Monday, July 4, 2011

Day 22: Serendipity sqrd

Day #22) July 4, 2011. Alton, IL to Augusta, MO: 65 miles in 5:35 hrs.

I’m a pig in doo-doo right now. Seriously, I have this little cabin in the hills of Augusta, MO and I’m sitting out on a porch in the shade drinking some local Norton 2008 Dry Red wine, made right here in Augusta. This was serendipity at it’s best. More in a minute.

So I was in Alton, IL this morning at 4:48am, and got up to this massive rain front that was blanketing the area. So I just chilled, drank some coffee and worked on the computer for 2 hours or so while I switched from the weather channel to the local news to watch the weather develop. My choices were: stay put for the day at the Super 8, or maybe wait the rain out and then go for it later in the morning. Drank coffee, worked, ate the complimentary breakfast of waffles and bagels and just kept a vigil on the weather front. By 7am it was still raining in St. Louis, MO, so I stayed put. Turned on the TDF (Tour De France for you uninformed lay people!) and began to watch stage 3, a sprinter’s stage. And I was kind of back and forth with the local weather and the TDF, on and off, and on and off. I even went to the extent of going outdoors and checking out the weather first hand. Drizzle, to misting, to no rain. Love TDF, but sprinter stages are boring, boring, boring…until the sprint!

And come about 8:30am I just started to pack up as if on autopilot again. Now I haven’t said a thing about it thus far but I’m going to now. I’ve gotten in like 21 straight days of cycling. A PB in my book (Personal Best for you uninformed lay people!). And I was like, “I just cannot break this streak. I’ve got to go for it and see what I can do. Got to keep moving.” Besides, the local forecast was projecting clearing skies by 12 noon. I just couldn’t stay put for the day and then have the skies clear and the sun come out. That would be a wasted day. Got to save the off-days for total sock-ins. So I was ready to go by 8:30am. The lady at the desk, Kay, was kind of like, “well it’s supposed to rain on and off all day today. Sure you want to go?” Yup, I’m going for it and keeping this streak alive Kay baby!

So I was on the road at 8:45am, pretty damned late but on the road nonetheless. Got directions to the Clark Bridge across the Mississippi River, and off I went. Now that bridge is pretty serious, BUT it does have a bike lane, which made me feel pretty good about going like 2 miles across on a bridge span. My decision to go north and cross at Alton was spot on. I couldn’t have had a less intense crossing north of St. Louis. The holiday traffic was just negligible, and I was in MO in a matter of 15 minutes. You can take E. St. Louis and put it where the sun don’t shine! All this was well worth the extra day it took to skirt E. St. Louis and St. Louis. So I got over the river and it started to spritz a bit on me, and the skies were turning pretty dark grey – time to pay the piper!

Now I had to ride on Rt 94 on the delta and take that to St. Charles, this to bypass doing a second crossing, that of the Missouri River. And this was just what I’d tried to avoid when riding from Carbondale IL to Sparta, the day I saw a gazillion closed roads along the Mississippi. But that was the only way to go, bar riding back to the south towards St. Louis. So onto 94 I went. Now, have you ever ridden on a road after a rain storm? Have you smelled the smell of dead worms that have been mashed by cars? Well, that was 94 at 9:30am in MO, but these weren’t worms. They were frogs! Yup, like 94 was amassed with smashed frog guts, just stinking it up like a trashcan of smashed worms. I mean it was crazy to look down and see the carnage of frog guts on the road. There were whole frogs, half frogs, quarter frogs and just frog hash everywhere. I had to dodge the frog hash so as to not get the guts splattered up on my legs and arms.

Then I came to a road closed sign. The very thing I was scared of seeing what with all the crazy hard rain in the area. So I went ahead nonetheless just to see if it was really closed due to high water, or if it was from yesterday’s crazy rain deluge but ok today. Well, it was not ok. I came to this small river that was running across the road. So I just kind of stayed on my side and watched a truck cross. Once he got to me I flagged him down and asked about the depth. He told me it was about 6 inches deep, but that just around the corner it was like a foot and a half deep. Now that would have put the water up above my wheel axels. Not good for the luggage in the yak, despite the dry bag. So I rode back to the detour and stayed with that.

