Sunday, October 28, 2012

St. Louis, MO to Bowen, IL: Bad Luck, Good Luck, and Gene

So Lisa and I didn't have the best luck right off the bat. For starters, her bike was missing a few things -- not that they weren't there when she bought it, just that the shop that boxed her bike for shipping, you know, forgot to include them in the box.

The first thing that was missing was her front quick release. For those of you who aren't terribly bike-savvy, a quick release essentially holds the wheel onto the frame of the bike -- you can't ride without it, at least not without a lot of luck. So after enjoying a complimentary breakfast (okay, hotels are expensive, but at least they give you free food) I took off to the nearest bike shop to barter for a quick release. Fortunately, they had one. Many bike shops don't carry them as they are supposed to come with bikes of the floor, so I consider that we got lucky.

The second thing that was missing is hard to describe in detail; let it simply be said that she didn't have a front brake. That was something we could live without (as the bike had a working rear brake). I asked the feller who sold us the quick release if they had this part, but they didn't.

Anyways, I got back to the hotel just in time to get Lisa's bike in working order. We packed up, and took off.

Lisa rides a bike!

We essentially decided that we couldn't get far enough out of St. Louis for dependable stealth camping given the late departure, so we would instead bike the 15 mile ride to Rachel's apartment, and spend the rest of the day in St. Louis. Thanks again, Rachel!

Also, it rained. A LOT. So my rain gear was put to the test for the first time since Colorado. Er, there were some lame rains in Kansas, but no pours. It poured. By the time we got to Forest Park (a huge park right in the middle of St. Louis), though, it was beautiful out. Don't know how that worked out, but I'm not complaining. We also had some time to kill until Rachel got out of class, so we stopped in front of the art museum (which looks more like a castle, complete with fountain) for a nap.

Our bikes napped too. Also my sister broke her ankle on that hill over there.

Small world, right?

Before arriving at Rachel's we stopped at a bike shop and got Lisa's front brake working again. Yay. After dumping our stuff we took the Metro (light rail) to the riverfront (where the St. Louis Arch is located) and walked to the arch. It is possible to take egg-shaped elevators that curve their way up to the top of the arch, but apparently they sell out about 3:30 every day. We didn't arrive until 5, so they had been sold out for a while. I've been to the top of the arch before; Lisa had not. She was disappointed and insisted this was "just her luck" along with the issues with her bicycle.

We did enjoy the weather though.

I see it! I see the arch!

Since we didn't get to go to the top of the Arch, we opted to walk around a bit. We encountered a cobblestone street and decided to walk down it, at which point we found an Old Spaghetti Factory inside a really cool building. Dinner, check.

Awesome building, check.

Apparently it used to be an old hotel. Anyways -- win.

We took the metro back and promptly crashed.

- - -

The next morning we said goodbye to Rachel and went on our way, for real this time. All was well until just before we stopped for lunch, when Lisa's bottom bracket (the part where the pedals connect through the middle of the bike) started making a racket. If you take a spoon and bang it against an empty tin can repeatedly, that's about the sound it was making. I did the best I could to diagnose the problem without a full set of tools, and decided that nothing would break further -- she'd just have to live with the sound until we could get it looked at.

A few hours later we made it to St. Charles, MO, just south of the Mississippi River crossing into IL. Lisa decided she'd had enough, so we attempted to stop at the bike shop in town, only to find that they were moving. Not closed... moving. So had we been a few days earlier or later, we would have been fine. Lisa attributed this to her bad luck as I went around the parking lot (full of bicyclists, luckily) asking for tools. With no luck, I sat down and promptly got stung by a bee.

So, neither of us were really having a great day at that point.

Then we met Steve and Rob.

What's up guys.

They drove us to a nearby bike shop that had the proper tools, and we found, lo and behold... lack of grease. Thanks, Raleigh (the company that made Lisa's bike) -- a notorious problem you have yet to fix.

Things turned up from there.  Steve and Rob were good company and, while they didn't have a place to stay, they did point us to a nearby campsite that recently opened. We got directions from the bike shop and paid only $10 for the night. Aside from the good company, biking with someone else is good 'cause you get to split things like lodging fees... so check $5 that night for me.

They had some pretty cool art, too.

Also -- when leaving the bike shop we stopped to talk to a woman interested in bicycle touring. She showed up at our campsite around 7:30 (it was dark) with her husband, saying she was worried about us and wanted to make sure we had a place to stay. Apparently they had driven around for a bit hunting us down... it was pretty ridiculously swell. We assured her we were okay, and talked for a bit before saying goodbye. Thus ended day 1 with Lisa. A good ending to a not-so-good start.

