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Calumet City — Joliet — Channahon – bike ride

Joliet, Illinois / Photo: Todd Tracy — June 5th, 2020  -The Jacob Henry Mansion-

Joliet, Illinois / Photo: Todd Tracy — June 5th, 2020 Going over the Des Plaines River by way of the 4th street bridge.

I was in the city of Munster, Indiana, directly at the border with Illinois, about a mile south of Calumet City and Chicago. It was the first few minutes of June 5th, 2020. There had been enough riots, during the previous day, that SWAT had just been called in and they were currently perched on top of the shopping malls with their sniper rifles, as a deterrence to looting. There was an 8pm curfew — in effect–. Illinois had different rules from Indiana, concerning COVID-19, and the nightly protests over the death of George Floyd had the region in a state of tension. Illinois and Chicago were on complete lockdown and yet, I was just peddling through in the middle of the night, only knowing where I was by Google Map’s directions for bicyclists.

I was nervous because I had heard that Chicago was a tough town, known for gun violence. I was nervous about running out of battery power for my phone and getting lost. I wanted to avoid any confrontation with the police because I was breaking the curfew. This was a big city environment, that I knew nothing about. I could only see the names of towns, nothing jumped out from the maps except my immediate path forward. With my eyes, in the night, I could see the city streets and cars swooping by at speed. I had been removed from the suburban bike paths. I knew I was near the border. I was disoriented because I had been peddling now for about 36 hours with only a cat nap here and there.

I pulled up to a closed gas station. Indeed there was an electrical outlet. I plugged everything in, lights, powerbank, and phone. By this point, I had an adapter so that I only needed access to one outlet to be able to charge everything up at once.

I was just standing there, watching the traffic go by. A police car rolled right up to me. Two cops got out. They were friendly at first. They began to ask me a million questions. I showed them that I was just charging up. I was riding across the country. They didn’t believe me. They asked where I was staying. I told them that I was at a motel in Auburn, the day before. They were like, “no way that’s hundreds of miles away.” Then I showed them the videos, from that same day, already up on youtube. They were like, “holy-shit man.”

I said to the officer, “It’s a mental game, more than anything else!”

He asked, “Are you having a hard time with that?”

“No dude!”

I asked them, “how far to the Illinois border.”

They said, “about 15 feet.”

They gave me a bottle of water.

They left me there, charging. I was excited about Illinois, but of all the states, I knew so very little about it. I hopped back on and peddled out into the night. I was tapping into mental reserves that night. It was becoming a mental game. Being tired, always in a new place, having my guard up, being in unknown cities, continuously moving, concentrating on the short terms goals, keeping an eye on the medium-term goals. It was taking its toll, the tension and the concentrating, keeping focus, staying alert, and putting miles away, with no sleep.

Joliet, Illinois, the Des Plaines River. / Photo: Todd Tracy — June 5th, 2020

At night, in city traffic, is the most difficult, aside from snow or extreme weather. One knows the cars can’t see one. They aren’t expecting you to be there. They don’t know why your red light is blinking. Your whole mission/ existence doesn’t make sense to them. They are just cars at that point. They might as well be robots. They can and will kill you, if you let them. All it would take is just a slight jerk to the left, by you or by them and whamo — life is over. You have to remain alert for hours at a time. But not just alert: you have to project your will. You have to take that place in the traffic. You have to stand out so that they see you. You have to peddle in such a way as to make them respect you. If you don’t; they will drive right over you.

This whole Chicago, curfew — riot thing was adding to my unease. I needed to get past it all. You can’t look like you don’t know where you are, which of course you don’t. You cant look exhausted, which of course one is. You cant take a break, because you don’t know the neighborhood. The only thing you can do is to keep moving. Peddling into the night with the headlights blinding you at every moment. Your only savior is google maps and God help you if the battery runs out.

Praying helps. Affirmations help as well. My short-term goal was to get out of the Chicago City area. My medium-term goal was to make it to Joliet. I knew there was a prison there because of the movie The Blues Brothers. The opening scene of that film is shot at Joliet Prison. I had the entire state of Illinois to get through. However, the next state after Illinois is Iowa, home to Des Moines, my longer-term-medium-term goal for the journey. Des Moines was still a good way off. The mental game was wearing me down.

Eventually, I found myself on a bike path. Luckily my lights were working. I came up to a little wooded area. I was thinking about maybe setting up the tent. A car pulled into a nearby parking lot, a bottle was thrown out the window and smashed all over the street. The car sped off. No – not a great place for camping, too many unknown glass bottles getting thrown about. I had to continue on. I came upon a baseball field. Again, it looked like a great place to set up the tent, but I wasn’t quite sure. I kept moving on, playing the mental game. Saying the affirmations about making it to Des Moines, over and over again. I was going slow because I was seriously looking for a place for the tent. It was late, maybe three in the morning. Suddenly, I was in a green field, though it was dark. There was a beautifully manicured lawn of many acres. The bike path was perfect. There were no signs of any other people. Then I saw it. It was a huge round vaulted Pavillion sitting smack dab in the middle of a field. My bicycle path led right up to it. Was I dreaming? It was as if the gods had delivered me to bicycle-riding heaven. I pulled my bike into the Pavillion. There were outlets for charging. There was not a soul around to make me feel self-conscious for lying down on the circular bench in public. I was slightly chilled in the air but my body temperature was pumping. My mind was shot and I was able to let go of all thoughts and just relax. My body was still on fire but my mind needed the rest. I have to say that my body never let me down no matter how hard I worked it, there was always more gas in the tank.

