October had its chance to be the best biking month of the year. Instead, it decided to rain. It then proceeded to drizzle, pour, mist and pee down. It didn’t stop raining until the low points on trails in every direction were swimming beneath ten inches of standing water.
So on most days I rode east then southward, a route that offered the highest ground available for the longest ride possible. It was frustrating because I ended up spending most of the month doing circles around Old School Forest Preserve, which despite being a lovely patch of forest, got to be a bit dull to look at day after day.
On good (dry) days I could make it beyond Old School Forest Preserve all the way to the Route 60 underpass. The underpass was often flooded because it dove downward right to the edge of the river. It could flood on the dryest days if there was as much as a light shower a hundred miles northward. And since the underpass was preceeded by a sharp turn, it was a blind corner. It was easy to take a dip in the river if you failed to slow down soon enough.
For that reason, there is a little sign warning bikers of the condition of the trail. There’s also someone who’s in charge of changing the sign depending on whether or not the underpass was dry or sunken.
At some point during the month, the trail maintenance crew must have grown weary of changing the sign back and forth from “Underpass Open” to “Underpass Closed” and left it on “Underpass Open” which turned out to be a highly inaccurate reflection of how open the underpass actually was.
So one afternoon when I was feeling particularly speedy and when it hadn’t rained in Chicagoland for several days, I rocketed around the corner just before the underpass. Before I knew what had happened, I was knee-deep in cold river water. I was nine miles from home and it was in the low forties—not that cold if you’re dry, but plenty cold if you’re soaked.
I slopped my way out of the river. I was shivering already. I hopped on my bike and pedaled fast trying to shed the excess water as it squished and squeezed from my shoes. After two or three miles my toes started to go numb. I stopped and kicked off my shoes and peeled my socks off my feet. I tried to warm my feet in the sun. When feeling started to return to my toes, I geared up again and rode for another couple miles. I followed this pattern of riding, freezing, thawing until I finally made it home, an hour and a half later.
That evening when I thought about my ride, I realized it epitomized the entire month. In retrospect, October offered few easy bike rides. But those difficult autumn rides taught me something valuable—that each season on the bike brings a different set of challenges. To cope with those challenges, there’s a good chance you’re going to have to learn a few things the hard way. There’s a good chance you’re going to wind up knee-deep in river water when you’re ill prepared for it.