Today, especially this afternoon, was just hard. Places to stay around here are a little few and far between so I had the option of a short day or a long one. I’m looking forward to getting to Bolivar and I took the long option. That put me in Farmington MO, instead of Chester IL where I had lunch. But it also meant I spent the afternoon heat climbing Missouri Ozark hills which were pretty tough. I achieved two big milestones; I made it across the Mississippi River and I get to sleep in my home state.
The route this morning took me along the levees near the river. One of the things about traveling by bike is that you follow these little backroads where a lot of work is done, you see a lot of the basic infrastructure that supports us all. Today I saw all matter of raw materials transported by me on river barge, trains, and trucks. When’s the last time that you stood and watched a whole freight train go by? The shear volume of raw goods is kind of staggering.
Just before lunch I passed a big coal loading facility. They take coal from barges, load it on trucks, which then roll right through downtown Chester IL. So I had about 6 miles of bad shoulders and big coal trucks thundering by. Not fun. The drivers gave me lots of room when they could, but when 2 meet, its plain unnerving. Glad to be done with that. I did pick up a souvenir lump of coal. I think it’s actually the first time I’ve seen raw coal. It’s lighter than I expected, more like wood than a rock, which makes sense.
I passed a closed factory this morning too that was falling down – they used to make aluminum siding and it reminded me of just how many closed factories I’ve seen, how many downtowns are vacant. I feel that one of the biggest impressions I’m getting from this trip is that I’m really concerned for our economy on a macro scale. It’s hard to talk to people about climate change when so many are struggling. It’s another one of those things that I “knew” before starting this trip, but I’m gaining a real appreciation for seeing it first hand. The communities that are thriving all have some real economic driver behind them, and a lot of our cities and rural areas don’t have that.
I keep thinking about the Amish and how prosperous their community seemed. They all make things and sell them to each other and to us. But so much of the things that we buy are factory-made overseas – we’re constantly shipping money out of the country. Makes me want to buy and Amish coffee table, instead of one at IKEA. But I won’t go on a total “America First” crusade – it’s our responsibility to make good quality stuff. I’ll buy an American car when they make one that’s worth the money (actually I have a deposit down for a Tesla 3, the cheap Tesla, made in America and coming out next year).
The other thing that is hard to convey in pictures is just how lush and impenetrable the forests of southern Missouri are. I can’t imagine how Indians or early settlers got through.
Big props to Farmington MO! The city is very interested in keeping their downtown vital, which it seems to be. they have even set up a hostel where I’m staying tonight that is just fantastic. It’s a cool loft space with laundry, wifi, a fridge, small kitchen, and bunks all for $20 a night. It’s called “Al’s Place” in honor of a Farmington cyclist who was a big supporter of the cycling community here.
My campground hosts never showed up last night so I thanked them for their donation to the cause and slept on their porch. I would have put up the tent but I knew I could hit the road earlier if I didn’t have to dry out a tent, and the porch was perfectly comfortable with my sleeping quilt and air mattress. (FYI if you’re new to sleeping quilts – they save weight because they don’t have a back, which in regular bags doesn’t do much good anyway because the loft gets squished beneath you. The quilt is down and like a bag it can be cinched up at the feet and even at the head, but your air matress keeps you warm below. Mine can be compressed down to a tube about 6″ diameter and 8′ long – it’s tiny).
I ran out of coffee so I bee lined for the local dariette in town for breakfast. The scene there is getting pretty familiar – one or two tables of farmers and other local gentlemen, generally older, sipping coffee, having breakfast but mostly solving all the world’s problems. It’s exactly like the scene I’ve visited my dad at when he was alive, downtown in Bolivar MO.
