Saturday, July 13, 2013

Week Four

Cincinnati...Kentucky, Indiana & Illinois 9 days to St. Louis

624 miles...21,982 feet climb
1974 miles total...78,286 feet climb total
Spiritual sense, contradicting the material senses, involves intuition, hope, faith, understanding, fruition, reality.(Mary Baker Eddy)

Individual being is expressed in humility, obedience, honesty, awareness, compassion, selflessness. (Robbie)

The object isn't just to get to the top but to get there in such a way that you learn the nature of the mountain. (The River Horse, William Least-Heat Moon)


Cincinnati Purple People's Bridge
After long moments to ponder the larger issues of life on isolated trails and roads, I am beginning to see that there really are other bicyclists on the road. This was the week to begin experiencing these other adventurers and travelers as I approach midway on many cross country routes.

First siting of Mississippi River
I was happy to revisit Cincinnati friends Ann and Mark for a couple nights recuperation. They escorted me out of town...or at least to the boundary of their neighborhood and the relinquishment of host responsibilities.
Cincinnati friends Ann and Mark
Cincinnati friends Ann and Mark
Robbie, Ann, and Mark
It's best of all to meet old friends. Ann and I met in 1975 as an awkward 20 something tripped on his umbrella while boarding an airplane bound for foreign studies in Denmark, and practically feel into a young woman's lap. Who totes an umbrella to Europe anyway?!

People on the way...First was Australian-born John. He hasn't lived there for over 30 years. Beginning April 2009, John left Amsterdam bicycling through Europe following a loose passage of late 1200s travels of Marco Polo through Venice, Constantinople, Ukraine, Georgia, Kazakhastan, Mongolia, China, and Laos, Thialand, Cambodia, and an eighteen month journey along the full perimeter of his birth nation of Australia. John is a structural engineer by profession. He has worked in many troubled areas of the world as a consultant with the French organization Doctors Without Borders. During disasters they may call him or he can let the home office know he is available and at short notice he leaves his bike route and works to help allay the suffering of the world's poor and destitute...most recently in Sudan where 350,000 refugees have tried to move out of harms way to a place with no housing, water, food, or other means of survival and into a region where the regional government does not want them.

John and I collected our food stuffs and shared our dinner of mashed potatoes with ham and cheese, followed with desert of yogurt and blueberries. John had already put his stove up before he remembered he could offer coffee...darn.


Next I crossed midway on the day's route a west-to-east cross country bicyclist, Mike, from San Francisco. Mike left SF on June 1 (two weeks before my departure), heading to his native town of Boston, and met me not yet a third into my route. He is traveling fast. We had a brief side of the road chat just prior to the heaviest thunderstorm to date. I ducked behind a residential detached garage to shield myself from the increasing strength of the gale force wind. The resident ran a salon in her house. Seeing me, she called out for me to come inside just as the heavy downpour began. Thirty minutes later after listening to the TV weather guy's dire warnings, I was off again in a refreshed afternoon. The next few days were wonderfully cool with low humidity...perfect riding conditions.

Guess which state I'm in
Barge traffic on Ohio River
Ohio River flood plain
I'm nearly lost...
...but it's worth it
Ohio River at natural bank's edge


Friday afternoon after leaving Kentucky and crossing the Ohio River by ferry into Illinois, Lou, Blackie, and I rolled into the nearby state park of Cave-In-Rock. There is a large cave at river's edge infamously used as bad guy hang out robbing unsuspecting 1800's river travelers. I stopped to greet the camp host and his wife. They were sharing a dinner of fresh catfish and sliced potatoes with a young couple from Charleston, SC. She is entering her last year of university, he is a small paper journalist serving the island communities out of Charleston. It was his birthday and the host provided the dinner. I was invitied to join the festivities. It didn't take long to accept.

