It was supposed to have been warmer. The original forecast for December 5, 2015 had included a high temperature at or near 50 degrees, not bad for any December day in Northern Illinois, but the morning fog and cloud cover had hung around much longer than expected. Before I had learned of all this – before I had even gotten out of bed, in fact – I had decided that I would go for at least a short motorcycle ride. Imagine my surprise when I glanced down at my dashboard readouts during a particularly chilly stretch of road and saw 38° F as the ambient temperature.
Toward the end of this past riding season, which in these parts frequently happens in November, if not October, I had begun taking rides to some of my favorite local nature spots. Once there I would snap a few photos to show a friend of mine, who has yet to visit these destinations. On a warm November 1, I rode out to Starved Rock State Park and ascended to the namesake bluff. On another unseasonably warm day in November, I rode to Silver Springs State Park and walked around Loon Lake. But where to go on this day, on an allegedly unseasonably warm day in December, one with salt-free roads, no less?
I knew just the right place, another favorite spot of mine. Kankakee River State Park, which straddles both sides of the Kankakee River for about 11 miles, just west of Bourbonnais. I like this particular park for two reasons – three if you count the fact that it’s only 35 miles from my home. First and foremost is the destination, a predominantly forested area that offers walking/hiking trails (many of them paved) and scenic views of the river. But besides the park itself, I really enjoy riding the roads that lead to and from this destination.
From my home in Plainfield, the quickest way to the fun part is via Interstate 55. I should have known something was up when I could feel colder-than-expected air being forced into my leather jacket through the closed zipper vents. On a motorcycle, you create your own wind chill factors. On a motorcycle going 70 MPH, well, you catch my drift.
Taking the exit for North River Road, I headed toward Wilmington, which is situated on a stretch of Illinois Highway 53 that is also known to be a portion of historic U.S. Route 66. But rather than following the Mother Road, which can occupy me for hours, if not days or weeks, I turned left onto Illinois Highway 102. Once out of Wilmington, 102 gets interesting, with a few nice, sweeping curves and a couple of forested stretches, one of which was the first place I found temperatures were still in the 30’s.
Now I should point out that I ride a fairly well-protected bike. My Victory Vision, affectionately referred to as Miss Scarlett, pretty much falls into the “full dresser” category. She is fully faired and features, among other accouterments, heated hand grips and dual zone heated seats. So I was not nearly as chilled as I might have been on a less protected machine. But I gotta’ tell you, I was cold.
The entrance into the main portion of Kankakee River State Park is on this road, but there are several other entrances as well, on both side of the river. Some are campground entrances. Others lead to parking lots for fishing and/or hunting areas. Indeed, while I was walking on the more family-oriented portion of the park, I would occasionally hear gunfire erupting from the just across the river.
It’s not like it was any warmer at the park than it had been on my way there, but at the average human walking pace of 3 to 4 miles per hour, I was adding no wind chill. With that as my advantage, I spent some time walking along one of the trails, allowing myself to warm up a bit as I took in nature’s beauty all around me. There were other people there, though not many. I don’t consider myself a very good “alone” person, but I do enjoy coming to places like this from time to time, by myself, just to recalibrate my mind a little. In all candor, I would rather have a friend along ten times out of ten, but that’s not always feasible, so why not take advantage of the solitude every once in a while?
The biker in me prefers not to take the same road out as I took in. Just as Illinois 102 provides a pleasant riding experience along the north banks of the Kankakee, so too does Illinois 113 provide some fun for the ride back along the south banks, leading to the community of Braidwood. There are some nice sweepers on that road, too – and there is nothing quite like the sound of putting a big, honking V-twin motorcycle through the paces on a road like that – but the hunting areas are all on that side of the river, too. The gunfire from those parts, just across the river from me, had been somewhat regular. And I was wearing black.
But my biker side won out and I did cross the river to make my westerly run that afternoon. Where 113 intersects 53 in Braidwood, there is this cool little drive in called the Polk-A-Dot. This is a Route 66 original and I can give testimony that they have good ice cream and also offer a pretty decent little bacon double cheeseburger. I love stopping there, but I did not stop this time, because the sun was already getting ominously low in the sky. So I skedaddled back up the Mother Road and out to I-55 for my quick run home.
By the time I got home, I felt a bit chilled, but I regret nothing. I had gone for a nice little ride in December. I got to visit another favorite haunt of mine before my riding season closes for real. I captured a few good photos, which I sent to a certain friend in order to tempt her to do more rides with me next year. I ran my bike, I cleared my mind, I topped off my tank… I am content.
Until next time…