After some city time we were excited to get back to nature. Its hard to believe that we only have six days left before we arrive in Indio. Living in the camper has somehow become our “new normal”.
We are back in desert country so our campsite didn’t have many trees, but it did have a great view of the sky and the horizon. We did a pretty long hike along the canyon rim where we were able to see the Rio Grande river and look across into Mexico. The hike was just over seven and a half miles so our feet were tired by the time we got back from this hot dusty walk.
Since this was our last opportunity to have a campfire and cook over an open flame we made the most of it and enjoyed some time under the stars. I played around with my new phone features and got a couple of nice nighttime shots.
In the morning you can see that we had a beautiful sunrise!
I was looking down at my phone or something inside the car when we made the transition. I looked up and saw this sight!
It looked like we had suddenly been transported to Wisconsin in the middle of January! Instead we were at White Sands National Monument in New Mexico. Not far from the Missile Range and the test site for the Manhattan Project.
We did some messing around on the dunes, enjoying the beautiful contrast between the white sand and the clear blue sky!
From White Sands we went back to our campsite at Leasburg Dam and hooked up to head further west. We had opted for a KOA in Wilcox AZ for the night so we could have all our tanks clean and empty for the final drive to Indio.
Little did we know that Wilcox is some kind of wine Mecca for the state of Arizona. Who ever heard of an Arizona wine anyway? We had to give them a try so after making camp and doing a little work with the good WiFi. We headed to the Coronado Winery to test a few wines and enjoy some of their food. The wine was actually really good, I ended up buying a bottle of their Rose to take with me and Jane bought a bottle of the Sangiovese.
Its been an incredible trip and all we have left is about six hours of driving on I-10 tomorrow! Depending on how early we get on the road we will be in Indio by early to mid-afternoon. Lots to look forward to there, and looking forward to reconnecting with all of our Indio friends, golfing partners and pickleball players!
After a beautiful night at Seminole Canyon, we were on our way to Big Bend National Park. This is a good time to see this park as Big Bend is definitely not on the way to anywhere. The park is huge, and very remote. It borders the Rio Grande and has some spectacular hiking.
Getting into our “pull through” site was our first adventure. It was on the wrong side of the road for our camper so first we had to drive down the road the wrong way. The site is on a hill and half of the site is very sloped so we had to pull up to the level area and leave the pickup blocking the road until we were leveled and unhooked. Thankfully the rangers around here are very friendly and understanding. One even told us that he would block traffic for us when we left if he was around to make it easy for us to go the wrong way. I love a friendly rule breaker!
After some sandwiches for lunch I worked a bit and read with the idea that we would do the hike to the Window sometime after 4:00. This turned out to be a great decision as we ended up in shade for most of the hike and on the way back we had just beautiful light on the mountains. This hike was downhill from the start and uphill all the way back!
This was the end of the hike where we could see the plains below the window from our valley!
On the way back we had several opportunities to enjoy the beautiful lighting! This one is my favorite, I really love the reflection of the mountains beyond in this tiny pool.
I also loved the contrast in the lighting, from the shadow we were walking in to the canyon walls still in bright, late afternoon sunlight!
We didn’t get back from the hike until after 7:00 so after a drink and a bit of rest it was dark by the time I started the griddle for supper. We had decided on fried burgers. I haven’t made a burger on a flat top in forever, but let me tell you, it was great! Nicely browned on the outside and we toasted some buttered buns right next to the burgers! It took me right back to my childhood having burgers at the Cafe in Storden Minnesota with my grandma Sundahl.
This morning we were up and waiting for the sun to clear the canyon wall so we could position the solar panels for the day before we took off on our sightseeing tour. It was great.
We followed the Ross Maxwell road (an early park super) and it was beautiful! The highlight of the trip was the view of “the notch” No! not the one on the iPhone or the new macbook pro, but a gigantic notch between the mountains carved out by the Rio Grande! This was our first view of it from about 10 miles away!
When we got closer it was great to get out and walk into the canyon. The drought is so bad that the Rio Grande is very low .
So low, in fact, that we were definitely in Mexico for a few minutes!
We pulled out of the campground in the dark. The first time I can remember us breaking camp in the dark. It was not that early it is just that the Fall schedule of the sun is getting later and later. The weather forecast for New Orleans called for stormy weather later in the day and checking the radar as we left town confirmed that we were in for a day of driving in some nasty weather. A huge line of thunderstorms was just moving through San Antonio and Houston and slowly moving its way east.
We actually had to pull over in Beaumont at a rest stop to wait out the worst of the weather. Parked between a huge fifth-wheel camper and a big 18-wheeler we were pretty sheltered from the wind. So we ate an early lunch, checked our mail and watched the rain pound the windshield. With the worst of the storm past us we still drove through heavy rain until just outside of Houston. At which point the wind really picked up and was gusting to 36 mph. That made the drive from Houston to San Antonio pretty difficult.
By the time we got to the RV park it was after 5:00 so we had been on the road for 11 hours and were ready to just relax and have a drink. We cooked some steaks and topped them with left over warmed up crab sauce from Galatoires. Quite good.
Thursday morning we had a leisurely breakfast and then took off on our bikes for a nice little ride on the Saldado greenway that runs right by the KOA. Our neighbor warned us that the trail was flooded in several areas, but speculated that it might be dried out by now. He was correct except for a couple of slippery muddy areas.
