a nice gift package from the event organizers. They had left for us a package of homemade muffins, apples, tangerines, water and gatorade. It was a very nice gesture.
I would do this ride again next year. I am hopeful that the event organizers took notes and will make this bigger and better next year.