My alarm went off at 6 AM and I decided to hang out by the shelter at Coleman Park to charge my phone, eat breakfast and watch more of “Erased” on Netflix. Surprisingly the slope of the hill in the woods I slept on last night gave me quite peaceful rest and I felt fully energized for the big day ahead.
I pedaled onward further into Chester, Illinois where I noticed the town was home to the cartoon icon “Popeye”. They literally plastered it on everything from signs to water towers. I thought to myself Popeye the Sailor Man, just a bad-ass character, so I can understand why they want to let the world know his hometown. I continued on Illinois 151 and snapped on my GoPRO. I knew crossing the Mississippi River would be a sight to capture on video. I also remember cyclists from a few weeks ago telling me you could not stop on the bridge as there was no sidewalk for walking pedestrians, which meant I could not grab a few photos. For being just a river the bridge spanned at least a few tenths of a mile. I tried my best to make it across in a fast manner as I could feel the breeze from the semis flying by me, which was scary enough on the road, let alone a narrow bridge.
As soon as I crossed, I made it into to Missouri, the 7th state I entered on my bicycle since I left for my trip over a month ago. I stopped at Route 66 and grabbed some bread and pop tarts for the road since they did not sell peanut butter. Then it hit me. A one lane bridge closed down about 6 miles ahead on Route H. The detour, an all gravel road, was not an option. I remember a group heading eastbound mentioning this detail and said the loop added 8 to 10 miles to get across the dinky, little span. I decided to take another chance and continued down the closed road. In my mind knowing the construction industry, most do not work on Saturday, do to the expensive overtime wages so I should be able to cross. I turned on my GoPRO again to capture the footage and my luck panned out for me. I grabbed my bike and dodge the “Road Closed” signs, steered around the construction equipment and pushed my bicycle up the steep hill to get across to the other side of the road. The creek spanned about 3 feet wide. I cannot comprehend how it takes to months to construct a simple bridge like that, but with work being slow, they tend to squeeze as much time out of a project as possible.
I continued on and felt my front tire, which lost quite a bit of air. I replaced the lining inside the rim, and popped in a thorn resistant tube. I got back on the road and stopped at the next gas station where I bought a few jars of peanut butter and the store clerk pointed me in the direction of “Al’s Place” in Farmington, Missouri. Al’s Place used to be an old county jail that the county rehabilitated into a TransAmerica Cyclists Inn. I called and got the unlock code from the local police department for a place to stay at night. At this point I needed to journey 40 more miles to get there, but the whole day was ahead of me. I continued to follow the Route 76 signs, which for some odd reason, reappeared as I entered into Missouri. I stumbled upon a shelter at a local baptist church where I decided to grab lunch and get some shade. Not more than 10 minutes passed and I met Harold Hill and old gentleman who told me to stick around for pie and ice cream. Harold worked as a stationary engineer in St. Louis. He explained to me what a stationary engineer did as their daily routine as I never heard of that position before and it caught my attention. Basically, he handled all the mechanical operations for steam production at his company. It involved maintenance of the boilers and chillers, which were used to regulate the humidity through heating and cooling. He would heat water through the huge valves about three times over the course of a few minutes and this would be done three times a day. He would also do chemical testing on the boilers to determine the different phosphate levels and regulate them accordingly. Air handlers on each floor were located on both sides of the room along with 14 thermostats and three smoke alarms. Typically inspections occurred at least once a month where the elevators would all go down to the bottom floor and lock and the emergency doors would unlock and open to make sure they were up to code.
I stuck around much longer than I expected. The man truly amazed me with his stories from back in the early 1900’s. He truly displayed the qualities of a nice, kindhearted individual. He told me how a few years back some cyclists broke down and the one bent his rim beyond repair. He drove them over 60 miles to Carbondale to the nearest bicycle shop for repairs. They gave him a Benjamin, which he did not accept. He also inquired about my plans once I made it to Washington and I told him I did not have any in particular. He told me of his hoboing years back in 1949 where he and his buddy took his pickup truck through Colorado, and Montana and found work while they traveled. They did this until they ran out of money and headed back for Missouri. This is my plan in a nut shell. He helped me out in any way he could. They gave me a huge serving of food which consisted of three wild hog sloppy Joe’s, a tuna sammich, Doritos, peach cobbler pie, ice cream and some for the road. I listened to them all sing about Jesus and God, and preach. Church and religion was not my scene, but their generosity to help a complete stranger, made me stay a while longer out of respect for their kindness.
They all gathered around and made a five minute prayer for me on my journey. I shook everyone’s hand and gave the women hugs as they handed me snacks for my journey. Then Harold tapped me on the shoulder and pointed his index finger at my front tire. It lay squished on the ground yet again. I took out the tube and patched it and realized the tubes read 20 to 23C…I needed 23 to 25C. I am not sure why people at these shops cannot read, but I have learned my lesson and will read the box before I purchase the next ones at the TransAm Cyclery tomorrow or Monday.
At this point it neared 5:30 PM. 11 steep miles remained before I ended up at Al’s Place and I did not have the proper tubes to get me there. Walking would leave me on the shoulder of the road at night with a headlamp, riding would leave me ruining my front rim or possibly hurting myself downhill. I ended up hitchhiking with a guy named Andy from the baptist group. One of the gentlemen there handed me a gospel book for my travels right before we loaded my bicycle into the bed of his pickup truck. I think I found what I am looking for on this trip. It’s not God in a sense of any form of religion. I will always remain Atheist/Agnostic. However, my faith in humanity and nice people definitely changed so far on this trip. The fact so many have helped me out knowing I am a complete stranger is truly fascinating and gives me faith in mankind.
I made it to Al’s Place, which is truly extraordinary. The couches, laundry room, television, refrigerator, microwave, stove, computer, all set up for cyclists biking through the trail. Depending on if this shop is open tomorrow I may stay until Monday. I am not in any rush to get to where I am headed. I will get there eventually in due time.