Remote Footprints is working to precisely calculate and travel to the remotest locations in each of the 50 United States. We call this unique endeavor–Project Remote. Below is a written account of our 3-hour canoe trip on the Mississippi River to document the Illinois Remote Spot. This is our 30th state remote spot documented as part of Project Remote.
Euclidean Distance to Nearest Road: 1.4 miles
Cell Phone Coverage: Yes
Public Land: Yes, Army Corps of Engineers/Henderson Creek Fish and Wildlife Area
Travel Method: Canoe
Travel Time One-Way: 0.75 hours
In Ryan’s Words:
September 5, 2015. The Remote Spotters arrive in Oquawka, Illinois, a tiny town on the east banks of the Mississippi River. We find a small city park on the riverbank. Eager to get a close look at the big river, we jump out and score a view south or downstream toward the remotest location in the entire state of Illinois.
I haul a rental canoe down to the river edge. Many thanks to Steve and Cherry of River Basin Canoe and Kayak shop in Burlington, IA. for renting us a boat and engaging us in fine conversation…Can’t wait to paddle on the Mighty Mississip for the first time. Recalling our Iowa Remote Spot trip, which took place 2 years ago now (where the hell does time go?), we rented a small, motorized john boat to locomote ourselves into the IA Remote Spot. We’d much rather paddle, if given the opportunity. Well, here is one such opportunity.
But first things first. A look at some natural history. What’s that hopping around the forbes near the river edge? A grasshopper? No, it’s a small frog. I instinctively pounce. It’s small, about an inch and a half long, and all gray. I recognize its profile. Looks like a genus Acris or one of the cricket frogs. A pull on one of its hind legs, and sure enough, there is the longitudinal black stripe along the back of the thigh. Both thighs. Cricket frog for sure, but this one’s a little different from our southern cricket frog we have back in Florida. We later confirm it to be a northern cricket frog. First one we remember seeing. Our southern’s back in north FL are the most common frog on the planet for us.
Rebecca and Skyla prepare themselves for a paddle. Our youngest Remote Spotter suits up with a PFD. A heat wave is on right now. 95 is the forecast high temperature, and we have already met that, with the rest of the afternoon to go.
I push the boat through the muddy near shore flats out to deeper water. There’s lots of human trash in the water.
A stiff wind gusts up river from the south right in our faces. This cools us a little, but makes for some tricky paddling at times. The sheer size of the continent’s largest river kind of makes one do a double take on first glance. And this is way upstream. Imagine how large it is below the major confluences of the Ohio and Missouri Rivers…
After only 30 minutes of paddling down river, we arrive at the single remotest location in the entire state of Illinois. Boats race up and down river. Men are hammering on a dock structure across the river. Of course, our feeling of remoteness takes a hit. In trying to quantify what’s left of American remoteness, we seem to be slowly learning that the concept of remote is just as much a qualitative entity. In other words, you can be x miles from a road (the quantitative part) and still not feel very remote, particularly if a boat races by, or a man hammers on a distant dock, or if you get cell phone service, or you see trash on the ground (the qualitative realm). But this is what we got ourselves into with Project Remote. And we push on.
We cannot seem to escape human trash on our Remote Spot expeditions.
Looking back north along the shore of the river, this is the remotest beach in all of Illinois. Iowa is across the river.
Skyla quickly gets to her usual activities when we arrive at a state remote spot. That involves setting up a little spot nearby to play and rummage the area for neat things to discover. She spots a land snail.
We haul gear uphill and through poison ivy-laden brush, although it is only a short distance atop the levee. That’s right. Levee. The IL Remote Spot resides squarely on top of an old grown over man-made levee. This is another factor that diminishes the remote quality of the Mississippi River corridor. It’s unbelievable how large the human footprint is all up and down river thanks to a century of alteration by the US Army Corps of Engineers. But the levee containing the IL Remote Spot has no accompanying road, and so we decided back in the office while calculating the R-spot-and after much deliberation- that it should count. After all, entire cities are built on land created from human activity (our nation’s capital is one!).
The shore where we beached the canoe is only about 50 feet away from the top of the levee, within the margin of error for the Remote Spot calculation. Rebecca uses it as a spot to conduct our 15-minute Remote Spot Assessment. Among the human signs she records include: that hammering from the dock, several motorboats, a duck blind, aircraft noise, trash on the beach, channel markers, and the actual levee that we are on.
This is a view northward from the IL Remote Spot. I am standing atop the old levee.
To the east, we can see an impoundment behind the levy where a flooded out old floodplain forest was converted to waterfowl habitat. This impoundment is part of the Henderson Creek Fish and Wildlife Area.
I move the video operation down to the shore. Here I set up the tiny camera on a tripod to shoot a five minute video in the north direction to try to capture sights and sounds of Illinois remoteness.
A duck blind structure sits on the river to the south…
The hammering on the dock continues to the west…
As cheesy as it may be, we always like to take a Remotest Family shot at state remote spots. Today, we remark to each other that this remote spot marks our 30th state to document. Only 20 more to go!
After our documentary work is done, we try to take a little time to be in the moment. The Illinois Remote Spot as well as Iowa’s Remote Spot, which is a few miles (and locks and dams) up the river, are two of the least remote state Remote Spots in the country thus far in Project Remote. It saddens us that people no longer have remote wild areas to discover and connect with in these two states. A person would have to travel far to the north or west to experience wilderness. One youth I spoke with in Peoria, IL had never heard of the Shawnee National Forest, within her own state, where we had camped the night before while on route to the IL Remote Spot…Remoteness is lost as we develop the country gradually–almost imperceptibly slowly on a day to day basis–such that from one generation to the next, massive changes are made. How do we arrest this process or even reverse it? It is our greatest wish that an answer to this question be discovered and implemented across our great nation before it is transformed into a continuous matrix of roads, cities, and suburbia. I, for one, do not want to live on planet Coruscant!
“Gila” the Rat scores a moment to take in Illinois remoteness. Gila has been Skyla’s most adored companion since last year’s Project Remote campaign. He rides in backpacks, pockets, and pouches. They eat, sleep, and play together. Nary a moment has passed that the two haven’t been within 5 feet of each other since love at first site last year. In fact, Gila has traveled all the way from the Gila National Forest (NM) via Florida to end up here at the Illinois Remote Spot today. This is his 6th Remote Spot expedition! Unfortunately, Gila imprinted on Remote Spots in New Mexico, Colorado, and Wyoming. I can tell, he’s missing his beloved Gila Wilderness…He wonders when we might discover such comparable remoteness again…