30 June 2006

Gathering at Mississippi Palisades

This is the campsite at Mississippi Palisades State Park. There are probably better pictures of it, but the scene looked so welcoming when I jumped out of the motel van for dinner the first evening in Savanna that I snapped a photo. I'd been there once before, but really only passing through.

We were discussing how the sag vans wouldn't shuttle us back up the hill on Blackjack Road when someone pointed to some vultures circling overhead. I interpreted this as a melodramatic vision of my death and decided not to risk the 15% grade on the road to Galena. Turns out it was actually a vision of my sudden onslaught of sunstroke on the way back from Hanover, but that's exactly what the sag vans were for. Thanks again to all the DNR folks who drove around and kept watch on us all week!

28 June 2006

Turtle rescue in Thomson-Fulton Sand Prairie

Someone (but I can't remember who--sorry, I'm so bad with names!) found a turtle sitting in the middle of the trail through the Thomson-Fulton Sand Prairie. I think I scared the poor thing tyring to take this picture.

Authentic Dutch windmill in Fulton

De Immigrant is a working, authentic Dutch windmill built (by authentic Dutch contractors) in Fulton to celebrate the town's Dutch heritage. (Not to be confused with the Fabyan Windmill near Batavia--hey, how many windmills are there along the Grand Illinois Trail?) There are better pictures of it everywhere, but this one of mine includes authentic GITAP riders taking a tour.

Albany Mounds

Well, as long as it's raining, here's a picture of Albany Mounds. It's a peaceful place that invites reflection on the people who lived here long before we pedaled through on bikes. I didn't get a chance to venture very far into the site, but I hope I can go back again sometime.

View from Blackjack Road

Sadly, none of my photos from Blackjack Road really do justice to Jo Daviess County; there just weren't any good spots for grand vistas of the slopes of the next ridge far off in the hazy blue distance and the peaceful, picturesque countryside in the valley below. But this one's okay.

View Galena-ward from Lookout Point

This was also taken from Lookout Point at Mississippi Palisades State Park, in a vaguely northward direction.

Totally cliche rural Illinois photograph

You've seen this oil painting a million times, right? I just had to stop and take this picture somewhere along Rt. 84 between Mississippi Palisades State Park and Hanover.

26 June 2006

SAG stop on Ideal Road

I kid you not, that's the name of this road. Ideal Road (which I didn't think was very ideal, but it was only my second day) is apparently another celebrated GITAP route. And what does "SAG" stand for, anyway? Is it an acronym, or is it always spelled in all caps to reflect how relieved you are to see it? See, that's how much of a rookie I am to this whole bike touring thing! I'm glad this was my first trip, though--best vacation ever. I had so much fun, even on Ideal Road. And hey, there's my bike again in the middle.

Fishing on Lake Carlton

This was taken at Morrison-Rockwood State Park, right before I headed out on the last morning.

Let sleeping ducks lie

I thought Hanover was the mallard capital of the world, but this was taken somewhere along the Quad Cities' RiverWay.

On the lighter side, a picture with people in it

The motelers gathered at the Bluecat Brewpub in Rock Island after our "day off." Oddly, I didn't get carded.

The Hennepin Canal State Trail is somehow conducive to deep thoughts

A plaque on this handsome bridge over the Green River on the Hennepin Canal State Trail proclaimed that it was a DNR project completed in 2001. What was there before? Was this bridge an important link in the Grand Illinois Trail that used to be missing? The more I explore the GIT (mostly online since I got home--the GITAP did a number on my brakes so I'm bikeless while it's in the shop), the more I want to know about it, and the more I want to help be a part of it. Maybe that's why I came up with my crazy "Grand Chicagoland Trail" idea last night. Now I really want to see more of the segments that are right here at home.

Marquette Park in Savanna

Marquette Park is a beautiful municipal park in Savanna on a stretch of riverfront between the water and the railroad tracks. (And there I go with the foreground tree again--sorry.)

