We left at 6:00 in the morning, taking back roads from St. Charles, Illinois to Fontana, Wisconsin on back roads. The route itself was conceived years ago by someone trying to avoid the growing traffic risks and has literally been handed down in the form of a laminated map you can borrow if you want to follow tradition.
The guys in my riding group know the route by heart. For the most part. Once in a while we forget a turn and wind up circling around a neighborhood in McHenry County. But that’s alright too. We usually stop them. Give the guy who called the wrong turn a bunch of shit and get back on course.
Down to three for now
This year there were three of us that started, and one that turned back for reasons of Saturday obligation. We’re always cool with that. Been there myself. The turnbacker usually rides about 35 miles and swings around some lonesome road on their own. That can be a peaceful thing as well.
The last 30 miles are the prettiest of the route going north however. The roads pick up some undulation. You realize you are riding over long lost glacial workings that increase as you enter Wisconsin itself.
Where bad roads are good fun
But there are beautifully shaded sections where the riding is so smooth you don’t even know you’re pedaling. Conversation usually goes quiet on those roads. Some years we’re averaging 20 miles an hour for the 65 miles. Other years it’s more like 18, like this year.
The reward is riding into Fontana, the lake town where the beach awaits. Sunshine on the water and sailboats in the distance. Tanned bodies of women young and old, and guys flexing their weightwork arms.
Many cyclists show up in Fontana on a Saturday. We all look a bit like circus travelers wandering in an out of Chuck’s bar for drinks and food.
Usually people in the bar are fellow visitors from Illinois. When they ask where you’re from, or vice versa, the incredulity starts. “Hell, you rode here? From St. Charles. The hell’s wrong with you?”
To which we smile, explain that road bikes make it easy to cover distance and then take our beers to the table. A little information’s always enough. Leave them guessing about you.
The food and beer at Chuck’s is always good, especially after lolling around the lake for a half hour letting the ride slide out of your legs. Then you park your carcass on a towel and watch the rest of the world having fun. Beach bunnies carouse. Big jock athletes throw footballs in the semi-surf. Jet skis 150 yards off shore zip around spitting that ridiculous spout of water from the back. Entirely different worlds.
You exist in your own little cycling void. Apart from the world, in a way. And yet such a part of the world you cherish. You stare at your shaved legs in the sun, wondering if they’re getting burned. Later you learn it’s the tops of you feet. And one side of your body. Which goes along with the weird tan lines cyclists have anyway. If you showed up naked in public the police would haul you off for indecency and insanity.
“Look!” the arresting officer would say. “No sane, responsible citizen would have tan lines like that.”
But then you encounter a pair of girls cowering under their beach towels as if they were Taliban chicks. And you figure everyone’s a little nuts at some time. And you all have a laugh and figure the sun has something to do with all this. Just ask the egyptians. They all walked and acted a little fun. And their god was the sun.