Day #21) July 3, 2011. Sparta IL to Alton, IL: 85 miles in 6:38 hrs.
Now I stuck a pic in here to show you my arm covered in sweat about 40 min into the ride. And that was the story for the whole day. This ride today totally rocked my world – in a hot, nasty, sticky, painful way. But I did it, and that makes it all worthwhile!!
OK, so I was out of the motel and on the road at 5:45am, knowing that I was going to try to push it hard today for mileage. I needed every minute I could get with an early start and hopefully an early finish. Had bought a sub last night for this morning just to make sure I had a super big breakfast to work off of for most of the day. Crushed the footlong at like 5:20am, and believe you me that was tough to eat that early. My appetite at 5am is like zero, so pounding a bloody footlong sub before 10am, even for a garbage gut like me that was a massive ouch! Got out on Rt 4 north and I could just feel the humidity and heat, even at 5:45. It was hotter than the previous two mornings despite the forecast calling for a lower high temp for the day. I’d found out that yesterday’s final high temp was 102 degrees at like 4pm, and trust me, that was just off the charts steaming!! But it had to be the fact that there was no cloud cover this morning to kind of keep the sun at bay as in the two previous mornings. Nope, by 6:30am the sun was just blazing low in the sky. That just kind of ramped up the heat index for sure. No shade today!
I had a nice little tailwind out of the southwest so that first stretch of 50 miles north was wind aided – and I’ll take it! Had a great berm, nice, long stretch of country road, and it was pretty flat. But man, that humidity was crazy. My sweat rag got totally used up today as sweat was just dripping off of my brow non-stop. By 45 min in my top was soaked. By 1 hr in my shorts were soaked. Sweat was just running down my extended arms like small anastromosing streams, drenching my bars and dripping onto my knees. It was just torrid. I ended up stopping in the little town of Lebanon about 2.5 hrs in and just cranked on one of those Micky D large fountain cokes for a buck deal. I slammed about half of the 24 oz right there at the fountain, refilled and drank about half again, refilled yet again and then went out into the lobby to finish. After that I refilled on ice water and filled one of my empty bottles.
Hold on, right now – at like 4:40 CST - it’s raining like nobody’s business, with massive thunder and lightening going on. There have been weather advisories on the tube for the past hour warning of severe T-storms with damaging wind and hail. It’s raining so hard that I literally cannot see out of the room window. This is why I opt to motel it a lot lately! Feels good to be sitting here snug and dry with that weather out there just going crazy. It’s a rain whiteout!
Ok, so after Lebanon more riding to the north, and suddenly, just north of Lebanon the hill climbing kicked in. And in a way it was kind of disheartening because with the heat and humidity that made riding just that much tougher. I probably had about 5-7 miles of hills and hollows before the road went back to flat. So by the time I made my junction to take 40 west, I was just beaten up. And that was only like 50 miles in. Good thing though was that my average was great – 14 mph despite the hills. So I was cruising. Made Troy, one of my possible destinations for the day, in 3.5 hours in. So that was a mandatory blow through.
I’d been told by the folks from the St. Charles bike shop about a bike and hike trail outside of Troy that would take me all the way to Alton. So that’s what I began to look for as I cruised through Troy. Darned if I didn’t find it on the west side of town. Pulled in the TH and checked the trail map, and off I went, with the attitude that I was going to push this thing all the way to Alton today, making tomorrow a super great day. Ending in Alton would enable me to cross the Mississippi from Alton to St. Charles and and get on the Katy Trail tomorrow early in the day. So that was it, I was bound to make Alton for the day.
The bike and hike is part of a massive metro trail system called the MCT (Madison County Transit) trails. I got on the Goshen Trail and rode it north toward Edwardsville. And it was just fabulous to be on a trail with no cars. People were giving me thumbs up and waves as I rolled my rig down the trail at like 16 mph. I was actually passing some folks. Now the roadies, they passed me like I was standing still, but most still gave me a wave or said “good job” as they passed me. So I got to the end of the Goshen Trail and that’s where my problems started. I like to think of myself as a good map guy, and I studied that big map at a couple of trailheads such that I could get on a couple roads and bridge over west to another trail, the Confluence Trail. And that’s what I did, but after about 5 miles the road came to a jcn and then the next road that went west was like this little thing that looked like it went nowhere. So I stopped at a nursery and asked for water and directions. By then I was about 5 hours in, totally drenched in sweat, and feeling like I’d been gonged in the head by the heat.
