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Savanna pre-ride days

Savanna to Geneseo

Geneseo to Mendota

Mendota to Aurora

Aurora to Chicago




















Illinois Ride Days 

car free adventure ________________________


After crewing for my son in the Race Across America (RAAM) my wife and I decided we “needed” to bicycle from the Pacific Ocean to the Atlantic Ocean.  We decided to ride across one State each year.  An Illinois Tour agency contacted us by email after we signed up for RAGBRAI to tell us we could continue across Illinois with them. 


There is always that insecurity of “are we signing on for more than we are capable of?” We had been planning the RAGBRAI adventure for two years.  The Illinois "add on" would be planned in two months.  If RAGBRAI proved to be a challenge changing plans at the Mississippi River would be expensive! 


The terrain was flat.  The Iowa ride would be followed by a boring drive back across the state to Omaha to fly home.  Our quest to “ride across America” could be moved to the shores of Lake Michigan. We had not toured Chicago. Game on!


The Illinois Tour group provided a van to carry our luggage and carry me if I ran out of gas on the road, snacks to keep me going along the road, and tools for bike repair.  Two types of accommodations were available.  School gyms for those hardy soles who brought sleeping bags.  The rest of us could rent motel rooms in the destination towns.  We reserved a room at Marriott near O’hara Airport to be our home during our Chicago tour.   


RAGBRAI ended in Bellevue, Iowa on the Mississippi River.  When we rode into town we joined the throng at the Mississippi River and dipped the front wheel of our bicycles in the River to confirm our completion of the ride.  It had been a great ride. Now on to Illinois. 


We rode the short distance back from the river and purchased lunch from a stand along the street in Bellevue.   Afterward we located the truck that had supported us across Iowa to retrieve our bike boxes and suitcases.  We took pictures with the crew, took our bike boxes and suitcases and walked a block and a half to the place where we had been told the Illinois Tour would pick us up. 


The van had not arrived so we piled our stuff along the sidewalk and I lay down against our stuff to wait.  My wife went off to shop near by.  A van appeared and I inquired if it was the Illinois Tour and got a positive reply. The van was picking up several hearty souls who were continuing on to ride across Illinois.


Our tour would begin across the river in Savanna Illinois and after the group had assembled and all of our gear plus bicycles were onboard we were off to our second adventure. many little thorns will my tires find??

 ...Lake Michigan...

 ...graduation in Chicago...


 ...the Tour group....

 ..the young riders, fondly referred to as the "Animals"...


 RIDE DAY 1 & 2 - Savanna Area Rides



..gray bike box is one of two...volume needs relayed to the Illinois Tour via email to eliminate handoff surprises 

 ..quick drying fabrics are required on a bike trip for overnight washing...

a complimentary breakfast supports a relaxed start to the riding day...

 ...Super 8 is on our "preferred" list for  home away from home stays on our bike rides ...


Plan for the day - To add a bit of exhaustion to the short ride across the State of Illinois, two bicycle routes had been planned in the Savanna area by the Tour.  Neither added to our planned west to east ride across the United States, and having just finished our ride across the state of Iowa, we decided to stay in our motel in Savanna and recover for two days.


On Day 1 of the Illinois ride we kicked back at the Super 8 in Savanna while our fellow riders participated in a 30 mile loop ride just outside of town.  On Day 2 a 75 mile ride was planned which included some climbing north of Savanna. 


One of the “free day” excursions may have been along the "Great River Bike Trail" which runs along the Mississippi River near Savanna.  The web discussions of the "Great River Bike Trail" have sparked my interest and will be considered for a future adventure after we reach our goal of the Atlantic Ocean.


Getting started - Our ride across Illinois would begin the day after the conclusion of the RAGBRAI, the state sponsored bicycle ride across Iowa.  RAGBRAI finished on the Iowa side of the Mississippi River.  When we completed the ride at the Mississippi River we would be picked up by the Illinois Tour support crew and driven across the Mississippi River to Savanna, Illinois.


We bicycled into Bellevue Iowa, dipped our front bike tires in the Mississippi River, grabbed something to eat along the street and went to look for our RAGBRAI support crew.  Once there we took a few pictures, grabbed our bike boxes and luggage and moved our stuff to the street location where we were told to meet the Illinois crew. 


We successfully transferred our bikes, gear and clothing to the designated spot and after a brief wait the van arrived, and we loaded our stuff in the van.  There was a second person who had ridden on the RAGBRAI who joined us and after everything was onboard we headed for Savanna, Illinois.     


