When I moved from Ohio, I missed the trees and hills. Yet, I’ve grown to find the prairie pure, abundant and ever changing. This section of Springbrook park was burned completely down last fall, once the lightning storms and the Indians renewed the prairie this way. In one spring and summer the prairie returns verdant and full of life.
As we cycle this path, every day its newness is a gift.
We hopped the train to downtown and just outside of Union Station is Lou Mitchel’s restaurant. Since 1923 Lou’s has been at the start of famous Route 66, that American mother road connecting East to the West during the dust bowl ( 1930’s ) as people migrated to California hoping for new chances and prosperity.
Route 66 has long faded, replaced by the super highways that bypass the small towns, but Lou’s has kept some old traditions. You get a donut hole ( baked there ), a complimentary orange slice and prune with breakfast, and a free tiny serving of ice cream after your meal.
We had omelets which were light and fluffy, but the whole-wheat toast baked there was sublime. A bite of omelet, a bite of toast, a sip of fresh squeezed orange juice… life is good.
With a bit of ice-cream to cleanse the palate we were off. Chicago has adopted some European ideas for bike lanes and in many places the bike lane is next to the sidewalk inside the parking lane. This creates a wall of parked cars to protect cyclists – and I felt safe on those roads. We headed over to the 606, a new elevated bike/jogging/hiking path that runs over the streets. You can cycle for forty city blocks without a light or car nearby. It was one of the best planned paths I’ve seen – and at $95 million to complete – it’s certainly costly. But it makes Chicago safer and better for living.
Heading North about 35 miles through the luxurious Evanston and nearby burgs along the lake you view awe inspiring houses but we had The Botanic Gardens and butterflies in mind.
Then North another 15 miles for lunch…
Then ten more miles to the train-station and home. Chicago is a cyclist’s friend.
the katy trail is like a collage –
It’s Indigo buntings, and more cardinals than you’ve ever seen
It’s great owls that take off ahead of you like eagles
and eagles soaring overhead
It’s the river – powerful and fast
overflowing the boundaries after rain
It’s dolomite cliffs always on the right
and the river meandering near and away on the left
Towns that vanished leaving just traces when the
railroad failed…. bridges made 100 years ago
It’s mosquitoes – turtles and frogs that serenade you…
and jump 15 times their length to get out of the way
it’s humming birds, and dragonflys that dart
like birds and pebbles that fly to life – butterflies
or salamanders or lizards as you approach
The Katy trail is smiles from most everyone you meet
for I suspect I was smiling too,
even in the Missouri heat.
The book “Undaunted Courage” chronicles the 38 man Lewis and Clark expedition to new and marvelous places. Some 200 years later on my bicycle I chanced to follow their steps for nearly 200 miles along the mighty Missouri river.
Expecting to live off the land, Clark and his crew were all expert hunters and brought with them 400 pounds of lead to make bullets and the following food supplies:
150 pounds portable soup ( bouillon )
3 bushels rock salt/spices
30 kegs of spirits
The expedition also traded with the native Indians for squash, venison and fish along the Missouri, but after thirty miles on the trail we found “Trail Smokehouse” – and learned Missouri is barbecue.
Funny how a great sandwich and a glass of dark beer can energize a fellow. The river was very high, and one section of the trail was flooded taking us about five miles around through mud and water before we finally rejoined the trail. At the end of the day nothing says sixty miles through 90 degree heat like a frozen Margarita.
In the morning it was waffle house and grits… ( I was born in the South after all ) It reminded me of Lewis writing in his journal about using the last of the butter, or his first taste of buffalo. Near Rocheport where the eagles and hawks soar over the river near the cliffs you can ride up, park your bike and get a fresh pizza made in his outside wood oven.
The expedition found the bugs so thick that they often smeared their skin with grease or sat in the smoke of their fires. We had deep-woods Off, but this little gem of a restaurant had tents for shade, and giant outdoor fans to create a gentle breeze to keep the heat and bugs away.
Clark’s team went through lean times, where they were forced to trade for horses and dogs from the Indians to eat, or the river was so dangerous that they had to wait until it subsided before continuing on. We had missed the rain, but the river was racing by full of trees and other obstacles. It wasn’t all hard times, when fruit and berries were in season, Clark and his men enjoyed berry tarts, or Morel mushrooms. Near Jefferson City after the hottest day we found a little place “Prison Brews” with a motif like an old prison. In it they brew some fine beers, but most importantly – make their own root-beer. I had that first.. what a way to start a meal.
