Milwaukee Meander Ride 28 of 52

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Date: Aug 9, 2017
Distance: 15 miles
Weather: Sunny, low 80's.
Highlights of the trip: Milwaukee Rotary Centennial Arboretum, beer gardens!

The lake view is the same, but the minute your feet touch the ground, you know you are not in Chicago anymore. The vibe is different, more friendly, laid back.

It was a last-minute decision to come here, and we arrived late, about 1pm, as we had a morning appointment in Chicago that day. Originally, we thought we would ride a loop using the Hank Aaron Trail and the lower half of the Oak Leaf Trail, but it was just too ambitious with half the day behind us. So instead, we headed north along the lakefront trail, and then meandered along the trails that follow the Milwaukee River Greenway.

Along the way, we came upon the Riverside Park and lovely arboretum, and we poked around the unpaved paths for a bit before riding on. We were chatting idly about how nice a beer would be right about now, when, as if by magic, a rustic gate appeared on the side of the trail with a beckoning "Beer Garden" sign. We were unfamiliar with beer gardens, but I am here to tell you that they are a fabulous innovation, and there should be one along every bicycle trail. Delicious New Glarus selections were offered in .5 and 1 liter steins, and we consumed ours (half-liters) at a rustic picnic table.

Further down the trail we found a large bulletin board with all the summertime beer gardens helpfully marked on a map! On our journey that day, we stumbled upon another one, and this time we indulged in a brat to go along with the second half-liter. We enjoyed this simple repast while listening to a lederhosen-clad accordion player.

Milwaukee has more bike trails than you can shake a stick at, and we definitely look forward to exploring all of them in the near future.

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Thorn Creek Trail to Three Floyds Ride 26 of 52

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Date: July 21, 2017
Distance: 40 miles
Weather: Hot, around 90.
Highlights of the trip: spectacular water garden landscaping at Architectural Accents next door to Three Floyds.

Lots of people ride from Chicago to Munster, IN to visit the venerable Three Floyds brewery, and either cycle or take the train back to the city. We desided to come at it a slightly different way, via Thorn Creek Trail with starts in south suburban Chicago Heights. We learned that is you travel the length of the trail to Bromwell Woods in Lansing, you end up within a stone's thrown of Three Floyds.

The stone's throw turned out to be quite a hurdle, as at the end of the trail we were deposited on a decidedly bike-unfriendly Glenwood Lansing Rd, which features a rumble strip along the entire length of its fairly narrow shoulder. After a nerve-wrecking and bone-rattling journey of a couple miles, skirting a warehouse district and the edge of Lansing Airport, we came to a short off-street spur which delivered us directly to Three Floyds' doorstep.

The doorstep was crawling with other brewed beverage enthusiasts, and accommodations for waiting patrons were quite meager. We were directed to the sun-baked parking lot, where we crouched in the shade of a small bush. Out of boredom, I wandered around the backside of the hedge, and discovered paradise. If you don't believe me, take a look at these photos!

After refreshing ourselves with tasty food and a couple beers, we headed back, going a little out of our way over quiet neighborhood streets in order to avoid the nightmarish highway experience.

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Great River Trail Ride 25 of 52

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Date: July 6, 2017
Distance: 20 miles
Weather: Brutal heat, mid 90's.
Highlights of the trip: gorgeous piney campground on the banks of the Mississippi at Usace Thomson Causeway Recreation Area, Arnold's Bike Shop in Thomson, IL.

We picked the wrong day for this ride. We were planning to ride a 20 mile stretch of the 60-mile Great River Trail between the towns of Fulton & Savanna, Illinois. However, after the first few miles of nicely wooded, shaded path, the trail took us over vast, open expanse of prairie, crackling in midday sun. Thermometer readings may have been in the mid-90's, but with heat radiating off the exposed ground we felt like we were under a broiler. We began to look with anticipation for the smallest hint of shade offered by spindly trees and sparse sumac bushes.

At last we came to a beautiful evergreen woodland park with pine-scented shaded paths and a working water fountain. We used out bottles to generously douse ourselves with water from head to toe. This would be doable, we thought, prematurely, as it turned out. After a short run through the state park, the trail spit us out again onto the side of a flat, bare, straight, sun-baked road, with contours of a US Penitentiary shimmering on the horizon. Gamely, we headed on, but after a couple of blocks it became clear that continuing the journey as planned might actually put us in danger of heatstroke.

We decided to cut our loses and turned east into the small hamlet of Thomson, IL in search of light colored t-shirts, sunscreen and water. We were pleasantly surprised to find all three at Arnold's Bike Shop. Actually, we were even more surprised to find Arnold's Bikes Shop in the first place -- a tiny shop, tucked away in a tiny town, packed to the rafters with recumbent bikes and trikes! The owners gave us free tubes of sunscreen and a free t-shirt to cover up my sunburnt shoulders, and gave us directions to a nearby old school ice cream place.

On the way back to Fulton, we took a little extra time to explore the beautiful piney state park, and discovered a tiny, secluded campground directly on the bank of the Mississippi, pictured in the main photo.