After showering and finishing off some left over pizza for lunch we headed to downtown San Antonio to visit the Alamo and find a good dinner spot on the Riverwalk. The Alamo took a lot less time that we expected and the Riverwalk was pretty quiet. Lots of volunteers were working to set up chairs for the river parade to celebrate the “Day of the Dead”. Unfortunately that parade is for Saturday night so we did not get to see it but I bet it would be pretty cool.
We ended up at the Iron Cactus for a very early of mexican food and Margaritas. It was good, but not great. I had some chicken enchiladas verde and jane had fish tacos. We thought about having a campfire when we got back to the camper, but the wind was still very strong so we decided to hold off on that and play some games in the camper instead.
We arrived in New Orleans on Sunday, not the best day to visit restaurants, but we were able to make it work for us.
That is quite a lineup! Both Galatoires and Commanders Palace required coats for men, so I had to bring a sport coat all the way down the river just for these two nights. It was definitely worth it. Also, New Orleans requires proof of vaccination to even enter a restaurant or bar! Good for them
We started with a pre-dinner drink at the Absinthe Bar, where we happened to sit next to two women from LaCrosse Wisconsin! I had never had an Absinthe drink before, but it was a real treat. If you don’t know, Absinthe tastes a lot like black licorice.
Galatoires is an old school restaurant, white and black tile on the floor, mirrors on the walls, servers dressed in black suits. Very nice. We started with a potato souffle, which was very thin slices of potato that were somehow fried and puffed in the middle, served with a nice aioli. We were advised to eat them quickly, before they deflated and we had no trouble following that advice. We followed that up with a bowl of gumbo that was spicy and brown and very delicious with chunks of shrimp and sausage.
For our main course I had been waiting to try some New Orleans Shrimp Etouffee, which did not disappoint. Everything starts with the Roux and I’m on a new mission to make a nice dark brown Roux. Jane had a combo meal of a very rich crab dish Crab Ravigote - think crab dip - and Shrimp au Vin. It was so good but we brought most of the crab dish home with us. (something to top our steaks with tonight!)
Monday we had a fun food tour, it was a nice small tour group. The other six all knew each other and were from Washington state. They had just finished a seven day river cruise from Memphis to New Orleans. I’m not sure why you would do a food tour of New Orleans if you didn’t want to try shrimp gumbo but whatever. They enjoyed their red beans and rice instead. On the tour we tasted the following:
Our guide, Jack, was very knowledgeable and did a great job of mixing in the history of the French Quarter with food talk.
Tuesday evening, we had dinner at Commanders Palace — a fitting meal to celebrate the end of the ride! We headed into the Garden District with plenty of time to check out the architecture as well as a few of the bars. We actually ended up having a little taco appetizer at The Rum House. Commanders palace is one of the oldest restaurants in the country and has had many famous chefs including Paul Prudhomme and Emeril LeGasse. The food was delicious once again. We had to have more Gumbo but for my Entree I had to go for the pork chop served over polenta. Jane had the pecan crusted fish — a Paul Prudhomme creation. For desert we even had to try the bread pudding which was quite delicious.
Yesterday was the official end of my Mississippi River ride. I rode way out on the delta to Venice, or the southernmost strip of land in the state of Louisiana. A few parts of the ride were scenic but a lot of it was still just along the highway. Thankfully the traffic heading out that direction is pretty light, so even though it was a four lane road I could have one lane to myself.
I got off to a bit of a rocky start as I thought I was just going to follow the highway, but a mile into the ride I checked the map only to discover I was off track. So I did a U-turn and headed back to my missed turn onto a nice side road. After a mile or so on the side road I could see a bridge ahead and the dreaded orange highway signs. The bridge was out! My only option was to go back to the highway I had left and continue as I thought! The highway bridge
Miles later, and just a couple miles short of the end I could see our pickup sitting beside the road. Jane was waiting for me to give me the news that the road ahead was under water. Not deep, but definitely not bikeable.
So we put my bike in the bed of the pickup, and fittingly drove the last two miles to the southernmost point in Louisiana where I did pose for my final photo op.
To recap, Jane and I covered 2,550 miles from the headwaters of the Mississippi at Lake Itasca to this pretty un-flashy finish line. I didn’t ride every mile of that but I rode the majority of it for sure. I learned a lot about the limitations of my body and the day after day grind of riding a long distance.
The drive back to our campground outside of New Orleans was pretty uneventful. We had to take a ferry across the river at the cost of $1.00. It runs every 30 minutes and appears to take about a dozen cars each trip. Definitely not a money maker when you consider the crew of three!
We really enjoyed looking at all of the large houses up on stilts! We even saw two entire high school buildings built on stilts! Very new, so we were guessing these schools were built with money from FEMA after Katrina. Here is a nice example of one of the fine houses we saw.
As I write this we are about an hour away from our campground in San Antonio! We have covered more miles today than we would do in a week while I was biking! We left early this morning under the cover of darkness and its been quite a trip. The severe weather that is affecting the entire country made no exception for our day of travel. We had to pull over to a rest stop outside of Beaumont Texas to wait out a severe thunderstorm. It was an early lunch but it worked nicely to park in between an 18 wheeler and a fifth-wheel camper.
