I just discovered this thread, and could not stop reading until the end. I spent my youth growing up in Pekin, and lived in the area for a few more years after returning from Uncle Sam's calling in 1970. I have canoed down the Mackinaw River. Dated a girl in Tremont. Also lived a couple of years in Manito. My brother has lived in the Lincoln area for about 10 years.
Many of these small towns are so familiar, and it has been a real treat to follow your back road adventures.