Monday, August 29, 2011
August 29: Nick drove me out of Ottawa for good at 7:30 in the morning. The young man was considerate enough to only try to kill me on a single occasion, when he decided that a one way sign was not worth paying attention to and turned into three oncoming lanes of traffic. There was a Hardees immediately to the right, so we thought it might be a good time to grab a biscuit, which we did. We parted in Ely and I was back on the road in Iowa once more.
Odors good and bad were the theme of today's trek. With the polls closing on my survey of smell this evening no other sense would be more appropriate to discuss.
My nostrils were nearly presented with a daunting challenge when I approached the southern end of Cedar Rapids. There on the horizon stood International Paper, belching out its singular stench and causing my nose hairs to stand on end. Luckily for my sniffer I was downwind. Like Frodo and Samwise avoiding the great eye of Sauron I slipped beneath the building, hoping not to wake the sleeping dragon and incur the wrath of its smoke.
Safely out of range I headed into the city on the Cedar Rapids River Trail, which I was glad to see has now been extended farther south than my ADT information suggested. I was therefore able to stay off-road for the rest of the day's travels.
While heading through the industrial section of Cedar Rapids I my nose received a happy scent. The aroma of fresh oatmeal wafted through the air, alerting me to the presence of the Quaker Oats factory to my right. The cereal maker was founded in 1850 in Akron, Ohio and began selling their most well known product in 1877. Like many of my neighbors in South Carolina, the company tired of Ohio and fled to Cedar Rapids in 1890.
I couldn't stay since my sudden lust for Quaker Oatmeal was unrequited, so I continued on, settling for a couple of their granola bars. Several zig-zagging, swirling crazy straw miles through various factories led me finally to Hiawatha shortly after five. Hiawatha is named after the famous Iroquois chieftain who may have lived during the 12th, 15th, or 16th centuries. Either he is the Native American version of Methusulah or his actual existence is in some doubt. Nevertheless, his legend lives on thanks to William Longfellow's poem "The Song of Hiawatha." I prefer Pearl Jam's 1998 remake, but as we all know art is a subjective beast.
15 miles/1427 total miles
Sunday, August 28, 2011
August 27: I crept out from my cave around dawn Saturday and made my way out of Solon. I had a short day scheduled as Sue and her son Kyle were coming to pick me up for Uncle David and Aunt Jo's fiftieth anniversary party. This trip should be my last back to Ottawa/Peru as I am now almost three hours away by car. I don't know a soul in the states of Iowa and Nebraska, so many miles in unknown territory will be difficult without any guaranteed hope of succor.
The seven mile walk to our rendezvous point in Ely (pronounce eely) was fairly uneventful, although traffic was unexpectedly heavy. I wish these people could contact me about my walking schedule and arrange a detour. I don't think I'm asking to much for such a simple courtesy.
I reached Ely shortly before nine and found the library. Iowa has more libraries per capita than any other state according to a random fact I decided to take as truth without properly researching. You can now look forward to more regular updates of my bacon consumption.
Sue and Kyle met me at the Casey's convenience store about eleven and removed me from the trail for the remainder of the weekend. Like MacArthur, I shall return on Monday. For now I'll be spending a last few hours with my Illinois family. They are a little more forgiving with the deep ruts of welcome I tend to wear out.
7 miles/1412 total miles
Thank you to recent donors:
Ken and Lois Irwin
Paul and Sally Hoover
Mark and Melissa Normington
Robert Mera and Sara Yanosy
Saturday, August 27, 2011
August 26: Claudia and I parted early in the morning after a breakfast of cereal and fresh-baked bread. Leaving so soon has never gotten any easier, but its preferable to over-staying your welcome and being chased out with a broom.
Naturally, I took the Herbert Hoover Nature Trail out of West Branch. I was in Oasis in just a few miles. This town may be on maps, but don't be fooled by the mirage. A couple of grain silos does not add up to a community.
I had misread the garbled ADT directions to say that the HHNT continued here, however, I saw nothing. I used my lifeline to call Mom, who found me a route through a number of dusty roads to Morse, which has about one more building than Oasis.
More dry and dirty work following the occasional smoky plume of a passing car led me to an actual town. Solon, named after the famed Athenian law-giver, also happens to rhyme with colon, so you can finally finish your poem.
I headed over to D and D pizza (dungeons and dragons?) and had a reuben. Joensy's next door was unable to tempt me with promises of the largest pork tenderloin in Iowa. I am done with those massive meat monstrosities.
Everyone in Solon seemed to be either playing golf or watching the high school football game, so finding a place to stay proved to be difficult. In fact, resolution of this issue involved an invasive procedure I am unwilling to discuss at this time. The suffering is just too fresh.
16 miles/1405 total miles
Thursday, August 25, 2011
August 25: My feet still tender following the many miles of yesterday, I got a late start, not heading out until ten thirty or so. I moved west on F-40, passing the small community of Springdale, home of the first accredited school in Iowa. Only a monument now stands to mark its existence.
I continued to gimp slowly along, arriving in West Branch early in the afternoon. My first trip was to the library, which proved to be a fortunate choice. One of the librarians, Claudia, was extremely excited to hear about my quest. She arranged an interview with the local paper and offered me a place to stay after hearing how tired I was as a result of yesterday's long haul.