I still pass scores of cemeteries on the route – at some point I just stopped photographing them. But even here, they are quite old – this cemetery was founded in 1849. I mean, not east coast old but still…
It was the second day of pretty serious hills and it’s starting to get a little old. There were several long stretches where the road is straight but rises and falls with the hills. You try to run down the hills as fast as you can and hang on to all the work you did to get to the top of the hill by turning it into momentum to get you as far as you can up the next one. But it’s a losing game from a physics standpoint. The faster you go, the more your wind resistance increases – so you lose energy faster at the bottom of the hill when you’re going fastest. So you only make it part way up the hill and you get to climb another one. Shift into the easy gear, crank, crank, crank to the top of the hill, run down shifting up into bigger and bigger gears as you go faster, then as you go up the hill, shift lower and lower until you’re in your grandpa gear again and at a walking pace. Repeat until lunch.
I hadn’t counted on southern Illinois being so pretty (or so hilly). Actually it reminds me a lot of Missouri. For some reason I thought the land between the Ohio River and the Mississippi would be flat. Illinois could work on their litter problem though (actually western Kentucky too). On much of this trip, ever since Maine, I’ve been impressed with how little litter is along side the roads. I remember there being a lot more when I was a kid – all kinds of cans and McDonalds wrappers and such. But this morning I saw quite a bit by the road. There’s a little old lady I know from Chinatown in Oakland that could feed a family of four with the aluminum cans I saw on one hill this morning.
I have seen so many churches in this part of the county, from little country ones to big suburban ones. I’ve started noticing their billboards more. They say everything from “potluck next Tuesday” to bible phrases that I don’t quite get – like this one.
Consequently, with the peddling being kind of repetitive, I starting thinking about some of the church signs. One little country church had a bold sing proclaiming “Jesus Loves You” which at first I thought seemed kind of empty but then I started to appreciate it. For me to appreciate Christianity often takes what I imagine is a slight re-working of what I think they meant. I see “Jesus Loves You” as a way of saying – “you’re perfect, just the way you are” which is something that we call all use reminding every so often. But this is in opposition to what I often hear from Christianity; that we are all sinners until we are born again, or confess our sins, or repent. That just seems backward to me. It’s the fundamental east vs west difference, right? West says we come from the original sin so we must be forgiven. East says we are all perfect but sometimes we screw up. In my own personal philosophy I’m going to side with the east on this one, and its my belief that’s what Jesus, the carpenter, surely meant.
Well I was thinking along those lines when I came upon this bus emerging from the forest.
It’s amazing how nature works to absorb our work back into it. It’s pretty quick at it really.
After taking that picture, I got back on the bike, and I felt like a good conversation had been interrupted. I was eager to get back to it. And I said out loud to myself, “So, you were saying?”. I laughed out loud at that too, because it was so ridiculous – like I caught myself talking to myself. No one for miles knowing it, and had you been there, you’d think I was nuts, and maybe you will anyway now that I’ve invited you there.
I arrive at my humble abode for the night, ready for a hot shower. Maybe I’ll have two.
Lately I’ve been hungry for salty snacks – wonder why…
No one else joined me at the church last night which meant I could get up and start banging around early. Still somehow it’s hard to get out the door quickly. Entirely my own doing but I need my coffee, I need to shave (every once in awhile), I’ve got to get water bottles ready, some food in me, sunscreen, bags packed etc. I’m getting better at it but still seems like it takes too long because I love that morning light, and I want to spend more time in it.
Still I was on the road by about 7:15 and what great weather I had. I don’t think it got over 80 all day so I got a lot of miles in, mostly before lunch. The morning was an overall descent where I crossed the Ohio for the last time – this time by Ferry. I think if I had gone by kayak from Cincinnati to here it would have been a lot faster. It’s surprising how hard it is to follow the river for any distance on land.
I only met one other cyclist on the road today. Brian is from Minnesota and is crossing the country with his brother. His brother drives the RV while Brian pedals all day, and then they camp at night. Now that’s brotherly devotion. This way Brian doesn’t have to carry any real weight and he even has a backup bike if he runs into trouble. I think it must be hard for Brian’s brother not to put on 15 lbs this way, sitting across the dinner table every night with someone who’s just ridden 80 miles has got to be tough not to follow suit.
