Information about the world of cycling, including bicycle touring

Teresa Kramer Parod, left, Kelly Poulis, right, and another rider reach a BAMMI 1985 rest stop.
Teresa Kramer Parod, left, and other cyclists
reach a rest stop on BAMMI 1985.

Kathy Lang, left, and Kathy Weisenstein, center, use the Kampsville Ferry to cross the Illinois River.
Kathy Lang, left, and Kathy Weisenstein, center,
use the Kampsville Ferry to cross
the Illinois River on BAMMI 1985.

Brian Peel, left, and Bob Robinson chew the fat on BAMMi 1986.
B
rian Peel, left, and Bob Robinson chew
the fat on BAMMI 1986.

 

SUMMARY: These cross-state journey through my home state of Illinois were the rides that got me excited about bicycle touring. BAMMI no longer exists because the Chicago Lung Association chose to go a different direction with its fund-raising efforts, but there are several other cross-state and loop trips in the Land of Lincoln.

RIDE WEB SITE: Here are other trips that will take you through the scenery of Illinois:
• Across Illinois Back Roads: www.joliet-bicycleclub.org
• Grand Illinois Trail and Parks Ride: http://www.bikelib.org
• Bicycle Illinois: http://www.bicycleillinois.com
• Cycle Route 66: http://www.moonlightramble.org

The BAMMI Years

1985 | 1986 | 1987

BAMMI 1985: The first time

After a couple of years of doing 10- to 30- mile rides in southwestern Illinois, the cycling bug bit me hard in 1985. I decided to try a 50-mile ride for the first time in May of that year. I was living in Edwardsville at the time, and the Mid-America Bike Club had a route in May that went from Edwardsville, through Marine, Alhambra, Livingston, Worden and Carpenter, and back to Edwardsville. I hadn't purchased my first pair of cycling shorts, my pedals had no toe straps, and I hadn't even purchased a bike helmet yet. Shoot, I even wore high-cut crew socks!

But that didn't stop me from successfully completing the ride. During the ride, M-ABC club member Chuck Wartchow talked about BAMMI, Bicycle Across the Magnificent Miles of Illinois. I was hooked. Chuck sent me an application, and I started training for the ride.

Meanwhile, I had told my older sister, Teresa Kramer Parod, about the ride, and she decided she would do it as well. While many of her high school classmates were driving to school, Teresa would get aboard an orange single-speed bike and ride the seven miles from our farm near Brighton, Ill., to Southwestern High School near Piasa. I guess she figured that if I could do it, she could too.

BAMMI, a fund-raising ride for the Chicago Lung Association, was the first week of August, and we were ready. In 1985, the route started from downtown Chicago. Seven days later, it would end up in Edwardsville. On a bright, sunny Sunday, we left Buckminster Fountain and rode through downtown Chicago and many of its neighborhoods. It's amazing how quiet a big city like Chicago can be on a Sunday morning. By the time we hit the southern suburbs, the traffic had picked up, but we made it to Joliet, only to be greeted by an all-night rainstorm.

Monday was much better, with much of the ride along the Illinois and Michigan Canal. It was on that day that we figured out that we should ride separately. I would go on by myself or with any other person I could ride with, while Teresa would go at her own pace. We made it into Peru and feasted on barbecued pork and corn on the cob.

The next day took us across the Illinois River -- twice -- to Peoria, and Wednesday's route took brought us to Springfield. The BAMMI riders were invited to join the Illinois State Fair parade that year. We had to adjust to riding to the slow pace of the parade, but it was worth it. Thursday's route took us to Pittsfield. At the time, there was only one bridge that led from Springfield to Pittsfield, and it was a narrow bridge with lots of truck traffic. Earlier riders, like myself, had to ride it, but later riders, like Teresa, got a van ride across the bridge because of safety concerns. Pittsfield is a typical Illinois county seat, and its main feature is the courthouse. What makes the Pike County Courthouse stand out more than most is its red roof.

