Lost Nation, IL
July 1, 2013
The approach to Lost Nation happens to be rolling hills, the kind every biker looks toward with anticipatory fear and excitement, knowing the downside means exhilarating speed while the upside means excruciating pain. I knew Illinois boasted a continental divide. After experiencing the height of Colorado’s divide, little did I know that these rolling hills served to direct water either into the Mississippi or the Illinois Rivers.
After sharing our dinner in a cornfield, as my girl and I continued our trip, we were rewarded with the sun setting across the most beautiful landscape I have seen in Illinois.
While I paused to check my GPS, he rode past, stopping to see if I was alright, adding, “I hope you aren’t going far with that,” immediately noting, I am sure, the length of my bike and trailer were twice that of my height. I laughed, flippantly added, “Well, yes, I am going to Colorado. But other than that, I am fine.”
He left, and within a few minutes, he circled back, apologizing, and assuring me he wasn’t a creep but was intrigued by my trek. When I noted he had an off-road bike stashed into his sports car, we began what turned out to be an hours long conversation about biking in his county.
He had grown up in the rolling hills, going through one bike after another jumping and speeding through his beautiful county, eventually competing in amateur and semi-pro racing competitions, showing me his numerous scars and protruding bones from the spills he had taken. I asked him if he ever considered quitting because of the risks his hobby entailed. He laughed, explained that he had taken a few months off after stalling in the gate, hitting the track too hard, ignoring all he had known about safety to catch up with the pack, a breach in caution that resulted in a few broken ribs and a broken thumb.
He explained his seven-year-old son follows in his footsteps, or rather in his tread marks, always being cautioned by his father to observe safety first.
By the time we finally were ready to part, as I strapped on my helmet, I noted our conversation had outlasted the battery in my rear light. Rather than letting me ride the last few miles toward the campground (where he had kindly pointed me toward since the other ones I had passed were closed), he followed me until he knew I would no longer encounter traffic. After he struggled in the dark to attach his small flashlight onto my bike, to assure me he was not a creep, he let me continue on my way alone for the last few miles of my journey.
His words echoed through the hills after we had parted, “Safety first.”