Seattle to Chicago – Illinois
Denis Kertz, ©1994
It was another good night’s sleep as I was able to lie pretty much however I wanted. I woke up shortly after 6:00 and packed up. I headed to the cafe downtown for breakfast and had pancakes and bacon and it was very good. I rated this one of the better places for the trip.
After breakfast I stopped at the grocery store for a couple of muffins and donuts and ate the donuts on the spot. I headed south just a short way on 150 to pick up 56 going East to Elkader. I gradually climbed to a point where I had nice panoramic views of the countryside. These views now showed the cornfields losing ground to pastures and trees for dominance of the landscape. The terrain was also fairly hilly.
After 24 miles I had a fast descent into Elkader where I had a Gatorade and one of my muffins. The going had been slow due to the moderate climbing and the SE headwind. Continuing I headed North on 13 a couple of miles to pick up 128 east. I started the first real climbs in Iowa and used my granny as my route brought me into the Mississippi River Valley near the Iowa/Illinois border. 128 deadended into 52 which I took South to Guttenberg where I stopped for lunch after 50 miles. I couldn’t find any restaurants along the road or downtown on the riverfront so I grabbed a sandwich and lemonade from the grocery store and ate in the park downtown on the riverfront.
Continuing I headed South on 52 to Dubuque starting off with a steep climb. There was a scenic overlook near the top of the climb but unfortunately the surrounding trees restricted the view. Shortly, I had to decide whether to take 52 all the way as it headed South and then East to Dubuque or take the Great River Road that went on a diagonal to Dubuque. The latter was shorter but probably involved more climbing. I decided to take the Great River Road and it wasn’t long before I started some serious climbing in my lowest gear. Fortunately none of the climbs lasted more than about a mile before there was a descent. I feared if the ascent/descent kept up I might never make Dubuque. However, after about four serious climbs and some smaller climbs, I reached a ridge with a nice panoramic view of the Mississippi River Valley and the farms below. There were some cornfields but they didn’t dominate the landscape. The trees were starting to turn color but were probably a week away from full glory. However, it was easy to see that they would be spectacular in their full color and I imagined there would be a fair amount of visiting traffic on the coming weekends.
Once on the ridge the road stayed on top rolling along the ridge. As I passed through Sherrill I saw a city park sign and I gave some thought to staying the night. However, there was only one place that looked as if it might have food so I continued on in the interest of getting another 10 miles under my belt. Originally, I had thought I could possibly make it home by Wednesday (tomorrow) with Thursday an easy day if not. Now it was looking more and more like Thursday would be a full day.
As I neared Dubuque, a fast descent brought me down from the ridge to sea level and I rejoined 52 as it headed into Dubuque. I had hoped to find some motels or a campground along 52 but there were none and it was getting dark. I rode through Dubuque, a city of 57,000. Near the Civic Center I saw the Mississippi bridge and picked up 20 west where I found a motel almost immediately. There was a single left that I took for $29 and just in time as it was close to 7:00 and rapidly getting dark.
After cleaning up I walked to a nearby Hardees again and ate. Interestingly, my shin was still quite sore in the morning when getting up but it was fine cycling all day and I hardly noticed it. However, walking continued to be a problem. Later I checked at the motel front desk about tomorrow’s route. I still needed to travel south some and I had the option of either continuing South to Savanna and then heading due East to home or crossing the river at Dubuque and making my way southeast. A guy who did some cycling told me the route to Savanna was really hilly and it would be better to head across the river here to Galena.
I slept well and got up at 7:00. I ate at the motel restaurant - pecan pancakes and oatmeal, both very good. I took my time eating and packing and left around 9:00.
I was near the bridge and took 20 to the bridge where I hopped on the walkway to make it across. Then it was a couple of good climbs on the way to Galena. Along the way, a guy in a pickup flagged me down. He had seen several tourers and wondered if we were a group on a special trip. I told him I was alone and talked about the trip. He was from Tahoe, temporarily located here because of his wife’s job, and was thinking about getting a tandem and touring with his wife someday.
A fast descent brought me into Galena. I decided against going into town and started the climb out of Galena. The road was really narrow at this point and traffic was a hassle. The climb continued up a ridge where there was a good panoramic view of the surrounding wooded area and farms. Farther along there was a tower that provided an even better view. I took my last picture and talked to a couple from Plano. Then I descended the couple miles to Elizabeth for a lunch of a ham sandwich and Sprite along with one of yesterday’s muffins.
Unfortunately, it was after 12:00 and I had only covered 30 miles, barely averaging 10 mph due mostly to the hilly terrain but also to the moderate headwind that would be with me all day. I asked the foodmart hostess about a diagonal road on my map that cut across to 64. She warned me that it was very hilly and that 20 was much flatter so I stayed on 20.
20 continued to be fairly hilly until I reached Stockton where I had a Gatorade and a couple of ice cream sandwiches. Looking East I could see the terrain was now flat and I started to make better progress although I still had to fight the headwind. I took business 20 into Freeport and caught 26 south, stopping for a vanilla shake at McDonald’s. It was now 4:30 and I still had some 20 miles I wanted to cover.
At Forreston I picked up 72 east to catch a side road south to Mt. Morris on 64. I had hoped to make Oregon today but Mt. Morris was the best I could do and it was going to be tight. When I turned South onto N Mt. Morris Rd, there was a bar at the intersection and I briefly debated asking permission to camp in their back yard.
