By John Greenfield
t feels a bit spooky as I straddle my touring bike,
gazing at the entrance to the namesake passageway of
the Tunnel Hill State Trail, a hidden gem in southern
Illinois. On this mild, sunny afternoon in late
November, roots dangle from the shale outside the
opening on either side of the path, which is carpeted
with russet leaves. Birds cry in the distance and water
trickles musically off the rocks. I see the light at
the other end of the 543-foot tunnel, but I’ve been
warned that if you’re not careful you can get mes-
merized when you’re pedaling through the darkness
within, and crash into the walls.
Most people think of the Land of Lincoln as
Chicago skyscrapers plus pancake-flat prairie, but
the southern end of the state is completely different.
The region, nicknamed “Little Egypt” because it’s
located at the delta of the Mississippi and Ohio riv-
ers, is blanketed by the lush Shawnee National Forest
and roller-coaster hills, which makes it a beautiful
destination for bicycle travel. Down here the cul-
ture seems more Southern than Midwestern. Fried
chicken and grits show up on breakfast menus, and
the lilting speech of the friendly locals makes me feel
like I’m in Kentucky, which is just across the Ohio,
instead of in the same state as the Windy City.