Pedal to Paddle on the Illinois River

A week or so ago I decided to take the kids to the river.

 Just before we saw our first catfish of the day.

Just before we saw our first catfish of the day.

If you would have told me six years ago that I would someday be into canoeing, camping, and fishing by bicycle I would not have believed you. Back then I was pretty far into the cyclocross scene. I spent all my free time planning cross courses, practicing dismounts, and waiting with bated breath for the next episode of behind the barriers to come out.   

 The perch were plentiful.

The perch were plentiful.

MY HOW THINGS HAVE CHANGED

I guess it makes sense really. My first truly great experiences involving cycling came to me by way of the hikenbike excursions that my scout troop did when I was a kid. We would meet as a group and then ride to some point of interest where we could run amuck for a while before riding back to the start. Eventually we worked up to the point of strapping on our back packs filled with enough for an overnight. As we set out for the camp I felt like the world was my playground. I believed I could go anywhere as far as my legs could pedal.

Things move a bit more slowly now. I can’t remember the last time I “turned the pedals in anger”. I still enjoy the aspect of a physical challenge and believe me, just because you are going slowly doesn’t mean it’s easy. Here is a little story of one of my most recent trips that my family has come to call a pedal and paddle.

 Finally on the way down to the car after out "long" climb up

Finally on the way down to the car after out "long" climb up

A week or so ago I decided to take the kids to the river. It was just me and the kids so it took a little more time than normal to load up the boat, my bike, the trail-a-bike, and the Burley trailer. I threw together a quick lunch and did a double check that I had all the life jackets, paddles, fishing gear, water, minnow nets, and countless other things(don’t worry I still forgot plenty of stuff).

We are so fortunate to live in an area that has so many recreational activities close by. Within twenty minutes I was unloading the canoe at the HWY 16 bridge over the Illinois river near Savoy.

Another quick drive and we parked the car at the expected take out. As I set up the train (that’s what we call our setup - my bike pulling the trail-a-bike pulling the Burley trailer) the kids looked around, threw rocks and prepared the bags. In about ten minutes we were ready to roll. The ride back to the boat was only 4 miles on dirt roads but 2.5 of it was up hill. Let me tell you, the normal definition of uphill does not apply when you are pulling 150 pounds of humans and gear.

Once we got back to the canoe I locked up the bikes and we loaded up the gear. It was noted by the youngest that quite a few ants had taken up residence in the gunnels of the canoe. The crew mutinied and refused to board until I had completely removed and double checked that there were no ants in the vessel.  Snacks are key in an adventure like this. I know this and came prepared, the crew was content to eat granola bars on the bank while I worked.

 Tree

Tree

 Bluff

Bluff

The actual float was a blast. We floated about 4 miles and stopped many times for swimming, fishing, lunch, etc. My oldest is a very comfortable in the boat and she is getting the hang of actually paddling in some type of constructive manner. The youngest is typically on net duty trying to scoop up unsuspecting minnows.

The scenery on this part of the river is highlighted by some really beautiful sycamore trees, long low sandstone bluffs, and a few abandoned vintage Volkswagon vans.  A big blue heron accompanied us for the better part of the trip and we even managed to catch a few fish along the way. Surprisingly we did not encounter a single snake and saw very few turtles.

 Always something to see on the banks

Always something to see on the banks

When we arrived at the take out the kids played while I schlepped all the gear and canoe up to the car again. Once we were loaded we drove back to Fayetteville stopping to pick up the bikes along the way. Quick outings like this (okay, it still took the better part of 6 hours) are what I love to do these days and with a little planning they are pretty easy to execute as well.