Days 27 & 28: Illinois (Hillinois, Chillynois)

Trying to make the most of a rainy day in Illinois, I got going on Saturday about half an hour before sunrise. Since I’ve mostly been letting the sun wake me up, this was the first time I’ve been able to watch the sun coming up in a few weeks- and it was fantastic. (The sunrise is one of my favorite things about rowing, incidentally, and makes it worth getting up at 5 to go splash around in the dark.)

I was able to make about 10 miles before the rain started. The next five hours weren’t particularly exciting- I ate breakfast, read, took a nap, and remarked on how it was getting colder as well as windier and rainier- but finally the rain cleared and I got back under way again. While it was finished with its rainy antics, Illinois still had plenty of tricks left to throw at me: rolling hills, the famous “wind coming from every direction you’re trying to bike in,” and even a few snowflakes (I counted 7). As the day went on, the wind gradually lessened and the hills flattened out, so by the time the sun was down, the riding was more or less tolerable.

Waking up (post sunrise) on the following morning, iwas very happy to find that the weather trend had continued overnight, and except for the sub-freezing temperature, the day was just about perfect. Starting out with a stretch of the Tunnel Hill State Trail, I got to see an abundance of icicles (the first ones of the year for me) and a very cool/spooky tunnel. I hadn’t expected to find any rail trails this far west, so although I only followed it for a mile or so, I did get to imagine I was a train, just like back in New York.

Heading north to Carbondale, I encountered the greatest challenge of the Illinois leg of the trip: The Indian restaurant I had hoped to have lunch at was unexpectedly closed. I should point out now that one of the several purposes of this trip is to complete a nationwide evaluation of Indian restaurants. So far, the best was Lumbini in Baltimore, with Princeton NJ coming in a close second, and Taste of India in Charlottesville a distant third. I had high hopes for Reema’s Indian Cuisine, but now I may never know. After coping with the disappointment and having some peanut butter sandwiches for lunch, I headed west towards to Mississippi, where I was rewarded with the most incredibly flat floodplain to ride upon. My goal for today had been to make it to Missouri, but with such an abundance of flat land to traverse I took a scenic detour, riding along the levee on the riverbank and crisscrossing the fields, in total awe of the zero elevation change for almost 12 miles. Curiously, it appears that there is a coal mine only a few hundred meters from the river itself, with a huge conveyor belt that travels up, over the levee and road, and all the way to the river to deposit coal in barges. It’s very loud- I think they keep the machinery running all the time regardless of mining/loading activity- and probably is annoying to live near. But it might explain the villages build seemingly at random in the middle of what’s otherwise a wheat field- I guess someone is doing the mining and loading.

As easy as the flat riding was, the excessive detour pretty much guaranteed that I did not cross the river today, but by early morning tomorrow I expect to be on the western shore.

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