Sunday, May 19, 2013

Saturday May 18th - Missississippi River Palisades State Park to Rock Island

I rose around 7 on that fine morning.  The birds were singing, the sky was blue, and the campground was pretty quiet despite the number of campers spread-out throughout the park.  I walked to the restrooms and admired the bat houses that were installed nearby and read the sign telling folks about bats – seems a reminder that I need to put up another bat house when I get home.  After the morning routine of eating, packing, and then sitting down to try to figure out a destination for the day I pulled out Bob Robinson’s book BICYCLING GUIDE TO THE MISSISSIPPI RIVER TRAIL to try and find some inside.  So far I have been pretty disappointed in the guide.  It is light on details, the maps are of poor quality, and I have found the phone numbers included for contacts as out of service.  But for the trail heading south of Savanna the author mentioned a bike trail/route that takes the traveler off Illinois unfriendly biking roads.   

I decided to stop somewhere to find out more about the biking route and if I could find it to possibly continue on down the “Great River Road” to the “Quad Cities”.  It seemed that going from the “Twin Cities” to the “Quad Cities” would put a poetic spin to my adventures (although later in the night when I told my wife where I ended up, she did not find the poetry in the destination, but that may have been due to my lack of poetic abilities at the end of a long day). 

By 9 am I was packed and headed down towards Savanna.  Biking down the shoulder less Highway 84 still sucked, and now the road was also butted up next to the Burlington Northern railroad tracks making the ride even more annoying – which made continuing on the mile or so past the bridge to the hopefully shoulder paved roads of Iowa on to the town of Savanna very challenging.  I got to a gas station in Savanna – purchased some expensive small bottles of orange & grapefruit juice and a blueberry muffin and asked the gas station attendant if she was aware of a bike trail that led to the Quad Cities.  She was and told me it wasn’t hard to find, and then she even went in the back room and came out with a free biking map of Northwestern Illinois.  It was a treasure map to me, something I wished I had had the day before to guide me through the back roads.  But then if I had had it, I likely would not have experienced the thrill of discovery. 

I decided to attempt the Twin to Quad Cities Tour, biked on, found the trail and a grocery store adjacent to it.  With restocked supplies of granola bars, oranges and grapefruit, some assorted trail mixes, and a large bottle of contact solution – by 10 am I was heading down the trail into the rising sun.  The trail started off crossing the BN tracks and followed an older rail corridor adjacent to the Mississippi River.  I passed a group of boys fishing from a bridge and asked if they were having any luck, but they replied no.  I wished them a good day and continued the journey.  It was good to see a few folks out riding their bikes along the trail and I felt invigorated being away from traffic.  
The trail wound its way through some prairie remnants, and I noticed much prickly pear cactus growing along the trail, giving me incentive to stay on the trail and not add cactus thorns to my ankles already suffering from poison ivy I had picked up at the Nelson Dewey camp site.   

The trail also was routed along some of the back roads that followed the river so it was nice to actually be able to see the river from the Great River Trail.  Along the way there were plenty of recreational homes, boat launches, and other parks to provide a more fitting homage to the Great River than some of the industrial uses I had passed on my way.  As they was dry prairie country by nature despite the large flow of water to west,  the large lawns and farm fields required irrigation to keep the cactus at bay and the lawn and crops in full green.  Another example of how we tend to take our “large” water supply and “cheap” energy that allows us to pump it for granted.  
Passing near the town of Thomason, I noticed what appeared to be a large prison in the distance.  As I got closer, it became clear that it was a prison, but surprisingly it looked vacant.  It also didn’t appear to be that old.  Checking out the site later on the web  , I learned it was never really used as intended and there was a string of government fiasco’s related to the site.  The site built in 2001 now sits empty.   

A similar fate which befell the Savanna Army Depot that I came across upriver from the prison the day before, (see website here for more on that site  That site was a former testing and storage site for military munitions used from world war one until that facility was finally closed in 2000 – leaving large infrastructure abandoned, along with a Superfund Site to go along with the deal.  It seems amazing how politics and government can spend huge sums of taxpayer money on prisons and military complexes that now sit abandoned.  I guess that must be what the bumper stickers mean when they say “Freedom Isn’t Free”.            

As the trail passed what I believe was the City of Fulton, it ran along the top of a flood dike that had been built to try and contain the Mississippi River from flooding the town.  I passed a Corp of Engineers park, where the only thing on dry ground was the outhouse that had become an island of fill that had been hauled into the site to keep the poopers high and dry during high water events.  Unfortunately users would have needed a boat to reach it on that day.  Further on down the dike, I came to a large pump station complex that was used to pump the river (and probably water level in general on the dry side of the dike) up and over the dike during these high water times.  Another example of how we take
advantage of cheap energy to save us from our poor decisions to locate communities in flood plains.  Instead of letting water follow its natural gravity driven course, we use human technology (and the huge price tag that comes with it) to keep control at all costs.  But in the end, our technology usually fails, and we try the same foolish techniques all over again. 

