I did my second Metra Ride today. Metra Ride is: take the bike on a train out to the sticks, get off, ride around for a while, finish at another Metra station, get on a train there, and ride back home. Today my plan was to ride from West Chicago down to Fermilab, through the lab, out to De Kalb, then back east to Aurora, for a total of 73.5 miles. Of course, the plan wasn't exactly followed, but really most of it was. Good enough. In fact, it wound up being just over 75. Longest ride since Santa Cruz Ride #1 (which was 80 instead of 70 because of getting lost); this ride was much faster, didn't include the several breaks I took on that ride, and was humid. But on the Santa Cruz ride I had to cross those damn mountains twice (peaking at 1800 feet on the way out and 2000 on the way back, with both endpoints at sea level), so that still makes today's ride look easy.
Over on my blog I made a comment recently about wanting to bike to Champaign, and Danielle warned that I might hit dirt roads. I said there are paved roads all over rural Illinois. Well, I hit dirt roads three times on this ride. The first time was at the Town Road entrance to Fermilab. Not only did the road turn to dirt, but there was a big gate forbidding entry. Why even bother drawing it on maps if it's a dirt road that nobody can use? So I backed out to Fabyan Parkway instead. That's when the rain came. There was a bike path running along Fabyan, so I ditched the road for that. After a couple miles I was thinking about just turning around, but then I saw the sky ahead (to the west) was blue and the storm was blowing east. By that point I'd deviated from my backup route because the bike path didn't cross the Fox River, but I was able to randomly pick my way back to the course. Didn't have to backtrack once. Illinois road navigation is cake; maps are for cheaters.
After that it was just fighting the gentle upwards slope, occasional rollers, and moderate western winds to De Kalb. Campton Hills Road was a beautiful ride with rolling hills, as was Beith Road, until it turned to dirt. So I found a way around it. De Kalb is a bit like Champaign but probably a little smaller. Some pretty parts, some mundane parts. I have a co-worker that lives in De Kalb (drives to Elburn then takes the train downtown from there every day), so I asked him if there are any cool things in De Kalb I should ride past. He mentioned the Ellwood House, once occupied by barbed-wire baron Isaac Ellwood, upon whom the character Elwood in Blues Brothers was based. There were lots of trees on the property so I didn't get a great view of the house. Also I was watching traffic. Sort of. Googling the Ellwood house yields, as for many Googlable things, reviews. The first one is quite a winner: This is the place where you should get married all the time (assuming that u will get married more than once in your lifetime :D). I'll keep that in mind, though I had a spot near Galeena picked out (my spot is probably on private land, so it would have to be a real bootleg wedding... I'd invite only runners and when the owner came out with a shotgun we'd scatter over a very, very wide radius).
The ride back through the country to Aurora was pretty uneventful. Lots of straight roads that were actually in really good condition, practically no car traffic but lots of motorcycles, no shade, but one great advantage: wind. The wind I fought into De Kalb was firmly at my back now, and I was flying. I would have considered easing it in from the 60 mile mark, but I figured I'd have to finish strong to make the 2:20, or else wait two hours for the next train. When I hit a dirt road for the third time (Seavy Road) I just rode it. My recollection of the map was that the roads were sort of sparse and winding in that area, and because of the time constraints I was in no move to improvise.
Shortly after crossing the East-West Tollway it was back into subdivision country. This provided my first unfortunate need to flip someone off, a Bimmer-driving moron that pulled out to pass me with an oncoming car way too close, then swerved back in front and honked at me (my theory is that most of the resentment of cyclists from Chicago-area motorists is really frustration at their own bad driving decisions, bad decisions ranging from stuff like this to driving Halsted through Lincoln Park during rush hour, that they refuse to internalize; this incident certainly fits the pattern). Then on Indian Trail Road in Aurora I actually had to exercise Old Middly twice, once for someone that passed me way too close and once for someone that yelled at me to get on the sidewalk. The first of those was really bad. A car going 35 should never come that close. If I had a sprint in my legs after 70 miles and any extra time on the clock I might have tried chasing her down the street she later turned onto for an explanation of proper road manners. Instead, I just took my lane the rest of the way (on four-lane roads it's often the safest option and only when a road is operating close enough to its throughput capacity to be extremely dangerous to ride anyway does it actually affect traffic flow). Anyway, I got to Aurora's train station, after some confusion due to un-labeled streets, in time to make the 2:20 by just about two minutes. The crowd went wild.
Physiology note... I keep reading that biking hard you can burn up to 1000 calories in an hour, and I rode close to 4-and-a-half today. But I only ate one Clif bar (240 calories) and had an unfortunate bottle of that new low-calorie Gatorade for a measly 110 during the ride (I could only find fat 32-oz bottles of the real carbolicious stuff at the last minute, and they don't fit in bike shirt pockets), then another Clif bar on the train, and felt fine. I had a small breakfast beforehand, and ate a pretty normal meal when I got home. Obviously I'm not sustaining a 1000kcal/hr rate, but it seems like I should be much hungrier than I am. Also less willing to use my bike for transportation later tonight. Maybe my body is telling me that it craves the true pain of a century ride. Well, if I do it, y'all will be the first to know. Final note: the following would be just slightly more than an Ironman-distance triathlon (although probably not as hard as doing it in Hawaii): swimming around Navy Pier and then south to the Adler Planetarium; biking from the Planetarium to Mahomet, IL (just west of Champaign; by driving directions it's 30 miles too long, though there might be a slightly shorter route if you don't go through Champaign), running the loop at Mahomet 5 times and then running most of the length of the bike path through the park. I think that would be a really awesome course. But I'm probably the only one.