Three years ago, I took my R1200GS to the Ozarks (see the “Steamed and Baked” report). It was a tough trip—too hot (high 90s by day, 80s by night), too humid (enough to put the heat index well over 100 every day), and too much damn work to ride the GS (it’s an awesomely capable bike if you’re willing to train, practice and work at it, but I’m a lazy old man). In the end I did a measly 50 or so miles off pavement, and only about 30 miles of the two state-designated “Dual Sport Adventure Rides” that had been the purpose of the trip. Well, I’m back… or at least on my way. And with any luck things will be “just right” this time—the forecast calls for temperatures between 70 and 80, with low humidity and sunshine (at least after the slow-moving cool front gets out of the way). And I’m now on a Royal Enfield Himalayan, which is less capable than the GS (especially on the freeways), but a whole lot easier for a lazy old guy with a long list of orthopedic issues. Planning, or Cue Martin Mull… This trip targets the same routes—the “Pocahontas to Powhatan” and “Ozark National Forest” rides from the official state tourist agency motorcycle guide (aside: if you have not picked up a copy of this, do so—it’s a fat digest containing something like 30 scenic road rides, and a half-dozen pavement-free routes). Unlike last time, I don’t have to laboriously enter these into my GPS, as the state website now has downloadable GPX tracks. I’ve gone to Arkansas in the fall almost every year since 2010, and camped at Bull Shoals Lake. Still haven’t really figured out camping on the Himalayan, so I decided this would be a motel trip, like my Utah trip in July. I made reservations, planning to ride from my home near Chicago to DuQuoin, IL today, then Pocahontas (start of the first route) tomorrow. Thursday’s for the P-to-P ride, and I’d finish in Norfork, positioning me for the Ozark NF ride on Friday. Then two days to get home via Louisiana (not the state, a MO town on the Mississippi River). On Sunday, I took a look at the weather forecast: heavy rain all day Tuesday, especially in southern Illinois. And, it seemed that if I went simply reversed the direction (went west and then south instead of south and then west), I’d have dry roads and maybe even some sunshine. This is why I make a point of getting reservations that can be cancelled. A la Mr. Mull, I’m flexible: Though, changing two of the three reservations before I even left the house is a bit flexible even by my standards. Enough planning, shall we hit the road? Start… and Stop After spending most of yesterday in doctors’ offices, I still managed to be packed and ready to go by about 10 this morning. A rarity—somebody was home to take my picture before I left. Those who followed along with the Utah trip story may notice I’ve got a new pair of snake boots for this trip. The old ones were leaking and falling to pieces, so after close to twenty years I suppose it was time. The new ones have functioning Gore-Tex, no holes, actual tread on the soles, and heel counters that actually keep my foot in place. On the other hand, they don’t have the snazzy silhouette of a striking rattlesnake in the leather. Sigh. Can’t have everything. Packing for this trip was pretty easy, as I’m staying in motels, and two nights in a friend’s cabin on the White River. He has a laundry and is a mile from a brewery, so I only need to bring a few changes of clothing. Which left space for important stuff: I brew beer, and the “price” of two nights in the friend’s cabin was some of this year’s Oktoberfest. It’s in the three bottles. They’re plastic because I don’t think it’ll be a good idea to go jouncing down dirt roads with glass in the cooler. Seem like I’m just asking Lady Karma to smite me. The three cans are contingency beer, in case I find myself in a dry county (can’t remember if Pocahontas is wet). As for the banana… just as I was getting ready to leave, my wife said it needed to be eaten. Which is a strange idea if you think about it: the banana has needs, and it’s my responsibility to fulfill them? I guess so… So, out the door and onto the road… almost. I found out a while back that my right rotator cuff is in bad shape and needs repairs over the winter. Sooner is better than later, so it’s fully healed and rehabbed in time for riding and kayaking in the spring. I have been waiting for a week or so for the orthopedic center to call back with possible dates. Did they do it when I was sitting at home staring at glowing rectangles? Of course not. I was three blocks from home, waiting to turn onto the state highway, when the phone rang. When I saw who it was, and saw the guy behind me waiting to get out, I told her to call back in exactly two minutes. By then, I was into a subdivision across the highway: (Fall in Illinois… sigh) It was more like five minutes, but she did call and I got my appointment scheduled. Now, today’s plan was 300 or so miles of Illinois, so the emphasis was on covering some miles on pavement. Still, I have this silly idea that if it’s an “adventure ride” there should be at least some token pavement-free riding. So, a little farm road past a cemetery: A little later on, I did a couple more miles of gravel road. Came to an intersection and saw a sign reading “GRAVEL ENDS.” Sure enough, I could see dirt beyond. Might be the only public dirt road in the county. With the rain we had last night, and given how close to home it is, I decided to save it for when I got back. Got places to go today… US 30 is the historic Lincoln Highway. It runs straight as an arrow from Aurora to Rock Falls, and was once a major truck route. Then the Feds built Interstate 80 about 20 miles to the south, and the state built the I-88 tollway 10 miles to the north. Trucks still use 30, but they don’t stop anymore. Kitty-corner at this intersection is a strip club, which had one semi parked out front. I stopped for gas in Mendota, and found that the stiff northwest wind was cutting into the Himalayan’s fuel economy, pushing it all the way down to 59 miles to the gallon. I picked up US 34 at Mendota. 