Her generosity gave me an opportunity to visit the Presidential Library of Herbert Hoover. Hoover, who is best known for heading the country during the soul-crushing Depression of the early 1930s, is a complex character. Accuse me of falling in line with the museum's propaganda if you will, but I came away with a much different view of the man.
Bert, as the future president was known as a child, was orphaned at ten and spent much of his early life in near poverty. He never forgot the experience or his upbringing as a Quaker, a sect which prides itself on always helping the less fortunate.
Herbert grew into quite a go-getter, a member of the first class at Stanford University who was involved in numerous extracurricular activities. He was not the greatest student, but he learned quickly how to manage and motivate. His first job out of college was as a miner, but he took his geology degree and his wits and managed to advance at a speed that would have lapped the Millenium Falcon in a space ship race.
These talents served him well later in life when he heeded the nation's call to help with food relief after WWI. His actions in Belgium earned him the eternal devotion of King Albert (not the one the piercing is named after) who kept trying to give him medals. A year later, Hoover helped feed starving Bolsheviks in St. Petersburg, assistance later Communist leaders tried to wipe from the history books. The organizations he formed during his relief work later became CARE and UNICEF, which you may have heard of if you would spend some time out from under your rock.
During the 1920s as Secretary of Commerce in the Harding administration, Hoover worked to expand home ownership. Certainly somewhat ironic for a man who later had Depression era shacks known as Hoovervilles named after him.
As we know, the presidency did not work out for double H (what a good name for a professional wrestler, he missed his calling). His one shining moment was the erection of the Hoover Dam, which I learned is not actually named after the cross-dressing FBI Director J. Edgar. Maybe his presidency was harshly judged as well, but I will have to learn about that another time - at five the museum closed and I turned into a pumpkin. As we know pumpkins can't read, so I had to return to Claudia's house.
Over dinner with Claudia I did learn one more fact. Excuse my ignorance if this is common knowledge (and it no doubt will be to all Iowan readers), but I discovered that there are two types of corn. There is field corn, which is used for animal feed, corn syrup, and ethanol. I see this corn in fields everyday. The corn we buy in grocery stores is sweet corn and is grown in smaller plots. I'm glad to know the eight billion acres of corn I have seen so far isn't all being eaten because that stuff just doesn't digest too well. Just saying.
I'll leave you with a quote from our good friend double H:
When we are sick, we want an uncommon doctor; when we have a construction job to do, we want an uncommon engineer, and when we are at war, we want an uncommon general. It is only when we get into politics that we are satisfied with the common man.
Miles: 6/Total Miles: 1389
August 24: In the morning Ken took me out to a local diner and treated me to a massive bacon burrito. There were other things inside but they paled against the greatness of the bacon.
Afterward we went to Radio Shack in search of a new phone charger. No such luck though we did see a praying mantis big enough to have co-starred with Godzilla in a 1950s movie monster flick.
Our final stop (or so I thought) was the Muscatine newspaper office, where the lovely Cynthia interrogated me about the hike. I learned about a group of horsemen riding to support the Wounded Warrior Project who had passed through town recently. What a bunch of lazy bums. Just kidding. Maybe. Okay, I'm jealous.
Ken dropped me at 2nd and Mulberry and I turned north, waving a wistful goodbye to the Mississippi. I had gone only a couple of miles before Ken returned. He had found a Sprint store and we had another go at obtaining a charger. Success! I have been so blessed to meet people like Ken and Lois who go the extra mile to help me - they refuse to give up even when I am ready to do so.
There was a downside to all these errands. I still had seventeen miles to West Liberty, where I planned to stay the night. I made quick time, enjoying the scenery around the sandbar-encrusted Cedar River.
Water ran short as the day was hot, but a timely Diet Coke delivery helped my liquid last until the next source. I hadn't consumed the wretched stuff in twenty years. I was glad to discover the product no longer induces vomiting.
West Liberty reared its ugly head around six thirty in the evening. Starving, I made my way to Shanghai restaurant and remedied the problem with a little Kung Pao chicken.
Shelter was next on the agenda, so I headed on over to the United Methodist Church to see about staying on their property. I was able to speak to the pastor and got some sad news. They had allowed another hiker to stay there some years back and the neighbors freaked out and called the police, who then, in the pastor's words, "harassed" the man.
The other churches in town had little or no yard, so I decided to push on towards a KOA campground, which I thought was only a couple of miles away, near I-80. My memory of the turn-by-turn mileage turned out to be a bit off and by eight thirty the sun had disappeared and I was still walking. About nine I began to see the lights of the interstate. Of course, in a place so dark this meant I wasn't even close. Finally I reached I-80 about a quarter til ten. There was no KOA to be seen, but an Econo Lodge did appear. I was in a take-what-I-can-get sort of mood, so I checked in and ended the day's journey.
I finished a marathonesque distance of 25 miles in a personal best - only eleven hours on the trail. Tie forty five pounds to those skinny Kenyans and see if they can top that!
25 miles/1383 total miles
August 23: The sun came out and banished the dark at seven and I was shortly on my way. Less than an hour later the dark had returned with a vengeance, Apollo running with tail tucked before the mighty Zeus and his lightning bolts. A vicious biting rain followed. I had no choice but to push on, my poncho of little effect against the downpour.
By 8:30 I was overjoyed to see a sign for Shady Creek Recreation Area. I dashed underneath the shelter there and waited the storm out. The precipitation petered out, but my gear was soaked so I spent a few hours air drying everything.
