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Day 18: Quincy to Nauvoo

Friday, June 26th, 2009

Quincy, IL to Nauvoo, IL (50 mi / 80 km)

Last night as I was walking back to our tent from my shower, the crescent moon, the fireflies, and the soft glow of Amy’s headlamp filtering through the tent combined to make quite a picturesque image. This was contrasted by the ensuing dialogue at our neighbors’ tent.

Apparently, one of the guys was on the phone with his wife, and they were arguing about money. Bad timing for this guy, who had been working outside all day in the heat and hadn’t had a shower or dinner yet (it was about 10:30 at this point in time). This was the same f-bomb guy who had kept us up a bit the previous night, and boy did he drop them fast and hard in this conversation. As he reached a fever pitch, Amy predicted that he was going to throw his cell phone. A few minutes later… thwack!

Things quieted down not too long after that and we got to sleep.

We wake up early with the alarm, pack up, and get going, retracing out steps from yesterday for the first 8 miles. No more broken spokes so far! I often get a look from Amy if I say something like that on the road, but I usually reply that I’m not superstitious 🙂

The roads are getting a bit more hilly as we continue up the Illinois side of the Mississippi river bottoms. At one point we see a few deer bounding along the edge of a cornfield. A very cool sight, familiar to all who live here, but fresh to me; they always look like they’re having a good time, seeing who can jump higher.

As the road leads us back to the edge of the river, we enter Warsaw, wondering if there really is a Main St ahead, as the road is narrowing and degrades in quality. I ask some ladies out for a morning walk, and they say keep on going, you can’t miss it.

Indeed, they are correct, as the road basically dead ends into a factory of some kind by the river. We turn the corner and behold a huge hill, way too steep to pedal up. So, we walk our bikes up the hill… Not an easy task either.

Warsaw looks like a ghost town, although a postman on foot directs us toward the Gingerbread House Bakery for breakfast. In no way does this look like a bakery, although there are a few crusty old donuts, cookies, and sparse gingerbread decorations. It’s a bakery only in name, but they serve breakfast and we eat there with a bunch of motorcyclists and a few locals. I order a tall stack of peach pancakes, and though there are only four, they are huge, served up on a styrofoam plate, and I can only get through half of them, and even that leaves me feeling like I overate. We wrap up the rest for later, refill our water, and head on out.

As we near Nauvoo, the road gets hillier. This part of the river doesn’t have any bottoms, due to dams I think, so the road is up on the bluffs. It’s a tiring but fun ride (for me at least), up and down, sandwiched between scenic overlooks on the left and steep bluffs on the right.

We make it to a sign for Camp Nauvoo, one potential location for spending the night, and after checking out the prices on the iPhone – $3 per person, wifi and showers included! – we walk our bikes up the steep hill that leads to the camp. At the top of the first hill, another hill, and no camp in sight yet. I bike the next hill as Amy walks it, and then she waits as I bike a third hill to finally make it to the entrance. Devastating! The entire camp has been reserved for a family reunion! Grumble grumble and back down the three hills I had just spent so much energy climbing.

The iphone lets us know that there’s a state park not too much further ahead, so we take off again, a few more hills and then we’re there. More hills to climb to get up to the camping area. Amy stops at the historical society building for a break and I go looking for someone to register with.

No one’s at the booth, but they have instructions for leaving your money. Ten dollars for class B, no problem with that. Now I’m really in the deficit and head back down to Amy, taking a few minutes to wolf down most of the rest of the pancakes from breakfast.

I join Amy and the historical society lady, who is avidly showing her around. They have a lot of nineteenth century tools related to making wine, and they still produce some wine in Nauvoo. The lady is speaking a mile a minute, pausing only to apologize for being so enthusiastic. We enjoy our time with her in the cool of the wine cellar, and eventually leave to go pick a campsite and rest. We read and nap until 5, then I wake Amy up so we can go check out the farmer’s market and winery that we were told about earlier.

It takes us some time, energy, and stopping to ask a couple with a bottle of wine to finally get to the farmer’s market, which is one lady with a meager spread – she explains that there is usually another gentleman with a full table. We buy some cookies from her, then head into the winery, where we sample some local vintage, pick a bottle, and supplement it with cheese, crackers, and beef sticks. I say that we don’t have anything to open the wine with, and the girl in the store implies that it’s a screw top.

We take our spread back to an empty picnic table by our site, take off the foil, and… there’s a cork! Without any bottle opener, we brainstorm for a minute. Amy suggests inviting our neighbors to join us, hoping they have one. They look pretty well equipped and approachable, so I walk up to their site and invite them to join us. They accept, bringing their corkscrew and supplementing our fare with triscuits and cheese from Wisconsin, where they live.

Hugh, a recently retired teacher, and his wife Carol, an RN, are great fun to hang out with, and we chat it up for an hour or so. Amy jokes about how she’s responsible for the destruction of the world, based on certain voting choices she’s made in past and present. We talk about politics, public schools, and the Midwest, and eventually they head back to their site.

