Monday, August 31, 2015

Day 37, August 31: shady backroads in northern Indiana

Portage, IN to Mishawaka, IN
Trip distance: 66.5 miles
Total trip distance: 2126.5 miles
Average speed: 13.1 mph
Maximum speed: 27.4 mph
Riding time: 5:04
Weather: a warm start of 72° at 9am with a high dew point of 68°. No clouds but hazy. The air warmed up to 85° in the late afternoon and at one point the dew point was 70° - very muggy. Nonexistent to weak south to southwest winds of 3-5 mph helped me a little bit in a few open places.
Terrain: uphill 1883 feet, downhill 1715 feet. The two profiles below show the low elevations associated with Lake Michigan giving way to higher elevations in hillier moraine areas. I included a second profile to show the effect of "stretching out" the profile, and this more truly represents the relatively flat nature of today's ride.

Laura and I have visited the Portage area when we travel by road between the Twin Cities and Pennsylvania. We enjoy hiking at the Indiana Dunes National Lakeshore and on other trails. The route map below shows the National Lakeshore and the Raisz landform map below shows the extent of the dunes. I didn't visit the dunes this time, but I noticed their impact on the area in that the soil was very sandy. Even at the 32-mile mark, which is about 9 miles from the lake, the soil was sandy. As I moved further away from the lake I traversed moraines and flat valleys, notably the Kankakee Basin, which is labeled on the Raisz map and corresponds to miles 39 to 52 on the profiles above.

The route map shows a traverse across northern Indiana with a brief visit to Michigan at the 52-mile mark.

My route went from a little above and to the right of the "V" hatchmarks which stand for the city of Valparaiso to Mishawaka, which is directly east of South Bend.
The route was very shady compared to any other day on this trip. On some days in Montana and the Dakotas I had virtually no shade and in Minnesota and Wisconsin I had at most 5% shade on any given day. Today about 25% or maybe even 33% of the route was shaded, which I really appreciated because it was warm and muggy. The high prevalence of shade is due in part, I think, to the sandy soil and in part to the high population density along much of the route. Sandy soil means that the land is not very good for agriculture so there are fewer farms. In prosperous farming areas, farmers tend to clear out most trees, even near the roadside. A high population density means support for creating bike paths and for planting trees along roadways. High population also means that the back roads are more often paved, therefore I don't have to use paved state or national highways which are rarely shaded. Furthermore, this part of Indiana benefits from the economic dynamism of Chicago and is growing in population. Population growth reduces the amount of farmland and often, but not always, adds shady roads.

A smooth and well maintained bike trail near Chesterton, IN, although the picnic table is not too usable.

In Chesterton I waited patiently at this crossing. I knew it would be a long wait because the train began with seven  locomotive engines.
This big hill surprised me with the suddenness with which it appeared. When I got closer I saw that it was surrounded by a high barbed wire fence. Technically it's a landfill, but because it rises more than 100 feet above the surrounding area, colloquially it's a "trash mountain." 
The other side of the trash mountain has a facility that harvests methane. This is definitely a worthwhile project, because methane is a potent greenhouse gas and the methane is marketable.
Folk art on a barn in Coolspring, IN.
One of many shady, lightly traveled roads I enjoyed on today's ride. This one is in Coolspring., IN

I go for recycled bicycle sculptures. This one is in Center, IN.

This sculpture is presumably by the same person who recycled the bicycle.
Dog picture for Cindy and Peter. This big black lab had a fearsome bark but responded positively to my calming words as I took the photo. When I biked away the dog resumed barking and ran a long ways besides me--doing his or her sentinel job well. This dog probably gets a lot of exercise chasing cyclists because of the location on two bike routes.

Somewhere along this part of the route the soils and topography changed. I like this quotation as an explanation of what shaped the physical landscapes I was passing through here in Indiana and most other states on this trip - except of course for the Driftless Area in Wisconsin: "The simple story of the soils of Indiana is largely one of glacial action. Thousands of years ago great ice sheets hundreds of feet thick spread over most of the state, scraping down hills, filling valleys, and grinding the rocks to gravel and flour. -T. M. Bushnell, The Story of Indiana Soils (1944)."

My back roads reverie was rudely interrupted by a several-mile stint on US 20. It was busy enough that sometimes both lanes going my way were full, sometimes with trucks. There was not much shoulder either. On the other side of the road is a cornfield--I had seen little corn up to this point.
Corn is a globalized commodity. This sign refers to SyngentaAG, a Swiss agribusiness whose biotech corn produced in the US led to China rejecting all corn imports from the US in late 2013.
A wheel line irrigates the highway in Olive, IN. I got a little cooler when I went through it. This part of the route is in the very flat Kankakee Basin (see Raisz map above).
Roadside memorial in Warren, IN.
On the final part of my route I went through the suburbs of the South Bend/Mishakawa metro area. Google Maps did a nice job of mostly routing me on quiet residential roads in this area of 300,000 plus people.
St Joseph River just north of South Bend. A truck on I 80/I 90 is visible through one of the girders in the middle of the bridge.
I got lucky for dinner this night. A good Lebanese restaurant was a short walk from my motel. The night before I had to make do with an overdressed chef's salad at the motel where I stayed.

