"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

Saturday, May 9, 2015

The Lake Michigan water basin and why it matters for North Shore cyclists

I find it interesting that in Northern Illinois the Lake Michigan watershed ends just two blocks to the west of my house, on Ridge Rd. up by the grocery story.  We're so close to The Lake, yet all the water to the west of us flows to the Mississippi, even that in our storm sewers. Then too, the water that does flow into The Lake takes almost 100 years to empty out through the Straits of Mackinac.

Old shorelines make for interesting weather

If you make a study of it you'll learn that Lake Michigan was in fact much larger thousands of years ago. Shrinking to current levels, it left a series of old shorelines, now ridges in its wake. Where we live the land between these ridges is so flat and close to the water level it is naturally swampy. Native Americans used these old ridges to stay above the swamps while traveling along the lake. European settlers drained the swamps and turned the ridges into wagon trails, then roads and now expressways. 

The ridges also form natural weather breaks, trapping the cool breezes from the lake close to the shore, moderating the high and low temperatures. Our spring and summer weather is cooler as The Lake is warming up, our fall particularly nice for the opposite reason. In winter, to add to our already infamous cold, those of us close to the water can get something unique to the Great Lakes - lake effect snow. That unpredictable, localized, wet and usually DEEP stuff comes pouring off the lake, burying us in six, ten or even twenty inches.  Buffalo, NY suffers from the same effect only more so. 

When we ride our bikes to the west, we cross many of these ridges (several actually called Ridge Road - very confusing for a newcomer). Each time we cross one the weather gets warmer and often a little less humid. Around here we have a very famous (infamous?) saying "Cooler Near the Lake." That's great in the summer when in-land its 90s, but 70s at home. Not so nice in the early spring when its 60s in-land and still 40s around here. When riding from west to east we frequently cross a very definitive line, the Edens Expressway, Sheridan Road, or Ridge Road (in its various forms) where the temperature instantly drops 10ยบ or more. A smart cyclist comes prepared for just such an event with an extra pair of socks. 

Some Glacial History

Instructive sign in Kenosha next to the 1936 Southport Bath House

While passing through Kenosha during our trial run, Will and I found the above sign posted right next to the Kenosha (Southport) bath house I mentioned in an earlier post. (If you click on the photo you can get an enlargement.) The graphic shows the impact the most recent glacier had on the Great Lakes from 14,000 years ago to almost the present. Those of us in the Chicago area can see the irony that even before the 20th century engineers set about reversing the flow of the Chicago river, from north to south,  that's the direction it flowed naturally up until about 9,000 years ago. They had a BIG job doing it, but the close proximity of our local Continental Divide made the whole thing possible. You can also see from the last panel,  the water basin is wider than the lakes by a significant amount in all directions EXCEPT for here in northern Illinois. This geological fact played a very important role in why Chicago came to be the fastest growing US city in the 19th century. Stay tuned for more on water routes and they're  exploration / exploitation by European settlers starting in the 1600s.

For now, click on the link below you'll see that for the small little area, encompassed by my zip code, there are not just two, but THREE watersheds, meaning three ways the water can flow. No wonder it tends to pool, swamp like - can't make up its mind I guess.

You can also check out some interesting statistics by clicking on the page labeled "Lake Michigan Statistics" in the right column.

Tuesday, May 5, 2015

PREPARATION - Trail Run - Day #2

The Day's Route: Racine - Oconomowoc, WI

Headed northwest, we follow great trails through
Milwaukee and Waukesha Counties to Oconomowoc
A second day of test riding brings a few lessons. Many thanks to Jeff a small miracle worker. Great riding, long day.

Departed:Apr 16, '15, 08:47AM
Starts in:Racine, WI, US
Distance:63.6 mi
Elevation:1773 / - 1385 ft
Max Grade
3.5 %
Avg. Grade
0.2 %
Total Duration:09:28:07
Moving Time:04:53:14
Max Speed:28.7 mph
Avg. Speed:13.0 mph

Disaster Avoided

Required stop in Racine for Danish Kringle

Disaster avoided thanks to Jeff - our miracle worker
Waking to a cloudy and cool day, we hope the sun comes out as we ride west from Racine and the lake. But first, a stop for "second breakfast" at the famous O&H Danish Bakery.  Kringle lives up to its reputation. Wait staff does not - too bad.

