Sunday morning, I left the house at 5:30 and drove west, through the cornfields where the land begins to roll gently towards the Mississippi. The sun was growing brighter and stronger, and water vapor rose from the corn tassels, setting up for another humid day as the sky turned from rose to blue. It reminded me of a Van Gogh painting, with ready-to-harvest crops on one side of the country highway and freshly harvested grain on the other, the landscape dotted by the occasional farmhouse. I cruised along with the sunroof open, feeling the breeze, smelling the manure, slowing when approaching small-town speed traps.
I arrived in Oregon, IL, not quite 70 miles west of Elgin, and found my way to Castle Rock State Park, where other runners began to appear as I slathered on sunscreen.
Soon my friends arrived for the Oregon Trail Days Run-A-Muck 8k. They had done it last year and were eager for the “muck” part of the event. We all looked at the 8k portion – a run along open country roads that reflected the sun – as a necessary evil to get to the downriver floating afterwards.
It was hot and sticky, with full sunshine and high humidity. We all carried water – last year there wasn’t enough – and set off.
The run itself did indeed suck. It was so very hot, and there was no shelter along the majority of the route. It was relatively flat, except for one big “hill” as we ran up and over a railroad bridge. My allergies and the humidity made breathing difficult, so Danielle, Shelley and I took it relatively easy, with short walk breaks every mile. We may have slowed a bit when we hit a couple of blissfully shaded residential blocks, where one homeowner had his sprinkler aimed out at the street. Near the end, firefighters had a hose spraying a gorgeous arc of cool water.
Like last year, the course was shorter than its advertised 8k (4.97 mi). Everyone with Garmins clocked it at 7.24k or 4.47 mi, but given the heat, we didn’t really care. We were glistening with sweat and grossness when we arrived at the finish, where we sucked down Gatorade and water before our Lions Club pancake breakfast. (This is one of the cheapest races I’ve done – $25 – and you get a shirt, breakfast, and innertube rental.)
After we ate, we started preparing for the main attraction: an innertube float down the tranquil Rock River, back to our cars. We reapplied all the sweated-off sunscreen because last year, my friends discovered that such a float takes 3+ hours. We strung our tubes into a flotilla for nine adults, two kids, a dog, and coolers full of snacks. We waded into the river, settled into our tubes, and slowly – so slowly – began our float.
It was magical. Divine. Blissful. Exactly what I needed after spending all day Saturday chained to my desk after a long hard week. I had no concept of time. There was no wind, and the dry summer means the river is low, so the current was lazier than a lazy river – we (literally) bottomed out in several places. We intermittently kicked and paddled a bit, and when we hit the shallower sections, we would walk forward a bit, but for the most part, it was just idle relaxation. We had nothing to do but lounge and sunbathe and chat. I alternated between sprawling on top of the tube and dangling my legs in the perfectly cool water. We passed around granola bars, chips and water and enjoyed the peace and quiet, watching hawks swoop overhead.
I would have been okay if the float portion was a bit shorter – there was no shade whatsoever, and I was worried about sunburn – but overall, it was exactly right. When we arrived back at Castle Rock, we rinsed off our legs and feet, changed into dry clothes, and set off for the east.
When I finally got back to my car, it was 3:30 PM and 94 degrees – but I didn’t care. I can’t imagine a more perfect way to spend a summer day than outside with friends, floating lazily down a river.
And I didn’t even really get sunburned, just a nice golden tan and a couple mildly burned spots in a place I didn’t even consider putting sunscreen: my armpits.
I need to find out if you can do similar tubing down the Fox River anywhere, without the pesky 8k first.