Tuesday, November 26, 2013

Return to Illinois

It takes on average 30-60 seconds of a conversation for me to tell new people that I am originally from Chicago.  It's a fact I take a great deal of pride in relaying.  There are purist who will remind me that I have never lived within the city limits; but for most, my identification as a Chicagoan, even though I grew up in a suburb, is appropriate.  So when, as in September, I had the chance to return to Chicago for work and bring my bike it was a happy occasion.

Heading north of Peoria through endless fields ready for the
harvest and tall enough to block a little wind
I've never identified myself as from Illinois.  The remainder of the state never laid claim to me, much like the fact that I never even thought of attending the University of Illinois.  Growing up my identification was always with Chicago, its majestic spires, and probably Notre Dame.  The remainder of the state seemed as distant a location as California or the moon.  So on this recent trip when my travels took me away from the strict confines of the city and put me on the open roads hundreds of miles from the towers that dominate the shoreline, I felt like I was discovering a new world.

I get into a rut sometimes.  It's an insistence on doing the same routes, the same workouts and no originality.  You wake up and get ready to face the day; but the eagerness to ride is a bit dulled because it has all become too routine.  The same can be said of a lot of things- from work to personal lives. Molds need breaking and repetition needs changing.
This year's winner of the most passionate Halloween
decorations contest.  I little too passionate for me

Rolling through endless fields of corn and soy and corn and soy I can get lost.  However, given the strict confines of the grid system of roads it's really not that hard to figure your way back to the nearest Hampton Inn.  When I let go of the confines of what I "must do" and where I "can go" in my riding I can find myself in some off the wall places.  These are definitely the places that I am not sure how I get to but I am glad that I have gone to.  For instance, among the farmland north of Peoria is a small town called Princeville.  Within that town, there was one house that was passionate about Halloween.  Ghoulish decorations from property line to property line, many of which were life-sized and quite life-like, some were disturbingly animatronic.

West of Naperville, just shy of redemption
The largeness of these decorations was matched only by the size of the smile on the homeowner's face when he saw me spin around and break out my GoPro to snap a few pictures.  If I thought his decorations were peculiar, I can only imagine what he must have thought about this spandex-clad titan who felt the need to roll by his house half a dozen times.  Then again, joy comes to me just in doing what others don't expect that I will do.  Behaving predictably is quite uninteresting.

Then there was the scene in Gridley north of Normal, which I swear are real places.  It was close to sunset when I spun through the town in the middle of an interval.  I could have blinked and the town would have passed by in-between breaths. I bumped across a railroad spur that linked an old warehouse to the main track line. In a split second I saw a flash of light from the corner of my eye and quickly twisted my head to see what I presume was a senior picture photo shoot with a young brunette.  Living in DC you probably wouldn't dream of the sitting-on-the-tracks-with-the-sunset-and-farmland image as picturesque, much less senior picture worthy or safe. However, growing up in the Midwest the image is highly sought after and undoubtedly is replicated hundreds and thousands of times this year.  

In either case, it's a slice of Americana that I forget about or, even worse, take for granted.  Of course, that's something that I cannot let myself do anymore.

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