As I pulled into Mt. Morris it was rapidly getting dark. In town I asked a guy about camping and a motel. I skipped the camping since I didn’t understand the directions and it was dark so I headed East just outside of town to the only motel. I paid $27 for a room and called the local pizza joint for delivery of a 12” pepperoni pizza and some diet 7UP.
I got up at 7:00 and packed. As I was leaving my room I saw the proprietor and asked him about breakfast. He mentioned a place a mile back in town and a couple of places in Oregon. I decided to head to Oregon for breakfast since it was along the way and only 5 miles away.
I started out on 64 about 7:30. The traffic was fairly light which was good since there was no shoulder. In Oregon, I stopped downtown at the Sunrise and had pecan pancakes and bacon. The bacon was teeny but the cakes were sizable and good. I wasn’t full so I stopped at the nearby grocery store but there was nothing interesting in the bakery department so I passed.
It was about 9:15 when I left Oregon. I was hoping today wouldn’t be that long. The sign just outside Mt. Morris said 96 to Chicago so I figure about 76 to Naperville, hoping it would be less than that. The road was mildly rolling but I could feel a modest headwind that felt out of the East. Since I left Freeport, I reentered cornfield country that rivaled Iowa.
My next planned stop was Sycamore which was 40 miles and seemed like a natural lunch stop. The going was slow as I averaged right around 12 mph. This was disappointingly slow since I was eager to get home but the headwind made faster progress difficult.
Shortly after 12:00, I pulled into Sycamore, a town of 9700. I stopped at a White Hen for a turkey sandwich, a couple of rolls, and an All Sports - a Gatorade clone. I didn’t linger long and took off until I spotted a Hardees where I stopped for a vanilla shake.
Now suitably refueled, I started out for my final surge. The road was flat and it was just a matter of cranking out the miles into a headwind that started picking up some time around 11:30. The good news was that 64 now had a good shoulder that would stay with me the rest of the way.
As I neared St. Charles after almost 20 miles, I came to Wasco and caught LaFox road south. From here I knew the backroads to Naperville as I had cycled through this area a number of times. I took LaFox to Campton Hills to Peck to Schlesinger to South. There was construction at this point so I had to weave through a ball park and along a railroad track to catch Western. There was construction on Fabyan so I had to cut off Western to 31 and pick up the Fox River Trail at 31 and Fabyan. I took the Trail to Washington in Batavia and wove my way South on Hart Road across 56 and then East on Molitor to Eola. From Eola I picked up Diehl and cut through Country Lakes and picked up Brookdale through a Naperville subdivision. From there I threaded my way through Naperville to home, arriving right at 5:00 after 85 miles.
Despite my lost wallet and money and my cow bashing incident, this trip was without a doubt my cycling highlight. Except for the week in South Dakota, I had exceptional fall weather with only two significant rain days. If I had a weather complaint, it would have to be that I had more headwind than tailwind.
In general, the scenery was outstanding through the Badlands of South Dakota. My highest rating would go to Glacier National Park and southwest Montana from Chief Joseph Pass to Yellowstone. Yellowstone itself was not quite as spectacular scenery wise but it had by far the best wildlife viewing. Washington had the most espresso bars and motorcycles in addition to consistently fine scenery. Idaho was the easiest traveled, requiring only a day to traverse. Wyoming had the highest pass and the most desert in addition to Yellowstone’s wildlife. South Dakota had the most prairie, the fewest trees, the worst wind, and the worst highway shoulder. Iowa had the most corn and soybeans by far and the best city parks. And Illinois, well it’s home.
My biggest disappointment of the trip (besides the headwinds) was the number of people who thought touring cyclists were so superhuman that they never considered that they could themselves be a touring cyclist. Every time someone expressed their admiration for touring cyclists I tried to convince them that it really wasn’t beyond question that they could do likewise but I doubt anyone believed me. Unfortunately, they will probably never experience the satisfaction of climbing a mountain pass nor the exhilaration of a well earned screaming descent or the freedom of the road.
For the benefit of anyone who considering a cycling tour, I offer a few observations about some advantages/disadvantages of fall touring:
Weather - I had exceptional weather with mild temperatures. I was rarely hot and I’m sure this really helped on all the climbs. I personally prefer cool weather to hot weather since you can always add clothing to keep warm. However, there is always the risk of bad weather and snow in particular in the mountains.
Traffic - I’m sure I had less traffic to contend with in the fall, especially in Glacier, Yellowstone, and the Black Hills. I’m not sure I would want to cycle in some of these areas during the vacation season.
Facilities - On the one hand, facilities were generally more available due to the lack of crowds. I never had a problem with a filled campground or a full motel. On the other hand, there were some cases where facilities were shut down after Labor Day and not available. In Yellowstone, a number of campgrounds were closed and I was fortunate that the Bridge Bay campground was still open. Had I been a day later, I would have been out of luck.
Daylight - A limitation with fall touring is that the days are shorter with less daylight for travel. This also means that if you are camping you need to decide what to do with the night time before going to sleep. It is possible to read a book in a tent but I have never found that very comfortable. I wrote my trip notes at night but I usually tried to find a restaurant or bar where I could do this more comfortably. I also found a portable radio to be useful but I often found myself nodding off to sleep which made sleeping later more difficult.
Copyright Denis Kertz, 1994. All rights reserved.