Shady Creek, like Clark's Ferry (see yesterday's episode) is an Army Corps of Engineers Park. The Corps built a series of levees, dams, and locks over the years to control the raging hormones of the Miss. The parks came free as part of the package deal. The land was set aside for recreational use of the great river, providing opportunities for visitors to conduct a variety of activities, most of which revolve around boats and fish.
Around noon Apollo had reasserted himself and I headed back onto the trail, following Highway 22 along the river all afternoon until I reached Muscatine. This cute little river town of just over 20,000 boasts a booming economy, with manufacturers like Hon, Kent Feeds, and Heinz Ketchup all based there.
I didn't see much point in moving farther onward, so I made inquiries at the library about a place to stay. Nancy, Dan, and Joan were very helpful and, after a couple of false starts, they pointed me towards a Men's Bible Study Group, who met in the library at seven.
The gentlemen there welcomed me with open arms, embracing my mission whole-heartedly. One of the members, Ken Irwin, promised to put me up for the evening. I joined the meeting, which dealt with revenge and how it is an endless circle that solves nothing and destroys the vengeance taker's spirit. I decided then and there to drop my thirty year vendetta against Eddie, the boy from my first grade class who hit me with a spitball.
Ken took me home where I met his lovely wife Lois. They are Muscatine natives, but like many of the folks who have taken me in, have traveled the continent extensively. The couple has also picked up hitchhikers and drifters before so I was not a new sight to them. Not that I am either of those things.
Ken and Lois made me feel right at home, setting me up with a bed in their sun room, getting me a shower, and drying clothes, which thanks to my complete lack of patience, were actually still quite wet. Go ahead and score the first point for Iowa hospitality.
14 miles/1358 total miles
Tuesday, August 23, 2011
August 22: Someone as prone to losing his possessions as I am probably should not be allowed by law to walk across the country. I parted company with my phone charger God knows where sometime over the weekend. Compounding the error, my good friends in the baggage handling department at Delta smashed the plastic connecting piece on my backpack's chest strap. I have rigged up a workable solution, but its about as comfortable as a bed of nails.
The show must go on, however, so I continued on my way through Davenport. The riverboat casino was already full of folks who couldn't wait until the afternoon to throw away their money.
There certainly is money to burn on hand in Davenport. Industry is everywhere. I passed large factories for companies such as Lafarge (cement), Cargill (salt), and Oscar Mayer (weiners).
My route kept me along the Mississippi, taking me through the small town of Buffalo and on to Montpelier.
On the way I had a couple of interesting encounters with the natives. One was with a policeman, the fourth who has pulled over to stop and chat with me thus far on the trip. He was the first to ask for my license so he could then check to see if I had any outstanding warrants. Apparently my reputation as a drifter is now proceeding me.
Later on I saw a man far up the road frantically waving his hand. I returned his salute. He then bent over, appeared to pick an object off the ground and crossed the street, leaving the scene. When I arrived at the spot I found he had actually put something there. Two dollar bills and a cold Bud Light lay before me. Perhaps people think I am more of a hobo than a drifter. I would like to ride the rails one day, tis true.
At Montpelier I staked my tent for the night at Clark's Ferry Recreation Park. By coincidence my neighbors turned out to be fellow South Carolinians, the first I had met on the trip. Dotty and Charlie are a retired couple from Rock Hill, married fifty five years. They travel the United States and Canada in their camper, seeing the sights. After cooking us a lovely meal, Dotty suggested perhaps I should try driving a car instead of walking. Very soon the next morning I began to wish I had taken her advice.
16 miles/1344 total miles
Sunday, August 21, 2011
August 18: I've been in kind of a foul mood for a couple days in a row, but now I know why. I was saving up all the joy inside me for the most exciting moment of the trek thus far. I can now proudly say I have walked all the way from the Atlantic Ocean to the Mississippi River.
No other waterway in our great land has contributed more to the growth of American commerce or inspired more Mark Twain novels. Its acquisition from the real estate-challenged French in the famed Louisiana swindle was perhaps the most important event in our young country's history up to that point. I would add after the Constitutional Convention, but we don't appear to have much use for that document anymore.
I passed over the great river at Rock Island Arsenal, which took over from Harper's Ferry as the nation's one stop shop for all our weaponry needs. The Rock Island Rapids and a narrow channel here were an impediment to shipping until Robert E. Lee, showed off his surveying talents and a dam was built to make this part of the tiny stream navigable.
Rock Island is part of the Quad Cities, a mighty neighborly group of communities gathered close together. Two of them, Moline and Rock Island, are on the Illinois side. Moline is best known as the home of the John Deere corporation. The maker of farm equipment was much in evidence inside the upscale downtown area I passed through.
I was also presented with another opportunity to meet with the press in Moline, thanks to my new friends Curt and Jeanette. I had met the couple yesterday just past Geneseo and had a nice conversation with them. Amazingly, they spotted me again today while I was nearing the river. Jeanette mentioned the Moline Dispatch might be interested in the walk and within an hour I was speaking to one of their intrepid young reporters.
The Iowa portion of the Quad Cities starting four consists of Davenport and Bettendorf. I entered Davenport first and commenced celebrating the crossing. While I sat at Front Street Brewery enjoying a well-earned pint I met Sherry, a fellow traveler who runs a company called Motivational Mastermind. She had spent time in the Q.C. before and offered to show me the town(s).
