Day 01: Chicago IL to Indiana Dunes, IN

May 26th, 2014

51.2mi / 4:47:02 time / 10.7 mph avg. / 376 ft. climbing
Staying at Indiana Dunes State Park Campground

Bike tour#7 begins! Chicago to Skaneateles, NY. This one was the idea of my amazing girlfriend Rett, who set this goal less than a year ago. She not only got herself into touring shape in that time, she also learned how to ride a bike. Yeah, that little important prerequisite to bike touring, actually knowing how to ride a bike? She hadn’t checked that one off yet. But did that stop her? Or even make her pause? Hell no! That’s my girl! Through a lot of hard work, and a few painful “learning experiences”, she was ready.

So, up at 6am at her place, her mom, who would be watching her dog Pip during the trip, was nice enough to wake up early in the morning to pick him up and see us off. It’s the longest Rett and Pip have ever been apart, so the normal strong emotions that go with leaving on an epic journey were multiplied.




But she did a great job of keeping it together as we headed off into the bright Memorial Day sunshine, south down the Lakefront Path. There were already a ton of people out on the super-popular path at 8am, but luckily the dreaded tourist crowds around Navy Pier had not yet woken up.

So we made short work of the familiar path, nice because it had been Rett’s main training ground (and boy if you can learn to survive the chaos of the LFP, everything after that is easy!) I realized that although I started my first three tours from my front door (one of the ideals of Ken Kifer, my original bike-touring inspiration), I realized that I hadn’t done so for my next three. So it was cool to get back to that (ok, not quite MY front door, but close enough!), and even better, retrace the very route that began my first tour to Atlanta a decade ago.

Well, not exactly, because then we rode the nice, empty, bike-laned section of South Shore Drive, a road that didn’t even exist a year ago, much less a decade ago. And then we made our first of four state border crossings, into Indiana. The border sign, with the Chicago Skyway looming darkly over it, unfortunately did not provide a pleasant stop for a photo. We continued down the empty backroads of the BP refinery, surrounded by belching towers of flame that reminded me of the destructive industry of Saruman at Isengard, and Rett of another Dark Tower in literature, hers from Stephen King (a volume of which currently resides in her handlebar bag).

And then, it was time to pass through Gary, Indiana, the town made famous on my first bike tour for the well-meaning woman who tailed me for a mile, pleading with me to not enter such a dangerous place on my own. This time, almost too good (or bad?) to be true, the scene nearly repeated. A couple of guys at a light pulled up next to us, rolled down the window, and warned “Do you know where you’re headed? That’s Gary. Something happens there, you call the cops, they won’t come.” Too her credit, Rett, who had already been subjected to similar fear mongering, immediately piped up “Yes, we know, we’ll be fine!” Luckily they didn’t insist on tailing us, and actually were interested a bit in our trip, but I’m pretty sure they assume we’re dead crazy idiots by now.

But once again, much to my unsurprise, Gary simply failed to live up to its reputation. In the blazing heat, we stopped right in the center of town at a McDonald’s with some of the friendliest fast food employees I’ve ever encountered. Sure, there are some abandoned buildings in pretty bad shape, but there are also some nice new ones. I certainly don’t wish that passing through Gary actually was as dangerous as all these people think it is, but it might make it more interesting!

And it turns out we weren’t the only crazy cyclists passing through Gary today. As we sat in McDonald’s, Rett noticed group after group of blue-jerseyed roadies going by. Later on, we passed their sag-wagon, and then got passed by some of them. Their shirts said “Wrigley to Fenway”. So they were going a bit further than us, though oddly, none asked where we were headed. Clearly they were intimidated by us and embarrassed by their load-avoiding wussiness!

We eventually made it to the green-lined smooth, shouldered road of the Dunes Highway for our last segment. A lot more cars were leaving the Dunes than arriving, which is good news for us. We don’t have to go to work tomorrow! Or the next day…

We made it to camp before 3pm, a great first-day performance by Rett. After a bit of refreshing and setting up camp (and Rett, in Dennis’s place, reminding me to change into my more comfortable sandals!) she showed off how good she was doing by hiking up a big ol’ dune for a dip in bracing Lake Michigan. Ah, that was refreshing! Well, at least until we had to hike back over the dune in the still-burning sun…

Back in camp and after showers, I cooked up some underwhelming burgers, though luckily we were hungry enough to put them down anyway. Then, just as I’m almost done cleaning up, a rumble of thunder. Uh oh. Check the radar on my phone (yep, that’s camping these days, and sure enough, it’s coming. Well, at least it waited ’til we were done riding, sightseeing, and eating! So we hole up in the thick air of the tent at 7pm. But eventually it cools off a bit, the raindrops put Rett to sleep, and I have time to write this entry. All in all, a successful first day of Rett’s first tour!

7 Responses to “Day 01: Chicago IL to Indiana Dunes, IN”

  1. Swati Says:

    Rett is already doing fabulously better than I was, by starting off early, and ahem, preparing for this bike ride. Looking forward to hearing her perspective too. And what? She has a book to read too?! That woman is incredible!! Looking forward to reading more. (Plus, nice abs, Rett!!)

  2. Sophie Harms Says:

    Go Rett! That’s my strong sister, Daenerys Stormborn of the House Targaryen! You guys rock!!

  3. Dennis Koutsoures Says:

    Kudos to the early start and the awesome photo! 🙂

    Looks like the entrance construction to the dunes is complete and full of plant life! BTW: The beach looks amazing!

    Looks like you guys are virtually locked on to our pace of 10.87mph… Okay you guys are slightly slower at 10.7mph but who’s keeping track? 😉

    Stay cool and remember drafting is your friend!

  4. Joel Says:

    Looks like a great start! Beach looks a bit warmer than the Oregon Coast did, although I imagine the water might be just as cold this year.

    Did you post the full route/itinerary?

    Good riding and have fun!

  5. Louise Gregie Says:

    The bike tour journal is back! Thanks, Neil 🙂 Happy you and Rett had a great day…start to finish! Way to ride, Rett! Like the photos of your first day. Rett, I see your burst of energy after 50+ 🙂 miles…glad you could enjoy a “run” in the sand and refreshing dip into Lake Michigan. Wish you both a good and safe journey!

  6. Jyothy Says:

    Great to read about your latest bike tour! That’s some amazing determination to go from learning the two wheel riding to bike touring in a year! Also, I must say you make for a great riding coach, Neil! Looking forward to reading more about this tour in the next few days! Have a fun and safe trip!

  7. Ken Gregie Says:

    Way to go, you two! I wish you good health, good luck and good weather on this ambitious
    undertaking. Wonder what was tougher– planning a trip like this, or diving into a lake that even in late May probably felt like 34 degrees!!!