Ferry across the Ohio
There's a cave at water's edge
Shaft of light in back cave chamber

The next morning, I know I'm in a strange bygone time when the state park restaurant menu has "a bowl of gravy $1.00" and the waitress brings an individually packed "Sunkist Premium Lemon Juice" packet to go with my water, milk instead of cream for my coffee, as I listen to the background 1970s pop music...Stevie Wonder, The Fifth Dimension, Paul Simon, The Beatles, B-52s "The Love Shack" that the server whistles along to, and the other customers lip sing and sway in rhythm to, and dine on morning pancakes while overlooking the northern bank of the Ohio River. This is economically challenged southern Illinois and I won't find another restaurant or gas market for the rest of the day.

Ohio River view from above cave

This is a rest after touring the large cave just at the edge of the Ohio River and once used as a pirate den robbing unsuspecting immigrants on flat boats coming down the Ohio, of course I loaded up Lou and went for a ride. Rode to Garden of the Gods State Park, 20 miles above Cave-In-Rock.

Rolling into the campground late in the afternoon, I stopped to chat with Ryan, a 20-something out camping with his family...younger sister, her friend, mom Paula, and dad Kim. After a long discussion, they invited me to share their dinner.

There is no shower facility in this camp, so following tent set up, I sponge the day's grime off, take a hike amid the dramatic sandstone rock formations, and read another chapter of Calvin's mis-adventures, finishing as the call for dinner comes. Dinner is prepared in my favorite way for camp stew, this time with a twist of venison reaped by Ryan's skills. This meat is mixed with cubed potatoes, sliced carrots and onions, with some added butter and spices; wrapped in pillow of aluminum foil; and placed on the glowing coals of a fire for 20 minutes, flipping occasionally. The family had prepared the largest portion for me...I ate it all...with relish! I came to the table bearing a package of Pepperidge Farm Milano cookies for dessert, purchased the day before but did not then have time to eat them. Before, during, and after dinner we share adventures in nature travels, life events, and challenges. Paula and Kim are at home now with Paula's aged mother in Indiana, but have lived in Alaska and Colorado amoung other places. He's an industrial electrican; she went back to college when the kids were grown for training to work as nurse in an elderly residential community.


After an early Sunday morning meditative moment atop the rocks of Garden of the Gods I have a very pleasant bike ride including a bumpy, gravel course through Shawnee National Forest. I enjoy riding through the small towns, so later, when the route comes close to Harrisburg, I detour off to check out the town center. On one of the town square corners is local bike shop dealer Randy sweeping the sidewalk who I ask as to where to eat. This turns into a two hour visit. He immediately brings out a bottleled cold ice tea and soon we are poised over bike maps of the area.

Garden of the Gods

Determining that my Sunday lunch awaits at the edge of a bike trail in the town of Carrier Mills (pork roast, mash potatoes and gravy, candied carrots, applesauce, roll, lots of unsweetened ice tea) and that I will stay on the east side of the Mississippi River to approach St. Louis, we then expand our conversation to include the lack of town or county officials to deal with their trash problems. Voters don't want to raise taxes to have weekly pickup and just want to (mis)manage garbage on their own...which means it ends up on the side of the road, in other people's pick up trucks, or in someone else's trash container. The state is addressing this by removing all trash cans from the state parks. A resident is supposed to take garbage for a fee to the county dump. If you have ever done this recently you know how aromatic this can be. Just ask Jenny...she jumped at the chance to accompany me to Buncombe County dump for the thrill, until we were actually there and out on the detritus of humanity on a warm morning after a soaking rain. There's always the chance of getting stuck in the muck or catching a nail in a tire. Randy got tired of his fellow citizens depositing their bags in the bed his truck once he had placed his own bags there. Just isn't the same as in the south when folk lock their car doors in the summer so some neighbor won't drop off the excess squash in the front seat.

The next evening finds me visiting another state park camp. This time, Lake Murphysboro State Park outside the college town of Carbondale. Two local men from Carbondale are fishing to no avail and the only other people about is an extended family group from Madisonville, TN. This group comprises retired guy, wife, 65 year old sister living in Texas, and teen grandson. Sister lived three years in Alaska and spent time in Colorado (does anyone else recognize a pattern here?). She and footloose husband built a home wherever they went that they later sold and moved on. This day's bath consists of squatting in the buff on the small wooden pier with wash cloth and soap. The water was an unreasonably warm 75-80 degrees...but I didn't care.

