Friday, August 7, 2009

Note to self: All numbered roads are gravel!

Yesterday was my wife's birthday. I should have been home baking her cake, or maybe rubbing her feet, or possibly even having birthday sex. Instead I was on my bike, doing my best Thomas Stevens imitation. (You'll remember he's the cyclist who first cycled around the world in 1884.)

I had no plans to cycle around the world, I wasn't even going to cycle around Southern Illinois. My goal was to merely cycle 125 miles or so. I planned to ride from Marion to McLeansboro, to Norris City; over to Raleigh then back home. Using a computer mapping site, I planned a route which would keep me off of the main roads. I had never ridden any of the roads northeast of Thompsonville, so I made a careful cue sheet of the directions and turns.

Most of the roads had numbers instead of names. There was 1000N, and 625E, and 1212W. That sort of thing. But with a good cue sheet, I felt confident in my ability to find my way. How bad could it be?

I left about 4:15 in the morning. Although there was a full moon, I had my cycling lights mounted and shining brightly as I rode off on my next adventure. I cycled in the dark almost all the way to Thompsonville (about 25 miles). With the exception of one jerk who insisted on blowing his horn when he passed me to express his anger at having to move over a little on a two lane road with no on coming traffic, there were no real problems. (I did have the usual jitters about being grabbed by the Southern Illinois Back Roads Boogie Man. Gratefully, I never saw him).

After Thompsonville, the real exploring started. As I turned off onto 1000N, I was pleasantly surprised that the road was the usual back road surface for Southern Illinois, chip and seal. It's not a great surface for Indy Car racing, but for cycling, it is acceptable. However, after a mile or so, the road turned to gravel. At this place, my optimistic nature got me into difficulty.

I felt that "surely, this is only temporary" and that the road would again become the "hard road" I was expecting. Soon, my optimism paid off. The road was again chip and seal - for about 100 yards. Then it turned to gravel again. Once more I needed to make a decision: turn around and retrace my steps? or keep moving forward hoping for the best? I told you I was an optimist. Three miles later, I came to a stop sign with a "hard road" crossing my gravel one.

Although taking this new one meant throwing away my cue sheet and using dead reckoning, I was really sick of gravel. I turned. Unfortunately for me the road was 625E. Yep. After a mile or so, it turned to gravel. And so forth, and so on. Rinse and Repeat. Etc. Etc. Etc.

All the way to McLeansboro I struggled with gravel roads. Not fine crushed gravel, but the really big stuff you use to stop erosion on hillsides. Finally a little past McLeansboro, I gave up the plan to use only back roads, and I also gave up on going to Norris City. Being a truck driver, I knew that State Route 142 was paved and would take me all the way to Eldorado, where I could turn west on the Raleigh road. It is a good truck route, so I prepared my mind for the difficult "road sharing" I was in for.

After only a few miles of sharing the road with coal trucks, I stopped and looked at my Illinois Bicycle Map. The road to my left was Murray Hill Road. It was paved. It was not Route 142. It had a name. It headed towards Raleigh. I should have paid attention to the numbers above the name on the street sign. 1212N. That should have been a clue. I should have stayed with the coal trucks. About a mile in, the road turned to gravel. And so forth and so on. Rinse and Repeat. Etc. Etc. Etc.

I finally made it to Raleigh and headed for the house. Now I decided that I would take all main roads back home. In fact if Interstate 57 had run through that part of the country, I would have ignored the legal and safety ramifications and ridden down the middle of the fast lane! I was really sick of gravel.

I arrived home 9 hours later and made a note to myself: Next time remember - all numbered roads are gravel! (But then, you know how optimistic I can be...maybe it will turn out better the next time!)

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