Day 6: back in the saddle. St. Louis, MO to Murphysboro, IL. 104 miles, 511

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We will say more about our rest day later, but it was great to hang with Chandra’s cousins Julie and Mark and their young son Hudson. So much fun! Hudson made us a map so we won’t get lost.

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We rolled out after a nice breakfast and Hudson filled our water bottles.

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We were taken with the contrast of the canyon like city streets leading to the Eads bridge.

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(Fun fact – Eads bridge was the first over the Mississippi and has a rich history).

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Going through East St. Louis was uneventful. There were many abandoned areas and much of the city seemed downtrodden, but before long we were on yet another beautiful paved (and new!) bike path – this one along the light rail line. Made us wonder whether we should be thanking Scott Walker for this infrastructure since it all seems made during the stimulus – likely with Wisconsin’s refused rail funds.

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In any case, it was more easy travel and ultimately gave way to hollows, hills, coal mines, and now a lovely campsite in Lake Murphysboro state park. Riding into the park was several miles of steep hills and – once again – no drinking water! There are RV Sites across the lake and the must have water but in the tent area where we are – none! We used algae flavored lake water to make dinner and we will stop trusting the incomplete information on the IL DNR website! Tomorrow is our last Illinois stop – water there? Stay tuned.

So the day after a rest day is always hard in a way. While resting you really try to actually let your body recover and starting up again is tough! Plus getting to spend time with great hospitality and connection to family makes it easy to think “this is it – we can stay for a week!” But behold – the game is back on. It’s also sweet to re enter the rhythm of the road. It was a little uncomfortable to get back on the bike, we had a headwind and the air was cool. But the vistas were gorgeous, the air clean and cool, and the miles ticked away as we shared great conversation, played stupid word games, and even wrote a song about a bathtub Jesus we saw in someone’s yard. It’s good to back in the green tent with. 104 mile day down. Tomorrow is only 85 miles or so with hills but tailwind. We adjusted our route after talking with Chris in St. Louis and shaving about 20 miles off our original plan for today and tomorrow will make it a more mellow day.

My stoker is already asleep and the dogs across the lake have finally stopped barking. Time for me to retire as well. Until tomorrow ….

Day 4: Those Prayers are Working — Springfield, IL to St. Louis, MO, 116 miles, 407 total.

Chandra, here.

While we are on this great adventure, my sister and her family are currently visiting my brother and his family in Japan.  Today, they were visiting shrines in Kyoto and after hearing about our Day 2, they promised to submit a prayer for “smooth roads and tailwinds” for us.  And they did!

Ema Prayer

Ema Prayer

Those prayers must have been awfully powerful, because today was about as perfect as 116 miles on four-day legs and butts can be—no walnuts, no downed trees, no missing bridges, no wrong turns and no headwind.

FIRST, we started off the day right.  Thanks to Mike’s Aunt Lucy, we were stuffed to the gills when we left Springfield and soon found ourselves headed out of town.  We laughed as we got going as it seems like the guys responsible for marking the bike path was a little confused about how the bike man was supposed to look (or maybe the path was for recumbents only?):

Bike Lane Symbol in Springfiled

Bike Lane Symbol in Springfiled

THEN, we found ourselves on a lovely trail taking us right out of the city and into the cornfields.

Exit Route out of Springfield, IL

Exit Route out of Springfield, IL

Cornfields!!!

Cornfields!!!

The sun was shining and we had a steady 10 mile tailwind pushing us along.  This was definitely welcome, as we were still riding on tired legs and backsides.  But after an hour or so, we were warmed up and humming along nicely.

THEN, as were were riding through a particularly pretty section of road, we came across an old 1800s cemetery.  The “Street Cemetery” contains two dozen or so gravestones dating from the 1800s, including many civil war soldiers.

Street Cemetery

Street Cemetery

Interestingly, we noticed that the gravestones would bear the date deceased and then the age (right down to the days), instead of a birthdate as is common today.

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Not sure that you will be able to make out the writing, but it says: “W.S. Street, died Apr. 18, 1838, Aged 25 yrs, 8 mos., 23 D.”  Seems a strange way to note gravestones . . . does anyone know why the stones state the age, instead of birthdate?

