Peoria, Ill. to Cedar Lake, Ind.
What a crazy summer it’s been! The short version is that our poor bike — like this blog — was ignored for way too long. I’m ashamed to admit how long I went between rides, but I will say that I am really glad we took that three-day ride over Memorial Day weekend. Since I don’t have a lot of adventures from this summer to write about, I decided it’s about time I shared the story of last summer’s epic trip around Lake Michigan.
It was exactly 199 days before we left that Wally proposed the idea to me: Let’s ride the bike around Lake Michigan and see as many lighthouses as we can along the way. I was shocked to find myself agreeing to it, but then, he did have to deal with my questions. Continuous. Daily. Highly detailed. Questions. Questions about questions. And, even more questions. He was a trooper — and driven.
We bought a large print atlas to explore and plan our route. We researched cities, landmarks, activities and events along the way. We spent hours upon hours on the computer, fine tuning our plan to one of perfection. It would be six nights, seven days and an average of about 250 miles a day, which would allow for plenty of sightseeing stops.
There were days I thought the trip would never come. Sometimes, it was because of my excitement. Sometimes, because we talked about it all the time.
The night before we left, it was time to pack our carefully crafted, small selection of items on the bike. Now, Wally tells me the Victory Cross Country Tour has more storage than any other bike on the market. Add in our trunk bag, and we had quite a bit of space. Still, it was a seven-day trip. I agonized over every piece of clothing, every slip of paper, everything. The hardest decision probably was choosing between one more pair of shoes (I am female, after all) and the book I was reading, Winds of Winter. (The shoes won after I realized I could get an electronic copy of the book on the iPad.)
Once everything was stowed away and locked up tight in the garage, we had a couple drinks and called it a night. Morning came early for us, not because we had to get up but because we couldn’t wait to get started. The original plan was to participate in the Grand Nationals motorcycle parade from the race track through downtown Peoria to the RiverFront to kick off the big rally weekend. Instead of turning into the parking lot at the end of the route, we’d keep on going and make our way to our first destination, Wally’s brother’s house in Cedar Lake, Indiana. Unfortunately, the radar showed a big rain storm headed our way, and it looked to hit town just as the parade was scheduled to begin.
At the time, I did not have a lot of rain experience on the bike and wasn’t keen on starting our trip that way. Wally agreed that it would be better to get ahead of it, so we changed plans and opted to leave a bit earlier. Walking to the bike in our driveway that morning was amazing! It was amazing to know I was on vacation, amazing to know we’d be together for a week and amazing to know that I was about to start a most excellent adventure (thank you, Bill and Ted). All I could say was, “Let’s ride!”
A half hour into our trip, we rolled into Eureka and spotted a Subway. We hated to stop only 30 minutes in, but we hadn’t eaten yet and were ahead of schedule. After a short yet enjoyable breakfast of flatbread sandwiches and juice, we head back out to the bike. One of the sandwich artists (that’s what we called them when I worked there) was outside and asked about our packed bike. When we explained about our trip, she offered to take our picture to remember how it felt at the beginning. To this day, I am so thankful she did because that was a Top 10 moment there.
The next leg was pretty basic until the last 10 miles, when we opted for Historic U.S. 66 instead of the interstate into Pontiac. The road had obviously seen better days, but it was still cool to be traveling on the old route.
Once in town, we quickly found our way to the city park where the swinging bridges were located. We checked out two of the three of them, all of which cross the Vermillion River. Now, you all know I’m not a fan of bridges, so I’m sure you can imagine how “excited” I was to walk on a swinging bridge. Yeah, super thrilled. But, actually, the parks were well kept and the bridges were sturdy enough to keep my anxiety in check. To be honest, they were pretty cool and worth the short stop.
Once we finally found our way out of Pontiac (a feat that seemed a bit harder than it should have been), we continued pretty much straight east until I spotted something I had to get a picture of. Yep, it was a military fighter jet parked just along the highway. Like so many of the tanks I’ve seen on adventures around home, it seemed so odd just sitting there. Although, I do have to say I appreciated the historical information they provided next to it. What a great discovery, and we were only a couple hours in!
The road continued east for what seemed like forever before we finally turned north on 1. I was becoming rather thankful the rest of the week promised some interesting roads because the straight flatness was getting a little monotonous. That said, I was keeping busy checking the weather on my phone here and there, as we were still dodging rain showers. About the time we approached St. Anne, I noticed the storms were a bit behind us … and that I was really hungry. The little town didn’t have too many dining options, but that was okay because the Dixie Delite looked too good to pass up.
I ordered a cheeseburger with all the fixins and some crinkle fries (mmm, my favorite), and he a patty melt and onion rings. Once our food was up, we took it to a nice picnic table outside. I don’t know if I was just hungry or what, but that was one of the best burgers I’ve ever had. The patty was cooked well but was still juicy, and the toppings were fresh and crisp. I realized I had devoured most of it when Wally mentioned I still needed a photo — oops. Of course, his was already gone by then.
With full bellies and fresh bottles of water, we embarked on the final stretch of the day. That’s when it started to get interesting, especially when we turned back east just south of the Kankakee River. That route provided great scenery and an interesting ride. The roads were a little more dynamic, and we found ourselves leaving towns as quickly as we entered them. We saw large, magnificent homes one minute and crazy, little modified trailer homes the next.
Eventually, we found ourselves along the edge of the Lasalle Fish and Wildlife Area, with even more unique scenery. The somewhat backwoodsiness of the area made us think the four-lane U.S. 41 had to be much further away than it really was. I guess I figured we weren’t that far south of Chicago, so how was it possible to feel so remote.
Back on straight roads, we burned through the miles. While we had dry weather most of the way thanks to getting out in front of the rain, I began to notice water in the grooves along the side of the highway. “It must’ve rained pretty good here not too long ago,” I thought as we continued north.
Through a stroke of bad and good luck, we missed our turn into his brother’s neighborhood but soon found a gas station were we could fill up before turning back and parking for the night. It turned out we only went a couple miles too far, easily finding the right road as the signs were better in the opposite direction. From there, it was just a hop, skip and a jump to the house.
That was our first trip to the house in Cedar Lake, so we got a tour of the area, including a stop for drinks at our first “lighthouse” of the trip, the Lighthouse Restaurant. The lake was larger than I expected, but the windy day had minimized the boat traffic.
After catching up back at the house for a few hours, the brother and wife took us to one of their favorite local places for dinner called GoodFellas Bar. They suggested we sit outside, as the band would be playing on the patio that night. What fun they were. It was a Blue Brothers tribute band, who had the whole shtick down to a science (the short black pants, white socks and all). It was a great way to relax after our journey before hunkering down for a good rest.
The next morning, we were up and out … but that’s another post for another day. I promise you, the adventure is just beginning.