Sometimes, you spend 600 miles in a single state. Sometimes, you hop right on to the next one in only two days. Southern Illinois doesn't take up much of the TransAm, and we cut off some of that by doing our Post-Sebree Century, so here we are, already making a significant crossing: the Mighty Mississippi is behind us, and we're in Missouri!
We awoke feeling kind of ragged in Chester. A little too much wine, no showers, and the plywood bunks where we were staying (a tiny, literal shack for bikers offered up by "The Fraternal Order of Eagles", Chester branch) made for a long, pretty much sleepless night. No complaints — there are plenty of times on a trip like this when "sleep" isn't so much what happens. You just try to be horizontal for a while and hope that that helps enough.
Chester is the first time we've actually run into fellow TransAm-ers, and we spent the night in the Eagles Shack with three other folks, all headed east (a little stress-inducing in these stressful times, but—as Sara has said many times on this trip—bikers can't be choosers). Chloe and Paula are riding together and are friends from from Columbus, OH, and Matt was riding solo on a rad old vintage Fuji on, like, 23mm tires — no gravel for Matt! We met Chloe and Paula first and, when we headed over to the wine bar for a drink, texted them to see if they wanted to join us. Turns out they're 18. We have officially lost our ability to differentiate age in basically adult humans. Speaking of humans, one other that deserves major love is Amie. She struck up a conversation with us as we were sitting outside the wine bar, and we ended up chatting for a couple hours. She's ex-navy, Chester born-and-bred and semi-recently returned from San Diego. She was lovely to talk to, and also, when the wine hit Sara a little too hard near the end of the evening, she walked us over to Tino Taco's, bought us dinner, and made sure we were good to get back to our hostel. What a gem.
Anyway, back to this morning! We got ourselves up and started shoving things in bags with our headlamps on around 6 AM. Still pretty dark and pretty chilly. Chloe and Paula were up too, loading up to continue their trip east. Matt slept through all our packing. Out like a rock. Some people have the gift.
At C+P's suggestion we hit up a breakfast place outside of Chester (in the wrong direction for us, but oh well, foooood) and proceeded to eat too much. Both of us are kind of starting to feel weary of the amount of food we need to consume... This morning in particular it didn't seem to help as much as make us feel even more weighed down. But on we went, towards the river and our imminent Illinois exit.
We caught a last Chester-side view of the great river from the backside of the town's courthouse, then wheeled down a big hill towards the bridge. One final homage to Popeye (who greets you at the Welcome Center right next to the bridge), and then we were ready to ride this sucker:
The 2,826-foot-long Chester Bridge was built between 1941 and '42 and then immediately destroyed by a tornado in 1944. Rebuilt by 1946, it crosses the narrowest point on the Mississippi between St. Louis and New Orleans. We'd been advised by several people to just take up our full lane when biking the bridge — it's old and narrow and it's better just to take the space, rather than giving the cars the opportunity to swerve around you at too close a distance. We didn't have much traffic to contend with (Sunday morning) and we took the advice; thankfully, the one car that eventually showed up behind us stayed chill and kept their distance. It was a rush to cross the river on the beautiful old bridge, and in a couple minutes we were taking pictures with the Welcome to Missouri sign down on the opposite flood plain.
Now, we've been warned about the Ozarks. And what's funny about the Missouri side of the flood plain is that you can just see the end of it. It's right there, several miles away from you in the distance, where a short tree-lined ridge cuts off the merciful flatness and you just know what lies beyond. See that place where the road rises in the photo below, over there on the right? Yeah — that's just the tame-looking beginnings of a new landscape...
It's not a super long ride from Chester to Farmington, but the short, steep, granny-gear-grinding hills start popping up pretty much right away. In fact, with Appalachia behind us and the Ozarks beginning, it's time for a SPECIAL FEATURE here on the ol' blog. For a while now, Sara's been mentally putting together a running list of hill-types. So, without further ado (drumrolls, etc!), HERE IT IS...
