We are far from Elizabethtown and out of Kentucky! Actually, we entered and left Illinois too and we’re now in Missouri! Things have been so wonderful lately. We’ve met a lot of riders, mostly eastbounders and many locals as well. Using WarmShowers more often has been a treat. Not only have we been able to sleep indoors but we’ve also been able to get to know some of the Kentucky and Illinois folks a bit more personally. It’s been such an adventure lately and we’ve been doing really well averaging 50 miles most days. There’s been a heat wave hitting the Midwest and the heat index has topped 103-105 degrees in the last couple days. Our skin feels like it’s roasting most of the time but we’ve also gotten some rain and some overcast days, thankfully. As the days come and go quickly, I tend to reflect and just soak it all in and recently I’ve just been so excited with how much fun we’re having. I have been intentional about staying present and it’s just been so rewarding, even though we have 3,000 more miles to trek!
Until yesterday, we’ve been riding alongside Giancarlo, a fellow westbound rider that started in Montreal. We met him in Utica as we headed out for the day. He’s from San Antonio so he and Austin had some obligatory Texas conversation. It was awesome to ride with another cyclist and it just so happens that Giancarlo works at his family’s restaurant and whipped us up a couple meals. He’s such a positive person. He often mentioned how much he actually looks forward to the uphills and he would ride up the toughest hills and maintain a smile. I questioned how he had that much energy while I felt like passing out. Instead of going straight to school, he’s been taking the time to travel–in my opinion, the best kind of experiential learning. At one point during a ride, we saw a copperhead snake on the road and he mentioned how venomous it was. I told him I saw some in Peru and it turns out he’s been herping in Peru, too! He’s headed up to St. Louis to visit a few friends and is evading the Ozarks by way of the Katy Trail. I am a bit envious but after these hills I’ll feel no hesitation when referring to myself as a cyclist.
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After Utica, where we stayed at the best fire station that had old VHS tapes so we watched Men in Black 1 and 2, we rode to Sebree, KY and stayed at the First Baptist Church. They had what I keep referring to as a lounge room with couches, a ping/pong, foosball, and pool table, and large kitchen and sitting area. They had a designated cyclist room with showers, fresh towels, their log book, and a large map taped to the wall for cyclists to pin their hometowns on. It’s amazing what people will do to accommodate cyclists and how excited they seem to be to help. We met the current and previous pastor and it was interesting that this tradition of hosting cross country cyclists seems to live on and has become an embedded part of their ministry. One church member baked us a chocolate pecan pie and even for someone that doesn’t care much for pie, it was delicious. I was surprised that we weren’t able to finish it. It was also at this church that we met Jeremy. He is a recent Whitman grad and was heading east. He had an August deadline for his tour because of a job he has lined up and he was kind enough to e-mail us with a bunch of recommendations for things to see and places to stay in as we head west.
We were sad to have to leave Sebree but since then we’ve crossed two state lines by way of two rivers, the Ohio and the Great Mississippi. The crossings were pretty momentous for me. We crossed the Ohio into Illinois via ferry and camped at Cave-In-Rock. We didn’t enjoy much of the park because of the pesty mosquitoes. Once we showered and ate, we went straight into our tents. Giancarlo woke up and headed out a bit before us and took some time to visit the cave. We were just eager to get out of there and start riding. After Cave-In-Rock we had two great Warm Shower experiences, thanks to Giancarlo taking the lead on contacting them. We stayed with Ann and Alan in Tunnel Hill and then with Jack in Carbondale, IL. Going up to Ann and Alan’s involved a steep climb on their gravel driveway, so we walked up to make sure we had the right house. They were lighthearted and delightful people. Unfortunately, Ann wasn’t feeling too well so she got some rest shortly after dinner. We talked to Alan a bunch and he insisted that we watch The Martian (starring Matt Damon). It was a good movie, I must admit despite my constant commentary. Their house was amazing and they built it themselves. Alan seemed very proud of it and I would be too. They had 5 dogs, a farm, and hummingbird feeders on their porch and we got to see so many crowd around them in the morning. I am grateful to have met Ann & Alan and I hope they’re able to move on with their plan of converting their basement into a hostel for cyclists and hikers. They had a pool and hot tub and such a big house, I am sure they’ll be successful.