Coming into Albany, I noticed a large domed structure off on the horizon, and as the road came back down along the river I found out the doom was one of three huge what must have been grain storage silos.  The complex was likely a grain barge, train, and truck loading and unloading facility.  As it was after lunch and I was hungry, and getting hot from the rising sun and climbing a few hills, I decided to stop in the park in the small river town of Albany.  I noticed a family having fun in the park and the mother and her young son came over to me (while I was eating some extremely hot in a spicy way trail mix that cleaned my sinuses out well) to ask me about my adventure. 

Becky, as she introduced herself, and her husband Chris, moved to Albany a few years ago to get out of the Chicago area.  They liked living in the smaller town along the river, but were heading back to the City to celebrate her son’s four year birthday with the grandparents who still lived in the City.  Becky and her husband worked at a small Christian School in town, she as a part time first grade teacher, and her husband Chris as a teacher/principal.  Becky told me that they would pray for me on my travels and then as the rest of the family gathered round she told them of my travels all the way from Minneapolis to large quad cities where they go to shop.  Then she asked me if it would be ok for her husband to lead them in a pray for my journeys.   

Despite my initial nervousness about what I was getting myself in for, I agreed and was actually quite honored by the very nice prayer he said for my safe journeys while out enjoying God’s Creation.  I thanked them for their prayers and told them I would keep them in my prayers as well as they traveled back to Chicago. Despite my negativity towards Christians (lately I have given up on my christian ways and become a follower of doubt, which I didn't get into with the Christians) I felt honored by the family coming together and honoring me with their prayer (even if the kids didn't seem to interested). 

With good prayers behind me, a full stomach, but running low of water, I headed up the hill out of Albany and entered a park that had been set aside to protect the Indian mounds located on the hills south of the town.  There was a water fountain at the park that I filled my bottles with and I watched a mother and her two young sons who lived next to the park pull the dandy line flowers that had gone to seed on the boundary between the park and their weed free lawn.  The boys were shirtless and the mother wore shorts and a wrap to try and keep cool as the afternoon heat set in.  I debated hiking back along the path to honor the mounds and view, but decide to keep moving on as I wasn’t sure how far I had to go to make to the Quads. 

The trail than veered back out to a path that ran parallel to the main highway 84 and the river began taking on a much more industrial look again.  I passed a couple on touring bikes and gear, and wanted to stop and ask them where they were off too, but we just smiled and said hello in passing.  3M had a huge factory nestled along the river near Cordova, and there were more barge unloading terminals loading and offloading huge quantities of assorted materials.   

Power lines began to parallel the highway, and soon the Quad Cities Nuclear Generating Facility appeared next the river.  And not too far from the power plant, loud racing engines could be heard tearing down the road and a drag strip appeared along with an announcer filling the audience with admiration for the speed and power being displayed by the drivers and their awesome dragsters on that early summer day. 

And then some smaller towns and recreational areas and parks as the trail diverted back to the back roads.  The town of Cordova had invested in putting some fitness equipment in their river side park, so I parked my bike between the stair stepper and ab-machine and debated getting a workout in.  But instead used their porta-potty, admired the river views, and young adults fishing off the rocks.  I didn’t want to work up a sweat, and since there weren’t showers at the outdoor fitness center, I would have had to jump in the river (and I wasn’t too sure I would come out cleaner than before), so I decided to continue using the mobile cycle I brought along and then headed back across their pretty streets.   

Across from the City Library, pastel sidewalk chalk type pictures had been painted on the road – a courteous biker passed me by and said excuse me as I had stopped to take some pictures of the street art.  Back on the road through the limited country side I passed another touring biker with a full load of gear that might have even excited mine own in volume.  Again I felt like stopping to ask him about his travels but we just passed and smiled and said hello. 

I took another break at the lock and dam on the way into the quad Cities as I was getting hungry and hot again.  Pelicans and Hispanic folks were plying the waters below the dam for fish.  As it was 5 pm, I started thinking I should figure out where to stay for the night.  A previous biker lady had told me that there were no motels or hotels directly along the path as it ran through half the quad cities of Moline and Rock Island, so I reluctantly pulled out the sketchy BICYCLING GUIDE again and tried to find a motel for the night.  The guide only listed 3 places in Rock Island, so I called the one were I thought I might be able to figure out how to get to, the American Motor Inn located at 4300 11th Street, asked if they had a room, would take bikes, and had WIFI, and received an answer of yes to all three all for only $46 per night, plus tax.  So I made my reservation and paddled on feeling content that I at least had a place to stay for the night. 

