A SImple Pleasure

Old Plank Road Trail

Old Plank Road Trail (Photo credit: notmargaret)

These days walking the Old Plank Road has replaced my bike riding on the trail. There was a time when I owned the road out there, and knew every rider from Western Avenue to Cherry Hill Road. Those days have evolved into walking the short stretch from my house to the Trolley Barn in Frankfort. Yesterday, I took note of  the wildflowers (aka weeds) growing along the path. I really don’t know what their names are, nor do I give a hoot. I do like to look at them, and I thank God for giving me that simple pleasure.

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Quads Desperately Seeking Oxygen

Presta valve

Image via Wikipedia

A fantastic idea popped into my mind yesterday, why not take a bike ride tomorrow? It stayed with me throughout the rest of the Saturday and was playing in my mind as I fell asleep. It helped to watch the 2011 Tour de France pre-show too.

This morning, I looked out the window at the 2011 Monet Vision. Yes, sunshine powers the flowers without a cloud in the sky. I quickly trot to my office to look out at the flag, it lay still against the poll. The weather-station shows nice warm temperature. No more excuses, I told myself. Your back hurts even though you have not been on a bike in a year. The bike is not the reason. It is the perfect fair-weather day suited for the fair-weather outdoorsman I have become. Go for it!

2011 Monet Vision

A quick rearrangement of garden stuff in the garage allowed me to reach the bike hanging from the ceiling since last year. Be careful, don’t strain your back taking it down. Do the back wheel first. Easy does it. Yes! Now carefully lift the front wheel off the hook. It is down and my back still feels good.

I hear Bill Lang instructing me at Effective Cycling class, “Remember the ABC’s.”

Before every ride, check “A” air in the tires, “B” brakes are engaging, “C” chain is lube’d and moves freely.

Air, yes find the pump. Ah there it is in the corner. Oh crap, the fitting no longer holds pressure on the Presta side. Go find the adapter so you can use the Shrader side . Now that is a problem. Where is it? Look in the tool box where you keep bike stuff. Where is that? Start in the basement. Ten minutes later the adapter is on the tire and I’m pumping carefully. I don’t want the tire to blow off the rim. The tires are old and brittle. The last thing I want to do is blow it off the rim. Keep checking the tire for bumps and make sure it seats properly on the rim.

Good, the tires have the proper air-pressure, now check the brakes. Yep they are working. The rear pads need replacement, but they’ll make it through today. Wheel the bike out to the lawn and spray the chain with WD-40. Backpedaling the chain is difficult. Move the shifter to align the chain with the gears. Okay the chain is free. Now spray the chain and pump the pedal at the same time to spread the oil.

Ready to ride? No, what’s wrong now? Shoes, I have to find my cycling shoes. I dig through seven pairs of shoes piled in the closet. I find my Shimanos and loosen the laces. My feet have spread in the last few years, but they still feel good as long as I keep the laces loose. Almost ready, A quick dash to my desk to find the Cateye. Boy there is too much stuff in this drawer, it is time to purge. There it is.

I  put on the helmet, adjust the mirror, give Grandma Peggy a quick kiss and out the door I go.

Oops, where are my gloves? Without gloves my hands will burn on a day like this. Look in the top drawer of the cabinet in the garage. Yes, they are still there from last year. Okay, now I’m ready.

Just pedal easy and enjoy the day. My legs automatically go to ninety revolutions a minute. That is not easy, I tell myself, but that is the pace my legs like to move. Downshift dummy. That’s better. The street heading to the Old Plank Road Trail (OPRT) is slightly uphill. Normally, this grade would not need a downshift, but today is different. I move down two gears and make it easier. By the time I reach the stop sign I am out of breath. Thankfully, I coast down to the trail without pedaling.

There was a day just a few years ago when bicycling the OPRT was a daily routine. The trail is twenty miles from one end to the other, and would take three hours to complete at a leisurely pace. There is no way, I could do that today.

At the end of the downhill to the trail, I turn east toward Harlem Avenue. This section of the OPRT is my favorite. The trail, a converted railroad track bed is straight, but somewhat rolling in gentle long downhills and uphills.  It passes through a forested area bounded by Prestwick Country Club on the south and Lincoln Estates on the north. The sunlight finds a way through the trees to form dapples of light. The only time a wind affects a rider is when it is east-west. Today, there is merely a gentle breeze which is not felt at all.

There is a lot of traffic on the trail today. I come upon a young man ahead of me, “On your left,” I holler, and then pass him. I can’t believe I passed a young guy, I thought. There must still be some fire left in these legs. Then I hear him say, “hello, I’m riding on the trail. . . ”  Damn, he slowed down to answer his cell phone. A few minutes later he passes me like I am standing still.

I pass the point where Busia Barbara had her heart attack. It still bothers me every time I do. This year marks the tenth anniversary of that fateful day in August when she had the Widower-Maker. Except she made the mistake of hanging on for two years after. Not a good time in her life.

At Harlem Avenue, I feel good, but decide to turn around per plan. No sense in overdoing it on the first ride.

The ride back feels less stressful. The sciatic fire running through my  right gluteus (ass) has toned down to a warm remembrance of trouble to come.  The pain in the left patella which began in the garden a month ago, is not going away, but sends a signal on each bend of the knee. The lyrics of a song pop into my mind,

Those were the days my friend

We thought they’d never end

We’d sing and dance forever and a day

We’d live the life we choose

For we were young and sure to have our way.

The song keeps me spinning as I pass a mother pushing a buggy with her toddlers. Next, I move way over to pass a woman walking two shaggy little dogs.  Two young riders pass. They are bent over the bars making time on their Sunday workout. A skater swinging her legs wide from side to side making time as she comes toward me. She slows a bit as we cross by each other.

