TransAm Bike Tour Recap: Illinois & Missouri

About to cross the great river.

Leading up to the launch of my memoir Hangry: A Startup Journey, each month I’m releasing a state-by-state recap.

For the original post, click on any Day number heading.

Day 22: Paducah, KY to Murphysboro, IL

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. I’m happy for the company.

Party in Paducah! What What!
Party in Paducah! What What!

We enjoyed dinner at Shandy’s, which takes its name from the eponymous summer beverage of 1 part lemonade and 3 parts beer. Shandy’s provided the fuel Bill and I needed to get started crazy early in the morning in an effort to beat the heat. We approached the Ohio Paducah bridge. It was almost a mile long, several hundred feet up, and had a steel grate “floor.” Bill shouted, “don’t look down.” So I did.

Make some Illinoise!
Make some Illinoise!

Illinois promptly greeted us with a welcome sign and bike trails. 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.

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. After a large meal at The Hungry Bear Cafe, we felt weighed down as the hills worsened. After a few more legitimately tough hills, we arrived in the town of Alto Pass.

I could have picked another less hilly route. I decided to go for scenic. 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 from Alto Pass winery.
Jackie from Alto Pass winery.

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.

Day 23: Murpheysboro, IL to Ozora, MO

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 Route 3 IL at all costs. I’ve found directions from non-bicyclists are always wrong, so we decided to go for it. It turns out 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.

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.” 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.

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. 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!

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.

We grabbed some provisions at a local gas station. 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.

Day 24: Ozora to Centerville

The joy of today’s four-mile 1200-foot descent is incomparable to anything I’ve experienced in life before. Today I felt alive, joyful, and ecstatic. But to get there I had to journey through tired, sore, determined, sweaty, scared and intimidated.

We turned onto Highway P at Ozara, Missouri. Highway P has been the subject of much trepidation for riders in front of us on the TransAm because of the big orange sign saying “Highway P Closed 5 miles ahead.” Fortunately, five separate riders spread out over the 3 days in front of us on the trail have blogged that they were able to get through.

HIghway P is very passable. Pay no attention to the signs and barriers.
HIghway P is very passable. Pay no attention to the signs and barriers.
The beautiful Ozarks.
The beautiful Ozarks.

The Ozarks are stunningly beautiful. Rolling hills gradually give way to rolling mountains. Pastoral scenes abound. Apparently, every touring cyclist compares this section of the trip to riding on a roller coaster. Every single one of them is correct. Thrilling downhills turn into 75% of the next uphill. I passed 40 mph about half a dozen times today. Woohoo!

A tough but rewarding morning got us into Farmington where we joined Jess and Tuan at Bauhaus Kaffee. After a ridiculous amount of food and 20 oz americano, we were well fueled for some of the toughest riding of the trip.

Long and steep ascents. Over the mountains and through the woods, in grandmother gear we go.

Then the payoff. A massively long descent through mildly windy roads and little traffic. It was magical and wonderful. We whooped and huzzahed. We hollered and cavorted. It was pure joy powered by an endorphin and caffeine overload. Amazing.

After the 65-mile make, we turned off into a state park to get a cabin and some eats. After grabbing whatever we could find at the food store, we literally ate everything thing we could, scoffing at the idea of counting calories. Around 4 o’clock, we moseyed over to the cabins to check-in.

No. Cabins. Available.

The closest town is 15 miles away. Uphill. Very uphill. Uggggggggggghhhhhhhhh……..

A one-bar cell phone call to the town of Centerville confirmed they had a room available at the small inn.

Oh! Zarks! The next 15 miles were very challenging terrain. About 2 miles from town as we climbed our 797th big hill of the day, Bill yells up to me “moderately rugged!” in reference to the descriptor from the ACA maps. To which I reply “You know what: the guy who wrote that description is a total A#@HOLE!”

Bill started laughing so hard that he almost fell off his bike. We had to stop for five minutes as we just laughed and laughed and laughed.