Anyway, the stop was short and we were soon headed further south.  A couple hours later, we found ourselves on this road:

Bumpus Road!

Bumpus Road!

Although we had a few miles today on gravel roads, Bumpus was not one of them.

THEN, a little over half way, we stopped for a bite to eat and some caffeine in Mt. Olive.  We couldn’t find any pie, but at least Mike found a jelly donut to keep him fueled and motoring along.

Mike's Jelly donut in Mt. Olive, IL

Mike’s Jelly donut in Mt. Olive, IL

(Fun fact: Mount Olive is not only the burial spot of the labor-community organizer Mother Jones, but it also the site of the oldest continuously operating gas station on Route 66.)

Est. 1926

Est. 1926

THEN, as we buckled down to grind out those last 55 miles, we discovered that Madison County Illinois has a tremendous bike path system and we cruised 30 miles (if not more) on a mostly paved, gorgeous system of bike paths almost to the McKinley Bridge, which would take us over the Mississippi River.

St. Louis

St. Louis

But those prayers were still working, because the best was yet to come!  We were so close to our destination but still had to navigate the ten city miles through some of less glamorous parts of St. Louis in order to get to my cousin’s house, near the Washington University campus.  After a few miles of making a spectacle of ourselves as we rode past commercial trucks, boarded up houses, and closed schools (nearly getting hit by some maniac who really wanted to make a left turn coming straight at us), we eventually found ourselves biking the great green thoroughfare that is Forest Park.  It’s HUGE (1,371 acres to be exact and houses the St. Louis Zoo as well as the Art Museum).  We were biking along when another biker came up along side.  Turned out to be the nicest guy–Chris R.–a local who offered to shepherd us through the park’s various turns.  Chris and his wife also have a Santana tandem and so we hit it off immediately!  Chris–channelling St. Christopher, the patron saint of travellers–gave us a local history lesson, recommended a local bike shop, and gave us some great beta on exit routes out of the city.  Before we knew it, the last few miles had flown by and we were at my cousin Julie’s door.

There are days where you get yelled at from out of car windows, or honked at, or rude postal workers who can’t be bothered to help point one in the right direction.  But those people fade to invisibility on a trip like this.  What we remember and cherish is the woman who comes running out of the diner in Peoria to ask about our trip, the toothless bartender who gives us directions out of town only to come running back out of the bar a few minutes later with a much better route idea, and the “road angels” like Chris, who not only showed us the way, but came back later tonight to give us a $10 off coupon so we can buy a new bike bag tomorrow!  These trips not only strengthen our connection to each other, but restore our connection to and faith in strangers.

And so, befitting a perfect day of biking, we also had a perfect ending as we were welcomed into the warm family embrace of my cousin Julie, her husband Mark and their 6-year old boy Hudson.  We feasted on delicious fish tacos, while Hudson regaled us with baseball stories and how to throw a curveball.  And then, to top it all off, when Hudson and Mike headed upstairs to bed, Hudson took Mike up the stairs on the electric chairlift!

GOING UP!!!

GOING UP!!!

Video is at: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=vwCXUMOGDPs&feature=youtu.be

How happy was Mike to avoid the stairs!!!

Tomorrow is our rest day, and we couldn’t have found a better place to spend it at!

Day 4: Special Guest Post from our Senior Trail Vegetation Correspondent

Hej Road Warriors,

I’m loving the blog posts. Sunday was a tough day. Way to persevere! I’m rooting for ya! As a fellow biker I totally sympathize with the walnut woes. Armed with a laptop, internet, boredom, and insomnia, I am ARMCHAIR ANALYST MAN!

<SUPERHERO-INTRO_MONTAGE costume=”nerd glasses, bathrobe”/>

It looks like the habitat of both white and black walnut species overlap with your route.

According to the US Forest Service, both species fruit from September to October.

According to USGS maps, Illinois will offer you no respite from either species. Things would have been bad if you were going through much of Missouri; 65% of the wild annual walnut harvest originates there.

Black walnuts will accompany you in Tennessee and Kentucky, but, according to the USDA, white walnuts should taper off. Although the native coverage of white walnuts in those states is extensive, they have been classified as “Threatened” and “Of Special Concern” in those states, respectively. Northern Mississippi will present no white walnuts and some black walnuts. Come south Mississippi, you will be free of any kind of walnut for the rest of that journey. Which is good; jambalaya and fresh walnut smell don’t mix anyhow.

