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  • Writer's pictureAl S.

The Mighty Mississippi and the Halfway Illusion - Matteson, IL to Davenport, IA

Updated: Jan 24, 2023


Illinois is a very bike-friendly state. There are bike trails and canal towpaths all the way from the Indiana state line to the Mississippi River.



 

Jun 1

Mileage: 75.7 miles

Odometer Start: 3093.3

Odometer End: 3115.1

Avg Speed: 12.6 mph

Max Speed: 24.1 mph

Riding Time: 5 hrs, 58 mins

Matteson, IL to Ottawa, IL


I left Matteson, IL and my comfy hotel room first thing in the morning. I followed the Old Plank Road Rail Trail all the way to Joliet, IL. This trail cuts across the southern suburbs of Chicago and is paved the whole way. You can't ask for better riding than a bike trail that is separate from the road and is paved. The pavement is key because it allows you to go much faster than a gravel path, plus (and this is a huge plus) it is smoother and gentler on the area of your body that makes contact with the bike saddle. :)


Tacos-R-Us in Joliet, IL. Yum!

Due to the recent flat tires, I had to stop at a bike shop to pick up a couple of new tubes. I found Adam's Bike Shop in New Lenox, IL. Adam's shop was located a stone's throw from the Old Plank Road Trail. He was very helpful and a pleasure to deal with.


While fixing the flats on the previous days, I had noticed that my pump didn't feel exactly right. It seemed like the gasket might be failing and I could not risk having another flat tire with a bad pump. Therefore, I went ahead and bought a new one that Adam recommended.


I stopped in Joliet, IL for lunch at a taco stand that happened to be on my route. It was a memorable place and served some tasty tacos. It isn't often that I feel the need to take a picture of a taco stand... but this was the exception.


The eastern terminus of the Illinoi & Michigan Canal in Joliet, IL.

The Illinois & Michigan Canal terminates in Joliet. This canal features a towpath similar to the C&O Canal in Maryland. It can be used for biking and runs 61 miles to the town of LaSalle, IL.


Unlike the C&O Canal, the I&M Canal towpath appears to be barely used. I did not see more than 10 people on the trail the entire afternoon. The people that I did encounter were locals that were out fishing. There was not a single other touring cyclist on this trail.


I eventually found a quiet spot just off the towpath next to a communications building and cell tower. The site had been freshly mowed, but I didn't see another soul for the entire evening.



 

Jun 2

Mileage: 68.6 miles

Odometer End: 3183.7

Avg Speed: xx.x mph

Max Speed: xx.x mph

Riding Time: x hrs, xx mins

Ottawa, IL to Mineral, IL


I accidentally reset my cycling computer at some point this afternoon, so I lost the detailed statistics for the day.


The I&M Canal Towpath... this is about average for this bike trail.

The I&M Canal is flat and runs separate from the roads, but it is not a great trail. It is mostly a single track dirt path that more closely resembles a hiking trail than a bike trail. There are many spots where both sides of the trail are lined by grass (or weeds) that are waist high. I was paying careful attention to my arms and legs for ticks.


My bike is specifically made to be a touring bike. It has wider tires, a sturdier frame, and a lot of pre-drilled mount points where I can attach racks, water bottles, and other necessities for riding long distances. The bike was made by a company called Salsa that is located in Minnesota. The specific model is a "Vaya". My bike was able to handle this trail, but there is no way you could ride the I&M Canal on a less robust bike.


The I&M Canal at its finest... there is no getting around this.

As mentioned previously, this trail appears to be lightly used. I did not see another touring cyclist on the entire length of the canal. In addition, the organization that oversees the canal does not seem to be particularly engaged. I encountered a point on the trail this morning where the trail was completely closed and impassable due to construction. There were no warning signs, no detour signs, and no provisions made to allow cyclists a route across the construction zone... there was just a large wall of dirt and a huge pit in the middle of the trail with dense woods on both sides. It appeared that a pipeline was being installed or repaired. Regardless, I had no choice but to turn around, ride 3 miles back to the nearest road crossing, and then ride the roads around the construction area. It was annoying, but not an insurmountable problem, but still, a "road closed" and "detour" sign wouldn't have been too difficult.


