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  1. #1
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    Cycling to Chicago, but where to start?

    Hi, I am planning on flying to the States from London in June/July to complete a solo charity ride for my niece, who is suffering from a brain tumour. She lives in Chicago so that's where my trip will end.

    What I'm not sure about is where to start from. I'm looking at 3 possibilities.
    • New York
    • Washington DC
    • Montreal


    What I am struggling with is to decide which one. My main criteria are that:

    1. I will be travelling on my own with full camping gear so don't want to be travelling more than 80 miles a day without a camp site or motel
    2. I'm used to the hills of Europe but I don't want to be doing silly elevations, that's not the point of the trip
    3. I really want to avoid big roads with heavy traffic and major cities wherever possible between start and finish


    I have looked up various websites but frankly the information is pretty confusing and doesn't tell you all that much without you parting with cash first.

    Any advice would be massively appreciated, especially if you have done something similar.

    Chris

  2. #2
    Senior Member bktourer1's Avatar
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    Check out Adventure Cycling Association (routes / maps) & Warmshowers.org (hosters)

  3. #3
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    There aren't really any big elevations between NYC and Chicago, although it can be hilly. Once you get past Pennsylvania, it is pretty flat along the lake shores. There are lots of back roads, and I'd defer to your references above to find them.

  4. #4
    Have bike, will travel Barrettscv's Avatar
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    Starting in D.C. will allow you to use the C&O towpath, see: http://bikewashington.org/canal/ . And then the Great Allegheny Passage (aka GAP), see: http://www.atatrail.org/tmi/maps.cfm . The O&E Towpath in Ohio is another nice connector on your way to Chicago: http://www.ohioanderiecanalway.com/Main/Map.aspx
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  5. #5
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    All three cities are great places to begin a tour, but for your purposes Montreal would be my pick. The other two choices are certainly not grave mistakes, but Montreal gives you a lot more opportunities to see the best of the unique Great Lakes region, where five vast lakes hold twenty percent of the world's fresh water and a great deal of the shoreline is gorgeous and relatively undeveloped.

    New York or Washington, DC to Chicago take you through relatively densely populated areas with more traffic and fewer opportunities to camp, and the landscape is East Coast mountain ranges followed by relatively monotonous flat to rolling farmland. I think the south shores of Lake Erie and Ontario are interesting, but there are a lot of tired out old industrial cities and towns there compared to the more northern shores of these and the other three Great Lakes, which are prettier, more rural, and vary more in landscape. Passing south of all the Great Lakes also exposes you to many more miles of potential high heat and humidity in June or July.

    Montreal to Chicago sets up a number of fantastic Great Lakes tour options. There are nice routes from Montreal to Ottawa along the Ottawa River. From there you can head up the beautiful coast of Lake Huron's Georgian Bay (through a designated UNESCO biosphere reserve) and cross into the United States at Sault Ste. Marie. There are attractive options from there to Chicago on either side of Lake Michigan -- I'd be likely to choose the Wisconsin side, which stays more rural and has a robust rails-to-trails network of bike paths you might be tempted to explore. All of these options avoid altitude, too: Chicago is only about 550 feet above Montreal, and if you follow the water you minimize the climbing you say you'd like to avoid.

    Best wishes to your niece, to you, and to your trip!

  6. #6
    Hooked on Touring
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    If it is a charity ride, I might suggest a combination of:

    Chesapeake & Ohio Canal Trail
    http://www.nps.gov/choh/index.htm

    Great Allegheny Passage
    http://www.atatrail.org/

    Old Lincoln Highway in Ohio
    http://www.lincolnhighwayoh.com/guide/preface.html

    And the Old Lincoln Highway in Indiana
    http://www.lincolnhighwayoh.com/v1/1928_indiana_lh.html

    That way you can start at the Capitol or Lincoln Monument - photo ops.
    (By taking the C&O/ATA you miss lots of mountain climbing.)
    Then ride all the way into the heart of Pittsburgh to Point Park.
    There are a number of rail trails that will link you to the Old Lincoln Highway.
    The Old Lincoln Highway - the oldest transcontinental road in the U.S. -
    has been almost 100% bypassed by new highway - great historic back road.
    Lots of towns along the way with camping and/or motels.

    You might want to consider cutting north from Plymouth to Michigan City and the Indiana Dunes along Lake Michigan.
    On any of your three route you will have to enter Chicago from the southeast - - tricky.
    I would avoid Gary - using paved trail from Hobart to Griffith to Homewood.

    The Illinois Department of Transportation offers free, detailed bicycle maps of the Chicago region.

  7. #7
    Hooked on Touring
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    PS - Not to mention that 2013 is the 100th anniversary of the Lincoln Highway.

