It’s a narrow, winding, uphill climb out of Lansing toward Harpers Ferry.

You crest the first of two mountains just before the Wexford Church and Cemetery. The road shoulder widens there and biking is a little more comfortable, so we decided to run the first 8 miles to Wexford and bike the remaining miles into Harpers. 

Victoria crested the second mountain, raced down the last descent and landed at the at the Oil Springs Schoolhouse right on time. Right time. Wrong place.

Our welcoming committee was camped out along the Great River Road – at Connie and Dana’s place just north of town. They had coffee, orange juice and pastries set out for a couple of weary travelers who rushed right past them on their way to the schoolhouse. 

Our mistake was soon corrected as Ann Langford (on her way to McGregor) pulled up alongside the Relay van and showed us the newspaper article that outlined our itinerary in Harpers. Our landing spot was Mohn’s Fish Market – just across the street from Connie and Dana! One last hug with Ann and we sped back up the Great River Road.

We sat in Connie and Dana’s back patio with Sheila Diggins (who coordinated every detail of our visit) along with husband Tom. Joined by Wayne and Jane (easy to remember), Karen, Connie and Dana. We got acquainted, shared our stories and set off on our day.

First stop was at Mohn’s fish market. Ralph, Diane and daughter Vickie were hard at work as we arrived, but graciously took time to show us around this amazing place. 

This is the last commercial fishery operation you’ll find on the upper river. It’s a family operation. Ralph and Vickie are out setting and pulling nets early in the morning. The remainder of the day is spent processing, smoking, pickling, packing, buying, selling, logistics, etc. Even the grandkids were at work on this Thursday morning. We will not encounter a more hard-working family on this expedition. 

We drove down to the Sandy Point Cemetery and met Betty. She’s from here and has stayed here. Member of the Council and Historic Society. She was instrumental in recognizing the importance of this site and protecting it from nearby development. A shady interlude here, cooled by a breeze off the river, enlightened by history and inspired by civic commitment. Thank you, Betty.

Next we went down to meet Norm Delphy at the marina that’s been in his family for decades, also the only marina with gas services for some miles. Norm returned to take over operations of the marina much later in life, after a career near Chicago and Bloomington. He felt called back to the river like many people do, and yet his own children are not connected here and won’t be taking over when Norm leaves the river behind. Not only will the Delphy marina be lost, but it wasn’t clear what will happen to Delphy Island, his family’s island just across the river from the marina, where his father used to farm. 

It was time for a break, so everyone converged at the Portside for lunch. Tom, Sheila, Wayne, Jane, and the two of us dug into some tasty dishes, including the tenderloin sandwich that was three times too big for the bun. A few locals passed through and shared impromptu stories about why Harpers was the place to be, and we had a chat with our waitress who lived nearby and is working to become a therapeutic horse technician.

After being thoroughly nourished, we rode down to Marquette with Jane, Sheila, and Karen for a Maiden Voyage River Cruise with Robert Vavra. For about an hour out on the river, we got to enjoy Robert’s stories of life as a commercial fisherman and clammer, as well as his general antics picking on a young girl now turned into the boat captain. After the cruise, we stopped off on the dock for a conversation with Robert, realizing he’s got a lot more to say, and stories that run much deeper. We are looking forward to spending more time with him—not to mention appreciative of he and his wife Deb for putting us up in their cabins at Andy Mountain Campground.

That evening it seemed like the whole town turned out for the pot luck in the park with music provided by Big Blue Sky – smoked fish – pickled fish – music by Jon – tour of the schoolhouse. We had to tear ourselves away from folks as we were leaving, it seemed the conversations could just go on and on. But in the end, we collapsed for the evening in our cabin, readying ourselves for another day of many.