Throughout this summer I wanted to start to get into bike packing and establish some routes around the area that I live and ride them. My intent was to start small and work my way up to doing longer routes. After doing some research one place that seemed reasonable and close was the campground at Big Rock, IL. I had never been out there before but the milage and location made it a good place to start.
I already had some gear to throw a full kit together to get me through an overnight. The weather was going to be warm that weekend so I knew that I didn’t need a whole lot, but most of the gear that I had was bulkier than I thought. My Marmot Earlylight 2 was way too big to try and cram it into a sack, so I ended up mounting it to my handle bars. I was able to stuff a 30° REI sleeping bag a Thermarest pillow, and a small change of clothes in the seatpost bag. I didn’t have a frame bag yet and I wasn’t sure if I was going to get a full one that fit the frame of my Krampus. Luckily the guys at Pedal and Spoke were able to order me a Jandd frame bag before the trip. I knew it wasn’t a full one, but I figured something was better than nothing and I was able stuff any other essentials in there. I didn’t want to take a backpack, but I wasn’t really sure where else to fit stuff, so I ended up taking one a putting some additional water and Thermarest sleeping pad in there.
I had wanted to leave my house no later than 6pm but I had to take care of some loose ends with work so I didn’t hit the road until 6:30pm. Overall, I have no real desire to ride my bike out in the middle of nowhere in the dark, but I had lights and I knew that if I hustled, I could make it through the sketchy road parts when the traffic would be at it’s worst.
My route would take me from my house and hook up to the Virgil Gilman trail which cuts through downtown Aurora, crosses over the Fox River and then kicks me out far enough west where I could take back roads all the way out to the campground making it a rough estimate of about 17 miles one way.
Overall, it seemed like a pretty easy route. Just slogging a fully loaded bicycle through the industrial areas of a Chicago suburb to get out of town for a bit.
As soon as I started to get out of town, it was getting dark pretty quick. I was able to kick on my lights and keep rolling though but by this time I was pretty far out and was on the road. Traffic was surprisingly pretty light and I was having a pretty good ride. Not gonna lie though, once out there, it’s pretty dark and there’s really not too much to look at except the miles and miles of corn.
I had loaded up the directions that I exported out from Google Maps into my Garmin, which lead me to the entrance of the forest preserve. I had poured over the map quite a bit to notice that there was a path that connected from the forest preserve to the campground. Once I got to the forest preserve I was able to find the crushed limestone path that went around the lake which was in the middle of the forest preserve. But for some reason I couldn’t find the connector path to the campground. I had apparently circled the lake loop twice before I realized that I was going around in circles. Needless to say I was starting to loose my cool. I wasn’t sure why I couldn’t find this path, nor the campground. I knew it was near by but it was so dark that I couldn’t really tell where I was going by this point. It was getting late and I wasn’t really sure what to do. I took my phone out and tried to look it up, but even the directions that were coming back kept routing me to the forest preserve and not the campground. By this time it was getting pretty late and I wasn’t sure how late the campground stayed open. So I just kinda cut my losses and decided to ride out the lake loop one more time and head home. I had plenty of water left and if worse came to worse, I was going to go through Aurora anyways. So if I needed to refuel there was two mexican restaurants that were on the Gilman trail that I could easily hit up.
Once I had made up my mind to head back, I decided that I would see just how fast I try to make it home so I booked it as fast as I could on the road. I was already not too thrilled to be on the open road out there that late. But I think I saw only two cars on my way back, and once I got on the Gilman it was all smooth sailing from there.
Looking back and talking to my buddy Chris about it, I could have easily just stealth camped it which is what I probably should have done. I probably wouldn’t have slept very well just camping in the middle of the forest preserve. But at the same time, who would have really known? I could have been up and out of there the next day before anyone would have noticed. Pack in and pack out. But I am glad that I tried it and failed at it as well. It made me realize that if I was going to do this again, I’d need a refine my gear and my setup to make the most of space and be a little more prepared.
I was getting close to the end of October and most of the campgrounds would start to close up soon including Big Rock. I was going to take another shot at it since I never got to fully “camp” there last time. I did some research and I picked up an REI ultralight one person tent as well as a full frame bag that would fit the Krampus. I had taken the day before and packed up everything that I was going to need so I wasn’t scrambling to get shit together at the last minute.
