Katy Trail – Day 1

Our first day on the Katy Trail started in tiny Chilhowee,Missouri

Relive ‘Katy Trail Day 1’

Our AirBnB was located about 40 miles closer to Kansas City, so Georgia and Maggie drove us to the trailhead of the recently constructed Rock Island Spur.  This rail-trail follows the path of the old Chicago, Rock Island and Pacific Railroad to its junction with the Katy Trail in the town of Windsor.

 

Biking, 2017

My goal for 2017 was to bike more than 2,000 miles.  I thought it was pretty impressive, but as it turns out, many of my biking friends in the area consider 5,000 miles to be a more ambitious goal.  But then I’ve been biking seriously again only since my motorcycle crash.

Here’s my 2017 results:

 

I achieved my goal in late October, about a mile from our house. 

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Later, my friend Allen and I rode the “Tour of the Moon”  over the Colorado National Monument.  I was wearing a jersey from a friend I discovered on Strava; he and his wife retired and live  in the French mountains; he was an architect and she was an educator.  He rides about as often as I do, although he’s faster.

Here are some random scenes as I racked up the miles:

With Michael Starks along the Poudre Trail in Fort Collins

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With Allen along the Rio Grande Trail from Glenwood Springs to AspenIMG_20170727_144755152
  Our favorite coffee stop, Bestslope Coffee in Fruita, Colorado
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Ridgway, Colorado
Ridgway, Colorado
Other photos along the route:
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Reeder Mesa
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Illinois Prairie Path Sampler

Total distance: 4.16 mi
Max elevation: 686 ft
Min elevation: 292 ft
Total climbing: 499 ft
Total descent: -128 ft
Average speed: 8.03 mi/h

The Illinois Prairie Path trail is probably the second rail-trail in the country, and was created on the right of way of the abandoned Chicago, Aurora and Elgin electric railroad.  The CA&E has a long history; it was built in 1902 and the railroad was abandoned in 1958. In 1963, the entire length was converted to a bike/pedestrian trail running from Chicago to the Fox River cities of Aurora and Elgin.

The CA&E ran from the Chicago loop, and my mother often took us to downtown Chicago on the train, not the car.  Riding the big third rail electric cars from Elmhurst to the city along the private right of way and on the L (elevated) tracks made a lasting impression on me.

In an unparalleled display of municipal short-sightedness, the railroad went bankrupt in 1957, and no government entity took it over.  A judge signed an order authorizing abandonment just before lunch, and all of the trains were recalled to Wheaton by noon, leaving many stranded – and angry and frustrated – commuters with no way to get home.  It made the front page of the Chicago papers.  I remember it.

The abandoned right of way was converted to a trail in 1963, so it’s actually been a trail almost as long as it was a railroad.  We had hoped to ride from Wheaton east at least to beyond Elmhurst, and perhaps beyond, but the 80% chance of precipitation proved too accurate.  Being obsessed with this ride, I forced my cousin Mike to ride in the rain a few miles from the Villa Park station to York Road, where we’d caught the train years ago. The station is located near the old Ovaltine factory:

CA&E Villa Park Station

The gray and gloomy day when we got there:
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Only a few miles east we crossed York Road.  I recall that my dentist’s office was on the second floor of the building on the corner, above a drug store, and I could watch the trains roll by while getting my cavities filled.

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It’s now an art gallery

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It’s ironic that the adjoining property owners bitterly resisted the conversion of the right of way to a trail (they wanted the property to enlarge their back yards); the path has apparently substantially improved their property values, and the tiny WWII crackerbox houses along the way have been converted to Illinois McMansions.

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So the Prairie Path remains on my list of must-ride trails. It is even possible to ride from Elmhurst to my cousin Bob’s house in Plainfield in less than 4 hours, almost entirely on bike trails. Next time ….

Kankakee River State Park

Total distance: 12.71 mi
Max elevation: 623 ft
Min elevation: 548 ft
Total climbing: 732 ft
Total descent: -728 ft
Average speed: 9.23 mi/h

Short and beautiful.  This is one case in which words aren’t needed:

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Elroy – Sparta Trail

Total distance: 34.36 mi
Max elevation: 1207 ft
Min elevation: 774 ft
Total climbing: 1211 ft
Total descent: -1332 ft
Average speed: 10.94 mi/h

The Chicago and North Western railroad built a line from Elroy to Sparta, Wisconsin, in the 1870’s.  In order to accommodate the steam engines of the time, the grades were modest, and three tunnels were bored through the hills.

C&NW in 1908

At one time (this is in 1907), three passenger trains per day thundered each direction.

1907 Official Railway Guide

Passenger service ended, and the line was torn up, and in 1967 this became the country’s first rail-trail conversion.

P1030289It’s now recognized as one of the premiere bike paths in the country, and Sparta advertises itself as the Bicycle Capital of America.  The size of the parking lots along the 33 mile route are a good clue that it’s heavily used on summer weekends.

It was a perfect day to explore this trail; the weather was warm but not hot, and puffy white clouds and a canopy of green trees kept the sun away.  The trail itself is not paved; it’s covered with fine gravel which probably could be ridden on a skinny tire road bike, but I was glad to have the 40mm wide tires on my bike.

Leaving Elroy the old railroad grade proceeds up a slight (1-2%) grade through lovely farmland (the Wisconsin license plates used to boast that the state was America’s Dairyland).

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The yellow tag on my bike is a bike pass; as a state park, you need to pay $5 per day (or $25/year) to use these trails.

The roadbed continued north and west, and the hills (I refuse to call them mountains) on each side narrowed.  Suddenly: the first of three tunnels.

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It’s dark and cold inside; you must walk your bike because riders have become disoriented and crashed. It’s not very big, and is hard to imagine  that there was much clearance for a full sized locomotive and railroad car.  The pinhole on the far side got bigger and the opening to the rear got smaller, and about 1600′ later, I emerged into the sunlight.  A nice downgrade, and I arrived at Kendall’s, a little town with a depot, restaurants, and Georgia, who had driven ahead and waited for me.  She discovered an Amish street vendor from whom she bought some nice presents to take home.

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Tunnel #2 was pretty much the same; on the downhill to the next town and upgrade to #3 I passed an old man who had set up an ice cream cart accessible only to riders.  I imagine he sells out in the summer; and wish I’d stopped.

Tunnel #3 is almost 3/4 of a mile long, and the porous limestone leaks water which gives bikers a cold, refreshing shower through the eastern half.  A school group of middle school boys was walking their bikes the other way, and watching their flashlights bob up and down, and listening to the Halloween noises they were making made the trip very … interesting.