VRAIL Stage 10

I didn’t get quite as far as I had intended this weekend, because summer has arrived and it’s both hot and humid. So today’s stage leaves Mt. Sterling and swings northeast, still on U.S. 24, headed for the Illinois River Valley.

The terrain is starting to change as the river gets closer, but the highway follows the flattest ground, so the view hasn’t changed all that much, except that now there are some trees in the distance:

VRAIL Stage 9

This stage brought me through a county seat, and the biggest settlement so far, 50 miles across the state. Mt. Sterling is the county seat of Brown County, complete with its classic courthouse, classic post office and the oldest county fair in the state.

The courthouse was built in 1868 but mostly destroyed by a fire in 1939. The portico and front columns survived the fire, which is why they’re just sitting out there without serving a structural purpose.

Mt. Sterling is also the home to one of the largest food distribution companies in the U.S. If you’ve ever seen one of these trucks with the blue DOT logo, it came from Brown County. DOT is the 65th largest company in the U.S. according to Forbes, based in a town of 2,500 people.

Photo by Dwight Burdette, from Wikipedia

VRAIL Stage 8

Today’s stage began on the edge of Mounds Station, also known as Timewell (there was already a Mounds, IL, when it came time to establish the post office). Timewell is even smaller than Clayton, but it does have a post office!

Note the black-and-white rectangle in the lower left-hand corner. If you zoom in on it, you see this:

Google Maps told me this was Timewell Drainage Systems, which means those black objects are drainage tiles and pipes. I mentioned a few posts ago that this is a swampy part of Illinois. Much of Illinois, in fact, is fairly poorly drained, a legacy of the glaciers that also flattened out the landscape so well. Poor drainage means that when it rains, water just sits in the fields, or that the land is wet enough that it’s difficult to plant anything. So farmers dig up the soil and put these tiles and pipes in the ground to channel water into ditches and streams, leaving the ground dry for planting. This has been done so extensively throughout Illinois that I know a geologist who is trying to reconstruct the actual post-glacial drainage patterns of the state, because the current drainage pattern is so heavily artificial. Timewell Drainage Systems is based on Brown County, but they also manufacture and sell tiles from Iowa to Alabama.

Bonus pic from StreetView: the Timewell Post Office. My dad was a mailman before retirement, and he likes to see different post offices in the places he visits. So I think I’ll throw those in when I can along the way.

VRAIL Stage 7

Rain and storms all weekend meant I didn’t get to my weekly long run until Monday. Fortunately, the semester has ended, so my calendar is relatively open, so I could go today. In my virtual run, I finally left Adams County! Am now in Brown County, just by the little town of Mounds Station, AKA Timewell (more on that in the next stage).

On the way, my route went through Clayton, IL. It makes me sad to see that Clayton no longer has a post office. Residents have to go four miles to Golden, Timewell, or Camp Point to mail a letter. The first two of those are actually smaller than Clayton, so clearly the algorithm of closing rural Post Offices is more complex than just population.

VRAIL Stage 6

I didn’t get quite far enough with this run to get to my next point of interest, but that’s the one I’m going to talk about anyway. (The Illinois River is coming up, so that’s the reason for the southward turn.) U.S. 24 originally ran from Kansas City, MO, to Pontiac, MI, though it now extends westward as far as central Colorado. In Illinois, it connects Quincy and Peoria along what used to be the stagecoach route between the two cities before heading straight east into Indiana.

VRAIL Stage 5

I’ve been dealing with this ongoing pain/soreness in my IT band/knee/calf since November, and it’s finally motivating me to do some strength work so I’m not putting so much stress on my lower legs when I run. Runner’s World has this great 30-day cross-training challenge going on, so in addition to virtually running across Illinois, I’m also doing different kinds of runs plus some strength work.

Today was a “hill run,” which in my part of Illinois, is very difficult. Like, I have to run two miles to get to something approximating a hill, and then it’s a good thing that this particular workout considers only 30 seconds of running uphill to be one rep, because that’s all the hill there is. This is how I traveled today’s stage, ending in the town of Golden.

