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Wednesday, April 02, 2008

Come visit my part of the world!

Organizers for the Illinois Great Rivers Ride have announced the tentative route for the 2008 edition of the ride, and it's in an area that I know and love: Southwestern and Southern Illinois!

Here's a breakdown of the ride:

September 6:
Cyclists will gather at the Lewis and Clark State Historic Site near Hartford. Meriwether Lewis and William Clark began their expedition near the site on May 14, 1804. The visitors center has a museum that does a nice job of telling the story of the expedition. I'll be honest, some of the scenery close to the site isn't the best, but if you have some extra time to ride, you may want to hop on the Madison County Transit trail system for a trip to Alton and the Great River Road or to Edwardsville.

September 7:
The ride begins with a 38-mile trek from Hartford to Columbia, a Monroe County community that has seen lots of growth in recent years. Along the route is Cahokia, which was originally settled by the French in 1699. Cahokia has three significant historic attractions: the Holy Family Log Church, which was dedicated in 1799; the Cahokia Courthouse, which was built in 1740 and is the only courthouse surviving from Illinois' territorial days; and the Jarrot Mansion, the oldest surviving brick building in Illinois.

Ride organizers haven't posted exact details about the route, but I would be somewhat concerned if they took the ride on Illinois Route 3 through Venice, Brooklyn and East St. Louis. There are considerable cycling and personal safety issues with that road. Instead, I would recommend they cross the Mississippi River on the Old Chain of Rocks Bridge, take the Riverfront Trail to downtown St. Louis, then cross the Eads Bridge back into Illinois.

September 8:
This is another short day, from Columbia to the Fort de Chartes State Historic Site near Prairie du Rocher. The French used Fort de Chartes from the 1750s until 1771 to protect the Illinois territory, and the fort has been partly rebuilt. The route between Columbia and fort will take cyclists past scenic bluffs that tower over the Mississippi River valley.

The one downside this day is riding through Monroe County, which is not known as being bicycle friendly. Cyclists who don't follow the rules of the road are partly to blame for some of the problems, but so are local residents who overreacted to the situation. My experience has been that if you follow the rules of the road and practice some common courtesy, you should be fine. Hopefully, ride organizers are aware of Monroe County's group ride ordinance, which requires a permit for group rides of more than 50 people.

September 9:
The ride continues 61 miles from Fort de Chartes to Grand Tower, which gets its name from an unusual rock ridge that runs along the Mississippi River. Along the route is the Fort Kaskaskia State Historic Site, which preserves the remains of Fort Kaskaskia, and the Pierre Menard home, the home of Illinois' first lieutenant governor. Kaskaskia was the first state capital of Illinois, and the Menard home is the only remaining building from the original community. Flooding caused the Mississippi River to change its course and destroyed the original town, including the first state capitol.

The route also goes through Chester, which is noted for having a statue of Popeye overlooking the Mississippi River. Why would Chester have a statue of Popeye? It's the hometown of Popeye creator Elzie C. Segar.

September 10:
The 60-mile route goes from Grand Tower to Vienna. The first thing to know about Vienna: It's pronounced VYE-en-na in Southern Illinois. The route will go through a piece of scenic Shawnee National Forest, Illinois' only national forest. If you think Illinois is flat, Shawnee National Forest will prove you wrong.

September 11:
Organizers say the 30-mile route from Vienna to Giant City State Park promises to be the hilliest day of the ride, and I think they're right. The Bicycle Across the Magnificent Miles of Illinois ride I did back in 1985 used a lot of the roads that likely will be used on this ride, but the scenery is worth the work you'll be doing on the hills. You'll be seeing more of Shawnee National Forest.

September 12:
The ride begins to level out again with a 67-mile trek from Giant City State Park to the World Shooting and Recreational Complex in Sparta. The complex is the home of several sharpshooting events.

September 13:
The 67-mile route takes you from Sparta and back through the metro-east into Hartford. Without knowing the exact route, I can't fill you on more details, but much of the route should be fairly flat, yet scenic. If you ride fast enough, you should be able to hop in your car and watch the end of Stage 6 of the Tour of Missouri bicycle race in St. Charles, Mo. If you can stick around another day, you can see the final stage in St. Louis on Sunday, Sept. 14.

The cost of the ride is $600 and includes breakfast and dinner each day, evening receptions and entertainment and camping fees.

I won't be able to do the entire ride because I can't get the full week off, but I most certainly invite you to see some of the most historic and scenic parts of the Land of Lincoln.

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