I didn’t think I’d have much interesting to write since my last post in Missouri. More riding, more hills, more rain. But the week served up some doozies!
It started with me going the wrong way — back west. “Hey!” I thought. “I recognize this flea market . . . and this day care . . . and this gas station. I just saw them a day ago!” The Bike Route 76 signs in Missouri are excellent. You know if you’re on the right road, but it’s up to you to determine what direction you’re going!
Illinois, I barely knew ya
Before long we crossed over the Mississippi River into Illinois on the Chester Truss Bridge made famous in the opening scene of the movie, In the Heat of the Night. Chester, Illinois is home to the creator of Popeye, Elzie Segar. It remains the town’s claim to fame to this day.
I learned that Karin, Gerrick and the kids were in Chicago at the same time as we were in southern Illinois — just five hours away. So near, but yet so far. But we just passed through the lower sliver of this tall, thin state, and we were out before you could say, “I’s strong to the finich ’cause I eats me spinach. I’m Popeye the Sailor Man. Toot toot!”
The riding has been gorgeous all week. The tree canopy covering the small, winding roads, past sprawling estates with huge homes. I also saw, for the first time this trip, vineyards, wineries and even a moonshine distillery. (See, Julie, you should have come with me. Well, maybe not. The wine and the biking might not have mixed so well.”)
Alas, the great bike route signage we’d had in Missouri did not continue into Illinois, and I missed one of the “turn right onto the unsigned road at the Grace Baptist Church.” Nearly got run off the road twice — once by a WalMart truck and once by another semi-trailer truck — before I realized this was not my road, and doubled back to find the church.
We camped in Murphysboro State Park, on beautiful Murphysboro Lake. I was dying for a swim. However, the campground host informed me it is illegal to swim in Illinois State parks. “Are you kidding me?” I asked. “No, Ma’am. $500 fine for swimming in the lake.” Well, I don’t know what happened. Clumsy me, I just fell off that dock and had to swim to save myself. This is the view of the lake from our bedroom window:
Motivation Waning a Bit
So, my friend Don (who’s crossed the country before) told me that everyone experiences some down days on such a trip. I wouldn’t say it was a meltdown (maybe that’s still to come), but I woke up on July 1st not feeling super motivated. I started out late and after only two hours of riding through the quiet countryside, past Devil’s Kitchen and Grassy Lake, I realized I had missed another one of those unmarked turns and ended up on another busy highway. While I tried to plot my next move, I hear a honk behind me. WTF! It was Myrna. She had gone off route too!
We decided to call it an early day at only 43km, and checked in to Fern Clyffe State Park. I had a nap, ate junk food and went for a hike instead. By the next day, I was refreshed and ready to hit the road again. Passing through Elizabethtown, Ill., I asked if there was anything special planned for the 4th of July. “This is it!” I was told. A few vendors were selling pulled pork, baked goodies and T-shirts. OK! We had a pulled pork sandwich to help celebrate. By late afternoon, we were at Cave Rock Springs to catch a tiny ferry over the Ohio River into Kentucky, and by evening we were in Marion, KY, camped in the huge city park.
Welcome to Kentucky, Bubba
Rural Kentucky really IS quite different from what I have experienced so far. The people here speak with a distinctly southern accent. They seem pretty laid back, and that applies to their attitude towards dogs. I’d read the reports of vicious dogs and was very wary whenever I passed a mobile home with a porch and an unfenced yard.
I believe bicycle chasing is an unofficial sport in Kentucky and I had my first encounter early on — with a pit bull and a boxer. My heart rate climbed into the red zone and I pedalled as fast as I could while yelling, “Go Home! Go Home, eh?” in my most assertive Canadian voice.
That’s when I met Joe, the first time. Joe is from Raleigh, N.C. and he was racing the TransAm. He said he was at the tail end, with maybe six racers behind him, that he’d had nine flat tires. He strongly urged me to find some pepper spray for the dogs. He was havi
ng his sister checking online to find somewhere that he could get some for himself. Joe and I rode together for a while, but I don’t think he’d showered or changed his shirt since Oregon — and he was really smelly. Beside that, he kept riding up beside me and then ducking back in single file when a car approached from behind. I thought it was pretty dangerous. So at the next town, I told him I was going to use the washroom, and encouraged him to carry on. We’ll meet Joe again a little later.
I put in a long day of riding. The sky was overcast and it looked like it would rain. When I reached Fordsville, Mark from Oregon flagged me down. He was headed west so he knew what was up ahead. He had a weather app on his phone and said there was a tornado watch in the next county — where I was headed.
Mark, heading west to Oregon
Even if we did continue, he said the campgrounds were all full for the July 4th weekend. We agreed to hunker down there in the city park. And here comes Joe! I tried to flag him down, but he was head-down into the wind, going for it. The rain had started already, and the storm grew worse by the hour, raging through the night and into the next morning.
After several days of “city park” camping, Myrna, who was desperate for a shower, went out in the middle of the night to shower in the rain!
We didn’t get far the next day. Mark had already left when I started out, but the thunderstorms would not let up, so after 20 miles of riding, soaked to the skin and visibility at near zero, we stopped at Becky’s Cafe for breakfast and a coffee, and when it looked like it was going to continue all day, we surrendered and checked in to Falls of Rough State Park, on a beautiful lake.
And here’s Joe again!
