I’ve been on 2 wheels since I was just 16. I’ve done some crazy stunts (some a little too crazy, even for a white-knuckled Harley freak like me). I’ve done the Iron Butt qualification ride – which means keeping your iron butt on the saddle until you’ve done 1,000 miles in under 24 hours. I’ve visited all 4 motorcycle museums in Kansas State in one trip. And, oh, I’ve looped the State of West Virginia. So, I can say with a full heart (and a ’95 Road King with 97,000 original miles under her wheels) that I am a BIKER to the BONE!
Needless to say, when I heard about the $100 Challenge I was all-in! I said to my wife Kathy (also a bona fide biker) that I want to see something new. I, together with my usual Biking Buddies (though we’re quite harmless), often head out from Mt. Prospect towards the lakes of Wisconsin or up into Michigan. Not so this time, I determined.
This time, I decided, I’m breaking the mold and I’m heading southward to the town of Ottawa, Illinois. What I experienced was nothing short of an unexpected riding adventure.
Heading out, through the Illinois Valley and towards Starved Rock, the hustle of suburban life faded. I bent my way through some sweeping curves on Route 71 (aka the Starved Rock Curves) and my chrome hog effortlessly grunted her way through a paradise of natural beauty and mountainous terrain. I felt like I was on a country road extravaganza as I cut through raw untouched Illinois country and farmlands, including Starved Rock State Park.
Route 71 eventually comes alongside the free-riding Illinois River and brought me into the gorgeous town of Ottawa, where the Fox and Illinois River meet up. I idled my way through Ottawa, the comfortable Road King burbling powerfully underneath me. I took in the small-town architecture, rich history and innate beauty of the town that filled me with feelings of home. This continued until I happened upon Heritage Harbor, a world-class marina development on the outskirts of the quaint town. The end goal of my $100 ride, Heritage Harbor attracted me from the moment I saw it advertised in one of our local papers.
The marina is a hive of boating activity. The boaters I met there genuinely rate the infrastructure and service very highly. So, to get a taste of this awesomeness, I rented a kayak (after a quick training exercise just to make sure I wasn’t going to drown for my trouble!) and paddled out. I was overcome by the stillness of the water, the cleanness of the infrastructure, and the idyllic views from the water. I paddled right up to the rock bluffs and back before returning to land. Situated on the beautiful banks of the Illinois Waterway, Heritage Harbor has a combination of villas, cottage homes and vacation rentals developed in a subtle yet unmistakable nautical style, the development really oozes quality and the harbor life that everyone there talks about. Breathtaking!
Famished! That’s what I was after the workout-on-water, and I headed on over to Red Dog Grill. Oh my goodness – Red Dog Grill! Man, I haven’t experienced cuisine like this before. Situated with an elevated view of the marina, the restaurant (overseen by a real-deal foodie – Israel, great to meet you, hopefully you read this article 😊), was graced with the afternoon sun that just put a golden balm over the place and, again, I felt the familiar feelings I’d get while on vacations in my childhood. Having enjoyed the sun on my un-leathered skin, I topped off my Heritage Harbor experience with a serving of shrimp enchiladas and a refreshment before I hit the road home.
Then, it was time! I put on my leather jacket, mounted the trusty hog, and headed on home.
Heading home I thought, “That was a surprise. An unexpected riding adventure. My heart is full!”
All in, the total bill of the ride was close to the goal. That’s low enough for me, not just to meet this $100 challenge, but undoubtedly to visit my new favorite place in central Illinois. Heritage Harbor, you’re a beauty!
Heritage Harbor Ottawa
1968 N 2753 Road
Ottawa, IL 61350