- - -

The next day was pretty standard, except that it was windy in the morning. We took the ferry to Illinois... it was a pretty cool ferry. The engine compartment could detach and rotate from one end of the cargo float to the either depending on which direction the ferry was headed... I was impressed. Some engineer somewhere knew what he was doing. Or he just wanted to design something awesome. Or both. *ahem*

Excuse me while I turn around half the ferry.

There was, sadly, no "Welcome to Illinois" sign. I mean, that's okay. We hadn't thought of a pose yet. So we rode on. The Mississippi River Road was supposedly a direct route up the riverside, but it was also very hilly, so we only stayed on it for about 15 miles (PS -- from St. Louis onward we were making up our own route using road maps) before cutting over to the Illinois River. The rest of the day wasn't terribly exciting so I won't write too much about it -- just know that we saw lots of houses on stilts (presumably for when the river floods) and an old showboat. Lisa was pretty exhausted so we found a place to camp about five. The timing was perfect as there was a torrential downpour just a few minutes after we got the fly up, so no complaints from me. Anyways... thus ends day 2 for the Lisa-Kyle team.

- - -

Day 3 started well.

Day 3 was pretty standard except that Lisa had her -- well, her hump. See, every cycle tourist hits a hump at some point. It's a bit difficult to explain, but essentially, bicycle touring is as mentally challenging as it is physically, and usually a percentage of the way in, the tourist wants to give up. It happened to me in Oregon. It happened to Lisa. I don't blame her; it was a good day for a hump to prevail. Cold. Windy. The timing was perfect as far as time without having showered, without having contact with the outside world... anyways, you get the picture. So that morning was sad. I tried to remember if there was anything anyone could have said to me during my hump that would have made it better, and I couldn't. I think it's just something that has to be pushed through.

Or you have to meet someone. For me it was the Bosnians. For Lisa it was Gene. Gene comes later.

That day we passed through a town called Griggsville. Griggsville liked birds.

So many birds.

Oh and the grocer gave us free bananas because "they were going to be overripe soon" and free grapes because... okay, I didn't actually catch a reason for that one.

We stopped at the library to arrange some warmshowers stays, and then went on our way.

Our goal for the night was a city called Mt. Sheridan, IL. A while ago we had tried to set up a warmshowers stay, to no avail -- both nearby hosts were busy... or something. One of them informed us there was free camping north of town, though, so no problem... except for the cold. Lisa did not like the cold. We stopped at a corn dog stand on the way into town to get a snack before making camp, and I dropped the hint that we were looking for a place to stay. We weren't hopeful, and didn't find a house to stay at, but the corn dog stand did let us sleep in their bathroom.

You heard me. We slept in a bathroom. It was actually a very nice bathroom -- for all intents and purposes, it was just a 10'x10' room. Oh, and it was heated. That's why we accepted. Actually, we were woken up multiple times because it was too hot.

So, that happened.

Oh, and we had left to let them close so we didn't take the bathroom from their customers. When we got back, they had some leftover food. So we didn't have to cook dinner that night.

Um, yum.

For the first night since I can remember I wasn't able to finish all the food I was offered.

Quick, everybody go "like" The Corn Dog Stand on Facebook!

- - -

From there we had two days to do 72 miles into Keokuk, IA, where we had a warmshowers stay. That's only 36 miles a day, so we took it pretty easy, stopping in Camp Point for about a two hour lunch break, listening to everybody stop at Casey's (the gas station/general store franchise of the Midwest) and talk about the upcoming high school football game. Apparently that's the thing to do in Illinois. Go to high school football games.

We made what was supposed to be a quick stop at Bowen, IL before continuing on to finish our 36 miles. It was only about 2:00 and we were intent on continuing forward, but then we met Gene. He said it was only about 25 miles to Keokuk, and I double-checked the map -- correct! Must have measured wrong that morning... anyways, this was important because suddenly we were okay with stopping! And then Gene offered us a place to stay. He had some land two miles outside of town, and showed us the way. Oh, and then we went fishing.

"Yea, come sleep in my field and fish in my lake."

It's, like, a thing.

We all caught one fish -- okay, Gene caught the first, Lisa the second, and it took me an hour to catch a third, which wasn't even big enough to eat. Lisa then filleted her bluegill, and then walked me through how to filet Gene's bass. Yes... I can filet a fish now. All the while the three of us entertained each other. It was swell. Then there was a fire.

And PUPPY (named Rocky).

For an appetizer to our usual just-add-water pasta, we cooked the fish over a fire. Gene stuck around for a bit before taking off; shortly after, Lisa and I took off to bed.

Then in the morning -- no, wait... that will be part of the next post.

I think some thank yous are due at this point. Corn Dog Stand -- thanks. Gene -- thanks. Oh, and the people hosting me while I type this, Stephanie and Bill -- thanks.

More soon!

K-dawg... out.

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