A few weeks ago or a fellow adventurer, Eric Alexander sent us a message. “Wanna ride from my house to New Glarus Brewery with Kelly(Alexander) and Bret(Metz)?” Well yes, yes I do.
It was to be three days of mixed terrain, some camping, some beer drinking and whatever else we came across.
Eric was the route master on this one with a few last minute changes we decided to start on the I&M Canal Trail in Seneca, IL. With that start it would give is about 75 miles for the first two days and a shorter day to finish it off.
There was a lot of fence sitting by all of us the coming days before as we watched the weather. We finally decided to just do it, suffer whatever weather came our way, and have fun.
I’ve never done a bikepacking trip, or a multi-day bike trip of any kind, so I had a lot to learn. My ride of choice is my SSCX. Mostly because it is the only bike I own with rack mounts, but also because the route was relatively flat and I just really like SS. I went through the entire bike with a fine tooth comb, cleaned, lubed and tuned everything. The one issue I thought I may have would be tires. The tire had seen a lot of miles and they showed it, but I figured they had 200 miles left in them(they didn’t).
With a tent, sleeping bag(not sure why I brought that), mat, some clothes, tubes, tools and a spare tire I ended up with a pretty hefty bike. At the last minute Eric saved me and let me borrow two panniers to get the weight off the top of my rack and down to the sides.
The night before there was some decent rain and strong winds but things were sunny and humid by the time we hit the trails. There were some puddles, some trees down but nothing us avid adventurers couldn’t handle.
A few miles in and we knew that the rain wasn’t going to be the worry of the trip, it was the heat. With Garmins showing 90-95 degrees and humidity to match. Minimizing exposure was key. Luckily the I&M has lots of tree cover and we were on the right side of the sun.
Our first stop was in La Salle,IL where we looked for a brewery but ended up at Haze Smokehouse. Beer and BBQ? Twist my arm. After loading up and some delicious grub, some mid-ride beers and topping off the bottle we were back on our way.
Not much further west is the end of the I&M. We took a few great scenic roads and connected up to the Hennepin Canal Trail. This was to be our route for the rest of the day and into Saturday.
Eric and Bret had done some digging on where we would be able to camp Friday night and that led us to our last stop to refuel in Wyanet, IL. As any good country town there was Casey’s for us to stock up and a little(read huge) diner down the road to get some food in our bellies.
What we thought was a campsite was only 6 miles away. We topped off again and headed out. We arrived at Hennepin Canal Parkway State Park a little bit later. What we found was a closed Visitors Center, some running water and a pavilion or two. We decided to just crash under one of the pavilions as we couldn’t find any actual campsites there and didn’t want to leave the running water. We all hosed off and sprayed down with bug spray and got setup for the night. It was hot, sticky and zero wind. Needless to say no one slept too well.
We were all up around 5:30-6 and started getting ready for the next day. Eric had his Jetboil café press so we did get to have some delicious morning coffee to get us moving.
We weren’t as lucky with the shade on day two, this time the shade was on the other side of the river. 12 miles in I noticed my rear tire was getting a little low. I crossed my fingers, aired it up and continued on. It didn’t last. I swapped out the tube a few miles later and noticed that my tires were not in a good way. We rolled on.
We had breakfast(Casey’s snacks) in the fine little town of Tampico. The birthplace of one President Ronald Regan. I bet you didn’t know that, but there is a museum for you to check out.
When we got to Rockfalls/Sterling we took a break for me to swap my rear tire and to grab some food. We found another little brewery and this one also had Thai food, go figure. After a beer and Pad Thai I downed a Coke and I was a new man.
From there to Freeport was all roads. We jig-jogged around the busy roads and ended up on Freeport Rd(go figure). What a great road it was. It was miles of constant rollers with everyone being a little bit higher than the next. With a 60 lb SS it was about bombing each descent and carrying as much speed up the next was the name of the game.
At what seemed to be the last crest before Freeport we took a breather at a church to see if anyone needed to top off bottle before the final stretch into town. As we started to roll out some clouds were coming in and the temp dropped 10-15 degrees, the rain was coming. And it was perfect. Not too heavy but cool and oh so refreshing. You couldn’t wipe the smile off my face.
It died off a few miles before getting to Freeport so we were able to dry off a bit before we got to Freeport Bicycle Co. There was Stu waiting for us so we could hang out there, get a shower and a night of sleep in the air conditioning.
We ended up spending the night in the shop. We were like kids in a candy store just checking out everything and talking bikes all night long. And even a tiny bike to ride around on! We are forever grateful to Stu for letting us crash there!
We woke up refreshed and looking forward to our easy day to the brewery. We decided to cheat a bit and leave all of the camping gear at the shop and do the last 47 miles with just the essentials. With a nice heavy diner breakfast in our bellies we got back on our steads and headed out of town for the Jane Addams Trail and headed due north.
It’s a beautiful trail that is well covered and good and mossy making for a bit of excitement/slipping around. Once we crossed the IL/WI border the trail becomes to Badger State Trail but that is about all that changed. We took it to Monroe and stopped for one last fill up and that’s when my front tire went.
I had brought one spare tire with me and I thought that was one too many but I was wrong. My front tire had a 10mm straight down the center tread that I booted with a ziplock, put a fresh tube in and crossed my fingers it would last 20 more miles.
Not too long before New Glarus the Badger State Trail turns into the Ice Age National Scenic Trail and that is where you find the Stewart Tunnel. Stewart Tunnel is a 1260 ft long tunnel with a 2 degree curve built into it. That makes it so when you are near the center you cannot see light from either end. Last time I was in the tunnel was during the Rapha Midwest Prestige. That time the temp was around 45 and it was raining most of the day. We had also not brought any lights so, you know, that was interesting. This go around was different. It was an amazing 65 degrees or so and foggy from all the humidity. We just wanted to stay inside. With lights this time we took our time exploring the tunnel and some of its “beautiful” art work on the walls.
That was the last stretch. Right after the tunnel we jumped on the roads for a few last hills before getting to New Glarus. With a booted front tire I was a bit skeptical of the descents and took it easy. Soon enough we could see the brewery sitting majestically atop a hill in the distance. I was excited, we had done it, we were there, I couldn’t contain myself and bunnyhopped any bump in the road ahead.
With one last hill I decided I HAD to smash it up to the top. Leave it all on the road. At the top we met our savoir, Eric’s dad, Rick. He was just having a good old time waiting for us to roll in, hear our story and drink some beer with us. With some beer in out bellies and a lot more in the trunk of the car we loaded up and started our car ride back home.
On the way home we stopped in Rockford at Prairie Street Brewing Co. If you like good food and good beer stop there next time you’re around.
It was a great trip with great people. We all had some suffering and we all had a blast. Next time we are working on making it a two day trip with less bags and more speed. Y’all are welcome to join!