We probably had a wonderful night which I never would have forgotten if not for the evils of the demon rum. I even got to see Bettendorf, or at least a couple of trivia and karaoke dens located there. Sherry also generously let me crash on her hotel room floor even after I told her my snoring would probably doom any hope she had of sleep. In the morning she will take me to the airport, where I will fly to Charlotte for a weekend fund-raiser. I will return to Davenport and the trail Monday morning. See you then!
14 miles/1328 total miles
Thanks to my friends, new and old, for helping me through Illinois!
Joe and Heather Anton Vitell
Ralph and Gail Anton
Al, Heather, Nick, Emma, and Conor Treest
Brian, Natalie, Quinn, and Ian McCandless
Mike, Sue, and Michael Bates
David and Jo McCandless
Curt and Jeanette
Sherry Prindle (and a good start on Iowa)
Thursday, August 18, 2011
August 17: I woke cranky. Maybe it was the twenty dollar camping fee I paid last night, the second highest of the trip. Maybe I was bored with canal trails. Most likely I'm just ready to try out the other side of the Mississippi River.
I ran into several bikers and walkers today and the President was on everyone's minds. Mr. Obama is paying a visit to the Quad Cities region. He spoke in Davenport, Iowa yesterday and will give talks in Atkinson and Alpha on the Illinois side today. The sulfurous stench of politics did nothing to curse my sour mood. There are some benefits to rarely seeing a newspaper.
We can rule out the canal trail as the culprit. I've reached Colona and the end of my time astride Hennepin's watery highway. I hit the Dairy Queen to celebrate with an Oreo flurry. Alas, there was no indoor seating and the vast assemblage of flies seemed to enjoy my treat more than I.
Still muttering about my frosty fly soup I stopped at the laundromat and cleaned my limited apparel. Perhaps the lack of vibrant color in my wardrobe has got me down. I put on my brightest orange shirt, but still no improvement.
I crossed the Rock River into Carbon Cliff, finding a Super 8 which I could call home for the night. A night indoors might help and the other options were nil.
My dinner at the adjacent Deerfield restaurant made matters worse. The cuisine could easily been confused with that served at a nursing home. My fellow patrons were of age to make me wonder if I had indeed stumbled into one.
What can possibly pull me out of this funk? Only one thing left to try - cross the river. Maybe I can dump this Eeyore aspect of my personality over the side of the bridge. We need more sunshine and rainbows.
14 miles/1314 total miles
Wednesday, August 17, 2011
August 16: I rose early, needing to slip into Annawan for a fresh supply of water. Just past I-80 I found a convenient store where I filled my bottles and picked up a couple of snacks. I also grabbed some breakfast at the Scrubway located in the store. I should have eaten the lint from the bottom of my sack with all the flavor my sandwich had. No wonder Jared lost all that weight. Once bite was probably about all he could keep down.
I can't figure out why I'm not getting any corporate sponsors. Don't they understand the way blackmail works?
I returned to the path, where my morning consisted of a parade of mammals. The squeak of a tiny mouse started the show and the usual deer followed shortly thereafter. I have a new found respect for Bambi and friends, having heard several tales of what their razor-sharp hooves can do when their parental instincts get them into attack mode.
Later I ran into an even more dangerous fellow, a coyote who had not fallen for slick advertising gimmicks and purchased Acme products. He ran along the trail a couple hundred yards ahead of me for a good while before heading into the brush. I have heard their calls on many a lonely night, but this was the first live one I had spotted. I have heard numerous complaints about the beasts since West Virginia due to their propensity for killing farm animals. I think they are just misunderstood and plan to give one a hug as soon as he or she gets in range of my shotgun.
As the sun switched to the other side of the sky I began to slow down physically. I dragged myself along in a listless malaise, resting often. Fortunately I had only fourteen miles to tonight's campground so there was no need to rush. With only a short way to go I refilled my water at one of the recreation areas located intermittently on the towpath and laid down on a picnic table to sleep a bit. I rose to complete the last few hundred yards at six. Thursday's coming milestone is still too far off to create much excitement yet.
14 miles/1300 total miles
Monday, August 15, 2011
August 15: Finally back underway! After a delicious breakfast with the Bates family, Sue drove me back to Wyanet, no relation to Tammy, where I was to resume my trek. Sue and I arrived at the towpath around nine and we learned together that I had not indeed made a mistake the other day. The sign to Wyanet pointed in the wrong direction. Or a missed a later sign pointing me north. I refuse to believe completely in being right.
Unlike the C&O and I&M canals there are no towns along the Hennepin. You have to travel a mile or two to reach the closest ones. I attribute this fact to Hennepin's short life span and lack of commercial success. Money draws people. No money draws crap and that draws flies, which tend to scare away the few people left.
With little in the way of water sources on the towpath I will have to make more sorties into civilization. Thankfully I found a better map of the canal trail at the Visitor's Center today. My future raids will now be more precise and less prone to sign-related error.
Not much to discuss today, as people were few and far between during my nineteen mile jaunt. I did observe plenty of Asian carp, which are known for their impressive hops. Like the snakehead of Maryland and pod people of the 1950s, they are an invasive species coming into an area where they don't belong and taking over. With their predatory and breeding talents these demons of Darwinism have taken over many Illinois waterways. If they develop the ability to dribble and to shoot the long range jumper the NBA might be next.
