A few weeks ago, some buddies and I got together for a motorcycle trip over to Starved Rock State Park. We had the time of our lives so I am sharing it with you.
Pictured left to right, is Gene Pope, Tracy Alvey, Todd Widholm, myself, Gary Markert, and Glenn Pope. This trip started out between myself, Tracy, and Gary. We had been talking about this ride for years, but since Tracy and Gary both live up near the Great Cheddar Curtain, the logistics of the ride could never be settled. Finally, we set a date to meet on a Saturday morning in Morris Illinois.
A few days before the ride, I asked Todd and Gene if they wanted to join, and Gene thought of his brother, Glenn. All of us were coming from different directions. Gene, Todd, and I agreed to meet at McDonald’s in Braidwood.
About 8:30 I took off from my house on my baby, a beautiful black Indian Chief Vintage. The route was northwest up Route 113. If you have never traveled this road, it’s a beautiful trek along the river. The critter-filled road winds along with the curves of the river and trees have grown up and over on both sides, shading the road along the way.
“Shading” was the focal word in that last paragraph. It was about 55 degrees at that time of the morning and the trees were actually hogging up the sun, making for a rather cool ride. When I got to McDonald’s there was one lone white Harley in the parking lot. Now, I have known Gene for 42 years, but would have never recognized him underneath all that leather…until he took his helmet off and grinned. Ten minutes later Todd showed up on his black Harley, dressed pretty much the same way, sans the chaps. Yes, Gene wore chaps. Jokes and giggles were exchanged.
We headed up to the truckstop just north of Interstate 80, which took us right through the old river town of Morris. There must have been 20 other bikes there, but we managed to find Tracy and Glenn’s Harley’s, as well as Gary’s BMW. And with that, the Ibuprofen Chapter of the Sons of Anarchy Motor Cycle Club (MC) were off.
We traveled south, making our second trip over the Morris Bridge on the Illinois River. Gene and I recalled as truck drivers back in the late ‘70’s the original bridge, built in 1934, had been arching, narrow, rough, and somewhat harrowing, particularly in a semi-truck. About 25 years too late, the bridge was replaced in 2002 with a 1,456-foot concrete span that was much safer, but had lost all its charm.
Just south of the bridge we turned west on DuPont Road. If you have lived in Illinois all your life and have never been on DuPont Road, you never would have guessed that such a road could exist in Illinois. Much like route 113, DuPont Road follows the river, but the curves are sharper, the trees are denser over the road, and there are actually hills – in Illinois! I swear during one particular hairpin curve I saw the rear end of my own bike - it seemed that sharp! The trees allow sunlight but only to lightly sprinkle on the road, making the road visually problematic at times.
Having never been to Starved Rock, I had no idea what to expect. The weather had turned spectacularly to a bright, crisp, warm autumn day. The park was busy but clean and well organized. We parked in the public lot and made our way up towards the main lodge. This would be a good time to point out the comedy of bones cracking and the back stretches going on by our little MC. In retrospect, somebody should have passed around an aspirin bottle.
There is a quaint Irish pub located on the edge of a bluff that we decided to have lunch. The place was packed and the food was good. A very pleasant surprise for a beanery located within a state park. From our vantage point we could see the fabled “Starved Rock.”
Formed by glacial melt-water, Starved Rock is a bluff that is situated along the south bank of the Illinois River. Surprisingly, the park contains 18 caves. Louis Jolliet and Jacques Marquette were the first Europeans recorded as exploring the region, and by 1683, the French had established Fort St. Louis overlooking the river.
Later after the French had moved on, according to legend, sometime in the 1760’s, Chief Pontiac of the Ottawa tribe, attended a tribal council meeting of the Illinois and the Pottawatomie Indians. Evidently, Chief Kinebo of the Illinois tribe stabbed Chief Pontiac. You just know it had to be over a woman! The Illinois then scrambled to shelter on the tallest bluff, where they were promptly surrounded by the other tribes. Fearful to come back down and fight, the remaining Illinois stayed up there until they died of starvation. Hence the name – Starved Rock. (Somewhere in that story one would think there has to be a good Big Ten story.)
Daniel Hitt purchased and developed the land for vacationers in the 1890’s. He built a hotel and developed the area commercially. It was purchased by the State of Illinois in 1911 as the state’s first recreational park, which is now considered the number one vacation spot in the state.
Deciding a trek up the steep bluff of Starved Rock would just be too easy for the grizzled bunch from our MC, so we opted to lumber back down to our bikes. After all, we reasoned, this was a biking trip, not a climbing excursion. We next visited the Middle East Conflicts Memorial Wall in Marseilles. It was an especially poignant stop for the Pope brothers, both Viet Nam vets. Ten granite slabs with the names of the fallen from the ongoing wars in the Middle East, sits peacefully along the Illinois River. It is well worth the stop on the way to Starved Rock.
From there it was a short trip over to Boondocks, a “biker” bar and grille near Seneca IL, also along the Illinois River. The last time there I estimated 200 bikes lined up, so it was mildly disappointing to find about half as many there on this trip. The attraction to me is the secondary outdoor bar near the river where a band is always playing. I have to admit; a gal was singing a pretty good rendition of “Me and Bobby McGee” when the boys pulled me away from the band to hit the road again.
From there, our MC headed back to Morris, where we would split up to go our separate ways. I got home just about dusk, weary but delighted from the excursion. It’s hard to explain to the non-rider the exhilaration of being part of a group of fellow bikers. There is also a special bond between a rider and his bike. From riding a serenity washes over you from being out on the open road, just you and your motorcycle, the feel and rush of the raw power of the bike, the guttural sound of your engine, and the open-air atmosphere of nature that all coalesces to create a peacefulness in your soul not found in other ventures. The dangers of motorcycle riding are known, and bikers accept them as part of the price to pursue that biker equanimity.
To a man, we all agreed it was a great day. A fine memory.