After three days of exploring St. Genevieve , Mo., we headed to Illinois to visit with my older brother, Brad, and his spouse Marilyn.
They have a lovely house on the shore of Lake of Egypt and we spent our first evening cruising about on their pontoon boat. After a record flooding in the spring, the area was in the final splash of a heat wave by the time we arrived in late August. At the peak, the water in the lake had reached 100 degrees!
The next morning, we drove to the Cache River State Natural Area, located in southernmost Illinois. The area is a floodplain carved long ago by glacial floodwater of the Ohio River. When the Ohio adopted its present course, it left the Cache River to meander across rich and vast wetlands. Among the outstanding natural features found within the area today are massive cypress trees, whose flared bases called buttresses, exceed 40 feet in circumference. Many are more than 1,000 years old, including the state’s biggest tree, Old Baldy. We strolled along a boardwalk above the swamp, which felt more like coastal Louisiana than Southern Illinois. If you’re ever through the area, it’s worth a visit.
In the afternoon, we dropped into some of the many wineries that have sprouted up in the area. As I’ve mentioned many times before, the finer points of drink like coffee and wine are totally lost on me. I like the former black and the latter. Period. I think Sabra and Marilyn would both admit that they aren’t exactly oenophiles either, but they are much more polite than my brother or I. After the second winery, Brad and I would just sit and wait for the women as they politely listened to talks of tannins, seminars on silkiness, and lectures on lean, leafy, long and lively as they sipped their way through sample after sample.
To their credit, the women listened intently and then made purchases based on which wine label would make the best wallpaper pattern. To Brad’s credit he sipped water as the designated driver. I didn’t get any credit that day but I did get a little buzz from the wine.
The next morning we drove back to the Cache River area and began a 47-mile ride that took us from Karnak to Harrisburg, Ill.. This is a Rails-to-Trails project so the route was extremely flat and the surface in great condition. The section from Vienna to Tunnel Hill is extremely scenic, featuring several tall trestles and a long tunnel at Tunnel Hill.
Vienna, by the way, is the hometown of a famous Illinois Democrat Paul Powell.
Powell was elected Secretary of State in 1965. During his tenure, he started a policy that any payments made to the Secretary of State’s were simply made out to “Paul Powell.” Although he never made more than $30,000 a year, upon his death shoeboxes, briefcases and strongboxes with more than $800,000 in cash were found in his hotel suite residence in Springfield, Ill. In his hotel room he also had 49 cases of whiskey, 14 transistor radios, and two cases of creamed corn.
Only in Illinois can you buy a politician with canned vegetables.
In general we loved the trail, except it was all but deserted and many of the towns it passed through were on the verge of disappearing.
We spent the night in a lovely Bed and Breakfast in Harrisburg and then headed back to our vehicle in the morning. From here we were going to drive back to the Alton, Ill., area and start an ambitious ride to the state capitol in Springfield. But as we approached our debarkation point, the temperatures hit 100 degrees and we opted to spend a couple days relaxing in the shade of The Lodge at Marquette St. Park, a place I detailed extensively earlier in this journal.
A couple days stretched to five and we finished our trip doing day rides, playing golf and going on hikes from our comfortable location in the park. With that I end my journal. Old Baldy is going for a glass of wine, one with a pretty label.