Not much happened today. I had an easy time following route 161 west, which was flat and smooth. I didn’t have a shoulder, but the traffic wasn’t bad and the cars were generous. I knew I had a lot of miles to cover before I got to St. Louis, and was still not sure how to cross the Mississippi, so I thought I might need to get there early enough to figure it out.

I got to Belleville around two, so I thought I was making pretty good time. Only twenty-six miles to go. I stopped for a raspberry sorbet at West End Creamery, in West Belleville. I was not making great time by the time I got there, only because my gps was toying with me. The directions were telling me one thing, and the map another. I decided to trust the map.

I was warned about East St. Louis before I arrived. Listen, if I ever complain about Philly road conditions or the amount of glass on those streets again, just remind me of East St. Louis. Not to mention it’s very far North Philly feel. Can you say ghetto? I get a lot of comments throughout the day from various folks, and I usually stop to talk for a moment. I didn’t stop to talk to any calls for my attention here. I’ve got my city helmet on, and it tells me to breeze on through. And my Bonrager tires may not be great, but they did survive the glass explosion I cycled through for about three miles. So that’s saying something.

It seemed that I would be able to cross the Mississippi River via the Eads Bridge, and I biked my way towards it. At first, I didn’t see a walkway, but then I saw one on the other side. I was so happy to be crossing over that bridge. I was a little disappointed that the Mississippi wasn’t a little more impressive, but I know that it varies in size in different places. Sometime I’ll have to see a different part of the river. It was cool to bike over it. I was prepared to flag down a trucker to get me over if I had to.

The city was fairly easy to navigate. I was going to be staying with a friend of a friend, Ronya and her husband, Mike. I had no trouble locating their house. Ronya is a writer, and she went to a writing program that I was accepted into last year but could not take the time off from work to participate in. She knows two people that were in my writing group in Philadelphia.
I liked Ronya immediately. She has a very warm and welcoming persona. She apologized for the state of her house, as it is under construction. Please, she has no idea how much I like to see things that are under construction. I love the bare walls and bricks showing through. I love the smells of renovated houses. I love hearing people talk about what they plan to do with this and that. When it’s in the “before” stage, it’s possibilities. I also like that this house was built in the very late 1800’s, so there are things about it with historical presence. For instance, it has “Lincoln windows” on the upper floor, which are floor-to-ceiling windows that used to be opened up so you could step onto a balcony. The balcony in this house has been removed, but that is a Missouri design. This house also has doors on one side of the wall, but not on the other. Interesting. I loved how Mike speculated about that.
I also like that Mike had an answer to the main question that has been bugging me for weeks. I roll by so much farmland, and never see any activity on them. No vehicles, no people, no nothing. Miles and miles and miles for the past month, and not a soul save the crows. Well, that question hasn’t been answered, but I also noticed all this corn ad soybean crop just wasting away, and it seemed like such a waste. The speculation is that the several rows around each crop is considered junk, it is there to gather cross-pollination and such. It makes sense. Still a huge waste, if you ask me. Also, I don’t know how that will protect the inside rows, especially of crops like soybeans.
I felt a knife through my heart rolling past this one field yesterday with fallen tomatoes. It looked like an abandoned easter egg hunt. From the road, they looked like they were still good. Had one side of them not been buried in the mud, they would have been. See, a farmer had to level this field at some point. WHY HAVEN’T I SEEN ANY?
Dinner was delicious – organic tortellini and ravioli and ice cream for desert. So great! I was up late, trying to figure out some answers to questions (not the above, still a mystery), and will see what tomorrow brings. I’ll be in St. Louis for at least a little while.

The rare and ellusive fully organic lunch (and the last of my Crumbs bread)

The rare and ellusive fully organic lunch (and the last of my Crumbs bread)

Crossing the Mississippi

Crossing the Mississippi

A nice house for me to stay in!

A nice house for me to stay in!

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This morning was so cold. Leaving my sleeping bag was the hardest part of my day. Warm corn meal mush (my recipe – it’s actually very tasty) was the only thing that got me moving.

The headwind today was much more manageable. I jumped off of route 50 and took a more indirect route, which meant I relied on my gps. My gps is great, now that it knows to tell me real back road directions. It doesn’t know everything. It took my down what I have dubbed a “corn road,” which are roads I see everywhere since entering Illinois. All the crops have these occasional roads, which intersect with the country roads, clearly meant for farm vehicles only. I went down the corn road, thinking my gps knew something I didn’t.

