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Posts Tagged ‘Chestnut Mountain’

Adventure Feet!

Adventure Feet on the ski lift!

In our little corner of Central Illinois, winter sports just aren’t high on our to-do list.  Really, I spend most of the winter trying to squeeze the proverbial square peg in a round hole by bundling up in 46bazzillion layers and riding my bike like it’s June anyway.  The lack of winter sports in our area isn’t too surprising though, as large quantities of snow are hard to come by and are almost always accompanied by a glaze of ice which makes a cup of hot cocoa and a movie sound better than most things you’d want to do outside.  But not so very far away… 4.5 hours from Quincy by car… exists a little pocket of wintertime fun tucked in the glacier-carved hills of northwest Illinois…

SKI TRIP!

Most of the gang!

Some of the gang! L-R: Adam, Jeff, Sarah, Sara, Laura and Justin

This past weekend I followed my Adventure Foot and took a trip with my husband and 12 of our friends to Galena, IL to check out the skiing and snowboarding at Chestnut Mountain.  Today is not Chestnut Mountain’s debut on my blog however.  If you recall, I biked up this very hill in June of last year during the Tour of the Mississippi River Valley bike ride (TOMRV).  I believe the exact thought I had was, “If you see a sign while on your bike that says “ski area ahead,” you really should consider turning around.”  But I digress…

Justin and I on the slopes around midday.

Justin and I on the slopes around midday.

This trip was a dual birthday celebration for my husband and our friend Jeff, so we decided to make it extra special.  Jeff found a wonderful vacation rental home [read: with a hot tub] in Galena, and we all made our way up north after work on Friday. It was early to bed, early to rise for us, and after a surprisingly winding and hilly road, we made it to the Chestnut Mountain lodge to grab our rental gear and lift passes.

Chestnut Mountain has 19 trails on 220 acres overlooking the Mississippi River.  The longest trail boasts a drop of 475 feet.  Now…I know you’re thinking “I’ve been to Colorado where 475 feet is the run-off for the bunny slope,” but in Illinois, this is respectable.

Weekend lift tickets are $40 for a day or $78 for two days, and gear rental of either boarding or ski equipment is $32.  Rates are slightly less during the week and they also have special rates in the evenings.  A neat feature of the rentals is that if you rent, say, a snowboard to try but don’t end up liking it, it’s only $5 to switch to skis instead.  Helmet rental is $8.  Lessons are available for $20 an hour in a group or a $50 for a private lesson.

This trip was only my third time skiing, and much like my previous outings, the worst part was sitting in the locker room sweating and trying to wrestle ski boots on.  In no time though, we stepped outside into the beautiful day, ready to roll.

About the beautiful day: it was over 40 degrees outside.  That’s not ideal.  Sure, it’s nice to not be so cold, but the mostly man-made snow was awfully slushy and got worse throughout the day.  At times, the slush was nice for me because it slowed me down a little, but at other times, it caused everything to be extra slippery and skiers would gouge the slopes making bizarre trench hazards.

Sara and her awesome snowboard!

Sara and her awesome snowboard!

Our group had mixed experience with skiing, so some of the more experienced members headed off to the blue trails while I tested my legs out on the bunny slope.  A pair of safe rides down the cotton-tail-trail and two trips up the moving carpet later, and I decided to go on one of the larger trails.

The first beginner trail was called, “Old Man.”  This trail butted up against the bunny slope in the beginning and then dog-legged to the left down the mountain.  I started out okay, but took the first turn down the steeper slope faster than I expected and ended up wiping out and sliding on my belly for ten feet.  My husband, who is much better at this than I am, skied over and helped me up, and we hit the trail again.   My friend Sara was right behind us on her snowboard and was finding her legs too.

Just before the steepest part of the trail there was a member of the ski patrol holding a “slide zone” sign which the slushy conditions necessitated.  I skied over by him, clearly a little shaken by my fall, and asked how I could avoid another fall in this slippery area.  His answer? Make the mountain bigger! He said to take long, sweeping passes more horizontally across the slope (while watching for other skiers, of course) and that it would help me not feel so out of control on the slush.

So that’s what I did.  And we made it safely (and slowly) to the bottom of the slope.  My husband and I waited in a relatively short line for the ski lift and headed back up the mountain to try some more trails.

We had lunch around noon at the restaurant inside the lodge.  I imagine locals bring their own food when they ski because eating at the lodge is very expensive, but I suppose that’s to be expected at a resort.

