It was a pleasant, somewhat rainy start but by the time we found our way to the Illinois and Michigan Canal path, our raincoats were back in the panniers. We quickly learned that this canal is is recognized as a national heritage area and is responsible for making Chicago what it is today. The canal took 12 years to build – dug by hand by immigrants. Once opened, supplies and people from the south could make their way to the north and vice versa as the mules pulled them through. Of course, the canal’s heyday didn’t last long; other methods of transportation quickly materialized. By 1933, the canal was shuttered. This year, however, the canal turns 175. The surface on the trail was either limestone, grass or paved and much of the trail was only single track.
Our favorite town on the canal was Lockport. We had barely parked our bicycles when Nancy, curator of the Illinois State Museum, (there’s a branch of it in Lockport) shouted out to us that we should come inside, see the exhibits and use the restrooms. So we did and found a collection of exquisite prairie focused paintings by Philip Juras. After an iced coffee break we were back on the canal, catching glimpses of muskrats, great blue herons and deer. For miles we were the only travelers on the trail.
In Joliet, the trail next to the canal ended, requiring Pat to find us a route around the city and back to the next segment of the trail. As the day progressed we realized we had tried to take on too many miles for our second day. I was slowing down and then I was really slowing down; from a 10 mile an hour average to a crawl at 5 miles per hour. At a canal gate in the town of Morris, Pat suggested we stop. But I wasn’t ready to give in, that is until I looked at my back tire. “Oh, that was my problem,” I said. “My tire is flat.”
We were both grumbling. It was only the second day and we had to change a flat tire. Neither of us could remember where we had put the tire lever, the extra inner tubes and the tire pump. Subsequently we had a major meltdown and chucked everything out of four panniers all over the path. Changing the back tire on my bicycle isn’t easy and once the new inner tube was on and the tire inflated again, it was impossible to insert the back pin to hold the wheel into the frame. While Pat was swearing at the tire, I was considering what other options we had. That’s when a couple pulled up in their vehicle and asked if we needed help. “Yes, we do, ” we shouted.
They parked their car and the gentleman began to work with Pat to get the pin back in. It was no easy task because some grains of dirt were in the way blocking the pin. But this gentleman didn’t give up until he was finally able to remove the grit. It was an amazing turn around to what we had presumed was an unsolvable disaster. We were ecstatic and so thankful for their help.
It was now 6 p.m. and we figured cycling another 20 miles was not possible. Instead we cycled through the Morris business district until we came upon a Super 8 sign and that is where we spent the night. As we were checking in, we talked with Mark Hammond and his friend. “We are on our way back from riding across the country,” Mark said. “I used to do what you all are doing but then I discovered riding a motorcycle is way more fun.”
After several hours of rest, we were back on our bicycles on Friday and on a roll flying past mile marker after mile marker. Most of the canal was empty. In Ottawa , we dined on ham and cheese sandwiches and cashews while sitting on the steps of a local church and listening to the church bells toll. On our way back to the canal path, we spotted a town square with a fountain surrounding a monument of Abraham Lincoln and Stephen Douglas in honor of the debate they held in the town.
Sixteen more miles on the trail and we landed at the end in the town of La Salle. There we spotted a canal boat that takes guests up the canal for one mile with the help of a horse . They had shut down early today as there were very few customers. We were beat but thrilled that it had been a day without problems.
Shevonne and Pat