Today’s adventure - Day 1 of the Illinois Tour would be a ride near Savanna.  We slept-in, followed by breakfast at the motel.  We returned to our room and sent email, washed our Iowa clothes and watched TV.  We bicycled around the Savanna to keep the muscles working followed by fast food, TV and sleep.  On day 2 it was a longer ride for the hardy but the same. 


Today’s landscape - Savanna is on the Mississippi River. The river supports the expected lush growth.  Because the land is not as expensive in this part of the world all the houses had very large green lawns.  The streets were lined with huge trees.  We were located in the eastern part of Savanna did not see the Mississippi River along our route but the web showing the Great River Trail has some beautiful views.


Bicycling notes – The weather continued to support our cycling.  The sun was out all day.  We were in Illinois in mid summer and I would have expected it to be hot and humid with showers in the afternoon.  We had been lucky on the ride across Iowa and it continued on the first two days in Illinois.  There was zero wind and no bugs! 


The streets in Savanna were narrow and the traffic versus bicycle was tight on the streets but the traffic adjusted and no one was rude.  There were other local cyclists along the streets which indicates a bike friendly environment.       


Bicycling from Bellevue to Savanna would have been a pleasant exit from Iowa into Illinois and would not have been difficult.  The bike path that runs along the western side of Mississippi River deserves some study.  A quick look on the web shows a bike path or route All the way from the north to the Gulf Coast.  I believe we rode on part of the path from Savanna to Geneseo.  Our short experience on the bike path was very pleasant.  


Post ride activity - We ate fast food for dinner from various places close to the Super 8. We watched TV until we fell asleep.  The third day we would begin our ride to Chicago.



Ride Day 3 -  Savanna to Geneseo – 68 miles  



 ..the bike bridge that spanned numerous railroad tracks exiting Savanna was impressive..

 ..we encountered no surface flaws in the bike path along the Mississippi River south to Geneseo..

 ...I found the "Dan Henry" markers easy to follow... 

 ..with "no" traffic the best cycling road surface could be selected on the back roads...   


Plan for the day – The ride for today would begin in front of our Super 8 where we had hidden after the completion of the RAGBRAI.  We would ride south after leaving Savanna along the Mississippi for some distance before turning east toward Geneseo Illinois.  The total distance would be 68 miles.


Start of the day – We got up and changed into our bicycle outfits for the day.  We packed our bed clothes into our suitcases and went to breakfast.  We carried our suitcases to the lobby as we headed for breakfast for pickup by the support van.  The Super 8 provides an “ok” breakfast spread where I can find sufficient nourishment to start the day.   After we finished our breakfast we went out to the front of the Super 8 to start the days ride. 


Today’s rideThe day’s route passed in front of the Super 8.  The “campers” were staying in a high school gymnasium about a half a mile away and when they got to the Super 8 we joined them. 


We rode west for about two miles and then entered a bike path which headed south.  Almost immediately after we turned onto the bike path we rode over a long bridge built for bicycles that took us over a large number of railroad tracks.   After leaving the bridge we continued along a bike path which took along the Mississippi River.    


The crew put out the “lunch spread” at a park along the bike path.  The park was located on the river and provided us with a great view during lunch.  The food was “ok”; bananas, oranges, grapes, water, energy bars, peanut butter sandwiches, various snack packages, etc.  The “lunch spread” on a bike ride is good idea.  I can eat as much or as little as I want.  I can choose how much time I want to spend at lunch or skip lunch altogether.    


The people on the Illinois ride were fun to ride with.  We had good conversations at the lunch spread.  The climbing around LA made us some of the better prepared riders so we could hang with the best in the group.  In our discussions we found out that the area did not offer many climbing opportunities to train so any hill made a difference for the folks from the local states. 


After our lunch break we continued our quest of getting to Geneseo.  We were riding on back farm roads with no traffic.  The country side was flat and the road was tree lined in areas where the farm houses were located.  It was a very pleasant ride.   


Today’s landscape – We began I ride along the marshes of the River.  There were water lilies in the water.  The water was green in places indicating the water was not part of the running stream.  The further south we rode the clearer the water became and although the River did not appear to be moving was obviously part of the River flow.   


The landscape we rode through was flat.  The foliage along the Mississippi River produces a dense, dark canopy which reduces the view to the local surroundings. Since moving west, I have become accustomed to the wide open spaces.  The forests are open with a view of the blue ski above the trees.  I prefer that view. 


Away from the River the countryside is flat farmland supporting various crops.  There are occasional clumps of trees that shade farm building.  In places trees are growing adjacent to the road.     


Cycling notes – The bike path ran along the Mississippi River.  I would describe our route as flat. There were a few rollers which I did not consider difficult. The skies were sunny with scattered clouds. It was not hot and humid as we were shown it could be when we toured Chicago. There was no wind. 