Friday's ride brought Teresa and I back to familiar territory. We crossed the Illinois River by ferry at Kampsville and rode into Carrollton. Between Carrollton and Jerseyville, I had to pull off to cool down. I guess I hadn't drank enough water, and I was feeling dizzy. It's really important to drink lots of water on a long-distance bike ride, but we'll discuss that on the Getting Ready for a Tour page. Because the ride ended in Jerseyville, less than 15 miles from the town where we grew up, our dad, Henry Kramer, drove us back to the farm for a home-cooked dinner by our mom, Jean Kramer. It was nice to sleep in a real bed instead of a tent.

Dad drove us back to Jerseyville for the final leg of the ride. We explored some of the rolling country of Jersey County until Pere Marquette State Park. In Grafton, where the Illinois River joins the Mississippi River, we hopped on the Sam Vadalabene Bike Path, which parallels the Great River Road between Godfrey and Alton. The limestone bluffs along the Mississippi are among the best miles of scenery in the Midwest. The same can't be said for the ride in Wood River, Hartford and South Roxana, home of the St. Louis area's oil refineries. Finally, it was time for the home stretch through downtown Edwardsville and to the Southern Illinois University at Edwardsville campus. After crossing the finish line and getting a brief round of applause, I rode back to my Edwardsville home and got my car. It was a bit strange driving a car after seven straight days on a bike.

I have to say, it was one of the most incredible feelings of my life to complete a weeklong bike trip for the first time. After the first couple of days, you're feeling the pain and wondering why you're doing this. But the pain fades away as your body gets used to doing the workload. The day after the ride ends, it's a natural reaction to want to get on the bike again. I knew I would do this ride again.

BAMMI 1986: Chicago to Carbondale

I decided to do BAMMI again. The first five days would be relatively easy because it was going through the flat farmland of central Illinois. The final two days would be much more difficult as it cut across the hills of Shawnee National Forest in deep Southern Illinois.

The highlight of the first five days was meeting my friend, Betsey Guzior, to explore some of the hot spots in Charleston, the home of Eastern Illinois University. We also got to see the St. Louis Cardinals football team (now the Arizona Cardinals) go through preseason drills at EIU. Before that, the ride made stops in Kankakee and Rantoul and passed through the University of Illinois at Champaign-Urbana.

From Charleston, the ride snaked down to Lawrenceville, and it was there where I found out how clueless people from Chicago are about downstate Illinois. We decided to hit a bar in downtown Lawrenceville, and they were amazed to see the St. Louis Cardinals baseball team on the tube. Not only that, there were Cardinals logos all over the bar.

"Why do people root for the Cardinals here?" one of the riders asked.

I told them it was because Lawrenceville is only about 140 miles from St. Louis, compared with 240 from Chicago. What I didn't tell them that it was because the Cardinals last won the World Series in 1982. The Chicago Cubs last won the Series in 1908.

Nearly halfway between Lawrenceville and Golconda, the destination of Friday's ride, we entered the climbs of Shawnee National Forest. I passed on making a side trip off Pounds Hollow Road to Garden of the Gods, one of the most beautiful spots in Illinois, I figured I had climbed enough hills. We closed the ride with a ride through Golconda and up a huge hill to the school where we would stay Friday night. The women of Golconda made us an incredible meal, and we knew they would make an equally impressive breakfast Saturday morning.

But there was one problem, we had to go back down into town to get the meal. It wasn't so bad Friday because shuttles would take us to and from the dining hall. But for some bizarre reason, no shuttles would take us there for breakfast. A lot of people, myself included, passed on that breakfast because we were afraid of tackling a difficult hill on a full stomach. My friend, Bob Robinson, and I settled on a diner a few miles down the road in Vienna. It was all right, but we both regretted not letting the women of Golconda feed us. After many more big hills, the ride ended at the Touch of Nature center near Carbondale.

BAMMI 1987: Chicago to Quincy

Portions of this article appeared in the Edwardsville Intelligencer in August 1987

Sweat oozed through shirts and shorts almost from the moment that seven Madison County cyclists, myself included, got on the train at the Alton Amtrak station for the trip to Chicago to start BAMMI.