We enjoyed 3 fun nights in New Orleans which I will cover in a separate post! We have about a week of travel left before we arrive in Indio with more adventures yet to come. We are looking forward to a visit to the Alamo tomorrow and some of the great national parks in the state of Texas.
After days of really flat, really boring, riding / non-riding today was a welcome breath of fresh air. The Natchez trace is a really nice ride! Its a two lane road with a 50 mph speed limit and very few cars.
The trace dates back to prehistoric times when bison followed the same path from the river to the Nashville area. Later native Americans and others would “trace” the same path. Natchez is the oldest western settlement on the Mississippi river dating back to 1746.
Today Jane and I did the ride as a relay. She dropped me off and I rode for 28 miles, testing my lower back which seemed to survive the ride quite well. Meanwhile, Jane hiked a bit and then drove on ahead of me and parked the truck and camper so it would be waiting for me. Then she took off on her bike heading towards Natchez, a little more than 33 miles. I drove the camper to our camp site and got everything set up for the night.
The day did not start well as we had a nail in one of our camper tires so the pressure was way down, and my removal of said nail did not make the situation any better. We slowly made our way to a Vicksburg tire shop about 5 miles from our campground. The place was a pretty low budget place, with no big bays or fancy equipment, but where the most friendly guy helped us out! I went inside — no counter, no receptionist — and waited next to a guy remounting a tire on a rim. When our tech noticed me he asked how he could help and I told him of our trouble. He followed me out and had us pull the trailer a bit further forward. He grabbed a jack and a “bacon strip” patch kit and his compressor hose. Less than 10 minutes later he was done. The charges were a shockingly low $10.00! I only had a 20 dollar bill and he didn’t have any change so we agreed to call it good at $20 and we were on our way. I was so elated that we didn’t have to sit around for hours waiting to get something done that it seemed like a bargain!
The “bacon strip” kit is a larger version of what I use for my fat tire bike. So now we are wondering if we can buy our own larger version for the camper as well.
After getting showered at our campsite we both realized that we hadn’t had anything to eat since breakfast, so we headed into town to the Natchez Brewery for a beer and some very good pizza. I’m suspecting it will be an early night.
Due to my back pain I rode with Jane today from the Mississippi River state park to Lake Chicot state park. I’m not too sad as it was 80 miles of highway riding through flat (and mostly harvested) cotton fields was not so appealing.
After crossing the river into Arkansas we were ready to get to our campground. Google maps wanted us to turn right, so of course we did. The road sign for the state park said to go straight but hey, what do they know. A hundred yards later we were screwed…. We were on the North Levee road with no way to turn around. Think Gravel, dust, and steep grades on both sides of the narrow gravel road.
Crap! 7.2 miles and then we are supposed to turn left onto Audubon Trail. Which then goes to our campsite. What else can we do except take it nice and slow, raise as little dust as possible, and hope that nobody comes from the other direction!
Well, 7.2 miles later we get to our turn for the Audubon trail and that is exactly what it is! A trail! The road goes left but at the bottom of the levee is a gate, chained closed. I hop out to investigate and see if it is locked and what is on the other side of the gate. Well it isn’t locked but the other side of the gate has not seen any traffic in a very very long time. We would be driving in a pasture, with a barely discernible path. 100% something you would never pull a camper on!!
At this point our only option is to curse Google in the most colorful language possible, and try to very carefully turn the camper around by backing into the turnoff. Jane very skillfully backs the camper onto the ramp and then begins to pull to go back the other way. The wheels begin to spin. No way!! stop and go and spin, stop and go and…. the traction catches and we are turned around. Now all we have to do is drive another 7.2 miles back the other way on the same dusty gravel.
By the time we get back to the main road, the truck is beige instead of nearly black. The camper is covered in dust, and neither of us is in a very good mood. We follow the signs toward the state park and I thoughtfully suggest deleting the Google maps application from Jane’s phone. This way is about 17 miles longer than Google’s way but it is much better and we arrive safely. The ranger gives me a knowing chuckle when I suggest that maybe the park should have a notice to ignore Google maps when trying to get to the campground. We are not the first! Nor will we be the last I suspect.
We will follow the instructions to try to get Google to make a correction.
In the meantime for the search engine side of google here are some key words that may help the next unsuspecting traveller.
Arkansas Chicot State Park, directions, Audubon trail, north levee road, ignore google!! Audubon trail is NOT a road!!
My back felt better this morning, and with 52 miles on the schedule it felt very doable. Especially with all my new ointments to soothe my muscles and keep my rear end happy.
The challenge for the day was that in addition to riding, and needing to move to the next campground, I was also supposed to participate in the Concordia College October board meeting. What to do? Most of the morning was scheduled as committee meetings and the student learning committee had no important votes to make today, so I decided I would ride during that meeting and attempt to participate via zoom as I rode. It mostly worked fine! I was able to listen to 90% of the meeting as I had at least two bars of Verizon LTE for the majority of the ride!
The only part I could not participate in was during opening introductions when I happened to be down in a very pretty valley — I guess they call them hollers down here in Kentucky? In any case I didn’t have service for a while.
