Apologies on the hiatus. I have continued to struggle with cell service, time and weather. This past Saturday, I completed my first century ride in Kansas. I met up with a group of fine liked minded travelers and we have been battling a heat wave. I hope to make it into Colorado tomorrow.
Day 30 – June 23, Cave in rock to Harrisburg (45 miles)
Rain always sounds louder when the wind blows it through the trees. It wakes me at 6 AM. I believe the storm is here for the remainder of the morning. The need to hydrate gets me out of the tent during a lull in the rain. To my surprise it is barely raining. I decide that it would be better to pack up a fairly dry camp site now then wait to do it when it starts pouring.
I eat the remaining half of my leftover Hawaiian pizza for breakfast and head towards the woman running the campsite for a weather update. Her son shows a weather report with the rain about to start and last through the afternoon. I plan to explore Cave-In-Rock then grab breakfast before making a choice to wait out the storm or braving it. I’ve been wet before, never been struck by lightning, don’t plan on starting.
I arrive at Rose’s and order a big breakfast, with the recommended home fries, a pancake and huge side of conspiracy theories. The gentleman that recommended the home fries listened in as two women asked me what I was doing, where I was going etc. He then chimed in to tell me about how the National Forest Service will not acknowledge the newly established cougars in Shawnee National Park. Nor the bobcat attacks, the rabid raccoons, then abundance of snakes, the list goes on. Fortunately for me I only have to ride about 30 miles by myself through this forest today not really sure how one is even supposed to interact with a cougar. I had one encounter in South Africa with a big cat, but that is a different story.
I attempt to get an area map at the welcome center that lacked anyone to welcome you. A basic map gave me a general idea of the routes I needed and towns I would likely hit on my way to Harrisburg. Harrisburg was a likely stop as it had budget hotels and was in the general Northeast direction I was headed. I take off in the rain. My conspiracy theorist pal turns out to be the local garbage man. I play leapfrog with him my entire way to Elizabethtown. Before he left breakfast he indicated his advocacy of cyclists and provided plenty of room as he passed. More so than his ex-wife would provide as she, “doesn’t like cyclists, they make her pay attention to the road while she texts”.
Right before I reach Elizabethtown the skies clear. I look for a gas station for a map and a snack, but find a fish market instead. The catfish basket at this floating establishment is the other recommendation I received st Breakfast. Not exactly starving I order a basket to go. I change into bib shorts in the bathroom and come out to find a heaping portion ready for me. The young lady and the cook will not allow me to pay. I leave a tip and thank them.
In a matter of an hour the weather drastically changed. Gone was the wet cooler weather of the morning; the sunny and humid weather was here to stay. Storm clouds off in the distance constantly changing direction. I climb a few hills over the next hour and come across a nice stream with a rope swing that some guys were using. I wish I had the time and energy to join. I eat my catfish and I wonder what viscous snake is going to appear and have me for lunch.
The roads are rural, becoming gravel the deeper I travel into the forest. Other cars become almost non-existent. Thoughts of cougars appear, the only animals I see are beautiful blue butterflies. Not sure if blue monarch butterflies exist but that is my college try at identifying them. After a few more considerable climbs, I am back on paved roads. I find Harbinson’s Country Store for water, a Gatorade and ice cream to cool down. The sweet ladies running the place chat me up as I rest and charge my phone. A quick downpour passes as I wait. Outside I find the air had cooled some, but the wind had picked up. Of course this wind would be in my face for the past 15 long miles. Offering encouragement, a teenager yells from the back seat of his friends SUV, “get off the f-ing road”. One can only assume he is a mountain biking enthusiast.
I pop into a McDonald’s for internet and water just as I reach town. Powered by the internet, I find the closest Super 8 a mile away. Another friend of the road in a pickup truck honks at me and shakes his head in disappointment after cutting me off only to be stuck at the same light. Not knowing who is a proud gun owner in Southern Illinois, I refrain from engaging my fellow citizen. Upon checking in, I shower, do laundry in the bathtub with pretty impressive results and grab a Mexican dinner next door. I fall asleep watching Ghostbusters.
Day 31 Harrisburg to Murphysboro (56 miles)
Eat in the hotel lobby and leave by noon. I could not find a small grocery store for snacks or fruit before leaving. Bananas would be helpful in preventing cramps, not sure catfish has the same amount of potassium. I find Route 13 on the west side of town. This will take me a majority of the way through Illinois over the next day or so.
Head winds Find me on 13. This is four lane divided highway with median and large shoulders. I feel pretty safe even with large trucks zooming by at 65 mph. A man with giant hands driving a minivan in opposing traffic honks at me. I know he has large hands as I can very clearly see the single digit he put on display over the four lanes and median. Another pleasant Illinois driver.