At first light, at 530am I arose. I was refreshed. My mind was clear. I was grateful that the town of Frankfurt, Illinois had invested in the pavilion and the beautiful bike paths. I would be forever grateful. It was as if they had a weary traveler, such as myself, in mind when they designed the town.

There were other people up and about as I made my way down the path. Coffee was in order. The sun was out and I was somewhat rested. I was thinking about the mental game. This is one of those points along the way that I realized that I had been using self-hypnosis, and it was working. I had convinced myself that this was the most important thing in the world. That I had no other choice but to continue. I had set myself up with my friends, in that I had expressed my goals on Facebook and they now were expecting me to do it. To ride all the way across the country. There were so many obstacles. My age for one, I am in my early fifties, kind of late to be starting out across the continent on a bicycle. The pandemic was another obstacle, I was alone out there, there were no other cyclists or even people hanging out to meet up with. I was all alone. People are afraid of strangeurs, under normal circumstances. The wind was another obstacle, it was going in the wrong direction most of the time. I had injured my hand. I had developed terrible rashes. My girlfriend didn’t want me to go. I didn’t have a well-planned path,  making it up as I went along. I didn’t have a lot of money for hotels or food.

But for each of these obstacles, I found a solution. There was always a solution when I wanted one. I began to learn something about self-determination, about being determined. I put myself in a position where I couldn’t back out, easily.

I was thinking about the people who had settled the Americas, and what they must have been thinking. America is a terribly big place. Every hill and every stream and river is different. The weather was always changing. I was constantly having to adapt, to rain, or hunger, thirst, sleeplessness, being freaked out, being lost, cold, hot, and just plain ole being wiped out.

I was cruising along that beautiful morning, on a bike path, looking forward to Joliet, the last big city before the mid-west was to open up real wide and swallow me. I got into Joliet that morning. I was at a train station. At first, I noticed an unsavory character milling about. I can always tell if someone has no mission, in life, by the way they are walking. Are they walking like they have a place to be like a job or a  family, or are they walking like they have nothing to do, nowhere to go? One can sense a lack of ambition in strangeurs.

In Joliet, I sensed an amazing past. The grand nature of the architecture tells a story, the language is hard to interpret without knowing any of the details and it comes off as a sensation. I slowly peddled my way through the downtown area. It was very early in the morning. My alert factor was pinging high response because of the rundown nature of the place. Yet it was beautiful, I would call Joliet a beautiful desperation.

Then, I came to an old metal bridge, spanning a wide river. I had to hop off and take a picture because it was just such an interesting vibe. I hopped back on and kept going, over the bridge. I was now on the far side of the river, there were river barges everywhere. This wasn’t the kind of river that you look at in beauty necessarily, it’s the kind of river that is worked, used for transport of cement and goods and that kind of thing. Kind of like the Hudson River.

 

The bike path started out along the highway and veered into a path along a canal that was next to the river. It was actually a canal towpath, again. I was becoming an expert at this kind of thing. There was all kinds of life along this path. The canal is called the Illinois and Michigan Canal. The I & M Canal Trail! And yes, there were many camping spots along the way. However, right next to the canal seemed a little sketchy because the water wasn’t really flowing and there were turtles and snakes everywhere. I wanted to keep moving. I was glad to be out of vehicular traffic and back to nature. But it was a strange kind of nature. It was a nature that had been reclaimed from an industrial past. Every once in a while I got a peek of the big river we were following, the Des Plaines River. In my mind, I was celebrating the fact that I had made it past Joliet, one of my short-term goals from the day before. Now I became obsessed with finalizing the State of Illinois, though I had only just arrived. I could almost taste Iowa. Yet it was still far. There were plenty of places to camp along the canal. I kept moving. I was in the dirt. My bike was doing just great.

 

Along the canal path, signs were posted for free camping!. This was cool it was some kind of State Park. Illinois had its own rules for the pandemic. Then I came to a small town called Channahon. I got some food and headed straight for the state park, which was supposedly open for camping. It had just opened. I was desperate to get a spot.

I pulled into the most beautiful state park I had ever seen. The bike path and the canal ran right through it. And there were no other campers. I had my choice of camping spots. I set up the tent, had a walk around. I chatted with the rangers. I paid the 8 bucks for the night. They told me it would be safe from any local riff-raff such as the teenage kids that like to cause trouble. There would be a police presence and the park would be closed to day traffic at about 10 pm. This was great, I was in heaven. I had come a long way. I hadn’t had a good night’s sleep in three days and nights. I was in the heartland. I had a clear path forward. This was the first state park that I had run into that had open bathrooms. Maybe the pandemic was coming to an end. During these early days  ofCovid -19, one didn’t know if it was going to end as quickly as it had arrived. It was just an unknown.

I had won the mental game. I was safe. I washed my socks with the hose. I slept real good. I was able to relax. I had made it all the way across Indiana and well into Illinois without stopping. I had had a few cat naps. But this was a real sleep.