Illinois Prairie Path

Martha has chronicled the events of the day, as she will each day of this trip (and you can also click on the link to our itinerary), so my entries will be more of a commentary nature to supplement her facts. Right now we are riding Train 364 on Amtrak from Chicago to Flint, Michigan. (Incredibly cheap—only $34, and that includes $10 for the bike.) It’s good to be back in the train environment, the first one following our excursion to the Northeast—from Virginia to Vermont—with Kay last October. The steady rock of the train on its tracks, the walking between cars to get to the dining car, and being able to see out the big windows while the countryside passes us by is all invigorating to our adventurous spirit.

Pushing Bike up Canal Street

Pushing Bike up Canal Street

The worst part has to be getting our bodies along with our pannier-loaded bicycles up the four or five steep steps between the cement of Track #20 and the train landing. They are heavy, to say the least, and we have accepted help many a time in the past, this trip being no different. As I deported from the train from Chicago Union Pacific Station to the Wheaton, Illinois, stop, for example, I got the bike on the ground but gravity was pulling me with it. Thank goodness the train assistant was standing right there to prevent me from falling. (Even though that wasn’t his intention, he served the purpose well.) The best near accident, though, was on the escalator at the Clinton CTA Station: my pannier got stopped by the side of the escalator as I was on my way up the moving staircase, so the panniers were pulling me backwards right into the nice guy directly behind me, who fortunately held my bike with one hand and pushed on my back to keep me upright with his other hand. How Martha manipulates through these environments is beyond me, but she does. She even managed to carry her bike and panniers up the steep steps exiting the train station; I on the other hand accepted the offer from the guy who caught me on the escalator to carry my bike up the stairs.

Joyce Boarding Union Pacific

Joyce Boarding Union Pacific

Enough of the logistics of getting around on foot. Now we move to our catastrophe while getting around on the bike. Somehow, the trail just ended at a busy road. We went across because traffic stopped for us as if they did that frequently, so we thought we should cross the road there. That was an okay thought, but turning left at the little bicycle sign (a sign unrelated to the Illinois Prairie Path) was our downfall, the best we can recall as we mentally re-lived the moments we got lost, not realizing we were lost until we were out on our bikes with no sidewalk to ride on and a busy highway with entrances leading to a major interstate and big trunks honking at us to stay out of their way. At that point we pulled up onto a grassy area to consult our technology. The GPS proved helpful, except that our GPS’s seemed to differ in their perspectives. We didn’t think we had time to debate the issue so we followed Martha’s GPS, which got us there, albeit on a rather busy road (we stayed on the sidewalk for most of the way) and with a few miles extra pedaling. But the important thing is that we made it to the Forest Park (actually Harlem) CTA Blue Line in time to get back to the Amtrak station in Chicago so that we could catch this train to Flint. At the Union Station, just for the record, either my gray hair or our bikes (or both) helped us get to the “front of the line” when we were allowed to proceed to Gate E instead of waiting with the mass of people lined up to get on this train. In all our experiences, the Amtrak employees have been good to us.

So, in spite of all the planning that Martha did, which definitely helps make these trips logistically smooth, we still had an exciting, adventurous day, wondering if we would make the trip in the time we had allotted. The Illinois Prairie Path people definitely have some room for improvement when it comes to signage at those places where the path is not quite finished or being improved, as it was near First Ave, which we looked for to heed the detour warnings on the Internet, but which we never did see. As T.S. Elliot refers to in one of his poems, we don’t want to “have the experience but miss the meaning.” I guess our meaning here is learning to be flexible enough to take the trip one turn at a time, be it the wrong turn or the right turn. The countryside is a pleasure to look at and has a peaceful appeal right now, so I’m closing off to enjoy the rest of the ride.

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