Monday, May 31, 2010

Adios Kentucky, Hola Illinois!!

Before I forget, yes Lloyd, I toured the Heaven Hill Bourbon Distillery in Bardstown, KY. You know I did it because I knew you'd kill me if I was camping 1/4 mile away from a bourbon distillery and didn't go check it out. No, I didn't like the bourbon tasters they gave me, but it was very interesting to learn about the history of bourbon and how bourbon is made. So, bottom line, your Ten High is still safe when I'm in the house... catch up on recent hot TransAm happenings:

I neglected to take a rest day after the epic 120 mile ride, even though I was in a relatively good place for it. The Sebree, Kentucky First Baptist church hostel was comfortable, clean, and generously run by Bob and Violet, the pastor and his wife. However, I already had it in my head that I needed to get to Carbondale, IL as quickly as possible in order to catch up with Nick for a day, as well as to be able to have my rest day in a proper motel with actual civilization nearby (including a bike shop), rather than a church basement in the middle of nowhere. And, surprisingly, my legs still felt somewhat peppy the next morning.

So, I rolled on. The ride from Sebree, KY to Elizabethtown, IL was about 70 miles and the heat and humidity once again proved to be somewhat relentless.

I stopped for a little lunch in Marion, KY and to cool off and rest. After a McDonald's ice cream cone and a club sandwich at the Main Street corner cafe, I took a little snooze in the town gazebo.

After Marion, the road decended over 12 miles down to the Ohio River, passing through a lot of Amish farmland along the way. I passed about 5-6 Amish horse-drawn buggies and all of the folks in the carts I passed were extremely friendly and waved as I zoomed quickly by. Unfortunately, because it was a Sunday, none of their farms/stores were open for me to check out.

There is no bridge from Kentucky to Illinois at the place where the TransAm trail reaches the the Ohio River so I hopped on the free ferry. It's a 3 minute ride and one arrives in Cave-in-Rock, IL. There literally is a large cave which over the years has sheltered stranded travelers, killers, robbers, tax evaders, and those trying to get out of the merciless heat and humidity. Lewis and Clark even crossed the river there.

When I arrived in Elizabethtown, IL, I was blindsided by the beauty of the place. It's a tiny, tiny town of about 300 people, and is situated about 10 miles downstream from Cave-In-Rock. I was immediately drawn to an area on the river with a hotel and gazebo and a gorgeous view. I actually felt homesick at that moment; the view reminded me of what one sees when first entering the Columbia River Gorge from the west on Interstate 84 in Oregon.

I walked up onto the porch at the Rose Hotel and was greeted by Sandy, the owner (actually, she leases the hotel from the State of Illinois because it is a historical property that cannot be purchased). Although I was not a guest with a reservation, she immediately proved to be a sweet and generous soul, telling me that I could sleep either in my tent on the grass or under the gazebo, without charge. And, she said, she'd leave the side door open for the night so if it stormed, I was welcome to come inside and sleep in the dining room!

As it turns out, Sandy is a member of the Vinyard family who were having their 200 year family reunion in Elizabethtown over the Memorial Day weekend. As Sandy and I were talking, several other family members joined us on the porch and they all seemed to be quite interested in my journey. We chatted for about a half hour and then I said needed to get going down to the river for dinner at the floating dock restaurant (it was only a 30 second walk away). As it turns out, all of the Vinyards except for Sandy were also going to dinner and they asked if they could join me. I said "of course", and they showed up a few minutes later; we had the waitstaff push a couple of tables together for us.

What a wonderful group of people the Vinyards turned out to be. Seated next to me in the photo below there's Uncle Jay from Amarillo TX, the patriarchal figure of the family, who is 87 years old but doesn't look a day over 70. He generously insisted on buying everyone's dinner, including mine. Jay's sister Jenny is next to him and lives in Nebraska. Across from me are Jim and Jenny, husband and wife, from Mobile AL; Jenny is the older Jenny's daughter. Finally, the young guy in the front of the picture is Paul Vinyard, a 23 year old reserve Marine from Albuquerque NM. Paul is learning all he can from the Marine reserve school classes and is hoping to return to full-time Marine duty at anytime. We had a great conversation over about an hour and a half and they brought me into their fold just like I was one of their own. (To the Vinyards: thank you so much for all of your generosity, time, and conversation. Traveling alone can be difficult and it was very special to be included as a part of a great group, even if for a short time.)

After dinner, I headed back up to the Rose Hotel's gazebo area; it was just after sunset. It had stormed in the distance during dinner and there was a beautiful partial rainbow right over the gazebo which seemed to be beckoning me to sleep under it after a long, hot day in the saddle. I wheeled my bike into the gazebo with me, blew up my sleeping pad, and laid down in my silk sleeping sack, the river breeze gently cooling me and and whispering in my ear as I fell into a deep slumber.

Starting fairly early in the a.m. is becoming crucial if the ride is to be a) somewhat comfortable, and b) of any real distance. It's easy to get bored out there and riding sometimes seems like work. Riding earlier in the morning is not only cooler, but the light hits the earth at a shallower angle and makes for more beautiful contrasts. I liked seeing my shadow on the grass embankment next to the road this morning:

And, this photo at Little Grassy Lake, just outside of Carbondale, made me laugh because of the reference to "sunshine", given that it was about 5 minutes before I got soaked in a thundershower. (If you look closely above the top tube of my bike, you'll see that not everyone agrees with such sunny sentiments.)

Tonight, I sit in the Carbondale EconoLodge reunited with Nick. We just walked over to Applebees and had a fairly lame dinner of buffalo chicken wings, three-cheese pasta, and raspberry lemonade. While inside, however, a HUGE thunderstorm hit and we ate very slooooooooooooowly so that we wouldn't get drenched on the 1/2 mile walk back to the hotel. We definitely picked the perfect amount of time to wait, though, because upon exiting the restaurant we were greeted with the most perfect and gorgeous rainbow that EITHER of us had EVER seen..and wouldn't you know that neither one of us had brought a camera or even a cell phone with which to capture such perfection? You'll just have to trust me.

I'm now off for another beer and to watch hockey with Nick. And then a cinnamon/sugar bagel with raspberry cream cheese. Tomorrow is my rest day and Nick is leaving, but Tara (the other cyclist gal, the one with the back problems) has arrived in Carbondale by car, a few days earlier than her husband Stefaan, and she and I will meet up tomorrow and share in the laziness of a non-ride day.

Ahhhhhhhhhhhh...a soft, warm bed is MINE tonight. Small pleasures, after > 1250 miles on a bike.

Finally, I couldn't resist this shot as I rode along one solitary morning: