Saturday, May 29, 2010

Cycle 31 Miles Tunnel Hill State Trail

43 miles from Karmak in southern Illinois, north through Tunnel Hill to Harrisburg

Thursday, May 6, I woke up at 4:00 a.m. and got up since I couldn't go back to sleep. I finished reading Adam Dagleish mystery by P.D. James. After breakfast we pack up the bikes and go east through Goreville to the town of Tunnel Hill where we find the nearest trailhead. The first rail-trail in the U.S. was teh Illinois Prairie Path in the Chicago area. By 1998 rail-trails across the U.S. reached a total of 10,000 miles. Tunnel Hill State Trail is part of this nationwide movement.

Bob dismounts and heads into the museum in Vienna.

We only cycle .2 miles south on Tunnel Hill State Trail before we go through the famous tunnel. Tunnel Hill was originally 800 feet long. A portion of it collapsed in 1929 and now it is 300 feet shorter, or 543 feet long. The tunnel is very disorienting and creeped me out. I felt like I needed a flashlight. It is 20 degrees cooler in the tunnel and I was already chilly when we started. I was glad Bob was cycling in front of me. I just kept thinking of crawly things that might be on the floor of the tunnel that I couldn't see in the pitch black.

The total trail is 45 miles and we start in about the middle at the highest point-Tunnel Hill at 680 feet above sea level. The lowest points are at each end; 340 feet at Harrisburg and 370 feet at Karmak. The grades are only 2% but very long. We go downhill on the way out and it is easy going except for the crushed stone surface of the old railroad bed. It is nicely packed but still provides a workout for our thighs.

Small tunnel under a highway

There are 23 picturesque trestles ranging from 34 feet to 90 feet tall. The longest is Breeden Trestle as well as the highest at 90 feet. The trees from the canyon below are still above the trestle. The rail service between Mt. Carmel and Cairo served southern Illinois for over 100 years and was discontinued in 1989. The 43 miles of right of way from Norfolk Southern Railroad was donated to the people of Illinois in 1991 and the first segments of Tunnel Hill State Trail opened in 1998. It was completed in the fall of 2001. It is not very busy except for 25 to 30 kids heading north from the Vienna Park and trailhead.

Breeden Trestle-90 feet high

We browsed the museum in Vienna (Vi, with a long 'i' "enna"). We turned around at Belkamp Rd. on a detour as we thought it was three miles on a high-speed road with no shoulder. We learned later that we were only 1/2 block short of resuming on the rail-to-trails path. Oh well, we barely made 31 miles on this crushed stone, uphill and against the wind on the way back. I go through the big tunnel first on the way back so Bob can take a picture of me at the end of it. And I am even more disoriented with no one in front of me to follow. I'm weaving all over the place and feel like I'm going to fall off.

We hop off on the way back for a picture of the 543-foot Tunnel Hill

Along the trail we saw quite a flock of cranes in some dead trees. They all took off as we cycled by. We saw a wild turkey, snakes, a bluebird and lots of cardinals. Our trip took from 10:55 a.m. to 3:45 p.m. Afterwards we stopped in Goreville but found no paper at the pharmacy. We eat at Delaney's On Broadway Restaurant. We enjoyed salads and vegetable beef soup with cornbread. We got a Marion, IL, newspaper in the vending machine in front of the post office. Then we headed home to stretch and shower. Our legs are really sore. That crushed stone is a killer. I have a voice message from my friend Holly in Austin. I'm glad to know voice mail is getting through on our spotty phone connection. It's 6:50 p.m. and 75 degrees after a high of 82.

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