<SUPERHERO-OUTRO_MONTAGE/>

<CREDITS>

http://esp.cr.usgs.gov/data/little/

http://www.na.fs.fed.us/spfo/pubs/silvics_manual/volume_2/juglans/cinerea.htm
http://www.na.fs.fed.us/pubs/silvics_manual/volume_2/juglans/nigra.htm
http://plants.usda.gov/core/profile?symbol=JUCI (terrible map, but check out the legal tab)
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Juglans_nigra

</CREDITS>

<EASTER EGG>
Am I “nuts” or what?

</EASTER EGG>

************
Thanks ARMCHAIR ANALYST MAN!!

Day 3: Cruising toward family 95 miles, 291 miles total

Alta, IL (north of Peoria) to Springfield, IL

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Today was a total contrast with yesterday. With the 1/2 water bottle worth of water remaining from our dry camp, I made some instant coffee left over from an earlier trip, we packed up early, and headed into Peoria for a nice diner breakfast. After the first couple miles still on the gravel path, we were stoked to be on pavement, going downhill, with a tailwind! We arrived at Childers Eatery after 10 miles and, since we wanted to charge our phones, we got seated right next to the coffee clatch of what my Grandma Hosea told me tonight are ROMEOS — Retired Old Men Eating Out. They were pretty hilarious and interested to talk about our ride. The waitress seemed concerned when Chandra ordered a large chocolate milk with her breakfast. And a second biscuit. We made up for the weak-sauce dinner of the night before in good style then hit the road.

Getting out of Peoria was a bit industrial but low traffic and easier to navigate.

Leaving Peoria

Leaving Peoria

Leaving Peoria

Leaving Peoria

The weather was warm and, most importantly, the wind had shifted from southwesterly yesterday to northwesterly. The terrain was pretty flat. This part of Illinois is ruled by corn, with soybeans being the right-hand assistant to the corn. The towns were nearly desolate with shuttered businesses, but the fields were bustling with harvest activity. Since there’s nothing to block the wind, we live and die by it. Today, the quartering tailwind off our right shoulders was like having a gasoline tube assist! I don’t normally like to talk about average speeds, but yesterday we arrived at camp with a day-long average of 11.6MPH — Today it was 15.0.

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We worked out a bit more efficient navigations scheme. We wrote down an abridged version of the Google maps directions (not worrying with a few excessive small jogs here and there) and vetoed them with the AAA maps when they didn’t make sense. It seems there may be some mapping software out there that helps avoid gravel roads, but we didn’t have access to it via phone with dying batteries. The route was good, although I learned a valuable lesson when asking for directions. I tried asking in the Post Office in New Holland for information on which roads were paved and totally got shown the hand. But, in Middletown, in a bar, the bartender not only walked out into the street to point out a route (bar had just emptied of it’s two previous customers) but she came out again again having gone back inside to show us a better road. And she was spot on! The final rural roads into Springfield were mellow, downwind, flat, paved, and FAST! Fun fact — Middletown hosts the Stagecoach Inn that apparently Abraham Lincoln visited when he used to ride the circuit.

We had a fully glamorous lunch on the side of the road having briefly wondered where all the taiko peeps were since we were near San Jose.

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The day ended with a great visit with my Aunt Lucy and Uncle Newlyn, Cousins Paul and Kristi and their boys, and Grandma Hosea. A warm, homecooked meal, a couch on which I’m writing this, some great conversation, and a soft bed to sleep on tonight. A total blessing both to reconnect with family and get a good night sleep. Tomorrow it’s off to St. Louis, seeing Chandra’s cousins, and a REST DAY!

Mike

Day 2 : overcoming adversity, 84 miles, 196 total

Well, for those of you out who think we are crazy, today might prove you to be right.

It started lovely enough–we woke at sunrise and went through our usual routine of me packing up the gear while Mike makes first, coffee, then breakfast. Since we had planned ahead, making extra rice the night before, we were in for a breakfast treat–Belly Pleaser, which is a delicious and high calorie rice gruel with water, coconut milk, cinnamon and dried mangos. It is a great way to jump start a long, cold day. And although we didn’t yet know it, we were going to need it.