The trees end and the trial opens into the Prairie Park on the edge of Frankfort. Kids are fishing from the pier, and the traffic of people walking dogs increases.

A crowd of bikers waits for traffic to allow them to cross White Street. I catch them and tailgate across to the Briedert Green. Morning shoppers crowd the trail at the Farmer’s Market. This is my western turnaround point. and I am glad to leave the trail. I take the back roads just north of the Trail.

I feel good, but the song keeps looping through the mind as my quads burn desperately seeking oxygen.

I arrive home forty-three minutes and seven miles later. In the good old days, I wouldn’t have returned until I had a metric century(62 miles) under my belt.

“Those were the days my friend . . .”

Strato-Cruiser aka Grumpy-Mobile

How did the amateur get chainwheel grease there?

Can you find the Grumpy-Mobile in there?

The ‘AV’ or Main Street America

High school gave me a freedom to explore.  Classes ended at 1:50 p.m. and basketball practice didn’t begin until 3:30,  that gave me an hour to walk up to Michigan Avenue.  It is a brisk five minute walk from the school, and up the hill to the “Av.”

The “Av,” short for Michigan Avenue, formed the central business district for the Roseland, and surrounding neighborhoods.  The “Av” and “Main Street America,” were one and the same. Walking down MIchigan Avenue between 103rd St and 115th St was the same as walking down the Main Street of Lowell ,Indiana, or Morris, Illinois. Small businesses covered both sides of the street from 107th to 115th.  There were clothing stores, shoe shops, a shoe maker, drugstores, Gately’s People Store, Walgreen’s, a small bike shop, barber shops, photo studio, and more.  Anything needed for life could be found on the “Ave”. There were restaurants, taverns, Dentists, and Doctors mixed in between and above the stores.  At the top of the hill on the corner of 111th and Michigan stood the Mocambo Night Club.

One of my favorite places was the soda fountain at Walgreen’s.  After a day in class, a coke hit the spot.  Mom shopped at Gately’s whenever she needed a special dress. Gately’s ran a bakery and food shop on the lower level.  One of their specialties was the French doughnut.  These were made on the automated donut machine.  I could watch that thing for hours.

The machine consisted of an ovular trough filled with hot cooking oil.  The start point was a dough dispenser, which plopped a ring of raw dough into the oil. The plop cooked in the oil as it moved around the oval.   A new plop followed as soon as the first was out of the way.  Once the plop reached the halfway point, a submerged basket lifted up and flipped it so the uncooked side was in the oil.  The half cooked donut continued to the end where it was again lifted and flipped out of the oil onto a tray as a fully cooked donut.  A worker arranged the finished donuts on the tray. She gave a final touch by sprinkling them with either powdered sugar, dipping them in chocolate frosting, or into plain sugar. When completed, she traded the full tray for an empty, and moved the full tray to the display case.  The process never stopped moving. Today, if you go to a Krispy Kreme donut shop you will see the same donut maker amazing people the same way it amazed me fifty-five years ago. It is also the same machine that amused me  in Hillman’s basement sixty-five years ago.

The Cianci Photo Studio was on the west side of the Ave between  at 113th.  They always featured examples of their work in the window.  High School graduation pictures were among their specialties.  When I graduated Mendel I had my studio picture taken there too.  My ugly face was one of the pictures they put into the window.  That was great from a girl chasing point of view, but I took a lot of flack from the guys.

I often visited the bike shop to look for parts to customize my bike.  There was something about the smell of the shop that turned me on.  The shop was not one of the modern sterile bright show rooms of today.  It was more like an old hardware store where the aisles and walls are stacked with shelves loaded with parts.  The difference being a hardware store didn’t have bikes squeezed into every inch of available floor space.

The owner of the shop was a gray haired man who wore an apron. His hands were black with dirt and grease.  The looked liked my hands when I cleaned my chain or rear wheel with a strong solvent.  The dirty grease gets into every pore and every fingerprint.  It was at this shop that I bought an eleven-tooth cog for my rear wheel.  A classmate from Roseland introduced me to the mechanical advantage offered by sprockets. He told me that putting a smaller sprocket on the back wheel would make the bike faster.  What he taught is correct but that “faster” also requires more torque.  Torque is required to turn the crank.  The force exerted on the pedal transmitted through the crank arm is torque.  The smaller gear required more torque, and since the crank arm is a fixed length, the force has to increase.  I found myself standing on the pedal to get enough force converted to torque to pull the chain that turned the small sprocket.

Once I got the bike moving with this sprocket, pumping continued to be harder. This extra effort got me to thinking that a bike really needs many sprockets on the back wheel. For starting from a dead stop or for climbing hills, a large rear sprocket is needed. Once you gain speed the sprocket can be smaller.  A multiple speed bike, what a novel idea(1952).

In 1972,  I bought a bike for my wife at the Schwinn shop in Evergreen Park.  I bought her a ladies model 5 speed, exactly what I had invented in 1952.  I told the shop owner that if Schwinn was smart they would add the multiple speed rear wheel onto a fat -tired cruiser.  The guy told me it was a dumb idea and that no one would buy it.

A hardtail mountain bike.

Image via Wikipedia

Two years later a kid name Gary Fisher from California put a 5 speed wheel on a cruiser and started riding it up a mountain just so he could have the thrill of coasting down at high speed.  The mountain-bike caught on, and a fad began which pumped new life into a failing bike industry.  The new sport of mountain biking became a rage.  Schwinn finally woke up in the late seventies and sold a crude mountain bike.

The Av was a major commercial area until the late sixties.  By then, shopping malls displaced Main Street.  On the Southwest side of Chicago, Evergreen Plaza became the new hot spot for shopping. One by one, the businesses on the Av closed. The street became quiet, and the storefronts boarded.

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