Some friends from Iowa City joined us too. Chestnut is only about 2 hours 15 minutes from IC!

Some friends from Iowa City joined us too. Chestnut is only about 2 hours 15 minutes from IC! L-R Jordan, Becky, Justin and Laura

After lunch, I made an equipment swap and upgraded to a half-size bigger pair of boots. This was the best decision I’d made all day, because I had more mobility in the larger boots.  Note to self: never suffer in ill-fitting equipment!

The group of us spread out over the mountain- some people took on the hardest trails, some stuck to medium or easy ones.  The bravest thing I did all day was to go down “Rookie’s Ridge” which runs alongside of some jumps, and I skied up the side of the jumps and back into the bowl a few times. I thought that was just the best!   I also tried out the little slalom course and finally felt like a real skier whooshing back and forth between the markers.

All in all, the entire group had a lot of fun regardless of skiing skill level.  Despite being so nearby, being in the hills of Galena seemed like a real vacation.

My favorite store in Galena

My favorite store in Galena

I should mention that downtown Galena is very cute and shouldn’t be passed by if you head up for a ski trip.  My favorite shop there is called Fever River Outfitters.  This shop is an outdoorsperson’s paradise.  They carry great kayak, cycling and general outdoor items as well as a nice line of merino wool tech gear.  They are one of the sponsors of the Fever River Triathlon, which I’d really like to participate in this year.  In addition to Fever River, there are lots of great specialty food shops, gift shops, a brewery and several bistros in downtown Galena.  It’s a fun place to spend a whole afternoon if you’re not on the slopes.

skitrails

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TOMRV Day 2- Laura, Justin, Stephen, Jen and Tony (left to right)

You know in the movie Forest Gump the way Tom Hanks describes all the ways that it rained in Vietnam (big rain, fat rain, stinging rain…) or how Bubba described all the ways to fix shrimp (boiled shrimp, shrimp gumbo, shrimp stew…)??  That’s the same sort of list I’d make to describe the hills of the 35th Annual Tour of the Mississsippi River Valley ride.

There were big hills, long hills, steep hills, false flat hills, round hills, hills with bumps, hills with more hills on top of them, barbequed hills… oh wait.  Strike that last one.  You get the point though. It was hilly.

TOMRV Route Map

The ride is presented by the Quad Cities Cycling Club and this was Justin and my first year to participate.  The ride gives you the option of doing 108 miles Saturday and 89 miles Sunday, or doing 70 miles Saturday and 50 miles Sunday.  Justin and I had originally signed up for the longer ride, but since he’s been fighting some IT band issues since he ran the Bridge the Gap Half Marathon (he placed 3rd in his age division!) a few weeks ago  and since we knew it was a tough route, we decided to check down and do the shorter route.  That was probably a good move for our first time at this event.

Crossing one of the first bridges of the day.

The ride started from the town of Preston, Iowa early Saturday morning.  We’d taken advantage of the Friday night check-in, so we had everything we needed to just air up our tires and get on the road when  we arrived at 7:30 am.  High temperatures were supposed to be in the 90s, so we figured getting going early was the best move.

Saturday morning is kind of a blur to me.  Let’s see.  The very beginning wasn’t bad and we warmed up on some low hills.  No big deal.  Then there was a nice section of rolling hills, and they were tough, but still not so bad if you got enough momentum going.  Almost immediately we got to cross a couple of pretty bridges with great views of the rivers (I think the first was causeway near Sabula and the second was the steel-grate bridge over the Mississippi into Illinois) and I really enjoyed the views at both of these locations.  When we hit the first SAG stop at Mississippi Palisades State Park (about 20 miles into the ride), I felt pretty good about everything.  I ate a banana and some grapes, some peanut butter on a bagel, and a little pile of fig newtons and we were on our way.

