That's right. A quirky alignment of the stars placed us in tiny Walnut, Illinois, for this year's 4th of July festivities. Walnut is about an hour east of the Quad Cities, an hour north of Peoria, and a couple hours west of Chicago -- in other words, in the middle of nowhere -- surrounded by corn, soybeans, quiet farm roads, and wonderfully friendly, down-to-Earth people. Walnut's Hometown Celebration stretched four days, with festivities ranging from the popular bean bag tourny to volleyball and softball games to the greased pig chase to the really popular beer garden (assuming you like Miller Lite, MGD, and Coors Light) and all manner of fried treats. Funnel cakes anyone? There was even a 5k road race Saturday morning in which yours truly finished second among the many hundreds of women entered. In fact, all five in our group walked away with hardware. :) In addition to the 5k, only my second ever and quite *painful* for one used to the comfortable pace of ultra-distance events!, I got in a couple of nice runs in the countryside. Sunday morning I was even out the door by 5:30 and got to witness a spectacular sunrise. THAT hasn't happened in a long time.
We then drove a couple hours north, almost to Wisconsin, in order to climb the high point of Illinois. Last month Denali; this month Charles Mound, elevation 1,227 feet! Interestingly, legal access to this high point is actually more difficult to attain than Denali. The land is privately owned, and the landowners open their property to highpointers only the first weekends of June, July, August, and September. They request that visitors park at the main road and walk a little over a mile up their beautiful lane to the summit, so at least it's a bit a of a hike and not just a driveup. Northwestern Illinois actually has tiny rolling green hills and looked more like my homestate of Vermont than what one would normally expect of Illinois. This is one of the reasons I love highpointing -- because it's brought me to places I otherwise would never have visited, and almost always I'm pleasantly surprised that the reality of a place usually surpasses my expectations.
While Charles Mound is the geographical high point -- and the one that "counts" -- the Sears Tower is actually higher at 1,451 feet, the antenna at 1,730 feet, sooo... when we're back in Chicago next week, think I'll bag the Sears Tower. (I would love to take the stairs but think I'll have to settle for the elevator with all the tourists.) It will be neat to have done both high points of my birthstate. :)
Finally, the above photo is the dregs of some of the best fried chicken I've ever eaten. The place is called "Rips" and is in Ladd, IL. The wait is long -- our group stood in line Friday night almost 90 minutes; however, the bar is open while you wait. Your choices are chicken (light or dark) and fish (light or dark), all deep fried. I had both chicken (dark) and fish (light). No matter what you order, you get a mound of fries with a piece of white bread at the bottom of the plate. The vegetable is mushrooms, breaded and deep fried of course, and the appetizer is "crumbs," the small pieces of fried batter that have fallen off the chicken and fish. To offset the grease, you are given a bowl of sliced pickles. Everyone eats with their hands; if you want a fork, you have to ask for it. Although sorely tempted, I held back from buying their "GREASE ME UP!" T-shirt. More here.