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!
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?):
THEN, we found ourselves on a lovely trail taking us right out of the city and into the 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.
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.
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:
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.
(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.)
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.
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!
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!