  8. #8
    Senior Member Cyclebum's Avatar
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    If you decide to start in Montreal I'd recommend you roughly follow Google's bicycle routing to a point in Michigan where you'd divert to Muskegon, take the high speed ferry to Milwaukee, then down the shore to enter Chicago from the west. This would let you avoid the sketchy industrial wastelands of Gary and environs.
    The bicycle is one of the great inventions of mankind. Delights children, challenges young men to feats of daring, and turns old men into boys again.--Me

  9. #9
    The Recumbent Quant cplager's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Blighty_Biker View Post
    Hi, I am planning on flying to the States from London in June/July to complete a solo charity ride for my niece, who is suffering from a brain tumour.
    Good luck to your niece. Not related to your actual question, but you still may find the 3,000 Miles to a Cure
    interesting.

    Maria Parker is riding in this year's RAAM (Race Across America) to help raise money to fight brain cancer (her sister Jenny was recently diagnosed).

    Impressive lady, impressive story.

    Now back to our regularly scheduled thread.

    Cheers,
    Charles
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  10. #10
    Senior Member jrickards's Avatar
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    I live in Sudbury, 2/3 the way from Montreal to Sault Ste Marie, and I have driven the route from Ottawa to Sault Ste Marie a few times. I can report that, with the exception of between Deep River and North Bay (you'll have to zoom in to see Deep River) and for the 40km east of Sudbury to Sudbury, the route is quite even. There are a few hills in the two mentioned areas but nothing serious. You'll have to take alternate roads from Montreal to west of Ottawa (Renfrew I think) because the primary road is the 417 (divided 4-lane, 100kmh), bikes not allowed but once you've passed that, you can take Hwy 17 the most of the rest of the way: there is one 20km section between Lively and Whitefish that also is divided 4-lane 100kmh that you must avoid too but the old 17 between those 2 towns is available (one of my fitness rides, one minor hill).

    I've driven, years ago, down from Sault Ste Marie to Grand Rapids along Hwy 31, it is a beautiful ride along Lake Michigan but I'll leave the rest of the trip to those who know more about the rest of the trip.
    Last edited by jrickards; 03-01-13 at 09:55 AM.

  11. #11
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    All thank you ever so much for the wonderful and detailed advice. I am somewhat overwhelmed and I hope I can repay the favour to others one day. I have lots to absorb and think about but I feel in a much better place to make a decision now. And also thank you for your kinds words about Maddie, we all appreciate it. She is a fighter...

    I will keep you up to date with what I decide. Thanks again.

    Best Wishes,

    Chris

  12. #12
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    Chicago Blues started from migration of Musicians from, like, The Mississippi Delta, might be a tour Theme.

    New Orleans, Natchez Trace, and so forth, Memphis, ..


    I really want to avoid big roads with heavy traffic and major cities wherever possible between start and finish
    might be a tough one to satisfy, these days.
    Last edited by fietsbob; 03-01-13 at 02:00 PM.

  13. #13
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    Quote Originally Posted by cplager View Post
    Good luck to your niece. Not related to your actual question, but you still may find the 3,000 Miles to a Cure
    interesting.

    Maria Parker is riding in this year's RAAM (Race Across America) to help raise money to fight brain cancer (her sister Jenny was recently diagnosed).

    Thank you for telling me about this, what an incredible woman! Only makes me more determined to do my 'little' trip this summer.

    Thanks again.

  14. #14
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    Before you decide on the C&O, update yourself on this:

    http://www.bikeforums.net/showthread...or-all-of-2013

    Also note that the C&O is a dirt surface and can be a muddy ride after heavy rain.

  15. #15
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    Thank you, that is bad news but I guess it's not the end of the world if I can detour around it somehow. I am riding a Boardman CX so not having a perfect surface is not a massive issue. I just need to consider if I can do the mileage I need if it's too muddy and bumpy. It's still looking like the best option though as trying to fly to Montreal is going to be insanely expensive, which is a great shame.

  16. #16
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    The nice thing about the C&O as well as the connecting ATA is that they are not only completely free of auto/truck traffic, but they also have fabulous free campsites along the Potomac and Youghiogheny Rivers. Early spring is often rainy and muddy, but by midsummer, it is "usually" nice and dry. Plus, most sections have a nice arch of shade trees. You can always take short side trips to historic and scenic sites - Harpers Ferry, where John Brown tried to start a slave uprising; Antietam, one of the bloodiest Civil War battlefields; Falling Water, Frank Lloyd Wright's spectacular modernist masterpiece.

    And, yes, it is possible to detour around closed sections using local roads; however, that will usually entail extra miles and quite a bit of climbing.

