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A new, and fairly wild, commute experience for me....

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A new, and fairly wild, commute experience for me....

Old 10-21-12, 04:59 PM
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bluegoatwoods
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A new, and fairly wild, commute experience for me....

Let's see....how to explain this without taking up pages and pages....hmmm...here goes;

I live on a bluff overlooking a river. I'm about 150 feet or so above river level. I work on the river. It's about 6 miles by road. Perhaps 4 to 4 1/2 miles as the crow flies. The peak of the bluff is about half a mile north of me. About 200 feet above river level. So my commute is a bit of a climb for the first half mile followed by a noticeable drop for the next mile or mile-and-a-half, followed by about 3 miles on the level. Not bad, other than the car traffic. Which isn't as bad as some, but it's a bit distracting and takes away the serenity of riding in silence.

I've been thinking for years about just going more or less straight down the bluff from my back yard through the woods to the river. Problem is, it's kinda steep. Steep enough that even on foot requires care. With a bike I'd, naturally, cut across the hill to lessen the grade. But the lay of the land is such that I'd have to make a pretty big loop opposite the direction I want to go.

I've know all along of one alternative: at the top of the bluff there is a trail that runs, by a couple of switch-backs, down to the river. I've walked it any number of times. But I'd always been a bit more focused on my own neighborhood because of the feeling that it wouldn't be worth it if I couldn't avoid climbing to the trail-head. (an interesting side-topic: near this trail is the 'ruins', still climbable, of a concrete stairway that goes straight up the hill through the woods. I don't know it's history, but I can piece it together. There was a time when passenger boats landed at the bottom. The last one was nearly a hundred years ago, I think. No doubt this stairway was for the use of passengers who lived in my neighborhood. I hate to imagine the labor involved in building this stairway.)

Anyway, last week I decided to find out if this commute is feasible. My first test was on a day off. I put my grand-daughter in her "In-Step" trailer and went down the trail. I figured that if I could pull her up (she weighs more than forty pounds), then I could get my commute load up. (Walking the bike in both cases, of course. Riding is completely out of the question.) It worked just fine. It took effort, of course. And there were a few points where the effort was getting close to torturous. But those points were only momentary.
I noticed something else that was very encouraging; a friend came along just for fun. He's an active guy who stays in good shape. His bike is a basic mountain bike with no 'fred' accessories at all. Much lighter than my load. Yet I was constantly right on his back tire and not breathing as hard as he was. Commuting by bike really does make one strong.

So that worked. The next test was going to work the next morning. It was fine. Walking down this hill through the woods on a lovely fall morning. I got to work in the same time, within a few minutes, as I would have on the road.

Coming home from work that evening there was a good storm. This was this past Wednesday. Did you see the Giants-Cardinals game? That was the storm. I live a couple hours north-east of St Louis.

The commute was really still just fine, even with that storm. Along the river I had to walk the bike more than I wanted to. The trail was full of water. Not knowing the surface well enough, I couldn't risk riding. I just can't afford a broken leg. But once I started climbing I could see the ground. I still had to walk and push there, of course, but I could see my footing and no longer needed to worry about that. Since it's a pretty large elevation gain over a fairly short distance, I got a bit warm. But that goes with commuting in wet or chilly conditions anyway.

It was great. No more of riding along with cars going 'whoosh' by me one after another after another followed by a short break, then more and more, etc. Instead I'll commute through a woods and then down by the river, watching the seasons change in near silence. I'll still have to deal with cars part of the way. But a good deal less. And if we have any real snow this year that could shut me down part of the time. But probably not a lot.

I can think of only one downside so far. And I should be able to dispatch it pretty quick. I feel a bit sheepish admitting thiiiiiis......buuuuut.... I got a little bit spooked on the climb through the woods in that storm. My thinking was, 'If there are some desperate squatters in these woods, they'll be able to see me and they might think I'm an easy mark. In this wind and rain, I won't be able to hear them if they're sneaking up on me'. So I did spend a bit of time trying to listen and see behind me. I knew even then that the chances of anyone else being there were about a zillion to one. And afterwards it occurred to me that no one could possibly have caught up with me without a light of their own.

Next I'll have to get over my fears of wolves, little green extraterrestrials sneaking about out there. Stuff like that. Then it ought to be a great commute. Wish me luck.
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Old 10-21-12, 07:17 PM
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We need some pictures!
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Old 10-21-12, 08:29 PM
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Reminds me of my commute in Duluth, Mn. I walked the trail, but it was fun everytime. Don't know why I never biked it, I onlu biked on the road for no known reason.
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Old 10-21-12, 08:44 PM
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Originally Posted by clawhammer72 View Post
We need some pictures!
Yes, pix would bring this interesting place to life for those of us that don't know it!
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Old 10-21-12, 09:13 PM
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With bluffs, are you somewhere between Grafton and Alton, or up even further than that? That is some beautiful scenery in that area.

Last edited by David Bierbaum; 10-21-12 at 09:27 PM.
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Old 10-22-12, 06:31 AM
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Yup, photos occurred to me as well. At the moment I've no camera. But they're pretty cheap so I'll pick one up. It's just about too late to get good fall foliage pics. November foliage is kinda bleak. Maybe I'll get some good winter shots and post them.

I'm further up the Illinois River than that, David Bierbaum. The bluffs here are not quite that steep. But still, your photo looks a lot like the terrain I'm describing. In fact, going by road I follow a road that looks very much like that one. It climbs the hill by a couple of long, slow curves. And it's not a terrible ride, really. Other than the near constant cars zooming by.

Last edited by bluegoatwoods; 10-22-12 at 06:33 AM. Reason: a little more info
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Old 10-22-12, 08:34 AM
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Sounds like a great alternative to the roads. Is the trail paved or dirt?
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Old 10-28-12, 10:07 AM
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It's dirt, Spivonius. Merely a trail blazed by walkers through the woods.

It climbs the bluff by way of two long switchbacks. To lessen the grade, of course. I could probably climb it pedalling with a mountain bike style three ring front sprocket. I only run two rings up front and won't even try riding with those. But the grade is low enough that pushing the bike on foot is no problem at all.

Looking ahead, I have a feeling that I will likely use this path going home only when weather is such that I fear for my safety in traffic. You know, heavy rain. Stuff like that.

But it's feeling like a fine way to go to work. I imagine I'll soon need some kind of spikes for the soles of my boots. It'll get slippery.
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