For Memorial Day we are taking a bike trip along the Mississippi River from St. Louis to Quincy, Illinois. But first, to connect the line on the map from last year's bike tour to Bloomington, Indiana, we are taking the train south to Mattoon.
Andrew had started biking south several days earlier and met us at the same coffee shop where we started last year.
Leaving Mattoon we follow a bit of the old National Road, passing the site of a ghost town from lost America. Nothing is left from the town of Richmond but the grass in a farmhouse lawn.
The Illinois bike map shows many small farm-to-market back roads, but its not easy to tell which ones are paved the whole way or turn to gravel halfway to the next town. On the first day of a bike tour, every mile seems to take forever. Or maybe they really were taking forever, because it took longer than expected to zig and zag our way to Shelbyville.
Lots of farm dogs came out to bark at us. This one was friendly, and ran alongside me for several miles. We passed several busy roads and still he did not tire or turn back. I clocked him at 18 miles an hour on a long straightaway.
In Shelbyville we stopped to pay homage to an historical marker. Here in 1886, Josephine Cochrane built the first mechanical dishwasher. Dirty dishes were held in wire baskets placed in a container inside a copper boiler which turned and squirted soapy water over them. The company she founded later became part of KitchenAid.
Leaving Shelbyville, we over-inflated Andrew's rear tire, which ruined the tire. By this time it was so late in the day that no bike shops were open. We were forced to make a shameful trip to the Walmart at the edge of town to buy a new tire, and the repairs left us farther behind as the sun sank lower. Not knowing if we'd make it to our planned campsite, we headed back out on the road.
Continuing southwest around the town of Herrick, the landscape became hillier and the downhills never seemed to make up for the slow progress uphill. The sun sank lower and we knew that it was unlikely we'd make it to the reserved campsite at Ramsey State Park but still we rode on without much of a plan.
Now in the dusk, we turned on our bike lights and continued on, but the road grew worse, with patches of gravel on the downhill slopes that were especially treacherous in the dark. At the crest of a steep and twisting grade going down into darkness, we spotted a farmhouse with a light on.
Our plan was to ask to camp in the yard, but the kindly couple offered to load us all into their pickup and drive us the last few miles to the campground. It wasn't too far, but riding in comfort of the big truck, it was obvious that it would have taken us hours up and down those steep gravel roads in the dark. On our flat maps we hadn't realized how difficult it was to bike this pocket of hilly terrain in the middle of Illinois.