And that’s about the time I looked to the west and saw that it was just totally whited out – rain, big rain moving in on me! Time to take it like a man! And it just kind of intensified to the point of a very steady rain. Now I wasn’t bummed. Actually I was pretty good with it what with the humidity and the temps. The rain felt quite refreshing and cooling. So on I rode into the rain on the Mississippi delta of MO. I was pretty soaked within15 min. My biggest issue was dodging all the freaking frog guts on the road. Get some of that on you and it’s like a sticky bugger splattered on your leg. Get it on your gear and it stinks like the high heaven until you wash it off. You and your gear end up smelling like worm guts.

So I rode through the rain for about an hour, and then slowly it began to subside, and then stop, right about to 5 miles outside of St. Charles. Now there is supposed to be a TH (trail head for those of you uninformed!) for the Katy trail in Menchen, but I never saw it. Actually, what with all the flooding I really don’t know if it would have been navigable all the way to St. Charles anyway, so I just stayed on 94. Now about 2 miles outside of St. Charles the rain kicked in again, pretty steady. So I pulled into town amidst a 4th of July parade and downtown celebration. I saw the Katy Trail just on the outskirts of town and moved over to get on it. And man, it was a total mess – puddles, soft, mushy crown, broken branches and litter from the storms. I mean I was like, “shit, I’ve got to ride this thing for 240 miles?” So I rode the Katy into the downtown and was just coated with a lime goo from the splashing and puddles, and soaked to the flesh for the second time from the rain.

But I pulled into the festival area, what with all the eateries and the carnival rides and such, just to take a break from the monotony of riding. And miraculously the rain stopped and the sun came out. So I rode around town for a bit, on these cobbled red brick roads. The town center is very cool, with these old buildings and cobbled streets, it reminds me of the streets Sue and Hersh had shown us in downtown Frederick, MD. The place had some serious character. I thought seriously of just bagging it right then and there, going to one of the many outdoor patios and ordering up a pitcher of beer and putting on a sweet 4rth of July buzz! But I felt I had to at least make a meager effort to get a bit down the trail for the day. So I hung out at the festival, which was right along the Katy Trail, and I got a pulled-pork sandwich and talked with the locals for about a half hour. I had several people come up to me to ask about what the hell I was doing. I mean I have this train of a trailer that’s like four feel long trailing off of my bike, so I’m pretty obvious to the crowd. It was fun talking about cross-country. Like now, about 1300 miles in, I’m finally feeling comfortable about talking cross-country. And the people, hell, just telling them I’ve ridden from DC to there and they think I’m like a big deal. And this is only 1/3 the distance thus far! It’s funny to hear the different perspectives. I think I’m just starting to get somewhere, and others think I’ve accomplished the impossible getting from DC to St. Charles, MO.

Well, the weather really cleared and suddenly it was just torrid again once the sun had broken through the clouds. And there I was on the Katy Trail, WORKING to keep my speed at like 11-12 mph. The trail got much, much better than that initial first mile through town, but still, it was much harder getting on that soft pack and trying to keep a good strong pace. Back on the dirt! So with the sun I was sweating to the oldies again, with my sweat rag getting another heavy duty workout. But wow, just being able to ride and not even think about traffic, it was beautiful. I’d been ridding like, I don’t know, 2 weeks to get to this point again. I’ll take the slow and the soft surface in leu of the traffic and craziness.

So this trail is along the Missouri River, and let me tell you, this thing is swollen big time. I’m happy at this point that it’s not over top of the trail, because at points the trail is just about 50 feet off of the river. The start of this trail, is the start of the Lewis & Clark Expedition, and it’s pretty cool that at various points along the trail there are kiosks that tell of each and every of the L&C EX’s end points of each of their days. Like today, I made it down 2 days worth of L&C Ex. On my right side is this massive limestone bluff, and to my left is the river, right now just raging fast and swollen from all the month’s of rain. People can’t even fish on the river right now, it’s just too fast. This trail itself reminds me of the Pine Creek Trail in PA. It’s pretty cool riding along such a famous river.

