In a previous post I had commented that the amount of clean riding in the US and Canada is really low, so much so that I would not suggest bike touring in these countries! That’s a big statement but unless you are undertaking an eye-popping, leg-burning journey for a charitable cause, long distance biking is likely a lot better in other continents (western Europe for sure). With that said, to my surprise I was able to find some really ‘clean’ riding in central Illinois on some county roads….lightly traveled, well maintained, and through some rolling farmland. About 60 miles of pedaling today was through some of these roads, a very pleasant and welcome change from the thousands of miles of poor roads and heavy traffic that I’ve encountered, even while being vigilant to taking supposedly vetted bike routes (such as Canada’s mythical ‘Great Trail’). This is where a GPS has been super helpful. But occasionally one has to stop and stare and the screen, with the fine print! A lady today stopped and asked if I needed directions. She asked where I was heady. I said Kentucky. She said I was crazy. She would have had me locked up if she had known the real breadth of my trip! Thankfully for both parties involved, I didn’t tell her.
What a difference a day makes. No wind, no sun. Even though I didn’t burn up the odometer (route finding took lots of time), I felt so much better today….the cloud cover made me feel so refreshed compared to the daily wilting sun of the past two months. And I found miles of quiet paved farm roads through field and field of soybeans. This would be a bad part of the country to be during an active tornado season, I am fortunate that the wind was completely non-existent all day because there is nothing to stop it around here.
An amazingly tough day for being so flat, owing to a 15 mph easterly headwind.
My head was staring into the pavement for long enough that I thoughts about a top ten list of stuff I had seen on the road since my last list roughly a month ago, and its disposition:
- New mens XXL camo hunting jacket (left it at a campground for the taking).
- Patagonia L fleece hoodie (left it hanging on a fence post, too small for me)
- Brand new fishing lure in the bag (gave it away to a fisherman)
- Flat headed shovel, excellent condition (left it in the breakdown lane)
- Good needle nose pliers (gave it to a couple from PA, motorcycle mechanics)
- Adjustable wrench (kept it!)
- Mens cotton hoodie, size XXL (left it in the ditch)
- Steelhead fly (kept it for good luck!)
- Pitchfork (left it in the breakdown lane)
- 2 shucked whole ears of corn (see Kansas kurling from previous post!)
My dreams of getting a fat tailwind across the prairie were dashed with a headwind today. But it was cooler, which helped tremendously. And I had no trip-suspending headwinds which could have easily occurred anywhere over the past 1000 miles.
I finally, after all these days, crossed the Mississippi River, at Hannibal, MO. I snapped a quick photo in the middle of the bridge, nervous about the high speed traffic. I was shocked by how much the trucks were shaking the bridge on the way across to the east side of the river.
The 30 or so miles between the river and Pittsfield were really pleasant as I found some quiet and smooth roads. Here the landscape is starting to transition back to woodland interspersed with agricultural fields, I think the endless cornfields of the main part of the Midwest are behind me. I am glad I did a Kansas kurl when I had the chance!….
A day of good riding on a hot day through the rolling countryside of Missouri. I passed field after field of soy and corn ready to be harvested. Just as the sun was setting I managed to find a lovely state park at Cross Fork Lake, as the hoot owls serenaded me as I put my tent up.
One of the biggest mistakes that I bike tourer in the US or Canada can make is to assume that the same road conditions will prevail on the next day of riding. Right out of the bat this morning, after less than 1 mile, the road shoulder on US Hwy 36 disappeared. After 100 good miles the day before. How foreign is biking in the US Midwest?? When I stopped a deputy to ask about the shoulder for the next 30-40-50 miles, he said, ‘Nonexistent. Good luck.’ Actually my luck was pretty good…I bailed into the gravel a few miles before talking to the officer, when a lady driving an Infiniti crossed the white line. In retrospect, it was an act of civility on her part to turn around and explain to me that she never saw me. I explained to her, in rather terse language that I don’t use in front of my girlfriend, my boss, or my dog, that if she hadn’t been tailgating the truck in front of her and playing on her phone that her vision may have worked quite a bit better.
