South Bend to DeKalb (NIU) Via Trains and a Monkey Bike

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South Bend to DeKalb (NIU) Via Trains and a Monkey Bike

I hesitated before buying a folding bicycle because, frankly, I thought I’d hardly use it. And, although it is true that I don’t use it often, the “monkey bike” has added a new dimension to my utility cycling. Now I wonder why I didn’t get one sooner! Here are a few details from my latest trip: from South Bend to DeKalb, IL (home of Northern Illinois University).

I needed to be on the NIU campus by 12:30 p.m. the Friday before last for a master’s thesis defense. Rather than drive, I decided to try expanding the range of my folder coupled with the South Shore and Metra trains. This is similar to what I did several weeks ago to get to Argonne National Lab, but the final gap is a bit longer– the closest Metra gets to DeKalb is Elburn, IL, which is about 20 miles away.

Not surprisingly, this turned out to be a long, but enjoyable, trip: I left my house at 5:40 a.m., biked to the airport, and caught the 6:30 South Shore train to Chicago. I again had no trouble bringing the folded bike onto the train and read and slept along the way to Chicago. I biked the 1.3 miles from the Millenium station to the Ogilvie station and caught the Elburn-bound Metra (this was during peak hours so I had to fold it up again).

Once in Elburn I started pedaling to DeKalb. The route I chose turned out to be excellent (see map below, if interested); it wasn’t direct, but it was low-traffic and quite pretty. I arrived at NIU just after noon central time, which gave me time to clean up and change before the defense. Notably, I didn’t have any mechanical problems like I did during my trip to North East, PA using Amtrak (just for the record: I was prepared this time!).

The entire trip, from door to door, took just over seven hours. For comparison, the drive takes just under three. However, most of the time was “productive” — reading and sleeping — plus, I got a couple hours of cycling time on a day that would normally be sedentary… yet with big meals.

The coolest part of this experience turned out to be the return trip. I had some great tailwinds for the eastbound rides on Saturday; I usually just creep along on my single-speed folder, but I practically sailed back with the wind. I don’t have a speedometer on the folder, nor did I keep close track of time riding, but I think my average speed was close to 20 mph! Perhaps you’d have to see why my wife calls this my monkey bike to be impressed 😉

I barely missed the 2 p.m. eastbound South Shore train — I could literally see it rolling away from the platform. Although I was initially crushed, this became the trip’s highlight. Despite living in this area for several years now, I had never biked along Chicago’s lakefront. So, for the next two hours, I cruised along the bike path going by the Shedd Aquarium, Adler Planetarium, Field Museum and made my way to Navy Pier for the first time. It was a cold and windy day, but I was well prepared for the weather and quite comfortable.

There were deeply textured dark gray clouds which provided a gorgeous backdrop for the city’s skyline. The water was rough and would occasionally rock up and over the seawall. Missing my own camera, I stopped and talked to a very well-equipped amateur (perhaps professional?) photographer positioned right where I wanted to be shooting — I’m sure he got some amazing images.

I caught the 4 p.m. South Shore back to South Bend. This final train ride seemed to take no time at all… probably because I was wiped out and slept most of the way!

Here’s the route I took from Elburn to DeKalb (bus service is available, but it is severely limited and doesn’t even go every day):