the power of a child

Little acts can change our day. Today I found this in my mailbox.

If I interpret this correctly, in the eyes of a child I'm skinny - what's not to like

If I interpret this correctly, in the eyes of a child I’m skinny – what’s not to like?

It was from Tessa our neighbor’s six year old daughter. I learned a lesson too. Small sincere acts of kindness really do lift our spirits. Thanks Tessa, we’re never too old to learn.

Thanks Tessa, love is infectious, but it's something that's good to catch.

Thanks Tessa, love is infectious, but it’s something that’s good to catch.

Pass it on.

sunrise – cycling

At 6:00 am, the train station is desolate. The streets to the train station are empty and the air is cool. We were soon to be off on the train to downtown Chicago and from there ride our bicycles up along the lake and paths the 120 miles to Milwaukee.

Naperville-station, as isolated as if the zombie apocalypse was upon us

Naperville-station, as isolated as if the zombie apocalypse was upon us

Dawn rises along the tracks and soon enough the ride begins.

sunrise along the tracks

sunrise along the tracks

Every ride is full of wonders, like the scent of chocolate baking along the streets of downtown, or the sea of spandex when our path merged with a woman’s 1/2 marathon. It’s a chance to find mom/pop restaurants like the Mexican place in Evanston where you can get corn meal pancakes and the restaurant is so small that you have to walk through the tiny kitchen and ask the dishwasher move to get into the tiny restroom.

corn meal pancakes - like a corn muffin you can put syrup on - what's not to like ?

corn meal pancakes – like a corn muffin you can put syrup on – what’s not to like ?

Hope you ride your bike to new places and find adventures of your own.

cycling the old plank trail – rootbeer

The Old Plank Road Trail in Illinois is 21 very straight miles between Joliet and Chicago Heights. The easy ride will take you past many suburbs and you’ll see everything from Saturday French Farmer’s Markets, McMansions to 1950 style box houses, woods and wetland and malls and Costco. This trail was first a Native American game trail, and then a toll road where immigrants who couldn’t afford the barge fee on the canals paid a penny to walk along the wood-lined planked road instead of the rutted knee deep mud of the paths. It later became a railway and then finally a paved recreation path and a bit of a window into the settling of the Midwest.

It’s an easy cruising now, nicely paved past a variety of sights. There’s a great suspension bridge over the highway that must have won a prize somewhere, and halfway down the trail in Frankfort, where the tail passes right through town, you can stop at Build a Bun and get a custom hotdog and a root-beer. We found this new one from Missouri with the Route-66 brand.

refreshing - way to enjoy a bike-ride.

refreshing – way to enjoy a bike-ride.

A new path, hot-dogs, sunshine and autumn air and a new root-beer makes for a great riding day.

a million flowers on the back of the envelope

I rode my bicycle, it’s fallen to 53 degrees and stopped by a hillside. If you do like back of the envelope calculations you might count a 2 x 2 square and find it had 100 flowers and that in a space that could hold ten thousand squares you could behold a million flowers.

Or you could just saw wow.

a million flowers on the prairie

a million flowers

And enjoy it before winter comes once again.

wheels and hoofs – cycling and horses

Wrapping up Wyoming for 2014, I took a cycling ride from the cabin to Bear Gulch. It was about seven miles with one thousand feet of climbing. These days, that’s a hard ride for me. At the top, the as far as I can go top, I sat on a rock and ate some local cherries we had purchased at a local farmer’s market.

Resting at Bear Gulch

Resting at Bear Gulch

Many of you who know horses may think they prefer to hang about the corral with their buds just waiting until it’s time to go out to pasture. However my I-phone horse translator tells me that this one was saying… “What do you mean you didn’t take me to Bear Gulch with all the sweet grass… Are you crazy ? ” My legs and lungs said I should have listened.

Bear Gulch... that's a very serious matter!

Bear Gulch… that’s a very serious matter!

I&M canal – miles 83 – 96 cycling

Alot of people traveled the I&M canal and each had their story. In France we visited a vineyard ordered planted by Charlemagne 800, along the I&M Canal not even 200 years old, Abe Lincoln rode the gentle water pulled by a mule, and one of my favorites Wild Bill Hickock was there too. In fact, back then most of the mule drivers were young boys aged 14 – 17. Wild Bill, then just “James Butler” was there driving mules.

Today one boat remains for tours and a little ride.

The last working boat on the river

The last working boat on the river

We came by just as they were heading out, with a one horse, I mean mule-powered engine.

I never believed in love at first sight until I saw these two together....

I never believed in love at first sight until I saw these two together….

Well Wild Bill witnessed another mule-driver mistreating his animals and took exception. A fight, or “bug tussle” ensued and the two went into the water. Each came out thinking they had killed the other, and rather than face a hanging, the two separately headed West to Indian territories. Now that’s how to start an adventure. Of course Wild Bill’s ended with aces and eights, but that’s another story. We just waved to the boat and pedaled on.

Farther from the big city, you can see the impact of the economy and hard times and many times we ride between neglected trail and passing abandoned industry. Still there’s beauty on the trail.

the timeless beauty, a product of sweat and toil

the timeless beauty, a product of sweat and toil

One section of the trail was closed, so we entered and rode down to see for ourselves. We found a washed out bridge, but somebody had taken the warning signs and laid them down at a narrow section so we could use it as a footbridge across. Score one for disrespect for authority. Then since the trail was closed, the rangers didn’t do much clearing and we had a section of under the tree

My poor daughter showed up for a visit and got dragged on a 35 mile bike ride...

