Thursday, June 3, 2010

"Hey, ya wanna cold beeeeeeeeeeeeer???"

I was a lazy sloth in Carbondale, IL. It was my first true rest day in 2 weeks so I took full advantage of it...I swam, I watched TV, I took naps, I ate ice cream, and I only got out of my motel bed when I needed to go to the bike shop or out for food. I even found Rogue beers in the 22 oz. bottles at the liquor store next door to the EconoLodge where I was staying. I was also able to get, between the THREE bike shops on the SAME block, all of the supplies and bike maintenance that I needed...finally! It had been over 650 miles on my route since I'd been in a town with a bike shop; you'd think that with all the TransAm cyclists coming along this route there'd be bike shops in more towns, regardless of how remote they are. C'est la vie.

It took a while for my legs to get used to pedaling a bike again when I left Carbondale after the rest day. Fortunately it was moderately flat for the first 15 miles or so I got back into the groove fairly quickly. When the ride started to get a little hot, humid, and hilly (as it ALWAYS seems to do out here in the east and midwest U.S.), I took it easy because I know the Ozark mountains are lurking in Missouri and I'll be in them in a couple of days and I'll want my legs to be as fresh as possible.

After climbing what seemed to be the longest hill ever, I began careening down the other side with glee because the road construction crew had just laid the smoothest asphalt ever. As any cyclist knows, going downhill really fast on smooth, new asphalt is the best feeling ever and not a place that one would ever willingly stop. But, as my speedometer hit about 30 mph, I passed a pickup truck stopped on the other side of the road at a mailbox and the guy yelled out at me as I whizzed by "hey, ya wanna cold beeeeeeeeeeeer??!!" As I continued downhill, I turned my head and yelled back "what?! are you serious?!?!?!?!" When he yelled "yes!!", I applied the brakes in the middle of the delicious downhill and rode back up to find out what this good samaritan had in mind. He said that he lived about 1/4 mile down the gravel road right there and that he had some cold beer in his garage if I wanted one. Not being one to turn down such a generous offer by a total stranger, I rode my bike down the driveway and was welcomed onto the property of Kenny and Jan Bell.

Jan was out in her garden pulling weeds and tending to her flowers and waved as I came by. By the time I had unclipped from my pedals, Kenny was ready with beers in cozies (sp?) and some lawn chairs. We sat outside under a shade tree, Jan and I in chairs and Kenny in the swing, drinking our 'Stag' beers and getting to know each other. Ironically, it turns out that they have a son who lives just outside of Vancouver, WA, not far from where I live. And, like me, Kenny and Jan have been bitten by the travel bug; they've been to EVERY U.S. state with the exception of Alaska, which they plan to visit next year! They've been married for over 50 years and it was quite fun to watch them interact. Both were obviously intelligent, and Kenny seemed to be a jokester who always had a smart line, while Jan seemed to be more quiet and serious, until she needed to shut Kenny up, at which time she would deliver a smart line of her own that stopped him in his tracks. I did decline a second 'Stag' but accepted an A&W Root Beer. They were going to town to buy a new dishwasher and invited me along for dinner but I needed to get going as it was getting fairly late in the day and I still had some miles to ride to get to my next destination.

Kenny filled my water bottles from his well, while I asked if there was a restroom I could use. "Number one or number two?" he inquired. Laughing, I managed to get out "number one". He pointed me in the direction of an outhouse with a crescent moon on it next to the garage and as I headed across the grass, he yelled out to me to "watch out for them black snakes. 'S liable to be one curled up right there on the floor inside. I'm serious now." am I supposed to pee when I'm worried about snakes in the outhouse? Somehow I managed, and I saw no long, scary snakes. We shook hands and I left, my thirst quenched and my soul satisfied after a great one-hour experience shared with generous total strangers.

After b.s.'ing with the Bells, the ride to Chester, IL only took me a couple of hours. As many of the towns I have passed through along way have had, Chester had a place where cyclists can sleep for free; the Fraternal Order of the Eagles has built a cyclists' bunkhouse behind their building that has nine simple bunks. You have to use your own sleeping bag and sleeping pad, but the tiny building is covered, has air conditioning, has a light, and is free! Come to think of it, that's a great moneymaking idea on the Eagles' part because once a cyclist is camped there, it's really easy to go inside and buy their food and beer, which I of course did. A generous Eagle by the name of Val bought me a beer and he and I talked for quite a while about random things. The sweet and cute bartender Sarah treated me very kindly and loved hearing stories about and seeing photos of little Buck the Light Fantastic.

