Bike path by the water. Photo from the Travers' travels'.

On Wednesday morning, September 6, Pat, my husband, and I found our way to a section of the Illinois Prairie Path cycling through Warrenville, Naperville, Aurora,and Romeoville, Illinois. We dodged traffic and rode on many shared use paths. The next day we took on a part of the Illinois and Michigan Canal Trail, a National Heritage Area. Each mile was marked with signage about the canal. As we had previously learned from cycling the C and O Canal, by the time these canals were built they were obsolete. For a few years this canal did move a significant number of people and supplies from the south to the north, before the railroads took hold. This canal purportedly made Chicago. Unfortunately, several miles of the canal no longer have water, The surface and width of the trail kept changing.  Pat, usually ahead by a mile, spooked the deer, the muskrats, and the great blue herons. When we arrived in the city of Joliet, the trail disappeared, forcing us to cross a few miles on city streets until the trail reappeared.



We soon discovered we weren’t ready for 60-mile days after minimal training in the summer. We barreled ahead, until I found myself going slower and slower. I was questioning my abilities when at an intersection, I checked my back tire. Totally flat.

It was the back tire, the harder one to change. With nothing else to do, we set to work taking the tire off my bicycle and inserting a new inner tube. However, because we had not organized well, we struggled to find the tire lever, extra inner tube, and tire pump. And then we had a meltdown and dumped all four panniers all over the path.

As Pat continued to struggle to reinsert the pin that holds the wheel in place, I contemplated calling for an Uber. At the moment, a couple pulled up in their car and asked if we needed help. “We saw you 45 minutes ago and since you are still here, we figured we’d ask.” These two good Samaritans were exactly who we needed. The gentleman, who builds bicycles as a hobby, refused to give up and eventually managed to dislodge the grit keeping the pin from locking in place. We thanked them profusely. Given the time of day, we determined we’d never make the last 20 miles before nightfall. Three miles up the road toward Interstate 80, we found an inexpensive hotel and a pizza and salad at Pizza Hut.

By Friday morning, refreshed once again, we returned to the town of Morris and the Illinois and Michigan Canal trail. Our destination was to cycle the remainder of the canal to La Salle. We took a lunch break on the church steps in Ottawa, eating our sandwiches and cashews while listening to church bells. Ottawa is known as the place where Abraham Lincoln and Stephen Douglas first debated whether slaves had equal rights. While Abraham Lincoln advocated for equal rights, white or black, Stephen Douglas saw it as a decision to be left up to each state. In the center of the square, there is a statue commemorating this debate surrounded by a beautiful fountain.

At the canal’s end in La Salle, we were certain we would find a place to stay in the city. But we were mistaken. The town was fairly empty with many boarded-up store fronts. We did find the replica canal boat that takes paying customers up the canal a short distance with a horse but we passed on this activity. It was time to find a bicycle shop, add more air to all our tires and purchase a new inner tube. It turned out the bicycle shop was an additional 3 miles away, also up by an Interstate 80 entrance and that the shop had moved to another location. Luckily it wasn’t far away. That night, we stayed in a Holiday Inn Express which turned out to be an excellent choice because of its proximity to the bicycle shop. In the morning, on our way out of our hotel room, I looked at my back tire. It was once again flat.

Pat pumped a bit of air in my tire, and we returned to the bicycle shop a good 40 minutes before it opened. When the owner arrived, using a magnifying glass he found a thorn in my tire. “That’s what’s causing your flats,” he said. Rather than try to patch it, I opted for a new more durable tire. We had heard that the Hennepin Canal, next of our list, had 10 miles of new rough gravel making cycling on it somewhat treacherous. I needed a good tire to see me through.


In the small town of Bureau Junction, after 15 miles of cycling on roads, we entered the Hennepin Canal Trail. Our goal was Lock 22 which offered a primitive camping site. This canal was filled with water but the cycling surface for the first 10 miles was new chunky gravel. Unlike the Illinois and Michigan Canal trail, there was no information anywhere about this canal and no mileage markers. The interpretive signs were damaged making them unreadable. The visitor center was closed. The only people we saw on the trail were fishing at some of the different locks.

At around 5 p.m. we had 5 more miles to go to our designated campsite. I was beginning to wonder if that particular campsite was a good idea. That’s when we spotted the only commercial enterprise on the entire canal, the Hickory Grove Campground. It looked appealing, had running water, showers, picnic tables and RVs everywhere. Joan, one of the two owners, found us a tent spot. “Make sure not to camp under any tree limbs,” she said; we had one fall in the tent camping site a while ago.” “But why are you doing this?” she asked. Wouldn’t you rather take a trip to Hawaii or take up sailing?” We shook our heads. “And whose idea was this trip?” Pat pointed at me. That’s when she loaded him up with a huge bag of popcorn and two popsicles.

We found our spot in the campground and began to set up the tent. It had been two years and we wondered whether we would easily remember. And then, two men in a golf cart pulled up and invited us to have dinner with them and their wives. “We barbecued chicken and there’s plenty.”

We looked at our planned dinner – cold baked beans and yogurt and raced to their campsite. And that’s how we spent the rest of the evening -- having a meal together, telling stories around a bonfire until late in the night and making new acquaintances. The day that began with a thorn turned in to a rose.

On Sunday, our goal was to continue on the Hennepin Canal for 36 more miles and then maneuver on roads and other trails to Davenport, Iowa. The canal trail was never ending; water, trees, sand, lily pads; again and again. At last, we arrived at the canal’s end and quickly found our way to a Seven 11, buying Dr. Peppers with ice as our celebration. We had 20 more miles to Davenport, our stop for the night but it was a treat to cycle in neighborhoods and on paved roads once again. We landed on the Great River Trail next to the Mississippi River. We stopped to admire the mighty river, cycled a few more miles and crossed over the river on an expansive bridge that holds vehicles and pedestrians. We are now in Davenport and staying on the floor of our Warm Shower’s hosts print shop. Every day is an adventure.