They had a fine Stout that Jan enjoyed and my Blue Cheese Burger proved, life in Missouri can be pretty fine.
We did a bit of urban cycling the other day, down the CALsag trail in it’s newly paved beauty along the canal, and then through Blue Isle ( not sure how a landlocked town gets that name ) and through Roseland to Pullman. Roseland is the hard hit neighborhood where many of the stores are boarded up or converted to Churches or Mosques or bars. When the jobs have left a place, then people look to find hope in one place or another. Just beyond is Pullman, a town of historical contradictions.
Of the Pullman factory – the engine of opportunity where luxury rail-road cars were made little remains.
Factories need people, and George W. Pullman envisioned a city for his workers, designed by architects with clean air, good schools manned by trained teachers, and indoor plumbing in every house. It was his idea of Utopia. In 1870, he was a visionary humanitarian – and his city was considered the finest in the world. Today, you can ride past the grand hotel, or magnificent church and the row houses and boarding houses in which his workers lived and worshiped.
The company maintained every building, and the workers paid rent. The workers shopped at the company store, banked at the company bank – and even the ministers rented the church for services provided their sermon’s aligned with the Pullman beliefs.
In 1874 there was a recession, and Pullman cut the worker’s wages by 30% but refused to reduce the rents. The factory workers struck, and Pullman crushed the strike. Then railroad workers across the country refused to work any passenger train that had a Pullman car on it. The Pullman name was reviled, and his utopia called un-American and despicable in every way. The Federal Government then broke the rail strike.
Pullman died shortly after the strike of a heart-attack. The scoundrel had tons of cement poured over his grave so that no-one could desecrate his body, and the humanitarian left a bequeath to fund a million dollar endowment to educate the children of the workers at his factory.
As we rode back to wrap up our 50 mile ride I pondered this complex man, and his vision while words of John Goodman’s ‘City of New Orleans’ played in my mind…
And the sons of Pullman porters
And the sons of engineers
Ride their fathers’ magic carpet made of steel
PS – if you ever played the video game Bioshock – with it’s visionary madman and failed utopia – it has to be modeled after this time and place
I’d missed the deluge ( 3 inches of rain in an hour in the mountains means floods. ) In today’s 59 miles there would be several 9 mile descents and instead of mostly open vista’s, the ride would include more canyons and several tunnels.
It followed along and crossed rushing mountain streams,
And Jan kept finding places where the road intersected the trail and surprising me…
About 20 miles in, my tire started to flatten, and my portable pump no longer worked. That left me pedaling up hill for about seven miles on about 2PSI ( Pounds per inch. ) Few things equal the annoyance of carrying extra weight almost 100 miles in the mountains and finding when you need it it doesn’t work. But Jan had a pump in the car and at the next trailhead I replaced the tube. I was ready for more long downhills
Through tunnels ( mostly short ) ….
And up to the last meadow before the end. The burst of green aspen leaves is one of my favorite memories.
Near the end… I was a bit saddened… I wish the trail never ended.
But things end, even the good ones… and I was left with lingering reminders… I’d lathered on bug spray on my exposed flesh, never realizing the mosquitoes would bite right through my spandex leaving me with 40 itching memories on my behind and the back of my legs
This is a bike ride that’s worth the effort.
The day on the Michelson trail was done. I’d ridden the best part of fifty miles uphill, avoided getting caught in a tempestuous downpour and met Jan for a car ride back to the hotel in Custer City. I’d showered, oh glorious hot water, and we caught the Preakness and the triple crown, it was turning out to be a very good day. Little did I expect it would get even better.
Jan picked out a little place, Black Hills Burger and Bun Company, family run only open from 11:00AM-2:00PM and 5:00-7:30. They take no reservations, you just show up and they take your name.
We gave our names and while we waited outside as the mountain sun began to wane Jan tried to convince me that a 900 pound piece of rose quartz in the rock shop next to the restaurant really wasn’t for us. Soon enough, they called our name and we went into the little restaurant.
We started off with a craft beer, Alaskan Amber on tap and then split a Greek salad.
Everything was crisp and fresh, and the dressing was a basalmic that complemented without overpowering the olives, the feta cheese, cucumbers, greens and tomato slices. Everything about the salad showed their commitment to food.