We leave town via the limestone-surfaced and rather bumpy MRK trail. After one particularly jarring spot Will calls out "I think we dropped something!" Close inspection revealing nothing, we ride on. A Little later, after leaving the trail and crossing some tracks, Suzie's back rack flops backwards - NOT GOOD - potential disaster. The bolts holding the rack in place had come loose. Must have been one of them we lost back there. But, no sooner had we stopped, propped our rigs against some trees when Jeff, a local iron worker, appears as if from no where asking if he could help. AMAZINGLY he has two right-sized alternative bolts which do the trick. Disaster AvoidedThank You Jeff.

Finding The Wild in South East Wisconsin

The southern start to the Milwaukee County trail system
Prairie reclamation in Franklin, WI 
Root River historical marker. Little did we know we'd been following
the river all the way from Racine. 
Greenfield Park, one of may wonderful parks
 throughout Milwaukee County
From there we ride on quiet country roads through Racine into Walworth and then eventually Milwaukee County. We're riding in an area I've driven past countless times, but am seeing it now up close, noting its contours, its rivers, its prairies and wildlife. I love knowing all this nature exists just feet away from, or even under, the interstates I've covered by car. This is why I'm riding around THE LAKE not driving. It's this hidden environment I want to experience. In a way it's like being in a foreign country - turns my perspective a bit. The X-urbia of malls, drive throughs, gas stations, multi-lane highways becomes a frog-noisy pond, a black bird chirping prairie. I see the territory a-new, through different eyes.

We experience southwestern Milwaukee County by way of the Oak Leaf trail system including the Root River Parkway. Little did I realize (DUH!), but the Root River here was the same as the one which drains into Lake Michigan at Racine (French for Root)! We've been moving through the Lake Michigan water basin all day, following the often hidden path of this historic river. The marker we found said that early artifacts dating back more than 3,000 years to the Indian Copper Culture have been unearthed near here. We look forward to learning more of that era when we visit sites in Northern Wisconsin.

Greenfield Park Brings Back Wonderful Memories

For now, its time to traverse the wonderful Root River Parkway, and pass through Greenfield Park with its swimming pool and lagoon. Stopping for a quick, off the bike break, I'm reminded of Hoyt Park and the summer days of my youth. Writing this now I also realize that Hoyt Park, Washington Park and Sherman Park, all part of my family's Milwaukee heritage, were created at the same time as this park. The stonework and even the turnstiles are the same. They carry the same grandeur of that 1936 Bath House we visited in Kenosha yesterday. Must be the same era - need to check on that. No wonder my family loved these parks. They brought a respite from the city just a short walk away, a place for recreation but also JOBS during such desperate times. I look at this lovely lagoon on the southwest suburbs and really see the frozen one in Washington Park where I learned to skate. So much connection - so more heritage. Wish I had my parents around to share this with.
Postcard showing Washington Park Lagoon where my Dad
hung out as a kid and my brother & I learned to skate

Experiencing the Continental Divide

We leave the Milwaukee County Park System and head west on the New Berlin trail to the city of Waukesha on the other side of the continental divide. When we say that term, Continental Divide, we usually think of the one out west in the Rockies. But here in the upper Mid-West we have our own Continental Divide as well. All the water east of that line flows into Lake Michigan and the other Great Lakes, out the Saint Lawrence Seaway to the Atlantic. To the west it makes its way to the Mississippi down to the Gulf of Mexico. The Root River we passed earlier flows eventually to the Atlantic. The Fox, where we ate lunch in Waukesha flows to the Gulf - an amazing lesson in geography all in one day.

Last Stop - Mrs. D's in Wales
Right along the Glacial Drumlin Bike Trail

A Nice Finish

Last leg - we're getting close now -  we ride along the Glacial Drumlin state bike trail out of Waukesha, through the hamlet of Wales then north to our place in the Village of Oconomowoc Lake. Its been a great day, full of adventures, a miraculous recovery and lots of sunshine. We're pooped and ready for dinner. Thank goodness Jim and Baggins are there to drive us home.