Not a ton of traffic for a world class trail as this. I think I saw like 4 people or couples who looked to be going long distance. The rest of the folks were just day riders. So anyway, my big dilemma on this part of the trip was the lodging, and I’ve got to tell you from the start that I’m not a B&B fan. And most of the lodging on this trail is B&B. Ok, B&B’s are quaint and cozy and you get to kind of hang with strangers. Yes, but I’m not into hanging out in a stranger’s living room, or using a stranger’s bathroom and jawing with stranger is the morning. And in the morning, when I’m sleepy and about at my LEAST talkative stage of the day, when I’m a total and complete A-hole of a human being, I just do not want to make small take around the breakfast table about my life. I want to eat light, talk light, and leave early. So I’ve had my reservations about this part of the trip only because of the lodging situations.

With that in mind I will be trying to choose end of day destinations with MANY choices for lodging, preferably little cabins or something of the like. I just do NOT want to be put in a room with a 3k dollar bedset and fancy wallpaper. Not my gig! So anyway, I chose the town of Augusta as my endpoint for the day. It had many choices for lodging, not just one or two B&B’s. Which begs me to ask: Is that a dude thing? Not getting into B&B’s? Ladies just love it. But I have not talked to a dude yet who’s totally into doing that. Most dudes I know want privacy. I want to lay around in my underwear, drink beer and veg out on cable at night. Not play scrabble or participate in mime games or discuss current events over a glass of wine. PLEASE.

Made it to Augusta and I was just totally parched. The temps had gotten up to like 88-degree. So I pulled off of the trail, and it was like this little, not even a village, it was a hamlet. And I was thinking: “dude, you’re screwed, it’s B&B time for you.” I had to climb this unbelievable little hill to get above the river, and this thing was like a wall! So I sweated my arse off on that and then just rode around looking at like umpteen B&B’s. Nothing but B&B’s. There were wine vineyard B&B’s, historic mansion B&B’s and just regular B&B’s. Honestly, I didn’t know what the hell to do. So finally, after riding up and down every freaking hill in the hamlet, I ended up at this pub/restaurant. By then I was dying of thirst. So I got a coke on ice and the gal filled my waterbottle with icewater. And a couple of the locals asked where I was going, so I gave them the lowdown and told them that I was looking for a place for the night. And that’s when one of the guys at the bar, John, pointed to his buddy Mark, and said that Mark had a cabin.

So it’s the 4th of July and this place is dead, dead, dead, and Mark told me that he’d give me a 4-person cabin form 75 bucks. Now the retail out here is 150 bucks for a one room B&B – in someone’s house! And dude is offering me my own cabin for 75….are you kidding me! I told him I was all over that, and dude’s like: “don’t you want to check it out first?” Well, I did just to pacify him, but tell you what, I’d of done it even if it resembled the Clampett cabin. Honestly though, this place is just premier. I have a 2 bedroom cabin with a kitchen and upstairs. It’s crazy cool. The owners, Mark and Jan, they are just so down to earth and awesome. The place is called Weinstrasse Cabins. It’s the bomb! I ended up booking the place and then I had dinner in the pub/restaurant while Jan readied the cabin. Went through like 3 glasses of ice cold Mich Amber Bach and a burger and fries and fried zucchini. Then went down to the cabin and be damned if Mark hadn’t gone to a local winery and bought a 4-bottle case of red wines, of which we drank 2 bottles. I’m sitting here half in the bag typing.

This place is so out there and quite, it’s just like a dream. You ever do the Katy….book the Weinstrasse in Augusta! So I’ve been invited to the local fireworks tonight. Mark and Jan are going to stop by at 9pm to pick me up, not that it’s far to go, but they offered to take me down to the ballpark where the fireworks will take place.

Ok, so I think I’m going to be a bit on the toasty side tonight….let’s see …beer, wine, beer, wine…….ouch! Mark told me I can stay in the morning as long as I want, but I’d still like to get out there at bout 7am to start, what with a high projected for tomorrow of like 91 degrees. I’ll try to post some pictures but the coverage here is sketchy. I can get cell phone, but my transmitting of date, that’s not so good. So if you see no pics to go with the blog, you’ll know why.

All the best……..Pete

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