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We were packed and on the road by 9AM, feeling full, strong and ready for day 2. At Rock Falls, we turned south onto Hennepin Canal Trail. (Fun fact- Started in 1834 but not completed until 1908, the canal never lived up to its promise as rail became dominant and the canal too small. More here: wiki). It was a beautiful crushed limestone trail, which unfortunately slows us down, along the slowly moving canal.

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Well maintained (for the most part),

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We saw blue herons, ducks and other unidentifiable water fowl, deer, one slightly scary dog, and a gaggle (?) of wild turkeys. Life was okay.

But THEN, we hit a soft uncompacted 10 mile section that really slowed us down. And THEN, came the minefield of walnuts–that caused us to flat out! No real biggie. We expect these things.

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Eventually, we came to the old locks, which were cool.

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And we turned off the road and headed into the wind toward Wyoming, IL. OH, the wind. It blew straight at us, and we quickly discovered our route had a preference for the gravel over the paved roads. We’d pick a paved alternative, only to have the directions update and shift while we were biking without bars or coverage. While I would try to reconfigure the route as we biked, we missed a few turns, vetoed bad options, and generally made us bike about 6 extra miles straight into the wind.

When bike touring, the wind is some days your guardian angel, and others, an evil monkey on your back. When you have a tailwind, the miles fly by as if you are going downhill. But when you have a headwind, it strips your legs of power and your heart of spirit. It was past 4:30 pm, when we finally made it to Wyoming. And we still had miles to go to get to our planned stopping point in Peoria.

To escape the wind, we choose to return to another rails to trails limestone unpaved path. We knew it would be slow, but we were slightly sheltered from the wind and off the bigger road as the sun approached the far horizon. Having committed to the path at the trailhead, we were somewhat dismayed to discover a TRAIL CLOSED sign several miles in. Because we like to go toward our destination (rather than away from it), we persevered with expert Captain Mike mountain biking the big long train through some very sketchy rutted out sections. As Stoker (the one in the back), my job is to not freak out when the front wheel is going one direction, the back wheel is drifting, and the trailer–who knows???

Okay, so an hour or so later, we hit more trail closed signs. Mind you, there really wasn’t a road escape route for us at this point. So again, we went FORWARD. (It is after all, the Wisconsin way.). And fairly soon, we discovered the trail was missing a bridge.

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But–Captain, My Captain, was undeterred. He quickly disassembled us and — chivalry is not dead — carried the heavy parts (i.e., not me) across the chasm.

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Not to shirk my duties, I carried the water bottles and front bag as I skipped across the go. (Did I mention, we were tired, souls stripped by the wind a few miles back, and looking for a place to make camp).

And, we found one. Because, according to the IL DNR maps, there was a closer campground with toilets and water just off the trail about 10 miles shy of our planned destination. (Point of reference: On this trail, that’s another hour, in the DARK). So we pulled off at the Alta-Dunlop Rock Island campground. Happy to stop at last.

But the obstacles were not yet all overcome, because despite the signs and the IL DNR website indicating there is water here. There is not.

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Options were get back on the bike and fetch water (a 2+ miles trek) or (after 84 miles) forego dinner (and breakfast) and just fend. Oh, Illinois DNR, I expect more from you. So, we dined on cheese quesadillas and drank our meager emergency supply of Elmer, feeling like the day could have been easier, but this is what makes it an adventure. For everyone, warm and cozy on their couch right now, we certainly are living life to it’s fullest. (Although I do long for my couch just a wee bit–I guess my cousins’ in St. Louis will have to do.)

But, I am warm, fed (better than 3rd world standards), and ready for bed.

–stoker

Day 1! Departure! 112 miles, 112 total

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Departure day has finally arrived! Up early, last minute packing, big phat breakfast burritos at Monty’s Blue Plate diner (thanks Mark!) a swing by the farmers market to say goodbye to Mama Jo and then the day could really begin!!

It was chilly, but had a tailwind almost all day. Of the 112 miles we covered, probably 65 were on gravel. We took the Badger State path from Madison through Monroe to the Illinois line. Then it becomes the Jane Adams trail for a while. The paths are lovely although a bit taxing on a road bike– especially a tandem when stability is at a premium. The changing leaves were ridiculous though!!

