Friday, October 3, 2014

Oh Joliet, Oh Joliet!

By Lee Vue, Paddle Forward Team

The Arrival
We arrived in Joliet, Illinois as the evening descended upon us. We were immediately drawn to the abandoned barges on river-right that had the unique characteristic of being overtaken by nature being entirely covered with trees and grass on top. We scouted the area and came upon a flat area that was obviously deer beds, which we decided would be great for placing the tents. Despite the threat of poison ivy surrounding us, we agreed that the abandon barges would make the best campsite for our stay in Joliet. It provided us with privacy and access to downtown Joliet (within walking distance).

The Wi-Fi Adventure
The following morning, I awoke to the light sound of trotting. I quickly got out of the tent with my camera in-hand and peered through the trees to see two deer crossing the train tracks! As I approach them, the ears of one of the deer perked up having noticed my movement and within seconds, they jumped to the other side of the forested area. Feeling satisfied that I manage to get a decent photo, I continued on with my morning routine.

After breakfast, we walked into town in search of free Wi-Fi so we could work on adventure-learning tasks. Google Maps had informed us of a local coffee shop called “Jitters” with the bulleted description of “older women drinking” was located within a mile of our location. As we were walking towards the downtown center, we noticed that streets were being block off with metal railings to prevent cars from entering. We entered Jitters with eagerness to be productive and relax. Jitters has a homely feel with dimmed lights and comfortable couches in the back. There’s a piano on the far left corner that welcomes any hands to play the keys. We ordered our drinks and unpacked our backpacks onto the coffee table, but then after a few minutes of nudging ourselves into the sofas, we realized that the Internet wasn’t working. We finished our drinks and made the decision to move on to find another place with Wi-Fi.

Across the street was the public library so we made our way there. On the second floor, we found a large table to accommodate the seven of us. An hour into our time at the library, we were frustrated at the low speed of the Internet. Uploading wasn’t going as well as we had hope; therefore, we packed up again and moved on to a new place. There was Starbucks located inside the Harrah’s casino near the riverfront of downtown. We arrived at Starbucks only to be informed by the baristas that the Internet was  down. At this point, our unsuccessful luck with Wi-Fi was reaching a point of annoyance. After walking around the casino to find a place with outlets for our electronics, we situated ourselves at a corner of a lounge. We logged onto the casino’s free Wi-Fi with our fingers cross that the Internet would be fast. It turns out that Harrah’s Internet was working great so we ended up staying there for a good few hours.

On our way back to the car, we came upon crowds hovering on the side of the street and trucks with racecar images on them honking their way through the streets. Apparently, it was the Fan Rally Race for the Chicagoland Speedway that weekend. Everything suddenly made sense: the blocked streets, police patrols, and event tents being set up. We were super excited to be in town for the event so we walked around for free samples and then had dinner at the local restaurant, Blue Taco.

That night, we attended the benefit concert at the Joliet Area Historical Museum. The event was supposed to be held on the rooftop, but the weather was slightly too chilly so everything was moved to the basement. We seated ourselves near the front as the band, Soul Motion, began playing their set. The music was a mixture of country and soul; it was the type of the music that had us tapping our shoes and bopping our heads. No one was dancing though. Eventually one couple started dancing in the corner in front of the stage. We soon joined them and found ourselves dancing for the entirety of the night. We ended the night on the rooftop watching the fireworks from the Fan Rally event.

The New Neighbor
We returned to the campsite only to be blinded by a light beam. The beam came from a barge that had moored right next to us! It was using the abandoned barge to anchor for the night and the workers were curious about the tents. We chit chatted with a few of them until the late night.

The City of Stone and Steel
On our second full day in Joliet, we did a self-tour of the Joliet Iron Works Historic Site. The production of steel and the local limestone quarries were located on the site in the 1900s. These two industries largely contributed to Joliet’s economy; hence the city was nicknamed “The City of Stone and Steel.” It was the second largest steel mill in the US from 1869 to 1936, but ceased all operations in the early 1980s. Today, the site is a forest preserve where the public can enjoy bike trails and picnic shelters.  It was fascinating to see the ruins of the blast furnaces and brick skeletons of the buildings because of it’s importance to the city on a historical level and what little remains of it in present day.

Our next stop was the Joliet Area Historical Museum where Greg, the Museum Director, gave us a tour of the place. We learned about Route 66, the history of Joliet, the construction of the canal, the infamous Joliet Prison, and John Houbolt. The museum does a wonderful job with the displays and information that visitors aren’t overwhelmed by one section. The second floor has large beautiful stained glass and overlooks the first floor. We had a great time at the museum and then eventually stayed in the lobby area for Internet until they closed.

Joliet was the most populated area we’ve stopped at since the start of our trip on the Des Plaines River. Our arrival there was filled with excitement for Internet access and exploring. Our struggle with finding good Internet access provided us with hindsight into the future regarding uploading and blogging. We enjoyed our time in Joliet and if one of us ever plans on driving Route 66, we’ll stop by the city again and remember our Paddle Forward time there.

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