Sara's Cycling Glossary of Hills
A Brief Compendium of All the Ways to Make Your Thighs Hate You
The Low Roller: Your standard pretty countryside smooth dome of a hill. Sometimes pleasant enough; depends on whether or not they help you generate enough momentum to get up the next one.
The High Roller: The Low Roller's steeper, less pleasant cousin. Often looks scenic but you'll find yourself sweating and spinning by the time you reach the top. Charlottesville, VA is surrounded by both Low and High Rollers.
The Shorty-Steepy: A nasty relative of the Roller family. It's not tall, but the grade sucks. You will end up in your lowest gear and you will feel like a slow, sloppy mess as you struggle up it.
The Vampire: Even worse than the Shorty-Steepy, the Vampire may be short or it may go on for longer — it's real defining feature is that, for some reason, no matter how much downhill you have or how hard you pedal going into it, it immediately saps all your momentum. You're down in the granny gear before you know what slapped you across your dumb, suffering face.
The Switchbackstabber: Basically, a mountain that just keeps fucking you. Every time you make it to one of the hairpin turns — SURPRISE! It's still going up. Forever. (The hills out of Lookout, KY are classic Switchbackstabbers.)
The Friendly Johnny: The ONLY nice kind of hill. The kind where you have enough momentum going in that you can practically coast all the way to the top and over and keep going. A small gift from the generally vindictive and maniacal Hill God.
The Sneaky Snake: Related to the Switchbackstabber, but subtler. Often follows, say, a nice creek or river crossing. You start heading up what looks like a manageable enough slope, then it starts to curve, and rise, and curve, and rise, and it just keeps curving and rising, and aggggghhhhhh why?
The Stone Cold Hiller: Just a Big Fuck Off Hill. Can combine various types, but the grade is definitively Stupid. Cursing will be involved. Harding Road into Blacksburg, VA is one of these.
The Optical Hillusion: Also known as a false flat. The road looks flat, but your legs say otherwise. Again, WHY.
The Lucky Glide (AKA, The Guardian Angel): Okay, there's one more okay kind of "hill" but it's even less common than the Friendly Johnny. The Lucky Glide is the opposite of the Optical Hillusion — it looks like the road is rising, but somehow you're still pedaling easy, just breezing along. Maybe it's some inexplicable combination of geography and wind. Maybe there's friendly ghost just pushing you along for a moment. (Beau calls it Immaculate Momentum.) Whatever the case, you'll take it.
SO. Now we've got our hills down. There will be a quiz. Actually there will be a test — by which we mean, Sara and Beau will be severely tested as they head further into the Ozarks. YAY!
It was a bit of a struggle-bussy ride to Farmington. We both got a little sun-stroked, and in general our bodies were just feeling rough. When we arrived, it didn't take us long to decide that we need a rest day tomorrow. We weren't planning to take another so soon, but we could honestly use a little R&R, there's a bike shop here and we'd like to hit it up, and the cycling hostel in Farmington (known as Al's Place) is just a straight up MIRACLE. (Eek, sorry Sebree! Your Hilton status may be getting revoked.)
So, for now it's Chinese food (which we haven't seen in AGES! So exciting!!), The Muppet Movie, and copious leg rubs. Also, more emailing our senators. Rest, regroup, keep riding, keep fighting. More soon.
Day 31 (ONE MONTH DOWN): Chester, IL to Farmington, MO, 53.9 miles, 3075 feet of climbing, 1 big deal river crossing, several strange teddy bears, 1 palatial hostel.
STATS SO FAR
Total miles in Illinois: 120.1
Total trip miles: 1248
Amie from outside Benson's Wine Lounge in Chester!
Best IL Eats:
The chocolate chip pancakes at Harbaugh's Cafe in Carbondale were delish.
Beau highly enjoyed Tino's Taco's chorizo quesadilla.
Other IL Highlights:
The Mississippi flood plains — striking, meditative, great to ride.
Meeting and chatting with other TransAm-ers for the first time!
All the wacky Popeye paraphernalia in Chester.
Our first century!