Through the Valleys of the Two Great Rivers to Chicago:
This is the 6th installment in a series of posts detailing a 6-day Halcyon 250 trip across the US in the footsteps of the first person to cross the continent on a motorized vehicle. To catch the start of the journey check out our earlier posts on this blog.
At 6:30am on Wednesday May 29th I was back on Interstate 80 heading east out on Council Bluffs, Iowa toward Naperville, Illinois. This would be the shortest leg of the whole trip at just over 430 miles and I had high hopes of actually making the rendezvous point with the rest of the riders as there was word that Mike Kneebone, President of the Iron Butt Association would be in attendance. I was also looking forward to catching up with the rest of there group as I had not seen or spoken to anyone from the Wyman group since my unplanned stop in Rock Springs, Wyoming two days before. While this day's mileage was relatively short, the 750+ miles I had ridden the previous day had taken quite a toll on me. This section proved to be the most challenging day of riding for me of the whole trip. Unlike my trusty Halcyon, which sped along without a care in the world, only requiring a once-every-100-mile fuel up to be perfectly happy, my sore body rebelled every time I remounted the bike. One of the things that I discovered on the trip was that after a certain point, the discomfort of riding reaches a plateau. It doesn’t get better, but then again it actually doesn’t get any worse. I took comfort in knowing that old George Wyman must have had it far worse pushing and bouncing along on his motorbike 115 years before me with barely a road to follow, much less the smooth asphalt of Interstate 80. Another factor that contributed to the difficulty of the day’s ride was the temperature. Up to this point, the temperatures had been almost perfect for riding; a bit on the cool side, but not too cold that I needed to use insulated gloves. Now, as the Midwest sun beat down on the plains I started to really feel the heat.
Following the advise of Tim Masterson, I had contacted Mario Winkelman of LDComfort in preparation for my ride. LDComfort makes specialty base layers designed specifically for long distance motorcycling. Mario was generous enough to donate a set of his base layers for my ride and walk me through their proper use. Some people might wonder what the big deal could be with base layers—they’re just underwear, right? Well, yes, but these are also a whole lot more and great deal of experience, research, and design went into these specialty garments. The basic idea behind LDComfort gear is that it is made of two separate layers, the inner of which transfers moisture to the outer layer to evaporate and properly regulate body temperature and moisture levels while simultaneously alleviating chafing. You can literally soak a piece of LDComfort 2-layer fabric, ring it out and blot a piece of paper towel to the inner side and it won’t show any moisture. These are two key factors to comfortable long distance riding. For more extreme long distance riders, such as those competing in the Iron Butt Rally (11,000 miles in 11 days), this can go beyond comfort and become a health issue. Contrary to what most riders would assume, the best garment for hot or cold weather riding is the same thing: a close fitting long sleeved shirt and full length tights. In cold weather they obviously keep you warm, but in hot weather, they allow you to function in conditions that would be impossible without them. The secret, once again, is with moisture. The body keeps itself cool with perspiration and evaporation, essentially creating its own air-conditioning. These specialty garments are able to retain the moisture necessary for evaporation and cooling while keeping you dry, also very important to sustained comfort while riding.
I was able to experience the surprising ability of LDComfort gear to keep me cool in the 85-degree temperatures and full sun I experienced across Iowa and Illinois. The trick is literally to pour just enough water down your sleeves and back to soak into the material. You then open the zippers on your sleeves and CLOSE the vents on your jacket. While this at first seems counterintuitive, it makes sense once you try it. While riding, air enters your sleeves, travels up and over your moist LDComfort outer layers, and provide cool air over your core. By not opening the vents on your jacket you allow this moist air to stay in your jacket rather than blasting on through and drying out you and your sleeves immediately. By leaving your collar slightly open, exhaust air is allowed to passively escape only after it has lost its cooling effects. I found that stopping around every hour or so was enough to almost feel like I was running my own air-conditioning. Not only does this keep you cool, but it allows you to retain moisture and stay better hydrated. This was probably the hottest day of my ride and I felt very grateful to have the benefit of this technology.
Around 2:00pm I fueled up and grabbed a bite to eat in Iowa City, 60 miles short of Davenport and the Illinois state line. Just before Davenport, Interstate 80 heads south through Peru, Illinois, and Joliet, then back up through the south side of Chicago. I decided to take a more northerly route on Interstate 88, following the course of the Rock River. Once into Illinois, I again altered course and left the interstate at Sterling to get back on Route 30. The slightly more direct path across Illinois promised lower miles and the reduced speed limit wouldn’t really hamper the Halcyon. It was wonderful to leave the interstate and get back on a two-lane road again across fields that looked more and more familiar to the farmland of northern Indiana. I was tired and sore, and relished every break I count afford time to take out of the saddle.
As the afternoon progressed, I knew that making the 7:00pm rendezvous dinner in Naperville would be down to the minute. I had my fuel supply pretty well figured out by this point and decided that with my main and auxiliary fuel I could make it all the way to the rendezvous without purchasing more fuel. On a graceful sweeping curve just short of Shabbona, Illinois my Halcyon coughed, sputtered, and coasted to a stop on the side of the road. I had been watching my odometer for the past few miles and was ready to quickly dismount, spin off the Rotopax auxiliary tank, fill up with my extra gallon of fuel, and get back on my way in under 5 minutes. Speeding into the outskirts of Aurora, Illinois, Route 30 rejoined Interstate 88 and crossed the Fox River at 7:00pm with just 10 miles to the rendezvous point. As I pulled into the parking lot and shut off the engine, I had the surreal experience of still hearing a Janus engine running. Rechecking the bike, I looked up to find another Halcyon pulling in right next to me. It was John Tan on Halcyon #107, a local Aurora Janus owner who had come out to join for dinner and catch up on my journey thus far. Tim Masterson must have been watching my SPOT track because he walked out to meet me and usher me into dinner in my full riding attire. I shed my gear and found a seat right next to what turned out to be the President of the Iron Butt Association, Mr. Mike Kneebone. Also in attendance were several IBA members who had ridden in from as far as 100 miles to join us for dinner. After what turned out to be my first rendezvous meal and some great conversation on the history of the IBA, I turned in for the night at a nearby motel. It had not been the longest day of the trip, but it had certainly proven to be the most difficult stretch of my ride thus far.
For George Wyman’s 1903 account of this portion of his journey click here: http://wymanmemorialproject.blogspot.com/p/iv-through-valleys-of-two-great-rivers.html