Fixin’ to Get Ready
When pondering our many options for Memorial Day weekend, we settled on a quick trip to Galena, Ill., for two reasons. First, we wanted to check the town out when it is warm outside. See, we took a wonderful pre-Christmas vacation up there, and it was 5 degrees or less the entire time. Oh, and it snowed something like 8 or 10 inches on the first night of our holiday excursion. Now, I would be lying if I said it wasn’t beautiful because I’m here to tell you that Galena knows how to do Christmas, especially with a fresh blanket of snow. Heck, even Santa stopped by our favorite Bloody Mary/Mimosa bar for photos. However, we still wanted to know what it was like when it was actually warm outside.
The second purpose of the trip was a “dry run” of sorts to determine how well we handle multiple days in a row of riding. In the year we’ve been riding, we have loved it and only had one hard ride and that was a one-day return from a long weekend in Indianapolis. Since I begged him to leave me in Bloomington and come back with the car, Wally wanted to make sure the new bike, the Victory, provided a better ride for me (and him) since we are planning a week trip around Lake Michigan this summer. Well, I’m here to say the Victory made all the difference. I was a bit sore, but that went away every time we stopped to stretch.
Day 1: Peoria to Galena
Because Wally works Saturdays, we often embark on our adventures in the late afternoon. This trip was no different; fortunately, he got off on time, so we were on the road by 4:30 (of course, I already had the bike packed). Due to the impending sunset and our unfamiliarity with the roads we’d be traveling, we agreed to save the scenic route for the return trip. Instead, we opted to take Illinois 40 straight north through Sterling/Rock Falls, all the way to Mt. Carroll. We stopped in Mt. Carroll for gas and to stretch. It was a cute town with lots of historic buildings; we also noticed the Legion putting out the flags for Memorial Day activities. Up to that point, the road was just putting the miles behind us, but after we left Mt. Carroll, heading north on Highway 78, it grew more interesting. We definitely were approaching the Mississippi River valley because we were seeing a more varied landscape — hills, curves, panoramic vistas. The view really took the edge off that third hour. Highway 78 ended just 20 miles later, where we turned west on US 20. We were so close, yet so far away. The hilly, curvy roads are a fun ride but take forever to cover just a few miles, even more so when there is a bit of traffic. What a relief to arrive.
After staying here for nearly a week during the holidays, we can honestly say we absolutely love the Irish Cottage Boutique Hotel. It’s a charming hotel designed after what you’d find in the Irish countryside, right down to the outstanding pub. Check-in was a breeze, as always, and the room was perfect. In fact, when we had first booked the room, I inquired about an anniversary package they were offering. Although it wasn’t available during our stay, they did offer to work with me; now, even after I didn’t go that route, they still noted that discussion and had a card of congratulations waiting in the room for us!
We happily trekked down the hallway to the pub, the sound of live music growing louder as we approached. The pub typically has live acts on the weekends, and this one was no exception. Playing for the entire holiday was acoustic guitarist and singer Jon Conover. We liked his style instantly. More on him later.
Drinks definitely were a priority, and we were thrilled to see our favorite Galena bartender was working. Joy is awesome: She makes a great martini, ensures your drinks are never empty, and answers any questions about the area with a genuine smile. After quenching our thirst, we ordered dinner. A steak for Wally and Shepherd’s Pie for me (it’s one of the pub’s Irish specialties). Both tasted great, and after a couple more drinks, it was time to crash since we had plans for the next day.
Day 2: The Ride
Up early, showered, and ready for breakfast by 8:00, when the restaurant starts serving. (Helpful Travel Tip: Irish Cottage provides breakfast with their room charge.) Since it was a weekend, breakfast was going to be a hot meal with an Irish flair. That day, it was a sausage quiche inside a biscuit that kind of looked like a giant muffin with gravy on top (I know, right?!) and fresh fruit. They also set out a wide variety of pastries, orange juice, coffee, milk, tea, and all the fixings you would need. After eating our fill and then some, it was time to ride.
We left the hotel at around 9:00 a.m., and headed east on US 20 toward our first destination of the day — the Field of Dreams movie site in Dyersville, Iowa. Initially, the highway is quite interesting as you travel through Galena, down the river valley to the Mississippi, where you cross at Dubuque. At that point, the trip becomes a simple ride down a typical two-lane highway until you get to Dyersville. The Field of Dreams was quite easy to find, with signs leading you all the way. Now, the entire road to the site is paved; however, the lane and parking lot are gravel, so if you’re on a bike, be ready for that.
We started by checking out the gift shop, and spoke with the very nice attendant on duty. She filled us in on what we needed to know and directed us to the bathrooms (note: porties). After the quick pit stop, we checked out the ballpark. It was all there: The white house. The wooden bleachers. The corn field (although not much in late May). It was cool to walk around and recall scenes from the movie. That said, my favorite part was the game that played out in front of me.
A mom, dad, and little girl had arrived just before us, and they were teaching her how to run the bases. She completed one lap, then wanted to go another round herself. Her dad went to the pitcher’s mound and pretended to pitch to her, so she could run to first. Then, he was going to pretend to pitch to another batter, so Wally jumped in to “bat.” The little girl watched as he swung and then ran. A guy who had been in the outfield taking pictures suddenly joined the play and pretended to catch the ball, so Wally was out. The little girl just kept running the bases while the men played it out. I was fascinated how the iconic field could turn grown men into kids again. What an experience. At this point, we’d been there about 30 minutes, and we had done all there was to do. We packed up and headed out.
