Today was a special day. I didn't plan on it being a special day, it just became one. It was one of those days when life gave me lemons, so I made lemonade.
I awoke with the expectation of riding 60 miles to Pontiac, then 35 miles the following day to Bloomington Normal. When I checked the weather that morning, I found that winds out of the North West were forecasted for the whole day. That little light went off in my head. For a while I had had the goal of completing a century, or 100 mile, ride. Since I was lugging a good 50 lbs of equipment, the only way I was going to achieve this accolade was if I could count on steady tail winds and no hills. Well, here I was in flat old Illinois with the wind at my back and a destination that was about 100 miles away. I decided that today would be the day that I go for the century.
I got off to an early start. By 8:00 am I was already on the road. My host, Neil, had recommended a few sites to check out that were just a few miles from his house. Given my early start time, it seemed like I could accommodate a bit of tourism.
The first site was the Midewin National Tallgrass Prairie. In addition to its miles of serene hiking paths, this protected land housed a herd of bison. Neil had told me that a litter of calves had recently been delivered, bringing the bison count up to ninety. I visited this wildlife reserve with hopes of spotting a bison or two. After riding my bike a couple of miles into the park, I figured that today might not be my lucky day. There were no bison to be seen, so I turned my bike around and began riding towards the exit. But then, just before I turned to leave, I spotted the whole herd being led through the park by one of its rangers.
I threw on my zoom lens and snapped a few pics. I was thrilled with the pics. I could even see the bison calves tagging along with the group. My first stop was a great success.
My next stop, only a few miles from the Prairie, was the Abraham Lincoln National Cemetery. Neil described it to me as Illinois' equivalent of the Arlington National Cemetery. This was a unique opportunity to pay respects to our troops and their families, so I entered the cemetery. I found it very welcoming. Well kept grasses invited visitors to get comfortable and explore the tombstones. I entered with the expectation of spending just a few minutes, I ended up staying over an hour. I became engrossed in inspecting the tombs. There were so many discoveries to be had. I became especially interested in the religious symbols which decorated these mostly uniform tombs. In addition to the soldier's name, birth and death dates and messages, many of the tombs had religious engravings. Reflective of the US's broader population, the vast majority were variants of Christianity, though other religions were also represented, including Islam, Judaism, Church of Latter Day Saints and others that I'm not even familiar with. It brought me a great pride to be reminded of the fact that men and women across countless faiths have united in defense of this country.
It was hardly 10:00 am and I was feeling accomplished. Despite feeling content, I knew that I couldn't get lazy. I had a long haul ahead of me, so I put my head down and rode. I rode, and rode, and rode. Historic Route 66 led me from small rural town to small rural town vis-a-vis expansive corn fields. With the wind at my back I breezed across the plains of Illinois beneath a crystal clear sky.
Around sunset I arrived at Bloomington Normal. This was the charming home of Illinois State University and other colleges, as well as the State Farm Insurance company. I was not expecting this place to have so much going on. My host for the evening, Michael, met me up at the Uptown Circle. When he arrived I explained my predicament. I was still eight miles shy of reaching the century mark. He told me that it was no problem and took me for a tour of his town. During this ride I learned about all the interesting stuff that Michael was doing in his community. When I asked him about his interest in returning to the big city, he expressed great satisfaction in being a "big fish in a small pond" instead of being an anonymous in the metropolis. I could definitely relate to many of the sentiments he expressed. Finally, after our 8.5 mile tour of the city, I hit the century mark. Man, today was a good day.
That was it for me. Back at Michael's home I hit the bed and was out...like...a...light.