Here’s the thing about being in the bottom of river valleys: you’re going to have to climb out of them at some point.  The first major climbs of the route were not far down the road from the SAG stop.   They were tough but manageable- I don’t think I slipped into my easiest gear in this stretch.  But then…

We turned onto Blackjack Road: home of the Chestnut Mountain.  This little monster tried to warn us with a sign that said, “Ski Area Ahead,” but we didn’t listen.   Those hills meant business.  While at home, there are only 3 hills that come to mind that have me in my easiest gear- there were at least three climbs in this little stretch that had me there.   I did a little search on Google and found someone else’s GPS map of the ride- I bet you can spot the hills I’m talking about! http://ridewithgps.com/trips/313472

TOMRV Day One Climb. I wish I could credit the guy who made the GPS maps, but it doesn’t say on his website 😦

On the top of Chestnut Mountain… evidently near the Schwarz farm 🙂

This section was also home of the hill known as “The Wall.”  It’s one steep, mean, quarter mile climb.  Nothing to do but sit and spin for this one, guys.   Justin made it up to the top, but I ended up stopping in the middle with my heart rate that felt redlined… I walked a few steps and then thought to myself, “hell no, I’m not walking,” got back on and struggled up the thing.  It was super tough, but at least it was short.  At the top of the mountain, we were rewarded with gorgeous views over the river valley and a nice stretch of flat road to enjoy.  Justin started calling the hills “paying the toll for the view.”

I spent much of the remainder of both days of the ride deciding which was more difficult: short steep climbs or long low ones.  I think in the end, the one I like better is the one I’m not on when I’m thinking about it!

Justin and I on the Sebula Bridge over the Mississippi

Anyhow, it’s worth mentioning that when you climb up a crazy thing like Chestnut Mountain, you will eventually have to ride down it too- and ride down we did- at speeds well over 40 mph.  I hit a personal speed record of 45 miles an hour.  It was terrifying.  No, awesome! Or maybe terrifying.  But awesome!  Lol.

I believe it was at the second SAG stop that my college friend Marinan and her husband spotted me.  We caught up a while, soaked up some shade, ate some much needed food and the headed off for the next section.  Marinan has done TOMRV several times (6 I think?? ) so she knew that the route didn’t get any easier as we approached Galena and then Dubuque, but I had no idea what was still in store!

So, normally, I’d keep describing the route in detail but I’m going to give you cliff notes of the rest of day one:

–          There were bike races the same day in Galena that shared our course for a couple of miles and Justin and I were passed by the race peloton at one point.  It was amazing to see those tightly packed riders heading past us at those speeds.  I just tried to stay to the right and stay out of the way.

–          There was another huge climb and steep decent not far after Galena where I got over 40 mph.

Marinan and I spell out IOWA at the top of Victory Hill

–          We caught up with another friend, Stephen Rogers, at a SAG stop in a town called Menominee.  Steven did the longer routes both days- the only one of my friends to accomplish this.

–          At mile 60, we entered Wisconsin.  I didn’t find out that we’d been to Wisconsin until after the ride.  They should put up a welcome sign.  Silly Wisconsin.

–          There was another ridiculous hill carved into the bluffs 10 or so miles from the end of the ride.  Justin asked Stephen Rogers if this hill had a name like the other hills, so Stephen, taking a cue from a sign he just saw, dubbed the hill “The Weigh Station.”  We also met a guy we called Texas there.  Texas rode the rest of the way in with us.

–          The decent going into Dubuque was one of the most gorgeous things I’ve ever seen from my bike.  I wish I could show you a photo, but it wouldn’t do it justice anyway.

Justin enjoying a Fat Tire at the beer tent after Day One

–          The beautiful decent was followed by the second-steepest climb of the day- which also was the last quarter mile of the route.  I was so hot and tired by the time I got here, that it was really hard for me.  Half way up, Justin and Steven (who had already made the climb) started cheering me on, and at the top, Marinan was waiting for me to sing our college victory song: The Hawkeye Victory Polka.  (AKA “In Heaven There is No Beer!”)  It was a great moment.

–          The total elevation change for Day 1 of the Preston (shorter) start was +6554 ft. / -6365 ft.  Whoa. No wonder my quads were on fire.

–           At the top of Victory Hill (which is what I’m now calling it) was Clark College- our host for the night.  We enjoyed 2 Fat Tires apiece at the beer tent while we were waiting for two other friends to make it in from the long route.  Tony and Jen rolled up and we went and showered while they had a beer.  We dropped off our bikes in the tennis courts (all of those bikes in that tiny space made these the most valuable tennis courts ever!! )

–          Then we all went to the banquet!  I pretty much ate everything in sight.  Pasta, chicken, veggies, some really good coleslaw, corn, carrot cake…  Maybe it was just the heat and the exertion, but we all scarfed down a ton of food.

Most $ in a tennis court ever.

