Pack Mule Conquers Rockford’s Rugged Roads
I’ve been walking for exercise lately, since the presentable nature of the Blackhawk Valley Campground has been making for a pleasant enough little hike. But with all the recent rain, mosquito hatching has taken place, and a grunt up the steep forested entrance drive makes for an unpleasant enough little hike. Indeed, with the river just a few yards away, an evening stroll anywhere in camp is beginning to become an exercise in priorities.
Evelo Aurora to the rescue. Rockford is a rather gritty, sprawling burg, so there’s no “distance to town”, per se. You pass little pockets of businesses until you find one with the type of store you want, and there you are. My self-assigned mission was to locate and acquire cuff straps or clips, the things that keep your pants leg from wiping against the chain and sprocket, or getting caught in same. One is good, two are better – the left cuff won’t get caught on anything, but will interfere and wear against the crank.
So I set out for Kegel’s Bike Shop, the only one within a practical biking distance of camp. Maps showed it to be accessible from workable secondary roads. The only trial would be the camp’s entrance drive. Apparently, enough people have nearly killed themselves on this tree-lined slope to convince the camp to prohibit riding a bike up or down it. That’s not a problem – except for the mosquitos. With my pumper, sprinting up it is not a possibility, but at least the Evelo is able to power itself up at any speed desired. All you have to take care of is your own carcass. In reality, the hill is no issue at all for the Aurora, which is able to carry a rider up easily. Coming back down, either one of the disc brakes can take care of business, solo. But, I didn’t want to risk the wrath of the clerk on duty, or set a bad example for any other bike owners in camp. So, I did what any decent fellow citizen would do: I walked the bike up to the bend near the top, fending off bugs. Then, once out of sight of the office, I climbed aboard and gunned it the rest of the way up.
Two dogs behind a fence were all that I encountered this whole trip, and the pavement was mostly wide enough and lightly traveled enough to make the ride pleasant. There were of course pockets of truly awful pavement along the edges, but nothing that couldn’t be worked through. Along the 6+ mile distance, I found a barber shop and a supermarket, two types of errands that could now transition away from the big Ford.
In the ancient days, bike shops often used to be cramped and dirty little holes, with bicycles stacked like cordwood on linoleum or bare concrete floors, and mechanical parts in boxes and marked-up cardboard bins behind the counter. These days, it runs more toward airy glass and carpeting, spacious and colorful displays of equipment, and an atmosphere more akin to a health club than a parts depot.
I was a little concerned that they wouldn’t have any cuff clips or straps, but there was little point in calling first, since this trip was for exercise. I could enjoy the suspense, such as it was. See, what with the transition to hobby riders wanting to look like sponsored, professional racers, few people ride in street clothes any more. Basically, today’s hobby riders pay for the privilege of wearing corporate advertising printed on Lycra, which financial process the wily pros have always reversed. Those riders that do wear street clothes, wear shorts. About the only ones left are like me: bike as transport. You’d think that all commuters fit in here too, but many of those bike in one set of clothes and change upon arriving at work. So, few there are, who carry on the battle against greasy black pants cuffs.
The norm at one time was a thin stainless steel C-clip that simply slid on and held your pants leg tight and away. In the intervening years, this became too mundane and at times, too aggressive, and someone got the bright idea of sewing Velcro to a nylon strap so that you could wrap that around your pants, however thin or thick they were. It works. Trouble is, it only works for awhile. Then the Velcro wears out, and it becomes unintentional road litter somewhere along the way. This isn’t helped by the fact that all of them are too short, so only a small area of Velcro is actually engaged. These straps are apparently sized for children, who are about as concerned about getting their pants cuffs dirty as a master chef is about running out of light bulbs. I’ve worn out and lost three straps in the last two years, swapping in RV awning edge straps when poorly-stocked bike shops came up empty. I had a stainless clip years ago, but misplaced it, and have rued the day since.
Fortunately, Kegel’s had a few cuff straps, though the checkout clerk had to ask the owner for help on locating them. She’d never heard of them, which was not surprising. I bought two but, knowing their future, asked the owner whether stainless clips were still made. He looked them up from his distributor’s list, and they were actually cheaper than the straps. Made in China, no doubt. I ordered two, and they should show up in a few days. We’ll see how they fit. Not surprising that when I applied a new strap to my pants to return back home, I saw fresh oil already there. Like chain guards, chainring shields are a stopgap that often fails.
Now and then, I realize how out of place one garb may seem when worn in another place. In the case of street pants and cuff clips, that’s one thing. But I was wearing my Southwestern setup for protection: shoes, long pants, long-sleeved white dress shirt, cycling gloves, broad-brimmed vented sun hat, sunglasses, and DSLR camera strap slung over my shoulder. Not that there’s anything wrong with that, but here, it’s the norm to wear a T-shirt, shorts, and sneakers or sandals so that you can get all the sun you can. Not a good idea for me, not at all. I suspect I have that “desert rat” look. Either that, or that “suspicious character” look. Whatever. The owner noticed my “McHenry County Vintage Car Gazette” camera strap and asked about what I did. He guessed correctly that I photographed old cars at shows and cruise nights, but I told him I was retired now, and crisscrossed the country in a old travel trailer. Life is hard. Sure.
“I’m envious!” he called out as I opened the door to leave, surprising me. Like any other way of life, full-time RVing has its own challenges, but for me, it appears to be a pretty good fit overall. Many dote on the social aspect of camping with friends and meeting new ones along the way. Me, I appreciate the available solitude of boondocking, and the belated introspection it allows. In a sense, as the “Accidental Philosopher”, I can now observe and consider, which is of great value to me at this stage. Life is good.