Shamrock Tour® - Southern Illinois

Text: Chris Myers • Photography: Chris Myers, S.L. Hansen

Some nicknames make perfect sense. I often answer to Red, nothing out of the ordinary for a carrottop, and my college roommate, Fats, was usually one of the last to leave the pizza buffet. But every now and again, you run across a moniker that leaves you downright mystified, like the appellation they came up with to designate this gently rolling countryside in Southern Illinois.

Riding through a fertile, verdant region curiously known as Little Egypt, I mull over the reasoning, or maybe lack thereof, that begat the name. Cinematic scenarios of Middle Eastern sand, sphinxes and pyramids aren't exactly dovetailing with the Midwestern reality. Nor am I any closer to solving the mystery after questioning some of the locals. A few offer guesses but no one seems sure. One elderly shopkeeper shrugged and pointed to the numerous oil wells around, sights often associated with big Egypt and its OPEC neighbors. Yet even though a breeze laced with the rubbery scent of raw petroleum was wafting our way from the perpetually nodding horse-head pumps, I left the man's shop not knowing whether I had been enlightened or merely fed a line.

High Waters

The chilly wind slicing across the surface of Rend Lake reminds me that the VTX1800T's saddlebags have more than enough room for an extra fleece. The temperatures are languishing in the 50s due to the morning cloud cover, and somewhere between Whittington and McLeansboro, I give in and go digging for my sweater. The wide, flat landscape east of the lake is freshly planted with spring crops but little else stands in the way to break the swirling, late May winds. The gusts whip in from every direction, defying the Honda's ample windshield with irksome accuracy.

As I continue east across the broad plains, skewers of bright sunlight begin penetrating the somber clouds. It's obvious that more rain is one thing not needed around here. Recent storms have caused flooding, leaving muddy ponds in the lower-lying fields. Tractors and plows sitting idle near the road are staged for planting when the waters finally recede.

Setting out across the Wabash River bottom, I'm relieved that the elevated roadbed rides high enough above the submerged grassland. The actual riverbanks are no longer discernible and the murky water has crept up the trunks of the tall hardwoods. Beneath the bridge itself, the swift current is clotted with tree branches and other debris, and its chocolaty surface roils with the menacing whorls of eddies and whirlpools.

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For the complete touring article, including facts & information, map(s), and GPS files, please purchase the September/October 2008 back issue.