By John Greenfield
If you’re a car-free Chicagoan, you don’t have to hit up Hertz to take a kick-ass road trip this summer. Here in the nation’s railroad hub, bicycle plus train is a powerful combo, not just for getting around the metro area but the entire Midwest.
Case in point is the beer-soaked bike camping trip my buddies and I took earlier this month along the Mississippi River, across Wisconsin and back using Amtrak and Metra. It was our annual Men’s Trip, a chance for the married guys to take a break from family obligations, and since most of the guys are serious beer snobs we planned our itinerary around brewpub visits. Late spring wind and rain made this tour a bit of a death march for us, but if you’d like to try the route (tinyurl.com/brewpubride) it’d be a blast to ride in July sunshine.
On a Wednesday evening we loaded our touring bikes with tents and sleeping bags and hauled them aboard Amtrak’s Carl Sandburg line to Kewanee, Illinois, near the shoulder of the state. Soon we’re flying west across the prairie past dozens of white modern windmills tinted pink by the setting sun.
When we pull into Kewanee, a sign says we’re in the “Hog Capital of the World,” so down the street at the Pioneer Club I tackle a breaded pork tenderloin horseshoe sandwich. The horseshoe is a downstate Illinois specialty often called “a heart attack on a plate”—white bread, fries and a protein, drowned in cheese sauce.
We camp up the road at a park donated to the city by Fred Francis, an oddball inventor, artist, poet and nudist. In the morning I tour Woodland Palace, the futuristic dream home Francis built on the site in 1890, featuring wind-powered heating and cooling systems, automatic doors and many other clever gadgets. I’m most excited to see his bicycle, with a seat installed over the front wheel so he could carry his wife Jeanne to church. Read the rest of this entry »