#AdlerGalaxyRide Road Journal, Day One

This is the first in a series of travel journals for the #AdlerGalaxyRide, a biking science roadshow over the 300+ miles between Chicago and St Louis. You can follow our ride by checking the website, following @AdlerPlanet on Twitter and Instagram, or searching for the #AdlerGalaxyRide hashtag.

I’ve never hated the sound of rain more.

Usually, I love the rain, especially big storms, and especially at night as I drift off to sleep. But on Thursday night, as the storms in Chicago thrashed outside and made a carwash of my windows, all I could think was “please, please let it not be raining like this when I wake up.”

I was lucky, and it wasn’t! The morning dawned cloudy (and too soon), and we gathered outside the Alder Planetarium for our send-off. The Adler Galaxy Ride team is small– just six people besides myself, four of whom rolled out this morning (the rest are meeting up with us to swap in later in the week). With a deep breath and a van packed full of snacks and science demos, we biked away from the Adler and on to our first stop: Joliet, now also known as the moon.

We’re following the Route 66 bike trail developed by the League of Illinois Bicyclists, and so far it’s been an incredible resource. As we biked along, fellow Galaxy Rider David Miller (who is the Adler’s Visual Design Lead, and responsible for the look of those “Space Is Freaking Awesome” Adler ads you see, and just about anything other visual element you lay eyes on at the Adler) and I marveled at how much work must have gone into developing and then checking the route. For the most part, we were entirely on side streets and bike paths, with very few busy, dicey streets.

As we wound our way towards Joliet, I was reminded that at least part of the reason our ride is on bikes (as opposed to driving, for example) is that biking is really an ideal metaphor for scientific exploration in many ways. A bike is simple, it’s workings unhidden; given motivation and a few hours, you could figure out how it works, how to take it apart and put it back together again. Riding a bike, you cover more ground than walking, are still able to take in the world around you, all while being free from following a set track, as with a bus or a train.

I always find riding through the outskirts of cities to be particularly cool– you often end up in vast industrial areas where just being there as something small and human feels transgressive; or through sleepy bedroom communities you never knew existed. The 50 miles between the Adler’s front steps and the Joliet Area Historical Museum were no exception! We passed a corporate park for something called “cylindrical products” (a title at once both specific and incredibly broad), from which wafted a powerful cinnamon smell, not unlike those little red cinnamon heart candies you only see at Valentine’s Day. We decided it was probably an airborne poison of some sort, but made it through and have yet to suffer any cinnamon-spiced consequences.

Beyond that, our ride wound through Waterfall Glen State Park , a lovely forested path lit up with goldenrod and yellow daisies. Away from cars and in the trees, I think this was the most peaceful part of the ride– or it would have been, if it wasn’t also the hilliest! It would have been hard to hide the sounds of David and I grunting and swearing up hills on the damp, sandy path, but I confess we also didn’t try.

Adler Galaxy Rider David Miller, tempting fate in a rain storm

Adler Galaxy Rider David Miller, tempting fate in a rain storm

We made our way though a few check-ins with the Galaxy Ride van along the way, bearing our telescope, science demos, snacks and water, to find ourselves on the last leg of the trip. It had been only around 5 minutes from parting ways with our colleagues, when suddenly it seemed as though a dimmer switch had been lowered on the sky. Dark clouds glowered overheard, and of course we found ourselves on the most trafficked segments of the ride that day. We had just worked our way out of thick traffic when the heavens opened and it began to pour, drenching us in a matter of moments. Lightning bolts crackled across the sky, but we plowed forward, eyeing the level of the creek next to the trail.

By the time we made it to Joliet, both David and I were sopping wet, sporting skunk-stripes of mud up our backs. What chill had crept in was quickly warmed up by our reception though: the charming Joliet Area Historical Museum welcomed us in, where we got to speak with their patrons and check out their route 66 memorabilia. I particularly enjoyed meeting Bob and his wife, Joliet natives who have been married 57 years this year! Bob is a big fan of The Universe, so we talked about his favorite subject (and mine!), the search for life in the Universe. The museum also has a great Apollo exhibit, so if you find yourself there do check it out!

All told, day one was great! Day two takes us to Dwight, where we’ll be out by the Sun and Mars– or what they call their Harvest Festival.

See you in space!

Frank Okay