A Pumpkin Festival on Two Wheels

Summer 1978 - one of our first dates.

My bike at the time was one I had bought from Montgomery Ward, the company where my father had worked and where my parents met.  It was a ten speed that I had used in high school, and which had many, many miles on it.

I rode it often through Lincoln Park, a ten mile long waterfront strip of trees, trails, and beaches along Lake Michigan.  The best part of those rides was stopping to watch the baseball games, particularly when Hispanics were playing.  One sunny Sunday morning I sat next to the left field line and watched as the umpire called a runner out.  Both benches emptied and the players swarmed the pitcher’s mound arguing heatedly and swearing at each other in Spanish.  I didn’t understand every word, but I got the gist.  I really thought they were going to start throwing punches.

Instead, the ump let it go on for a couple of minutes and then he must have said “enough”.  It was as if someone hit the mute button.  I could suddenly hear birds singing instead of Spanish insults and everyone peacefully returned to their places.  It was part of the ritual and their fun.

Another Sunday I was alone on the trail early on a cool morning when I happened to look toward the Lake.  A half dozen Nike anti-aircraft missiles had been raised up out of their bunkers and were pointed skyward for maintenance.  Normally they sat below ground, invisible to park goers like me.  But there they were waiting for Russian bombers to fly over the artic to drop nuclear bombs on Chicago.  They stood in sharp contrast to the rest of the idyllic scene.

I still had that ten speed years later when a woman had asked me out on a date, a bicycle date, and I turned her down.  Actually, she had called to ask if I would like to accompany her on an overnight trip to Michigan to ride in the Apple Cider Century.  To say I was surprised, would be putting in mildly.  I couldn’t join her, however, because I was going to be at an American Congress on Surveying and Mapping convention in Washington, D.C. that weekend.  Thinking fast, I asked if she would like to ride on the Great Western Trail to the Sycamore Pumpkin Festival a short time later.  Sue said yes, and I rode  the six or so blocks down to the Fox River on a crisp, autumn morning in Geneva, Illinois to our designated start point.

The ride took me from my second floor, two room apartment behind which trains would haul material on a siding to St. Charles, past the Little Owl restaurant and bar where I would propose to Sue in three years.  At the river, I turned north through the park, and I met her in St. Charles next to the trail.

Together we road the 17 miles on the crushed gravel trail past the recently harvested corn fields and small farming communities like Wasco and Lily Lake to the festival.  The Pumpkin Festival was and is a community event run by volunteers, and we ate (what else) pumpkin pie, drank coffee, and shopped for pumpkin themed clothing, jewelry, and… you get the idea.  Sue told me my bike was too small, a criticism she would often repeat.  She was right, of course.  My knees, which had almost been bumping my chin the entire distance, were painful afterword.   She solved the problem a few years later when she bought me a new fancy, light weight, Japanese bike for Christmas, paving the way for a lifetime of bicycle touring together.

We did ultimately ride the Apple Cider Century, twice, on the route that winds along Lake Michigan past vineyards and orchards.  There we spent cool nights camped out with hundreds of other riders and ate with them at the volunteer fire department fund raiser.  We also returned to Michigan twice more for rides on the back roads.  Just the two of us. 

On a trip to Switzerland, we rented bikes and cycled from Montreux to Lausanne and back.  Riding above Lake Geneva we were stopped by a car full of Americans who asked us for directions.  We had a map, of course, and pointed them in the right direction.  More recently, we have taken folding bikes with us on trips to Glacier National Park in Montana and have ridden parts of the Erie Canal and Pennsylvania’s Pine Creek Gorge and the back roads near Charleston, SC, Buffalo, NY, and Paducah, KY to name a few.

By the way, being asked for directions in Switzerland was not an unusual event.  We have also directed people in Hong Kong, Czechoslovakia, Paris, Moscow, and many other places.  We have always had a map.

It all started, however, on a crisp fall day on a trail through the corn fields of northern Illinois.

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