19 miles/1286 total miles
Thursday, August 11, 2011
August 10: Today brought a much more difficult assignment than my normal few thousand steps. My cousin Heather's husband Al had arranged a speaking engagement for me at the Ottawa Rotary Club luncheon. I know sixty people may not sound intimidating to you, but when you spend three straight months talking to almost no one but yourself, having a crowd presents a challenge. When the voices in my head get to chatting, I find I am a good listener, but I'm kind of a captive audience.
So fear and apprehension dominated my thoughts in the early morning. What if I'm not that interesting or what if I freeze up and stand there drooling on myself for ten minutes? That may not leave a good impression with some.
Fortunately, my Uncle David and Aunt Jo, as well as Al, and my new friend Jim Rice (not the Red Sox Hall-of-Fame outfielder) were all there to lend support and pretend to laugh at my jokes. The Rotarians were all very friendly and polite as well and they asked a lot of good questions after I finished with my short speech. I wish I could have given some good answers, but you can't have everything.
After the meeting David and Jo took me out to see some of Ottawa. We visited the scouting memorial (pictured), Buffalo Park, some long dead McCandlesses, and a silica quarry, where 10% of the world's supply is mined. After the torrid trip through these tourist destinations Jo and I enjoyed what could best be described as a wine slushy at the August Hill Wine Bar in Utica. David, our sober driver, sipped a sparkling grape juice.
I have another engagement in Charlotte, North Carolina next weekend and will be flying there from the Quad Cities on the 19th. A friend has purchased the flight for me and I am excited about the fund-raising possibilities of the trip, but I am delayed as a result. I can't go farther than Davenport by then since I wouldn't be able to return for my plane ride. I am only sixty miles from there, which should take about four days. I have eight possible walking days until then.
Thanks to the generosity of my cousins there is a solution. I can stay in the Ottawa-Peru area through the weekend and get restarted on Monday. Beginning then I can walk my normal miles and end up in Davenport on Thursday night. Taking so many days in a row off will be frustrating, but on the other hand, I am able to have more quality time with my relatives. Although I feel like I am stuck in quicksand now, later on I will appreciate the opportunity.
0 miles/1267 miles
Tuesday, August 9, 2011
August 9: I was delivered like a package back to Bureau Junction a little after eight this morning. After a short stroll I found the entrance to Hennepin Canal, where my movements will take place over the next few days.
Hennepin is newer than the other canals I have strode along thus far, thanks to a short construction delay. Originally planned in the mid 1800s, the project was not finally begun in the following century and completed in 1908. Since unions did not exist or were laughably weak during this period we can blame the gap on either the contractor or the government.
What do I think? I'm glad you asked, but I shall demure and suggest perhaps they were all waiting for technology to catch up to their grand schemes. Hennepin is concrete, not cut stone like all previous canals. The lock engineering was also a model for the future. The Panama Canal is considered a technological stepchild of Hennepin.
Sadly, the opening came as the flow of progress was drifting downstream. Hennepin was only active until 1951 and never ran anywhere near capacity during this short life. As we know, by this period the railroads had long surpassed the river as the main national transportation artery.
On the upside, the canal is much better preserved than those I have previously visited on my journey. Many of the locks look as if they could operate once more given just a little bit of work. For the first time I saw an aqueduct still doing its job - passing the canal water over a river beneath. The canal is still filled with the liquid as well, quite a difference when compared to the I&M and C&O, which were silted up in many places. The surrounding forest also gives a treat to the eye, a major improvement over the farmland which dominates the plains region.
I finished fifteen miles on Hennepin today and quit the trail for the day just as I reached an area where a bridge was under construction. Sue has offered to put me up another night in preparation for my speech at the Rotary Club tomorrow. All I had to do was turn right and walk a mile to Wyanet, where my ride awaited.
After about three miles I realized that perhaps I was going the wrong direction. Fortunately, Sue was able to find and rescue me once again. The bridge work must have caused the path to be re-routed and I had therefore turned onto the wrong road. There was no sign indicating the name of the road where I had entered and their names change so frequently here I didn't think anything of it until I knew I must have gone way too far. Today's lesson: tired people are dumb and I am tired quite a lot.
15 miles/1267 total miles
Monday, August 8, 2011
August 8: I saddled myself back on the metaphorical horse once again, wishing not for the first time that he was real. Rather than being carried around by a large mammal I was stuck with my long-suffering two feet once more. They commenced another round of torture in LaSalle, named after a French explorer who wandered around the Midwest discovering places all the natives already knew about.
In LaSalle I departed the I&M canal for good (near where the above picture was taken), a fact I may have mentioned before but I am trying to look out for those of you with short term memory loss. The early part of the excursion was spent amid the urban splendor of LaSalle, Peru, and Spring Valley.
Once past Spring Valley I moved on to a dirt road that at first followed the course of the Illinois River. There were no houses and the potential for wildlife was pretty good. More deer bored me with their ubiquitous presence. These animals are so adapted to living near humans I expect them to begin carrying cel phones shortly. More unusual was an eagle, which I noticed when he or she screamed some sort of expletive related to a failed mouse killing.
I covered ground quickly thanks to a lightened load. Staying with the cousins allows slack-packing, which means my back surgery can be delayed at least another week.
