A Few Hours On The Hennepin Canal - America's Most Naive Bike Tourist Rides From MN to MA - CycleBlaze

June 9, 2014

A Few Hours On The Hennepin Canal

Princeton, Illinois

I woke up to a bright sun that illuminated the hundreds of yellowish water flies all over my tent.  Once outside the tent, I found my bike covered in spider webs.  Squirrels were scurrying everywhere.  I made a cup of coffee as I do every morning, and I remembered the sound of two different kinds of owls last night.  I noticed the robots were already up and about.  They were drinking coffee too.  I think they were programmed to drink coffee to make them appear more human.  Their Mr. Coffee coffee maker was plugged in under a tarp all day and all night.  They had a tent but I doubt they slept in it.  Instead, they probably used it as their headquarters for planning their conquest of the world.  On my way out of the campground, I said my goodbyes to the robots and continued south on Highway 78.

I'm glad this stretch of the road isn't too heavily travelled because it only has six inches of paved shoulder.  It does have decent, hard-packed gravel beyond that, and it's a good thing too because I've had to bail out onto it four times in the last two days due to big trucks coming from both directions. 

My plan was to get to Route 6 and then head east, but something else came up first.  I had heard of the historic Hennepin Canal Trail but somehow did not expect to run into it.  Getting used to improvising my route, I made a spur-of-the-moment decision to get on the trail and see what it had to offer.

The trail wasn't particularly scenic and the water in the canal looked like a filthy broth where animals go to die and decompose.  If nothing else, though, it was a welcome respite from Highway 78.

I got my first flat tire of the trip while on the trail but I didn't mind.  There was a sense of calm in repairing the tire right on the trail with absolutely nobody around.  Every few minutes I would hear a big fish--carp? catfish? some other species that feeds on rotting muskrat?--jump in the canal water.  I saw a Baltimore oriole and two great blue herons as well.

The Hennepin Canal Trail--Not so bad when you get used to it.
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Back on my bike, I began to enjoy my new route.  I pedaled happily for about 15 miles until something just didn't seem right.  I assumed the trail closely paralleled I-80, and at first it did.  But I crossed many little roads and none of them were the highways I was expecting to see.  I had no idea where I was.  What the hell?

I pulled out my phone, thereby ending my little experiment in attempting to ride across the country with no GPS technology.  It's a good thing I did because I was already 10 miles north of where I expected to be.  On a bike, ten miles out of the way and ten miles back is a considerable investment of time--WASTED TIME.

I later learned that I had inadvertently strayed onto the feeder canal which comes south from the Rock River.  Had I been riding on the tow path on the south side of the Hennepin canal instead of the north side, I would have continued eastward as expected.

With the aid of my phone, I exited the trail.  While riding on a little country road, trying to get back on track, I spotted a deer out in a cornfield at the same time he spotted me.  It was the coolest thing to watch it run/leap for about 300 yards over 12" stalks of corn to avoid me.  He didn't have to do that, of course.  I tried to call to him.  "I am your friend.  I am here to serve you and your kind!"  He kept running.

The last highlight of the day was working on my journal at the tiny public library in Wyanet where about 15 children listened to a presentation on snakes.  After the lecture, the kids lined up to pet a live three-foot long snake.  I couldn't identify the species.  They wouldn't have 5-12 year old kids pet a poisonous copperhead would they?  That's what it looked like to me.

Today's ride: 60 miles (97 km)
Total: 436 miles (702 km)

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