Monday, May 4, 2015

PREPARATION - The Trial Run April 15 & 16

The Day's Route: Wilmette, IL - Racine, WI

Start at the green balloon in Wilmette and follow the red line until
its end at the red one in Racine. Those smaller, yellow balloons
indicate rest stops along the way.
Trying to see how our bikes, panniers and Garmins work. Testing our resolve to encounter history along the way.

Departed:Apr 15, '15, 08:59AM
Starts in:Wilmette, IL, US
Distance:60.5 mi
Elevation:1889 / - 1821 ft
Max Grade
7.0 %
Avg. Grade
0.1 %

Max Speed:23.4 mph
Avg. Speed:12.8 mph
Total Duration:08:26:50
Moving Time:04:45:36


Bikes all set and loaded to go!
Riders all set and ready to go as well. Weather looks great!
Great view of Lake Michigan from the Open Lands path in
Fort Sheridan. Its going to be a beautiful day to ride!

We figured the best way to ensure we're ready for our great adventure was to load all our stuff into our panniers and set off for a multi-day, mini adventure.  Headed to my family's place in Oconomowoc, WI, we chose a route that would lead us north the first day to Kenosha and Racine and then northwest through Milwaukee and Waukesha counties the next. We hope to catch some of our Lake Michigan sites along the way. 

Bags packed. Bike loaded. Riders fed. ALL SET AND READY TO ROLL! The weather is great, the sun is shining and Will and I are in shorts. First stop, Lake Bluff and a favorite EBC stop, Bluffington's. We're in luck, the usual EBC Wednesday Fast ride is still there. We show off our rigs, wave goodbye to the group and then settle down for a second breakfast of Eggs Bluffington. Can't get a better start that this. 

Once we leave Bluffington's though the NE wind picks up and the day turns a little cooler. We're a bit in-land, traveling up the Robert McClory path, so we're sheltered from the wind until we turn east just south of Kenosha. Phew… our local saying "cooler near the lake" definitely applies.

Jacketed now, we ride past inviting lake-side homes and parks, sand dunes, power plants and a lovely 1936 WPA constructed bath house as we enter the city of Kenosha, originally known as Southport. A reminder of a by-gone era, the stately Southport bath house needs a new roof and some plaster work, but still gives testimony to wonderful hot summer days spent cooling by the beach. Funded by federal programs, buildings like this gave work to the unemployed, a boost to the local economy and enjoyment to many future generations. We wish the day were nicer so we could visit the lake ourselves.
1936 Southport (Kenosha) Bath House

Instead it grows windier the further north we ride and we're glad to move in-land once again after visiting the Southport Lighthouse and Kenosha's lake front park. 

Our destination for the night, Racine, boasts both a residential and business historical district. While stopped on a windy bluff, consulting our Wikipedia listings, a friendly neighbor approaches to see if we're lost. No, but we'd like to know a little about these historic homes. So Kathi shares some history, gives directions to a few more interesting houses and sends us on our way to the S.C. Johnson complex. Kathi is not the first friendly encounter we meet along the way, and we're sure she won't be the last. We realize that business, or rather trip cards, will be an essential part of our packing list.

A quick visit to the S.C. Johnson complex is all we can muster. We're cold, tired and more than a little bonky for having been on the road now almost eight hours.  Frank Lloyd Wright designed the buildings, interiors and even furniture. The Rondelle reminds me of Wright's Greek Orthodox church in Wauwatosa which I passed frequently on the way to high school. We'd love to come back for a tour but, I think that will have to wait until we're done with our Lake Pilgrimage.
1886 Southport (Kenosha) Light House

First test ride successfully completed. Bikes, panniers, and even gamins performed well. Having found several historical sites and met a few interesting people we're ready for warm showers, a few beers, dinner and a well deserved night's rest. Another test day tomorrow - Racine to Oconomowoc coming up. 

The Golden Rondelle, the S.C. Johnson exhibition
at the 1964 Wold's Fair in Seattle, moved to Racine afterwards. It
now houses a community theater in its space-ship like space.

On this, the 150th anniversary of Lincoln's death
we pass two Lincoln statues. This one's in
Kenosha's Library Park. the other's in Racine.