View from Chestnut Mountain--no tree

Same view of the Mississippi from Chestnut Mountain Resort (Galena-ish) as in the previous post, but without the tree.

View from Chestnut Mountain

I got to Chestunt Mountain Resort, somewhat near Galena, and suddenly there was the Mississippi River in front of me again. The resort itself looked empty and desolate, so I didn't stick around for long, but the view was magnificent.

I took a few shots without that tree in the foreground, but in my mind I kept hearing my high-school photography teacher nagging me to stop wasting film on empty sky, so I tried to balance it a little bit here. Now I'm not so sure it worked after all. Oh well--a big, shady tree is always welcome on a hot summer day of pedaling up and down hills.

Prickly pear cactus at Thomson-Fulton Sand Prairie

I finally found my picture of prickly pear in bloom at the Thomson-Fulton Sand Prairie. See, I told you they were cacti. This bunch looks ready to take over the trail!

Imagine... the Grand Chicagoland Trail

I have a vision. It's a small vision, compared to that of the Grand Illinois Trail, but it's a respectable vision (I think) for someone in the Chicago area who has no car, limited funds, only a week's worth of vacation time left for the summer, a preference for traveling alone, and a strange sense of insecurity and loss when there's no Metra station nearby. It's basically the eastern section of the Grand Illinois Trail. I know, it's arguably the least interesting section, especially for someone who already lives there, but you work with what you've got, right?

Well, what I've got is a Grand Illinois Trail Guide and a Chicagoland Bicycle Map. Using the latter, I plotted a route from Joliet to Oswego (let's hope rampant development hasn't made it obsolete); using both, I envision the "Grand Chicagoland Trail." Ride along the Fox River from your point of choice all the way down to Oswego, skip over to Joliet, pick up the Old Plank Road Trail, and proceed as directed by the GIT Guide. Come back down the Fox River, and ta-dah, you've just done a mini-loop on the Grand Illinois Trail!

There are many bike trails that I still want to explore this summer, but about half of them are in Wisconsin and I don't have a car. This ride, although through every backyard I've ever had and therefore not offering much in the way of anything new, would have the advantage of starting and ending a block away from where I live, all points within biking distance of a train ride home lest I get stranded somewhere. So I'm warning any readers now (are there any readers?) because I'll probably just blog about it here rather than create a new one again. In the future this could turn into a home for all of my GIT-related adventures. Stay tuned...

25 June 2006

Covered bridge near Morrison

Friends of the Parks in Morrison (not to be confused with Friends of the Parks in Chicago--don't miss the L.A.T.E. Ride on July 16!) has been working hard to construct a trail between the city and Morrison-Rockwood State Park. In 2001 they built this covered bridge along with the first part of the trail. If you'd like to help them complete the project, donations can be sent to:

Friends of the Parks
P.O. Box 14
Morrison, IL 61270

Art, ideas, thoughts, and coffee in Rock Island

On our first night in Rock Island, on another rider's recommendation, I headed across the street from the hotel to Theo's Java Club. (Yes, it was full of "kids," but I work at a university and live across the street from a high school, so I see "kids" all the time. And at 24, I was probably a "kid" myself to most of the other riders--I had a hard time keeping up with all you retired folks!)

Anyway, I ordered a mocha, grabbed a copy of the River Cities' Reader, plunked myself down in a booth, hummed along to the music playing in the background, and pondered the irony of feeling right at home even though I was surrounded by strangers in a place I'd never been before. I guess that's urban living for you--once you get used to it, it's awfully hard to leave. You start to take certain things for granted, like independent coffee shops where you can listen to good music and read the weekly freebie until a decent hour of the night.

