Friday, October 18, 2013

A 20-Mile Stroll to Pere Marquette

For months now, Zachary and I have been talking about walking to Pere Marquette State Park. We kept on deciding against it, mostly because we’d need some willing victims to meet us for a picnic out there to justify the walk, and also because the summer weather is not the greatest for a twenty-mile jaunt. But yesterday, with a cloudy autumn sky, a chilly breeze blowing, and my brother and mom interested in a picnic by the river, we found the perfect time.

We left around 9:30 from my parents’ house, which was marginally closer to our destination. After a mile of walking along a busy street and through a strip of fast-food joints and gas stations, we turned to the left, skirted an industrial district, and found ourselves on a wide open country road.

For a couple hours we rambled along the roads by cornfields and farmhouses. We even saw two bald eagles wheeling far overhead, cackling to each other in metallic-sounding chuckles. Eventually we reached the Golden Eagle Ferry, which (for $3 a head), bore us across the Mississippi River to the banks of Calhoun County, Illinois. 

The roads in Calhoun County are narrow, tortuous, and full of steep hills, winding us through forests, along sweeping empty hillsides of harvested barley, and past peach orchards, mansions, trailer homes, and roadside stores that sell sorghum molasses by the quart. Our road took us through a neighborhood on the spine of Calhoun County, where the land fell away on either side, showing us broken woods and farmland to the right, and densely-wooded countryside to the left that obscured the rivers and marched up to the bluffs where Pere Marquette resides. (Unfortunately, I considered it too much work to dig through the backpack for a camera at this point, so I have no photos of that.)

Next our road plunged downward, and within a couple hours we found ourselves walking on the shoulder of a highway that delved through the heart of the Two Rivers Wildlife Preserve, a wetlands habitat reserved for migrating birds. We saw few birds, but  discovered a storm of grasshoppers. When we walked in the grass to avoid getting hit by cars, hundreds of grasshoppers, large and small, bounded out of our way.

Our final road in Calhoun County looped around a neighborhood by the waters of the Illinois River, where all the houses stand on stilts. As Zach and I walked, two friendly dogs ran over to check us out, and we chatted with their owner, a middle-aged woman in a floral print dress, standing on the stairs that led up to her house. She was curious about the backpack, and we told her that we were walking to Pere Marquette from St. Charles. Her response was, “Why?”

We crossed the Brussels Ferry, walked along a shoulder of the busy road for a while, then took to the bike trail that led us to the park. We were now racing my brother and mom, and managed to arrive at the picnic area about five minutes before they did. We laid down on the concrete and let out sighs of relief (in between me incessantly yelling, “Boo-ya!”). The walk, from start to finish, was a bit more than 20 miles.

Christian and Mom arrived with picnic gear in hand, and I limped over to greet them.

“So, we going to do any hiking?” Christian asked.

I looked at Zach. Zach looked at me. We both shrugged.

So we went hiking.

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