Sunday, October 18, 2009

I&M Canal, take II

A personal best today – 38.7 miles, from Channahon to just past Morris on the I&M Canal trail. And it may just have been the most enjoyable bike ride of my life.

Drove on I-55 south to Rt. 6 west, and followed the signs to the trail access. The Lonestar Restaurant and Lounge in Channahon provided the traditional pre-ride diner breakfast. Pretty good food, and the waitress might have called me “hon” if she had seen me there before.

This time, I set off in the correct direction from the trail access (see my earlier entry on the I&M Canal for a description of the bass-ackwards map signboards).

Lock #8 and the locktender's house.

The Channahon access is right where the Kankakee and Des Plaines rivers come together to form the Illinois River. As you head west, the canal is on your right and the Illinois is on your left. If you’re doing this on a brilliant fall day under a crisp, cloudless sky, with the water a brilliant sparkling blue and the maples on the hillsides exploding with red and gold, well, there was so much color it was almost painful to behold. "Spectacular" is about the only word for it. Just about every time I looked up, I gasped.

The trail is the standard limestone screenings in good shape. There are a few short, 50-yard stretches that have been patched with gravel, mostly in the three miles between Locks 6 and 7 and Lock 8. After that, the trail is in very good condition, at least as far as Morris and about two miles beyond, which is where I hit the 20-mile mark and decided I’d better turn around.

The mile markers include factoids about the I&M Canal, such as: "Canal diggers often demanded that whiskey be provided as part of their wages because they believed it would protect them from diseases." Yah. "Diseases," got it. Payday must have been interesting back in 1846.

I really needed a Diet Coke at the halfway point, so I left the trail at Morris and explored the downtown area, looking for a fountain (personal peccadillo: it’s a fountain Diet Coke or nothing. No cans or bottles, please).

Downtown Morris was deserted on a Sunday morning, but uptempo music was playing through speakers mounted on the lightpoles. Stoplights dutifully cycled for no one. Yes, it was creepy.

The Jacob Michael Eckstein towboat (5,600 horsepower) rumbles past the Discovery 7 (.4 horsepower).

Found “The Bigger Bite” sandwich shop and got my coke, but not before the woman behind the counter warned me about “all the homeless people” that live along the towpath. I hadn’t seen anyone but yuppies on expensive bikes (no fixies; that trend hasn’t really hit here yet) and retirees on tandems. Chalked it up to urban legend.

I chugged back east, ruefully noting my average speed dropping as my legs gave out. Twelve mph, 11, 10 ... Then the bicycle gods smiled on this unworthy one in the form of a nice breeze from the southwest. The 15-knot zephyr definitely helped get me through those last five miles.

Arrived back at the car wobbly-legged and ravenous – I absolutely vaporized a Subway six-inch chicken teriyaki on wheat on the way home. Pretty sure I could have eaten three.

I’m not ready for the Century just yet – but I’m starting to think it just might happen next year, and probably on the I&M Canal Trail.

There's lots of online info on the (more interesting that you'd think) history of the canal, including maps 'n' such.

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