Well, for those of you out who think we are crazy, today might prove you to be right.
It started lovely enough–we woke at sunrise and went through our usual routine of me packing up the gear while Mike makes first, coffee, then breakfast. Since we had planned ahead, making extra rice the night before, we were in for a breakfast treat–Belly Pleaser, which is a delicious and high calorie rice gruel with water, coconut milk, cinnamon and dried mangos. It is a great way to jump start a long, cold day. And although we didn’t yet know it, we were going to need it.
We were packed and on the road by 9AM, feeling full, strong and ready for day 2. At Rock Falls, we turned south onto Hennepin Canal Trail. (Fun fact- Started in 1834 but not completed until 1908, the canal never lived up to its promise as rail became dominant and the canal too small. More here: wiki). It was a beautiful crushed limestone trail, which unfortunately slows us down, along the slowly moving canal.
Well maintained (for the most part),
We saw blue herons, ducks and other unidentifiable water fowl, deer, one slightly scary dog, and a gaggle (?) of wild turkeys. Life was okay.
But THEN, we hit a soft uncompacted 10 mile section that really slowed us down. And THEN, came the minefield of walnuts–that caused us to flat out! No real biggie. We expect these things.
Eventually, we came to the old locks, which were cool.
And we turned off the road and headed into the wind toward Wyoming, IL. OH, the wind. It blew straight at us, and we quickly discovered our route had a preference for the gravel over the paved roads. We’d pick a paved alternative, only to have the directions update and shift while we were biking without bars or coverage. While I would try to reconfigure the route as we biked, we missed a few turns, vetoed bad options, and generally made us bike about 6 extra miles straight into the wind.
When bike touring, the wind is some days your guardian angel, and others, an evil monkey on your back. When you have a tailwind, the miles fly by as if you are going downhill. But when you have a headwind, it strips your legs of power and your heart of spirit. It was past 4:30 pm, when we finally made it to Wyoming. And we still had miles to go to get to our planned stopping point in Peoria.
To escape the wind, we choose to return to another rails to trails limestone unpaved path. We knew it would be slow, but we were slightly sheltered from the wind and off the bigger road as the sun approached the far horizon. Having committed to the path at the trailhead, we were somewhat dismayed to discover a TRAIL CLOSED sign several miles in. Because we like to go toward our destination (rather than away from it), we persevered with expert Captain Mike mountain biking the big long train through some very sketchy rutted out sections. As Stoker (the one in the back), my job is to not freak out when the front wheel is going one direction, the back wheel is drifting, and the trailer–who knows???
Okay, so an hour or so later, we hit more trail closed signs. Mind you, there really wasn’t a road escape route for us at this point. So again, we went FORWARD. (It is after all, the Wisconsin way.). And fairly soon, we discovered the trail was missing a bridge.
But–Captain, My Captain, was undeterred. He quickly disassembled us and — chivalry is not dead — carried the heavy parts (i.e., not me) across the chasm.
Not to shirk my duties, I carried the water bottles and front bag as I skipped across the go. (Did I mention, we were tired, souls stripped by the wind a few miles back, and looking for a place to make camp).
And, we found one. Because, according to the IL DNR maps, there was a closer campground with toilets and water just off the trail about 10 miles shy of our planned destination. (Point of reference: On this trail, that’s another hour, in the DARK). So we pulled off at the Alta-Dunlop Rock Island campground. Happy to stop at last.
But the obstacles were not yet all overcome, because despite the signs and the IL DNR website indicating there is water here. There is not.
Options were get back on the bike and fetch water (a 2+ miles trek) or (after 84 miles) forego dinner (and breakfast) and just fend. Oh, Illinois DNR, I expect more from you. So, we dined on cheese quesadillas and drank our meager emergency supply of Elmer, feeling like the day could have been easier, but this is what makes it an adventure. For everyone, warm and cozy on their couch right now, we certainly are living life to it’s fullest. (Although I do long for my couch just a wee bit–I guess my cousins’ in St. Louis will have to do.)
But, I am warm, fed (better than 3rd world standards), and ready for bed.