We had a quick, heavy shower come upon us unexpectedly in the night that forced us to scramble and get the tents under a nearby shelter, but other than this minor interruption we had a very peaceful sleep at the fairground. When we woke, there were signs of the community waking up all around us: a tour bus was loading in the parking lot while we brushed our teeth, cars zoomed by on the nearby state road 79 as we ate our breakfast, and just as we finished packing up our bikes, a couple of men arrived to clean out one of the nearby concession booths-presumably in preparation for some upcoming event on the grounds. The heat and humidity, which had been so merciful the last couple days, seemed to be oozing back into the morning as we set out for the day. By 11, temperatures were already creeping up toward the 100s and by noon it was 105. The day's route had barely any relief from the heat in sight, as much of it was extremely rural with no restaurants or stores at all. One of the only exceptions came about 20 miles in at the Kountry Korner Market, a surprisingly well stocked grocery in the middle of nowehere.
The Kountry Korner was serendipitously air-conditioned and had every manner of good, simple, cheap food we could possibly need from dried fruits to pastas to cheap organic snacks. The woman who ran the store, Esther, was a short, nearly toothless Amish woman who unfolded a card table and some chairs for us so that we could do what we do best: loiter. We bought a ton of food and snacks, ate a bit, and refilled our water bottles in preparation for the push to Cloverport, the only real town of the day. It wasn't until we got to the Kountry Korner, though, that we noticed we had crossed into the Central Time Zone and gone back in time. We arrived at the store around 1PM by our reckoning, but left at 12:45. Our -15 minute break did us a lot of good, since we were all pretty hungry when we arrived. The heat, however, had not abated, and seemed like a veritable wall when we walked out of the store. To top things off, we had about a 15mph headwind to cool/slow us down. If 105 with a headwind doesn't sound like miserable riding, you've never been on a bike, much less outside.
|With fried twinkie for dessert.|
Erin had made some friends in Cloverport with her cheerful chit-chat as she poked around the gift shops neighboring the restaurant, and had received several offers from folks to let us stay in town with them. We were determined, though, to make our mileage for the day, and headed off to stay at a park outside of Hawesville, the next town over. The 14 miles to Hawesville were pretty easy, as things began to flatten out for us in western Kentucky, but we were all very feeling pretty lethargic from our draining labors in the high heat. We pulled in to the park to find the camp office closed and took a site of our choosing, intending to be gone in the morning well before the office opened. The big let down at Vast Wood Park, where we were, was that the nice sand beach on their lake was closed for the season and fenced off. We settled for showers, did a little relaxing, and ate pizza from the local pizza shop before bed.
8//25 Day 34: Hawesville, KY to Henderson, KY 71 miles (1472 miles)
The time zone change helped us get up bright and early today- we skipped breakfast in camp to speed up our departure, too. By 7:30 we were on the road and making great time. I can't recommend strongly enough that if you're going to be riding in the heat, get as much of it done before 1 or 2 in the afternoon as you possibly can. Especially heading west, the late afternoon sun seems to be the very worst. We had decided to go off the map today, because we made a crucial discovery about the Adventure Cycling Association's Underground Railroad Trail, which we have been on since Cincinnati. These maps, according to a small blurb of text we recently discovered, are more of a "symbolic" trail than a geographically oriented trail. What this means is that the route is incredibly inefficient and chooses most of its destinations, and its many northerly and southerly digressions, based on the locations of sites of historical interest rather than the most direct, easiest, or most scenic.
I'm not saying that prospective touring cyclists should avoid this trail, because the ACA does a good job demarcating campsites and other amenities, but I am saying that anyone on the trail should approach the maps with a critical eye. Were we to take the route prescribed by the maps, we would have had an 80-something mile trip to Henderson. We instead chose to go our own way, and saved 15 miles. I am sure that had we been aware of this before, we could have cut out some unnecessary diversions in the last few days. Anywho, we had a quick breakfast on the road- yogurt dipped pretzels dipped in peanut butter- and cruised up and down some good sized hills until around 27 miles when we reached Owensboro, one of the largest towns in western Kentucky. As usual, the first thing we did in town was find a diner.
