Adventures on two wheels
Fall is fine for motorcycles
Save for Bambi, it’s hard to beat autumn as the best season for motorcycling in Illinois.
There’s nothing like having venison still on the hoof jump out in front of you to ruin an otherwise perfect ride, and so sage motorcyclists are parked well before sundown, when deer become both more active and harder to see. The risk increases as the days grow shorter and breeding season nears. And so, while riding conditions are fine in fall, opportunities can be narrower than during the spring and summer.
Too many roads in central Illinois are flat and straight and bordered by cornfields, making the destination sometimes more interesting than the journey itself, which should never be the case on a motorcycle. That said, it’s hard to beat an autumn cruise on the Great River Road between Alton and Kampsville once the leaves change – you’ve got the river and flaming trees to look at, plus a fair number of decent restaurants and pubs along the way in towns like Grafton. The free ferry across the Illinois River at Kampsville is a great break from the saddle. Sadly, the Kampsville Inn overlooking the ferry landing, which served terrifically cold beer and amazing gizzards, has recently closed, and so you can’t dally over a late lunch while watching a ballgame on the big screen.
A bit closer to home, there are Cass and Mason counties, and thank goodness. What happens in the hinterlands stays in the hinterlands, at least in places like Bath and Chandlerville, where cell phone service is spotty, redneck culture thrives and there are some righteous twisties for those who take the time to stray from main roads and have a half-day to kill.
From Springfield, head west on Highway 125, and be patient. The first 10 miles or is a typical “Look, another cornfield” road. That starts to change after you turn right on Philadelphia Road, a few miles past Pleasant Plains. You will soon be left, then right, then left again, then right again, going up and down moderate hills and through turns that invite throttle twists and smiles. The road gets chip sealed during the summer, but come fall, the gravel is no longer loose, and so no worries.
Once in Chandlerville, take the main drag through town (it is impossible to miss), then head east on Oakford Road, aka Highway 12. You will be tempted to open it up a bit on this little-traveled two-laner through a river bottom. Go ahead – we won’t tell. When you get to Oakford, stop for refreshments at Wallace Trading Post, which will be to your right, near the railroad tracks. This is, arguably, the best bar in central Illinois for connoisseurs of taxidermy – elk, deer, gazelle-like critters from far-off lands, this place has it all. There is nary a window in the establishment, so it feels like an oversized hunting cabin in midwinter even before Halloween. As with other area establishments, Fireball and Bud Lite are go-to’s, but Wallace Trading Post also offers MacCallan’s single malt and good craft beers. Don’t overindulge, because there is more riding ahead.
Head north out of town on Highway 97, cross over the Sangamon River and after 10 miles or so, turn left on Road 900N, which will take you to the heart of Bath, home of the infamous Redneck Fishing Tournament held every August. Bath is usually quiet this time of year, before hunting season starts, and so you can expect little traffic.
From Bath, travel north on Highway 78, stopping to stretch your legs at Matanzas Prairie Nature Preserve, just outside town. Proceed to Havana. By now, you’re probably ready to head home, so take Highway 136 east to Highway 10, which you’ll follow to Mason City, where you’ll turn onto Highway 29 heading south into Springfield. If you have inclination, there are back roads that can take you from Mason City to Springfield via such burgs as Hubly and Middletown, but plot a route ahead of time to avoid getting lost. Whichever way you go, it is a fine way to spend an afternoon. Just make sure you’re home by dark.
Contact Bruce Rushton at email@example.com.