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Chillin at the state line.

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When it ended in Freeport (fun fact – Freeport Illinois is the location of the Lincoln – Douglas debate) we thought pavement would rule the day. It did for a while! The riding was easy through corn fields and rolling hills. The chip seal roads felt just like home. But after 20 or 30 miles the chip seal gave way to gravel. Some of it was fun but much was loose and full of big rocks. Descending some of the hills on loose gravel tested the zen abilities of my stoker girl a lot!

We eventually reached Sterling, IL. We are at the Ruffit campground which is empty save for “10 idiots” (their words not mine) who stay here for weeks on end. It’s going to frost tonight and tomorrow might have a headwind. But I’m cozy in the green tent with my sweetie, with a weary body, a belly full of beans and rice, and a strong desire to see what tomorrow brings!

Oh. Chandra just reminded me we had a flat. Just after a tunnel on the Badger State trail. Old tube. Little rip. Nothing obvious to have caused it. Kept on truckin.

Day -1. Leaving in the morning!

It’s been a totally crazy few weeks both of trip preparations and also squaring away the rest of life and work so that we can go off the grid for three weeks. Nothing like a self-imposed deadline to force completion of things. But leaving work today I really felt like all is in good hands and we can totally focus on the things that matter in life. Like turning legs in forward oriented circles, seeking pie at every turn, obsessing over inclines, wind direction and clouds, and celebrating 20 years of adventure with a new installation!

I went to DC for a meeting this week and got stranded for an extra day due to stone which made the rest of the week a little frantic. Changed the tires on Talulat the tandem (starting out with fresh sparkly Gatorskins!) and went to adjust the front derailleur cable since the shifting had been a bit off. I realized the housing was trashed and a 5 minute adjustment turned into a little “project”. I think it’s dialed now. Then off to Monona for dinner and a massage (thanks Mama Jo!). Nice to see our folks for a send off and not mess up our kitchen. Then tonight we didn’t exactly “carbo load” but certainly “calorie loaded” at the Old Fashioned for beers and fish fry. Yes, we are departing from Wisconsin after all!

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Totally looking forward to a 110 mile day to start off tomorrow. We debated last Sunday as we fought the gnarly headwind whether warmer southerly air with a headwind was better, or northern cold air at our backs. I think we settled on the latter, and that’s what we get tomorrow! Now I just hope I can actually sleep tonight. I know we will tomorrow – in northern Illinois. Until then …

Day – 1. The final push to get on the road

It always strikes me as how difficult it is to actually LEAVE . . . my to-do and shopping lists are three pages long, but I have diligently been striking through them.  Oh, there’s plenty that will remain undone (e.g., if someone wants to finish painting my garage, that would be awesome; and I could really use a haircut!)  But, I’m getting there . . . and here’s photographic proof.

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Pretty cool that it all fits!  In fact, I have to decide whether we want to ditch the paniers altogether.

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But now . . . and this is important, I must go meet Mike for a final high calorie Wisconsin Friday Night Fish Fry dinner (and beer) before we head out tomorrow morning’s 110 mile ride south down the Badger trail to Sterling (the town, not my brother!).  https://goo.gl/maps/PLZWe

Day -3: The Route: Madison, WI to New Orleans, LA

Okay . . . we are back for another adventure!  In 2006, we biked from San Francisco, CA to Madison, WI.  Then, in 2011, we took a quick spin from Madison to the Canadian border.  This time, we’ll be taking the silver tandem, Talulat, from Madison to New Orleans to celebrate our 20th anniversary. (I know, crazy, we’ve been married for 2 decades!)  Neither of us have ever been to New Orleans before, and it is a LONG way to bike for some beignets, but we figure that if we bike there, we can eat whatever we want when we arrive!  We will be leaving this Saturday, October 18th and blogging as we ride (assuming that we have time to write, since some of these days are long, while the days in October are shorter than they are in the summer).

For those that are interested in the route, here it is: Madison, WI to New Orleans, LA.

1,274 miles, 20,800 ft up and 19,961 down in total.

http://tinyurl.com/MAD-NOLA-route