Day 36, August 30: Chicagoland from top to bottom

Mettawa, IL to Portage, IN
Trip distance: 80.0 miles
Total trip distance: 2060.0 miles
Average speed: 12.1 mph
Maximum speed: 20.5 mph
Riding time: 6:35
Weather: I started at 7:40 with a temperature of 65° and a dew point of 64°. It was foggy and some streets and bikeways were damp from yesterday's rain. A couple of hours later light rain fell. I took a snack break and waited it out for about half an hour. The sun burned off the fog by the early afternoon and temperatures reached the low 70s. An afternoon breeze came in from Lake Michigan, and this provided a little tailwind for me in a few spots.
Terrain: uphill 2017 feet, downhill 2286 feet. The route profile below reflects that I started away from Lake Michigan at a higher elevation, was close to the shoreline for about 40 miles, and then moved a little ways inland toward the end. The elevation of Lake Michigan is 577 feet above sea level. The elevations below are naturally a little above that, and they will almost certainly be the lowest elevations of this trip.

Chicagoland is a local name for the Chicago metropolitan area. The term is also the name of CNN mini series and is in the title of Chicagoland Vampires, a series of urban fantasy vampire romance novels by American author Chloe Neill. Below is a map of Chicagoland and below that is a map of my route. I entered the top of the Chicago metro area the day before from Wisconsin and crossed into Lake County, IL which borders Wisconsin. Today, I got to the bottom of Chicagoland, so to speak, when I finished in Portage, IN in Porter County, the one on the extreme right in the map below.


My Google Maps phone app chose a complicated bike route to get me to Lake Michigan to the start of the Chicago Lakefront trail. The app uses bike paths whenever possible, and this is usually a good thing, although in one instance it routed me on to some sort of limestone composition trail that caused problems for me (see below). Sometimes I prefer roads to bike trails because the roads may be in better condition.
The Skokie Valley Trail makes creative use of the space used by power lines. The path is a little wet from the previous rain, and it can't dry very quickly because of the damp weather.
Biking on this trail was a mistake. I hit a hidden puddle or two and kicked up a fine grained limestone slurry over much of my bike, the panniers, and my clothes.
I went by Northwestern University in Evanston, IL.
As I got closer to Lake Michigan automobile traffic started to jam up. It turned out that the Chicago Triathlon was being held today and this caused some street closures. About 30,000 people participated in the triathlon and there were lots of spectators and volunteers.
Chicago Triathlon participants.

I got onto the Lakefront Trail at its northern end and rode its entire 18-mile length. The trail connects beaches and recreational amenities and serves as a commuting route. On this Sunday there were several thousand cyclists and pedestrians on the trail. It's the biggest group of cyclists I have ever seen, and that's not counting the triathlon cyclists on nearby roads. Most cyclists had their own bikes while some were using Chicago's blue Divvy bikes, which are part of a metropolitan bike rental scheme.

Lakefront Trail riders with tennis players in the background.
Above and to the right of the two cranes, the top few floors of the Aon Center are visible. The third tallest building in Chicago, its
nickname of "Big Stan" comes from the days when it was the Standard Oil Tower.
Creative bike parking near a volleyball facility.
On this section of the trail, the concrete slopes down toward the lake. It was a little unsettling keeping my bike balanced. It would be more challenging if the pavement was wet or had gravel on it.
I am on the lake side of the bridge over the Chicago River. The base of  Trump International Hotel and Tower is visible on the right. It is the second tallest building in Chicago. For pictures of the whole building, see the Wikipedia article.
The Chicago River shown here is the reason for Chicago's location. The river was the key part of the Chicago portage, which allowed movement of goods from the Great Lakes to the Mississippi River system. The river originally flowed out to Lake Michigan, but because the filth it poured into the lake caused major health problems, the city reversed the river's flow. In 1900, the City completed a project that caused the river to empty into the newly completed Chicago Sanitary and Ship Canal.
After I finished cycling on the Lakefront Trail, I navigated my way through residential, industrial, and commercial areas in Chicago's far south and east neighborhoods and in Hammond, IN and Gary, IN. I stopped to get a sandwich at a market on South Shore Drive, but although the store was open the kitchen had just closed. Another customer sympathized with my plight and gave me a card for Vera's and she recommended it enthusiastically. I took her advice and had a nice lunch.

I had a Chicago-style Polish sausage sandwich at Vera's in the South Chicago neighborhood.
Mural on a South Chicago apartment building.
I passed through several neighborhoods of widely varying character. South Chicago is struggling but showing signs of progress. East Chicago is a largely Latin neighborhood with tidy, well maintained homes, and Hammond has nice homes too. The part of Gary I saw suffers from disinvestment, although housing renovation here and there shows some commitment to improving the community.

Homes in the Hessville section of Hammond, IN.

Abandoned homes in Gary's Midtown neighborhood.