Pre-order my new book

Day 25: Centerville to Eminence

The 12 hills of Oh! Zarks!
(Sung to the tune of “12 Days of Christmas”)

On the 25th day of my bike ride, the Ozarks gave to me: 12 grinding uphills, 11 screaming downhills, 10 Clif bars, 9 bottles drunk, 8 breaks for peeing, 7 Trucks a rumbling, 6 canines chasing… A 5 cookie break!!! 4 rain showers, 3 crossed rivers, 2 tired bikers, and a vulture circling ominously above!

12 Grinding Uphills: In an effort to check off our progress, I numbered our 4.5-8.5% grade hills. Bill didn’t appreciate me telling him that each next hill would be worse than the current.

11 Screaming Downhills: I maxed out at 43 mph before hitting the brakes and passed 40 mph at least 5 times today. It was definitely more spiking hills than rolling hills.


10 Clif Bars: It’s not possible to eat enough food to replace the calories burnt on a day like this. We tried by eating Clif bars, fruit, even cookies! I might have two dinners tonight.

9 Bottles Drunk: We both went through all our water from Centerville to Ellington, and again to Eminence. We even went through our emergency supply of Gatorade.

8 Breaks for Peeing: This is probably related to the incredible quantities of water we were drinking.

7 Trucks a Rumbling: About 7 beastly logging trucks passed us. The drivers don’t slow down for anything. Something about this area makes drivers go at maximum speed through every turn.

Logging trucks are scary. But, my nephew will love the picture, so I’m glad they used this road. –Near Eminence, MO

6 Canines Chasing: This puts my total dog chasing around 110. Apparently, dogs love chasing recumbent bikes. Now I just speed up and bring my whistle and pepper spray to the ready.

…. A 5 Cookie Break: I managed to keep half a Nalgene bottle full of milk cold. We enjoyed this wonderfully refreshing beverage accompanied with some cookies that I had carried with me to celebrate the cresting of hill seven.

4 Rain Showers: Most of the day was overcast with drizzly light showers on and off. It felt good, but my cotton shirt didn’t like the combo of sweat and rain. I may be forced to get some lycra…something I’ve avoided like the plague.

3 Crossed Rivers: I haven’t actually seen many rivers yet. Rivers are usually at the bottom of valleys, which implies I’m at maximum speed. It would take an epic emergency to hit the breaks right before an uphill.

2 Tired Bikers: This section has been described as the hardest part of the ACA trail and I believe it. This section clocks in at a total climb of 66 average vertical feet per mile. The implication: The hills are STEEP!

And a Vulture Circling Ominously Above: Birds of prey seem disproportionately interested in our progress. I hope this does not continue into a desert climates.

Day 26: Eminence to Houston

After a hearty breakfast at our B&B, we hit the road late (8:30 am). With fresh legs, we conquer two steep uphills followed by an exhilarating downhill. The road then straightened out into a series of delightful ups and downs. Rather than chatting much, we listen to the most melodramatic playlist I could cobble together on my scrappy portable speaker.

Top O' the Oh! Zarks! to ya! -- West of Eminence, MO
Top O’ the Oh! Zarks! to ya! — West of Eminence, MO

Some of the songs included Somewhere Over the Rainbow/What a Wonderful World by Israel Kamakawiwo’ole, Hallelujah by Rufus Wainwright, Breathe Me by Sia, Wake Me Up by Avicii, and Running on Empty by Jackson Browne (The background song for Forrest Gump’s run across the US… more on Forrest Gump later).

Cruising along with big smiles on our faces, we came across a welcoming sign pointing to a Missouri conservation department fire tower. Indeed, it towered. I’m not great with heights, so of course, I went up. Something about touring demands we get out of our comfort zones.

Entering the town of Summersville, MO, Bill and I spent about an hour. Our delay is due to a common phenomenon on the trail: we met people. What would have been quick and casual conversations in “real life” take on a gravitas during this experience that is difficult to understand. The details of these not-so-random conversations aren’t so much what I find philosophical fascinating.