Chester, IL was the birthplace of E.C. Sager, the creator of Popeye the Sailor Man and Chester has latched onto that with all it has. Everywhere you go in that tiny town is a Popeye statue, mural, sign, or something else indicating that you have arrived in Popeyeland.

After doing a load of laundry at the local laundromat and having dinner and a beer at the Eagles' place, it was time for bed. But, as I was heading across the parking lot to where the bunkhouse is, I was warmly greeted again by a carney guy that had been friendly several times earlier that night when we'd passed each other. (The carnival had come to Chester for the Eagles' annual party/fundraiser and were setting up to open the carnival the following day.) This time the guy was extra wasted because he'd been drinking all night, but he said he'd love to talk to me about bicycling and invited me over to have a beer and hang with his group of carnival people. He was really nice so I took him up on it; the hanging out didn't last long though because a) he was wasted and couldn't really hold much of a conversation, b) his group of carney friends were really not social with me in any way and were generally quite abrasive, and c) I was tired and not in the mood to try to force good conversation with people that no interest in talking to me. I have heard the carney stereotypes before, such as being unhealthy, socially inept, and generally not well-behaved; now, from this small sample size, I can say that I understand why these stereotypes have come about. Many of these folks were missing multiple teeth; most were either really fat and eating a lot, or really skinny and smoking a lot; most were very drunk; all were peppering their sentences with multiple and repeated cusswords; and really most didn't seem to be able to relate to someone that wasn't part of their group. I tried for a while, but it was pointless and I just went to bed about 15 minutes after I sat down with them. Sadly or intelligently (I am not sure which), I didn't really trust the carnival group and I pulled my bike into the bunkhouse with me and locked myself in for the night.

In the morning, I woke early and was out on the road before the heat found its way to the air. Chester is the place on the TransAm trail where we cross the Mississippi River, so before I knew it, I was at the bridge (which was all torn up with construction) and ready to cross into Missouri.

Today's ride after crossing the Missippi has been a difficult one for some reason. The heat and humidity have been no worse than other days on the trip; and the hills, while challenging, haven't been any steeper or longer than those I've already done. I don't have a reason, but I just felt I had to listen to my body and kind of take it easy today. So, at one point in the mid-day sun, I pulled over and took a 1.5 hour nap on a picnic table under a church shelter. Then, in my post-nap grogginess, about 1/3 of a mile up the road, I could've sworn I was passing a MICROBREWERY. "There's no way that this could be real", I thought, but it was. So, only 1/3 mile after a long nap, I stopped for another hour and drank a sample platter of the locally microbrewed beer and a delicious microbrewed root beer. Hey...gotta listen to your body, right?

After that second pit stop, it took me a good five miles to get feeling good again, but then I started to cruise and right when I hit my stride 15 miles later, I arrived at my destination for the night...Al's Place, the TransAm Trail Inn. The old Farmington, IL jail has been converted into cyclists' hostel.

The place is incredibly nice compared to everything else I've seen on the road. There are actual beds with actual mattresses, clean linens, laundry, showers, soda/water, cable TV, a computer with internet access (at which I sit right now), couches, and all of this is in a really cool old renovated brick building. All you have to do is arrive, call the police station, get the lock code to the front door, and come in and make yourself at home. There is a suggested $20/night donation per person and a metal box on the wall will accept your money. The city manager let himself in a little while ago and generously gave me a tour, the history of the building (as I said, it was a jail), the history of the name (Al was a beloved local cyclist who died of cancer a few years ago), and a good Midwest welcome with tips about local roads to ride/avoid.

Now, though I've been snacking on watermelon and microwave popcorn, it's time to go get a proper dinner to fuel up for tomorrow's supposedly grueling beginning to the Ozark mountain, goodnight!


The G Family said...

D man, loving the blog and the adventure. Please be careful, going 1/4 mi. up a road with a stranger and hanging with a drunk carney... you have been very lucky and I pray you continue to be. I hate to be a kill joy but I have seen the best and the worst in people. And if you hear banjos: RUN!

Brain Clots said...

I echo that sentiment. That's always how the story begins, "Hey, ride up here off the road and I'll give you a cold beer", he said while licking his sharp fangs.

Just stay safe, big man. You're my hero.

Dennis Howe said...

Boys: You gotta a) trust that humanity is generally good, and b) trust your instincts.

jackie said...

Your "spontaneous encounters" just remind me of the movie, "Motel Hell," where victims were made into sausages! "It takes all kinds of make Farmer Vincents fritters!"

Kenny & Jan sound like the nicest people. Reminds me of the neighbors I grew up with on the farm in Stoughton, WI... Martha & Al.

Keep the stories coming, as I have truly enjoyed every one!