I’m going to claim that this is the first time ever that a Concordia regent has participated in a board meeting, virtually, while riding 52 miles.
Tonight we are camped out at Reel Foot Lake State Park. We have a beautiful spot right on the lake.
Getting into this spot was quite the trick! First we had to back down a lane and then make a sharp turn around a tree, while avoiding another tree with the pickup! Thankfully I married a pro backer upper, and with my expert hand signals 👉👈 we were settled in no time!
A relatively early arrival allowed me to participate in the afternoon session from the comfort of our couch, and thankfully we have a good signal at this campground!
Today was another 50 mile day, but thankfully the weather was 180 degrees from yesterday. Cool, sunny, and with a very light breeze that was almost behind me. I even saw my first dead armadillo on the side of the road! Oh joy!
After yesterday, which I will always think of as “the ride from hell,” I did a lot of thinking about this journey. I had a lot of time to think as the river was not visible and the scenery was a lot of cropland! One thing that I said to Jane and many others was that we are doing this for fun. If it isn’t fun then why do it? Yesterday was not fun. Enduring 50-70 miles a day on roads where you have to contend with traffic is not fun. Even without traffic which is also the case four to six hours on the bike every day is a pretty lonely experience. There are only so many podcasts to listen to.
According to our guide book for the MRT we are headed into more of the ride that is not very pretty and just miles and miles on roads. The sense of accomplishment at the end of the day is fun, but it all too soon turns into another morning and getting back on the bike. This trip has been hard on my body as well. The ride in the wind really took a toll on my back.
East Saint Louis was NOT fun for Jane either. The RV park was nothing but a giant parking lot behind the Casino. She volunteered to ride across the bridge to a bike shop to pick up some new tubes for our tires and some urrrrmmmm “Chamois Cream” for my developing chafing problem. Brand name “DZNutz” 😂 On the way back from that errand she hit a patch of broken glass and suffered another flat. Thankfully she was close enough to just walk the bike back to the camper. This was a good reminder that this trip is not much of a vacation for her. Hooking up the camper, taking care of the “black water,” filling the fresh water, all the stuff that we normally do together when camping she is having to do alone.
So, all of those things were turning over and over in my mind as I rode and I think it leads to one conclusion. A little less riding and a little more fun. Maybe more hiking, maybe just some shorter rides in areas that are pretty. Maybe just more time together enjoying our campsites and what they have to offer. It doesn’t mean I’m giving up — the killer nagging feeling in the back of my mind. Lets just say I am reprioritizing the activities of the trip!
Jane met me with the camper a several miles short of the camp site for the night and we rode those last miles together. We talked about my thoughts from the day, and considered skipping the campground for tonight and moving on to the next so that we could have a couple of nights in the same place. Luckily we decided that we should at least drive through the campground and see what it was like. Luckily we did! Our campground was a real find! Called Fort Kaskaskia, the campground was first come first served. Other than a few campers that were obviously there for the season we had our pick of sites. After getting camp set up we walked back to the main picnic shelter where we had a spectacular view of the mississippi.
This area has a very interesting history. The mississippi changed directions here at one point putting part of Illinois to the west of the river. It was also the site of a revolutionary war battle! Yes revolutionary not civil, I never knew there were revolutionary war battles fought this far west. We met a nice couple who had lived in the area their whole lives who had just come up to the fort after a doctors appointment to enjoy the view. They enjoyed sharing some of the history of the area with us and it was fun to hear it from them.
This is one of the most beautiful state parks with really nice campsites.
After riding nearly 60 miles today, my back was so sore that I knew my long distance riding days were numbered. The rest of the way will be finding some shorter, more scenic/nicer routes to ride to fulfill the spirit of this trip.
The truth is that riding 100 miles on the edge of a highway through flat farmland lost its appeal. This really is the part of the ride where things get kind of flat and boring. I’m looking forward to that last days ride to the Gulf.
Meanwhile we had a nice campfire and enjoyed a really beautiful night in the park.
Today I saw fields of cotton ready for harvest for the first time in my life. What a sight! Acres of white “flowers” against a backdrop of green.
After breaking camp at lake Reel Foot and riding for a while with Jane I got on my bike for the last 52 miles into our destination of Fort Pillow. Less than 100 yards from starting my ride I was chased by two dogs. Of course this was going to happen as I had just commented to Jane that of all the things so far the last couple of weeks I was glad that I hadn’t had to cope with dogs! These two were just a dramatic foreshadowing of my day to come. Following the MRT took me through lots of pockets of rural houses on very lightly traveled roads. But every house had at least one dog and all of them wanted to greet me in some way. None of them attacked, but when you are on a bike it is never fun to have dogs running beside you or in front of you, you just don’t know what they will do.
In addition to the cotton fields I also saw a lot of Kudzu forests. Kudzu is an invasive plant species introduced from Japan. It can grow a foot a day and loves to cover the native trees giving the forests that have been taken over by the Kudzu quite an interesting look!
Today’s ride was also super hilly! The final few miles up to the campground at Fort Pillow almost did me in! I’m very happy that this should be one of the last hilly rides, the rest of the way to Louisiana should be pretty flat.