D's BBQ Diner was the choice, and happened to be a bonus choice because it is located right across the street from a laundromat. After receiving instruction on the basic operation of a washing machine courtesy of the attendant on duty, we popped in some clothes and moved over to the restaurant. Second breakfast was good, and cheap, and Ben ate a pancake that was bigger than his head while I did some writing and the rest of the crew chowed down. After meal time, we headed to the post office, and did some minor errands before restarting our sojourn for the day. It was a little past noon at this point, and things were again closing in on 100 degrees. It had been so hot the night before we could barely sleep in our tents; Erin and I just lay awake most of the night sweating and listening to motorcycles scream by and coyotes or foxes yelp in the wee hours. Now, we have seen exactly 0 other people riding across country since we started, but on our way out of town we met a trio of Belgians crossing it in a bit of a different manner. These guys are doing the trip in two sections, Norfolk, VA (very near where I grew up) to Omaha, Nebraska this year, and Omaha to Oregon next summer. The catch is that they are doing it all on Segways! Yeah, they were quite a sight moving down the road with their trailers and all their gear. Apparently, P.J. (Pierre-Jean) and his two friends have done a bunch of big trips by Segway, because P.J. was disabled in a skiing accidentI three years ago. They were a friendly and fascinating group that we almost rode right past without stopping, but we're glad we did. Check out P.J. and his past trips at www.segwaytravellers.com.
|The best part about conversing with these guys is that|
they know their way around a segue.
|Who would have thought that staying|
with these guys wouldn't pan out?
8/26 Day 35: Henderson, KY to Cave-In-Rock State Park, Cave-In-Rock, IL 61 miles (1533 miles)
We slept as soundly as we have yet on this trip in the cool, dark firehouse and none of us were anxious to get up when the alarm went off a few minutes before 6- but it was part of the deal we'd made with the Asst. Chief. He gave us his card and told us, like everyone has, how wonderful Oregon is and that we will love it there. I certainly am excited to finally get there and see what all the fuss is about, having never been. After some goodbyes, we rolled our bikes down the street to the little diner in town for breakfast. The waitress, a woman probably in her sixties, took our orders and then revealed that she was very surprised to see two groups of cross-country travelers in two consecutive days. Apparently, P.J. and the Segway riders had stopped in to the diner the night before, and were staying with a priest in town who was going to escort them with his car across a very busy north-bound bridge to Evansville across the Ohio River. They are heading along a different path, so it's unlikely we'll see them again, but we wish them the best of luck. We ate some breakfast, I mended an extremely crafty flat-causing protrusion in the interior of my tire, and we rode onward, out of Henderson. We had made the choice to continue going southwest to Cave-In-Rock, where the Underground Railroad and Trans-America Trails intersect, rather than to cut the hypotenuse of the triangle- making our own, shorter and flatter route- to meet up with the Trans-America in Carbondale, IL, because we didn't want to miss any potential sights the Shawnee National Forest and Cave-In-Rock State Park in southern Illinois might hold.
|Not a hill in sight, Erin approves.|
|View of the Ohio River from the ferry.|
Cave-In-Rock is ingeniously named after a cave that was carved into a steep wall of river rock about a mile outside of what is now the town bearing the same name. The cave, though, has a pretty grisly history. It was converted into a tavern and used as a base of operations for river pirates in the 17 and 1800s. The pirates would lure lost travelers in from the river with promises of help or lodging, then usually rape, kill, rob, and ransom the hapless folks as they saw fit. The cave saw a few more iterations as a den of iniquity and some, far less frequent, uses as a shelter for pioneers. Either way, this slaughterhouse is now a tourist attraction with a nice state park adjoining it and wonderful views of the river. The camping is reasonably priced at Cave-In-Rock and we originally intended the area and small town to be the site of our day off. However, once we discovered that it is a dry town, in a dry county, we scratched that plan altogether and decided that after we woke, we would ride a bit of a short day up to Eddyville (not a dry town) and stay there. We settled in to our campsite under one of the camp's pavilions, thanks to the kindness of the camp site administrators, enjoyed some camp cooking and settled in for what turned out to be one of our most comfortable nights, temperature-wise, we'd seen in a while. Not to jinx us, but we've even been dodging rain for almost a week. Fingers crossed, I guess.
