With a go-time of 10:00am, participants of the first Gran Fondo Hundo began rolling into the Plaza del Lago parking lot at around 9:00am on Saturday, August 2nd. Riders busied themselves, topping off tires and topping off their caffeine fixes. Helpful Hannah handily checked riders’ gear into the Higher Gear van. Lots of greetings and hugs were passed around. We made time for a group photo. Then a final word on route and course expectations, we set out for a memorable ride. At 10:00am, Hundo participants set off to the the sounds of cheering and cowbell.
The route began as a typical Saturday Morning Group Ride route, heading north on Sheridan, west on Kennilworth Ave over to Green Bay Road. Heading north on Green Bay Road, we veered from our typical Saturday route when we turned west on Tower Road. From here on out for the day, it was a new route entirely – and one that would not disappoint.
While we planned on splitting into three groups, and had our respective group leaders appointed, our Hundo crew did a fantastic job of sticking together in the beginning of the ride. Our Group 2 riders tucked neatly inside the peloton, drafting at speeds that surprised even them.
We had a few outliers. Aaron Sherrick, our long-course triathlete, had his own workout to follow, as he is deep in the throes of preparation for his fourth IronMan Wisconsin. Aaron whizzed through rest stops like a pro and set a Hundo course record in 3:14:57, before setting off to complete his own 93-mile route, followed by a short run.
Josh Kline‘s start was delayed due to a pedal issue that needed resolving at the shop. After proving himself over many a course (and hillier rides) while riding the Buffalo Bike, he easily caught up to the group on his light aero road bike, before taking off for the front with Joe “Pepe” Sullivan (sans aero bars, Pepe would like to point out).
Before he ventured off the front, Pepe took care of us as we crossed the few right-of-way streets along the North Shore’s “bunny trail” (Skokie Valley Trail), blocking traffic to ensure the whole crew made it safely through each interruption in the trail, then speeding off to the next intersection for us. (All Pepe’s racing this season certainly benefited the group!)
We exited the bike path at Old Elm Road, which catches up to Everett Road. WFRT riders recognized the roundabout where we caught up with Riverwoods Road back south. The fields in that area are quite picturesque. Observing the farms and horses, Tom Ahern remarked that he felt like he was hundred of miles away from Chicago at that point.
It wasn’t long before we hit the 26 mile marker, farther west in Long Grove. Beccy and Higher Gear support crew were waiting for us with refreshment. Cold water, CLIF Shot Electrolyte Drink Mix, ice and plenty of food – varying from salty to sweet – was under the Higher Gear tent. Some of us chose to fuel up on caffeine, renaming the Caribou Coffee drive-through the “walk-up window.”
James, Brandon, Catherine and Ethan were on hand for any mechanicals that needed attention. Will Frame’s steed that day, the Contador edition of the Specialized Tarmac, was kind enough to wait for the rest stop to blow a tube. Bikes and bodies replenished, we headed out, first through the historic district of Long Grove.
Riders may have been distracted too much to notice that beginning at around the 22 mile mark, we were on a gradual incline. That first rest stop was about half way up to the highest elevation we’d hit during the day: 880 feet that we would reach at about mile 31. After that rest stop and the historic part of Long Grove, though, there was no denying the hills that we first began to encounter on Cuba Road.
There’s a reason runners training for the Boston Marathon flock to Barrington, the aptly named Barrington Hills and South Barrington for training. On Saturday, our Hundo participants got to experience the rolling hills there in the western ‘burbs. Some eagerly tackled them, others approached them at their own pace.
And then some of us were so completely distracted from the ups and downs by the scenery in that area. We’re so used to them by now, we fly past the beautiful estates on Sheridan Road without a second glance. But, riding through these suburbs, we were astounded by the palatial homes – and their spacious grounds.
Larry Berlin jokingly referred to the “starter homes” we rode past, as we kept an eye on the road for the wildlife the signs warned about. (Thankfully, we didn’t see anything more treacherous than one wily chipmunk that waited until the last minute to dodge our wheels.)