I’ve read quite a bit about the civil war but had never heard of a general Pillow. Turns out he didn’t last long and neither did the fort. Less than a year from completion the fort was abandoned by the confederacy. It was a very nice campground, and it was a beautiful Fall night. A good chance to have a campfire and enjoy some well earned steaks after a hard ride!
Tomorrow Jane and I plan to do an easy ride on a bike path on the way to Memphis, then I’m planning to take a couple days off as we rest up and take in a few of the sites in Memphis. Hopefully some BBQ on Beale street is in my future.
From Fort Kaskaskia we drove to the Trail of Tears State Park. This park marks the spot where thousands of Cherokee were driven across the Mississippi river in a forced relocation to reservations in the west. Over ¼ of the Cherokee died on the trip. A shameful part of our past.
The campground here is small and remote, except for the railroad tracks that run right next to the campground and river. For some reason the engineers feel it necessary to blow their whistles in the middle of the night for the tiny trail that crosses the tracks from the campground to the river. Needless to say this was not our best nights sleep.
But I’m getting ahead of myself. We were only about 10 miles from Cape Girardeau a beautiful river town, with murals on the cement flood wall that tell the story of the town. On our way into town we stopped at the Cape Bicycle shop to stock up on some supplies. I had a great chat with one of the guys in the store (owner maybe). He gave me some good riding advice, and some recommendations on where we could get a good pizza and some local brew. Minglewood brewery was the place. We were able to hang out, enjoy some beer, tater-tot nachos, and pizza while watching the US Mens national team. I would recommend both Minglewood and the cycle shop if you are passing through.
After a pretty bad nights sleep, my back was hurting, so I just did a short ride around on the park roads.
Jane had taken off with the truck to do a hike and I had left my helmet in the truck. So I didn’t want to go on the highway and I didn’t want to go far or fast anyway, so a gentle ride to stretch my muscles was all I wanted. Jane’s hike was like a trip through the jungle, she had to use her walking sticks to clear away the spider webs!
One of the things the guys in the bike shop told me, which of course Jane already knew, was not to ride across this bridge!!
Since it was a day to ride in the truck, I did not! Instead we rode together to Columbus Belmont state park. After setting up camp I had just enough signal to participate in the afternoon plenary session of the Concordia board meeting.
Our campground host was very welcoming, and was willing to deliver a nice load of wood for just $5. This was great as we made some pork satays over an open fire along with couscous and chickpeas.
Today started out promising. Like any morning in the camper I made myself some coffee. Unlike most mornings the cell service at Pere Marquette was so bad that the best my devices could muster was a few received emails overnight. Despite Two bars of service digital was just out of the question. Obviously this cell is not designed to handle the volume of traffic at the park. Anything real time was out of the question.
I did pull up the weather and managed to get a frame of radar. Not good! We turned on the TV since we got good TV reception and the weatherman summed it up. Rain this morning, then 30 mph winds for the afternoon with severe weather to follow after noon and late this afternoon. Ugh! So we walked up to the lodge where they had super-fast wifi and confirmed all of this. Yep, lots of rain on the way, then what looked like a break, maybe followed by more rain.
OK, so I’ll work this morning and leave after the rain hopefully finishing before the afternoon showers hit! Great idea. Around 11:00 we saw the sun, so I helped Jane get the camper hooked up, then got my stuff ready and headed out on my bike. The trail, which I had been looking forward to, was a mess! Mud puddles, Mud, downed tree branches, etc. My legs were caked with mud before I had gone 6 miles. The wind out of the SSE was quickly becoming a pain.
When I saw Jane go by on the highway I thought “maybe she’ll stop and I’ll be done for the day.” No such luck, OK, I am going to do this I told myself. It seems that cross country biking is a battle of will! Then I got on the highway where the bike lane was nicer, but the wind was fierce. I continued on for another 15 miles, not making great progress, until I noticed I was no longer on the route. Somewhere the bike path had gone to the right but I had continued following the highway. But just ahead was a turnout where I could get back on the path. I’m not sure I should have as the path was on top of the levee, well above the highway! At times I was riding at a 20 degree angle into the side wind! But I don’t think my day was as challenging as this barge driver! He was trying to get the barges into the lock but clearly heading for the shore due to the high winds!
I seemed to continue along the top of the levee in the wind forever. At the Lewis and Clark memorial I contemplated calling Jane again, but I kept on going. About two miles after the memorial I really regretted my decision as the bike path inexplicably turned to gravel, nice rain softened gravel! That continued for at least two or three miles until I got to the bridge to cross the Mississippi back into Missouri. Getting off the levee and back onto the road was hard as the path was chained shut. I felt very isolated and alone, and it looked like nobody had biked this path for years. Tires, old furniture, all kinds of crap had been thrown off the bridge I was to cross… Yuk!
A few miles later I crossed the beautiful “Chain of Rocks” bridge. Definitely a sight to behold, but by the time I got to the end of the bridge it was pouring. Thankfully there was a covered rest area at the end of the bridge. This time I did call Jane. But she was on her bike headed out to meet me! She is amazing, she was headed out to meet me so I could draft off her on her ebike for the final 10 miles. “I’m almost to the chain of rocks bridge” she said. “OK, its letting up, I’ll meet you” I replied. But I kept riding and riding and no sign of her! So I brought here up on “Find my Friends” Ok I’m getting close but she doesn’t seem to be moving! At that point I got a little nervous, but as I got to the point where here icon was on find my and my blue dot showed me, I could see she was standing. Waiting for me? Nope she had ridden through a pile of glass and had a flat tire! Also no spare tube or tire changing tools. How could I let her ride without a spare!!??