Wrong. I still trusted it, even when the road ended and was gravel. And when it was grass, and I had to walk it. And up until the road was a barbed wire dead end. Then I turned around, scolded my gps harshly, and discovered my own way to the main road, one that made more logical sense to my brain. That turned out better. I think that I really am picking up some directional brain power through this trip. Maybe.

Anyway, the best thing that happened today was the kids. I went by a school and ten kids came to the fence of this little town with a population of 500. I have never seen so many people excited because of little old me me at once before. I didn’t stop, which I totally do regret. It’s my one real regret of the trip. Why didn’t I? I honestly thought, boy, if I go over to the fence, the teachers are going to tell the kids to get away from me. But that’s probably not what would have happened at all.

I had geared up for camping, but when I rolled into Centralia and saw a sign for the library, I thought I would see if they knew of any camping in town. It was a no go, which was fine with me. Still plenty of light, but a patron who overhead offered her yard. Why not. I chatted with her seventeen year old son, Denzel, for a bit, and Shernice shooed him away from me because she thought he was bothering me. I was a little sad. He asked me really good questions. I’m not often asked a question I don’t have an immediate response to. It’s refreshing. He is going into the Air Force when he graduates so he can travel, but will never ride his bike anywhere further than around town.

I ate in town, at an Italian place, and talked to my host for tomorrow night on the phone. Still trying to figure out how I wi cross the Mississippi River. I was dying for a salad. Instead, I was served some shredded iceburg with some cheese on it. My pizza was better than most pizza I’ve had, and will serve as breakfast also.

Proof that Southern Illinois is not all farmland!

Proof that Southern Illinois is not all farmland!

Backyard camping with Gus

Backyard camping with Gus

Cool housing design

Cool housing design

Time to leave this state. I ate an egg sandwich prepared by Kim, and got packed up. Gary was out cleaning for work, and I was hoping to be gone before he got back, but no such luck. Ouch, I know – I’m mean! He came back and gave me really convoluted directions to get back to route 50. I had actually been paying attention when they were driving around yesterday, so I knew how to get back on track. But I let him explain anyway. It beats his alternative plan, which was to SPRAY PAINT THE ROAD WITH ARROWS. I’m not kidding. He even showed me a road he spray painted for another tourist in the past.

Anyway, I got to where I needed to go (Yay I’m in Illinois now, the land of Lincoln), and then went to get on 50. Oh, but I can’t, since there is a sign that tells me I can’t. Seems to me Gary should have known this, as he knows all there is to know about touring. Anyway, I saw a road that looked like it was my only other option and took it.

At first, it was a little desolate. The crows, me, and some dried up corn. But then I started to get some good thoughts going, so it didn’t matter. And eventually, I ran back into 50, where I was allowed to be, and stopped for a food break in Lawrence. I was just finished putting together a peanut butter sandwich when I hear the voice.

“I’m stalking you.” Gary. Yes, you are. He wants to check and make sure I’m doing okay. “You didn’t follow my directions,” he tells me. Ah, so you got in your van and followed then. I had a feeling he would, actually. He talks a bunch and pulls out new tires he bought for me. No, thanks, I tell him. I shouldn’t have mentioned to him I needed new tires. Now was not the time for them, and the tires he was presenting me with looked pretty chinsy, not that I know much about tires. But he wouldn’t say no, so I eventually only got him to give me one of the tires. He also bought new tubes, but I didn’t take them. What will I do carrying all this extra junk on this day of all days, where I have thirty mile per hour headwind to battle?

I couldn’t help but show my annoyance at this point, and Gary finally got the hint. It’s not that I don’t appreciate his help, but it’s more than I wanted, and I didn’t know how to take him. So I accepted one tire as he said goodbye four more times, and made me promise to call him if I needed anything, anytime. Yes, Gary. You’re the first person I’ll call if my bike falls apart.

Illinois has a bunch of directly parallel roads to 50, very parallel, so I would jump on and off them as they began and ended. They were not in the greatest condition, but they were pretty much all mine. I put on some music (it seems as long as there is no moisture in the air, my ipod works). The music I listened to helped alleviate the sensation that I was climbing a never ending hill all day.

I’m getting off of 50 tomorrow, in case Gary decides to track me down.

Crossing over into Illinois means crossing over time zones. I got an extra hour of biking in, which didn’t make too much of a difference. The end of the day was a breathtaking view. The clouds came together to form a mass, covering the sun. This changed the hue of all that I saw, everything gained a richer tone, it was hard to believe that natural light could make these colors. The sun beamed out in various places, little beams of warmth sprinkling the earth. I thought it wise to find a place to sleep early, since it was pretty open everywhere I looked.

