Gutting it out like the Shining Rock Orienteer I always was

I’m not gonna lie to you, friends and neighbors. Today was tough.

And on paper it shouldn’t have been.

Nineteen days into our Great American Rail Trail Expedition from D.C. to the Mississippi River a mere 32 mile ride should have been…well…a walk in the park.

Au contraire (that’s French for on the contrary.)

That 32 miles was entirely on the Illinois & Michigan Canal Trail.

And the I&MC is a cruel mistress.

At times riding its hard packed dirt surface is like gliding on air. A pure pleasure.

And then, of a sudden, it’ll narrow to barely the width of our tires before disappearing entirely.

And the next thing you know, you’re bumping up and down like you’re atop that mechanical bull in Urban Cowboy.

And then the track dissolves into mud. And suddenly you’ve ridden into a running stream that threatens to suck your tires into the very bowels of the earth itself (he said bombastically).

Listen, Joe told us he actually ended up in the canal at one point. But Joe can be such a drama queen, don’t you know.

In short, today was wonderful.

I loved every dirty, gritty, soggy, slogging inch of it.

And I’ll tell you why.

Because it reminded me of the days of my youth (actually of my middle-age) when Bruce and I were charter members of the Shining Rock Orienteering Society.

That’s Bruce on the far right. I’m the bearded kid in the middle.

Back then we routinely went into the wilds and purposefully set our feet down upon unknown paths.

Paths that would inevitably lead us into dire straits: Subjecting us to rain, sleet, blizzards, soul crushing switchbacks and such.

And every time we would gut it out. (Having no choice, the alternative being to lay down and die.)

Listen, I’m not the kid (I mean the middle-aged guy) I was back then. But today, in the spirit of the Shining Rock Orienteers, I cheerfully gutted it out.

And for a 75-year old man that’s not bad. (Course, I didn’t have a 45-pound backpack weighing me down.)

But I digress. Here’s what else happened today.

I came upon the ruins of a once mighty structure of industry that had long ago been abandoned and claimed by nature itself.

It made me think of Shelley’s Ozymandias.

I figured out that if you turn your back on a railroad bridge around here for a minute or two, somebody’s gonna express all over it.

But, listen, that’s an old tradition around here.

Because while exploring the ruins of this ancient canal lock, I stumbled upon this authentic display of frontier graffiti.

Hey, they used to charge a dollar a rail car to cross this bridge into Marseilles. But I think passengers were conned into believing the bouillabaisse there was the real deal.

Still, not every bridge hereabouts leads to nowhere.

That’s a peck of bushels. (Get it? A bushel and a peck? Oh never mind.)

Personally, I’m glad the Sloth still lives.

But, seriously, are that many truck drivers letting Google put them on a dirt trail to justify posting signs telling them not to do it? Are we witnessing the death of common sense at long last?

Yes, she mules are smarter than he mules. And, yes, there were lady locktenders back on the manly frontier. Live with it dudes.

A giant ice cube. Toll collectors from hell. And the Miami tribe decamps to Florida after their hunting grounds became a summer resort.

Did I get all that right?

Oh yeah, mules were slow. The military-industrial complex almost weaponized the I&MC. And when man plans, nature laughs.

This is Bruce scowling on the left. This is Rosie scowling on the right. You decide who’s in charge here.

After 32 challenging miles we commenced to wine and beer tasting in Utica. Rosie was still scowling.

In case you’re wondering. Utica is a great trail town.

Two days hence we expect the trees to part and the mighty Mississippi to reveal itself at long last!

But let us not count our chickens.

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