Murphysboro, Illinois to Clinton, Missouri (2,588 - 2,956 miles)
"I'm fast at this," Oak says.
I cringe, hope he hasn't jinxed himself.
Oak, Leah, and I are 65 miles into the day's ride, venturing across east St. Louis, north toward the KatyTrail, and the hills have been gentle. We are low on water and need to make the next town. It's that or no supper tonight. Least for me. There's no telling what master chef Oak has in his saddle bags.
|Leah and Oak|
We sit with our backs to a fence that houses an electrical substation, and the transformers hum behind us. The terrain rolls in all directions, cornfields and bean fields, and the sun begins a slow fall below the horizon. Oak removes Leah's front tire. He finds the hole in the tube, scuffs the tube, applies the glue, waits for the glue to get tacky, applies the patch, waits for the glue to dry, puts the tube in the tire, airs up the tube. Or tries to air up the tube.
The patch fails.
He goes through the same routine again, sun now barely showing above a black treeline, and that patch fails. Day turns into night, mosquitoes buzzing my ears, and I offer to try my hand at the next patch. He gets out Leah's spare tube, which is also flat, and we put on our headlamps and go to work patching tubes. My patch fails and so does his.
I'm thirsty and tired, and I want to get to the next town. In fact, I've never wanted anything so bad in my life. I imagine cascades of cool water, all the Twisted Tea I can drink, a soft green lawn perfect for pitching, a meal cooked over my Whisperlite International.
"Got any solvent?" I say.
Leah hands me a 5 gallon jug of fingernail-polish remover—kidding!, it was around a pint—and I clean the old glue off the patch. Oak airs up his latest patch job and this one holds.
I do not tease him about his promise of a quick fix. He feels bad enough as it is.
We ride to the next town and camp behind a church appropriately named Journey, get up at daylight and cycle into Missouri, stop a few miles shy of the Katy Trail. We sleep in a cornfield, stalks like green fence posts all around, hit the Katy in the morning light. This rails to trail is the longest in the nation, 237 miles, and it has plenty of amenities for cyclists. We stop at the first town and try to find someone to fix Leah's phone. It's Sunday and stores are closed, and she wants to wait a day. I'm not ready for a layover, so it's time to say goodbye and cycle onward. I'll miss her laughter and Oak's cooking, truly enjoyed the short time we spent together.
The trail is a little soft, and the added effort on the pedals puts pressure on my knees. Then it rains, enough to soak the crushed limestone, and the trail softens even more. Temps climb into the low 90's, but the trail is partially shaded and I don't feel the need to stop and hide from the afternoon heat.
That's the word I'd use to describe my trip over the Katy, and more than once I contemplate getting off and taking hard roads to the west. I stay on the trail for its one redeeming value—no cars! Okay, that's a little critical. The trail meanders beside the Missouri River, offering gorgeous views, occasionally cutting along high bluffs that rise high overhead. Views and lack of vehicular traffic aside, the people are the best thing about this trail, and I meet a number of cyclists who are end-to-ending. One woman tells me about surviving cancer, shows me the scar over her pituitary gland, says she organizes charity rides for MS. Pretty cool.
I ride, off and on, with a guy from Missouri. Sammy is yo-yoing the Katy, and I can tell he'd like to accompany me across the country. He has a wife and obligations, though, so when we get to the western terminus in Clinton, Missouri, he turns around and heads east. I send along my best wishes for Oak and Leah, wonder how far they are behind. I suspect not far. I only averaged 50 miles a day on the Katy.
I'm glad I cycled this trail, but I'm also glad I'm off it.
The Kansas heat and winds are next, and I sneak a peak at the weather predictions.
I am not looking forward to 100 degree days.