Louisville Bicycle Club

Louisville Bicycle Club Newsletter -- September-October 1996

River Crossings

by Duc M. Do

The cloudy sky and spitting rain finally stopped and the sun even peeked out from behind the clouds as we pulled into the first convenient store in Rock Falls, Illinois. It was a rare cool day in July as a strong front was moving through the area, but our spirits were soaring with the clearing sky as we rode across yet another river today. We had crossed the Mississippi earlier this morning, and now the Rock River that runs between Sterling and Rock Falls.

It was the second day of our eight-day ride across the American heartland, across the soybean and corn fields of Illinois and Indiana. Paula and I had started on the bank of the Mississippi River in Guttenberg, Iowa, and had ridden south along the river through Dubuque and Bellevue, Iowa. It was in Bellevue where we temporarily put our cross-country trip on hold in 1991 to start a family. Five years and a couple of kids later, we were now on our second leg of that epic trip, this time riding from one river to another: the Mississippi to the Ohio.

Contrary to popular belief, Iowa is not flat, and nowhere is this more so than along the bluffs area in the northeast corner of the state. Instead of running parallel to the Mississippi, the bluffs are cut through by the river, so in following the river, as we did, one must climb up and descend from the bluffs repeatedly. I counted eight climbs that we did that first day, each was at least a mile long and climbed up the 500-foot bluffs. The vista was spectacular, but the riding was difficult, made even harder as we were hauling about 60 pounds of gears on the tandem.

As much as the mountain passes define the riding in the Rockies and Appalachian mountains, cycling in the heartland is defined by the river crossings. As more and more roads are upgraded to accommodate automobile traffic—usually turning a road into a limited-access highway, thus off-limit to cyclists—there are less river crossings suitable for the touring cyclists, one has to choose one's route carefully with regards to how to cross the major rivers.

From Iowa, we crossed the Mississippi River north of Clinton to Savanna, Ill, and thankfully the terrain flattens out quickly to the gently undulating plains of central Illinois. There was a rare summer flood on the Rock River in northern Illinois where we crossed it at Rock Falls, the result of heavy rain in the Chicago area the weekend before. By the time we got to the Illinois River at Henry, the flood had crested, but the river was still out of its banks. Aside from the few hills in the Illinois River valley, central Illinois is FLAT. However, the riding was not entirely easy, as we had to contend with a steady southwest wind all the way across the state. Without any hills to block the wind, the head-high corn fields provided a measure of psychological relief from the wind—and I started to detest the soybean fields.

The Wabash River marked the southern boundary between Illinois and Indiana, and its watershed gave us some of the steepest climbs of the whole trip. Not overly long climbs as in Iowa, but plenty steep. We hit 50 mph on a short downhill going toward Silverville, Ind, west of Bedford. However, the most memorable river crossing of the trip was the Williams covered bridge on the East Fork of the White River. It's one of the longer spans left in Indiana, at about 250 feet across.

Crossing the Ohio River into Louisville on the Clark bridge was unlike any other time we crossed this bridge. It marked the end of another great trip; it also meant we're home. The elation I felt as I came into my hometown was canceled out by the realization that this great trip was about to end.

“I wish I'd done something like that when I was younger,” said the man in the little cafe in the river town of Henry, Illinois, with a hint of regret. We had stopped in the restaurant for lunch and a little rest after a hard morning's ride against a mostly headwind. After asking the usual questions about our trip, where we came from, where we're going, and such, he allowed how he should have done more travelling when he was still younger and physically able. His words stuck with me the rest of the trip. With every river crossed on our continuing trip eastward across the continent, I feel there's one less regret that I'll have to look back upon when I reach his age.

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Copyright ©1996 Louisville Wheelmen

last updated: 31 August 1996
by Duc M. Do