The Illinois Riviera – Written and Photographed by Julio
Like most cyclists, I enjoy a mid-week evening group ride. On a recent Wednesday night, rain appeared eminent and the night’s ride looked like it was a wash. Normally when this happens, I either look to fit in a quick, impromptu road/gravel ride from home or more than likely, I just sit at home, bummed out, that I missed a ride. However, for what ever reason… this time something happened – it dawned on me that I live 9 miles from the fifth largest fresh water lake in the world and along with it, miles and miles of beach to ride. Beach that doesn’t care if it starts raining (or even pouring).
Within minutes I had the bike packed up and was on my way . . .
Of course, it almost goes without saying that riding beach is a much different beast than riding singletrack. Gone are the narrow ribbons of hardpack with trees narrowly missing contact with handlebars. Switchbacks, steep climbs, roots, baby heads – these things matter not to the beach rider. Riding miles and miles of beach affords one’s mind a chance to drift off into deep contemplation instead of concentrating on not stacking. I’m not saying you don’t have to pay attention, but beach riding definitely affords your mind a little more free time to sort out the day’s problems, figure out your grocery list for the next week, looking for “oddities” that have washed up, or solve many of life’s mysteries.
This particular stretch of beach has a bit of diversity – a state park that’s seen its fair share of history (part used to be a WWII training camp, before that a Civil War POW camp, and there are even a few unique looking abandoned concession stands from its heyday), a decommissioned nuclear power plant, a coal fired power plant, a Superfund site (buried asbestos), and the largest marina on the Great Lakes (North Point Marina). Oh, and of course, there’s lots of sand – over six miles of it (although not quite contiguous), which makes it the longest stretch of sand on the Illinois coast. Like most beaches, the “sand” has a personality all its own shifting from typical off white beach sand, to large grain brown sand, to pea gravel, to smooth as silk beach stone, all of which provide their own ride characteristics. This particular stretch of beach also has its own fair share of hike-a-bike sections, which just like the sands, are as varied as the days of the week. There’s the typical snag that’s too deep to ride around, some rip rap and concrete slabs, and sometimes a few small stream crossings.
So how did this ride go? Just fine, though the ride itself, didn’t set any world records. However, let me say that I have ridden this stretch of Lake Michigan beach a dozen times since getting Fat last year and this particular beach ride, while it ended the same as riding this beach always does (a big smile on my face, a sandy bike, and some awesome BBQ from the smoke shack on the way home), this one seemed a bit more than that. Maybe it was the last minute nature or the fact that I felt like it saved my evening, but in the end it made me appreciate that stretch of beach a little more…..and I’ll be back, many times, to ride it again!