I reach Marion the county seat and plan to take a lunch break. I ask some people for recommendations , Taco Bell and another place that is 20 miles away are mentioned. This is a pretty cool town, probably the largest I have seen since leaving Clarksville, TN. I hop on the bike to find a place. Not seeing Munch I decide on McDonald’s for a grilled chicken sandwich, McFlurry and internet. I put out a few Warmshowers messages to neighboring towns while I relax, eat and charge devices. On my way out I chat up a group of locals who a majority are cyclists. They ask me about what I’m doing. One gentleman throws me a five spot and another some coupons for bogo McDonald’s. I will definitely be using those in the future.
Back on the road go to Carbondale and end in Murphysboro. Getting into Carbondale relatively quickly I press on to the final destination with the remaining light. I decide to take a detour and ride through Southern Illinois University’s campus. Pretty nice and very quiet. It takes me on some back roads to my next destination. A little more hilly, but quiet. A few miles in the climbs seem tougher than normal. I see my back tire looks low. I put more air in. After a few more miles the back wheel begins to skate. Must be a slow leak. I can either fill it with air or change the tire. I decide that if I fill it one more time it will get me to my stop for the evening and I can change the tire at my leisure.
I barely make it into town. I find the Warmshowers host that is letting me camp in their yard. I decide that I will eat dinner then come back to set up shop. I have to walk my bike a few blocks to the Italian restaurant as there is little air left in the tire. By the time I finish my meal it is sitting on the rim. I do the change across the street at the city hall. Two people check to see that I am OK. With the tore fixed, I set up camp and decide that 10 am is too early for a Saturday night. I walk back and check out a bar around the corner from the restaurant. It is super quiet. I chat with the bartender and a few patrons as they come and go.
As the bartender closes up, she brings in Justin, a regular, who was interested in my story. We talk for a bit about life and he invites me to crash. I inform him that I am all set up for the night and appreciate his offer. I do ask if he wanted to grab breakfast in the morning. We exchange information and I head back to camp. I sleep well this night.
Day 32: Murphyboro to Ozora (56 miles)
Slept pretty well and was up by 6 to pack the few things I took out, as my host had a quality tent set up in place. At Cindy B’s I wait for Justin to arrive, sending him a text and eventually a call, as my stomach rumbles. After 15 minutes of waiting and a cup of coffee I decide it’s time to order as I do not want the day getting away from me. As is customary at this point, I engage in multiple conversations with various patrons about the trip and get advice on things to see along my route.
I depart around 9 and follow the route Google maps provided. These directions should always be taken with a grain of salt, but seem pretty good this morning. The heat warms the air and pavement as I move out of town on narrow streets. There is no wind at this point and I plan to take advantage of this fact, that is until I get on Route 3 headed north parallel to the Mississippi River. For an hour the head wind allows me to maintain 12 mph without working too hard. The remaining time it beats on my chest slowing me further. I take breaks for shade water and some light bike maintenance. One is under a large tree which was pleasant until the flies found me and ticks start falling from above. Standing next to the bike propped against the tree, I watch hundreds of ants crawl on the tree and a spider avoid them. There is certainly no shortage of wild life at any point in this trip.
Finally closing in on Chester, I am climb a few steep hills. Then go down some hills. Then go back up more. Just what I needed after the past few hours. By the time I reach town I am in desperate need of some rest. Only a gas station and Subway appear to be open. I drink a Gatorade at the gas station then head to Subway for lunch, air conditioning and electricity. Two hours fly by after making a few calls to a few dear people back East. A nap would have been the best use of my break, but the booths in the store are not practical for someone of my size. Back to the gas station I grab snacks and drinks for the rest of the day, not knowing what I will pass or can stay when I get into Missouri. My goal is to camp at any church.
Stopping at the Lewis and Clark Mississippi crossing site, I find that it is more of a PopEye memorial. He is Chester’s most famous born son. I take in a few views, stretch, take water, set up a go pro and hit it. Traversing the river was quick. Traffic wasn’t as bad as people indicated and I was in the next state! First thing I do is buy a map. The second is to throw out my idea of using Google’s directions to the next town and follow signs for the TransAmerica Trail. A mile into it I flag down three cyclists headed east, flagging them down and as to take some photos of the map. The one guy hands me to keep. Someone had gifted him the map earlier in the week. I snap a photo of the brother, sister and friend. We take off in our opposite directions.
Farmington is another 40 miles uphill with headwinds. Making that distance after 5pm with tired legs would be unlikely. I grab a burger in the next town at a smokey dive bar called Bader’s. Pushing to the next town is within my grasp, I get enough cell phone service to call a church. A priest answers and says that I have free reign to camp at his pavilion. With 8 more miles to make, I get there slowly and not so surely. The place is beautiful, quiet and cool. I sleep very soundly that evening.