Date: October 14, 2009
From: Chester, Illinois
To: Carbondale, Illinois
Route: Hwy. 3 South and then the alternate TransAm route along the Levee Rd. and on Hwy. 13 from Murphysboro to Carbondale
Miles Today: 53 miles
TOTAL MILES: 2,523 MILES
Top Speed on this trip: 54.1 mph
Weather: Cloudy and gray with a high of 50 degrees, some drizzle
License Plates Collected: 5 Montana, 8 Wyoming (2 motorcycle) and 1 Idaho (found in WY), 2 Colorado, 1 Kansas (gifted from David of Baldwin City), 1 Missouri (To be sent to Grammy’s by our new buddy, Kansas City firefighter Shawn), 1 Illinois
Broken Spokes: 3
We had a great nights sleep under the pavillion at the F.O.E. (Fraternal Order of the Eagles) in Chester. We were able to pack up a dry tent and had plenty of room to spread out our gear and get organized. Believe me, if you have to pack up after camping in wet grass and there is no picnic table you will understand how nice it is to have a dry picnic table and a dry tent! President Larry was there bright and early and happily offered to drive his pickup through town to lead us past the many Popeye character statues and museum and to the best spot for breakfast. It was drizzling so we donned our many layers and all our rain gear and pedaled through "Toon Town" as Larry called it. "Some towns have presidents," he said, "we have Popeye."
At breakfast, our waitress Connie served up our best tasting cinnamon roll yet (though not the biggest). I didn't get a picture of it because it disappeared so quickly! I also had this scrumptious Popeye omelet with fresh spinach of course! Breakfast ended up being a long affair because we were having such a great time visiting with Steve Miller. (Not from the Steve Miller band...) We also met 4 guys who worked at the nearby coal plant off the Levee Rd. that we would pass by today. They warned us about the coal trucks and told us where we could expect them to let up.
Though we were warned about the trucks they were still unnerving and we were on slick wet roads with no shoulder. At one point we stopped to check on a creak and while Mike acted as the human kickstand I checked all of the spokes. A coal truck blew by us and spewed muddy spray all over my back. Fortunately my back was to the road! After I cleaned the grease off my hands we were back on the road at a crawl. Mike felt especially frustrated because he had to cycle without glasses (because he can't see in the rain) and what this means is that he can't really judge what kind of an incline we are on. It may appear flat to him and he can't understand why we are struggling so much. It almost feels like we have a brake pad rubbing. (I checked that when we stopped too.)
Once we passed the coal truck weigh station, where the river was lined with many barges brimming with coal, the traffic was reduced. We then got through our first 10 miles of hills and took the alternate Levee Road route where things flattened out, we were able to enjoy ourselves a bit more. At this point we did pass the coal plant (where the guys from breakfast worked) and saw mountains of coal that were being scooped up by enormous machinery and fed onto conveyor belts that crossed over to the Mississippi and the river barges. It was quite an operation.
The Levee Road is built up to hold back the river when it swells due to heavy rains and flooding. It is above the water line and is flat and paved making for ideal riding conditions. The air was misty and we did have a cross wind part of the time but it was very peaceful and quiet. We looked out over miles of soybeans and corn with not a soul in sight and the occasional farmhouse along the road.
We'd heard, from Steve Miller, that the town of Neunert had a cafe for lunch and were thrilled to find this great little bar and grill, Bottoms Up, out in the middle of nowhere. As we warmed up we chatted with some of the many farmers that were hanging out just waiting for the rain to let up so they can harvest their corn, soybeans and milo. The fields are a muddy mess from the heavy nightly rains. We have been lucky that our days have been relatively dry. As we were departing we started talking to the owner and she mentioned that 2 eastbound riders were in yesterday but she thought they were headed in a different direction than us, perhaps the Trail of Tears. But, that is not what made an impression on her. It seems they hadn't showered in quite some time and the odor could be detected from across the room! She gently mentioned that she thought they had showers up the way a bit. We've come across many cyclists in this same state. I know we've gone several days without a shower also but you can't let it go this long. Yikes!
Many more hills and miles later we came into Murphysboro at 3:30P.M. We made a call to Phoenix Cycles in Carbondale to inquire about the repair of our broken spoke and if there might be someone willing to host our family for the night. We first spoke with Brian who assured us we could make the 7 miles to Carbondale before they closed at 5:00 and then we talked to Joe who recommended we take the flat Highway 13 versus the TransAm route to assure our timely arrival. Joe just rode the TransAm this summer also and said he'd be more than happy to help us with accommodations.
We blazed into Carbondale around 4:30P.M. and the guys went to work on the bike. I decided to take a cat nap in the corner of the showroom floor and Mike and Gregory poked around looking at the bike gear. I was absolutely wiped out from all the climbing and that last 7 mile race to beat the clock. I was not eager to get up and back out on the bike for the ride to Joe's house.
We were so thankful to be indoors on yet another stormy night and we had a great time swapping cycling stories with Joe before he headed out to hang with some buddies and leave us to have his bachelor pad to ourselves. We assured him he didn't have to do that but he insisted. We made sure to have him call us in the morning so we could treat him to breakfast.
Though we didn't have a WiFi connection we enjoyed sitting around as a family and watching slide shows on our MacBook Pro of the photos from the first days of our trip. It was fun reminiscing over our 110 degree days and early struggles pushing the bike up 7 percent grades. We are so fit now that 7 percent is a piece of cake and we are definitely experience the opposite extreme in weather. It will be interesting to see if our luck with the weather continues. So far, 50 degrees temperature and a light drizzle are more than doable. We stay warm and dry in our many layers and can still stop briefly on the side of the road for a snack without having to find shelter. We'll keep our fingers crossed.