I read about Dan Carmody's Radical Ideas to Grow the Quad Cities and was suddenly struck with a radical idea of my own--I could live here. I'd been in Rock Island for all of six hours, but what I'd seen and heard and read about in those six hours was enough to make me wonder what the market was for technical editors with degrees in history of science. Okay, maybe not really, but I was intrigued. Ever since I graduated and then got a job at the same university that I graduated from, I've figured that if I'm going to call Chicago home for the indeterminate future, then I should try to do what I can to help make this city a better place. But sometimes that's a rather hopeless thought--on one hand, there's a sense that Chicago can't be saved, what with the corruption, the scandals, the crime, the strained resources, the large swaths of urban decay and shameless gentrification; on the other hand, does it need to be saved, with the hoards of tourists who arrive every day and gush about how beautiful and clean the city is, how much there is to do, how much has been poured in to making it an urban playground?

In Rock Island, I found a city--actually several--that had so much potential to be all of that and more, as well as a little bit more need for people with the enthusiasm to make it happen. I could live here, I thought, and find ways to help make the Quad Cities another urban jewel in the midwest, on a level with Milwaukee, Chicago, and St. Louis (although according to that manifesto, I don't have much time). But maybe I'm just being a Chicago snob again. Maybe the last thing that Quad Cities folks want to hear is, "Well, in Chicago..." over and over when planning their development.

But in this unfamiliar place, I felt a familiar sense of being at home--except with a refreshing lack of all that ugly suburban sprawl that spreads like a cancer over northeast Illinois (and northwest Indiana, and southeast Wisconsin). I could leave my apartment and travel 40 miles in any direction (well, except for east) and still not be in the country yet. Meanwhile, our neighbors on the Mississippi still have a lot of open space to bike through. Maybe it's the other way around--maybe Chicago has a lot to learn from the Quad Cities.

None of this really has anything to do with that picture, except that it's the only one I took of anything in Rock Island. I have a dozen or so of Davenport from across the river, but Rock Island looked so ho-hum from the other side that I decided to save my camera's memory for more interesting things. (There I go again with the Chicago snobbery, but I come home every evening and see this, so can you blame me?)

I can't decide now whether that's supposed to be a bald eagle or a turkey vulture in the Rock Island photo above. Bald eagles frequent the area when they migrate and are hence much celebrated in local art, but someone noted that turkey vultures like to roost there in the WHBF tower. (WHBF has an interesting history, if you're into that sort of thing.)

23 June 2006

Self-portrait in Port Byron (sort of)

There are no pictures of myself on the GITAP, at least none that were taken with my own camera, but my bike is a huge part of me, so it makes a good proxy for a self-portrait. This was taken on the riverfront in Port Byron.

Caution: gravel road ahead

Where the paved trail ends and the gravel road begins, I was grateful for my Trek hybrid with the spiffy Kevlar-lined tires. I can ride anywhere on that thing--except over mountains. But that's okay because I don't live near any mountains, and why would you want to mountain bike when there are so many great trails and on-road routes nearby anyway?

Thanks a lot, everyone!

Super-duper extra-special thanks to the folks who made the 2006 GITAP possible, even from bad angles. Kudos for all the great work!

21 June 2006

Barge passing by Mississippi Palisades

Contrary to that popular Girl Scout camp song, barges do not, in fact, go silently; you can hear them for miles. And they're probably hauling gravel or rock salt or something boring like that instead of treasure. Oh well, they're still very impressive. This photo was also taken from Lookout Point at Mississippi Palisades State Park.

Fishing in Port Byron

If any of you ornithological experts can tell me what kind of bird this is, let me know. (Click on the picture for a sharper one; Blogger resizes things weirdly.)

Pretty flowers at Ben Butterworth Parkway

Who says Moline is ugly? Just because it's the agricultural implement capital of the world doesn't mean there's no opportunity to stop and smell the flowers.

Reflections along the Hennepin Canal

The Hennepin Canal State Trail and Parkway still has many relics from its past, such as the remains of the locks and dams and this old drawbridge (which no longer draws). It was a little sad to see them, but on the other hand it's great that all of these old transportation corridors throughout the state have been converted to recreational trails, so they can be used again and keep all the small towns on the map. I like to think of it as a way to recapture and preserve our heritage, and I was glad for the opportunity to see some of it on my trip. I also thought it was freakin' hot that day, so my mind wandered a little.