By now, our riders were rolling in groups, divided according to pace. In groups of twos, threes and fives, Hundo participants found their way to the second rest stop of the day, right around mile 46.
Theresa Waldbuesser‘s mom pitched in to help Beccy and the Higher Gear crew, refilling water bottles with cold water, ice and more CLIF Shot Electrolyte Drink Mix. They even had a cooler filled with ice cold rags – for riders who needed more refreshment. (It was amazing how hot the sun felt without the self-created windchill of riding.) Riders again were treated to an assortment of goodies – ranging from bananas and grapes to Twizzlers and Shot Bloks. There was even soda for those who needed a jolt of caffeine to get through the last leg of the journey.
After being on-hand for rider support, our own SAG vehicle required a little mechanical attention at the second rest stop. No problem for Higher Gear’s own Brandon Olson, who deftly handled the challenge as quickly as he can change a bicycle flat tire.
While the shade of the Higher Gear tent and the Buffalo Wild Wings lawn felt nice, the siren song of the ride’s finish shook Hundo participants out of their reverie. Riders took to their bikes once again, this time with the finish line in mind. We took off in even smaller groups this time, having sorted out speeds and riding companions.
Those of us old enough to “remember when,” glanced at the Sears Center as we rode through and pined for the days of outdoor concerts at Poplar Creek. What child of the 80’s growing up in the Chicagloand area wasn’t at the 1989 New Order concert? Good times – and a great venue – remembered, as we rolled on through Hoffman Estates and on our way to Elgin.
As we approached, but never crossed, the Fox River, Elgin was a surprise of hills, though nothing like those in the Barrington area. A few small groups merged and rode together in larger groups as we made our way through city streets and stop lights. A few neighbors were out and waved as we passed through. The heat of the day was starting to make itself known, but we were so close to the ride finish, we could almost smell the bratwurst on the grill.
In South Elgin, a quick jaunt on the Illinois Prairie Path took us past leisurely cyclists enjoying their Saturday afternoon, before we jumped on to Dunham Road, which would merge with Kirk Road in Saint Charles.
We got a drive-by tour of Joy‘s high school and church as we approached North Avenue. Joy commented how she knew these roads so well, yet what a pleasure it was to view them from a bicycle rather than from a car window. Dr. Tony‘s words came to her mind, “You experience small towns in a way that you never could from inside a car… There is no better way to see a country than by bicycle.”
Now, with only one more border to cross, our sights were set on Geneva, Illinois, and, from there, the entrance to the Fifth Third Ballpark, our last and final turn of the day.
We headed to the picnic area, where the Higher Gear van and crew awaited our arrival. We handed our bikes off to be secured in Race Time Transport’s custom bike trailer, which would return them to Wilmette for us. We picked up our game tickets and event t-shirts and cracked open a cold one (Old Style, chocolate milk or Gatorade, your choice!) to cool down before heading to the shower trucks. Most of us sat in the grass to greet the rest of the riders as they came through, celebrating in our collective victory. It was a beautiful day, a fantastic ride – and we were gearing up to party.
Inside the ballpark gates, we headed to the Leinenkugel Lounge in the Outfield Party Decks. There was a country music concert going on. Some sat in the lawn to listen to the music, others loaded up with food and headed straight to the picnic tables. We were in right field, perfect location to receive left-handed batters’ balls. A few of our crew took home souvenir baseballs that landed right on our tables.
The weather was perfect and we were in an ideal spot to watch the sun as it set behind the field. The Kane County Cougars beat the Quad City RiverBandits 8-2, but the real winners of the day were the participants of the Gran Fondo Hundo – we hit it out of the park that day! Congratulations, Hundo participants!
The party didn’t wrap up on the field. Instead, Hundo participants rode back to Wilmette in a luxury bus, jamming to the music of the 80’s, with a little nod to the 70’s, complete with a “face-melting guitar solo!” We sang all the way back to the North Shore where we were greeted by our bikes and witnessed a spectacular entrance by the Higher Gear van. The perfect ending to a perfect day. Thanks to all who participated, planned and volunteered.
View the photo album from Saturday’s ride on our Facebook page .
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