Day 10: Evanston, Illinois (90.12 miles, 792.09 total miles)

Today had a little bit of everything: rain, hills (sort of), heat, headwinds, and utter exhaustion.

Last night I had had a long evening to relax and rest up a bit.

view of lake at La Porte

I had a great dinner at this place right across the street that had tables right on the water. And after dinner, I was able to go back to my room and have a restful evening. I was happy to think that with the time change, I’d get an extra hour in the morning.

Alas, I woke up at 6 a.m. and try as I might, I couldn’t fall back asleep. I guess the only thing that has trumped my exhaustion is the anticipation of the coming day. And so I got up and opened the curtains to discover that the morning was starting off as a rainy one. I quickly checked online and on the weather channel to see what the prospects were and it looked as though everything should clear up by the time I was done with breakfast.

And so I got ready, packed everything up, and went and had breakfast. When I was done, I got my bike and headed out. The rain was still coming down but it wasn’t terrible. I stopped at the filling station right next to the hotel and topped off the air in my tires and continued on my way. But when I had gotten only about a quarter mile away from the hotel, the skies opened up. I quickly turned off the road into a gas station and stayed for a while just standing under the overhang. I wound up standing there for about half an hour as the rain got heavier and heavier.

At one point a local sheriff’s deputy walked by me on the way to his car.
“Rough day for a bike ride.”
“Well, as my dad used to say, ‘It’s all east of us now.'”
“That’s good; I’m headed west. Trying to get to Chicago today.”
“Chicago? You know that’s about 60 miles, right?”
“Yeah, I’ve come a lot longer than that already.” I told him about my trip and how I’d traveled here from D.C. traveling about 75 miles a day. I talked about the hills and the flats.
He pointed to the road leading away from the service station: “There’s a pretty good hill right there.” I nodded politely. It was an incline, to be sure. But compared to what I’d seen on this trip, it was nothing to be concerned about.

The rain eventually let up and I headed off down the road. The hill was one of the bigger ones in the area, but it was easily ascended. There was a nice downhill on the other side that was only ruined by the realization that I had made a wrong turn and wasn’t supposed to be going that way. And so I turned around and biked back up the hill and made the correct turn.

The roads from here on out had some good downhills through some fairly wooded areas, which I was not expecting at all in northwestern Indiana. As the road headed back out onto flat farmland terrain, the skies started to darken again and it began to rain. But I was in pretty good spirits (and was still kind of wet from the earlier downpour) so I didn’t really care.

Eventually, the route took me on to the Prairie Duneland bike trail, which was a nicely maintained trail and made the going easy. Eventually the skies cleared altogether and the temperatures started to rise under a bright shining sun. Because the day had been delayed, I was looking to make up some time. And that’s when I noticed that the back end of my bike was swaying a little more than usual. I stopped and felt the back tire—it was soft. It was then that I remembered that while filling up my tires in the morning, I had never taken the valve adaptor off and tightened down the valve. I was angry with myself for making such a stupid mistake. But as I began to inspect the tire, it was clear that the cause of the leak was not air escaping through the valve, it was the air that was escaping audibly from the tire. And so I found a spot to sit and make repairs.

I found the hole easily enough in the tire but decided to use a spare tire rather than patch the current one. I knew that the patch job would take a while and as I said before, I was anxious to make up some time. I can always patch the punctured tire later and use it as a spare. As I was not near a gas station, I would need to inflate the tire myself. I used a CO2 cartridge to inflate the tire. As this was the first time I’d ever used it it took me a bit to figure it out but but once I did—holy cow. The tire inflated right up. It would still need to be topped off at a service station, but it was definitely rideable. So, thanks, Dad for that particular Christmas present!

The trail went right past a bike shop where I was able to top off the tire (and remember to take off the adaptor valve afterward). I talked with the owner of the bike shop who had started doing bike repairs after a career of auto repair. He was interested to learn how to get into doing distance riding. I told him what had worked for me: start small, add more miles over time.

I continued along the path which became the Oak Savannah Trail and then as it angled back north the Erie Lackawanna trail. All three trails are built on old railways, and so tend to be pretty straight and level. But these are railways that go through the middle of towns, as many of the railways do. Which means that unlike the bike trails of the Washington area that I’m used to, these ones intersect streets and roads with a high degree of regularity. It means that there’s a lot of stopping and slowing down on the way.

