"It's a dangerous business, Frodo, going out of your door" … "You step into the Road, and if you don't keep your feet, there is no knowing where you might be swept off to."
~ Bilbo Baggins from The Fellowship of the Ring by JRR Tolkein

Tuesday, April 28, 2015

The first HOW of Riding around the Lake - ROUTES

My Collection of Lake Michigan Bicycle Maps

Now that I’ve covered the WHY of my trip around THE LAKE its time to move on to the HOW component. Visions and dreams are all well and good, but there needs to be some practical planning and organizing before dreams take on real form. And a big dream, such as my 1,350-mile trip, requires a lot of preparation and planning. Today I’ll start by talking about routes.

Criteria for a Good Bike Route

Choosing a route for self-supported touring starts with the same major criteria as developing a good day ride. First, and most importantly, you need a safe route. Sometimes that involves bike paths, but not often. Paths are relatively few in number, don’t often go where you want to go and frequently have a bed of crushed limestone making riding far less efficient. So, a good route planner searches out lightly traveled but good surfaced roads with controlled intersections to cross major streets and highways.  Then you need to identify where you can refill your water bottles, visit the restroom and, at least on Evanston Bicycle Club rides, where you’ll have lunch. (We of the EBC are very big into eating mid-ride).
I love maps so much I even take
photos of ones I find along the way.

In addition, a good self-supported touring route involves finding a place to stay for the night with a restaurant nearby. After a day of riding that far, no one wants to clean up and then get back on the bike for another 5-mile trip. This daily end-point must be within a target distance from the start-point. Because we want to stop along the way to visit parks, museums and historical markers I limited us to a target of 50 – 60 miles riding each day. We’ve chosen NOT to camp, which saves our backs, but hurts our pocketbooks and limits our options. Given that we’re passing through popular tourist spots we decided to make reservations ahead of time. Finding out there are NO rooms at the inn at the end of a long day is not acceptable. But, this also means we’re locked into making each day’s destination regardless of weather, state of mind or soreness of body.  Having a nice cozy room with a warm shower to look forward to certainly helps with the motivation.

Sources for Routes

So, you ask, how does one find a safe route with a good surface, frequent rest stops, a cozy room and good food at the end?  Good question! The short answer: lots and lots and lots of research.

The internet, the internet what did we all do before we had the internet? For route planning purposes the internet is an essential, but insufficient tool. You can go on Google maps or Map My Ride, or Ride with GPS or Garmin Connect, select your destination, click on a bike icon and the system will plan a route for you. Yet if you do that in your own neighborhood, where you know the good routes from the not so good, you find that these digital sources often pick the less desirable ways and ignore your favorites. If they do that at home you can be sure they’re doing it in the places you want to go but haven’t been to yet. So, to be sure a good bike route planner needs to consult other sources of information when laying out a route.

Maps, Maps and More Maps 

Map of Root River bike trail - Racine, WI
For my route around THE LAKE I’ve been lucky to have several great mapping sources. You can get a full list by clicking on the “Bicycle Maps” link on the right side of the blog. Each state we’re passing through has a different approach to bike transportation, but they’ve all provided some guidelines. My vote though for best bike planning resources has to go to Michigan. The Michigan Department of Transportation, The League of Michigan Bicyclists and Adventure Cycling’s USBR #35 are “the bomb” as my friend Will would say. Between them I found routes, checked for convenient parks, identified towns with accomodations and restaurants. I could easily identify the low traffic roads, the paved bike paths, and even some intriguing historic sites. Adventure Cycling USBR #35 and LMB also provide turn-by-turn directions border to border on the lower peninsula. Another wonderful, highly detailed source are the cross-country maps put out by Adventure Cycling. I used a portion of their Northern Tier route – North Lakes Map #2 for getting across the Upper Peninsula (UP).  It provides turn-by-turn directions, locations for food, accomodations and even sites of interest – especially useful in this very sparsely populated territory. The statewide user friendly website  “Michigan Pure” helped me identify places to stay with nearby restaurants. 

I found other state resources to be much more spotty. Wisconsin does have a set of printed bike maps, but they’re not nearly as detailed at Michigan’s. Fortunately, I’ve traveled much of that territory before and relied on routes from SAGBRAW (Scrams Annual Great Bike Ride Around Wisconsin) for Marinette to Sheboygan. My all time favorite map, "Milwaukee and SE Wisconsin bike Map" from Bikeverywhere.com provides great detail, but only covers the portion of the state south of Port Washington to the Illinois line. Northern Indiana’s map is good, but again, I relied on internal Evanston Bicycle Club sources for route suggestions there (so much industrialization to avoid).  The Active Transportation Alliance’s map of the Chicago, one of my local staples, wasn’t needed much in this planning because we’ll again, be traveling on known territory for this trip.

Bottom Line: I LOVE MAPS

All this discussion about routes reminds me how much I really do love maps in paper or digital form. I love pouring over their representations of reality. I love studying their icons for all the detailed information I can acquire. Mostly I love visualizing the reality underlying the map. When I finally get to see the real territory I’m usually surprised – things are never what I imagined them to be. Although with satellite views now possible, real images of confusing places help with landmark identifications. Still satellite images are not reality. Thus explains the pull of the open road within me. All these hours and hours pouring over maps, making routes, selecting motels must lead to an ADVENTURE!

Maps and route planning, essential as they are, are just the beginning of the HOW of riding around THE LAKE. More to come about training, equipment and packing in future blogs. Stay tuned.

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