We love to ride bike trails that are away from roads and provide an opportunity to enjoy nature while we ride. We have ridden portions of the I & M Canal towpath near our home where the current bike trail begins and also rode a stretch between Lasalle and Utica that was spectacular. We rode under a thick canopy of trees along the water where herons and egrets fished. Although rain was in the forecast, our location in Marseilles made it easy to ride another piece of the trail to Ottawa.
The I & M canal provided the first complete water route from the east coast to the Gulf of Mexico by connecting Lake Michigan to the Mississippi River by way of the Illinois River. It was used heavily by Native Americans and traders from this time until 1823 when Illinois created a Canal Commission to oversee design and construction of the I&M Canal. The canal was not completed until 1848, at a cost of $6.5 million. It begins at the south branch of the Chicago River at Bridgeport and extends 96 miles to the Illinois river at LaSalle. It was originally 60 feet wide and 6 feet deep. Along the canal, 15 locks were built to accommodate differences in elevation. Commercial traffic began immediately, with barges pulled by mules or horses walking on the towpaths. In 1933, the Illinois Waterway was completed and the I&M Canal was closed to navigation. More recently major portions of the tow path have been converted into a bike path. Mile markers along the trail give glimpses into the history of this once important waterway.
This piece of the trail is not heavily utilized and at times was a narrow path where we had to ride single file. We were glad that it hasn't rained in three weeks since parts of the path were still quite muddy. However, on this stretch of the trail the canal has dried up and it felt more like a ride in the woods than along the canal. Birds are gathering before they fly south for the winter and we rode through a huge flock that swirled around our heads. It reminded me of how if feels to snorkel through a school of fish.
By the time we returned to the car the rain clouds were clearly evident so we pulled in the motor home slides and drove those last few miles home. We arrived just in time for the annual neighborhood picnic, so we had a chance to say hello to everyone. Back to life at home.