Which brings me to my endorphin-fueled epiphany of the day; everything is contagious. I’ve heard it said before about eating habits – that some areas of the county are heavier because everybody eats like everyone else (ok gross generalizations yes but just for discussions sake). I think the same is true about working habits, and exercise habits. If you live where everyone plays golf, you play golf. If everyone comes to school talking about the internet meme of the day, you go on lookout for internet memes. So choose your neighbors and friends wisely – you’re going to end up like them. I’m sure that you’ve probably had a version of this thought before but somehow this morning in the wilds of Kentucky it seemed profound enough to put down in my notebook. Ok, please discuss. Where does this break down? Free will? Pish posh.
Brian confirmed one thing that I’ve heard before – that the Ozarks have the toughest hills on the TransAm. They have a million little steep climbs where you go up, sometimes at grades over 15%, and then right back down and you start on another one. He said that he had a 70 mile climb in Colorado that wasn’t that hard – just a very mellow grade for a long way. So I have the Ozarks to look forward to.
I am getting antsy to get to Missouri, see family and have a little down time. I had a vague goal of getting to Bolivar by July 4th that I’m going to have to buckle down to make. I need to spend some real planning time with maps tonight and see if I can do it.
Speaking of tonight – I’m currently pilfering electricity to run my MiFi to post this. I didn’t get to this campground until about mile 90 and I’m pretty much out of gas. But no one is here, the showers and bathrooms are locked. So I’m kind of “squatting” here to see if anyone shows up. If they don’t I’m sleeping on their porch tonight. It’s a weird conundrum- they have a sign signifying this is a campground, I called the number and left a message, and there are all these empty RVs around. This is where the adventure happens eh?
I have thought quite a bit about the whole “adventure” side of this trip. It was probably the most common reaction that people have had when I tell them what I’m doing. “Oh you’re going to have such an adventure.” Well yeah I hope so but when things mostly go right, it’s not such a big adventure. I mean its been fun and interesting, fascinating really. But there’s a part of me that keeps waiting for old farmer McGillicuddy to strike up a conversation with me and mention the funny goings-on down at the old mill. That’s the way it works on Scooby Doo. More than likely though I wonder if the adventure really starts when stuff goes wrong. And this evening, I’m 50 miles from any real hotel, 20 miles from another campground, I’m tired and I’m staying here. Adventure!
My favorite sign of the day that I failed to get a picture of; on a small house by the roadside: “Indoor Yard Sale.” Doesn’t that mean “Store”? Actually it’s brilliant. Got right around those tough Western Kentucky zoning laws.
I had a late lunch in Elizabethtown. The first place I went in smelled so off I turned around and walked out, and I’m glad I did. I wandered down by the river and found the E-town River Restaurant. Most of the menu was catfish so I went with the catfish. You know they’re serious about their catfish when you can choose your catfish “river” or “pond”. Who chooses pond? Heavens.
One table of bikers (i.e. Harley variety) started up a conversation with me about the trip and pretty soon I ended up talking with everyone in the restaurant, one after another. For some reason, one guy wanted my advice on what electric bike to get his brother with a bad ankle injury but I felt sorely unqualified to answer that. One woman said that she overheard that I was “self-supported” (in cycling means on your own, no SAG wagon or someone to get you out of trouble) and she met me in the parking lot to buy me lunch. She wanted to help me on the journey in some way. I told her she didn’t need to do that but she insisted. So I told her I was raising money to help the environment and that I would put it to that cause. I wish I had thought to do a selfie with her – I think she would have liked that – but I was kind of thrown off balance by her. Next time I’ll try to stay a little more Mile 1.