–          The accommodations we had signed up for were just sleeping bag space on the floor.  If we do this ride again, this wouldn’t be my pick because I had a hard time dealing with that many people moving around, snoring, turning on flashlights and the like.  Next go around, we’ll probably camp in a tent outside because it looked like fun and I imagine it would be quieter.  Barring that, I’d try to get one of the dorm rooms with beds.

Panoramic view near Bellview Iowa on Day 2

Day 2

I could hear people moving around and getting ready to go before light was even peaking in the window.  The heat had been pretty bad on Day 1 and was expected to be worse for Sunday so I guess everyone wanted to get an early start.  I was really exhausted from a long, restless night though, so I laid around as long as I could.  We packed up, dropped off our bags, retrieved our bikes and were ready to hit the road for Day 2.

Tony shows off his vintage Nishiki bike…

So Day 2 was 50 miles.  That’s chump-change for Justin and I anymore.  I mean, we do that distance regularly with no problem.  In fact, I had made plans for after the 50 mile ride (visiting a nearby cave) since I figured we’d be done in just a few hours.  But what I didn’t know was that Day 2’s climbs were even more gnarly than Day 1.

Justin, Jen, Tony, Stephen and I decided to ride as a group on Day 2.  We climbed a couple of decent hills coming out of Dubuque and had another beautiful, fast decent on to the floor of the valley (I got very comfortable with 35 mph on this ride. That’s pretty darned fast for me at home) but after that the climbs got crazy.

On the Mississippi River near Bellview, Iowa

And the crazy climbs? They were *not* helped at all by the straight-from-the-South headwind that started at about 10 mph in the morning but grew to 20+ mph by afternoon.  Every time you would crest a hill the wind would scream over the top and threaten to blow you back down.  In the late afternoon the wind was so strong that we’d have to downshift in the flats and even down some hills.  Talk about a momentum killer!  Anyway… what was I talking about? Oh, right, just the three hardest climbs ever…

The first climb out of the valley lasted for 1.7 miles and had an insane 7% grade in places.  Then we went back down.  The next climb out of the valley lasted almost 2 full miles and had a max of 6.8% grade.    I’m not kidding you- those were the toughest, slowest 10 miles I have ever done on my bike.  Then the last major valley climb was over the majority of a 4 mile stretch (one little downhill in the middle) and, frankly, I’m lucky to still have legs after the thing.  I stopped 3 times (walked none) to catch my breath and to make another go at that last climb.  It was so, so hard but I’m so, so glad we did it.  See GPS here http://ridewithgps.com/trips/313470

Day 2

More beautiful vistas were in store at the top of each one of these climbs, and the downhills all were over much too quickly.  I kept thinking that I’d never enjoyed a Midwestern landscape as much as I did at the top of these glacier-carved hills, but I’d never struggled uphill for a half an hour to earn a view either.

Tony at lunch!

We stopped in the picturesque riverside town of Bellveiw for lunch, where we once again were all quite ravenous.  We bypassed the Casey’s gas station where many bikers seemed to have stopped and found a lovely café in downtown Bellview that was serving a Biker’s Brunch.  We were treated to a leisurely and delicious meal before hitting the road. *My lunch, if you’re curious, was this terrific open-faced turkey sandwich on pumpernickel topped with charred tomatoes, béchamel (French-style milk sauce) and locally grown basil.

This is a pic from day one- all of us flashing W for the “Weigh Station” hill!

What else can I say about day 2?  It was great.  There were more hills, more climb, and more wind than I thought you could squeeze into 50 miles in the Midwest, but hey, we made it through just fine.  Catching up with my friends from far away and sharing a bicycle adventure made the weekend (and the sore quads I had on Monday) completely worth it.

The Quad Cities Bike Club deserves lots of credit for wonderful SAG stops, friendly volunteers, and a tough course that challenged every rider there.

And the views- earned the hard way- are something I’ll never be able to adequately describe;  their beauty makes me believe that the same farm-dotted landscape that inspired artists like Grant Wood will be around a long time to come.

As for my bike and I?  We’re feeling quite confident about our chances to complete the 500 miles of the Register’s Annual Bike Ride Across Iowa (RAGBRAI) which, as I write, is only 37 days away.   I’ve also vowed to never complain about the two hills on State Street or the ones coming up Hampshire again, because I’ve met their big brothers who live up river and are much worse!

Thanks for a great ride TOMRV!  See you next year!

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