Missouri

Day 23: Stillness and Success: Murpheysboro, IL to Ozara, MO

60 miles (97 km) – Total so far: 1,134 miles (1,825 km)
Route 3 IL is designated as the ACA alternate route to get to the town of Chester, IL. Yesterday some locals had told us to avoid IL route 3 at all costs. Working on the premise that directions from non-bicyclists are always wrong, we decided to go for it. The route winds down some rolling hills into the Mississippi flood plane and eventually up onto the Mississippi river levee.

A land shark about a mile East of the Mississippi.

A land shark about a mile East of the Mississippi.

This route was an absolute treat. We spent 30 miles casually rolling along side by side. Bill and I had a chance to chat about topics ranging from deep philosophy to birds to the frivolous. A peaceful stillness permeates the land here and we stopped often to enjoy it. The highlight was witnessing four bald eagles up close. One of these majestic birds burst out of the brush just next to the road and flew off towards the great river to our West. The only response to such a sight is to stop pedaling and watch in respectful silence.

The flood planes just East of the Mississippi river and South of Chester, IL

The flood planes just East of the Mississippi river and South of Chester, IL

Route 3 turned out to be very heavily trafficked, but some fluke of timing brought us there as the traffic was all going the opposite way. For the seven miles of our journey we saw about 50 coal trucks rumbling down the opposite direction at high speed. Even having them on the other side of the road is intimidating, so we bailed off route 3 and took the “truck bypass” up towards Chester and the bridge across the Mississippi. Turns out no trucks use the truck bypass, so this turned out to be a stellar idea.

Coal is shockingly black and sharply contrasts with the fertile lands surrounding.

Coal is shockingly black and sharply contrasts with the fertile lands surrounding.

Coal being unloaded from a train to be transferred to barges on the Mississippi river.

Coal being unloaded from a train to be transferred to barges on the Mississippi river.

Just before crossing the Mississippi we stopped at the IL/Chester welcome center. A kind woman there was very concerned for us riding across this narrow bridge on our bikes. So, she called the chief of police, who came down to the bridge to give us an escort across. I’m glad I had the appropriate pomp and circumstance because I’m extremely proud of the following fact: I rode my bike from the Atlantic Ocean across the Mississippi River! Woohoo!

The Mississippi river and bridge at Chester

The Mississippi river and bridge at Chester

The Mississippi river and bridge at Chester

The Mississippi river and bridge at Chester

Bill and Officer Ryan, our escort across the Mississippi River

Bill and Officer Ryan, our escort across the Mississippi River

About to cross the great river.

About to cross the great river.

 Low on provisions we pulled into a gas station across the river to grab a hot dog, some fruit, and a bunch of bars of various varieties. Just as we were finishing up our snack a couple of tourers came scooting by from having just crossed the Mississippi river. We met Jess and Twan and struck up an immediate camaraderie for having accomplished our crossing of the great river.

The final 10 miles today were the start of the Ozark mountains. These hills are getting pretty serious, but all four bikers made it to the top of each with smiles intact. So far Missouri is beautiful. I’m looking forward to the hill country over the next couple of days. Also, my friend Janet sent me this limerick, which may prove prophetic:

There once was a man named Mike
Who was traveling America by bike
He’s not in a hurry
But when he gets to Missouri
I hope he finds breakfasts to like

I met Jess just as we crossed into Missouri. I had been hearing that I'm just a day behind her from shopkeepers for the first two weeks.

I met Jess just as we crossed into Missouri. I had been hearing that I’m just a day behind her from shopkeepers for the first two weeks.

Twan really likes flavored water!

Twan really likes flavored water!

Jess and Twan at the top of a serious hill at the start of the Ozarks.

Jess and Twan at the top of a serious hill at the start of the Ozarks.