Sunday, August 28, 2011

Days 33-36: Not Yet in the Mid-West, But Certainly in the Mid

8/24 Day 33: Brandenburg, KY to Hawesville, KY 50 miles (1401 miles)

          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.
     We sweated our way to the 36 mile mark where Cloverport lay after plenty of breaks in the hard to come by shade and for water by the roadside. When we walked in to the Cloverport Diner, we were all totally drained of energy and absolutely starving. The staff in the diner was amiable and chatty, but it was hard to participate until we had cooled off with a few glasses of ice water and eaten something. I wolfed down a grilled cheese sandwich, a cheeseburger, some tater tots, and a slice of pie to do my part and everyone else ate just as well. Aside from the food and cold water, the best thing was certainly the fact that my meal alone was about $7. We loitered in the diner for a couple hours, drinking ice water and whiling away the vicious heat of the early afternoon. When it came time for us to take our leave, the staff filled up our bottles with ice and we stepped back out into the sweltering day.
         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.
        After we left P.J. we continued on in the heat, and we were definitely ready for a cold beer and some A/C by the time we pulled into Henderson, a medium sized town on the Ohio River just south across from Evansville, IL. We chose Darren's Pub, which turned out to be sort of a motorcycle/townie bar in the middle of town. The beer was cheap, but the food not so much, so we each had some appetizers and skipped the entrees. It wasn't long, however, before the clientele took notice of us and we were elbow deep in conversation about the trip, motorcycles, riding motorcycles long distance, and the best roads to take south of Henderson. The two guys next to us, a pair of good-natured, boisterous rednecks named Darren (not the bar owner) and Kelly Bumpus (aka "Bump") were our biggest fans at the bar. They were in their early 40s, both rough-around-the-edges single dads who were free of their kids for the night, just off of work, and demolishing shots and beers like it was going out of style. Darren and Bump were definitely a couple of characters, but totally harmless and we talked with them for a while at the bar. They were struck dumb with admiration (and probably whiskey) by our trip and Darren said he lived in a big house with 4 bedrooms, if we wanted a place for the night.
Who would have thought that staying
with these guys wouldn't pan out?
         He seemed on the level, and a good guy, so we said sure and that we would meet him after we made a quick trip to Wal-Mart for some supplies. Now, we probably could have seen this coming, but by the time we made it back to Darren's house just after dark, all the doors were locked and he wasn't picking up his phone. He had mentioned that he had work very early (4:30AM), so he probably got home and passed out drunk after forgetting all about us and his promises to leave the door open. And there we were, standing on his lawn in the dark, somewhere in Kentucky and with no particular place to sleep. We quickly went to the list of usual suspects and started casing churches and looking around for the nearest fire station. No churches looked good, so the FD was our best bet. We swung by to ask them where we should throw up our tents, and the fireman outside told us that there was a park right down the street we could crash at, likely undisturbed. We figured this was all well and good, and were just about to head that way when the Assistant Fire Chief showed up outside and told us we could stay in their training room, as long as we were up and out early. This, of course, suited us just fine. All the firemen in the building (roughly five or six at that hour) were very fine folks and helped us out with showers and let us wash our clothes from the day's ride on top of letting us have some floor space in a nice air-conditioned part of the firehouse. We talked with the firemen for as long as we could about Oregon and cross-country touring before our fatigue from 71 miles of riding caught up with us and it was time for sleep .

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.
          Our good start for the morning was offset about 40 minutes by my tire investigation, and, true to the last few days, everything was blazing even as early as ten in the morning. The drought that we saw signs of in southern Indiana seemed worse by far in this area of Kentucky. The corn we rode by, that in New Jersey and Pennsylvania had been such a pleasing tapestry of green and gold, was now a farmer's nightmare of fields and fields of brown stalks cracked in half with stunted cobs and only scant patches of green. The folks we talked to told us that they'd seen bad storms and flooding in early spring, but a handful of 120 degree days and hardly any rain since then. Soybeans, it seems, are basically bulletproof, though. An old man at one of our campgrounds told us they can make it through with just morning dew to sustain them. Proof seems everywhere, since soy plants are the only consistently good looking crop we've seen in the last couple weeks. The corn wasn't the only thing withering in the sun; we baked for the first half of the day in the flats that would lead us south and back into the hills. The flatland seemed to go on forever in some stretches, and as the sun bore down on us we felt that this must be what Kansas is like without the headwind.
View of the Ohio River from the ferry.
          Lunchtime found us taking a quick stop for fast food and some ice cream in Morganfield, KY. During lunch I worked out the issue with my rear free wheel hub body, at long last, and should get everything squared away once we reach Carbondale. Meanwhile, I've lost a few bolts from my small front chainring, and the washer broke in one of my shifters, so we could certainly do with a good bike shop. Our bikes are all rideable, though, and we are all getting stronger and stronger it seems as we press on past the month mark of the trip. I was trying to avoid riding on my little chainring, since it's missing some bolts, but that all went out the window when we hit the steep hills that stood between us and our long-awaited rendezvous with the Trans-American Trail just south of the Ohio River and Cave-In-Rock, Illinois. After some hot, very sweaty climbing and 60 miles for the day, we were on the ferry that would take us to Illinois. We were all extremely excited to finally be out of Kentucky, mostly because of the heat, and into a new state.
        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 slept in today, figuring that our short day of riding would be quick and easy. We took our time with breakfast and packing, and afterward we went down to the river to see Cave-In-Rock. It was definitely a lot more interesting than we thought it would be, and a little unsettling to think of all the dirty deeds that had been perpetrated in the small confines of the limestone chamber comprising the cave's interior where we stood. After we'd taken some pictures and gotten our fill of touristry, it was time to do some bike riding. We checked the tiny town for post cards and sundries, but had no such luck, so we turned west to do our first day on the Trans-America. The terrain proved tougher than we thought, and certainly tougher than we wanted. We had all sort of tricked ourselves into mental laxity, assuming that our short, 30 something mile day would be a breeze. Unfortunately, we were quite wrong, and it took a little bit of willpower to get past the first ten miles we rode before stopping in Elizabethtown for lunch. Elizabethtown is the only "wet" town in the county, and to prove it this tiny town of only a few hundred people has a bar, a package store, and a bar that is also a package store. We got some greasy fried food from one of the local restaurants and carried it in to the Riverfront Bar in town, so we could enjoy a couple frosty brews with our lunch.
            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.

3 comments:

  1. Guys,

    I'm in Morris Illinois. I might see you tomorrow. I guess we'll see.

    Nice writing Matt.

    ReplyDelete
  2. Blood, sweat, and tears juxtaposed over unbridled spiritual and emotional freedom. Punctuated by Segway nomads, murderous pirates, and sentient hills. What a fuckin' rad microcosm of life on Planet Earth. :D

    Seriously though, every time I read this blog the same thought always crosses my mind. My friends, people I actually know and have an emotional connection to, are in the process of internalizing and understanding the human condition - reconciling physical suffering with emotional attainment. Not a quest for fame or money or personal gain, but for better understanding of what it means to be a living sentient organism. You felt the call burning within you my friends, and you have bravely answered it.

    I can only look forward in anticipation to the day when I undertake the quest myself. :D

    /hippiedippierantoff


    Love,
    Carlos

    ReplyDelete
  3. You're the man, Carlos. Look forward to seeing you soon, buddy.

    ReplyDelete