Day 7

August 6, 1999

I started packing up camp at 5:05 a.m. There will be no need for sunscreen war paint today since the weather radio forecasted rainy weather all day. A light rain started to fall as I packed my last items into the large dry bags. By 6:05 a.m. I was on the water with rain continuing to fall on the calm waters. A large hatch of golden-colored caddisflies covered the exposed substrate and debris along the shoreline. As I was calmly recording my first water quality measurements of the morning, I drifted backwards into a large sweeper that jutted out from the RDB. This quickly upset the canoe and myself as I dropped everything to man the kayak paddle to avoid being sucked under the large deadfall. I flayed away at the flotsam-covered surface and broke free of the sweeper's grip after what seemed to be eternity. I realigned the canoe, double-checked my heading and then finished recording water quality observations in my journal in the middle of the river.

The shoreline along the Atwood Homestead Forest Preserve above Hutchins Park, Illinois exhibited serious signs of bank erosion. The park staff has removed the trees and underbrush along the riverbank to not obscure the view of the muddy Rock. However, this terrestrial vegetation and dendritic root system helps hold the silt-clay shoreline together. Removing the vegetation has allowed the river's energy to make ugly scars into the bank. As if this insult were not enough, it appeared as if the park crew provided a final blow by spraying weed killer to prevent the growth of grasses and other perennials at the bank's outer edge. The next step will likely involve dumping chunks of worn out concrete sidewalks, street pavement or curb and gutter into ugly heaps along the exposed bank. This revetment may temporarily reduce the erosion problem. More likely, the river's bank-cutting energy will likely be redirected to undermine the riprap or it will release its erosive force on the next unprotected shoreline downstream. Unfortunately, this fight with the river is being played out within a few feet of large swing set and the present shear earthen bank presents a dangerous risk to children.

Water skiing practice was at full swing as I approached a ski park at Rockford. Four large ski boats pulling six to eight skiers each were moving in a small circular motion in front of the empty grandstands on the left bank. The movement of the boats and their immense displacement resulted in huge radiating waves that doubled and tripled in size as they reflected off oncoming ski boats and the shoreline. Fortunately for me, a petite woman who was standing on the shoulders of a male skier lost her balance and fell into the river which resulted in an immediate cessation of the circular procession. I quickly made my entrance to the waterpark's stage and was nearly overturned as I ploughed through three to four foot waves. Thoughtfully, one of the boat marshals suggested to the group that they "let the canoeist pass" before restarting the practice.

At downtown Rockford, I slowed down to ask two bank fishermen which side of the next dam I should portage on. They looked at me in disbelief and said, ''neither", "there is no way around the dam." I assumed they were wrong and hoped they knew as much about the river as the upstream fishermen knew about the location of the Yahara River confluence and continued onward with some reluctance. As I passed under the Highway 20 bridge, I noticed a gang of teenage boys eyeing me over from a nearby park on the RDB. The dam was up ahead another quarter mile just below a railroad bridge. This separation between the idle boys and the dam provided sufficient distance that they let the foreigner pass without further inspection.

I pulled out above the Rockford Dam on the RDB only to find the passage blocked by buildings and a huge vertical river wall that extended a considerable distance downstream in the tailwater area. Were the upstream fishermen correct? I glanced at the left bank and could not tell if I would find a portage on that side because the railroad bridge blocked the view. My options were limited so I headed for the opposite bank and landed the canoe on a submerged log about ten feet from shore. A 300-ft passage was ascertained but it required unloading in knee deep water with a soft silty ooze substrate, climbing a small earthen bank, then ascending a steep rocky bank to the tailwater area. Fortunately, a young fisherman who was competing in a local carp-a-thon with his dad offered assistance launching the canoe. Before I left, I took a picture of him holding one of his prize fish and wished him luck in the fishing tournament.

I had planned to spend the night near the mouth of Stillman Creek, the site of Black Hawk's routing of the Illinois militia who chased his band of warriors up the Rock in the summer of 1832. There were no desirable campsites observed from my vantage on the river so I continued on a little disappointed. I expected to find a campsite on an island adjacent to Byron, Illinois. However, when I arrived, the only site available had already been claimed. Nearby Islands were posted with no trespassing signs or were heavily overgrown with dense vegetation so the search continued. I passed up a few potential campsites in the early afternoon because they were either too low or contained too much underbrush, a haven for mosquitoes.

Stillman Creek -"It is a muddy stream, some two and a half rods wide, cutting down for a half-dozen feet through the black soil…. It was in the large grove on the north bank, near its Junction with the Rock, that Black Hawk, in the month of May, 1832, parleyed with the Pottawattomies. It was here that on the 14th of that month he learned of the treachery of Stillman's militiamen, and at once made that famous rally with his little band of forty braves which resulted in the rout of the cowardly whites, who fled pell-mell over the prairie towards Dixon, asserting that two thousand blood thirsty warriors were sweeping northern Illinois with a besom of destruction." 
R.G. Thwaites, 1887

At 4:40 p.m., I came across a hot, grey turbid stream that entered from the LDB several miles below Byron. The water temperature of this discharge was ninety degrees and the transparency was a miserable six centimeters. I found out later from a nearby traut-line fisherman that this inflow was the cooling water discharge from the Byron Nuclear Generating Facility. This seemed surprising since it was so full of suspended particulate material. Perhaps this observation should be reported to the Illinois EPA, the agency that regulates point source discharges in this state. The commercial fisherman indicated it had been a good year for catfish although the catches have declined in recent weeks. I asked him if the nearby Louden State Park had riverside campsites. He said it didn't but suggested a campsite could be found at the Highway 2 wayside just around the next bend.

I reached the wayside along Highway 2 at 5:30 p.m. and found that there was a party already camping there. However, the triangular piece of ground was large enough to accommodate two tents and since the present squatters where nowhere to be found, I quickly set up my tent and unpacked my gear. About ten minutes later, two middle-aged black men arrived in a Chevy truck to reclaim their site and check on their unattended fishing poles. They hailed from Chicago and came over to the Rock for fishing every other weekend. They also gave the Rock a very positive fishing report and said, "fishing is much better than last year."

My thirty-five miles of canoeing today put me ahead of schedule as well as a little tired. It was a calm peaceful evening as I crawled into my tent at dusk. I drifted off to sleep at the sound of an occasional auto or semi passing on the highway and the faint sound of hip-hop music from the north end of the campground.

Bridge Graffiti at Rockford, Illinois