Taking IA 136 South, we continued our journey, this time headed toward the notorious biker spot Poopy’s in Savanna, Ill. We had really been looking forward to this part of the trip, as 136 looked to be a windy, peaceful road — we were right! That glorious black ribbon took us through some beautiful, rural parts of Iowa. We saw farmers planting their fields, livestock grazing on grass, creeks flowing through meadows. Serenity at its finest. About 45 minutes in, we turned east on IA 64, which would take us all the way to the border. Another amazing road! It felt as if we were riding the ridge of some serpentine hill formation, always having spectacular views across the lush, green landscape. Of course, we also passed through the occasional small town, including a waypoint Wally had noted when we set out: Miles, Iowa.
Our next stop was in Sabula, “Iowa’s Island City,” so named because it is surrounded by water. Now, if you don’t like bridges, this is not the route for you. Heading out of town on US 52, the water is on both sides of the road, which seems to be a peninsula poking out of the back water. Then, all the sudden, you come around a corner and the river bridge looms ahead. (Can you tell I don’t like bridges?) Of course, I didn’t even notice it had a metal grill for a surface until we already were on it. (Mentally, I’m freaking out at this point. I hate these bridges in a car, and now on a bike! Not good times.) Thankfully, my husband is an excellent driver and was ready for it. While I could feel the bike moving a bit on the grate-like surface, I was confident in his skills and was able to handle it. Now, Wally had been warning me for quite some time about the bridge we’ll take over Lake Michigan, as its surface is partially metal grill, too. He seemed to welcome the idea of a test run before that longer bridge; however, I’m not sure if I feel better or worse about it now.
Minutes after being solidly back on land, we were at the legendary Poopy’s. It was huge. There’s an inside bar, a gift shop, tattoo artists, a ginormous beer garden, three outdoor stages, and a serve-yourself food/beer area for when the “restaurant” is busy. The place was packed! Luckily, we found two stools (seriously, toilet seats on bar stools) at the bar and ordered. It was your typical bar fare — nothing special. But it was hot and tasted great with a coo’ one. Now, we arrived at about noon and received our food in about 25 minutes. About the time we were done eating, a couple sat down next to us, and the bartender told them the food wait would be “at least an hour” but that they could go to self-serve area in back if they wanted something quicker, which is an excellent option for this place. We looked around a bit, then stepped out to the beer garden to watch the end of the Indy 500 before heading back to Galena.
We jumped onto IL 84 North, which is a wonderfully curvy road that hugs the Mississippi River. It was glorious. The sun was out and beating down, and the wind was just strong enough to keep you cool. The views across the valleys were phenomenal. Green, green, green everywhere. We then reconnected with US 20 and took it back into downtown Galena. Talk about hopping! The downtown area was beyond capacity. People were all over, so we postponed shopping and stopped by one of our preferred drinking establishments from Christmas (the place we saw Santa). One drink in, and we started to notice Wally’s sunburn. (Tip: Never ever forget the sunscreen, even in May!) With as crazy as it was in town and the road tired that was starting to set in, we decided to return to home base.
Back at the Cottage, we changed, cleaned up, and headed down to the pub. It was early evening, but the place already was filling up. We took our “usual” spots at the bar, and greeted Joy with much joy. Since it was a holiday, the weekend entertainment extended through Sunday, which meant more good times. A little after 7:00, the Irish Dancers took the stage for about 25 minutes. They are fun to watch in their uber-colorful outfits and wonderful stomping shoes. To help fund their travels, costumes, etc., they always walk the room with baskets for donations after their set. We’re always happy to contribute and appreciate that they stop and chat with you, happily answering any questions. This particular night, we had a blonde girl and a brother/sister combo. The show was the sister’s last, and her family was out in force with the recording devices.
About 20 minutes later, Jon Conover took to his guitar again but not before Joy had a chance to tell him we heard him start then immediately stop the song “Halleluiah,” wishing he had played it. He stopped to tell us he’d give it a try but couldn’t promise how good it’d be. Well, we ordered dinner and enjoyed his set, waiting patiently for the song. He prefaced it by telling the crowd it was a request for a song he didn’t play often and saying he’d do his best. A verse in, I noticed the other diners slowly realizing what they were hearing. They were just stopping and lifting their heads to revel in it. The rendition was nothing short of glorious, and the applause after told Conover everything: Play that song! Well, after that experience, we were ready to call it a day, so we’d be ready to head out early the next morning.
Day 3: Heading Home
We woke up about 6:00, realizing it was too early for breakfast but a good chance to get home before our dog sitter left for the day. (We really didn’t want to wait until 8:00 that night to pick the “kids” up.) Packing was quick and easy with our wonderful Victory saddlebag liners. Before we knew it, we’d had some coffee and were checking out. It had just stopped raining when we got to the bike, but our handy towel took care of it, and we were off.
We had planned to follow the river to the Quad Cities and then head east from there, so we started out east on US 20 before heading south on IL-84, the same road we took back from Poopy’s. Like the day before, it was a fun ride along the Mississippi, with the winding highway to follow and natural beauty to take in. Disappointingly, a little south of Savanna, the road bends away from the river and turns into your typical two-lane highway. Realizing we’d just be extending the trip to follow the road to the Quads, we opted to head east on US 30, which was great for me because I grew up in a town 30 runs through. Ah, the memories!
From there, it wasn’t too long before we were in Sterling, heading south on IL 40. Missing a couple chances to get some breakfast, we stopped at the Casey’s in Bradford for a quick bite. (Don’t you love that you can always count on finding a Casey’s in a small town?!) A breakfast sandwich and some juice later, the kickstand was back up. At right around 10:00, a mere three hours after setting out, we were home and on our way to pick up the dogs. We enjoyed having the rest of the day to relax and reflect on the trip. Overall, we decided that with some breaks along the way, Lake Michigan shouldn’t be a problem. Thank goodness it’s only a couple months away!