We'll definitely be back. In cooler weather.

Cannon Valley Trail, MN Ride 24 of 52

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Date: June 27, 2017
Distance: 40 miles
Weather: Sunny, mid 70's.
Highlights of the trip: spectacular scenery throughout the ride, beautifully maintained rest stops along the trail.

I wasn't too happy about going to a funeral on my birthday, but the unfortunate timing did have a silver lining in that we decided to take an extra day driving back from Minneapolis and use that mini-vacation to do something celebratory. Almost as an afterthought, we threw a couple of demo Brompton bikes into the trunk before heading out of the house.

After the funeral, and some social time with relatives, we left Minneapolis in the late afternoon. We chose quiet roads and planned to stop in the town of Red Wing on the banks of the Mississippi. We visited there many years back, and remembered it for the Red Wing Shoe factory there. On our approach into town, Chris spotted a sign that he thought said "Canyon" Valley Trail, which is how we decided we would spend the night in town and ride the trail the following day. Chris loves canyons.

The sign in fact said "Cannon" Valley Trail, but we decided to ride it anyway, and it ended up being one of the most memorable and beautiful rides of the year for us. This trail was our first encounter with trail day fees. In this instance I can honestly say the $4 per person contribution was well worth it. Cannon River Trail is one of the best maintained trails I've ever been on, with beautifully landscaped bike rest areas, complete with self-service bike repair stations over the length of the trail.

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Solstice Ride to Foster Beach Ride 23 of 52

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Date: June 21, 2017
Distance: 20 miles
Weather: Clear, low 70's.
Highlights of the trip: discovering more off-street connections east of Gompers Park

Although our days at the shop are tiring, especially during peak season, there's something supremely soothing about getting on a bike after work and gliding off into the twilight at the end of the day. As we wound our way from the shop over quiet side streets, we tacitly decided to go up north a bit further than necessary, so that we could enjoy the North Branch Trail a little longer. We picked our way over the quiet streets tucked away back behind the CTA bus depot off Elston, and crossed over the small woodchip covered foot path off North Indian Rd. to join the trail southbound right at the new bike bridge over the Metra rail line.

By this time, the tiredness started to melt away, and we rolled quietly through Forest Glen and Mayfair into Gompers Park. East of here, we enjoyed being led by one of the other ridersover little-known off-street connections between Gompers, Eugene Field, North Park University campus and stopping for a short break at the waterfall off Argyle where the North Branch of the River meets the North Shore Channel. At that point, we backtracked a bit to Foster and joined the traffic for the remainder of the ride to the Lakefront.

There was still a good bit of light still left as we lifted our bikes and climbed down the rocks to the edge of Lake Michigan. We brought beer, cider and a little food to share as the sun slowly went down behind the building, and our conversations faded to a lazy murmur. A group of teenagers nearby put on some hip-hop music, and another group in the distance set off a small volley of fireworks.

We stayed a while longer in the near complete darkness, sheltered from the city by the big stones, before heading back into the brightness of street lights.

LaBagh Woods Ultra-Local Adventure Ride 22 of 52

Date: June 11, 2017
Distance: under 10 miles of fatbiking and bushwhacking
Weather: Sunny, muggy 90's
Highlights of the ride: Instant escape. Graffiti.


We've reached the point in the summer when it's getting harder and harder to schedule our adventure rides. It's hard to take days off from our highly seasonal business in season. And some of those days off need to be designated for mundane tasks like laundry, taking the cat to the vet, shopping for groceries. Time for adventures has to be fought for and fiercely defended. Days, weeks tick by, and we're only just managing to stick to our goal of 52 adventure rides in 52 weeks.

Adventure this week had to happen on a workday (unlike God, we work on Sundays), and it had to happen before shop hours. The only solution was to keep it ultra-local. Adventure had to begin right outside our front door.

Fortunately, outside our door is LaBagh Woods. It is a gritty, scrappy little strip of urban forest preserve holding on for dear life along the banks of Chicago River's North Branch. But when you dip into the thicket on a fat-tired bike, the oaks are as magnificent, the water as sparkly, and the grasses as sun-dappled as anywhere.

The singletrack, which snakes along on both sides of the river, and branches out on numerous intriguing paths throughout the woods, is highly rideable. We were on fat bikes, but a mountain bike or even a hybrid would be up to the task, provided it has not rained and the ground is bone dry. But there were a lot of branches and logs strewn across the trail, and getting around them required a lot of dismounting and portaging the bikes over obstacles.

These derelict woods can be creepy, and bear evidence of weird, and even sinister human undertakings. So even if you live in one of the adjacent communities, you may not know that this small green space also holds surprises like several hidden ponds, which are hunting grounds for wading birds, tall stands of brilliant yellow irises, and dramatic long-fallen old trees whose decaying carcasses teem with the life of dense mosses, tiny flowers, insects and fungi.

Undersides of bridges and train trestles are bombed with exuberant graffiti, which, like this entire preserve, pulses with vibrant life.

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