Gals inside were nice, but really didn’t know the MCT trail system well, and gave me some iffy advice. Downed about 3 waterbottles of water and went in the direction they’d told me about. Had to do a climb up an overpass – which was really beginning to kick my arse – and then found an MCT trailhead. But it just didn’t make sense. So I asked a walker about the directions. And he told me to go back from the direction I’d just come and then keep going straight all the way to Rt 3, which is where the next section of trail, the Confluence Trail, begins. Got to admit I was a bit pissed at that point, I mean the heat was just totally working me, and any additional riding was not what I needed. So I was kind of talking to myself on the way back to that nursery, especially when I had to climb that freaking overpass a second time.
So I did the 5 miles and got to the Confluence trail, which pretty much paralleled Rt 3 north to Alton. Problem was that it was situated up on this levee and about every half mile if dropped down to these gates where roads crossed. And the gates were just the most annoying things I could have had at that time. The gates were like coral gates where you had to do a shape 90-degree one way and then another sharp 90-degree in the opposite way. I couldn’t do it with that bloody yak in tow, and I’d be hard pressed if I could do it with just a bike alone. Those turns were that tight! So you had to do two of those, one on each side of the trail. THEN I had to ride back up to the top of the levee to continue up the trail. Ok, so one of these, ok. Two of these and I was cursing. Three of these and I was talking loudly to my myself, saying: “one more, just one more of these *&^&%&^#%^$#@@ and I’m back on Rt 3. This is total *&^*%&%^^# *&^*^%&#.” And wouldn’t you know it there was a fourth, and that’s when I went back out onto Rt 3. I just didn’t have it in me to stop every half mile to go through those corals and then climb back up onto the levee. Trail or no trail – Goodbye Confluence Trail!
Back onto Rt 3, and at least it had a nice large berm, albeit it was kind of deteriorated. The area I was riding in by that time was kind of urban and commercial, with trucking companies and heavy industry. Thank God it was Sunday or I’d have been in big trouble. So I rode into East Alton, and it was a total dump, with a couple of flop house looking motels. Then I told a wrong turn and had to turn around. By that time my patience was coming close to breaking, and I was feeling like I’d been beaten silly from the heat and humidity. Got back on track and kept rolling into Alton. More heavy industry and more dumping area.
Finally, as if sent from heaven, after 6 hours of riding, I came across a Comfort Inn. Went there straight away, but they couldn’t have a room for me until like 2pm – 2 hour away. Now I was totally soaked in sweat, I had salt stains around my neck and around my arms, I had dirt and grime covering my shins, and I felt somewhat light headed. What made things worse was that there was nothing around the place, just a Holiday Inn next door with a restaurant inside. Certainly wasn’t going in the Holiday looking and feeling the way I was. So I did a tentative booking at the Comfort Inn and got information about food places 2 miles into town. I’d have to stay in my soaking wet kit and go find some food before I just fell over from heat exhaustion.
Rode into town and found a Subway. Got only one footlong because my appetite was pretty lacking at that point. And the guys behind the counter were just fascinated by me riding from DC. I mean they were in awe. And I tried to tell them that OTHER people do this to, not just me. But they’d just continue to ask me a gazillion question about how to ride a bike cross country. So I had these two guys seated next to me asking questions while I ate. I did my best to engage them in conversation despite felling like I’d just awoke from a massive hangover! Went back down the road to the Comfort and did some investigating on the phone – thanks to Judy - on prices and the ability to get into a room asap to get a shower. Got in touch with a Super 8 that was 20 bucks cheaper and able to get me checked in as soon as I got there. So back on the bike for a 3-mile ride to Super.
And here I sit with it still raining out, nearly 40 min straight so far. Got a shower and I feel human again. Had to wash my kit in the sink, and man, the brown gunk that came out from all the road dust and soot, it was grey, filthy washwater. Have a couple of Newcastle Brown Ales right now as I write – and life is good. I’ll snag some more chow later when the rain storms die out, as the forecast is calling for.
Tomorrow….Katy Trail on the fourth of July. Very good! Happy fourth to everyone. Be safe, and talk to you soon……..Pete