Golden is distinctive to me for two reasons: I crossed the BNSF/Amtrak tracks leading from Chicago to Quincy, the first major railroad crossing of the trip, and I ended my virtual run in front of this beauty:

The Prairie Mill in Golden, Illinois

According to goldenwindmill.org, this is “the only restored, US-built windmill operating with its original millstones and wood gear mechanism.” It’s also one of only two downstate Dutch windmills (now I have to go find where the other one is), and it has a sister windmill built by the same person in Felde, Germany. Many of the immigrants to this area were from Ostfriesland, the northwestern corner of Germany, and they knew how to drain the swampy land of this area that other white settlers had passed on. The mill didn’t mill anything after 1930, but in the 1990s it was restored, and today there’s a museum and gift shop on the ground floor.

VRAIL Stage 4

Today’s run was long and difficult, thanks to the 25 mph headwinds I faced on the Kickapoo River Trail. Pretending I was in western Illinois didn’t necessarily help, since that’s also flat and windy without much to look at (sample view below):

South of this route, just visible at the edge of the map, is today’s point of interest: Coatsburg, IL. This is the birthplace of William S. Gray, who was one of the authors and editors of the Dick and Jane series of readers. He went to Illinois State, University of Chicago, and Columbia, and was one of the world’s leading scholars on how children learn to read. His big innovation was to use lots of pictures and few words in children’s books, rather than trying to teach them from complex readings like the Bible. The U of C alumni magazine also notes that in the year he graduated with his PhD, he was named Assistant Dean of the College of Education!

VRAIL Stage 3

Today I ran 4.65 miles to reach a specific spot on my virtual trip across Illinois: the Quincy & Warsaw Railroad. Or at least, the trace of it you can see in the landscape, since it’s been abandoned for years. Note the diagonal line on the eastern edge of the map. If you zoom in on Mendon, the town at the southern edge of the image, you’ll see that even though the railroad itself is long gone, Railroad Street remains, as does its trace through the town and the fields.

I really couldn’t find much about the Quincy & Warsaw Railroad online (Warsaw is another river town to the north; apparently the best way to connect them by rail was to avoid the floodplain and move inland). But I did find a story about Mendon that made me think of current events, as well as my other hobby. A resident recently found a pile of her mother’s autographed quilt blocks and figured out they were from the winter when she had scarlet fever and the whole family was quarantined for half the school year. Friends and teachers signed the blocks for her, but it wasn’t until her daughters found them in the 2010s that they made them into a finished quilt.

I couldn’t find a picture of the quilt (which apparently lives at the Adams County Fairgrounds), but this is what a classic signature quilt looks like (photo from the International Quilt Museum):


VRAIL, Stage 2

Today was the second stage of my virtual run across Illinois, going through the tiny town of Marcelline and ending at the intersection of 2450th Ave. and 875th St. (measured from Quincy, the largest city in the county). The route crossed Range Line St., which is a nice trace of geography on the landscape from the township and range system. I get a kick out of the fact that Bear Creek is the water body you can see snaking through this image, and the township is called Ursa.

Here’s the climb out of the Mississippi River Valley. Not exactly a bluff, but there’s definitely a difference in the landscape.

Virtual Run across Illinois (VRAIL) 2020

Among the many things I’m missing right now are a) travel and b) road races. I have a hard time keeping up regular running when I don’t have a half marathon I’m aiming for. So, inspired by The Great Virtual Race Across Tennessee, I’m going to run across Illinois this summer. Virtually.

It turns out if you go straight west from where I live, you pretty much hit the westernmost point in the state. And end-to-end, mapped out as a running route, Illinois is about 228 miles wide. Pretty sure I can pull that off between May 1 and August 31. Along the way, I suspect I’ll learn some things about my state!

Stage 1: 6.51 miles (May 3)

The journey begins in Adams County (first in alphabetical order, how about that?) and the little town of Meyer. According to Wikipedia, Meyer currently has 9 residents. The rest have left over the years due to major flooding from the Mississippi River, the most recent being just last year. The aerial above shows traces of that flooding on the flat-as-a-table land to the east of the river. StreetView from August 2019 shows that some houses in Meyer have been raised up Gulf Coast-style in anticipation of future flooding:

Meyer used to have a ferry connecting it to the much larger town of Canton, MO, but it ended service in 2014 when the repairs to the ferryboat were too much for the grain co-op that ran it. I can’t imagine taking a little two-car ferry across the Mississippi, but it’s a hundred-mile drive otherwise.

Today’s stage basically ends at the edge of the floodplain, so the next several stages will have something I’m not used to in Illinois: hills!