Curry for dinner, from a package. The flame of my stove got a little out of hand, from the wind, and the id of my pot melted a little. Boo. I heard gun shots for a long time. I think there was a shooting range somewhere in the distance. I felt safe nonetheless.

Lincoln crossing into Illinois

Lincoln crossing into Illinois - it would have been faster if he rode a bike

Day 31 - Welcome to Illinois

Day 31 - view of campsite

I woke up earlier than I wanted to, at 5:30. It’s usually still dark until about 7, so I like to sleep in at least a little for that reason. It was also still raining at that time, so I still wasn’t on the road until nine.

The day was uneventful, until about 4. I was only about seven miles from Vincennes, my last stop in Indiana. Ah, another flat. I pull over to fix it. At least it’s clear what the culprit was – a tiny strip of metal. Man, now I know these Bontrager tires  are just not very good. My Panaracers wouldn’t have let that little bitty staple through. I was hoping I could beat my record time of one hour this time to fix this flat. A half an hour later, I almost had the tire tucked back into the rim when along comes a van. A man wants to know if I need help. Nah, I think it’s alright, I tell him.

This man is Gary. Gary insists on helping me anyway. He can’t seem to get the pump to work. I know, I try to tell him, you have to get it just right. He doesn’t seem to believe me. He thinks my tube was bunk. It may well have been, but I have a feeling it was just fine. He was not using the pump right. But he said he had a spare tube and tire levers at his house, so I hopped in the van with my bike.

It turns out Gary likes touring cyclists, and has a friend who called him to let him know I was out on the road. Gary would have stopped me whether I had a flat or not, just to talk. But really, Gary just likes to hear himself talk, I think. He boasted about his cross country tour, and about the one time he went backpacking. He had the enthusiasm of a puppy, one that you push with your foot because it keeps nipping at your feet. But the puppy comes back again, and you have to keep pushing. Puppy will never get it.

I met his wife when we got to his house. Gary changed out my tube with a presta valve he had on another bike. I don’t like presta on the road – it’s not practical. When I want to stop at a gas station to fill up, I need a shrader. But he insisted (though I am pretty sure that tube was just fine). He gave me his tire levers, which was awesome. I used the bathroom and when I came out, the offer to stay was presented. Oh, why not.

We went to eat at Fazoli’s, which is some kind of fast-food Italian style place. Gary and Kim eat there a lot. I ordered a tortellini sun dried tomato something or other, which kind of made my stomach hurt. This is how lots of people eat, and they are used to it. It’s still hard for me to be okay with that. People, you can eat cheaper, healthier, and tastier if you want to. I have seen the light, and I just want everyone else to, also. Quality food and nutrition is important!

Anyway, I was thrilled when they wanted to take me around Vincennes. We went to the George Rogers Clark National Historical Park, and I finally got to see an Indiana sunset. I haven’t had a chance to at all because of the weather. It was perfect. Gary jabbed at his wife’s intelligence more than once. She was what I think of as “television educated.” Some folks believe what they hear on tv and that’s about all they need to know. But Gary was not in any place to jab anyone. He told me about how the memorial was a “gift from the French” during the Revolutionary War. This did not make sense to me, and when I read the plaque, I saw the park was the site of the battle of Vincennes, and that the Memorial Gary was referring to was built in the early 1920’s by citizens of Vincennes. At least your wife is not dishing out misinformation with such authority.

Anyway, I don’t mean to sound ungrateful. Anyone who opens their door to me is basically the best. But I guess because so many of my hosts have been so interesting to talk with, I wasn’t prepared for this exchange. Gary bragged about the other touring cyclists that have stayed with them. It was just a bit much for me.

I finally took an offer to do laundry, and was really regretting it because I had to stay up late to do it. So Kim told me all about Desperate Housewives, which was on their crazy giant television while I waited, and I saw the latest episode. I will never watch another : )

Pets really are like their owners. Kim’s dog was very well suited to her personality – it was quiet and likes to watch tv (they leave it on for her all night long – that tv is huge, so I wonder what that electric bill looks like), and Gary’s two dogs were loud and hyper, wriggling all over the place. I found that very amusing.

I will quit complaining now. They were both nice, just very – American. I will have all kinds of hosts, I know. Not all of them will be my cup of tea; all of them will be memorable.  And I appreciate each and every one of them, no matter how well we mesh.

Finally - an Indiana sunset

Finally - an Indiana sunset

Talk about branded!

Talk about branded!

