We picked the wrong day for this ride. With our Bromptons in the trunk of the car, we headed out of Chicago intending to ride out and back over 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. To be fair, the prairie landscape is nothing short of breathtaking. Miles of uniquely midwestern flora along the trail deserve to be fully explored and appreciated. However, though the thermometer readings may have been in the mid-90's, 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, a working water fountain, and a very civilized washroom. We used our 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 -- tucked away in a tiny town, Arnold's is a minuscule shop, packed to the rafters with recumbent bikes and trikes! Our Bromptons were an instant conversation starter, and the owners gave us free tubes of sunscreen and a free t-shirt to cover up my sunburnt shoulders, and pointed us 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 banks of the Mississippi, pictured in the main photo.
We'll definitely be back. In cooler weather.
Season: July (NOT recommended. We'll repeat this ride in the fall.)
Distance: 20 miles (out of 40 planned)
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.