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Entering Illinois

Posted on Monday, June 5, 2006 at 07:24AM by Registered CommenterMarshall Massey in | CommentsPost a Comment

The Burlington Hawk Eye reporter arrived right on time to interview me, interrupting nothing more pressing than the final questions from my curious fellow guests at the motel. As I said in my previous posting, he wanted to walk with me while interviewing me.

So I pulled on my pack, warned that I’d be hobbling rather slowly (he said he didn’t mind), and off we went.

I confess that it was an enjoyable interview. He was the religion writer, among other things, for the little local paper, and he approached it as a human-interest feature, which made it rather fun. (I’ve posted a link to the article he wrote on the “media coverage” page of this web site.) We walked together down through town to the river. There I faced a logistical challenge, because the only bridge across the Mississippi anywhere near Burlington does not permit pedestrian traffic. I’d planned to hire a taxi to drive me across, but the photographer working with the reporter on the interview offered to drive me across for free — and I cheerfully accepted the offer.

Now I was in Illinois, and Illinois topography is palpably different from Iowa’s. The road led straight east for two miles across the river’s lower flood plain: a narrow two-line highway carrying very heavy truck traffic, elevated a few feet above the plain, with almost no shoulder to walk on. A breathtaking situation for a top-heavy hiker with stiff feet and ankles that made it hard to keep his balance! I picked my way laboriously forward.

When the road reached the place where the land heaved up from the flood plain, it bent north, climbing up onto the low bluffs and following their curves upriver. Then, eventually, it cut eastward again across the river’s upper flood plain to the higher hills behind. There it rose through a lovely tree-shaded little canyon to the prairie lands that occupy most of Illinois.

I found myself unable to walk more than two miles an hour — about a fifteen per cent reduction from my normal speed — and had to pause every half hour or so to try to reduce the pain in my feet. It took me nine hours to walk the fourteen miles I’d committed to for the day, and by the time I’d reached my evening’s destination, the little rural town of Biggsville, I was in almost as bad shape as I’d been when I came to Burlington. My one day rest in Burlington had not solved the problem at all.

The arrangement in Biggsville was for me to call my hosts in Monmouth, who would drive down and pick me up, put me up for the night in their Monmouth home, and then return me the following morning (June 3) to Biggsville where I would continue by walking to Monmouth. I would then stay with them a second night, meet with Monmouth and Galesburg Friends at their house, and then continue by walking to Galesburg the next morning (June 4).

My hosts in Monmouth were a Quaker couple in their thirties with two small children, newly moved into a lovely, big old house that they were busy fixing up and restoring. Halfway through the evening we were joined by a couple who had driven down from Wisconsin: the husband, a Friend of my own generation, had taken a great interest in what I was doing, and the couple wanted to walk with me the following day.

Alas, on the following morning, my feet were worse than they’d been when I set out from Burlington. It seemed self-destructive to continue backpacking when my feet were worsening from day to day! So we settled on a much shorter day hike along the Mississippi, to see and feel the topography, with my leaving my pack behind. Even that did my feet no good, but it facilitated a fine conversation with my visitors. The husband told me about his experience attending a Quaker Earthcare Witness business meeting this past year, about his work with his own meeting on environmental concerns, and about the environmentally-related quandaries that were troubling him in his personal life. All this was very helpful to me, in my efforts to understand how it is with Friends.

We returned to Monmouth in late afternoon, and joined my hosts and my hostess’s parents — who were also local Friends — for iced tea and dinner. Then we adjourned to the living room of my hosts’ house for the called meeting that I’d requested.

— And I’ll report on that called meeting in my next posting — later this morning, I hope!

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