It was finally time … time for our first ride of the season! After seeing the sunshiny forecast earlier in the week, I had been eagerly anticipating the opportunity to get some wind. The forecast actually was right (and the ice had finally melted off the driveway), so we geared up and hit the road.
Our initial thought was to check out this little diner-like setup we noticed on a previous ride through Henry. Of course, we forgot to check its hours before leaving the house, but it was all good. We figured we’d eat lunch there if that was an option; if not, we could at least check it out a bit and then look for food elsewhere.
Like we normally do when we head north out of town, we worked our way along a series of wonderfully low-traffic county roads toward Henry. Smiling widely as I took in the deep blueness of the sky, I suddenly noticed something out of the corner of my eye. Looking straight up from my seat on the back of the bike, I spotted a bald eagle gliding along above us. Knowing the angle would be impossible for Wally to see while driving, I continued to watch it play in the wind for just a second before sharing the news of my little discovery. Of course, I still wasn’t entirely sure that’s what I saw, but Wally seemed pretty sure my description fit the bill. Fortunately, all was cleared up just a few miles later.
There I was, once again marveling in the blueness of the sky, when I spotted another (or possibly the same) bald eagle. It was flying low and conveniently located at our 11:00, so I tapped Wally on the shoulder and pointed in its direction without saying a word. Almost immediately, he confirmed the massive bird that was climbing one minute and diving the next was, in fact, our national bird. I couldn’t get over how much fun it seemed to be having while still appearing majestic. Awesome!
Before I knew it, we were rolling into Henry and nearing our first stop. Just north of town on IL 29, we found it — Happy HOBO’s Little Red Caboose, which looks exactly like it sounds. Unfortunately, the sandwich shop/burger restaurant isn’t open on Sundays, so we had to pick another lunch place. But, we did find a new quick Saturday night dinner option. (Watch for a post on it later this summer.)
After deciding to continue our trek north, Wally suggested a town we’d never been to before: Tiskilwa. Not really knowing how to get there, we just kept going until we finally saw a sign pointing us in what we thought was the right direction. It said we only had about 8 miles to go. Apparently, there was a turn somewhere along the way, but we saw no evidence of that reality. Imagine our surprise when, about 10 miles later, we saw another sign, pointing a different direction, saying we were about 8 miles from town. Thoroughly enjoying our afternoon adventure, we played along.
We quickly found ourselves coming up on the elusive village. At first, I was concerned the small town wouldn’t have much more than a convenience store. Thankfully, we came upon a few places after turning onto Main Street, which is when I noticed all these people leaving a church and crossing the street. That’s when one sign grabbed both our attentions: “Indian Valley Inn. Fun. Food. Firewater.” It also happened to be where all the congregrants were heading.
The restaurant immediately felt familiar — a small-town vibe reminiscent of home. Taking two seats at the long bar, we ordered drinks and asked for menus. As I looked around the room, I realized almost all the tables were full of locals in their Sunday best, the quiet hum of their chatter filling the air. The moment defined “pleasant,” much like the menu.
Comprised of breakfast, lunch and dinner as well as nightly specials and beverages, the menu has something for every appetite. Served through lunchtime on Sundays, the eggs, pancakes, biscuits, hash browns and other breakfast offerings beckoned. But, it was already after 12:30, and I was ravenous. Eggs would never be enough.
The lunch menu features a variety of appetizers (cheese balls, onion rings, poppers, etc.) and sandwiches (ranging from the BLT and Reuben to burgers, tenderloins and Italian beef) as well as homemade soups and chef salads. Wally zeroed in on the Patty Melt almost instantly, opting to go with the shoestring fries as his side. (Hmm … He already had fries, so I could order something different and still get/steal some.) Intrigued by the name of the Deep Fried Chicken Sandwich, I had to order it … with some deep fried cauliflower to match. (I know; it’s really becoming a problem with me.)
While we waited for our food, I checked out the dinner menu: beer-battered chicken, chops and steak, seafood, pasta and potatoes plus an all-you-can-eat salad bar (free with some entrees). Again, I was transported back to Nebraska, specifically to the restaurant where my family went for special occasion dinners. Even the prices were like home, very reasonable for a date night.
Our lunch arrived quickly. My Sunday Funday gluttony became all too obvious when looking down at my plate. While I probably should have ordered a side salad or something healthy, nothing could have been better at that moment than those little cauliflower florets. My chicken was perfectly crunchy on the outside and surprisingly juicy on the inside, which made it all the more flavorful. The Patty Melt, also juicy, had just the right amount of grilled onion with a slice of Swiss on rye bread. Paired with the crispy shoestrings, the burger hit the spot. I wish I had suggested we trade sandwich halves, so we each could enjoy both.
After paying our bill (less than $25) and inquiring about the nearest gas station, we bid goodbye to our wonderful little discovery and made our way to the bike. The bartender had informed us a new gas station just opened up down the street, so that’s where we headed; however, it didn’t have a high-grade variety, so we decided to keep looking since we had plenty of time to be picky. Fortunately, we quickly figured out we were only about 10 minutes from Princeton, where there were several fuel options.
From there, we decided to jump on IL 26, which would take us back south but along the opposite side of the river as the first half of our journey. After navigating the necessary short stint on I-180, and its bridge spanning the Illinois, we once again found ourselves under the glorious canopy of trees lining one of my favorite local roads. I’ve liked 26 since our first ride on it (on our way up to Uncle Stewy’s for a BikerSpot Sunday Funday). While I think that old, red wooden barn — just a few feet off the shoulder — is cool, on that first ride, I saw something parked at the entrance to a driveway that floored me: a tank! That’s right … A TANK! It came and went so quickly that I didn’t even process what it was until we were well down the road. Since we didn’t yet have our helmet intercoms, I couldn’t tell Wally about it until our next stop. Unfortunately, by the time we went that way again, the tank had been moved. But, I know it was there. It was!
Returning to the ride at hand, we agreed that instead of going all the way into East Peoria to the McCluggage Bridge, we would cross at Lacon. As we crested that not-quite-as-scary-as-it-used-to-be bridge, I couldn’t help but think that even the scary parts of riding were fun for me now. What a phenomenal feeling to be completely engrossed in the freedom of the wind — a reality that became apparent to me when I realized my stress level had dropped significantly in just a few hours.
Thank heavens riding season is finally here!