The Tunnel Hill State Trail

We got the generator fixed in St. Louis but we discovered when we got back to our spot in St. Charles and backing in that the engine was leaking something on their super clean concrete pads. Oops. When we had the bus worked on in Chattanooga in the spring, we thought that problem was resolved with the miter box fix..

Jim called Joel at the Choo Choo Garage and from his description Joel figured it was a rear main seal in the engine that needs to be replaced. We made a plan to have the bus there mid-October so we positioned ourselves to mosey that way. Jim found the Tunnel Hill State Trail in southern Illinois and picked Vienna, Illinois as a good spot to explore it in both directions.

When he called City Hall to see if the city park allowed camping the lady on the other end said, “Well, I can’t tell you that you can park there…but…” Kind of like Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell. We decided to give it a try. We arrived on Sunday after what looked like a big event set up in the park. Good thing we dawdled in St. Louis a day longer.

We found a nice level spot beside the river and kinda behind the recycling bins. You know, to try to fade into the background. The cats have a good, fairly quiet spot to roam around by the water with lots of large trees and shade.  We got in a couple days of riding and planned another couple after a day off. This is a nice trail.

The next morning during breakfast, the police showed up. Busted! The woman officer was nice enough but stated that there was no camping in the park. I asked if we could stay the night and she said no. I mentioned that lots of city parks allow camping but she was resolute. She said that we could call City Hall but it sounded like a no-go. We took to our iPads to see if we could find a park or boondocking spot further up the trail but we really wanted to make sure and ride the section with the tunnel.

While we were preparing to depart Jim decided to go ahead and call City Hall. Never hurts to ask. He got connected with a nice lady, Aletha, and explained that we just wanted to ride the trail and spend some money in the town, not move in. She promised to ask the higher-ups and call him back shortly. She did and we got the go-ahead to stay another couple of nights! Awesome!

What happened next was even better. A couple of hours later, there was a knock on the door. I thought, Oh no, we’re getting kicked out again. I opened the door and a gentleman with the name “Jon” on his shirt was there. I said “Hi Jon!” He laughed and introduced himself as Jon Simmons, the Mayor of Vienna!
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He told us that we didn’t have to park back where we were and that we could move anywhere in the park we wanted. Wow! We explained that our spot was good for the cats and thanked him profusely for paying us a personal visit and being so welcoming. He wanted to assure us that we could stay for a couple more nights. We assured him that we wouldn’t be moving in and suggested that the city collect fees for camping. The park is right on the trailhead and they could make some money for the city. We offered to pay and he shrugged that off. What a great turnaround!

Later that afternoon I saw another small Class C drive into the park. I thought they would think it was OK to camp when they saw us there. Pandora’s Box. They parked by the trailhead and a little while later we had a visit from Mike and Nancy, when they wanted to look at the bus.  They happen to live in Chattanooga and we told them we were headed there. They are folks who RV with a cat and they are also Burning Man aficionados so we had a great conversation and even know some of the same people, the Technomads!. We told them we were planning to be in Chattanooga and they will show us the bike trails around town. Super cool! We are looking forward to seeing them again soon.
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The next morning there was another knock on the door at about 7:00 AM. Oh no! This time a city worker told us we had to move because they were going to move the recycling bins back into place after the event. We told him we had permission to stay and he was cool with that; we just had to move out of that spot. So we moved the bus about 100 yards to an even more level spot and went back to bed. About an hour later he knocked again and apologized for any inconvenience he had caused. Astrid is still hiding. What a town!

This is another really good trail. We rode to Karnak the first day, about 28 miles. The weather is beautiful,  fall, cooled off and colorful. Today we rode past Tunnel Hill, and we saw the tunnel. It’s not as long, dark or wet as the one on the Elroy-Sparta Trail but it is 572 feet long and you can ride through it. You can see the light at the end too.

The town of Tunnel Hill itself, has not aged well. Many towns along the former railroad simply disappeared after rail traffic slowed down. The automobile really changed a lot of things in America.
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Look closely and you will see a formerly splendid building with arched windows and unbroken glass. A real fixer-upper.

Vienna turned out to be a really special place. After not being sure how to handle us, they decided to be warm and welcoming. As Jon said, you just gotta use common sense. Faith in humanity restored. We are so grateful for the goodness of people.

Tomorrow we will have four days to get to Chattanooga and prepare for the engine deal. Gotta find some trails along the way.

A seal, right? It sounds small, but apparently they have to pull the engine and transmission. Whut?! At least it won’t be like the last time we were there.

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