Typical camp. Blackie helps with the tent.

Meeting people seems linked with food. Sharing a meal is truly an ancient form of generosity and fellowship. Madisonvillians call me over in the morning to partake of country bacon on a biscuit and fried potatoes with chicken. I'm a happy camper!


During the next days I also cross paths with Hannah, Gabe, and Sandy. These three 18 year old recent high school grads left San Francisco on June 16 (as I was leaving Boston) and are midway on their ride back home near Baltimore, MD. We shared a night at an old general store converted to Katy Trail shelter in Tebbetts, MO. Interestingly, age was no barrier as we shared stories and questions of bike travel. Sandy noted he and I are both riding Surly LHT...we bonded.

Katy Trail
$5 per night for a hot shower, bed, and AC
Evening's entertainment

Another encounter of midway crossing occurred with meeting Stephan and Nina from 100 miles south of Stockholm, Sweden. They began in Portland, OR and are headed to Washington, DC. They are attempting to experience American rural and cities along their route.

Roads...Bicycling now through nine states makes me an expert on biking road conditions.

What is most impressive is all drivers...automobile, business vans, truckers...with very few exceptions, have given way to the lone bicyclist, moving frequently fully into the opposing lane. There have been the occasional "I'm with you guy" horn toot, and very few cryptic remarks from a passing car. It is impossible to understand any comment thrown across the front seat of a vehicle passing me doing 50 or 60 mph...thus I assume they are wishing me well, and wave in gratitude with a smile. The one taunt I actually heard was from the very first vehicle (a small, red pickup driven by a 20-30 something if I really have to state this) crossing the causeway onto Nahant at 7:00 on a Suday morning; I'm riding in the closed off lane undergoing repaving; the pickup driver in his most astute demeanor yells out his window presumably at me..."Idiot!"

Until I crossed the Ohio River into Kentucky, roads had wide shoulders that were good to ride on. Kentucky has no shoulders...they just slump...would have made my mother remark disapprovingly. Indiana wasnt much better and Illinois only slightly so, though on more major and newly widened roads wide shoulders were more frequent. Even with wide shoulders, I ride very close to the white fog line. It is amazing what a vehicle casts off. Folks, there is little remaining holding your car together! Don't push your luck! On dry days a bike tire will likely throw off debris. But in damp or wet conditions, the smallest metallic particle adheres to the rubber and on the next revolution begins to push itself relentlessly toward my freshly topped off tube. Thus on two rainy days when the traffic conditions were such that I felt obliged to ride further off the fog line I picked up a thin-as-a-needle fragment from a steel-belted tire in my rear wheel and another day a broken piece of a small spring that drilled its way into my front tire.

Somewhere in Kentucky. It's not always so flat.

I have mentioned bikeways and greenways before. When these are available on course they are a godsend...narrow lanes through rural country farms and villages, shaded often, following streams that emit a coolness on a hot day, giving one the ability to really let the mind wonder and not focus on passing 60 mph vehicles, very scenic. Do them!

Sandstone bluffs along Mississippi River flood plain
Mississippi River flood plain
Missouri morning

Of similar nature (and I must thank Google.maps for this), are the rural tracks of road usually in agriculture or forest settings. These are sometimes single lane roads. They also have been wonderful respites from even the less traffic minor roads I and groups like Adventure Cycling pick. Wide tires (mine are 700x37C) are necessary because Google doesn't always pick paved routes. Gravel roads haven't been long; usually less than five miles at a time. But gravel can at times be loose. There's also no promise you won't get lost, as Google has on one occasion shown a road that I climbed a step, long hill to take that ended at a gate. I'm not opposed to trespass when my depleted energy is at stake, but this mud hole ended shortly in a mess of timbering debris. There may have been a road back in the days of Davy Crocket but Davy didn't leave any blazes. I have learned to trust Google despite an occasional mishap (bicycling mode is still in beta) and the algorithms of the program take traffic and grade ascent into account. I must be careful to have iPad cell coverage or a screen shot since there will be many turns, and I must check my progress frequently. AppleMaps has been able to detect my location even when there is no identifiable cell signal. The two programs have worked well together to lead me through fantastic remote areas I would never venture into otherwise. Go for it!