It continued to ooze, at a slower rate, once we boarded the train. The conductor apologized, explaining that the air conditioner wasn't working as well as it should. We traded stories, some about a pool game in a Pittsfield bar two years earlier, others about a cyclist who spent more time in the van than on her bicycle.

The sweat poured when the ride began Sunday morning in Chicago. The high temperature was 94 degrees, and the heat index was a miserable 114 degrees. Monday's ride was supposed to be worse.

"It's going to be hot, and we're going to have headwinds all the way to Rockford," BAMMI coordinator Sherry Krsticevic said.

On that first day, John Davis of Edwardsville had a flat tire. To add insult to injury, I passed him up. John's voice sounded unfamiliar, and I only saw two strangers at the gas station near where he stopped.

"I'll remember you," John said.

Monday lived up to expectations, although cloud cover kept temperatures a bit cooler. But all the work was taking its toll on my left knee. At the end of the evening, I had to ice it up and had serious doubts whether I would be able to ride Tuesday.

The pain continued into Tuesday, but the knee felt strong enough to handle the ride from Rockford to Mount Carroll. The gently rolling rural roads were a welcome relief from the first two days dealing with Chicago suburbs.

We came across a 14-mile stretch of road near German Valley called Edwardsville Road. I was still living in Edwardsville at the time, so I wondered whether there was a town called Edwardsville.

"There's no town here. This is just called Edwardsville road," said Edwardsville Road farmer C.B. Johnson.

Another farmer walking down the road said there was once a creamery, known as Edwardsville Creamery, on the road. The farmer said there was at one time a store and some houses south of the creamery in a community once known as Edwardsville, but he said the store probably closed in the 1960s and the creamery probably closed in the 1970s.

About halfway through Tuesday's ride, the knee was starting to act up again. I decided to look at my left food on the pedal and noticed it was crooked in the toe strap. I hadn't noticed it early because my feet pronate out, so it seemed normal. Nevertheless, I adjusted the toe strap to straighten out my foot.

It was a miracle! The knee no longer hurt! The rolling rural countryside got even better, and temperatures dipped into the low 80s! It probably was them most incredible single day of cycling I've ever had!

Other cyclists were as impressed with the rolling countryside.

"This is the best scenery in Illinois," said cyclist Wayne Mount. "You can see for miles and miles. Shawnee (National Forest) was beautiful, but you don't have to work as hard up here. The hills are rolling, and they're just right."

Often, the hospitality of local residents is amazing in itself. Judy and Danika Manchester, who lived six miles south of Morrison, heard their dogs bark at 8 a.m. A dog often is a cyclist's enemy because of its tendency to give chase, but these dogs were different.

"The dogs were barking, so I took a look, and there was a biker on the road," Judy said. "My daughter and I got on our bicycles and road up the road, and we saw a bunch more of them. That's when we decided to set up a stand."

They sold plenty of iced tea and orange juice that day. Down the road in Fenton, grain elevator operator Loren Beck was prepared. So many cyclists packed into his parking lot that grain trucks had problems getting to the scale.

"We knew you were coming, so we stocked up on pop," Beck said, revealing that he is from Northern Illinois. Southern Illinois residents, on the other hand, call a soft drink "soda."

During BAMMI 1986, we overdosed on pasta, salad and chicken during our evening meal. On this ride, we were treated to roast beef and a wide variety of fruits and vegetables. We even got to eat on real plates with real silverware one night.

"You don't have to worry about losing a prong of your fork in your food," John said.

BAMMI 1987 continued through Moline to Galesburg, from Galesburg to Nauvoo and from Nauvoo to Quincy. The culinary delight of the ride was the freshly made blueberry danish created by a member of the Kirkwood Presbyterian Church.

"It's still warm," said rider Brian Peel, who enjoyed the feel of the warm and gooey danish in his hands, and then in his mouth.

Despite my knee problems, I had no mechanical problems -- until the final day of the ride. Two miles from the finish at Quincy College, my rear tire got a flat. It took a few minutes to fix the flat, but I soon finished the ride.

Little did I know that it would be my last weeklong ride for several years.