Major Taylor Ride To Remember

June 21, 2003

Matteson, Illinois

70.8 miles

Bicycle:  Co-Motion Americano

Ride Info: Folks On Spokes

Long before Lance Armstrong or Greg LeMond, Major Taylor was America's first great world-class cyclist. In the early 20th century, track racing was a tremendously popular sporting event, and Taylor was a fantastic sprinter. In fact, he won a world championship at the age of nineteen. However, he was also Black, and many of his countrymen held that against him. He succeeded in spite of them all, but he died a poor and largely forgotten man. After dying in Cook County Hospital in 1932, Taylor was buried in an unmarked grave. In 1948, Frank Schwinn had his body moved to Mount Glenwood Cemetery in the south suburbs of Chicago. For more information about Major Taylor's amazing story, see this summary. For many more articles, see the Major Taylor Association web site.

Saturday was a beautiful, though warm, day for a bike ride, and I had the pleasure of participating in the first annual Major Taylor Ride To Remember, put on by the Folks on Spokes, a bike club in the south suburbs. I had modest goals for this ride, especially after the miserable time I had last week at the Horribly Hilly Hundred. My first goal was to meet up with Bob at the start. This was pretty easy since there were only about 50 riders! My other goals were to properly manage my hydration/electrolyte balance and to finish strong, or at least not in the tortured state in which I finished the 3H.

Although I got a late start, I made great time and arrived at Lincoln Mall in Matteson around 7:50, right on schedule. I got my packet and T-shirt, then went back to the car to unload my Americano. Bob came over to say hello. We talked awhile as I made my final preparations. Then Bob disappeared while I continued puttering around with my bike. Suddenly, I faintly heard an amplified voice and looked over to discover that the Major Taylor memorial service was starting without me!

I rushed over, hoping that I didn't miss much. The climax of the service was a reading of " A Dozen Don'ts" taken from the final chapter of Taylor's autobiography:

Don't try to " gyp."

Don't be a pie biter. (*)

Don't keep late hours.

Don't use intoxicants.

Don't be a big bluffer.

Don't eat cheap candies.

Don't get a swelled head.

Don't use tobacco in any form.

Don't fail to live a clean life.

Don't forget to play the game fair.

Don't take in unfair advantage of an opponent.

Don't forget the practice of good sportsmanship.

(*) In the track races of Major Taylor's era, teaming and cooperation between   riders to physically block or " pocket" a strong rider was forbidden.   Major Taylor was often a victim of these corrupt practices.   The term " pie biter" probably refers to a rider who agrees to block a stronger rider in exchange for a share of the purse.

After a short prayer, the ride officially started. I ran back to get my bike, then Bob and I set out on the first leg of the metric century. The brochure had said that this leg was simply an out-and-back ride of the Old Plank Road Trail (OPRT from here on). This trail, which I rode previously as part of the Grand Illinois Trail, is fairly wide and very straight, which made it ideal for riding side by side and talking. The small number of Major Taylor riders plus the surprisingly few Saturday morning locals running and cycling combined with the long sight distances made the OPRT a pleasant experience. It's not the most exciting trail to ride, but it is pretty well designed and nicely surrounded by greenery.

As it turned out, there was a great surprise in store for us before we turned back to Matteson. Instead of simply riding the OPRT out and back, we were routed onto the Hickory Creek Bikeway, which neither of us knew existed. This fantastic trail was as hilly and curvy as the OPRT was flat and straight, plus it twisted through a dense, shady forest. Apparently we were not the only ones who didn't know about this trail because hardly anyone not doing our ride was on it. There were a couple of creek crossings that provided exciting descents (remember it was twisty) and invigorating climbs. I attacked these climbs, perhaps to avenge the beating the hills gave me last weekend. Between forested sections of the trail, we rode on a sidepath and through a subdivision with a rather unimaginative planner who named every street " Brightway," as in " E. Brightway," " N. Brightway," etc. This dead-ended into the western section of the Hickory Creek Bikeway.

We rode along this trail to Schmuhl School, an old one-room schoolhouse located, appropriately, near Schoolhouse Road. There we were directed to the first rest stop, just under 16 miles from the start of the ride. I took a Succeed electrolyte capsule and topped off my water bottles while Bob ate a sandwich. The beginning of our journey back to Matteson was my least favorite part of the ride. We rode perhaps half a mile on a sidewalk that turned into a sidepath for another half mile to the OPRT. It was a typical, narrow, suburban sidewalk, perhaps 2-1/2 or 3-feet wide. My aversion to sidewalk riding plus the narrow pavement plus the bump-bumps of the joints made for an annoying but mercifully brief time.

