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Ride report: Lincoln Trail State Park, Marshall, Ill. (7/16/2010)

This is where, for all practical purposes, it began.

I vaguely remember that sometime in 1989, I bought a really cheap road bike and took a few tentative rides around the Wabash Valley. One of those rides was in Lincoln Trail State Park in Marshall, Ill., about 20 minutes west of (and, some might say, 20 years away from) Terre Haute. The part that I do remember vividly is that I found the 5-mile park loop quite impossibly difficult, causing me to walk in several places and making me thoroughly worn out by the end of the "ride."

Today, I decided to revisit the scene.

Now, 5 miles would hardly be worth the drive these days, so I actually started my ride just north of Marshall along Highway 1 at the site of the old Walmart (which moved up the road and became a Supercenter, as seems to happen just about everywhere in the Midwest).

That added about another 5 miles in each direction to and from the park, and it gave me the chance to see Marshall up close and personal -- and to share Highway 1 with a surprisingly large number of semitrailers, all of whom were exceedingly polite to me, usually moving clear into the opposing lane of traffic whenever possible.

After I turned onto the access road into the park, I went by a solitary white house, where two older men were sitting on the patio. "Have a good ride!" they both called out as they waved. Amazing!

What about the park? It's a fun collection of rollers with, yes, a couple of surprisingly steep but short climbs. I didn't have to walk any of the hills, but I actually did have to backtrack down one hill after I improperly shifted and got caught in the wrong gear on a short Arguello-like climb that easily exceeded 12%. (As usual, the percentages in MapMyRide are way off because they're averages over a longer distance.)

And there were only a couple other vehicles (and one other bicyclist) during my whole loop around the park. The road surface was near perfect. For Bay Area folks, the best comparison would be Paradise Drive, but on nicer pavement with less traffic.

So, not really any surprise here -- what once was impossible was now fun.

And with today's ride, I've logged 226 miles since leaving California last week, racking up miles in Washington, Idaho, Montana, Wisconsin, and Illinois. Tomorrow is the Ride Across Indiana, and I'm already checked in. The weather is looking about as good as can be expected -- rain is highly unlikely, but temperatures will be near 90 degrees with a hefty humidity to boot.

I'm still mildly apprehensive about my ability to finish the whole thing, but I'm trying to make myself OK with that possibility before it happens. (The DNF rate for the ride apparently ranges from 0% in good-weather years to about 33% in poor-weather years, organizers say.)

The ride is the front-page centerpiece story in today's Tribune-Star.

I won't be back in Terre Haute until about midnight Saturday (whether I finish or not), so I won't be able to do much more than post a quick result here before I collapse into bed.