Wednesday, July 31, 2013

Day 28 - July 31 - To the flatlands of the Land of Lincoln

Day 28 - July 31 -   Platteville, WI to Rockford, Il - 110.7 miles (178.2kms); total so far -  2301.2 miles  (3703.5 kms)

Distance: 110.7 miles (178.2  kms)
Total time:10hrs 45 mins (including lunch,and  a couple of lengthy sightseeing detours in Freeport and Rockford) 
Average Moving Speed: 13.7mph (22.0 kph)
Maximum Speed: 35.3mph (56.8kph) 
Calories burned: 5423
Elevation gained: 4180 ft (1274 meters)

Weather:  Cloudy and  quite muggy in  Platteville at 9am in the morning with temperatures about 70degF (20C) with northwest winds at 5-10 mph (10-16kph). The sun came out about noon and the temperature reached 80F (27C) later in the day.  Though the temperature was relatively cool for Illinois in late July, the day felt quite humid, perhaps because I've forgotten what a Midwest summer is like. The wind helped me late in the day on the long run to and through Rockford.

Powered by:  Breakfast - 1 bowl of Raisin Bran, banana, bagel, small muffin, lots of orange juice; Lunch of a subway veggie sandwich, 2 Cokea,  2 liter of water, 2 GU gels and a McFlurry

I expected a long day and so, it turned out.  It was also hillier than I expected with the cumulative total climbs over 4000 feet (1300 meters) from lots of little climbs.  It flattened a bit as I got closer to Rockford and from here to Pennsylvania should be quite flat.  I decided to explore both Freeport and Rockford and these detours added a lot of time to the long mileage day.

A nice pastoral scene in Southern Wisconsin

Another dairy farm and a very green field of something 

Though the climbs were not as steep as yesterday, they added up

My 10th welcome, this time to my former state of residence - suitably framed by a soybean field

A row of properties from the 1880s in Warren, Il
When I crossed into Illinois, it all looked very familiar - not only the forests of corn on both sides of the road but the many small towns through which I passed.  When I was at the University of Illinois, I ran many 10km road races in the 1980s in these small towns - or actually, near these small towns. Start off on a muggy Saturday morning at 8am, run 9 kms on the roads through the cornfields and end back in the center. Nothing much has changed in the past 30 years as far as I can see in these small centers, except that the new churches built on the edges are quite large and have huge lawns.  My planned route to Freeport along route 20 was aborted when it turned out that the road had no shoulder and the traffic was intense.  I took a detour along some less traveled roads through more small towns.  On one road in particular, I passed a few pig farms with their intense urea smell. I don't know how the residents can ignore the smell - or how the pigs can either.  The pig farms with lots of porkers on small lots really raise the issue of animal cruelty.

The other sensory novelty of the day was the noise of the cicadas which I heard in the trees in the towns through which I passed. I had heard cicadas in a clump of trees in central Montana but they must have been lost since I had not come across any since then.  It's again very reminiscent of the years in central Illinois and visits to the Chicago suburbs.  

Memorializing a former  resident of Northwest Illinois

The Rawleigh derelict factory in Freeport, Il - probably the first of many such abandoned industrial properties I'll see from here to the east coast

Freeport was depressing as it has many of the symptoms of a former small industrial town in decline.  The center is filled with abandoned buildings and weed-filled sidewalks (footpaths) and the streets are in rough shape.  The Rawleigh glass bottle factory is now abandoned but there is a plan (hopefully not pie in the sky) to renew it as part of a development project that will use the  adjacent rail line for a new Amtrak route from Chicago to Dubuque.  Apparently, glass was manufactured there for about 100 years.

A planned trip along a bike path to Rockford never materialized as I never found it so it was back to route 20, which now was a 4-lane separated highway with a big smooth shoulder. I made good time with a nice tailwind and embarked on a transect of Rockford from the far west side to the far east side along the main thoroughfare, State Street.  Rockford, a city of about 150,000, still represents many of the classic urban social geographic patterns written up by generations of urban geographers.  Its West side is devoid of commercial development now - one gas (petrol) station was redeveloped as a small Baptist church.  A large section of State street is removed in a big construction project so I had to made some detours into the surrounding streets.  Closer to the center, I squeezed my way back onto State street and was soon in the empty downtown - with a huge police complex.  Only a few patrons were sitting at the sidewalk cafes on a warm summer's evening.  Like many downtowns, it had cleared out at 5pm but I'm not sure how busy it was during the day.  I could easily zig and zag across streets to scope out sights and I saw a drug deal happening. I think that they were looking out for cars so a stealth bicycle was a surprise for them.

Much of the west side of Rockford is torn up but there is usually a way through if you look carefully

The Rock river in downtown Rockford

Another theater that has seen much better days - east side of Rockford

After passing through a small area of bars on the east side close to downtown, I was on busy State state that got busier the farther I was from the center.  Here I was subjected to the first abuse I've encountered  on the trip and some honking (do they really love Jesus in Rockford?).  The street had 4 lanes and then 6 lanes and there was no place to ride except in the gutter.  (I was thinking of Oscar Wilde's great line at this point - "we're are all in the gutter but some of us are looking at the stars.") No sidewalks or bike lanes offer an alternative.  As the commercial scene grew more intense and the traffic heavier, I reflected how typical this scene is of American cities and how unusual cities such as Boulder or Portland are in their attempt to offer an alternative to automobiles as a mode of transport.  Even if one wanted to walk, it's next to impossible as the car reigns supreme.  I don't know how this vicious cycle of infrastructure designed only for cars leading with its evident outcome can be broken.  The experience did convince me to avoid cities as much as I can henceforth.


  1. Looks like at least part of that bike path to Rockford is not paved, so perhaps that explains why you couldn't find it.

    Fascinating, though a bit long (7 minutes), video showing the life cycle of Cicadas: