Saturday, July 2, 2011

Day 20: Caught in a heat wave

Day #20) July 2, 2011. Carbondale, IL to Sparta IL: 62 miles in 4:32 hrs.

Got up at 5am and on the road at 6am. Rolled into the lobby and got my complimentary breakfast – just a couple bagels and a couple of tiny blueberry muffins and took them back to the room to munch while I packed.

Funny thing about this morning is that when I was moving my bike and yak outdoors I was having trouble holding the door and getting the yak out, when out of nowhere this guy dressed in a bike kit came over from the lobby and held the door for me. Turns out that Tom had gotten to the Super 8 nearly the same time as me yesterday and is also traveling west. Thanked him and we began talking with him finishing the meager complementary breakfast. Asked him about his intended ride today and he said that he was going northwest, and part of it was in my direction. So I held off for 10 min to wait for him and then we took off together for Murphysboro. Now Tom’s using maps to cross the US that he’d bought from the ACA – Adventure Cycling Association. So I did his mapped section to Murphysboro with him instead of doing 13 west. Now it was a nice little route, with just a few rollers.

Tom works at a Golf Club and has the summer off. He’s married and his wife is totally good with him doing the crossing, which will be his first. He started on the Virginia coast and today was his 21st day of cycling, and figures that he’ll do about 50/day and take all of July and Aug to get to San Fran, CA. He’s going to cross the deserts of Nevada. Well, our ride together was brief, as we hit Murphysboro in about 40 min. Now I could have gone further with Tom, but I had my reservations about going on that ACA route which is right along the Mississippi delta. I chose instead to stay on the high ground on Rt 149 which is located right smack dab along the bluff of the Mississippi. We were both headed to Chester, IL, but I had suspicions that Tom’s ACA roads could very well be under water right now due to the months of flooding in this area. Once in Chester Tom was calling it a day, and then crossing the river into MO and continuing west tomorrow. So I said farewell to him and continued on to Chester on my route, which at first rocked and rolled over the bluffs.

For a bit I was questioning my choice due to the monster rollers that greeted me just west of Murphysboro. I had two little cookie climbs going over the bluffs. But once I got on Rt 149 it was just a flat out wonderful ride in the countryside, with the bluffs on my right and the Mississippi delta on my left. About a mile off to the west I could see the Mississippi just swollen and massive. And that’s about the time I saw that several of the roads in the delta were closed due to the flooding – which made getting to Chester impossible. Made me immediately think about Tom out there on the delta trying to negotiate all those flooded roads. Worst case scenario was that Tom would have had to ride all the way back into Murphysboro and take my route, which could possibly double his distance today.

So this ride on 149 was just stellar. It was early Sat morning, no traffic, and great sights. Only bad thing was that the temps were just soaring by 9am. It was nearly 87 degrees by then and the sun was just crazy hot. I was literally on the very edge of the bluffs with the road pancake flat for about 10 miles and then it began to contour up into the bluffs just a bit when the Mississippi pretty much got right up along the road. It was flowing like crazy, a bubbling cauldron of water rushing to the south. You could see that the river had overflowed onto 149 not too long ago, because there were massive areas of standing water all over the place on each side of the road. Many a farmer’s field were just totally under water on my left – in probably 3-4 feet of standing water. I mean some of those fields looked like 10-20 acre lakes. Then I passed a “road closed” sign that hadn’t been taken down yet. So I was lucky in that the flood waters had resided enough to make 149 thu all the way to Chester.

Now the road really rocketed up into the bluffs about 2-3 miles outside of Chester, and with the temp nearly 90 by then it was just a scorcher doing those bluff climbs in and out of the saddle. I was just dripping, soaking wet from sweating by the time I arrived in Chester. I had my sweat rag on the handlebars and was wiping my face every couple of minutes. Hell, my cycling shorts were just totally soaked and were squeaking on the seat as I pedaled in the saddle up some of those climbs. I mean I was a bloody sopping wet mess.

Once in Chester I needed to skirt east to pick up Rt 4 north. But before I went any further I had to stop at a Micky D’s to get a large fountain coke. Again, shouldn’t have raved on a couple of days ago about how much of a hard ass I am being able to go for the whole day without stopping. That one sure bit me in the butt! Got a coke for a buck deal, and then refilled 2x with ice water. God, by that time it was just scorching. I mean it was like sticking your head in an oven when I walked out of the AC’ed Micky D’s!

Now my intention here is to go WAY, WAY around E. St. Louis and stay out in the country and then work my way back to the west once I’m north of the St. Louis-E. St. Louis megalopolis. I plan on crossing the river to the north up around Alton, IL to get to the start of the Katy Trail in St. Charles. So I’m spending an extra day by going northeast. But I’ll take it rather than chance all that crazy inter-city riding. I mean hell, I’d almost gone half insane riding through Albany, NY and Erie, PA last year, and those are just tiny specks on a map compared to the greater St. Louis area. And two years ago I remember riding through Edmonton, Alberta, and that was jut a gut wrenching trip. Not this year. I’ll spend an extra day to not to have to endure that kind of insanity on a bike.

So anyway, I went east on 150 and then north on Rt 4. Both roads were nice and out in the farm country, and what with this being a Saturday and a holiday weekend, the roads were really pretty devoid of traffic, especially that early in the morning. Rt 4 had a super nice berm. Seems no one is traveling on the roads or to the places I’m going this weekend. So it was a really good day traffic-wise. Made it to Sparta in 4 and a half hours, and was feeling pretty good despite the heat, so I asked a local how far up the road from Sparta would there be more lodging. Guy told me it was at least 30-40 miles north. Now I felt good, but at 61 miles in and with 30-40 to go in this kind of heat – DONE!

Got a place here and I’m really glad I did, because after I showered and washed my kit I walked over to a Subway, and the heat was just stifling. Has to be close to 100 right now. It darn near takes my breath away. But what a great deal it is getting done at 11am and being able to relax in the AC and work while it’s just a raging inferno outdoors.

Now I was the picture of restraint in Subway, getting just one footlong. Figured that I couldn’t justify 2 footlongs on a meager 4.5 hrs of riding!

Tomorrow looks like I’ll fire off north and shoot for Troy, and then I have some directions from the guys at the bike shop in St. Charles that involve getting on some bike trails to Alton. That’s going to take some figuring. Could be in MO on Monday and start the Katy on Tues.

From the inferno on the fringes of the prairie ……….Pete

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