Maybe an Uber was the solution, but I didn’t like the idea of her waiting around for me to get back to her, or her riding in an Uber and me just hanging out for an hour for her to come back. So I tried the first step. Just pump up the tire again. No go! Ok, my tubes are not made for her tires, but they will definitely work in a pinch. So I took off her tire and replaced the tube with my spare. We vowed to carry our bikes over the area with the glass. That was enough to get us back to the RV park at the King Power / Queens casino RV park in St. Louis.
Back in the camper, my back is sore from fighting the wind all day and my attitude is marginal at best. I can’t decide if I want to say I made it halfway down the Mississippi or if I want to continue.
Parts of this ride are great and beautiful, and parts of the trip are just gross.
We will see what tomorrow brings but my bet is on me continuing despite past challenges, and future worries. This feels to me like one of those junior high english class “man against nature” challenges, and in the moment that is exactly what it is! What me give up?! Never! On the other hand I only did this because I thought it would be fun. Today was not fun, today was a whole lotta work. I beat the wind and rain and the elements, but at the end of the day I’m tired and my back hurts, and the Alleve isn’t working, and I’m no fun for Jane to hang out with. So we will see what tomorrow brings!
Although today was a “day of rest” we still made a short ride into Grafton for lunch. I’ll ride this same path again tomorrow so this made up for a little of yesterday’s ride in the truck.
As we rode into town I saw this big sign, “Bikers Welcome”
Nice! I thought until we noticed the 100 or so Harleys parked outside. The banner in the back is also advertising “The Hawg Pit”. Needless to say we did not stop there for our lunch. We continued on to the Grafton Brewhouse and Winery where we had some pretty good burgers and decent beer. I think they source some of their grapes from California as I did have a nice chardonnay. Good enough that I bought a bottle.
In case you are looking for a fancy place to stay…
I awoke with heavy legs this morning! The plan was for Jane to drive me back across the river, retracing part of my ride from yesterday. Then, to drop me off so I could ride to the State Park. Sometimes things don’t go quite as planned.
A mile or two into the ride, maybe even less I noticed that I had a flat. Not so bad, I haven’t had any flat tires for quite a while now. So I pulled over to make the change only to discover that I had left my pump in the camper! Thankfully Jane was only a few miles down the road, and I had cell service. She came back with the pump and another tire and a bit later I was changed and on my way.
Less than a mile down the road I was flat again. Grrr… Maybe it was the tired legs, or the heat, or whatever but that was the last straw for me. On the phone again to Jane. “I guess I was not meant to ride today.” So back she came again. As I was waiting I took the whole tire off and once again felt inch by inch to see if I could find something. Finally I found a tiny sharp spine that had somehow worked its way through. I had missed it the first time around but not now. Still, when Jane got back I put the bike on the rack and hopped in the truck.
I sat there stewing and angry about flat tires for quite a few miles before I finally decided that maybe it was time to pull off, fix the tire and ride the rest of the way.
The first part of the abbreviated ride was from Hamberg, which was on some beautiful country roads. Here I am as Jane decided to follow me for a few miles just to be sure.
The second part of the ride was along a pretty busy Illinois Hwy 100. Not so great, but here I am crossing the Illinois river about 15 miles short of Pere Marquette State Park.
We put the Instant Pot to work to make some ribs which we finished over our campfire and some cheesy rice. Tomorrow is scheduled to be a day of rest.
Today was a total washout. I woke up and looked at the forecast and radar only to see a huge patch of rain heading our way. Strangely from east to west. I guess we are in the south now? I just had time to get the bike on the rack and get them covered up before the rain started. So we had a nice breakfast and watched the radar. Clearly an all day thing. I am not into riding all day in the rain so today became a day off. When the rain finally did let up, we did a short hike at Wildcat Den State Park and then drove to Nauvoo.
Here is what it looks like when you are the only camper in the campground!
Nauvoo, home to the grave of Joseph Smith and one really big Mormon temple looked like a pretty sleepy little town as we pulled in. The town turned out to be larger than we thought, but it was still pretty quiet. After setting up camp we took a short walk to the oldest winery in Illinois. We keep trying to convince ourselves that we will find a good wine somewhere along the Mississippi. 🤣
The morning came and the sun was out, a great day to ride to ride. the first part of the day was beautiful, following the river right at river level.
As the day wore on I got further away from the river and more into farmland as well as higher temperatures and a bit of a southern breeze. A different kind of scenery but it was fun to see the harvest in progress.
Heading into Hannibal I rode across the Mississippi on I72 - the only stretch of Interstate in Illinois where bikes are allowed. At this point I was getting pretty tired of riding into the wind and I was low on water, so thankfully I was getting close. After the bridge it was all downhill into Hannibal. Unfortunately our campground was not in downtown, it was outside of Hannibal on the other side of a hill!
One shower and a gallon of water later I was ready to head back into town. We decided, unsurprisingly, on a pizza/pasta place called the brick oven. We were lucky I was ready for an early supper as by the time we left there was a very long waiting list.