Which reminds me of a good question Megan had in the comments last night about conversations on the environment. I’ve kind of been a chicken in that department I’ll admit but we’re in sync because I was thinking about it as I rode today. I just have to jump in and be a little more gutsy about that. I think it’s hard for me to resist my natural tendency when I’m out in an area where I don’t know people – I want people to like me. But that’s probably way overrated. One thing that I “knew” before this trip but really know now, is that electronic media is a crappy venue for any real understanding to occur. Facebook et al offer venues for people to just spout their beliefs and essentially walk away. If you’re standing face to face with someone, you can’t do that. When the barriers are gone, people are overwhelmingly fair (or at least fairer) with each other.
Ok one final picture. I swear that I did not set this up. Know how I’ve been ranting about all that lawn mowing? OK this guy has figured out a solution.
Ok we’re not going to discuss that little 4 mile wrong turn at the end of the day. Chalk it up to low blood sugar.
It’s hard to get up and out early when you camp. The high humidity here means everything gets covered in dew and I don’t like to pack up the tent wet. So I needed to move the tent over to somewhere the sun hits and let it dry out before packing. Still I think I was on the road by 8:30 which isn’t bad. It’s just that I really like those early hours the best, before the breezes and traffic kick up and the temps are cool. It’s just the best time to ride.
The morning was lovely and I passed through a lot of Ohio river bottomland – covered in corn, soybeans and tobacco. There are also a lot of power plants around – I saw 2 coal plants and I think a nuclear plant across the river in Illinois. I’ll spare you pictures of those.
I came as close to “bonking” as I’ve come. Bonking is when you let your body run too low on fuel and you hit a wall where you just can’t perform anymore (Coach Matt fill us in – I’m sure I’m over-simplifying). Anyway, I had a light breakfast at camp, and was just snacking on bars this morning which seemed fine until about noon. At that point I was trying to navigate between two courses, and off any prescribed route. I was feeling stupid and starting to think about food all the time but not finding any options. Way too late I hit a Circle K and I hit that place like a tornado. Problem was, they don’t actually have any food at a Circle K. They were even out of pre-made sandwiches, and pre-made burritos – not even a hot dog in sight. They did have “Kind” bars which do me well in the saddle, and Clif bars but I couldn’t resist a bag of salty corn chips (even after thinking all morning how we grow way too much corn, but I’ll save that rant for another day) and GORP. At that low blood sugar level, I lose my mind and can’t make good choices. So next time I need to not end up high and dry.
On the TransAm
Today I reached a route milestone too. I’ve patched together several routes from Adventure Cycling and around 12:30 I finished the “Underground Railroad” route that I’ve been following and drew my own course down to the tradaitional Trans America, or TransAm route. This matters because the touring cycling traffic on the TransAm is much heavier than just about any other route in the country, and sure enough I saw my first “Eastbound” brethren 15 minutes after joining the main route. It was energizing to meet some other cyclists, even if they were going the other direction. It’s been quite awhile since I’ve seen anybody else touring (Annika and Nico near Dayton) and it was surprising how much that mattered to me this afternoon. We all want to be part of a group who understands us, I guess. Or most of us do, anyway.
One of the first TransAm tourers I saw was Tara and her sons Grant and Grayson. I’ve been thinking I’m pretty studly doing all this pedaling and here these three come – one one bike. Not many folks take this on at all, let alone with two kids. And hats off to you two boys – maybe someone your age has finished this before but I haven’t heard of them. They were taking it in stride, and dad Darren was down for a visit today to support them.
You’ll never guess where I’m staying tonight – but the Sebree First Baptist Church. Sebree is the first town of any size (pop 1350) that I’ve come to on the TransAm route. And the FBC has a long tradition of hosting cyclists (they even call us cyclists, not bikers). I was met at the door by retired Pastor Bob who probably took 30 min out of his day to show me the facilities, where the cots are, where the laundry is (!), the kitchen (!), the shower (!!!) and what the Wifi pass is etc (btw – fastest internet I’ve had the whole trip 10MB down, 5MB up!). These folks really know how to host cyclists because they’ve been doing it for over 30 years. They don’t charge anything and don’t solicit donations (“God has been very good to this church”).
