After being awake 36+ hours, riding 68 miles and dealing with the heat, I slept like the dead in my hammock. It had gotten down into the 60’s which felt great compared to the day before. When I first woke up, I felt like I had slept with my mouth wide open all night. My throat was raw and sore. I figured it would get better as I got up and moving. I drank some water and started breaking camp.
We had decided to try for a much earlier start to combat the heat, so we were up and at ’em pretty early, rolling out of the campground just after 6:00AM. We had our eye on breakfast about 17 miles down the road in Pinckneyville.
The road was quiet, cool and beautiful in the early morning sun. Such a stark contrast to the furnace and hills from the day before. It felt great to be up and cycling. As I rode I realized that I wasn’t feeling up to par though. What I had assumed was sleeping on my back with my mouth open was actually a thick, heavy drainage that had left me with a sore throat and a stopped up head that was somehow still able to run out my nose. Every five minutes or so I was doing the farmer’s blow. I know it is gross, but when you are cycling, there is no other way to go about it. Had I been at home, I would have burned through Kleenexes and toilet paper blowing my nose. On tour, you just leave a dotted line of DNA along the side of the road as you ride. Your are welcome Illinois!
The 17 flat miles ticked off quickly and next thing we knew, we reached Pinckneyville. The diner we had chosen for breakfast was about a mile south of our route and we passed it the first time we rode by. At some point it had changed hands and/or names. We were looking for one thing and it was named something else. We finally found it, parked the bikes and went inside.
One thing you never get used to when on a bike trip that goes through small towns is walking into a diner with the typical local crowd and having every head turn to look at the guy decked out in lycra. Picture an old western movie when the stranger walks into the saloon. All activity stops, including the piano player. Crickets chirp. You get the picture. In this instance, the silence is broken and everybody goes back to their separate conversations when a wonderfully friendly waitress says, “Howdy fellas! Coffee?” Thank God for waitresses.
Doc and I sat down and listened to the “liar’s table” behind us going on about all sorts of topics. Nothing is off limits and most of it is untrue. Every town has the same table with the same stories populated by the same folks. Only the names are changed to protect the innocent.
We enjoyed a fantastic breakfast and as the waitress made trips by our table, she kept asking questions about where we were from, where we were going, how we were getting there and why would we want to do such a thing. We answered and were happy to be the source of her amazement. In reality a bike tour isn’t that hard. Pick a place to go, put your stuff on your bike, start riding and keep going. It is a great adventure and before you know it, you have covered enough ground that you find yourself amazed at what you can accomplish. It really isn’t that hard though.
After what seemed like a little too long waiting for our ticket, we asked for it and the waitress said that she had taken care of it. We had given her a story and she was grateful. She bought our breakfast, we tipped her well and walked out of the diner with smiles. What a wonderful lady!
We headed out of Pinckneyville with our bikes pointed east. The weather was great, the road was pretty flat and we were on an adventure. A great combination! Having made it 20 miles past our goal on Day 1, our hope was to add to our miles “in the bank”. If we were able to keep up those banked miles, we would have more time to hang out and chill with Doc’s family once we reached Ohio. All conditions looked favorable for us to add to the bank, so got to it.
The miles ticked off and soon we found ourselves in Sesser, just a few miles west of Rend Lake. We sat outside a gas station having a snack, drinks and perusing the map while we took a break. Our intended route was to head north out of Sesser, skirting around Rend Lake and then east to Mount Vernon, which had been our original planned stop for the day. We noticed that there was a road that went right across the middle of Rend Lake and zooming in on the map, we could tell that the road was mostly on a long causeway with a wide shoulder and only a couple small bridges. How cool to ride over the lake! We made the decision to go that way.
The ride over the lake was awesome! For about 4 miles we had water on both sides of us. The sun was shining and boats were out on the lake. Some were fishing, some were water skiing and some were just cruising. It was a beautiful scene and one of the highlights of the day.
Once across the lake, we turned north on Route 37 headed for Mount Vernon. It was now midday and and although not near what the previous day had been, it was pretty warm. There was also a nice little breeze coming out of the north that had felt nice all morning. Now we were facing that breeze and it was making the riding a bit more difficult. Clouds started rolling in and a storm was imminent, coming in from the northwest. We hustled along, reaching Mount Vernon about 12:30.
As soon as we rolled into town we found a truck stop. First thought was to grab a shower and clean our clothes, but we found out that the location we were at didn’t have showers. Their other location some 4 or 5 miles away did, but that would have been off the route. We decided to carry on into the heart of town and look for a place to eat.
