Listen, there were mules long before there were iron horses

I can’t believe I’m gonna say this. But after a couple of weeks of riding well-paved, incredibly scenic rail trails through four or five states…I was getting sort of bored with the, um, scenic sameness of it all.

Don’t get me wrong. We kicked off the 18th day of our Great American Rail Trail Expedition From D.C. To The Mississippi River in Frankfort. It is by any definition a world class trail town. And the Old Plank Road Trail is, by any definition, a world class rail-trail. We were happy to have experienced both the town and the trail.

Still, as we headed west on Old Plank I couldn’t shake this eerie feeling that we were, oh, I dunno, being watched. Albeit by a rather affable Big Brother.

I was looking for something less manicured. Something with rough edges. So I breathed a sigh of relief when we came to this graffiti bridge.

It’s nothing you’re gonna see on a ceiling in the Vatican, understand. But it’s real in its outer-edge-of-Chicago grittiness.

Hey! Remember that movie Wild Hogs? Well, that’s John Travolta on the left. Tim Allen on the right. And Bill Macy in the middle (go ahead, ask Bill to show you his Apple tattoo). Their hogs are displayed below.

Here’s the conversation that ensued when we finally got off the well manicured Old Plank and onto…diamond in the rough Illinois and Michigan Canal Trail.

Is this it?

Yeah, this is it.

You sure?

Yeah, I’m sure.

Well, this must be it then.

It was like, after days and days and days of gliding over asphalt we suddenly found ourselves back on the old C&O Canal Towpath trail. Where we started our journey 18 days and more than 700 miles ago.

For days we had been following path forged by long gone ghost trains.

Now, all of a sudden, as though we had been caught up in a time warp, we were following a path blazed when mules, not iron horses, did the heavy lifting.

How primitive was this trail? Well, we kept seeing upright sticks to alert us to towpath potholes.

Walt kept asking me the name of the trail we were on. I said it was the Illinois & Michigan Canal Trail. But Walt, being Walt, refused to believe me until he came upon incontrovertible evidence.

(Yesterday, Walt accused me of having no idea where we were. Walt is insufferable.)

So is Joe. But I digress.

The point is, we were back in the wilds. Where manly men don’t need no stinking asphalt to get from one place to another.

(BTW: Nice swan, huh?)

Back in the day they used mule-drawn flatboats to ferry the stuff of progress from the Great Lakes to the Mississippi River.

Things have changed.

They’ve changed a lot. Listen, I dunno what the U.S. Government is doing behind all that chain link. And I don’t wanna know,

Ah, but the detritus of that earlier age of commerce remains. The old locks are testament to frontier entrepreneurship.

The remnants of the old canal system are, in some places, weed-choked culverts and, in others, free-flowing white water.

But if you think the old towpath has seen better days, think again.

The communities along the I&M Canal Trail have clung to their heritage. Towns like Morris have blossomed because people want to be there.

We certainly wanted to be there. Although, as usual, I’m not altogether sure Rosie did.

Apropos of nothing at all. I on our ride today I noticed this cross someone had erected – and still lovingly maintains – on the towpath.

I don’t know who Gregory James Mosher was, but somebody surely misses him.

Oh, one other thing. I previously mentioned how refreshing it is to, finally, be riding in a blue state.

I came upon these signs today.

And I said to myself “Dorothy, I have a feeling we’re not in The Great DeSantizer’s ‘Free State Of Florida’ anymore.”

(BTW: Don’t tell anybody back in Florida that I call myself Dorothy. I think there are laws against that now.)

We will be following this mule trodden towpath all the way to journey’s end on the Mississippi River three days hence. And so tomorrow we ride.

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