I was happy to be on the road so early this morning, but I wasn’t on the road very long before I got a flat. Same tire. There is a really unusual slice in my tire at such an angle that I can’t fish out whatever is stuck in there. I am not sure if that is what caused the flat, as it is not coming through the tire all the way, but there is a dimple where it wants to come through. I patched the tire itself for now. This took an hour, due to the difficulty I have with my tire levers. I am absolutely getting some next bike shop I see.

I stopped in Brownstone for a bit to check my email and such. I was dragging in general, due to lack of sleep and the weather. But I did have really nice shoulder space, which was much appreciated, even if it was a little hilly today. I shouldn’t complain, since much of Indiana is so flat.

Going as slow as I was has its benefits. The sun finally appeared sometime after noon, and I stared at some of loveliest landscapes I have seen yet. The farmlands in this state are vibrant with the breathtaking varied color palate of each visible dimension. It makes me wonder what I have missed with all the fog and rain the past few days.

I stopped in Bedford with dreams of ice cream. Ask, and I shall receive. One of the first things I saw was a sign proclaiming homemade ice cream. I got pumpkin again. I also ate French Fries, which I typically don’t like. I was hungry, so they did the trick.

I was really looking forward to a nice camp site and a cooked meal. I started checking out spots. I was not impressed with my selection. It’s a little frustrating when I see places I could camp throughout the day, really great places, but when I am looking later on, no such luck. I turned down the first road I could, and the sky suddenly went from bright and sunny to dark and cloudy. I needed to find a spot right then. I veered off the road at the first place I could, and found a little spot to tuck my tent into. It was not a great place, and I couldn’t even stake it properly because there wasn’t enough space. I knew this was a bad sign.

The drizzle came as I finished pitching my tent, and as soon as all my stuff was inside, the water came rushing down in torrents. Sun Chips and a banana were my dinner instead. I went to bed early, just after finishing my book, which I will leave somewhere tomorrow. It was a good read and I highly recommend it: social commentary, economic structures, and personal accounts on traveling. I made me want to hike, which I’ve never done before.

Homemade Ice Cream!

Homemade Ice Cream!

Pretty Indiana

This picture doesn't do this scene justice

The rain is coming! Must pitch my tent now!

The rain is coming! Must pitch my tent now!

Jim gave me a shortcut to get back to 50, which was great, but then I instinctively turned the wrong way, and ended up back where I would have been had I not taken the shortcut. Sigh.

I had every intention of getting off 50 once I got into Indiana, but I’m not completely sick of it yet, and the trail riding seems like it would be nice, but I kind of want to get through Indiana. It’s nice, and if I explored it I’m sure I’d enjoy it, but it feels better to keep moving.

The rain was not as bad today, but it was very foggy. I was grateful for careful cars who could probably only make me out once they got close enough to see my sad blinky light and reddish-pink fabric on the back of my bike. I tried to put reflector tape on it, but as soon as it got wet, off it came. I really need to fix that.

My ipod may officially be dead. I may not be able to get through this trip without some music, so I might have to buy a cheap replacement. I can listen to no music for days, no problem. But I would like to have the option available to me.

It’s difficult to tell what time it is when the entire day is exactly the same gray hue. I couldn’t believe how quickly time escaped me. I saw it was a little after four, and a sign for Seymour told me I was thirteen miles away. I figured I’d find a good place to pitch my tent there. Of course, it was once of the busier business districts I’ve seen in days.

In Seymour, I stopped at a travel center restaurant with a secret hope that I’d ask the waitress if she knew of any really inexpensive spots to stay and one of the truckers would chime in and all would be well.

Of course, because I was hoping for that, it didn’t happen. The two guys sitting at the counter were not chatty – the one kept dropping his food on the floor – I guess because he had a hole in his throat. I don’t know how else a person can lose that much food. The other patron was on the phone, and the waitress either had a limited vocabulary or was a robot pre technological advancement. She said the same thing a lot. I ate a veggie omelet that tasted like the beef that was probably sharing the grill it was cooked on. I know that you are all waiting for the post that says, “So today, I ate a hamburger.” I have to tell you, you’ll be waiting a very long time for that post, if ever. I still love the smell of meat, but the taste of meat is no longer pleasant to me.

I left the restaurant around 6:30. Time to find a door to knock on, since there was nothing but corn and soybeans around me. I rode for another hour before I found a suitable place. All the other houses were either too close to the road, didn’t have yards, or no one was home. I went down a private driveway and knocked on the only door that had lights on. This was the weirdest trailer park I have ever seen. The woman who answered the door was older, and had no problem with my staying in the yard. She chose a “lightening-free” spot for me to pitch my tent, which was too close to the house, in my opinion. But she went on and on about her concern over me getting struck by lightening, so I just went with it.