Of course when in town you have to stop and help Tom Sawyer whitewash a fence.
On the way back to camp we stopped at Lovers Leap where we had a beautiful view of the river and Hannibal.
I did manage to stay awake until 10, even knowing that I had another 80 miles on the schedule for the next day.
Today I did 86 miles but it was a very relaxing day of riding. The majority of the day was on trails and it was nice to be away from traffic and goats. At one point I was riding right along the top of the levee but most of the time was just through nice rural roads and trails.
I had to make a stop at the local Caseys to buy a couple of bottles of water since I somehow managed to leave the camper with everything but my water bottles. I now have a morning checklist to make sure I don’t forget stuff!
My route today took me through Cordova, where I stopped for lunch and enjoyed the view of the river as well as through East Moline, and Davenport. My one little snag was the bike trail through the parks area of Davenport was closed due to some emergency training drills, so I had to detour on a little busier road.
When I arrived at our destination for the night near Muscatine, Jane was sitting in the parking area. It turns out that checkout time is not until 4:00 and the people occupying our site for the night were going to get every last minute out of their stay. After 4:00 there was still no sign they were leaving, and I was sweaty and grumpy and out of patience so I went over to the sight to politely ask when they planned on moving along. It wasn’t the most pleasant conversation I’ve had, but it did get the job done!
For dinner we had spaghetti and salad. I had not even finished my spaghetti when I had to do a Zoom meeting with a group of students who are working on a project for Runestone for their Senior Capstone. I don’t mind working from the road especially when we have a decent signal. My schedule is a bit unpredictable depending on how far I’m riding and what the weather is, but I seem to be able to keep up with email and do a little development work in my downtime.
After a wonderful weekend in Decorah for our 35 year class reunion, we arrived at Pike’s Peak state park just after dark. This was to be our first time of setting up cam in the dark, but we were not too worried, until we saw a pickup in our spot. Nobody was around and it was just sitting there taking up space. I hopped out of the truck and knocked on the door of the fifth-wheel next door. No answer. Same with the popup on the other side. Grrrr! Suddenly a nice man came quickly down the road. “Sorry, Sorry, I thought this was vacant for tonight and I wanted to recharge a few things. Our spot is not electric!” OK, no problem he moved his truck and we were all good. Time to get a good nights sleep to prepare for the ride.
Yesterday was the start of the final push of this journey. Iowa to the Gulf of Mexico! And what a ride it was, 58 miles with lots and lots of climbing. At times I was cruising along high above the river with great views and other times it was just me and my friends.
Mostly the roads were good and the motorists were all very courteous. I had a good shoulder to ride on most of the time. I could definitely tell that I had not been doing enough climbing as my back was a little sore and my neck muscles were too by the time I finished the ride for the day.
After arriving at the campground in Dubuque Jane was just setting up camp, so I helped finish that task and then did some stretching. We had plans to have dinner with Rachel’s parents (Greg and Peggy Miller) and it turned out to be a wonderful evening. I had some great pasta (Carbs!!) at L May in downtown Dubuque.
This is going to be a great trip. We will see if we settle into a rhythm, but its kind of nice to wake up, have a few hours to work, answer emails, etc. before jumping on the bike again.
02 Bemidji to Brainerd - My First Century
Yesterday the ride from Itasca to Bemidji turned out to be shorter than expected by 10 miles. Today’s ride turned out to be longer than expected by a good 10 miles. Yesterday started out with a flat tire after only 10 miles. But after the flat the ride was easy and interesting. I crossed the Mississippi “river” several times.
Today began bright and early with a 6:40AM departure from our campsite at Lake Bemidji State Park. The temps were cool, and a stiff breeze out of the south kept me feeling good. Later I would come to appreciate that breeze less and less and the temperatures rose and my legs got more tired. Early in the ride you cross the Mississippi as it exits from Lake Bemidji.
After that, the Paul Bunyan trail does not cross the mississippi like the Mississippi River Trail, but is an official alternate for the MRT, almost all of is on abandoned rail beds and is pretty flat. Everything was very pretty with the morning light.
except for one section around Walker (about 50 miles in) that was not very flat, and came at exactly the wrong time in my ride.
At the 79 mile mark Jane was waiting for me with Lunch! It was about 20 miles further than I was ready for it, but that is part of what this first leg of the journey is about. Figuring things out, learning what gear we need and what my limits are.
After lunch my legs were still feeling tired, and the wind kept getting stronger and stronger out of the south. Also less of the trail was tree lined so that made the breeze and the sun both stronger.
I made it to the 100 mile mark!
Unfortunately after making 100 it was clear that I still had at least 20 miles left to go. At that point I knew I could make it to Brainerd, but I was probably not going to make it to our campsite south of Brainerd for the night. That is why we have the truck!
Now I’m sitting in the camper writing this post and encouraging my legs to recover their strength for tomorrow. Tomorrow and Thursday are much shorter 68 miles tomorrow and 58 miles on Thursday. Should be a piece of cake!
We had a lovely 20 mile ride around Lake Itasca planned for today with a stop at the headwaters of the Mississippi. As the sign says, 2552 miles! That is roughly the length of our journey, in three parts — Its a long way, but at least it is downhill! For those who don’t know what I’m going on about, here is the story.