Our first choice was an Irish pub called Lowery’s that Doc found on Yelp. They had great reviews and we were excited to try it. After a little bit of searching, we found the pub. We leaned the bikes up against the wall outside and was preparing to head inside. While we took off our helmets and stowed our things, a young man walked down the sidewalk and into the pub carrying things. He looked like he worked there. He quickly went inside and I heard the bolt latch. Odd. We tried the door and sure enough it was locked. We checked the hours and they were supposed to be open. We made the assumption they didn’t want our business and looked for something else. Just a block up the street was a Mexican place, which is always a good idea. We headed up the block wondering what the deal was with Lowery’s. I guess we will never know.
Guero’s Mexican restaurant was happy to have us and we were happy to be there. We sat and ate while perusing the map and radar images. Somehow the rain had stopped just to the west of town and it looked like we would be spared getting wet. That was nice. We also had made it to Mt Vernon, our planned stop for Day 2, but being midday, we still had plenty of day left to ride and bank miles. Doc looked ahead on route and saw that there was not much for us as for campgrounds. A phone call to the city police in Fairfield netted an opportunity though. They said we could camp at the fairgrounds in town. There was supposed to be water and showers available, so we set our sites on making Fairfield, some 30 miles away.
After finishing lunch, we hit the road for Fairfield. First though, it was 17 miles to the little town of Wayne City, where Strava activity shows we stopped at a gas station for over an hour. I cannot for the life of me remember why. My guess is that we were just resting. I do know that I was feeling pretty crappy at this point. My sore throat and drainage were getting the better of me and with that, I felt like my water was nasty. I didn’t know if it was all in my head or if I had actually gotten some bad water. I remember dumping my water and refilling my bike bottles with some bottled water I knew was good.
After leaving Wayne City, I tried my water and it still tasted nasty to me. Doc and I stopped along the side of the road at one point and I was explaining to him that I thought my water or my bottles were nasty. I asked if he would try it. Maybe it was all in my head. He took a swig and spit it out. “That is nasty!! Why would you ask me to drink that?!?” I really had thought it might just be me with the head cold, but this confirmed my suspicions. We were about 5 miles outside Fairfield so I dumped all the water I had. I didn’t want to drink from those bottles again and I saw no need in carrying the weight of water in them. Once the water was dumped out, the bottles still smelled really bad. It was something chemical, like the plastic was breaking down. It reminded me of rubbing alcohol or some type of mineral spirits. Gross.
We rode on to Fairfield in search of the fairgrounds. Along the way we passed a Wal Mart. Another mile or so down the road we found the fairgrounds and started looking around for the amenities that the police had told us were there. We found no people, but there was a horse racing track, stables, many out buildings and pens for showing various animals. After checking everywhere we determined there was not a working bathroom or shower. We did find several water spigots. One in particular looked promising as an after dark shower spot due to its lack of proximity to the road, some tree cover on one side and building cover on the other. About 100 yards away was an open pole building that looked to be used for showing livestock. The support poles around the edge were just about perfect distance for the hammocks, so we set them up. Being under the edges of the building, we chose not to set up our tarps. That would save us some time in setup/tear down.
Adjacent to the fairgrounds was a strip mall with a Dollar General and a family style restaurant. I ran in the Dollar General in search of any bottle that might replace my defunct pair. No dice. I made the decision to head back to Wal Mart in the morning before we left town and see if I could find something. In the mean time, I bought some bottled water and we went next door to the restaurant for dinner. The food hit the spot.
After dinner, it was properly dark. We rode back over to where we had pitched camp. Once again we took turns taking a wild shower in the semi-private spigot. We also “washed” our bike clothes out and left them hanging to dry. Clothes were hung on our bikes and along the railing of a set of bleachers that was also under the structure we were hanging the hammocks under. Had someone seen our setup they would have thought we were straight-up hillbillies, clothing hung all about.
It had been a good long day in the saddle. We had 93 miles on the day and now found ourselves solidly 31 miles ahead of schedule in just 2 days. I was struggling a bit with my head cold, but otherwise all was fairly well for me. Doc had struggled with heat and hills the first day, but was much better on the second. We both were ready to sleep well and if things went like we hoped, we might just bank more miles with the planned stop for Day 3 being Saint Francisville, just 52 miles further up the road. Confident we could do more than that in a day, we crawled in our hammocks and I drifted to sleep fairly quick.