Chester, cycle touring Illinois, cycle touring Katy Trail, cycle touring Missouri, Cycle Touring USA, Dutzow, Hillsboro, Katy Trail, Marthasville, Mississippi River Trail, MRT, Sedalia, Turner Katy Trail Shelter, Washington Missouri
If you had asked Neil, Michael or Buzz how far away the moon is, they may have replied ” Just a bit over 3 days “. They would of course have fixed you with an unflinching test pilot gaze that made it clear there was no further debate. In the rest of the world, and possibly here as well, time is money. Enigmatically, and certainly often annoyingly, only here in the USA is time also distance. We have it so often, that to get a meaningful answer to our question ” how far is it to X Y Z? “, in miles does rather throw us now. We are riding a bike, nothing could be more obvious. Saying it is 15 minutes to somewhere from here means almost nothing. There was a sign a few days ago – McDonald’s 6 minutes. Does that mean anything to anyone?
A rest day in Carbondale was spent in a 50/50 split between doing an interview for local TV and eating. The night draws in with a spectacularly pyrotechnic thunderstorm. We are grateful beyond measure to watch it from the safety of a motel room. The next morning is cooler which is nice, and very much less windy which is fantastic. Ahead is the Mississippi River and we intend to ride along the levees. We ride out on HYW 13, which is a bit busy but has a wide shoulder. To say we are refreshed would be putting too much of a gloss on things, but there is a perky attitude and we do smell much better – goodness, did we need that rest day! Game on.
As we pass woodland, there is a strong smell of Honeysuckle, the heavy smell of elderly ladies. This wonderful aroma will be with us for many hundreds of miles to come, held on hot afternoon air and breathed in by the gallon. Flat land, flooding and Catfish on the menu as a Friday special at the Bottoms Up Bar and Grill. There are big trucks with NRA bumper stickers and a slight ‘ tumbleweed moment when we walk in ‘. These are hard-working folks who would not use a tractor that was not green in colour. Every table has small piles of boot dirt left from home family farms. We pick up the road that runs by the Mississippi. It is a Friday afternoon and tempers are short and gas pedal foot heavy. Barges have unloaded tons of coal into big trucks, and they are all in a hurry to get the job done and home and a beer. It is not fun to be on a bike on the Highway 3 to Chester, miserable even and bloody dangerous, the worst 6 miles of the journey in the USA.
Chester, the home of Popeye and his universe of good and evil in cartoon form. For those of you who had forgotten, his dog is called Jeep. They all have statues around the town. We bike through to Walmart for supplies, and then head for the Eagle Fraternity Bar Grill and Campground for cyclist. There is one other person. Nominally, he is a cyclist as he has a bicycle with him. He catches our gaze occasionally as he talks. He is rocking backwards and forwards, and it is hard not to subconsciously prepare to catch him. He puts Marco Pantani to shame with his levels of self medication and like Marco, it is all rather tragic.
By morning the numbers of flags, never few in number, have quadrupled in patriotic enthusiasm. It is memorial day weekend, and we take in more Popeye sites before we head for the bridge across the Mississippi. As we cross, we ride into Missouri, our next state on our ride west. The biking now is flat, the wind and sun the new enemy of comfort and forward progress on heavy touring bikes.
There is quite a shock in coming out of the mountains onto flat lands. Eventually, this will be our landscape as we enter Kansas and face roads that vanish into infinity. Today it is new and interesting. We ride on HWY 61 and take a right to our meeting with the longest rail to trail path in the USA – The Katy Trail. We get to Festus by 2.30 thanks to getting up early and a tail wind. It was a rather uneventful ride through small towns that are just about holding on since the interstate was put in and bypassed them.
As we come into the edge of town, it is obvious that the chain Malls are holiday busy today. The route is less than splendidly scenic, the main goal being to swerve around St. Louis without coming to harm. We are off the tourist route, and camping is by knocking on the door of the church pastor. In Hillsboro, we ask a cop ” If you needed to find a place for pitching a tent for 1 night, what would you do? ” There was a pause, then a second and finally a third even longer silent pause. ‘ In 30 years of service I have never been asked that ‘. The conclusion was – The United Methodist Church ‘. He was spot on. Photos on the walls in the church tell the local story of small town USA: 1953, a huge congregation with many dozens of scrubbed clean children smiling eager black&white smiles. 1963, less kids, but still B&W. 1970, even less kids, but their world is now in colour. By 2004 we are down to just 10 kids surrounded by lots of people with silver hair and gentle smiles.
We have exciting new roadkill to report, and all thanks to global warming – Armadillo. They moved up here about 5 years ago, and have no roadsense what so ever. We do not ride far the next day before stopping at a gas station. It could be just coffee, but turns into a room down the road a short way. Travelling enthusiast, coffee drinker and bike nut Francis invites us to ‘ his place ‘. A great time was had, stories told. It could have been the wine, the beer, possibly the Gin and you could not rule out the Tonic. One day lost to being as sick as possible and I may be pointing at the sausages as well. It is great to bump into like minded souls.
After the lost day, we are on the roads of rural Missouri linking up minor roads following streams and cool shelter of trees. This is a German heartland and we pass Wagner road and post boxes of a string of German names with vowels from the far end of the alphabet. There is bird song and cows and I think we could live here. It is certainly Rhineland and the Germans were eager for a new life. Already, tonight’s storm is brewing. ” You guys have 600 miles of flat ahead. You will be begging for a hill “. Francis had waved us off with this opinion and a bold statement.