Pastor Bob knows a lot about his Parish too and he filled me in on some of the local info. He said that there are a lot of jobs around here but many are low paying. E.g. Tyson has a big processing plant here where they process about 2 million chickens a week. Yes you heard that right. 450 chicken “houses” x 25,000 chickens each x an 8 week lifespan = 2M. It’s truly enough to make you vegetarian or at least more selective about where your chicken comes from. And I know those jobs are pretty lousy. He said that about “half the county is Hispanic” now which I don’t doubt after my trip to the grocery store (not for chicken).
The high paying local jobs are coal mining. The local mines are all subterranean (unlike East Ky) and the coal is 600 to 900 feet down. Those are very good paying jobs but in decline. He was quick to point out that it wasn’t environmental regs that were slowing down coal, it’s cheap natural gas. He’s spot on there except he left out solar and wind.
So I find myself in an interesting position tonight. Here I am, a liberal energy geek, doing everything in my power to end the burning of coal in the U.S. , enjoying the hospitality, generosity, and kindness of Bob’s parishioners, many of whom are no doubt coal miners (or were). Is there a conflict there? Should I turn down their shelter for the night. I think not. Not just because it’s self-serving, and I like to be comfortable and have fast wifi. But because we are each, the good folks at the Babtist Church, and me, doing what we feel is right. Their hospitality came with no qualifiers or demands and for that I am grateful. But it doesn’t change what I believe – that ending our use of coal is better for all of us. We need to do what we can to find others good jobs for people but I do not believe those are “good” jobs. They may pay well, but they are high risk (acutely in terms of mine safety and chronically in terms of long term health impacts), and more importantly it’s not a “good” job if it depends on using coal that leads to a CO2 and particulate emissions that make the world worse off for everyone, miners and their families included.
The whole situation is much like another part of the conversation I had with Pastor Bob. We spoke about tobacco farming and I mentioned that I assumed that was in decline. He said “oh no not at all.” In fact he seemed a little put out that many tobacco farmers had accepted government buy outs that were supposed to ease their transition away from farming tobacco. According to him, many used those buy outs to just increase their acreage to grow more. Hmm. Brings up something that occurred to me as I pedaled past field after field of tobacco. How do those farmers sleep at night? How do they square that, knowing what we know now about tobacco. How is that morally any different than growing cocaine? What is a “good” job anyway?
The Amish are looking better and better all the time, funny bikes and all.
Tomorrow I should get up and out early cause I’ll have no tent to dray out. I should make it to Cave-In-Rock and into Illinois.
Wow what a difference a day makes. Today was living the dream – great temperatures, sunny skies, no big breezes and good roads. I even found a cool spot to camp ($8, free wifi and hot showers OMG). I got a pretty early start, had 50 miles in before noon, about 80 total, with 4000 feet of climbing and it all felt easy. I crossed back in to Kentucky and finally made it into Central Time Zone (1 of 3!).
I had a beautiful cruise along the ridge into Corydon first thing this morning. I even got in with a pack of racers for a mile or so which I got on the gopro – we’ll see if I can add that. It was fun riding with them for a bit but a couple of little rolling hills and they left me for dead.
Crossing back into Kentucky the Adventure Cycling route took be through backroads almost all day. Very little traffic on most of the roads and one guy even slowed down to offer me water at his house. This part of Kentucky seems better off than the hills I was in to the East – with more prosperous looking farms, homes and towns. The woods here are dominated by oaks and when it’s still I hear locusts and woodpeckers in the forests.
One unavoidable truth of staring at country roads all day is roadkill. The forests here must be filled with possums because they are everywhere on the roads. And I’ve started to see a lot of snakes too in addition to the usual raccoons and the occasional deer. Reality of a day spent on the highway – I’m just doing all I can to not add liberal-energy-geek to the list.