So I found myself getting off of Hwy 36 ASAP. I found some back roads that were dirt, dusty, hot, and very hilly. And that just crushed my legs. When I finally found another paved road I was way off course and landed in the tiny town of Bendena. The heat, a major force to reckon with in my R4R, found me once again. In Bendena I was pretty desperate for cold liquid and food. From a couple hundred yards off I spotted a Pepsi machine. When I approached it I noticed that a little 300 square foot grocery store was open. At that moment I felt immense relief that I could pack my gullet with something other than warm water from odor-retaining bike bottles and peanut and jelly sandwiches. I held on as long as possible to the dead-end conversation with the shopkeeper lady inside, relishing the AC. Somehow I rallied and pushed slowly towards the state line after crushing my lunch in the meek shade of an old ice machine on the side of the grocery store.
I finally got the Missouri late in the day. I crossed the big Missouri River right at the impoverished and aging mill city of St. Joseph. It’s hard to believe that exactly one week ago I was watching some technical climbers scale a rock wall in the beautiful Cache La Poudre River Valley in Colorado. Now here I was in 90 degree heat dodging an utterly unbelievable amount of trash in the breakdown lane. How much trash? I dodged a pair of vise grips, pliers, sockets, enough stuff over 5 miles to fill a tool box. Enough trash that on 3 stretches I walked my bike, fearing that some sharp object would finally puncture a tube with my weight on the machine. I didn’t take any shrapnel to the tires in this stretch but an hour later got a 16 penny nail completely through the back tire. I pulled the bike over to an abandoned piece of farm machinery and pretty much expected to hear a fizzing sound of a blown tube when I pulled the nail out. To my amazement, the tube escaped puncture. At this moment, and many others, the Schwalbe tires are worth their weight in gold. This is a brand of heavy German-made touring tires that seem to repel the punctures in those instances when the rider has the least time to deal with them. In my case I was fighting daylight so, sans puncture, the only thing I had to deal with is a crumbling shoulder like looked like a hangover from a 1950s experimental road building project in the Soviet block. Make no mistake about it…biking is a foreign sport in the American Midwest!
Kansas is really quite a pretty state. My best riding today was is the first part of the morning while the air was cool. I caught some back roads out of Lovewell State Park and saw a lot of wildlife as I wound through some deserted roads cutting through seemingly endless corn fields and soybean fields…..
The folks here are very friendly too. By 10 AM I was in a diner eating a second lunch and about a dozen friendly folks altered me to a couple on the loose from Kansas City, wanted for murder, and last seen in the area within the past 24h. One man told me not to stop for hitchhikers (he knew I was on a bike). I am struggling enough…could you imagine giving somebody a free ride on my bike!? A convict could be a bit squirmy too. At least the load in my paniers doesn’t move a whole lot, save for the jiggling of the half-full Gatorade bottles.
By mid afternoon it was 95 degrees and I decided to press on. I had a feeling of deep exhaustion in the pretty town of Marysville that I was able to shake and torque out 30 more miles across the hot and dry countryside full of soy and corn. Wow, this state knows agriculture.
Nebraska is not completely flat! I pedaled through some amazingly hilly
countryside today. US Highway 136 was a lucky find, the road was very
quiet, smooth, and windy. It was quite the cross wind today, but it seemed
to keep things cooler across a hot prairie. The best seat all day had
an interesting backrest.
Today was another day through the hot prairie. The winds, fortunately, were generally light. The landscape is gradually becoming less arid as I pedaled past mile after mile of corn fields. There is a reason they call it the breadbasket of the world. The best pedaling was late in the day when I found a deserted smooth road, no wind, and no traffic!…
A lot of wind today but most of it was not headwind, which, coupled with the coolest daytime temps since Day 2, helped me cover some ground. The terrain has flattened substantially and I’ve entered some farm country in SW Nebraska. One photo all day!….my campfire at the site I rolled into just before dark and just as the full moon was rising. It didn’t load into WordPress so I’ve inserted another photo of somebody I hope to see soon!