Saturday, June 16

(Late) Ride Report: Sunday, June 10, 2007—Hennepin Canal Parkway State Park, Sheffield, IL

Picture-perfect weather on Sunday made the 130 mile trek to Sheffield pure pleasure even though I followed the interstate most of the way... At least this time, I started out early. The new Givi top case exceeded my expectations. I used it to tote my hiking clothes and boots, a book, a SLR camera and several bottles of water. Although it is tricky to open, like the Givi side cases, it’ll loosen up with use.

By late Saturday night, I still had no definite travel plans for Sunday. I decided to head southwest for Hennepin Canal Parkway State Park because it jumped out at me from the atlas. I figured I’d tour the state park and visit the locks. The park is located in the town of Sheffield, IL. It is festival time in Chicago and every weekend is guaranteed to be replete with people and vehicles. I had to wage war to get out of the city. I followed LSD (US 41) south for a brief moment to pick up I-55, which I followed approximately 43 miles to pick up I-80, which took me the next 85 or so miles. I passed through the town of Hennepin, which had I planned better, I would have known to exit there to visit the locks in Hennepin.

I-80 was littered with an extraordinary amount of fresh road kill—big animals-- several deer and huge raccoons that all appeared to have been killed recently. I tried not to focus on the carcasses but I kept my peripheral vision on high alert for animals darting across the highway. Thank goodness, none did. That’s one of the down sides of leaving early--you’re motoring at the breakfast time of four-legged creatures. I made a mental note to leave the park long before their dinnertime.

Hennepin Canal Parkway State Park is a “104.5 mile linear park that spans five counties.” Now listed on the National Register of Historic Places, the canal connects the Illinois and Mississippi Rivers. The place has lots of impressive history about canal construction, politics, and funding. While construction began in 1890, the canal wasn’t completed until 1907. Today, 32 of its 33 locks are still viewable and six of its original aqueducts exist. Unfortunately, I didn’t see any of this! I had to be content with reading about it in the park’s literature. Hennepin is where I would have gotten a better look at the lock system. I saw the park on the map and headed there. A bicycle would have gotten me to the locks easily from the park. (Note to self: This is what happens with eleventh hour decisions about where to ride.) Oh, well... I made the best of my visit to Sheffield and it turned out to be a nice solitary experience. Few people were in and around the park, which became a little spooky after a mile of hiking along one of the unpaved trails that paralleled the river. While out there, I had one of those moments that freaked me. With nothing but trees on one side and the river on the next, I thought of some half-man half-beast leaping from the thick trees attacking me and leaving behind only my head and my camera.

I spent several hours hanging around the park and probably saw a dozen people total. The quiet and serenity of the place was punctuated only by the melodious singing of birds. Bright red cardinals, beautiful blue jays and gold-colored birds swooped across the sky, squawking to alert others of their kind to the presence of a two-footed creature. The most striking sound was the steady “knock-knock” of woodpeckers that I heard all along the trail but never spotted. Their hullabaloo was hearty and consistent. Those new binoculars I purchased—and the National Audubon Society Field Guide to Birds—would have been put to great use on this trip! (Note to self: toss those items into the cases so that they are always on hand!)

I hung around a few hours, experiencing the park’s magnificence on foot and on two wheels, riding its paved roads. Queenie received her share of attention. When I first entered the park, three men and one woman were eating lunch at a picnic table. I parked the bike and headed for the Visitor’s Center—it wasn’t open. So I read the literature they thoughtfully put out. Returning to the bike, one of the men said they were wondering what kind of bike I had. I told them and he walked over. He seemed surprised and said, “We were thinking it was an Italian bike or something because it was so quiet. Yeah, I placed it as a Ducati or the Moto Guzzi.” When I told him it was a Suzuki, his head raised and he looked at me in disbelief. He eyeballed the bike as if trying to verify its roots. “Really, it’s Japanese, a Suzuki? Wow, it’s so quiet.” Later, as I was preparing to leave the park, another man loading his family’s bicycles onto their vehicle, eyed Queenie. “What kind of bike is that?” I told him and he said he’d never seen one like that. “Pretty bike.” I’ve said it before: I like people who like my bike! Queenie’s aftermarket accessories make her difficult to label at a glance. I like that. Keep ‘em guessing.

My idea to run by Hennepin was quelled when I realized it was getting late, I hadn’t had lunch or dinner and was starving. I ate a granola bar before leaving but it didn’t hit the spot.

Jumped on I-80 east and road about 25 uneventful miles until hunger nearly slapped me upside the head. Stopped at a Steak ‘n Shake and had a really good grilled cheese sandwich and a raspberry yoghurt shake. Either that was the best grilled cheese sandwich (with cheddar cheese) that I’ve had or being famished makes even mundane food taste fabulous. At the first bite, I felt my blood sugar level perk up! Such a small thing like stopping to eat can make a huge difference in ride enjoyment—duh!

After that meal, I thoroughly enjoyed riding the next 105 miles back to Chicago. Before the riding season ends, I’m making a trip to Hennepin to see those dang locks and to rollerblade along the many paved trails that follow the river.

Total distance: 260 miles