After Tunnel Hill, we found ourselves in Carbondale. I long awaited getting to Carbondale because it is our second college town since Charlottesville and we finally had access to bike shops! Carbondale is home to Southern Illinois University, so we biked through the campus before heading down to the shop. We were about to enter and we ran into Giancarlo who had gotten there before us. Giancarlo had met up with Jack, our WarmShower host who offered to pick him up while he had his bike serviced. Jack then offered us a room so that we can stay the night as well. We had my front derailleur checked out because my shifting was off. Unless I anticipated an uphill like a mile in advance, I had trouble shifting down to my granny gear. I also got rid of my tires and heavy puncture-resistant tubes and got some Marathons. I got a rear-view mirror and finally returned Austin’s, and had my brakes checked out as well. While that was being taken care of, we got some Indian food for lunch which made us wish we could go back to the days where we didn’t rely on canned food. After David and Doug took care of things for us at Phoenix Bike Shop, we headed to Jack’s–but not without stopping for chocolate milk first. Jack is a retired businessman who was born and raised in Carbondale. He only left Carbondale when he attended Washington University in St. Louis. He currently lives 6 miles away from the house he was raised in. He shared a few stories and was actually awaiting a call from his daughter who was in labor in Vail, Colorado. She was apparently taken off the labor inducing drugs so we didn’t hear of any news, but we hope all went well and his daughter gave birth to a healthy baby.
After Carbondale, we stayed in Chester, home of Popeye the Sailor Man! Really, it was home to the Popeye comic writer, Elzie Segar, who chose the characters based on people he knew/met in Chester. They have a bronze statue of Popeye right before the Chester Bridge that crosses the Mississippi. They also have statues and paintings all over the town of the different characters. We stayed at the Fraternal Order of Eagles, which was as interesting as the name sounds. Really it was just a bar, but they had a shed in the back with 9 wooden bunks. They had bathrooms and showers so that’s all we needed and the shed had very cool a/c. I actually woke up freezing, which was a nice change. They had a high school volleyball tournament/fundraiser going on and we couldn’t count how many folks were crowded around the parking lot in their Wranglers. Okay I could count, there was like forty! We also met Joe, another eastbound cyclist, and he was pretty funny. He was unfortunately stuck in Chester until Monday because he had a care package sent that was being held at the post office (it was late Saturday). He apparently went out and met some folks having a bachelor party and joined them. He got back once we were headed out for the day (the next morning), so I’m sure he’s got some stories.
And now we’re here, taking a layover day in Farmington, Missouri. It was an uphill ride to get here and it was pretty tough for me, mostly because of the unbearable heat. Apparently, the next few days will really get us into the Ozarks and they’ll be pretty tough with steep rollercoaster hills. We’re taking the day to stretch, work on our bikes some, do laundry, and most importantly, relax. We’re at the famed Al’s Place, a hostel for cyclists that’s run by the city and is named after a cyclist from Farmington that passed a number of years to go after battling cancer. We heard it was nice but this is deluxe. The best place for a layover day. We’ve met some of the volunteers that take care of keeping up the hostel and again, it’s amazing what people will do to accommodate cyclists. We haven’t had to visit the bike shop but their local one’s called “Trans Am Cyclery” which obviously caters to the many cross-country tourists passing by on this amazing journey. It’s nice to be in Missouri because Illinois had no U.S. 76 signs like the previous states had. They had no street signs at all actually so I’m not sure how anyone there knows where they’re going.
Here we met six other cyclists, Kawika, Quinn + Mike, and later Hannah + Patrick, and Christian. Hannah and Patrick are also headed west and taking a layover day at Johnson’s Shut-Ins today so we hope to run into them tomorrow. They didn’t know each other prior to touring which is remarkable that they’ve made it this far with no issues. Quinn and Mike went to school together in Wyoming and started their trek in Oregon. Quinn actually lives in Westminster, Colorado (suburb of Denver) and Quinn lives in west Texas. Kawika lives in Maui and started his trek in California. He retired from the military at 44 and has been cycling ever since. We swapped some info with the eastbounders and talked about the fearmongering we often encounter from either locals or other cyclists. People are constantly talking about the Ozarks with a sense of foreboding that often leads me to question if I should just hitch over to Kansas (I’m not but I’ve considered it!). And I realize that regardless of what people say, even if it’s well-intentioned, it will make no difference at all to us and our experience. The same can be said about how I intently examine the elevation profile for the next day’s ride. The hills aren’t going to be any easier just because I anticipate them. Today we met Christian. He’s actually being paid to ride which is a dream! He says he’s actually seen some of my posts on Instagram so I seemed familiar when he met me. He unfortunately had food poisoning after trying out one of the famed pies at Cooky’s in Golden City (can’t wait). But he’s fine now and when he did have to hitch to find a hospital, he was picked up by a couple with a multiacre home that took him to visit natural springs, made him extravagant meals, and took him horseback riding. So that experience makes up for the setback.
It’s almost dinner time and I’ve just been writing and sitting around. I have to make sure I stretch well and I hope we get a really early start tomorrow. It looks like we’re getting lots of rain for the next few days so I don’t know if to be happy about the cooler temps that’ll bring or not. Mostly because we want to enjoy the swimming hole at Johnson’s Shut-Ins. But we’ve been so content lately that it’s going to take more than rain or the Ozarks to change that. Have you ever been so happy that you question if you deserve it? It’s hard to believe that things can turn out as well as they have, which reminds me not to bury my head in the sand the next time something doesn’t go our way. What an amazing experience the first third of this journey has been. We’ll see you all next time with stories of the Ozarks!
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