This picture was taken across the street from the previous photo.
The City of Gary presumably does not have the money to repair the stoplight so they put up a stop sign.
The long closed United Steelworkers Local 909 (the name is barely visible on the brick tower) office in Gary's Aetna neighborhood reflects the loss of well paying jobs.
The next four photos are of a decaying mall along US 20 in Gary's Miller Beach district. The first is a screen capture from the Cyclemeter map in satellite view showing the mall as well as the path I took while taking photos.

Aerial view of decaying mall in Gary from my Cyclemeter map.
Some reuse is evident on the left while the right side of the mall is abandoned.
First a grocery store, I think, then a paintball facility, and then the roof fell in.
What seems to be a former bank is now a private gentleman's club.
As noted in previous posts I am winging it from day to day when it comes to the turn by turn details of route plotting--I rely on Google Maps to do it for me. Mostly it's great, but they do lead me astray every now and then.

Uh-oh. Google Maps led me down this street--I'd better contact them about this one.  My detour was slight and only cost a few minutes of my time as I investigated alternatives.
Today's ride packed an incredible amount of sights and sounds into one day--way more than any other day of the trip. It was also the first riding day that I did not see a single ear of corn going back for about the last three weeks to eastern Montana. Ironically, a key part of the generation of wealth for Chicago came from turning corn into a commodity crop that could be shipped all over the US, as argued in William Cronon's Nature's Metropolis: Chicago and the Great West.

Day 35, August 29: taking a break in Lake Forest, IL

I chose this day as a rest day in part because weather forecasts from the previous two days had predicted rain. The forecasts were right, so it was a good day to rest and catch up on the blog. The hotel computer was difficult to blog on because, as I have often found on this trip, computer functions have been compromised by measures taken to address security concerns. I went to a nearby library in Lake Forest, and the computers there seem to be secure but they are also user friendly.

Day 34, August 28: lake districts

Delavan, WI to Mettawa, IL near Lake Forest, IL
Distance:  72.9 miles (contains about 4 miles of evening errands)
Total trip distance:  1979.9 miles
Average speed: 12.3 mph
Maximum speed: 27.3 mph
Riding time: 5:54
Weather: temperature was about 60° when I started at 8:20 and reached the low 70s. The dew point was in the high 50s. Not much wind at first, and then anywhere from SE to SW at speeds of 3-6 mph as the day wore on. The sky was overcast all day and a few raindrops fell for brief periods, but not enough to dampen any road.
Terrain: uphill 1160 feet, downhill 1425 feet. The profile shows lots of small hills as part of a larger downward trend as I approached Lake Michigan.

The route on this day had lots of recreational landscapes, thanks mainly to the many lakes in Wisconsin's Walworth and Kenosha Counties and Illinois' appropriately named Lake County. The Cyclemeter map below shows the lakes. The Wisconsin portion of the route tends to be more agricultural while Illinois' Lake County has more suburban and exurban development as well as a large green belt of preserved prairie, forest, lakes, and wetlands.

I often saw small cryptic signs at corn field edges such as this one near Geneva, WI. Helena Chemical's website says that Axilo is a broad line of 100% EDTA chelated, dry micronutrients. What is EDTA you might ask. It is Ethylenediaminetetraacetic acid. According to Wikipedia, ETDA is used to dissove lime scale, the hard, off-white, chalky deposit found in kettles, hot-water boilers and the inside of inadequately maintained hot-water central heating systems. Somehow it must also be useful for growing corn.
Roadside memorial at the edge of a marsh that's part of Geneva Lake.
The lakes in Walworth County, and maybe Kenosha County as well, are part of a large landform region called the Kettle Moraine, which stretches all the way to Green Bay. I noted in an earlier post that a moraine is an accumulation of earth and stones carried and finally deposited by a glacier. Kettle refers to a hole in the ground made when a chunk of glacial ice got entirely or partly buried in glacial sediment and subsequently melted. Kettles can be large or small.

Geneva Lake is the largest lake in the three counties I biked through. It is a kettle lake. This photo shows part of the tourist infrastructure in the wealthy city named Lake Geneva. The town of 8,000 is popular with tourists from Milwaukee and Chicago.
The city of Lake Geneva has a set of railroad cars used to house tourists.
Hooking a big one on top of Mad Dan's Cafe in Twin Lakes, WI.
Rock Lake is a small kettle lake near Twin Lakes, WI.
Cedar Lake is near Lake Villa, IL. Passenger trains brought Chicagoans to the lake beginning in 1886. The service stopped at some point, and then was revived in 1995. A guy getting ready to fish told me that it's the second cleanest lake in Illinois. I later saw an Illinois state report from several years ago stating that Cedar Lake had a clarity of 12.5 feet. That sounds pretty clear to me.
The Rollins Savanna Forest Preserve at Third Lake, IL is one of many nature preserves in Lake County. Together, these preserves form a green belt. My guess is that this green belt exists because of  a county or multi-county effort to retain areas of largely undeveloped or wild land near urban areas.