Leg 18 – 50 Miles on the Hennepin Canal to Cross the Wide Mississippi

Today I made a major milestone – across the Mississippi at Davenport, Iowa, after an 83 mile ride. Making the Mississippi by May 23 was one of my landmark goals.
I set my alarm for 530 this morning, afraid that I would miss the dawn in the dark barn. But the birds singing at 515 roused me before the alarm went off, and I boiled water for oatmeal, packed up, and rolled north to my new route on the Hennepin Canal at about 6 am.

Google wanted to send me to the Hennepin’s confluence with the Ohio, but I already knew from the Illinois DNR website that the trail was closed there due to a levee breach and flooding, so I turned Google Maps off and headed for Tiskilwa, a pretty and very real town where I thought I could pick up the trail. Tiskilwa also had coffee at the service station convenience mart, where the manager was very solicitous. A large coffee and a donut were just $2.30.

A found the road out of Tiskilwa that crosses the canal, but there was no sign for the towpath, and the access drive led to a knee high, damp grass trail. I was about to give up, but crossed back over the bridge to find the bike trail on the other side of the canal, unsigned, and unpaved, but quite rideable.

What a pleasure it was to ride the towpath after days in the agricultural desert! Trees lined the bank, providing shade and shelter from the headwinds. Great blue herons flushed from the banks and swooped before me, and flashes of indigo buntings thrilled the path before me. I ran into an old man fishing from the bank, he had already caught one catfish at 8 am. I asked him what he did with them; he said he put them in his freezer, and when he had a whole bunch of them he had a catfish party for his friends. There were walkers and dogs and even a few cyclists. Some of the aqueducts were actually ducting Aqua, so that boaters could cross a bridge over a creek below. Riding surface varied from dirt to crushed stone to paved to paved once with grass poking through, but pedaling at nine mph on the towpath was a pleasant day of bicycling, while pedaling at nine mph on a bleak road in a crosswind was an ordeal.

Fifty miles passed by in a pleasant blur. I tried to do some physical therapy on my left hand while riding, forcing my fingers to shift the gears, and fretting a C-chord on the handlebar from time to time. As the miles and locks rolled by I began to worry I would pass the last exit before the flooded north end of the path. But I got some local advice, and was able to exit near Green River after negotiating just one washout.
I had to make a 3 pm Waterkeeper Alliance executive committee call. I had picture making it to the Mississippi River in time to find a riverview restaurant for a late lunch and celebratory beer. That seemed likely when I started at 6 am with just 65 miles to the river. But slow going on the soft trail meant that b6 230, there was still no river in sight. Google sent me up the employee parking road at the John Deere plant in East Moline, but it lead to the bike path on the levee. But there were no restaurants in sight, just an industrial floodplain. 
At 255, I saw a huge windowed building with the sign Milltown Coffee on the side, and I gave it a try – they had sandwiches and beer and a river view, and I placed my order at 257.

After the call, I headed across the Mississippi on the Rock Island Arsenal bridge. I had hoped to find a bike shop for a new taillight in Davenport and I asked google for directions to the very intriguing Ruby’s Beer, Brats, and Bikes establishment. But I couldn’t find it. When I asked a passerby, she told me that the bike and beer shop was closed because of the flooding.
So I headed up the hill from the river to my hotel. I naturally reserved the cheapest motel listed on google – the Relax Inn for just $35. A motel is a motel, and is likely to be at least as comfortable as a mattress on a cement floor. When I called the Relax Inn this morning to make a reservation, they asked if I had a CDL, and when I said no, they quote a $50 rate. I asked about the difference, and the clerk told me I should just go ahead and reserve online through Priceline to get a cheaper rate. Which I did. The actual motel had a sign saying “Knights Inn”, but the faded paint over the entrance suggested it was a Travelodge once. I expected a parking lot full of tractor trailers, but instead the place is practically empty and perfectly adequate. The room is smallish, but I have paid much more for smaller rooms.

I celebrated my Mississippi crossing by eating a banana and a pint of chocolate ice cream, and downing a 20oz can of Bud, the least and beer they were selling singles of.



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