The dirt road eventually led to Depue, a former American village now apparently controlled by Mexico. I thought about going to the peluqueria, pero mi pelo es corto.
Coming out of Depue I climbed one of the first hills I have encountered since whatever state came before Indiana, which someone had clearly steam-rolled in preparation for my arrival. Once up this rare mountain in the plains I turned onto Highway 29, which I would take for my last four miles.
Unfortunately I finished a half a mile short of that goal. Three miles in I called the cavalry (my cousin Sue) when a pitch black cloud formed on the horizon just behind me. She arrived just as I came into Bureau Junction and the sky began to open up with a fury. I zipped inside, glad to stay dry and safe.
The storm ended up dumping huge amounts of rain on central and northern Illinois and lightning struck a house in LaSalle. I'm glad I decided to surrender when I did, I'm not used to having the option of an escape plan, but I'll gladly use it while I have the chance. Yet another thing I will miss when I finally get out of range of my wonderful cousins.
18 miles/1252 total miles
August 7: I took the day off to rest my feet and spend time with my cousins. Sue, Brian, and I all met up in the tiny town of Leonore for lunch at Smitty's. This particular dining establishment is known for their prize pork tenderloin sandwich. Brian had assured me the tenderloin here would dwarf what Colin and I had eaten at the Ribber in Portsmouth, Ohio.
As soon as the behemoth hit the table in front of me I conceded his point. The bun was a mere afterthought in the midst of the overwhelming frisbee of meat taking up the majority of the plate's circumference. Holding the sandwich up to my face caused my features to be completely eclipsed in the pork's shadow.
Even with my increased calorie consumption of late I was no match for the whole plate of food. I completed the actual pork and the cute little bun, but much of the breading and most of the vegetables fell off (for some unexplained reason) and I never bothered to bridge the gap between their spot on the plate and my mouth. I figured the ability to move might come in handy tomorrow.
Brian, who has successfully tackled other local eating contests, handled the entirety and got his name up on Smitty's wall. Sue had enough left to bring back lunch for her husband Mike. In fact, she had to fold the remainder in half so the box could contain the bulging girth of the meat.
Later in the day we headed over to Brian's house, where his daughter Quinn was celebrating her 12th birthday. The occasion turned out to be the largest gathering yet, with a total of fourteen relatives assembled there. I am hoping to draw in even more to my powerful orbit for future events. For now, however, I will be getting back on the road tomorrow with an eighteen mile corridor of trail between me and the next canal trail.
0 miles/whatever number I had yesterday total miles
Sunday, August 7, 2011
August 6: I walked on home turf today, traveling between my cousins in Ottawa and my cousins in Peru. Joining me on the trail are yet more of these cousins, Brian and Nick. Brian McCandless is an army veteran who spent his military career in the 10th Mountain Division. Nick Treest is the son of Al Treest and my cousin Heather Treest. He is currently evaluating the different branches in hopes of joining the military himself.
Historic Ottawa was our first destination. We arrived in Washington Park just as Saturday's Riverfest, an annual weekend festival thrown in Ottawa every year, was getting underway. One of the famed Lincoln-Douglas debates were held here, a series of events that first brought Baberaham into the national eye, leading later to his momentous meeting with Sewcrates in 1980s Los Angeles.
After visiting town we had to change course, as the canal trail threw up yet another roadblock for us. Bikers and hikers have reported bullets whizzing by from the gun range near Buffalo Rock. Although many, Brian included, are skeptical because of the distances involved, the possibility of an accident has caused a four mile stretch of the I&M to close while the reality of this danger is investigated.
Having sent my bullet proof vest home months ago to drop weight, I was more than willing to try an alternate route Brian had proposed.
So we headed across a bridge to the north side of the Illinois River and hoofed on over to Starved Rock Park. The paths were windier and much hillier once we reached the Park, but the scenery was some of the best since Hocking Hills. Canyons, gorges, and rock cliffs line the river here and the scenic views are outstanding.
The highlight is Starved Rock itself, where Illinois Indians were trapped by Fox and Potowatomi Indians seeking revenge. They held the high fortress against all attackers, but were unable to reach any food source, slowly dying from starvation.
At the end of the Park we recrossed the Illinois and found our way back to the canal trail in Utica. I learned about the I&M's brushes with celebrity. Wild Bill Hickok was a mule driver on the towpath during his teens. Al Capone stored his gin stills there, probably because mixers were no problem with Tonica so close. He also had a few dead bodies stored in the Illinois River for safe keeping.
The miles passed pretty easily as we enjoyed one another's company. After spending so much time alone I have decided that I really like people. The voices in my head get kind of dull after a while.
Brian and I were especially proud of Nick, who had never done more than seven miles in a day. He was very tired by the end and fell asleep as soon as we met Sue, my Peru cousin, at our end point in LaSalle, the terminus of the I&M. She took us to her home in Peru where we had pizza and beer with yet more family. One of their dogs made out with Nick's face as he slept.
Having the support of the McCandless clan at the end of the day makes the road work go by so much easier. I'm not looking forward to the fact that I don't know a soul once I pass Peru until I get to Denver. These are certainly moments to savor and appreciate.
19 miles/1234 total miles
Friday, August 5, 2011
What an easy day, just a seven mile stroll from Marseilles (not France)to Ottawa (not Canada). I'm still on the canal path so the ground is nice and flat. The pack is light and airy since I can slackpack. I'll be returning to my cousin Heather's place tonight so leaving most of my stuff there was a no-brainer.