As I approached the Illinois line, the wind began to pick up. A strong headwind that was making the going a little difficult. In addition to which it was also moving storm clouds into the area. After crossing the border, I headed north along Wolf Lake into ever darkening skies. As I turned toward Calumet Park, the skies opened up again. I stood for a while under a railway bridge, waiting for the storm to pass. Eventually it let up and I began to make my way north again.

And then, after wending my way through the streets south of the city, I came to the end of the block and saw this magnificent sight:

skyline of Chicago in the distance

There in the distance was Chicago, and beyond it my ultimate destination. Eventually, I picked up the Lakeshore Trail that runs along Lakeshore Drive the entire way. This was a magnificent bike path, but it was also the path for joggers, rollerbladers, and mosey-ers. As I got closer to downtown, there were more people to bike around. I was pleased that often I could still overtake other cyclists, even after so many miles. Now, let me be honest, I also got passed a lot. By those real biker guys. You know the ones, with aerodynamic helmets and skintight jerseys and shoes that clip in to the pedals. Those guys flew by me. But I was able to pass most of the other cyclists so I didn’t feel completely wiped out.

Chicago skyline from the lakeshore
Chicago skyline from the north. Sears tower

As I continued along past The Loop and headed uptown, I could feel my energy starting to wane. First, Lakeshore Drive is 17 miles long—so much longer than you think the city will be. Manhattan is only 9 miles long; D.C. is only 10 miles long on its longest side. Chicago just seemed to go on forever. I’ve had that experience when driving it, but when you’re on a bike and really tired, the experience is even more profound. As the miles wore on and I would get passed by an increasing number of cyclists, I felt like I should apologize or explain: I’ve just biked here from D.C.; I’m not normally this slow. That competitive streak I have in me was still there—I just no longer possessed the energy or ability to do anything about it.

Of course, at the time I was operating under the assumption that my ride would be about 75 miles today. After mapping it out, it turns out to have been 90 miles long. And the last 10 miles or so seemed to go on forever. But I arrived, in one piece, safe and sound.

It occurs to me that even on days when I was utterly tired, there was the anticipation of the next day giving me some energy. As I suggested before, it’s probably the reason I wasn’t able to sleep in late most days. But now with the knowledge that tomorrow I don’t have to bike even 10 miles, I can feel the last remaining units of energy ebb from my body. 790 miles on a bike take their toll on you and I can feel the crash coming. It’ll be well earned when it does.

This whole trip was an ambitious one from the start. The total distance was more than twice what I had traveled in one bike trip before. But while there were certainly days when I doubted whether this could be done, in the end, it could and I did it.

Mark Schaefer and bike in Evanston

There is still a lot to process about this trip. But as I think back on the last 10 days, there is a lot I will remember: the bumpy ride along the Potomac and the the views overlooking the Shenandoah; the ups and downs over the ridges of Virginia and West Virginia; the charm of Cumberland and the brutal ascents across the Alleghenies; the helpfulness of Aaron as he guided me to my place of rest for the day; the hospitality of the Kerrs amidst a rainstorm; the easy and beautiful ride along the Monongahela and the Ohio River; the deluge I was caught in in Western, Pennsylvania; the Primanti’s style hamburger with the fries on top; the long inclines into Ohio and the first 90 mile day; the devastating winds that drew out my next day into an ordeal; the great friendliness of the peoples of Ohio and Indiana; the dirt by-ways and rustic farms of Amish Country in Indiana; the visit with two old friends in Goshen; the rolling hills of Indiana and the bumpy roads of the back country; the long bike paths of northwestern Indiana and Illinois; the long and beautiful ride along the lakeshore; the feeling of relief as I pulled up to Mary and Ed’s house; the feeling of satisfaction at having accomplished something big that I set out to do.

As my energy is at an end, that all too short list will have to do for now. With 790 miles behind me, this road has come to an end. All that is left to do now is sleep.

The map of today’s route, with elevation:

map of bike route

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Location:Evanston,United States