Start: Cape Girardeau, MO
Finish: Carmi, IL
Weather: 85 degrees, overcast morning, sunny afternoon
Bike Time: 11 hours
Distance to date: 1,606
In one short stretch of bridge this morning I crossed from the West to the East, and from the South to the North. The Illinois side the Mississippi River was much as I remembered –long stretches of flat, marshy land with flooded fields and elevated roads. But otherwise it felt like the East. People
drive faster and they wave less, there are fewer churches and nicer houses, more manicured lawns and less stuff on them.
The level of affluence in rural Illinois is a notch above any place else I’ve been, and several notches above Missouri.
It was a perfect day for cycling and Illinois is a perfect place for cycling, so even though I did a century day, it had none of the strain of previous centuries. After crossing the mighty
Mississippi in the early dawn light and pedaling along the river flats, I took a gamble on an unmarked grey road on my map and turned right at Reynoldville. I rode for a dozen miles
or so on the most beautiful stretch of my trip, Old Cape Road. It started winding around Layla Lake, then climbed through a dense deciduous forest that had a huge variety of trees, until it leveled out in tall walls of corn fields. The road deposited me just outside of Jonesboro, the pinnacle of home cooked food with at least five independent restaurants around the town square. I chose JR’s place since it was the most crowded and enjoyed an amazing breakfast of pancakes and bacon for under
$5.00 while overhearing local farmers settle the problems of the world (stock market not good). Jonesboro was the site of the third Lincoln-Douglas debate, so I spent some time visiting the debate site, which was interesting.
From Jonesboro I cycled through Anna and Vienna and headed up towards Harrisburg. Along the way, a man stopped and told me about a bicycle rail trial for Vienna to Harrisburg and gave me directions on how to access it. I asked if it was paved, he said not exactly but that is hard pack and much preferable
to the highway. I followed his directions, rode on it for a few miles (through a neat but scary rail tunnel) but got back on the highway at the next opportunity. I can’t stand riding on caliche – all that dust. I stayed on US 45 for the next 30 miles. Sometimes the bike trial was right next to the highway, but I far preferred the road to the trail.
Illinois is awash with Historical Markers. I saw the site of archeological remains, the crossing of General Clark (before he was Lewis and Clark) and the grave of King Neptune, the Navy Mascot pig who raised $19 million in war bonds in WW II. Although I stop for all historical markers, I do pass on a few local culinary specials. The store advertising Tuna and Bologna Salad did not get my lunch trade.
In Harrisburg I stopped at the travel information where a uniquely useless clerk was unable to give me information on local motels. Wouldn’t you think that was basic to her job? Finally she said there three, but had no names, numbers, or addresses. I visited the very cool collection of period structures at the tourist center, including the original Poor House for Harrisburg, and then went in search of the motels, each of which turned out to be full.
It was almost four, but I decided to push on to Eldorado (pronounced with a long ‘a’, the Hispanic influence around here is nada). The City of Eldorado web site said there was a motel. Not so. I fortified myself with a quick early dinner (Subway) and then peddled 26 miles more on to Carmi, where I finally
found a basic place.
Truth is, I have not ridden much in the late afternoon and it was very lovely today with long shadows cast over the fields, the road was good, the terrain gentle, the land green and lush. Even with my third flat to stop and repair, I got into Carmi well before sundown, invigorated by the lushness of Illinois.
Site of Lincoln- Douglas debate Jonesboro, IL
Tunnel Hill Bicycle Trail outside Vienna, IL