I was pretty stoked about getting out there this time. I had found a concrete GPX from another rider who had already been out there this year and took pretty much the same route I already mapped out including the connector to the campground from the forest preserve. And even if I still got lost, I was confident enough by now to just stealth camp it.
This was going to be a real quick overnighter since we had to go to a wedding the next day which was going to work out just right with distance getting out there and back in a reasonable amount of time. But more than anything, I really wanted to get my gear setup dialed in since Chris was going to making his way back out here from AZ and we were going to trip up to Wisconsin for a few days the following week.
I was pretty happy with the setup even though I was told later that I shouldn’t have mounted my sleeping pad that way to my seat bag. I still tried to not take a backpack, but I decided to take my camelback just because I was out of room in the handlebar bag which I rigged up with some velcro straps. And I didn’t want to stuff a whole heck of alot in my frame bag so that it would rub my legs when I pedaled. The camelback would be just enough to carry some other things, but light enough so it wouldn’t weigh my back down.
The days had started to become shorter with the seasonal transition, so I knew that I was going to have to leave earlier this time around if I wanted to avoid traffic in the dark. I had set out a little before 5:30pm, but after getting onto the Gilman, I knew that I wasn’t going to make it out there before sunset.
Everything was going pretty well. I had kicked on my lights once I got off the Gilman and onto the road. It wasn’t completely dark yet, but it was fast approaching.
I was out around mile 13 when I heard a car come up from behind me and what followed after that was loud crunching noise and then the sound of air running past my ears. I had been hit by a passing vehicle on my left side and was thrown off my bike into the right side ditch of the road. I was thrown what seemed to be a good ten feet from where my bike landed. I was able to move my toes and legs which was a good sign since I wasn’t sure just how extensive any injury had happened to my body. I was able to crawl back over to my bike and get my phone (which was actually in my pocket) and let me tell you that using Siri to call 911 works really well. After calling 911, I was able to call my wife and let her know what happened. By the time I got off the phone with her the cops had arrived along with the EMT’s. I was able at this point to sit up on my knees, but once I tried to stand up I could feel the pain on my left side jettison through my body and that’s when I realized that some could be really messed up internally.
The EMT guys got me on a stretcher and loaded me up into the ambulance and took me to the nearest hospital. After a set of CT scans and some x-rays nothing appeared to be broken or bleeding internally even though it really felt like my left ribs had cracked in some way.
I had sustained a small cut above my lip which they basically super glued instead of stitching since it wasn’t super deep. My wife was able to get a hold of some friends of ours who were able to go out and grab my gear and watch out kid while she went to the hospital. Since there wasn’t any internal damage to my body, they wrote me some prescriptions to some painkillers and muscle relaxers and sent me home.
The next day our friends dropped off the Krampus which was totally effed. The entire frame was completely bent to shit. The rear skewer had been completely bent and the release handle had been ripped off making the entire back wheel inoperable. Cranks were bent. Handlebars were bent. The only thing that looked like it was ok was the front wheel, but after some inspection at the bike shop it was totally bent to hell as well.
But I was alive.
It’s been about almost 4 weeks since the accident and things have been better. There is still some residual pain on my left side, but that has started to slowly recede. I’ve been able to ride on the trainer in my basement and last weekend I took my kid for a ride to the park and back which was a lot of fun. I’m still working with the motorist’s insurance company for compensation to replace the Krampus as well as getting all of my medical bills taken care of. I was lucky that the guy stopped too. Most stories like this end up with the person just driving off. But I’m not mad at him at all. I just know that it probably freaked him out just as much as it did me.
So that’s where it stands. Big Rock 2, me 0. Will I attempt to try and go out there again? Yes, but I think that if I do it will be with a group of people and not at night. The route out there wouldn’t probably considered the “safest” route to do alone again. I know that it’s going to make me more cautious in my route planning in the future, but things heal with time and I can’t let something like this set me back.
But there are other routes that I have planned for the next season that I’m antsy to try.
Images taken with an iPhone5s. Edited with VSCO cam.
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