While Amy takes a shower and I work on her bike trying to improve the operation of her friction shifters and derailleurs, Hugh comes back down and invites us to join them for dinner. Yes! We gladly accept and enjoy a fresh meal of spinach, tortellini, feta, and tomatoes with a nice Cabernet, swapping stories into dusk.

Among the discussions is the legacy of Brett Favre, and Hugh shows off a funny tshirt with a map of Wisconsin, Brett’s face superimposed, and the text, “We’ll never forget you, Brent.” Yes, Brent 🙂 All Amy can do is smile and say, “I hope he goes to the Vikings.”

Day 17: Quincy Part Deux

Thursday, June 25th, 2009

Quincy, IL (20 mi / 32 km)

Oh man right where I last left off. Ah, yes, I was falling asleep and heard our noisy neighbors cussing at each other and then I must have fallen asleep and I heard some scratching outside of our tent. I heard whatever it was knock off the Frisbee. I woke up Nathan and asked him to check it out. He looked out and saw nothing. I still heard it and he shone his headlamp at the table and still, nothing. He looked at the clock and it was 4:30. We were getting up at 5, so we just decided to get up then.

We were doing really well at getting ready. We were on the road by 6:15. We were zooming down a road that used to be called Paved Road. Its right on the river bluffs and shady. We knock out 8 miles in 35 minutes which is great for us. Yeah!

We stop to take a quick break when we hear a pop by Nathan’s back tire. I just think that he hit a rock (we weren’t moving). He looked down and he had broken a spoke again on the cassette side. You’d think we’d learn our lesson, nope, not us. The same thing happened the day before but we didn’t pick up the tools for it to happen again. We bought a cheaper wheel and it couldn’t withstand the weight. Ah!

Nathan tried and tried to get the cassette off (its the gear looking thing on the back wheel) to no avail. If we kept going, the spokes would keep break and the next bike shop was 72 miles away, or we could go back to town to the bike shop we’d used the day before. Decisions, decisions.

A cyclist named Shelly road by and we flagged her down. She called her father, who is retired, to come and pick us up with his truck. People are awesome is all I have to say. When we need help, we get it.

We waited about 20 minutes and loaded the stuff in the truck and Nate sat in the back.

JD (I think that’s his name) and his wife are both retired and love to be active. He was telling me that they ride a tandem bike, but he gets a little frustrated when his wife (on the back of the bike) sits up to catch wind once they reach 50 mph down hill. I said that I think I’d get a bit scared too if I were 50 mph on a bike. Fun people everywhere!

We then headed to a grocery store called Hy-Vee that also had a restaurant. I think it is the nicest grocery store I’ve ever been to and I’m a Publix snob. Everything was clean and bright and looked good to eat.

We made it to the bike shop and Nate got a new fancy wheel that we hope will do the trick. I now probably have 2 hours of my life just waiting and looking at all of the bikes in the shop. They have a large collection of old Schwinn bikes. The oldest bike I saw was bike made in the 1890s. They had a 1905 Pope and the shifter leverl 1970s bikes with banana seats.

We left in search of a gift shop on 12th and Main. After wandering around for a bit and asking for directions, we found it. The shop was a part of a museum, but it had postcards. Nobody has postcards any more.

We realized that we had forgotten Nate’s old wheel at the bike shop and had to bike back and get it and tie it with a string to the back of his bike and then go to the old post office. It is a really old building. I wish that we spent less time retracing our steps. But of course, this is life.

I’m in the public library typing this in the cool AC. What a day so far.

Late Day Update: Nathan Stung By Wasp While Retrieving Red Gatorade
Earlier: Amy Trips Over Metal Tent Peg, Cuts Foot
In Between: Amy Falls With Bike For A Record 7th Time

Status: Nathan okay, but has a booboo
Amy okay, but is a bit ornry. She is tired of falling.

Day 16: Pittsfield to Quincy

Wednesday, June 24th, 2009

Pittsfield, IL to Quincy, IL (~45 mi / 72 km)

We got up from Nathan’s house bright and early, but still we didn’t get on the road until 6:45.

A theme for us is getting up early and having something need adjusting. Then having to take everything off the bike, fix it then repack. Another major theme is smelling bad. Mostly us smelling bad.

We made pretty good time and got into Quincy without too much incident. The ride is just amazing with corn in every direction. Sometimes the air smells like sweet corn; other times like stinky farm.

It was a pretty flat ride. As you come into Quincy there are these huge industrial caves into the limestone. Fifty degree air is blasting out from within. It felt amazing.

On the first big hill in Quincy Nate broke a spoke on his new wheel. Apparently it wasn’t strong enough to hold all that weight.

A lady stopped and told us that we should go to the Quincy visitors center, which was in a castle and just up the road. So we went. The “castle” is styled in a Moorish style like in Spain. We went in to get out of the heat and met a nice older lady who told us about the castle. Apparently some rich guy about a hundred years ago wanted to impress some girl, so he built it for her. She never came and over time it became run down and recently the historical society has taken it over.