Enough already with the loafing around. I needed to get some miles in. And as Willy Gruber says, “Those miles aren’t going to ride themselves!” I was still looking for pepper spray when I stopped at the next gas station. Who was there? Joe! He’d made the same decision not to ride in the storm, and had stayed at a resort overnight. Except now he was repair
ing flat #10 — and the air compressor was not putting out much for pressure. “If it weren’t for bad luck, Joe, you’d have no luck at all,” I told him.
I agreed to ride with him again, even though he was still wearing the same shirt as two days ago. Maybe he washed it on his layover day, I thought, hopefully.
And even though the gas station had no pepper spray, a nice lady gave us hers — “Y’all are gonna need it more than ah will,” she said.
We had an enjoyable ride together through the quiet, hilly countryside. Talking American politics made the miles just fly by. Joe’s idea was to overhaul the system altogether, by eliminating the House of Representatives, allowing the Senate to make policy decisions, and then gaining input directly from the electorate through social media.
We came to a nice downhill and I told Joe to go on ahead, as the road was very narrow. We swooped down the twisty, narrow road, until we reached a blind corner with an almost 90-degree turn. We each slammed on our brakes. The road was still wet, and I saw Joe’s back wheel shimmy and skitter. “Oh, s%i#!” I thought. “We’re going down.” And Joe did — hard. I just managed to get by him and make it to the bottom of the hill — right at a roadside cross marking a death at that spot in 2015. I ran back up the hill to where Joe was writhing in pain, swearing up a blue streak. He was in rough shape, but conscious, and it didn’t look as though anything was broken, although his collarbone was causing him a lot of discomfort. I flagged down the next motorist, to find out where the nearest hospital was. I thought Joe should get checked out. “In Leitchfield, about 20 miles from here. I can drive you,” said Art, who was a gentle, nice man, although I believe Joe thought he looked a little too much like one of the characters in Deliverance. “Yep,” said Art. “They call this Suicide Hill.”
“I think I’ll be OK,” said Joe weakly. “I’ll just sit here for a few minutes and collect myself.” Not five minutes later, a couple of gals from California, riding support for three other riders, stopped. Now, Joe decided he would like a ride to the hospital and the gals worked hard to make space in their car for Joe and on the bike rack for his Litespeed. They didn’t have a clue where Leitchfield was, but at least I knew Joe was safe and in good hands. I hope he’s OK. It would be a shame for him to come this far and not finish the ride.
Myrna and I met up for lunch in Sonora, another tiny town in the heart of Amish country.
I must make mention of the prominence of religion I have seen evident here in rural America and how it must surely shape the political values and perceptions of the people who live here. Some of these small towns have fewer than 200 people, and yet they have three or even more big churches, e.g. The First Baptist Church of . . . ; The New First Baptist Church; and The Christian Community Church of . . . In just 20 miles, another set of churches. I don’t know how they are all supported.
Along this route, we have passed through extensive Mennonite communities in Missouri, through Amish communities in Illinois and Kentucky. I even read about the Shakers, who came to Kentucky fleeing persecution in England. By 1820, they had more than 500 members. They were superb farmers, believing that working the land provided a life of purity and simplicity. The trouble was, they also took a vow of celibacy. With fewer people joining their ranks and the failure of their attempts to adopt orphans, the group pretty much died out by the early 20th Century.
And then it all went downhill . . .
Right after lunch, it started pouring again. I didn’t mind. It was a hot day and this was a great way to cool off. Again, the wet brakes on the wet and twisty roads caused me to take a turn a little too wide. If I overcorrected, I’d end up in the oncoming lane. As it was, I opted for the ditch, careening into a wire fence (not barbed wire, thank goodness!). Apart from a few bruises, I wasn’t hurt. I just got back on the bike, back on the road, and kept on riding. But this day was not going to end happily just yet!
I mentioned that the Bike Route 76 Signs dropped off in Illinois. Well, they picked up again in Kentucky. But if you missed one, because they are not always placed at every intersection, you have to navigate your own way back. That happened to me, and I thought I’d meet up with my support crew at the next town . . . or the next one . . . or the next one. No luck. Myrna was panicking because she hadn’t seen me all afternoon. She stopped in to a bar to ask how to get to Loretto, where I was. She explained she couldn’t take the most direct route the guys at the bar were recommending, because the bike route didn’t go that way. Eventually, Jeremy a guy in a black Camaro who had been at the bar after work stops me and asks if I’m looking for a lady in a white van. “Ah thought so, ’cause she’s circlin’aroun’ Loretto and she ain’t anywhere’s near here! She’s lookin’ at a different map from yours. Hop in, he said. I think I can track her down.”
It turns out Myrna’s is an older version of the TransAm route. No wonder she couldn’t find me — we were both going the right way — in different directions! Anyway, we were both glad to see the end of that day. We went to McDonald’s for a celebratory dinner, and checked in to the Springfield City Park for the night.
Through the Land of Lincoln
OK, so for not having much to say, this blog is going on way too long! But before I close off, I have to mention the interesting ride yesterday through the area of Abraham Lincoln’s family’s original homestead, and a full day of roller coaster hills through eastern Kentucky. I have escaped injury from my dog encounters (although one did manage to nip my back tire); my bike is still in great shape; and my spirits are high.
Today we are in Berea, KY, a small artsy college town. There’s a pool here and they’re running an AquaZumba class this afternoon that I hope to participate in.
Tomorrow might be my last day in Kentucky. Then it’s on to Virginia, the last state on the trail.
Til next week, Happy Trails!