Erie town square

Erie has the most adorable town square, as well as great food at PJ's.

Lookout Point at Mississippi Palisades

The view downriver from Lookout Point at Mississippi Palisades State Park is always breathtaking, but I happened to be there at the perfect time of morning on the lovliest day in June. That's the Savanna-Sabula Bridge in the background.

Government Bridge toward Davenport

Government Bridge is how you get to Iowa if you're a pedestrian--the longest, most unbearable stretch of open metal grating that I've ever had to endure. (Everyone made fun of me for walking my bike across with my eyes half shut. Next time I'll take the Channel Cat Water Taxi.) My personal feelings about bridges and large bodies of water aside, I have enormous respect and appreciation for all the hard work that people such as Chuck Oestreich have put into making this pedestrian crossing possible. I was very impressed by how dedicated Quad Cities folks are to creating, maintaining, and improving their extensive pedestrian trail network. (No wonder the Quad Cities are hosting the 2006 National Trails Symposium in October!) I think in Chicago there is more focus on bike lanes, traffic laws, and driver awareness, but it was refreshing to see an urban area with so many interconnected off-street trails. I'll have to go back again someday and explore them some more.

Thomson-Fulton Sand Prairie

I've seen prickly pear growing in odd places in the Midwest before (they're all over the Indiana Dunes), but it was a treat to see them in bloom at the Thomson-Fulton Sand Prairie. I tried to capture some of those papery, yellow flowers in this shot of the sand prairie--can you tell those are cacti in the foreground? Trust me, they're cacti.

Nature Spiral at Illiniwek Forest Preserve

I encountered this gem at the Illiniwek Forest Preserve, east of Hampton. The Nature Spiral is part garden, part public art installation, part nature center, and part celebration of the river and its bounty. The rocks are arranged in a spiral and carved with different animals and plants that live in and along the Mississippi (do you see the bald eagle on the rock in the foreground?), interspersed with trees and wildflowers.

Upper Mississippi River National Wildlife and Fish Refuge

"The Upper Mississippi River National Wildlife and Fish Refuge is beautiful, healthy, and supports abundant and diverse native fish, wildlife, and plants for the enjoyment and thoughtful use of current and future generations."
-from the Refuge Vision.

Rock Island is nice, but this leg of the Great River Trail has forever captured my heart.

"We should roast an ox!"

In Milledgeville (a town so small I can't find a Web site for it), we saw an impressive mural painted to commemorate the 100th anniversary of the railroad coming through the town. (I think; I had to delete the pictures of the informational plaques because I was running out of memory. I do remember, in my own memory, something about the townsfolk celebrating by roasting an ox. Can anyone confirm this?) The people in the little general store in that building were all very nice, and I'm sure they appreciated the sudden flood of business we brought with us.

On not getting lost

I'm the queen of getting lost, so I was terrified that I'd end up wandering forever around rural Illinois, never to be seen or heard from again. Luckily we all had the best maps and cue sheets ever and I had my (now) trusty Arkel MapCase. Oh, and there were dots painted on the ground at every turn. Those were nice, too.

20 June 2006

Morning on the Missippi

This is was taken on the Ralph B. Birks Bicycle Trail, heading east through the Ben Butterworth Memorial Parkway in Moline. Digital zoom made it blurry, and I can't remember which of my fellow riders that was, but it's still a pretty picture.

Why I braved Blackjack

As you can see, northwestern Illinois is strikingly, beautifully not flat. This makes for a challenging ride, especially along the infamous Blackjack Road, but the amazing views more than make up for it. This was taken on my way down the huge hill back to Hanover. (No, I didn't make it all the way to Galena.)