We are in Burger King, catching a second breakfast and the A/C breeze, both of which we are enjoying. A cop comes in from his squad car. If there is any sort of fitness test for the job, this guy has found a way of cheating. If you had thought that Frank Cannon was a unlikley physique for a private investigator, this guy is that and possibly a pound or so more. His black uniform is straining and possibly the largest size available. It is tight at the arm, at the waist pulled into an hourglass by his utility belt and then tight at every point that it touches from there down. The firearm and cuffs are lost in the middle and almost out of sight. He takes a fire bucket sized Coke out to his car. We move on. Slightly ahead of what we plan to do today, we spend the afternoon exploring the small town of Washington. It is arty, folksy and full of people who know each other by their first names.
On we go. Crossing the river by a long and narrow bridge and holding up nothing less than three dozen cars, we pass into Warren County – hurrah indeed. We take a right, then a left and we are on the Katy Trail. The K stands for Kansas, the T for Texas, and somehow the M for Missouri has been dropped over the years as it got in the way of this catchy name. Trees in full leaf overhang the cinder path and offer shade. Cardinals dart from one side to the other, the males as red as Saturday night lipstick. Camping for the night is at the back of the ball park at Marthasville. It is heaving and children as young as 5 take to the field to learn a life lesson about losing.
” Stop digging in the dirt honey!!! “, ” Don’t throw dirt at the opposition Hank “. The mothers have the best excuses for a bad performance, ” We took him to the zoo today and he got so excited he did not have his nap “. It is great fun. Everyone can play rubbish and never get within a foot of connecting with the ball and still get loads of encouragement. Some have to run holding their helmets with both hands to stop it covering their eyes as it drops down their small heads. I am not sure every one of them would not enjoy playing soccer more.
Within the first 10 miles of the next day, as I slip into the trance state of flat riding, Esther asks one of life’s harder questions, ” Do Smurfs have blue tongues? “. Kali, blue goddess the fierce aspect of the goddess Durga, and all of the Avatar characters do not. I am unsure of the physiology of Smurfs, but I know there is a breed of dog with a blue tongue. This is flat land, very very flat and with big fields and distant mostly green tractors. The surface is good when dry, like now. But would be an utter nightmare when wet. We pass many monuments to times even quite recently when people woke to find the Missouri stretching out to meet their villages and covering their farms for many miles. The day ends at the Turner Katy Trail Bicycle Hostel in Tebbet. A one time store and then church and more recently derelict eyesore. Hardwork and a philanthropic spirit have bought it back to use. There are fellow cyclists there, so being curmudgeon and downright antisocial, we pitch our tent and are thankful they are all going the opposite way.
Yesterday was a 7 Turtle Day and 3 Snakes. Today begins with 7 Turtles within the first few miles. The surface grabs at our tyres today, holding back about 2 to 3 mph and making the trail harder than the flat ride it should be. We are grateful beyond words for the shade though, and love the change to woodland biking. Jefferson comes up on our right. The municipal buildings all look like every other capital building here. We ride on. The Missouri River comes up alongside our shoulders time and again. It is all very exciting, and then we drift apart like Facebook Friends.
A group of cyclists but not in Lycra. These are Mennonites, and there are many groups of them pedalling and others taking shaded stops to drink pop. The women wear long dresses, many the light blue of the butterflies that have been dancing in shafts of sunlight on the trail. The children are on bikes all one size at least too big. They look great in their wide brimmed straw hats. Esther has a stronger opinion – “the guys were hot, really good looking “.
High in the cliffs to our right there are Pictographs from the Native Americans. They show the sight of a good water source that flows out of the rocks. We ride over bridges built a hundred years ago and through cuttings that people have laboured to dig. All is now for the bicycle and I am not sure what the builders would have thought of their legacy. We end a 9 Turtle Day at the Katy Roundhouse Campground, just short of Boonville.
It is a quiet night at the end of a day that once again showed every sign of a terrible storm to come. Like a man who almost manages to sneeze, but then fails and ends with weeping eyes, this is going to catch us one day very soon. Next morning we cross the river and ride into Boonville. 19 miles further on we find a second breakfast at Pilot Grove. The dinner has the usual wonderful staff with the friendliness of Labrador. It also has the aural equivalent of torture, the poorly tuned radio. Almost 30% of all dinners have this, and it drives us nuts within a minute. Through the hiss we gather there is a 60% T storm risk. We will believe it when it happens.
Once more, as we ride on the clouds gather. We stop again and for the twentieth time this week we are asked if we are Australians. For goodness sake you cloth eared idiots this is an English accent spoke to you by an Englishman speaking my mother tongue at you.
We need a rest, a day off and some good food. The town of Sedalia is famous for its art deco buildings, the fact that Scott Joplin lived here for a while and that Harry s Truman ate at the hotel here and learned that he had got the top job there. We book a room and wait for my new biking shoes to show up. The Bothwell Hotel is great, and to add to the star line up before us, Clint stayed here when filming Rawhide, we book a couple of nights. Do we feel lucky? Well when the shoes turn up a day early we do.