When Jason Berry of Blue Island, Ill., told his mom that friends had talked him and his wife Mary into signing up for an overnight bicycle camping tour, his mom was incredulous.
"She asked if our friends really knew us at all," says Jason, with a smile.
Jason and Mary had never gone camping by bike before. But that made them the perfect people for this particular bike camping tour--GITy Up! 2012.
Covering a spectacular triangle loop of rail-trails west of Chicago, GITy Up! is purposefully designed for those who haven't done many long rides before but are keen to take the plunge. The route is flat and largely car-free, and there will be plenty of mechanical and gear support on-hand.
"Bicycle touring is an amazing cross-country adventure," says Steve Buchtel (pictured right), executive director of the nonprofit Trails for Illinois and organizer of GITy Up! 2012. "Folks riding cross-country have the legs, the gear and, most of all, the time to hit the open road days on end. They're like the one-percenters of everybody who rides a bike. We wanted to introduce bike touring to the 99 percent."
The GIT in GITy Up! stands for the Grand Illinois Trail, a 500-mile loop connecting a number of existing rail-trails, from Chicago to the Mississippi River and back
Trails for Illinois are obviously eager to impress new riders with the beauty of Illinois' rail-trails. In addition to the lovely Fox River Trail, riders will get to experience the Illinois Prairie Path, one of America's premier rail-trails and a member of Rails-to-Trails Conservancy's Rail-Trail Hall of Fame.
Riders will camp overnight in Delnor Woods in St. Charles. The route also showcases interesting attractions like Cantigny, Fermilab and the attractive communities along the trails.
"They're towns that know how to cater to trail users," Buchtel says.
Trails for Illinois will transport all participants' bags and tents, so riders don't have to spend hundreds of dollars on feather-light, compact camping equipment, or much more on the touring bikes that carry it. Any bike you can ride comfortably for 25 miles and can carry a water bottle is likely perfect for the compacted gravel surface of much of the route," says Buchtel.
Trails for Illinois will also cater dinner and breakfast, "with s'mores filling much of the time in between."
Bike camping experts from REI will provide on-route and on-site assistance. And throughout May, REI will host overnight bike camping classes (and special deals) for GITy Up! riders and others considering overnight bicycle touring at their Chicago-area locations.
And best of all, the proceeds of GITy Up! support the work of Trails for Illinois, a nonprofit trail organization that's helping Illinois create an interconnected network of non-motorized, multi-use trails.
Registration is limited to 250 riders. To register, or for more information visit www.trailsforillinois.org/gityup.