Note: In many of my articles on this blog I refer to “the local bike shop” and by that I mean Zion Cyclery in Zion, Illinois. I’ve purchased my last eight bikes from this shop, including my highly customized Fat Bike (a Surly Necromancer Pugsley). Last year Chris Daisy, the owner of the shop, organized a winter event for Fat Bikes called Fatter By The Lake. I couldn’t make it to the ride this year, so I asked Chris to write an article about it so you could get a taste of what winter cycling is all about.
I’ll be the first to admit that the first annual Fatter By The Lake was a disaster! It took place in early February, and the weather was a mix of “I hate this” and “I want to die.” Freezing rain, crippling wind gusts and deep wet snow kept everyone except my Trek rep and myself from attending. The only reason we pushed on was because the local press was there, so I at least got a cool photo and write-up for our efforts.
This year was a different story. Thanks to slightly better weather and a nice shout out from Fat-Bike.com, attendance was up 1500%! Riders from all over the Chicago and Milwaukee area assembled at our shop and set out for Illinois Beach State Park, the only undeveloped and natural stretch of Lake Michigan shoreline in the state of Illinois. We headed east from the bike shop and picked up a trail headed toward the beach. We were immediately greeted by a huge sheet of ice, so some of the less experienced riders were falling like dominoes. Eventually everyone started to settle in and we crunched along in the snow towards the beach.
The skies were a heavy overcast, the waves were big enough to surf (except the temperature and undertow would have killed you), and there was an ever-present threat of freezing rain that never quite materialized. We headed south along a waterfront paved path, past the abandoned mid-century modern bathrooms and concrete sun shelters to a plateau of sand near a large parking lot. As we waited for everyone to catch up a Fat Bike derby contest broke out. The object of a derby is to ride in an ever shrinking circle without tapping a foot on the ground, while of course trying to get your opponents knocked off their bike. We watched and cheered until the last man was track standing and pedaled on.
The beach riding south of the Illinois Beach Resort and Conference Center was sweet. The sand was frozen solid without being slippery, and the wind was at our backs as we cruised along bunny hopping driftwood, riding wheelies and just taking it all in. The Dead River is the edge of the Illinois Beach State Park property, so we stopped and let folks catch up again while we socialized, and someone took the nice photo shown above.
Naturally the ride home was against the wind, so the pace slowed up a bit. We reached the Zion Cyclery parking lot with enough time for folks to catch the Bears vs. Packers game (a sore subject with me). A group of guys wanted to check out Beulah Park, an 80 acre wooded park in Zion that we spent all summer building legal singletrack in with the help of the Chicago Area Mountain Biker Association and the Zion Park District. Since I was hosting the ride I had to gather up some gumption and press on. The riding conditions at Beulah Park were rough. The trails didn’t have enough traffic yet and my legs were no match for the group of bike messengers and die-hards I was leading. We headed back towards Sheridan Road where I gave them directions for a safe passage back to the shop, and I headed north towards home, exhausted, cramping up and grinning from ear to ear.