On our way to Chicago we typically left at 6 AM each day.  We reached our hotel around 1 or 2 PM each afternoon.  We would spend about 15 minutes at the rest stops.  The tour provided three rest stops during the day.  It took us approximately 6 hours to cover about 70 miles each day.  That computes to about 11.5 miles per hour on average including the stops along the route. 


The route was well marked with “Dan Henry” markings plus we had a cue sheet for each day.  I relied on the markers for most of the trip only going to the cue sheets when I was confused and thought I had missed a “Dan Henry” along the route.


Post Ride Activity – We reached Geneseo beat most of the group in.  We went to have a salad at restaurant immediately beside the hotel.  Our waitress was a young college student and wanted to know about our bicycle riding.  We told her about our adventures and encouraged her to go for it.  She must have passed along our story to others because soon there was a second waiter at our table asking about our adventures.  He said he was thinking of entering the peace corp.  They wanted to do different things and they were looking for advice. 


After our salad we walked about a mile looking for a dairy queen!  When we located the DQ I had my usual large cone.  My wife had her usual "Heath Bar Blizzard."  We finished our usual desert passion and returned to the hotel.  Once in the hotel we prepared for our 6 AM exit the following morning.  We selected our riding clothes for the next day and packed everything but our sleeping clothes into our suitecases. Our morning would be a little less hetic the next day.  We watched a little TV and fell asleep. 



Day 4 - Geneseo to Mendota - 68 miles



 ..typical scene in Illinois..trees around a farm house surrounded by planted fields...

 ..a farmer with a sense of humor...note the telephone booth just in case it is needed....

 ..the roads around the farms were paved and provided a pleasant environment to ride in...


Plan for the day - Today we bicycle from Geneseo to Mendota.  The ride is a distance of 76 miles.   


Start of the day – We stayed at the Super 8 in Geneseo.  We got up and executed the morning exit routine.  We dressed for the ride.  We packed our clothes into our luggage to be picked up by the support van from the lobby.


We headed down to the lobby and dropped off the luggage to be picked up by the van.  We skipped the motel’s complementary breakfast because the motel was located a few miles from the route we were riding on and our relaxed start did not leave time for breakfast followed by a relaxed rendezvous with the other riders.  We would have to make up for our calorie loss at our first rest stop. 


Today’s ride – Our route today continued due east toward our goal Chicago. We rode on country roads through farmland with no traffic.  The countryside was flat broken by a few trees around the farm houses along the route.  We also rode through areas where there were trees on each side of the road.  Except for the conversations with the other riders it was pretty calm.      


We had our usual lunch break at a small park selected by the tour group along the route.  We were provided bananas, oranges, grapes, water, energy bars, peanut butter sandwiches, various snack packages to recover from our breakfast fast.   


We encountered some “new” asphalt tar that had been applied to the road and covered with small gravel.  The tar coated my tires which picked up the loose gravel.  As I rode the gravel would fly off on each revolution of the tires having no mercy for my bike, the tires or the break pads.


After the tour guide discovered what we had encountered he told us stop in at a shady area and wait for the route to be changed.  He returned in about an hour and told us how to get on the new route and then to follow the “Dan Henry” markers painted on the road to Mendota.  


Today’s landscape – We rode through flat green farmland to Mendota.  There were trees at the farm houses and a few along the road but for the for the most part it was open fields.  One crop I did recognize from my boyhood farming days was soybeans.  Many of the fields appeared to hay of some variety.        


Bicycling notes – We continued to be lucky with the weather.  There was no rain and there were only a few clouds in the sky.  The hot humid weather I would expect did not appear as well.  There was no wind. There were no insects.


The farmland in the area where we were riding was divided into sections which I believe were 1 mile square.  Roads ran along the sides of the fields and all of the roads I saw were paved.  The roads were to support the movement of farming equipment and had “no” traffic.  The route used by the tour used these roads which provided a relaxed ride and a good look at the Illinois countryside.


When we are on self-supported bike ride we attempt to get by on power bars and GUE.  The lunch break supplied by the tour allowed us the choice of stopping or continuing or to stuff ourselves or go easy on the food spread.  The time spent at the lunch break is an option as well and is typically supported by good conversation.


Post ride activity - The Super 8 we stayed at in Mendota was on the outskirts of town on “the highway.”  We called to get directions and correlated what we were told with our cue sheets we had been provided for the day’s route to locate the Super 8.  Fortunately tomorrow’s start route was closer to the hotel so we could eat our complimentary breakfast before hooking up with the tour riders. 