Skipping down the trail gaily and texting friends, I was glad to have a relaxing day for once. I learned that the last remaining toll house on the I&M is located in Ottawa. There seems to be only one of everything left, one mule barn, one grain elevator, one toll house, one canal...I'm thinking Noah did a pretty half-assed job of things around here. I wonder daily why he couldn't have just forgotten to bring the two gnats and the two mosquitoes. Seriously though, maybe Noah was a stickler for getting things right. I can just hear him saying, "Where is that (blaspheme deleted, you can probably guess which one, there probably only was one back in those days) other unicorn.
So I'm walking along minding my own business, thinking these thoughts when all of a sudden I reached a sign saying the bridge over the Fox River Aqueduct is under repair and off limits to trail walkers and riders until Saturday. There is a tube claiming to have maps detailing a suggested detour. The tube was empty of course. And I was supposed to meet a reporter and photographer from the local paper on the other side of the Aqueduct in fifteen minutes.
I headed over to the bridge and asked the workers how to get to another bridge. Through a wad of chewing tobacco one man slurred something about going north. The last road I passed travels to the south or to the east. I called my cousin Al on the phone and he said to go north as well. The newspapermen phone asking where I am and they suggest the same cardinal direction.
The way north is blocked by thick vegetation - does anyone actually know where I am? Maybe I will have to play Tarzan to find this confounded bridge. Finally I decided to go east until I can find a road going north. I moved a mile in that direction (which to me was backwards and I hate that direction most of all, I work too hard trying to get forward) and finally came upon such a road.
At this moment the newspapermen and Al found me and we got the whole thing straightened out. I was able to hop on Highway 6 and cross the cursed Fox (pictured menacingly above). On the other side I met up again with Al at Fox Aqueduct Park, a former residential district which became parkland when FEMA told the stupid people that it was kind of a bad idea to build on a flood plain and they should stop because the government wasn't going to bail them out anymore when they inevitably found themselves under several feet of water once again.
The short day's jaunt finally terminated, we adjourned to Al's home and chilled. A weekly paper in Ottawa also sent a delightful young chap to ask me some questions about the trip*. I don't know why people want to talk to me, I'm just a garden variety loon, nothing very special. I'm glad to play along, however, because when you spend hours by yourself any chance at an adult conversation is appealing. Anything is better than writing yet another song about the blasted fly circling your head. Believe me.
*The title of the resulting article used the word drifter to describe me. I object to being classified in such a way and would like all further journalists to use the word hobo instead. Thanks!
7 miles/Magna Carta total miles
Thursday, August 4, 2011
I'm a long way from my parents and my brother. I miss them all very much. Fortunately, one of the highlights of the entire trip is coming up the road straight at me now. My father's brother David and his wife Jo, residents of Ottawa, Illinois, have been fruitful and multiplied. The resulting four children all live in the area and have kids of their own, with a couple step and halves thrown in for good measure. I've never had a large immediate family and have not been able to see this particular group of relations as much as I would have liked to, so when I saw Ottawa was on the North fork of the ADT I knew which way I was headed. I awoke today with their homes sitting only twenty two miles away to the west.
Their nearby presence and a cold morning were enough to motivate me to get an early start, leaving Gebhard at just past six. The miles flew by, but not without a little learning on the side.
For example, the Native Americans had a huge civilization in Illinois and some of their most impressive burial mounds and other structures were located in this area. During the building of the canal many of these archaeological treasures were destroyed forever. Ain't progress grand?
The white man doesn't always treat his own very well either. The I&M Canal linked the fertile farms of the Mississippi River Valley to the industry of the Great Lakes and Northeast, making Chicago a major hub of the American manufacturing machine. In return the citizens decided to deepen the canal in 1878, reversing the flow of the Chicago River, allowing sewage that had once flowed into Lake Michigan to instead go back towards rural Illinois. That is literally the shittiest thing they could have done.
There wasn't too much to look at as far as water today, the canal in this section has silted over. The animal life took up the slack, putting on a gaudy Broadway show for my eyes. Frogs, birds, and several species of butterflies wowed me all day long, leading me forever onward towards my goal as they fluttered, flew, and hopped along according to their various talents.
In no time I had reached Seneca, where I visited the library and lunched on some Chicago style dogs, one of the greatest examples ever of what can be done with "meat in tube form" to quote Bourdain.
The stop was no more than a speed bump. In no time at all I had reached Marseilles. This town is a great example of the differences between French and American pronunciation. The American city's inhabitants use up all the letters when saying the name, but the French fail to complete the form in its entirety, falling short by the last three symbols. I think you will find such laziness to be standard procedure in the French language.
I digress, of course, let's have an end to such quibbles. My ride is here, cousins Sue and Heather have arrived and the time has come to go home - at least for a few days before the road takes me as its bride again.
15 miles/1208 miles
August 3: One rain drop fell, followed immediately by thousands of like-minded fellows. The hot, stultifying air had caused me to leave the fly off, so I jumped up and raced to apply my rain condom. The wind was still no longer and played havoc with my efforts. As I fumbled with the straps a thick branch came crashing from a tree only a few feet away. Despite the ensuing heart attack I succeeded in connecting with the stakes. I darted back inside to lie on my already soaked sleeping bag and hold the tent together in the fierce wind. Let's just say I've had miserable nights and leave it at that.