  17. #17
    Senior Member alan s's Avatar
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    Keep in mind that the C&O is impassable at times due to flooding, mud or downed trees. If you are on a tight schedule and have to take to the roads, be ready for lots of climbing. Fenders are nice to have to keep the mud under control. Two-wheeled trailers are not recommended, as the towpath is double-track in many areas.

  18. #18
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    BB - Lest you get the idea that the C&O is a hopeless bog - yes, after periods of extended rain and/or flooding it is difficult. However, the time period you plan to ride is "usually" hot and relatively dry for the East. I used to live in the East and have ridden it a couple of times in the summer with absolutely no problem, The most water was in the disused canal, an easily avoided puddle in a deep rut, or water dripping in Paw Paw tunnel. My roommate rode it during late fall and it was a muddy disaster.

    And even if there are unseasonable rains, you can take the paved Washington & Old Dominion Trail out of DC and switch to back roads in western Maryland to Cumberland. From Cumberland the ATA is on an old railbed - hence raised - with a hardpack surface. If you are considering DC as a starting point, I wouldn't let the mudmongers scare you off. DC offers convenient international flights - plus it makes a nice starting point, especially for a monarchist.

  19. #19
    Senior Member alan s's Avatar
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    I live a couple miles from the C&O, and ride it frequently in all seasons. Last summer after a storm hit, I ran into some guys that were waiting for it to be cleared of trees for several days. That was in 100 F and high humidity. It's usually fine for riding, and there are alternate routes, but you can get really bogged down at times.

  20. #20
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    . . . trying to fly to Montreal is going to be insanely expensive, which is a great shame.

    The Amtrak train from New York to Montreal is $72.00.
    Last edited by Takara; 03-02-13 at 05:32 PM. Reason: just because

  21. #21
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    If you end up traveling along the south shore of Lake Erie, I have 25 acres of woods where you would be welcome to camp.
    Near the village of Berlin Heights, Ohio.

  22. #22
    Senior Member iforgotmename's Avatar
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    I have done the Gap and the C&O a couple of times and highly recommend that route. Free camping(in MD), a lot of great trail towns, sights to see and no traffic. If you come through Cleveland let me know as I have a buddy who owns a bike shop and regularly hosts tourists. There is also a hostel in Cleveland right near downtown in the Ohio City neighborhood, which is a great place to spend the night.

    Good luck and keep fighting the good fight!

  23. #23
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    I'm an independent contractor, paid to go anywhere in the U.S. or Canada that has roadway access. I have removed NYC and DC from my atlas. I will only temporarily reinstall them for triple rate on a case by case basis. I've also done the same with Chicago however you have a good reason to go there. I'd choose Montreal. Good luck with your trip.
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  24. #24
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    I would opt for the Montreal option, and go around Georgian Bay, through Sault Ste Marie. Not as many off-road options as some of the other routes suggested, but roads don't bother me, so it would be my choice.

    I once did a tour from Waterloo, Ontario, (where I was studying at University) up the Bruce Peninsula, to Sault Ste Marie, then through Upper Peninsula Michigan and Wisconsin, finishing at a friend's in the northern Chicago suburbs. I have very good memories of that trip.

  25. #25
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    I did much of the C&O last summer, including during that big storm. I'd not do it again, especially the upper ends which are relatively rough going, though the GAP trail seems to be much smoother. On the northern route being suggested, I'd looked into the route to Sault Ste Marie and from what I've been able to gather from the journals on crazyguyonabike.com and others who have blogged it, parts of the TransCanada are not very bike-friendly.

    My suggestion: start in Montreal, cut into New York State at Kingston Ontario (which is a wonderful small city) on the ferry to Wolfe Island then Cape Vincent -- the ferry rides are really enjoyable and incredibly scenic as you cross the St Lawrence -- then follow the Seaway trail down around Oswego along the southern shore of Lake Ontario -- this is a beautiful route, no cities (except Oswego, which is pretty small and easy to get through), then you can either hook up to the Erie Canal towpath or follow the Adventure Cycling Northern Tier Route (which you can actually pick up north of Oswego), which takes you to Niagara Falls.

    Cross over into Ontario, follow the Lake Erie Connector route of Adventure Cycling along the northern shore of Lake Erie, cross over into Michigan. The State of Michigan has available a wonderful set of cycling maps for $5 each which cover regions of the state, and show trails, roads and how bikeable they are, etc., available online (link above). Go to Muskegon as mentioned above, take the ferry across Lake Michigan to Milwaukee, then bike south to Chicago.

    This way you get to see some of the most scenic parts of the Great Lakes region east of Chicago, avoid for the most part urban areas, and this particular route also is not very hilly compared to say the route from DC or NYC to Chicago.
    Last edited by chipg5; 03-03-13 at 02:36 PM.
    My bike touring blog: http://chipbiking.wordpress.com

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