So we went to the bike shop and got a new spoke for Nathan’s bike. When we were on the road he couldn’t fix it because it was on the cassette side and he didn’t have the right tools (this will be important later).

We hung out at the bike shop for a while with Ody, who has worked at the shop for 60 years and his dog, and a younger guy Ryan who gave us a lot of help with our bikes.

We were still in search of a replacement Camelbak and thought about getting a small backpack one for Nate. There are none in town.

We had heard about this famous Quincy restaurant called Maid Rite, they have spiced ground beef sandwiches with a recipe that they carefully guard. You are not allowed to tip. We got two huge sandwiches and a couple of drinks. Service was not really there. I guess that’s why we don’t tip. We asked for glasses of water and were brought out 6 ounce cups (think half a can of soda). We then asked for a pitcher, but that’s against the rules. All in all it filled our stomachs and filled our salt quota for the next few years.

It is in the late afternoon and hot and we’ve been riding for many hours. We stop and get cash and stop in an old school outdoors shop. This cool older couple has run the place for forever. We bought a few more freeze dried meals, another canester of fuel, and still no Camelbak replacement. As we’re paying the owner asks if we have a can opener. We do, but he gives us this military issue canopener that is very small and also can serve as a flat head screwdriver. I love products that show ingenuity.

We head to our campsite and are super excited that they have a pool. But, of course, it is out of order. We settle for cold showers and reading in the shade.

We had picked up another freeze dried meal and decided on turkey tetrizini and it was good. We were worried that it was supposed to rain, so we set of the tent with the rain fly half on. There were some loud campers who really liked the f-word, but they quieted down by about 10. We were planning on getting up at 5 to ride. Pretty good day.

Day 15: Back in the saddle

Tuesday, June 23rd, 2009

Pere Marquette State Park to Pittsfield, IL (~35 mi / 56 km plus a ride in a pickup)

We got up before 6 and were on the road by about 6:45. As we were filling up our water packs, I noticed that mine was leaking. Of course, we had left our extra 2 liter packs at Sam’s.

So short on water we started on our way. It got pretty hot pretty early. We had to stop a lot. We were on Great River Road, but the river wasn’t visible much of the time.

We crossed the free ferry at Kampsville. Well, like usual we showed up at the same time as weekly fuel truck and had to wait with no shade for about 20 minutes. The transport ferry really is an amazing thing. The ferry is 2 pieces: 1 piece is a tug boat and the other a barge. It acts like a hinge and it’s fun in the river current.

On the other side of the Illinois River we went to this cafe that had free wifi and opened in 10 minutes at 11 am. We were the first ones in and ordered a simple breakfast of eggs, toast and hashbrowns (they were also out of bacon). Apparently the grill was throwing a breaker and instead of letting us order something else, we were served at 11:45. Normally we’re not that picky but we’d just biked 28 miles and were starving.

We dropped off a couple of postcards and got on our way. By noon it was already in the 90’s. It was hot. The breeze was hot. The sun was everywhere.

But we kept on going. It was also pretty hilly and after huffing and puffing up a big one we took a break in the shade. It was across from a horse ranch. A lady told us it was down hill for a few miles. Her husband let us fill up on water.

We ride pretty much downhill until Mitzer Pit stop which closed at 2 and we got there with 20 minutes to spare. The grill was closed but deep fryer was ready. We split a chicken tender salad. Some nice people were asking us why we are so crazy to be biking in the heat. Truthfully we’re not sure at this point. We ask for somewhere shady and out of the sun. We left and headed out to a church about 1.5 miles away.

We are exhausted at this point and I lay down and crashed for an hour. A guy stopped to ask if we needed water or if we had heat exhaustion. We said we were fine.

Around 4 something another guy shows up and asks if we want a ride. Nate woke me up and I said sure. I didn’t want to ride in the heat.

I introduced myself to the driver and he said his name was Nathan and that he used to be married to an Amy. I then said that I’m married to a Nathan.

Pretty cool!

We threw our stuff in the back of the pickup and climb inside to blasting AC. Heaven sent!

We have a good conversation, shooting the breeze. Nathan invites us to crash at his place and to go swimming. Hospitality just comes natural to this guy.

He has a huge Victorian from the 1850s he’s restoring. More good conversation and we head to the public pool which after 6 was only a buck each. It was refreshing. It was also fun to meet Nathan’s 11 year old daughter. Everything felt natural even in our exhaustion.

After the pool we headed to the grocery store to get some good fixin’s to go with steak. Caesar salad and a bottle of Shiraz, I felt at home, mom and dad.

If you ever go through Pittsfield, Illinois, it’s famous for Abe Lincoln, but I hope you get a chance to meet Nathan. You’ll have a lot to talk about and feel good about life and you’ll want to drive cars real fast. To meet him just get stranded on the side if the road, he’ll come by and you’ll be glad he did.

Thanks Nathan.