I ordered the “Iowan” burger, with Maytag Farms blue cheese, garlic aioli, carmalized onion and bacon. They bake their own bread for buns and the baked bean side featured a mix of beans and was as fine a baked bean combination as I have had.
As I say, “Hunger is the best sauce,” but this meal stands as both subtle and hearty. A sip of beer, a taste of beans, a bite of the savory burger… life is good.
We could have hurried out, and I was surprised they didn’t hurry us out like happens in the city sometimes but after we finished I went for the coconut custard pie. I was crossed up, expecting a coconut cream pie, but this had almost a rice pudding texture with the coconut and custard complementing each other perfectly. I had calculated with my map-my-ride tool that I had used about 4,000 calories on the ride so ice-cream of course.
Then it was back to the hotel thinking what a fine trip so far. If you head up the Black Hills way you won’t be sorry to stop by this fine food establishment.
South Dakota can be brown and solemn or lush and verdant. This trip to ride the George S. Michelson trail was marked by rain and green. The trail runs from Edgemont ( mile 0 ) up to Deadwood ( mile 108 ) along an old railroad branch ( an offshoot from the main route ) that was built in the 1890’s shortly after the 1874 gold rush in the Black Hills. Last used as a rail way in 1983, with the help of Governer George S. Michelson it was converted into one of the best rails to trails paths in the country.
Like the foothills that lead to the mountains, the trail runs up, starting wide open along the crushed gravel path. It was in great shape, and crosses more than 100 converted train bridges as it gently rises. The first thirty-five miles I rode, I saw not a single other rider.
You ride along, with the birds and the small green frogs singing, keeping one out for rattlesnakes who might be sunning themselves ( I only saw one ) sometimes it seems that you’ve covered hardly any ground. If I crept slowly uphill, more on pace with Samwise and Frodo painstakingly ascending Mount Doom than the intrepid Tour de France riders… well stay with me, I’ll think of some excuse soon.
Then you look off to the side and think, I guess I’ve climbed a bit, even with this gentle rail-road pitch to the trail.
I admit at mile 35, where likely 30 miles had been uphill, I was hot from the sun and pretty tired. I met Jan at the trail-head and she had lunch, a sandwich, unsweetened green iced tea, and fresh blackberries. Encouraged an invigorated the last fifteen miles were easily climbed
Just past this pasture, Jan picked me up and it was off to our hotel in Custer City – just as she picked me up at the trail-head the heavens opened with the start of a three inch in an hour rain. But of course, anything can happen in the mountains.
We had the day to cut across Nebraska toward South Dakota and the Black Hills. We headed off the highway along Route 20, stopping a few times when something caught our fancy. Somethings exceed your expectations, and some not. I recall Pizza Hut as better, but it was fun to watch the local town kids go through the pizza buffet like locusts across the plains.
We detoured a bit to Ashfall Fossil Beds in Nebraska. Aside from pirate treasure, what could be more fun than to discover a bed of rhino’s, camels, giant tortoises from long ago.
You can walk by, and see the fossils in situ, as the college students gently work and scrape around them.
Then it’s on to South Dakota and the Mammoth Site called us…
Mammoth Site is a private place, and though we skipped the tour and just hopped through since we had miles to go before we slept… we gleaned that this was a sink hole, where these large fellows tumbled down to be trapped forevermore. This site too showed the bones as they were found…
I recall reading of the early settlers hearing tales of the Indians hunting these beasts. All I know is that these bones show they were here once. We gazed at the bones in wonder, and then it was time to head to Edgemont South Dakota to find a glass or two of craft beer and supper.
If you have time, you can hop off the interstate and drive across the country on Route 20. If you have time, you can stop a time or three just because something looks interesting as you drive past the small towns and farms in Nebraska and South Dakota. You might stop for to take a picture of the “Plainview Klowndoll Museum” (as a joke because your daughter can’t stand clowns ) and find the old-timer working on lawn likes your tee-shirt and opens up the place so you can take a little tour, even though it’s closed.
You might find very rare Red Skeleton pieces, or a clown carved out of a single piece of coal, or another made of the ash from the Mt. St. Helen’s volcanic ash melted into glass. It started with a bequeath – and now every item of the over seven thousand items has been donated. Dolls and knick-knacks, some people come visit this tiny out of the way town to be sure their collection will have a nice home there. And then they donate.
We had places to be, reservations to keep and so we only stayed a few moments. Still we left richer for the time we spent there.