Bog on back road
Loch Nessie for Jenny
Open road


For the bicycle traveler...

  • Cincinnati, Purple People's Bridge, Newport, KY, Covington, Dixie Highway, Florence, US 42 (shopping/mall traffic), to Ohio River, Warsaw, Carrolton (pick up Adventure Cyclying Underground Railroad map #3), General Butler State Resort Park, camp, meet John bicycling world
  • General Butler State Resort Park, Carrollton, cross into Indiana, Madison, Hanover, Lexington, Otisco, Charlestown, Jeffersonville, Clarksville, IN, KOA camp (across from Louisville, KY)
  • Clarksville, New Albany, Georgetown, Corydon, Brandenburg, meet Mike bicycling from San Francisco to Boston having departed June 1, Yellowbank Wildlife Management Area free camp
  • Yellowbank, Stephensport, Addison, Cloverport (where Lincoln at age of seven crossed from Kenticky to Illinois on log raft ferry; Cloverport also renowned for its coal oil resource with Prince of Wales investor shipping resource to England for refining as lamp oil until discovery of petroleum), Hawesville, Lewisport, Owensboro, Henderson, John James Aububon SP camp beside 24/7 noisy main highway and late to bed early to rise helicopter
  • Henderson, Geneva, Smith Mills, Alzey-Mt. Vernon Road (tree lined, narrow country lane leading to horseshoe curve natural state southern bank of Ohio River), Mill Pond Road (course gravel), Uniontown, Morganfield, Sturgis, Marion, Ferry, Cave-In-Rock, IL
  • Cave-in-Rock, Garden of the Gods SP
  • Garden of the Gods SP, Harrisburg and Local bike shop host Randy, Tunnel Hill State Bike Trail, Carrier Mills, back country lanes through old flat strip coal mine fields ondergping remediation, Dykersburg, Highway 13, Marion, Carter illegal, Lake Murphysboro SP
  • Lake Murphysboro SP, Chester, Fort Kaskaskia SP
  • Fort Kaskaskia SP, Ellis zgrove, Bluff Road, Prairie Fu zroche, Valmeyer, Fountain, Columbia, East Carondelet, Cohokia, Eads Bridge over the Missippii River to St. Louis, Missouri
Blackie, Lou, (and Robbie) at St. Louis arch
Family are some of the best people. Jenny, Molly, Andy, and I all met at Andy's place in St. Louis to check on how Robbie was fairing. On a hot, humid day, we went for a hike in the tick infested Missouri woods, sat in a cool side spring to a slow-flowing stream, and Andy lead us to little and big caves for natural air conditioning breezes. Many sites to be found in the woods, including...

It's a raccoon party!


  1. Made it to the Gateway! Congrats on your progress, looks like you picked a great route. Say hi to Blackie for me.

  2. Congratulations, Robbie! We met met outside of Brandenburg, Kentucky on July 10. You must have gotten soaked right after; I was lucky enough to duck into a market before the downpour began.

    1. Michael, thanks for the contact. Just as I turned the corner northward after leaving you a very strong wind kicked up and the downpour was heading in my direction. I had just enough time to turn about and head back to the garage overhang I briefly noticed in passing. The homeowner waved me over and invited me inside to wait out the storm. Some of this is noted in the blog above. I found that the summer's heaviest rains were in the east and with a more populated region, I usually copped out and sought shelter from the rains.

    2. ...and congratulations on the completion of your journey as well. Any memorable detail you wish to share?


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