One of my favorite bicycle rides, and arguably one of the most scenic in America, begins at my hometown, Alton, Ill., and stretches up the Mississippi River about 13 miles to Grafton, where the Illinois River meets the Mississippi for their conjoined journey to the sea.
My bicycle at Grafton, Ill., Oct. 28, 2013
I was born and grew up in Alton, just upriver from St. Louis, Mo., and even closer to the confluence of the Mississippi and the Missouri rivers.
I have traveled along that stretch of road between Alton and Grafton countless times, in all weather – in dense fog, in driving rain, in snow, in frigid winter when the river is sometimes clogged with car-sized chunks of ice, and in the splendor of a crisp, clear autumn day when the trees that cling to the limestone bluffs are clad in dying leaves of russet, gold and bright crimson.
Last Monday was such a day.
I was on a visit to my hometown and I had brought along my bike. I logged 42.09 miles on my bike that day, including that magnificent stretch of the Big River.
That same day, a website called All Around Alton
filmed a video of that length of the highway. Unfortunately, I couldn’t find myself in the video.
During my ride, along a nice bike path parallel to the road, I stopped several times to take photos, including a stop at a little park at Clifton Terrace, near where my aunt and uncle used to have a bluffside house that afforded a grand view of the river.
At a little pavilion in the park, I found on a sign these words by John Madson, an Iowa naturalist and author of a 1986 book called Up On The River: An Upper Mississippi Chronicle:
Pumpkins at a yogurt shop in Grafton, where I stopped for a sandwich
“I am certain of one thing: My work has taken me from one end of the Mississippi River to the other – from the crest of the watershed above the Lake Itasca in Minnesota to the mouth of Southwest Pass a hundred miles down from New Orleans. And in all those 2,500 miles of river, there is nothing else like the 13 miles between Alton and Grafton. Nothing! … Nowhere are there such palisades as ours, and nowhere is a lovelier stretch of the Mississippi so accessible and beloved by so many people. It belongs to the nation and is in our trust. We must not betray that trust.”
The scenic river, Mississippi above Alton, Ill., Oct. 28, 2013
Steel sculptures of Canadian geese, Grafton, Ill., Oct. 28, 2013
The Mississippi River between Alton and Grafton, Ill., Oct. 28, 2013
The working river, the Mississippi above Alton, Ill., Oct, 28, 2013
Lighthouse at Grafton, Ill., at the confluence of the Illinois and Mississippi rivers, Oct. 28, 2013
My bike at Grafton, Ill., the confluence of the Illinois and Mississippi rivers, Oct. 28, 2013