8/27 Day 36: Cave-In-Rock, IL to Hayes Canyon Campground and Horse Resort, Eddyville, IL 34 miles (1567 miles)
|We wanted a picture that would look as though we were|
all in a mid-90s alternative rock band. And got it.
We grumbled about the day, the heat, and the hills as we ate and took an inordinately long break for the amount of riding we'd done. While we ate, we talked with the bartender and she mentioned that another pair of cross-country riders was staying in town, and had been in to the bar last night. The two riders, we suspect, are the same two young men riding from Brooklyn to Oregon we'd heard about as early as Cloverport, KY that we've been slowly gaining on. She said they were taking the weekend off in a bed and breakfast in town. If that's the case, we may be hearing about them for a while, since we'll be on the same trail until Oregon. We left town without meeting them, but not before I grabbed a small bottle of whiskey as dry-town insurance, and rode west toward the "hellacious" hills our bartender warned us about. She also mentioned that there is a big, iron bridge on our route that was in the movie "U.S. Marshalls"- funny, the things people want to make sure you know about their towns. The heat was, by this time, a little over 100 and we were stuffed with food and quite uncomfortable while we rode. We sweated out the ride, punctuated by a few stops in the shade and for water refills, until we crossed the hellacious hill, and its brother.
The one hill we went up right before Eddyville was perfect in every way; so ideal in the world of hills, that I want to take a second to describe it, because it possesses every feature a super crappy hill to ride up should have. It had what I'll call Singularity. Singularity means (and, yes, I am just making this up) that when you approach the hill, it is the only hill around. There is no hill before it whose down-slope would propel you up the Perfect Hill, so that every foot you climb is entirely self-propelled- giving you plenty of time to wonder why you like bike riding at all. Singularity means, also, that when you look up the hill you should note a few key features. It is mostly in the sun, it is incredibly tall and steep ( I judged this by the fact that Ben, who is normally about a mile ahead of me, was only about 3/4 up the hill when I was starting), and- I think this is the most important factor of the Perfect Hill- you can't see anything beyond the hill when you look up. This means that there are no hills beyond the Hill, and that your effort - all the climbing - is entirely a waste, because you aren't gaining elevation to continue riding on a plateau or up another hill, you are just going to go back down on the other side and end up at the elevation you started at (although ending up lower to make the next hill harder will earn the hill extra credit). This hill had all those features, and the previous paragraph, I suppose, would answer the question "What do you think about when you ride?"
Once past the big Hill, we rode down to the short section of flat ground where Eddyville lays. The first thing we did was stop at the convenience store and stock up for our day off. We got some canadian bacon, eggs, some beer, candy, etc and then made our way to Hayes Canyon Campground and Horse Resort. Apparently, Eddyville is Illinois state's Trail Riding Capital, and there are a couple such horse resorts, which are basically big campgrounds that have plenty of accommodations for horses. We paid for our campground and set up shop for the next day and a half, since we'd decided this would be the site of our day off. The horsemen who rode by were all curious about us and many joked, "Where are your horses?" To which I would respond, "Left them at home, their bikes are in the shop." We had a good camp meal, a shower, and some still cold beers as we whiled away the evening in camp, glad the climbs of the day were done and wouldn't be waiting for us after our zero day. The stamping, neighing, and whinnying around us woke me a couple times in the night, but not too often and not for too long.
8/28 Day 36: Day off in Eddyville
We had some eggs and ham for breakfast and are planning on getting a few games of rummy in today after we take a quick hike to check out the canyon. Not much cell service, but watch the Tumblr and Flickr for photo uploads.
Sorry there couldn't be more photos.