The trail then entered East Moline and Moline Proper.  Along the way I passed paddle boats, power plants, poop plants, and many people.  The parks were scattered with people all dressed up and taking pictures for weddings, graduations, and perhaps proms.  Traffic on the trails began to pick up as well, and I passed more folks out for some day peddles, or even strolls along the dike that protected Moline.  Industry activity also picked up – acres and acres of parking lots where filled with John Deer green harvesters and associated implements waiting to be shipped out. 

I also had to do my fist bicycle portage as a pipe had been routed across the trail coming from one of the industrial plants.  I assumed it must have been a temporary bypass of some sort due to high river water causing some kind of back up from one of the industrial plants located behind the dike.  Fortunately a couple of bikes had just finished portaging their own bikes over the 4 foot high pipe.  The woman, who was on the other side of the pipe, boasted that she was strong and to simply hand her my bike and she would be able to carry it over the pipe.  I told her that I could not pick the likely 100 lb. plus load up myself and her biking partner gave me a hand lifting the load up and over the pipe.  I shared some answer to questions about my adventure, and wished them well on their upstream journey where they intended to hit the bars and consume some beers on their way up river.   

Moving downstream I passed more parks with signs reminding me to continue to play; one lone woman jogging who I had passed earlier, but who then re-passed me at the portage site; another bridge or two and then passed through downtown section and the Cities drinking water plant which was downstream from the wastewater treatment plant.  I suppose with all our high technology treatment – putting the water plant downstream from the sewer plant doesn’t really pose any technical challenges.  I stopped to check out my map again to try and figure out how much further before I had to exit the trail and find the road to my motel.  I was having a difficult time relating to the one dimensional scaled down paper map I had, after spending a number of days in the full-scale, multi- dimensional world.  A passing biker stopped by to offer some guidance, and I think he was challenged by the map as well, but told me to just keep following the river. 

As I did, Rock Island the island and source of the City’s name came into view, along with the military arsenal for which the island is now named.  Apparently the arsenal has been around since world war one and has been and still is used for manufacturing munitions for the military.  I wondered how many cleanup sites would be found on that island when it too became abandoned.  Near the downtown of Rock Island, I began to think that I should have held off making a hotel reservation at the American Motor Inn as there were several hotels located in the downtown area close to the river, that would have allowed for some interesting exploration once I settled in for the night.  While stopped at a stop light, I talked with a woman about 55 to 60 years old who informed me that her and her husband were bike tourists.  They were on their way from Columbus Ohio to Alaska, but were driving their bikes there strapped to the top of their SUV.  They also brought along their small white dog who some of her hair had dyed red.  She asked about my biking adventures, what the roads were like, and wished me well. 

So I headed South from the river trying to find 11th Street.  The route took me through some of the poorer neighborhoods I had been through so far, and I began to get a bit nervous about where I would be staying.  I was also getting really tired of biking and wondered how much further the motel would be.  Finally, as the homes looked a bit nicer, I saw the sign for the motel, parked my bike, and walked into the office.  Behind the bullet proof glass (maybe it wasn’t bullet proof, but that adds more drama to the story) the motel attendant had me fill the registration card after having me slide my credit card and ID through the small slot below the glass.  After filling out the card, I read the warning sign taped to the glass window that if I had an overnight guest, they would need to pay an additional fee for using the room.  I had a difficult time hearing young man talk from behind his safe glass, as the ice machine in the small closet of a lobby was making a lot of gurgling sounds as it grinded out the ice.  I asked him if there were any good pizza places that delivered nearby, and he pointed to the Domino’s Pizza place advertised on my room key card, but said I would have to look the number up in the phone book, as the number of the card was incorrect. 
After having to walk back to the office to have him reset the Dominoes Key Card, I was able to enter the room, pushed my bike in, and admired the king sized bed next to the full wall mirror, and wondered what had happened in this room before and if I would be better off to pull out my sleeping bag and spend the night on the floor.  But after cranking the air conditioner, figuring out how to operate the shower, I felt somewhat better about the place.  But my concerns returned when I called the Domino’s Pizza place and when I told them that I wanted the pizza delivered to the American Motor Inn was told they don’t deliver their, despite the fact that it was only a few blocks away.   Fortunately I found another pizza place and they were afraid to come to my Inn, and the pizza they brought and my tired state made my stay ok, despite what my fears told me I was in the bed shortly after 10.

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