I stayed up late talking on the phone, and a pretty sounding owl kept me up even longer. I can’t wait for the sun to shine again.

The highlight of my day was a ladybug that I noticed on my rear pannier in the morning, and she remained with me all day. She was still with me as I tried to sleep.

Pretty church in Southern Indiana

Pretty church in Southern Indiana

Backyard camping

Backyard camping

This morning I slowly got ready. I had some breakfast with Gail and she photocopied the Sudoku puzzle for me. I haven’t done one in awhile. I couldn’t finish it.

On the road by nine. Just route 50 again. For a little while, it was nice. I jumped on alternate route 50, which had my favorite signs – “share the road.” They are talking to traffic about me! I stopped at an odd little place called “Fuel,” as it looked like they might have some food. I walked in and smelled the fabulous waft of coffee. Oh, yes, it’s a little rainy, that will warm me right up. I ordered some decaf – man, I don’t know why I didn’t think of drinking decaf before this trip! I also ate the very best scone I have ever eaten, from Flour Power, a local Cincinnati bakery. It was current. This combo of food was my moment of bliss.

I thought about checking out downtown Cincinnati, but then decided not. I took pictures while I stood outside of the Great American Ball Park and listened to someone sing the National Anthem. I sang along. No one else was around, so I really let it out.

Then the rain got heavier, and my road got less enjoyable to ride on. I spent the better part of the day riding a sidewalk, and a terribly overgrown one at that. I could have ridden the road, but it was foggy and there was no shoulder, so this seemed like the better choice. I sometimes jumped off to a parallel road, but always ended up back on 50. Then, a semi came by, and cascaded a waterfall of puddle over me. This made the inside of my shoes completely soaked. I hadn’t bothered to put the rain-proof cuffs on, because they are hard to put on once my shoes are wet. But if I had, my shoes would have not gotten to that point. I could care less about being wet, but squishy socks are a big downer for me. Big.

I pulled into Lawrenceburg about 3. Out of Ohio! I went into town to see about the bike trails, but then also figured I should start looking for a warm place to stay. Churches? My selection was limited, and nothing looked too inviting. I stopped into the visitor’s bureau to find out if there were any hostels, and the director said, let me see if the guy in Aurora who does B & B will cut you a deal. So she called, and put me on the phone. “What can you pay?” Jim asked me. I offered $20, and he readily accepted. I know B & B’s are usually pretty expensive, and this one is no different. You get a lot for what you pay, so I am super grateful that he extended that kindness when he didn’t have to.

I felt funny bringing my soaking wet bags covered in street grit into his gorgeous home, so I asked for towels. Everything got wiped down, then he showed me my room. I got everything dried out (except my sneakers – which really sucks!).

I met Jim and his friends after their church choir rehearsal for dinner at Acapulco, a local Mexican restaurant, which was a few blocks away. The food was really inexpensive and good, but still made me pine for the delectable food at Casa Nueva in Athens. Jim paid my bill, which although was low, still made me feel funny. He said, it’s just hospitality, plus he had a coupon. He might have been making that up.

At dinner, I was delighted to hear him and his friends tell me about the time Shledon Brown stayed at the Herbert Leivey House. He is a bike guru of sorts, and was in town to give a tlka and dedicate the bike trail. I guess he was belligerently drunk the entire time, and made fun of people at the talk, and said that the house was “like a museum.” That really hurt Jim’s feelings. I can see what Sheldon meant, as I was kind of intimidated myself by what looked like I could touch or not. Everything is just so! But people like things set up in different ways, and when I asked for a newspaper to put my bags down on, Jim said it was fine to just put them on the carpet. That made me feel less like an intruder.

I listened to Jim tell me stories about the remodeling of the house, which took him twelve years. I was impressed, and could tell this was a labor of love, but man, I saw it was ten-thirty and we were only through half of the photo album. I politely excused myself, and Jim said, “oh, no. No one usually seems interested in looking at the book, so this was fun.” I don’t mind being slightly bored, ever, if a person is relaying what he or she is passionate about.

Getting ready for bed, my feet still felt like prunes.

Checking out Cincinnati from afar

Checking out Cincinnati from afar

Day 26 - Indiana has a welcome party for me.Day 26 - The Farmhouse Bedroom, next to where Sheldon Brown slept