My 22nd High PointCHARLES MOUND-ILLINOIS
AUGUST 2, 2009
I felt weird doing this high point for two reasons. One, I hadn’t done an easy drive-up high point since March 2000 when I bagged the Florida high point. Since that time I had been going on major hikes mostly out west and in the Adirondacks of New York and the Appalachians in New England. Secondly, last year I had failed to bag the high point of Nevada due to the fact that my car suffered a blown tire while descending the Queen Mine Approach while on a reconnaissance of Boundary Peak via the Queen Mine approach. That mishap was the first time I had failed to bag a high point since I had joined the Highpointers Club in 1997. I needed to get back into the game and needed to renew my confidence again.
Accordingly I earmarked August 2, 2009 as D-Day for bagging Charles Mound in Illinois. I flew into Chicago the day before and based myself at the La Quinta Inn in Elk Grove Village. (The hotel is very close to O’Hare airport and also right near Interstate 90 which I would need to take to get to Charles Mound). While I was there I also decided to kill three birds with one stone. I was able to interview Tom “Chico” Adrahtas (biographer of NHL hall-of-fame goalie Glenn Hall and lifelong Chicago Black Hawks fan) and NHL living legend Stan Mikita for an oral history book project of the NHL’s Original Six era which I’ve been working on since October 2005.
August 2, 2009 dawned cloudless and glorious. (The weather the day before had been cloudy and drizzly). I breakfasted and left my hotel at 9:00AM. It would be a 2.5 hour drive to Charles Mound. I got onto Interstate 90 quickly and roared westward. I always thought the Garden State Parkway in New Jersey was overloaded with toll booths. Guess what? The Illinois highways are just as loaded. Interestingly traffic westward was moderately heavy. There were no traffic jams or stoppages but traffic was significant. It wasn’t until I hit Rockford that the road became clearer.
I had never been to Illinois before so this was virgin territory for me. I was struck by the terrain. What I saw was blue sky upon endless green earth. There were no clouds. Just the eternal blue juxtaposed with the eternal green of the Illinois earth. I recalled Falstaff’s lines of “bubbling o’er green fields” in Shakespeare’s Henry IV. There were corn fields and silver silos aplenty. The land was a perfect drop zone for an airborne assault. When I stayed in the Chicago suburbs there were plenty of Catholic churches. Outside the city one only saw Protestant churches. This was my exposure to Middle America.
When I reached Rockford I picked up Route 20 West and followed the sun. Ninety minutes into my journey I hit a speed trap in Lancaster, Illinois. It’s at the place where Route 20 changes from a four lane highway into a two lane blacktop. I had been roaring down the highway jamming along with my favorite CDs when I spotted the cop car too late. When I saw the cherry tops I pulled over. I think God was looking out for me. I was very soft-spoken, bashful, contrite and apologetic. After admitting that I had been speeding and explaining what I was doing (he had never heard of the Highpointers Club), he let me off with a gentle warning and no ticket or fine. I think my mild and meek behavior is what saved me. After that I kept to the speed limit.
The longest part of the journey was driving westward through the tiny outposts, hamlets, and villages of Northwest Illinois. All one could see were roads, farms, cornfields and churches. One note to make, if you’re heading west, the last gas station you will find will be in Stockton. If you’re low on gas, your better fill your tank there because between Stockton and Scales Mound I didn’t see any gas stations on the roads I traveled to get to Charles Mound. Luckily I had enough fuel to get there and back to Stockton but for other travelers you should be aware of this.
Once you turn off Route 20 West then the roads become smaller and narrow. They reminded me of the “B” roads I drove when I toured England in 1989. One would see signs to watch for farm equipment or snow mobiles in wintertime. I can’t imagine what those places would be like during the wintertime. Interestingly while I was on Route 20 the terrain was flat as a pool table. Once I turned off and into the back roads to approach Charles Mound, the land began to undulate, rise, fall, and fold into itself. It was like I was entering a different country, a foreign land of some sort. I was never lost. My directions from Mapquest were right on the mark. It was just a matter of patience in getting there.
When you turn onto Carr Road the road changes from blacktop to gravel. After you go through a small tunnel it changes back to pavement again. West Charles Mound Road sneaks up on you quickly. I passed it but double back immediately. It was then I had trouble finding the Wuebbels place. I overshot and went way past my mark. I saw a farmer standing near the road and flagged him down. He quickly reoriented me. (Note to highpointers when you turn onto West Charles Mound Road from Carr Road you will down and up a hill and then you will see the road curve left. Look for the Wuebbels gate to your right. If you take that left hand curve then you’ve gone too far and must double back).