What is it about the journey that I’m on that invites total strangers to share details of their personal lives with me? Is it that our brief relationship portrays that of a confessor of sorts? Or is it something simpler: I simply have the time to listen.

Coming across a fellow tourer I haven’t seen in a while is like meeting up with a long-lost cousin. There’s a familiarity that I don’t find traveling from town to town. It’s a consistency I find myself wrestling with as I consider my pace in connecting with them along the trail.

Bill has found his happy place. The 12 hills of Oh! Zarks! are a distant memory.
Bill has found his happy place. The 12 hills of Oh! Zarks! are a distant memory.

Bill and I were pretty moved by our encounters in Summersville. Coasting out of town, we enjoyed 20 miles of wonderful rolling hills and beautiful land. At the top of a particularly beautiful rise, Bill and I got off our bikes and enjoyed the view in silence for a time. The world stopped for a spell. It was magical.

I was lucky enough to snap a shot of Bill as he came out of his reverie and upended his water on his head to cool down. He is happy.

Day 27: Houston to Marshfield

Staying in a motel is great because they are easy to get out of quickly. Everything is right there. No B&B host to chat to while they make breakfast. No tent to roll up. Bill and I got on the road early enough to see the sunrise and the cool morning weather. I could get used to waking up to this:

The hills were rolly-er than yesterday, but still pretty manageable. Some kind of craziness took over Bill after a great breakfast in Hartville. He was averaging 15-18 mph on the uphills! He had a couple of stories on the uphills, which were great. He also asked a few questions. At one point I yelled…”Save it for the top Bill!” Which made us both burst into a fit of giggles and also made me subject to some gentle macho mocking.

Mile after mile of wildflowers made the ride today extra pleasant. Of course, constantly stopping to take pictures slowed us down further.

Grand views between Houston, MO and Marshfield, MO
Grand views between Houston, MO and Marshfield, MO

We met up with a couple of other tourers toward the end of the day. Geoffrey is from Germany and the first Eastbound cyclist we’ve met. Then we met Brian, whom we’d heard about for several days from other cyclists and townsfolk. The final treat for the day was the Mexican restaurant next to our motel in Marshfield. El Churro makes a tasty margarita.

Day 28: Marshfield to Everton

Today marks the end of an era. After a short 20-mile ride, we make it to Springfield where Bill hopped into a rental car to drive back home. Having Bill along for the last week, especially in the challenging Ozarks, really buoyed my spirits. At the top of the last gasp of the Ozarks, Bill and I sat huffing and puffing. That literal uphill coincided with a metaphorical one.

The simple pleasure of riding with a buddy brought my mood back up and I spent some time thinking about how grateful I was for the time with Bill. When we arrived at the rental shop, we hugged it out. Twice. I peeled myself away and continued toward the Pacific.

So long old buddy old pal!
So long old buddy old pal!

I made my way to Route 66, which may be wonderful if you’re in a car, but on a bike, it’s an invitation to get run over in a hurry. Fortunately, Google Maps routed me off US 66 and onto a bike path. I literally thanked God.

George and Rada from Springfield on a sweet tandem recumbent trike.
George and Rada from Springfield on a sweet tandem recumbent trike.

In addition to the lovely terrain, I met another two recumbent riders out for day trips. George and Rada had a tandem recumbent trike, an incredibly rare beast. Maybe if I buy one of these, I’ll get Christine to join me for my next trip.

The unexpected joy of a pleasant bike trail, unexpected meetings, and good conversation gave me a good reminder that the TransAm needn’t be unpleasant or lonely.

At the end of the day, I arrived at a summertime cyclist haven, used as a hunting lodge other times of the year. Most of the decoration celebrates blasting birds out of the sky with shotguns. I took 20 minutes to enjoy some meditative silence before raiding the pantry. Raisin Bran and chocolate soy milk – the perfect post-ride snack.

Seams reasonable.
Seams reasonable.

Pre-order my new book

Published by Mike Evans

Founder of Founded GrubHub in 2004. Rode my bike across the US. Wrote a sci-fi novel.

Leave a Reply

%d bloggers like this: