July 7, 2013
Old River Road, Cedar Rapids, IA
The Road Less Travelled
Ever notice that most bike trails lead nowhere, are poorly maintained, end abruptly and follow the most obscurely tracked, hilly landscapes possible? Yeah. Me either. Until now.
Laugh if you’d like, but ideally my trek was to take twenty days, and, with the exception of Ames, IA, I was to spend every night at what I believed to be wild life preserves—the perfect camping grounds in an ideal world.
After the first day, in which I was supposed to cover 50 miles across Chicago, I quickly learned this was not to be the ideally planned trip. My first obstacle came with a six-mile round trip to drop my apartment key at the leasing office, which took up half the day since my dog had chosen to howl every time she felt the bike in motion. So, we walked, with her happily sauntering familiar territory along the lakefront while I mumbled a bit to myself, convincing passersby, I am sure, that I was a bit daft, or I was highly important, engaged in a highly lucrative business transaction on my mobile device.
My second and third obstacles came within the next two days (yes, still within those first 50 miles traversing Chicagoland). I encountered not one but two highways choked with construction. If you are wont to experience road rage under these circumstances while in a vehicle, don’t ever attempt maneuvering the traffic cones, flagmen and concrete pylons on a bike, much less one with a wide dog trailer in tow.
As I wound my way through the city, backtracking here, dodging traffic there, spending an entire day at one point underneath a gas-station canopy to wait for lighter traffic, I should have learned my lesson: Don’t take other people’s advice on the “best” route to take to a particular location.
While I didn’t learn that lesson quickly, I did learn a few other valuable ones during those long days in Chicagoland. One: In spite of my mountain-bike tread, I cannot take the aforementioned wide (and heavy) trailer on anything other than blacktop or concrete. Two: In spite of every compliance with local and state laws, I will be approached by local law enforcement officials because of “calls concerning my safety.” Three: In spite of one-line critiques saying the dog trailer I purchased will make even St. Bernard owners happy, my trailer simply is not equipped to handle my restless, hot, hairy girl. Four: In spite of my well-conditioned legs, my hands weren’t conditioned to pull and tug bungee cords, grip small zipper tabs, and push gear shifting levers.
The most important lesson regarding travel advice that has taken much longer to learn is usually precluded by my approaching another bicyclist and asking, “Excuse me, I am going to such and such destination. I need to stay on concrete or blacktop only. Do you have any suggestions of how I may avoid the traffic on such and such highway?”
They would begin by firing off a few quick, “Take a right here, a left there, then… Oh, wait a minute… I can’t remember if that is at the stop sign or the stop light three blocks later.”
I don’t fault them. Normally, when I am on a bike, I am just enjoying the scenery, not trying to get from point A to B with the fewest, ideal number of pushes of the pedal. Nor do I often have a specific destination in mind. But with over 1,100 miles ahead and 140 plus pounds behind (not including mine), I should be a bit more selective with the paths I choose.
Yet not all the suggestions, though they may have added miles, have led me astray.
I have walked my bike through meadows a car-bound traveler would never see. I have watched fireflies illuminate my path. I have found vine-covered cliffs alongside river rapids. I have seen sunrise and sunset from atop hills that would have never been accessible had I stayed on the concrete or blacktop highways.
In spite of the dead-ends, the gravel, the treks across open fields with the dog walking alongside me because my mountain-bike tread fails to grip grass, optimism abounds, and I find myself asking the same question over and over again. The adage is that insanity is trying the same thing over and over again with the same poor results.
Perhaps those who gave me odd stares my first day in Chicagoland were right after all. Either that, or I still am leading a poetically inspired life and don’t really mind taking the road less travelled.