34 (the “Grand Army of the Republic Highway”) runs more or less southwest, sometimes on the diagonal, sometimes going west-then-south-then-west-again (lather, rinse, repeat). Unfortunately, the weather front also ran more or less on a SW-to-NE line, so while I could see the clouds breaking up and the sun shining when I was headed west, the road would soon turn south and I’d be looking at black clouds and virga (rain dropping out of clouds but—usually—not quite reaching the ground) again. The Himalayan’s dash thermometer read 68º, about three above what I saw at a bank. Funny how 65º feels gloriously warm in March, but bone-chilling in September! 34 also passes through some little towns where people have time on their hands and old junk cars… The Corvair has been described as the Car From Hell. Here we have a rare photo of a brand-new one emerging from its subterranean origin and being hauled into our world. The next big town was Princeton, the county Seat of Bureau County, home of the fairgrounds, and the former home of the first place I ever rode a motorcycle through a liquor store: A story: back in the 1980s, AMA District 17 held a summer road rally at the Princeton fairgrounds. No idea why they did it in Princeton, but they did. A weekend of camping, poker runs, field games, trade shows, cookout, and of course plenty of beer drinking. One time, in the spirit of the Boy Scouts (“Be Prepared”), I rode my Harley across the street from the fairgrounds to the Drive Thru Liquor Store and came back with a small keg in the trunk (well, tied down in the trunk with the lid tied on top of it). Two minutes after I got to my campsite, the town cop pulled up and politely informed me that if he saw my Harley anywhere outside the fairgrounds before dawn, I’d be getting a free night in the county jail. I told him I was pretty sure I had enough for the night… It’s been many years since they stopped having the rally in Princeton. And, it appears, about as long since the Drive Thru Liquor Store closed. Think there’s a connection? A little further on, just west of Wyanet, this sits just off US 34: This little lift bridge, which I think was designed to be cranked by hand, spans the Hennepin Canal. The canal is a wonder of late Victorian engineering, completing the water route between Chicago and the Quad Cities. It connects the Illinois River (which was already connected to Chicago via the Illinois and Michigan canal, and later the Ship and Sanitary canal) to the Mississippi at Rock Island. It was started in 1892, finished in 1907, and incorporates a number of innovations that went into later canals like the Panama Canal. The Hennepin was the first to make its locks out of concrete rather than stone blocks, and like the Panama Canal it was designed to climb over the higher land in the middle of its route via a number of locks and a feeder system. A dam in Rock Falls diverts water from the Rock River, down a 20-mile feeder canal to the high point of the Hennepin Canal just west of Wyanet. From that point, water flows downhill, through locks, to both the Illinois and Mississippi Rivers. Neat. Unfortunately, by the time the Hennepin Canal was finished, it was already obsolete—too small for the big barges going down the rivers, and too slow to compete with the railroads between Chicago and Iowa. It stayed open for recreational traffic until the ‘50s; then it was abandoned until the state acquired it and turned it into a recreational bike/horse/walking trail. While water flows through the entire canal system, it’s not boatable because many road districts “bridged” it by throwing down some pipes and dumping dirt on top. Sad. It would be a neat thing to canoe. Next stop: Kewanee. And Pluto. For the first time today, the Himalayan sees its shadow. If you want to see Pluto, you have two choices. You could spend millions of dollars and a couple decades sending a probe into space… or you could go up to the second floor of Good’s Furniture in Kewanee, where you’ll find Pluto. OK, just a model… but a scale model, with a 53-foot diameter sun in Peoria, a four-and-a-half-foot Jupiter at the Peoria airport, and a one-inch Pluto in Good’s Furniture. Many years ago, my then-girlfriend-now-wife and I stopped at Good’s to see Pluto. I think we also ended up buying something for the living room. BTW, the Peoria model doesn’t stop with Pluto. Some Kuiper Belt objects are represented in Alaska and at the South Pole, and it’s been observed that the Apollo 11 landing site is very close to where the nearest star, Alpha Centauri, would be in the Peoria model. Next: bigger water, and bigger moveable bridges.