80 miles (129 km) – Total so far: 1,074 miles (1,728 km)
Yesterday evening in Paducah, I met up with some longtime friends as well as met a new one. I’ve known Wenda and Bill for the last 10 years, and Grace and I got on like we’ve known each other for 20. Bill is joining me for the next 500 or so miles of the bike trip. Being an extreme extrovert, I say solitude schmolitude and I’m happy for the company.
We enjoyed a lovely dinner at Shandy’s. Shandy’s takes its name from the eponymous summer beverage of 1 part lemonade 3 parts beer. I’ve never been to a place that makes their own Shandys (Shandies? Shandei?) but this place seemed legit. Even going so far as to use a local microbrew for the 3 parts beer. The experience was all the more memorable for being served by Matthew Mcconaughey’s doppelganger… in voice if not in appearance.
Shandy’s provided the fuel Bill and I needed to get started crazy early in the morning in an effort to beat the heat. A couple miles back East (boo!) into the town proper delivered us to the base of the Ohio Paducah bridge. The bridge was almost a mile long, several hundred feet up, and had a steel grate “floor”. Bill shouted “don’t look down.” So I did.
Illinois promptly greeted us with a welcome sign and bike trails. The bike route signs meandered through the roads of the first town across the Ohio river before turning into a proper bike trail. 20+ miles of flat straight natural biking paradise.
All downhills and bike trails come to an end, but this transition was particularly gentle. We road another 30 miles on gently rolling country roads. The peace and quiet of Southwestern Illinois is intoxicating. All we heard was the gentle calls of wildlife not trying to chase and eat us. In addition to hearing lots of birds, cows, and horses we saw turtles, eagles, deer, and an otter, and even a pretty rare bird: an indigo bunting. I enjoy having an amateur ornithologist along to tell me about all the rare birds he saw that I missed.
I had promised Bill some easy 45-55 mile days. But, since we got to our 55 mile mark of Anna, IL before 11:00 Bill urged us onward towards the thriving metropolis of Murphysboro. To fuel the second stage of the journey we stopped at the Hungry Bear Cafe. I ate a large country fried steak, eggs, hash browns, biscuits and gravy. Bill had a similarly massive amount of victuals. Things got a little hairy after being weighed down by this monstrous meal and the hills started to get worse. The ornithologist pointed out the surprisingly large number of vultures circling above. I pointed out that they hadn’t been a problem before he showed up, and encouraged him to look neither old, nor weak, nor in need of culling.
After a few more legitimately tough hills, we arrived in the town of Alto Pass. The facts that “Pass” is in the name of the town and that the road through is called Skyline Ridge should have alerted us to the fact that it was going to be hilly. Bill doesn’t know this yet, but I could have picked another less hilly route. I decided to go for scenic. The exact moment he reads this, I’m sure he’ll let me know what he thinks of my navigation. Fortunately, my gamble paid off. As we started to pass a lovely and inviting winery I shouted back to Bill, “Wine Tasting?” He readily agreed and we enjoyed a bit of Illinois’ finest wines served to us by our host Jackie. Jackie then proceeded to give us directions to the nearest brewery for some more imbibing.
Having passed on a drunken trip exceeding 80 miles, we rolled into Murphysboro. I’m officially back on the TransAm trail. Almost immediately we encountered an old brick road that goes by the clever name of “Old Brick Road”.
The day was abundantly rich in variety. We had trails, highways, rural roads, bridges, and brick roads. We had flat, and hilly roads. We had curvy and straight roads. We had some peaceful moments and also got chased by three or four dogs. As you can see by the before and after below, Bill looks ready to do another 80 or so tomorrow.