We ate a great meal at the restaurant across the highway from the Super 8.  Maybe I was still a bit hungry from missing breakfast.  We bought snacks back to the room to eat while we watched TV.  We retired for the evening.  The Illinois climate had been good to us it had been a comfortable riding day.   



Day 5 - Mendota to Aurora 



 ...stopping for our "lunch spread"...

 ...relaxing in a park while the route is marked around the bike path construction... 

 ..the foliage gets a bit more lush as we approach Aurora..

...Couldn't pass this up as we rode into Aurora... 



Plan for the day – Today we plan to ride from Mendota to Aurora.  The route would continue along the farm roads for most of the way.  The distance would be about 60 miles change because the farm rods were not always the direct route but we would encounter minimum traffic. 


Start of the day – We did our usual morning routine.  We dressed in our riding clothes for the day's ride.  I prepared the water mixture for my CamelBak.  We packed our evening clothes and PJ’s in our lugggae and carried them down to the lobby for pickup by the van.


When we reached the lobby we were notified that the hotel in Aurora did not have hot water.  We changed our reservation to the Comfort Inn.  The Illinois locals said it was a much nicer hotel.    


We ate the complimentary breakfast at the Super 8.  Afterwards we joined the others and began our bicycle ride to Aurora.   


Today’s ride - Our ride started from the hotel.  At the first rest stop we were notified that our route had been changed because of road repair.  We had ridden in some ugly tar the day before with new gravel that really beat up the bikes.  The tar was picked up by the bike tires and as the tire rotated some of the gravel broke loose and pinged against my bike frame which made me very uncomfortable.


The modified route would add 2.5 miles to allow us to ride around the road repair.  The guides marked the new route.  I was impressed how quickly they were able to mark the changes. 


At the last rest stop we were told a bridge on the bike path we were to use to bicycle into Aurora could not be used.  It was being repaired or improved.  Our guide modified the route again to ride around the construction. The group took a break in a park at the start of the bike path while we waited for the route to be marked.   


Once on the Bike to Aurora it was impressive.  We rode through a dedicated underpass for bicycles which allowed us to avoid a busy highway.  We crossed over a stream on dedicated bike bridge.  We also crossed 4 busy streets along the bike route but the area was definitely bike friendly. 


During the riding day I struck up a conversation with Chuck and his brother-in-law two cyclist from Chicago who rode with us and guided us to the Comfort Inn in Aurora.  They had ridden in the area many times before and pointed out the landmarks as we rode.  We rode with an entertaining group of cyclists and the people met along the way on a bike ride contribute some of the most memorable moments.         


Today’s landscape – Our surrounding remained very pleasant but a bit predictable.  We continued to ride in farm land planted in corn or soybeans.  Once we began to ride along the Fox River into Aurora the landscape changed to forest and thick undergrowth.    


Bicycling notes – Our luck with the weather continued.  No rain, little humidity and the temperature was very good for bicycling.  There was no wind.


All of the routes were along small country roads with very little traffic or dedicated bike trails which made it a very relaxed ride. 


I asked Chuck who said he had been on many supported rides what he thought of this ride and he said “the lack of a sag wagon following behind the last rider.”  It is very important.


Post ride activity – The hotel suggested a Mexican Restaurant 2 blocks away, the “La Quinta de los Reyes.”  After a quick shower and change of clothes we went down to meet the group in the lobby and walked to the restaurant.

It was good food but I am sure tailored a bit for the Chicago taste.  It was not California. 


We returned to the Comfort Inn, dressed for sleep and watched a bit of TV and tuned in.  Tomorrow it was Chicago and Lake Michigan.




Day 6 – Aurora to Chicago 



 ...the bike paths into the suburbs of Chicago were a pleasant ride..

 ...our Tour guides on the way into Chicago...

 ...we had completed our ride across Iowa and was now time to enjoy Chicago...


Plan for the day – Today we complete our ride across Illinois and into Chicago.  We plan to bicycle through Chicago to Lake Michigan and dip the front tires of our bikes in Lake Michigan as we had done in the Mississippi River to celebrate the trek across Iowa. 


Our route would begin along the farm roads but move to bike paths to take us through the suburbs of Chicago into the city.  Today’s riding distance will be 50 miles and change.


Start of the day – We got up and dressed in our bike attire for the day.  We packed our suitcases and took them down to the lobby to be picked up by the support van.  


We had stayed at the Comfort Inn in Aurora.  It was very nice as we were told.  They provided eggs with the complimentary breakfast which was very welcome.  The Super 8 does not serve eggs which I knew before we made the reservations having stayed with them on our other bike excursions.   