Once we got back to the OPRT, it was smooth sailing all the way back to Matteson. We made the stoplight at Cicero Ave. for the second time, and soon we were back where we started, in the Lincoln Mall parking lot. This part of the ride was a bit longer than advertised, around 28 miles (instead of 23). I drank some water, took another Succeed and ate a hotdog. One of the club volunteers joked that we were heading out into the " Great American Corn Desert" next. Bob and I started the second leg toward Peotone together, but a few miles after we left the trail for the roads, we parted ways. We couldn't really talk on the roads anyway.

As I continued south, the traffic became more sparse. This route crossed over the route of the Easter Ride, another ride put on by Folks on Spokes. I saw several yellow arrows with " E" s painted on the roads for that ride. I later discovered that right where I turned onto Egyptian Trail from Pauling Road was the site of the now defunct Thompson Winery.   The Egyptian Trail is an old road that ran from Chicago to Cairo in Southern Illinois (hence the name). I could tell that I was approaching Peotone as I saw more and more signs opposing the " third airport." Each sign had a black airplane (perspective from above, nose up) with a red circle and a line through it. However, there was one sign that had the airplane pointed nose-down. I thought, there's a movement we can all support--no plane crashes!

At Peotone-Beecher Road, two thoughts came to mind. The first was a bad joke about a butcher shop, and the second was the goofy 60's song " Abigail Beecher" sung by Freddy Boom-Boom Cannon about a hip history teacher who drives an XKE, dances, surfs and plays guitar.  This road was a little busier than most, but it wasn't bad. I had been facing a light wind as I rode south, so now I sped up a bit as I headed west. Up ahead, I saw a stoplight at a bridge that was being rebuilt. I stopped for the first time in an hour, and I felt just how hot the day had become. When the light changed, I raced across the bridge, as I had a truck waiting behind me.

I had driven through Peotone on IL 50 before, but this was the first time I had been down Main Street through the older part of town. It was pretty quiet. After crossing the railroad tracks (the ones that carry the legendary City of New Orleans), I saw the Mayberry Restaurant, where the ride director said the Folks on Spokes often eat on Saturday morning rides. It's a cliche, but Peotone did have a Mayberry-ish feeling to it. Just west of downtown was the single rest stop of this leg. It was a rather strange stop for me, and not a pleasant one. I found myself drawn into an odd discussion with the woman there, one of those conversations where you should be agreeing but for some reason the other person is on another planet or something. This was uncomfortable, and it took awhile to extract myself from it and get on my way. In the meantime, I made the biggest mistake of the day... I asked for a hotdog from the Weber grill. As I bit into it, I tasted a hint of hotdog with a generous splash of lighter fluid. Yuck. Out of stupidity and politeness, I finished it.

Back on the road, I stopped to take another Succeed cap, which I had forgotten to take at the rest stop. As I headed back north toward Matteson, something was terribly wrong. Every time I burped, it tasted like lighter fluid. I swear, with a match I could have belched flames. It tasted awful, and I was feeling awful. I began to wonder how many carcinogens I had just ingested and how many days they would take off of   my life. Heck, I ws just hoping I had more than one day left! You know, the first thing my dad taught me about grilling was that you have to let the coals sit awhile to burn off the lighter fluid before you start cooking. Somebody's dad didn't do his job.

Further down the road, I became more nauseous, which made me really mad. Here I was, doing every right that I had done wrong last week, and now I felt like crap anyway, all because of that stupid hotdog! Every lighter fluid burp just bugged me more. I fought hard to keep this from ruining my ride, and eventually I overcame it. Finally, I finished the big loop back to Ridgeland Ave., which led north to the OPRT back to Lincoln Mall. The course was a bit long for a metric century. My odometer read 70.8 miles, even though I started it late, at least a few tenths into the ride. Riding time was 4:48:59, for an average speed of 14.7 mph.

Aside from that nasty hotdog, it was a fun ride. Although I tend to shun trails nowadays, the OPRT was pleasant and the Hickory Creek Bikeway was a blast. I enjoyed trading stories with Bob through the early miles, and I also enjoyed the solitude of the ride to Peotone and back. Best of all, I managed my body better than last week. I didn't exactly feel great at the end (it was a pretty warm day, after all), but I finished well, and I recovered better. Oddly enough, my legs were a little more sore than I remembered them being at the 3H. On this ride, I tended to attack the hills more, and I think that aggressiveness was what made them ache. I easily did the entire ride in my middle chainring, quite a contrast with last week's low-gear fiesta. Nothing that I ate the rest of the day could drown out the lighter fluid, and I fell asleep Saturday night with that taste still in my mouth. Fortunately, by morning it was gone.

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