I left the debris strewn park around seven, bent on making ground in the early morning hours. Two gentlemen section-biking the canal trail helped me pass the time by stopping to talk with me on a couple of occasions. John and Wayne provided me with a sandwich, water, and a little road money. I know you think I am making those names up, but if so pilgrim, deal with this fact: life is too real for you.
The scenery improved as well. Channahon is the point where the menage a trois of the DuPage, Kankakee, and Des Plaines Rivers converge using an advanced position from the Kama Sutra to become the Illinois River, which means "kinky" in a fictional Indian language of my choosing. The large waterway flowed to my left while the suddenly clear canal lay to my right.
Signs of modern man were lacking for most of the walk. The old canal towns of Aux Sable and Dresden had dried up when the I&M folded in 1933. For once the railroad was not the villain - the more efficient Illinois Waterway spelled the doom of the once vibrant canal.
I did reach civilization around four, arriving in Morris. I dined at Corleone's and moved on to Gebhard Park, after first leaving the gun and taking the cannoli. I was tired, and Gebhard had made me an offer I could not refuse.
15 miles/1193 total miles/2 awful Godfather jokes
August 2: Outside of having destroyed the city several times, I had never been to Joliet. In real life the first level of "Rampage" lacked the skyscrapers presented by the game, perhaps rightly fearing an attack by a giant lizard, a mutant werewolf, and a King Kong look alike. Another fictional star of Joliet, was in evidence, the drawbridge jumped by "The Blues Brothers." Joliet Jake used an old police car to channel his own inner Evil Knievel. There were actually several drawbridges crossing the river thru town, so I could not determine exactly which one Joliet Jake had flown over.
Joliet got its start as a producer of limestone and the naked cliffs on the river's western shore still bear the scars of its extraction. Later on, in the heyday of the Illinois and Michigan Canal, whose path I will retrace starting here, the town became a huge steel producer. Soda pop is said to originate here, the brain child of merchant John Paige. The dental industry should put up a plaque in his honor next to the man who invented Jolly Ranchers.
The modern town boasts a casino, Harrah's, where residents hit by the hard times can go to bring joy to the lives of themselves and their family by squandering the last of their money.
On the western outskirts of Joliet sits the starting point for the I&M Canal Trail. The original canal stretched from Chicago to Peru, but the Chicago section is now super highway. A desire not to have hikers and bikers demolished by a bus caused this part to be excluded. Like the C&O Canal, the beginning is rather bleak, with a thick algae bloom obscuring any visual evidence of the very existence of the water underneath.
The French originally first conceived of a canal linking the Mississippi River to the Great Lakes, but, being French, they never actually got around to constructing one. Americans convinced their slaves, also known as poor Irish immigrants, to build the project in 1848. The workers were paid partially in whiskey due to the liquor's perceived health benefits and not because they were a bunch of drunks.
While absorbing these bits of knowledge I covered eighteen miles, from New Lenox to Channahon (pronounced Mike Shanahan). I found a cozy campsite near locks six and seven and drifted off to sleep, lightning playing off the clouds in the far distance. The gap would soon be bridged.
18 miles/1178 total miles
August 1: I began the day by losing my other Croc, or so I learned later. The first disappeared shortly after I left Sweetser in mid-July. I had continued carrying the other as a reminder to myself that I am a moron. I'll probably forget I am a moron now, which should do loads of good for my self-confidence.
Rides on the L and Metra took me back to Matteson, where I resumed work following the weekend's birthday celebrations. I hit the Old Plank Road again and passed thru a series of Chicago's outer suburbs: Matteson, Frankfort, Mokena, and New Lenox.
The journey was surprisingly serene for all the nearby suburban madness. I first visited the Dewey Helmick Nature Preserve, a wetland densely populated with water fowl of various types. Frankfort boasted their own Prairie Preserve, a small but impressive re-creation of what was once the Midwest's dominant habitat. The occasional J.C. Penney's completed the schizophrenic nature of the surroundings.
I finished up my fifteen mile return to the grind in New Lenox where I was set to meet up with my friend Heather Anton Vitell. Due to a prior commitment, Heather, who lives in Lagrange, sent her father Ralph to extract me.
We had arranged a rendezvous at the library, which, the Old Plank website assured me, was next to the Lion's Den Rec Park. I settled in at the Lion's Den and laid down on a bench, exhausted from the day's labor. It turns out the "adjacent" library is half a mile away, something we both discovered when Ralph arrived and could not find me. We eventually realized the snafu and I was able to track him down and escape the trail for the day.
When we reached Heather's home in Lagrange three ninjas came somersalting over the rug towards me. Charla, Jax, and Jed proved harmless and so did Midas, a dog who lacked the bite to back up his vicious bark.
Ralph and his wife Gail cleared our path of children by taking them out to McDonald's. I was left to enjoy a quiet repast with Heather and her husband Joe at Thippi Thai. The meal was extraordinarily good, proving my theory once again that only Asians or those who submit to the Asian way of cooking (tongue fu) can properly execute the cooking of vegetables.
Heather and Joe were perfect hosts, providing stimulating conversations and rescuing me from the maelstrom three children can create, allowing me to relax. I was able to get a comfortable night's slumber indoors in preparation for a week of camping, where anything can happen and often does. Consider yourselves foreshadowed.
15 miles/1160 total miles