I found the Wuebbels gate. It’s very small and narrow and there is a small sign instructing visitor’s to park at the gate and proceed on foot. I parked at the gate but most travelers parked on the roadside. I wasn’t alone. Another car pulled up and out came Tim and Sawyer, a father and son tandem from, of all places, West Chester, Pennsylvania, a town right across the Delaware River and a little bit south of where I live!
We started hiking along the tree-lined driveway, jabbering away about our mutual high-pointing experiences. (Our jabbering would later cause me trouble).
It was a bit of walk and I actually was working up a sweat in the warm weather. The driveway twists and turns and you encounter cattle grazing and crop fields. After you’ve cleared the trees you see a red barn and two ponds filled with algae. There is a circular drive where visitors can park their vehicles before climbing a small rise to the high point. Sawyer broke trail while Tim and I conversed.
It was about 12:15PM when we reached the roof of Illinois. The high point is to the right when you reach the top of the rise. The sign is there within a triangle of U.S.G.S. survey markers.
There is no 360 degree view from the summit. There are two lawn chairs with the guest register lying inside a milk canister wedged between.
We all whipped out our cameras and began taking pictures. The lawn chairs look northward towards the Wisconsin border. In fact we could see a bi-plane either doing some crop-dusting or learning how to do crop-dusting runs.
As for me I did my time-honored summit rituals: I knelt in the grass and recited my trinity of prayers. I got Tim to take pictures of me holding the Illinois and U.S. flags to mark my 22nd high point. Then I began to explore the summit area.
Charles Mound is a grassy hill dotted with wild flowers, dandelions, and daisies. Looking northward all you can see is God’s green earth in Illinois and Wisconsin. Interestingly, far off in the northern horizon one could see a much larger hill. The skies remained cloudless and it was getting hot but not humid. Still I was sweating a lot.
Tim and Sawyer left early and I had the summit to myself for 15-20 minutes. I rested a bit after the 2.5 hour drive. I wanted to take my time and enjoy the experience before doing another 2.5 hour drive back. I finished my roll of film and got ready to hike downward. It was then I encountered trouble.
While I was ascending towards Charles Mound with Tim and Sawyer, I neglected to pay attention to my surroundings. When I came back down and reached the area where the red barn was, I saw a fork in the road and could not remember which way I had come! I was lost.
Luckily as I was descending there had been a married couple which had passed me on the way to the high point. I went back to the summit and sheepishly asked them which way they had come. They set me straight and I began to descend. (For the record when you go down and reach the fork where the red barn and pond are: take the left fork!)
I was embarrassed. Whenever I do something big there is always an element of opera bouffe involved somewhere. It’s the story of my life.
I reached the car at 1:00PM. Other high pointers were arriving and the road was getting crowded. After securing my gear, I left the Wuebbels farm a little after 1:00PM. I drove back to Stockton in silence, absorbing the experience in my mind.
I was determined to get gas in Stockton. The drive back proceeded without incident. I tanked up at a Shell station in Stockton and treated myself to a candy bar. Once the car was filled, I made my way slowly back to Route East. When I reached Lancaster, the speed trap was still going on (I don’t know if it was the same cop or not). After I passed the speed trap and encountered four lane highways, I kicked my car in the ass and began to roar eastward back to Chicago, all the while listening to CDs of my favorite rock songs at full volume while singing my lungs out.
Traffic was still heavy and I was darting in and out among the cars alternating between 70 to 80 M.P.H. (I wasn’t the only one speeding. Everyone else was doing the same thing). The wind and sun were at my back all the way. It was 3:45 PM when I returned to Elk Grove Village.
And now for the obligatory offerings of thanks:
First and foremost: to God in the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Amen.
To the Wuebbels family for allowing us to visit the high point on their property; especially to Mrs. Wuebbels who emailed me the protocols for visiting her property.
To fellow high-pointers Tim and Sawyer for being such great companions while I was there; to Chicago Black Hawks legend Stan Mikita and Tom “Chico” Adrahtas (biographer of Glenn Hall) for allowing me to interview them both during the weekend; to the Rose Garden restaurant in Elk Grove Village for the warm and filling breakfasts; to the Spaghetti Factory in Elk Grove Village for the glass of wine I had to celebrate the victory; to the police officer in Lancaster, Illinois for showing mercy to me by giving me a warning instead of a ticket; lastly to Mary Ann and Dave Kline and Fran Jurewicz for always being there for me.
Thank you all.
My next high point will be Katahdin in Maine next October.
See you at the high points!