Jennifer's 2006 GITAP Narrative

Hello, I'm Jennifer and I'm from Chicago. I work at the University of Chicago Press, where I copyedit articles for the Astrophysical Journal. Last year I started my adventures as a bicycle commuter, having realized that a bicycle can be a primary mode of transportation even if you're not just a broke college student who needs to get to campus and back. So I spent the summer perfecting the art of zipping around the city through traffic with the help of the Chicagoland Bicycle Federation's Bike to Work Guide, Tricks & Tips for Biking to Work, and the Chicago Bike Map. This summer I wanted to try something new and different, like get out of the city and take a nice long bike trip through places I hadn't already seen before. Surfing around bike-related Web sites one night eventually led me to the GITAP bike tour. "Wow, that looks like fun!"

So I learned that each year in June, the Grand Illinois Trail and Parks ride, sponsored by the League of Illinois Bicyclists and the Illinois Department of Natural Resources, showcases some of northern Illinois' fantastic state parks, increases awareness of the Grand Illinois Trail, and offers riders a chance to explore the cities, towns, and attractions along the route. This was my first year participating in the GITAP (and indeed my first bike trip of its kind), but I know I'll be back!

This year the ride featured northwest Illinois. We started in Rochelle, heading northwest along the Rochelle Bike Path. From there we meandered along country roads north and west to Lowden State Park, then across the Rock River into Oregon, and finally to White Pines Forest State Park, where we spent the night. The next day we headed west, through Polo, Milledgeville, and Thomson, then up the Great River Trail through the Upper Mississippi River National Wildlife and Fish Refuge to Savanna, then to Mississippi Palisades State Park. Day 3 was a loop ride to Hanover and back; from there we had the option of riding up to Galena. (I stopped at the top of the notorious 15% grade on Blackjack Road and headed east to Chestnut Mountain Resort instead, which turned out to be not the best of ideas, but at least I got some great photographs.)

Day 4 was my favorite day: we traversed the entire length of the Great River Trail, with many beautiful (and diverse!) views of the Mississippi River. We headed south from Savanna back through the refuge to Thomson, then through the Thomson-Fulton Sand Prairie to Fulton, where we saw De Immigrant, an authentic Dutch windmill. Then we went down to Albany, through the Albany Mounds, then through Cordova, Port Byron, and Rapids City. At that point the river begins to turn west, and you start noticing all the RiverWay kiosks, which feature two of my most favorite things: maps and history. At Illiniwek Forest Preserve we passed the Nature Spiral, then headed into Hampton, then approached East Moline, where you notice how urban the landscape has become. We kept going through Moline, which has a beautiful riverfront, and finally arrived at Augustana College in Rock Island.

The next day was our "day off," so we had many options. Some people rode a century to New Boston and back, some people explored the many, many trails in the Quad Cities, and some people decided not to bike at all. I decided to be boring and run some errands, so I searched the yellow pages and found a Walgreens, a Whitey's, a bike shop, and the Convention and Visitor's Bureau, then headed out in cutoffs and a t-shirt to do the badass urban biker thing. I did get to visit Iowa, which turned out to be less exciting than I thought it would be, but that wasn't Davenport's fault.

On Day 6 we traveled back up the Great River Trail to East Moline, then wound over through Carbon Cliff to Colona and picked up the Hennepin Canal State Trail. Just north of Geneseo we struck north to Erie, then through Morrison, up to Morrison-Rockwood State Park for the night. On the last day we went back through Morrison to Sterling, then to Dixon, and then back over to Rochelle. Whew! What a week!

In other news, I've started a biking page on my (free!) University of Chicago home page, mostly because I was tired of sorting through a zillion bookmarks on multiple computers. Please feel free to check it out, especially if you're in the Chicago area. (I am and have been all my life, so it's mostly regional stuff. If I don't link to what you're looking for, Mike's Mega Bicycle Links probably does.) In the meantime, I hope you enjoy my photos (please note that the individual blog posts are in the order in which I felt like posting them--not in chronological order). If you're a fellow GITAP rider and would like to add any, please let me know!