Today’s ride - We began our ride about 6:30 in the morning with the Chicago guys (Chuck and Frank).  They would act our guides into Chicago. 


The route remained flat running through farmland and then we began to enter the outskirts of the Chicago.  We rode through Napier which "our guides" described as a very expensive suburb of Chicago.  It was a very nice neighborhood and very religious according to Chicago pair.  At the rest stop they told us that drug use by the kids was a problem in the neighbor. 


We entered the city and rode through the Chicago Harlem neighbor according to the "guys.”  We also rode through the mafia neighbor (Italian) where no blacks were allowed according to our guides.


We played "mongoose and snake" with the traffic as we continued through the city.  The cars were tolerant of us but we rode through heavy traffic with cars parked along both sides of the streets. 


We reached Lake Michigan and began to ride on the bike path along the shore.  Or goal was the Hilton Hotel parking lot in Downtown Chicago where we would say good by to the Tour people, collect our luggage and locate transportation to the Marriott near O'Hare Airport.


We stopped to take a picture dipping our rear bike tire into Lake Michigan before we exited the bike path.  We continued to follow our Chicago natives along the bike path tuning onto city streets for the final few blocks to the Hilton. 


We had ridden 770 miles through Iowa and Illinois in 11 days.  We could check another two States off our ride across the US.


Today’s landscape – As expected our route into Chicago became more and more rural as we worked our way toward Chicago.  The farmland gave way to subdivisions.  We rode on dedicated bike paths as wre approached Chicago which were tree lined.  The foliage was very thick along the bike path and we were unaware of any civilization.  The ride was very pleasant. 


In the outskirts of Chicago we rode along streets which had large beautiful homes.  After we reached Lake Michigan we rode along the shore line to the center of the city.  That was a beautiful ride with Lake Michigan was green in color.  The Chicago skyline along the shore is very beautiful.  There were People everywhere on the beaches.


Bicycling notes – The Weather in Illinois continued to support our cycling.  The sun was out and we had very low humidity.  We experienced no wind and there were no bugs.  I realized how lucky we had been when we began our tour of Chicago.  The humidity was very high and it was difficult to stay outside. 


We rode on dedicated bike paths west of Chicago.  The bike paths provided bridges that took us over freeways and kept the traffic away from us.  


When we bicycled through the streets of Chicago I was introduced to "chevrons!!!" There were three chevrons painted in white on our lane of the street pointing forward.  I had never seen chevrons before and had no idea what they meant. 


The Chicago folks said that they indicated that bikes and cars shared the road.  Cars were parked along the side of the street with two narrow streets for the cars and bikes. The cars worked themselves around us as we rode along the parked cars.  The traffic was heavy and I was not secure about the fact that I was ok because the chevrons indicated I belonged on the street.        


My friend, Jeff who was a work colleague from work, had said that he would take our bike boxes to the O'Hare Marriott for us after we arrived in Chicago.  He would be in Chicago visiting family.  He called as we rode into Chicago and said that his family had to use the van and he would not be able to pick us up.  We were on our own! 


At the Hilton we broke down our bicycles and put them into the bike boxes.  We next asked at the desk about possible transportation to O'Hare.  They called for a shuttle to O’Hare.  The cost would be $130!  The rule is on the road when we are in a bind "spend money." Save Money at home during the planning phase.  We signed up.  He would pick us up in front of the Hotel. 


As we waited for the shuttle a cab guy comes in the hotel door and asks if anyone needs transport.  We show him the boxes and told him a shuttle was coming.  The cab driver says he can do it for $100. 


A shuttle guy shows up right behind the cab guy as he quotes the price says I can get those bikes into my shuttle and I will only charge you $36 for your fare.  The bike boxes are your luggage. He had a lot of folks in the van and I asked him he could squeeze our bike boxes in.  He said sure and proceeded to take luggage our of the cargo area of the shuttle and get the bike boxes in.  I was impressed.  He taught me how to put bicycles into a van which I have used since.  When we exited at O'Hare airport I tipped him $10 for saving me $94. 


Now the challenge was to get from O’Hare Airport to the Marriott.  We get on one only to find out that it is not going to our Marriott.  Our Marriott van arrives and he tells me he cannot take the bike boxes because there is no room.   After a bit of discussion about how I always stay at the Marriott, etc.  the bikes and boxes are loaded into the van.  It was tight!  At the hotel I tipped him $5 for his efforts. 


Post ride activity - The Marriott folks Our Marriott room was quite large making our planned four day touring stay of Chicago very pleasurable.  Our Marriott room was quite large making our planned four day touring stay of Chicago very pleasurable.



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