So I gotta ask.
If you were in charge of the Illinois Department of Transportation and you decided to name a highway after Jacques Marquette, the renown Jesuit priest and the first European to explore the upper Mississippi River…
…wouldn’t you want to…
…Oh, I dunno…
…maybe pave said highway and stuff?
Yeah, me too. Right?
I mean, the guy was pretty famous in these parts. They even named a university after him.
After today, I can only imagine that if the Illinois DOT had designed Marquette University it would have dirt floors.
But I’m getting ahead of myself.
Day 20 of our Great American Rail Trail Expedition from D.C. to the Mississippi River began uneventfully. We left the wonderful rail town of North Utica and once more headed west on the Illinois and Michigan Canal Trail.
Despite the fact that the I&MC had very nearly beaten the stuffing out of us the day before. We are nothing if not cockeyed optimists.
And we were pleasantly surprised to discover that the final four miles of the I&MC was rather easily ridden and obstacle free.
Thus we arrived in La Salle (apparently named after another famous Frenchman) relatively incident free and, for us, unflappable.
In regard to La Salle I am prepared to make two observations.
From the historical display canal side, I must conclude that the original settlers were incredibly thin people.
And I’m not making any accusations here. But it seemed to me that the “Canal Boat Mule” on duty today looked an awful lot like a horse. (I wasn’t born yesterday, pal.)
But I digress.
The problems began when we left the canal path and began a several-mile journey on surface roads to our next path – the Hennepin Canal Trail.
Suffice it to say that shorty after leaving La Salle’s neighboring town, Peru, we found ourselves on a state highway that a. had no shoulders to speak of let alone bike path, and b. had a hell of a lot of cars.
But listen, I am nothing if not resourceful (ignore scowling Bruce, I do). So I checked my Komoot app and noticed something called the Marquette Highway just to the south of us that seemed to parallel our route.
Eureka! I said. Or words to that effect.
Long story short I talked the guys into leaving our pre-planned route and diverting toward this highway named after one of the most famous explorers ever to venture this far into the American frontier.
So what happened? A picture is worth a thousand words.
The Marquette Highway turned out to be, not just five miles of gravel, but five miles of incredibly loosely packed and hard to ride on (even with Bruce’s gravel bike) gravel.
Is this any way to treat a famous explorer and a man of God to boot?
I won’t bore you with our laborious efforts to get back on Komoot’s previously planned route. (But I do want to thank the guys for not lashing me to the railroad tracks ala Snidely Whiplash.)
Suffice it to say that it involved a lot of really, really steep climbing that ultimately had at least three out of four of us (coincidently the three who didn’t have an e-bike) dismounting and pushing our bikes uphill.
Nonetheless we persisted. And after considerable travails we finally did make it onto the Hennepin Canal Trail.
It was a beautiful trail.
Alas, it was also a trail loaded down with gravel that was every bit as loose and difficult to negotiate as what we had encountered on the alleged Marquette Highway.
And all that was before we came upon the fallen tree and realized that we had to lift Joe’s e-bike (which weighs as much as a Volkswagen factory) over it.
Apropos of nothing at all. I just have to ask.
I saw this sign on the trail today. What the hell does it mean?
That dogs, horses, ATVs and snipers are welcome on the trail?
That trail users need to watch out for dogs, horses, ATVs and snipers?
I just dunno.
My guess is that the same Illinois DOT bureaucrat who named the Marquette Highway also designed this sign.
Eventually we quit the Hennepin Canal Trail and took a lovely rural road to Princeton (albeit in the face of a near gale-force headwind, but that’s another story).
If I had arrived in Princeton with more time and energy I would have explored its quaint downtown, shot a lot of photos and waxed poetic about its charm.
But by this time I was exhausted mentally, physically and spiritually. So I shot the first Princeton image that caught my attention.
So sue me Princeton.
Listen. Tomorrow is the final day of our Great American Rail Trail Expedition from D.C. to the Mississippi River. And the original game plan had us doing 44 miles on the Hennepin Canal Trail.
But after today, it’s just not in us.
So stay tuned. I’ve got something creative up my sleeve. And rest assured, I have NOT consulted the Illinois DOT.