climb mountains in the more desolate parts of the Rockies, you get tired,
you find a relatively level piece of ground set up your tent and make
dinner. You climb a rad 9.8 multi-pitch desert tower in Utah. What the hell…
you hauled a sleeping bag, why not use it on top? Abseil in the morning. How
do you do it on the Grand Illinois Trail? Not so easy. Can’t set up a tent
on Lake Shore Drive (as if you would want to) or near any larger city
without drawing either the police, citizenry who feel encroached upon, or
undesirables who want your stuff.
Find a place that no individual landowner is going to get into a tuss about,
and stay away from the public lands that are easily accessible to
automobiles. Planning the campsites on the GIT isn’t as easy as it looks.
You’ve got to plan mileage that will put you between large cities and on or
near desolate or semi desolate trails with good cover to lay out a campsite
for the night. If you end up in one of those less desirable places, try to
hide well so that you don’t get unwanted visits.
Plan the sunset and sunrise. Know the times each day of your ride start
looking for fertile ground one hour before you must stop and take any place
you find that meets the criteria described above. I was counting sheep at
dusk and up at first light. There are probably some towns where you could
sleep on the village square and no one would know with those kind of hours.
Take whatever you can get on the Eastern part of the trail and plan to get
up early to ride long and hard before you will find a place to sleep. If
there is any place where a hotel is the only option, it will be the Eastern
leg. If you are stubborn (some might say “driven”... still others might say
“insane”) you will sleep under ripstop nylon every night.
On some parts of the trail there are paid campsites, but
the ones I tried weren’t attended and I’ll be damned if I was going to wake
up and have someone demanding $35 from me for sleeping on 18 square feet of
dirt. If you’re a couple or traveling in a group that’s one thing, but one
guy on a bicycle?
I chose a time of the year that would be most desirable based upon a few
variables, but high on the list was the avoidance of mosquitoes. Maybe it
was sensationalized, but I saw a news program report up to 18% of the
mosquitoes tested in Northern Illinois had West Nile Virus. Late September
or early October could be one of the better times to plan a thrubike. The
weather is just starting to turn a little cooler, so the mosquito population
has withered. Also sleeping in a warm sleeping bag with cool weather feels
better than sweating on a hot summer night. Spring might be good if the chance of
rainfall is no different than fall. Winter has snow and ice.