I reached the end of the Illinois & Michigan Canal at Peru, Illinois. I rode through the nice residential neighborhoods leading out of town and ran across a group of kids selling lemonade. It was a warm day, I needed some hydration, and they were selling it for 50 cents a glass. I handed them a dollar bill and "I'll take 2, please".


The Hennepin Canal Towpath near Bureau, IL.

The Hennepin Canal begins just a couple of miles downstream on the Illinois River in Bureau, Illinois. This canal runs 60 miles from Bureau to Colona, IL adjacent to the Mississippi River. (There is another 40 miles worth of canal that runs on a spur up to Rock Falls, IL).


I rode a couple of miles on the road to reach the start of the Hennepin Canal and the associated towpath. This towpath was much better than the I&M Canal. The trail is better maintained and easier riding than the previous canal. Still, it appears this bike trail is almost unused as I did not see another cyclist during my time on the canal.


As evening approached, I stopped at a pleasant little spot with a good view of the canal right next to a canal access point with parking near the tiny town of Mineral, IL. This also happened to be the junction of the main branch of the Hennepin Canal and the spur that runs up to Rock Falls. As I finished setting up camp and started working on preparing my dinner, a car pulled into the parking lot. A gentleman got out of his car and made his way over to me. He introduced himself and started asking me about my trip. He had driven past on the road that crosses the canal and saw my tent. He actually turned around and came back just to talk to me. He was specifically interested in some of my thoughts on touring by bicycle, how I had planned my route, and some of the places I was planning to visit out west. This is something I experienced numerous times on this journey, (most) people view you as interesting and non-threatening when you are traveling by bicycle. They are much more likely to approach you and strike up a conversation because you are doing something unusual.


 

Jun 3

Mileage: 63.6 miles

Odometer End: 3247.4

Avg Speed: 11.7 mph

Max Speed: 31.8 mph

Riding Time: 5 hrs, 25

Mineral, IL to Scott County Park near Davenport, IA



The banks of the Mississippi River looking over toward Davenport, Iowa.

There was another 30 miles remaining to reach the western terminus of the Hennepin Canal where the Rock River runs through Colona, IL. This location is just west of Moline, IL which is on the banks of the Mississippi River. I covered the 10 miles over roads to Moline and then followed the river down to a point where a water taxi docks and provides transport across to the Iowa side of the river. I was standing next to the river and waiting for the water taxi by noon. I was pretty happy with myself.



My ticket for the Channel Cat Water Taxi... valid for the entire day.

The water taxi dropped me on the other side with no issues. The crew didn't even blink when they saw my loaded bike. I suspect I was not the first person to bring a bike loaded with camping gear onto the boat. This water taxi was the first time since I left Baltimore that I had used a powered vehicle to transport me further west. It almost felt like cheating.


The Mississippi River... the realm of riverboats, Mark Twain, and the cargo super-highway of middle America. Most people think of the Mississippi River as being in the middle of the United States... a sort of halfway point between the coasts. I would suggest that these people have not looked carefully at a map.


The bike enjoying a relaxing ride across the river and letting someone else do the work for a change.

Initially, reaching the Mississippi River felt like a major milestone in this trans-continental trek. I have to admit that it was definitely a morale booster. Reaching the banks of the river gave me the feeling of making real, tangible progress. Not only is the river a major landmark, it also serves as the state line between Illinois and Iowa. That means I have completed riding across 8 of the 15 states of my planned route. Entering Iowa would be the beginning of state number 9.


A riverboat docked in Moline, IL as viewed from the water taxi.

I had a self-satisfied sense of accomplishment from reaching this point using nothing but pedal power... then I looked at a map. Eyeballing the map, it appears the middle of the United States is somewhere in western Nebraska. That is about 600 to 800 miles west of The Mississippi River. If I had to summarize that realization in one word, the word would be "sobering". If you aren't careful, the distances that have to be covered when crossing the country can be discouraging. I decided that it wasn't a good idea to look at the big map of the US because sometimes the task can just seem too big. From now on, I would focus on a smaller map that only shows a distance that I can cover in a week.


I stopped in Davenport for lunch at a Mexican restaurant and then started making my way northwest. I camped for the night at the Scott County Park about 15 miles north of Davenport. This campground had showers, which was a big bonus. It had been a couple of days since I had access to showers and it had been pretty warm. Not only did it feel really good to get clean, I am certain that everyone that I interacted with me the next day was appreciative of my improved aroma.



 



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