My poor daughter showed up for a visit and got dragged on a 35 mile bike ride…

or over the tree. Personally I enjoyed that section….

this was an over that Shannon Chris and I had to get past

this was an over that Shannon Chris and I had to get past

At the end, riding the I&M canal let us walk in the footsteps of people who helped build the country, some famous, some infamous, almost all of them with an adventurous spirit.

rootbeer and chips – food cycling

We happened into an upscale restaurant halfway through a bike ride to LaSalle Illinois. Cycling into a town, you roll up and down the small main-street looking for a place that looks good. Across the street from a hot-dog place was the Uptown Grill. We normally try the hot-dog place almost every time, but since my daughter was riding with us, we decided a place with napkins would be in order. The grill turned out to be a very fine restaurant with a complex menu and fine wine list. But, for a biking lunch I threw down the gauntlet. What kind of root-beer do you serve ?

This is one fine root-beer.

This is one fine root-beer.

They say hunger is the best sauce for food, but a hot humid bike ride can help a root-beer taste pretty good. Hank’s from Philadelphia was a rich smooth root-beer, served in a chilled glass. A restaurant that cares about its root-beer just has to care about everything.

We had Gorgonzola chips, fresh made chips so crispy and light your fingers didn’t get greasy.

behold Gorgonzola chips, guilt free with a six hour bike ride

behold Gorgonzola chips, guilt free with a six hour bike ride

Having just been in France, this reminded me welcome back home to American cuisine.

let your hair down

I happened to come across a post where someone labeled another who had differing views. Of course I violated the “blogging prime directive” – don’t throw gasoline on someone else’s fire, it’s their blog, their belief, and one snarky comment won’t do a darn thing to open their eyes.

Still, I am reminded of Gimli the dwarf words from Tolkien: “The words of this wizard stand on their heads.”

When we dehumanize or vilify an opponent we take the first step of the path toward justifying violence.

While I am sure this tower is not so grand as Orthanc where Gimli and Sauron bandied words, if you ride your bicycle down the Illinois Prairie Trail as it lazily parallels the Fox river, you can catch a glimpse of this modern day castle built in the 1930’s by the Pratt family.

Built in the 1930's by an engineer.

Built in the 1930’s by an engineer.

Maybe just the place to let down your hair….

father’s day thoughts

My dad was a tough guy. Never said much about difficulty. In fact I found an old journal of his where all he said about being on the beach in Normandy was “It was hell.”

One of my daughters played basketball. Often we would ride our bikes over to a nearby playground and shoot baskets and play one-on-one. One day my twelve year old hops on her bike with the ball under her left arm, right hand for steering and off she goes with me following. Two blocks from home, I see her reach her right hand over to the left side to shift gears and wham it’s “Hello pavement meet girl.”

A neighbor lady who was out walking saw the spill and sprints up making comforting noises. I ride up, “You’re OK, let’s go.” Leaving a stunned neighbor, mouth agape as off we go.

About a block later as we silently ride on I glance over at my ever game companion and she is cuts and scrapes and blood all over. “Uhhh… maybe we should turn around and let your mom check you out.” Remember girls, Webbs gotta be tough, just not that tough.

Happy Father’s day kids, thanks for putting up with the learning curve.

Hidden Treasure I&M canal mile 58-83

Farther from the city the canal trail is not so well maintained. One of the aqueducts has collapsed leaving the canal a “tadpole puddle”. Some places it’s full of sediment, and trees 30 feet high grow there or people mow the grass in the canal behind their homes like it’s a play-ground for their kids.

Some places just a tadpole puddle.

Some places just a tadpole puddle.

It’s hot, over 90 degrees ( 32 c ) and the trees give shade, but the large waterfowl are gone. We hear birds singing around us, but they are deep in the trees. At one section, the sticks ahead of us suddenly wriggle away, turns out they are snakes sunning.

This is like where I grew up, small town America – wave at everyone, don’t have to lock your doors. Kids smile and wave at us, and one family is playing with their pet goat. We meet a guy who has ridden many trails, over a thousand miles all with his two buds.

Two little guys for company, they've logged over a thousand miles in their milk crate

Two little guys for company, they’ve logged over a thousand miles in their milk crate

We pass Seneca, a little town where a brick making company is still going strong after starting in 1835. They sit right on the canal and I wonder how many of Chicago’s fine brick homes were build on bricks fired there. During the potato famine in Ireland over two million people died or left the country in a great diaspora. Many found their fortunes here, and many their ruin, for malaria and dysentery claimed a toll. The workers believed that whiskey would prevent malaria, and so held out to ensure that their weekly pay included a ration of whiskey.

It’s too hot for snow, but the cotton-wood seeds drift down like snow and later we pass a golden meadow.

cottonwood seeds are like snow in June

cottonwood seeds are like snow in June

the golden treasure given to those who travel

the golden treasure given to those who travel

We ended at mile 83 in Ottawa, the Indian word for trade, at the conflux of three rivers the French had been trading for furs since the 1600’s. Ottawa hosted one of the Lincoln presidential debates, but now is just a quiet place. When Illinois was nearly broke in the 1840’s they had to borrow 1.6 million from investors to finish the canal. What’s was a dollar worth in those days? The workers digging by the canal by hand received one dollar a week and their whiskey ration.

We were left to turn around and head back the 25 miles, once more moving through time and we returned to the car. One more ride ahead of us to get us to mile 96 and the end of the I&M canal.