Sometime earlier this year I said it would be fun to ride the Mississippi from start to finish. It turns out there is a popular route known as the Mississippi River Trail. Its not a bike path but an established route of trails and roads leading from Itasca State Park in Minnesota all the way to the Gulf of Mexico. I’ll be riding my bike and Jane will be riding a bit, pulling the camper, hiking and providing support.
Part I is the ride from Itasca to Minneapolis. This will take place Monday through Thursday this week. It features my first 100+ mile day from Bemidji to Brainerd on the Paul Bunyan trail.
Part II is the ride from Minneapolis to Lansing Iowa. This will be three days starting Labor Day. We’ll end up camping in Decorah prior to Josh and Rachel’s much delayed wedding celebration with friends and family. All fully vaccinated, we hope.
Part III will be from Lansing to the Gulf starting October 4th. We will be back at Luther for our 35 year class Reunion and when that is over we will take off down the river. Most days will be 60 - 70 miles but as we get further south and the route gets flatter I’ll have a few 100+ days.
Our ride today was not what we expected since the wilderness road was closed due to downed trees and a high fire forrest fire risk 🌲 🔥. So we ended up doing more of the ride on the wonderful state park trails.
Tomorrow I’ll rest my legs for a day and then Monday I will take off for Bemidji.
And the journey down the river begins
Idaho! On our way home
Well, I think it is time to head East. When we started making our egg scramble for breakfast this morning the sausage had mold on it, and so did one of our bags of shredded cheese! Its nothing that a stop at a grocery store won’t fix, but we are both ready anyway. We’ve been on the road with the camper for 20 days, and it has been quite a trip.
The last few days have been really wonderful. We got to park the camper at Lake Chelan State Park and hang out with our friends Jim and Karen for three days! Jim and Karen are experts on the Chelan and Leavenworth areas having both lived in the area before, so they had lots of great outings planned for us.
Day One, we met at the Wal-mart parking lot to leave the camper until check-in time and headed out for a wine tasting and lunch! We found a great location at Benson’s who also served a great local wood fired pizza. Check out this amazing view of Lake Chelan from our lunch stop!
That pretty much captures the area in a nutshell. Everywhere you go you are treated to amazing views of the lake. By the time we finished lunch and our tasting it was late enough to move the camper to the campground.
With the camper situated, we were able to explore the south side of the lake and see the Holden guest house that Jim helped build many years ago. We had another pre-dinner wine tasting at the Tsillan (pronounced Chelan) winery. The weather was HOT 95+ degrees. The wine was also really good. I’m bringing home bottles of Rosé and Pinot Grigio. Dinner was in downtown Chelan at Campbells, followed by a campfire back at our site. There were two big RV’s next door to us, each with a gaggle of kids and their bikes. The kids were riding their bikes back and forth, no hands, getting as close as they could to Jim and Karen’s car parked in front of our camper! This was making both Jim and Karen very nervous, and they were ready to make the drive back to their place anyway, so they left. Meanwhile the biking and the squeaky bike brakes continued long after dark! We laughed that we are edging ever closer to those old people that yell “get off my lawn!”
Tuesday morning, Jim and I headed out for a ride up the lake. It was perfect weather and a great morning for a ride. My fat tire had to work hard to keep up with Jim’s road bike.
We had bratwurst for lunch at the campground, and then Jim and Karen took off to take care of some family things. We were also awaiting the arrival of Jane’s aunt Joanne and uncle Dale. Her cousin David drove them up from Yakima to see us. This is Jane’s last remaining aunt and uncle and we haven’t seen them in years so it was great to see them and have a chance to chat.
Wednesday, the plan was to head to Leavenworth, where Karen’s parents and cousins live. Karen had a favorite hike for us to do, and Jane’s cousin runs Visconti’s restaurant there. Leavenworth has been remodeled to resemble a Bavarian mountain village and is a charming little town. We enjoyed a lunch at a local Mexican restaurant (Yes, I know, not very Bavarian, but we just had brats for lunch on Tuesday). We visited the local fair trade store that was owned by Karen’s parents as well as the hat shop and toy shop owned by her uncle.
Downtown was really hot, so we headed up the mountain to take a hike along the Icicle river. The snow melt is fast and furious in the mountains so the rivers are really flowing.
Although the water was very cold and the temperatures up on the mountain were much cooler we were still all pretty hot and tired after the hike. So we showed up for our reservation an hour early. No problem we enjoyed some more local wine and eventually ordered our meal.
Karen was going to spend a couple of days with her parents, helping out around the house, so we dropped her off before making the hour long trek back to the campground. By then we were tired so we just spent some time picking up the campsite and preparing for our morning departure.
The campsite was very tight, and in addition, there was a car parked right across from our site, making our exit very narrow. after getting the trailer hooked up Jane nearly had us out of the site except for the large rock blocking the corner of our site. I had tried to move it earlier in the morning in preparation for our exit but couldn’t move it. Luckily there was a burly young man doing his dishes at the water faucet on the edge of our site who said “I can move that rock for you”. together we rolled it over and we were able to get the camper out. Our next move was to wake up the tenters that owned the parked car and ask them to move it. Thankfully that was not needed.