17. Friends

On Memorial Day, our friend Steve, and his wife Julie, who we had never met, made the four-hour round-trip drive all the way from St. Louis, MO, to see us in Carbondale, IL.  Our friendship with Steve started in 1984 when we were living in Salem, OR.  Steve left Salem in 1986, and although we have kept in contact with him from time to time over the years, we had not seen him in 35 years. 

Sometimes you just have chemistry with certain persons you cross paths with in life, and that’s the way it is for us with Steve. From the moment we hugged him in Carbondale, it seemed we’d never parted, and we picked up our conversations about life where we left off so many years ago. And we so enjoyed meeting and getting to know Julie.   She’s just wonderful.  We four enjoyed a long lunch together, followed by a slow stroll around Campus Lake at Southern Illinois University.  What a wonderful afternoon.  Thank you Steve and Julie for making the long drive to see us!

We left Carbondale Tuesday, June 1, after a two-day layover there.  My bike was tuned up and got a new chain at Carbondale Cycle. Shelly’s bike was also tuned up, but it did not need a new chain – apparently she’s not as hard on her chain as I am on mine.  The owner of the cycle shop was so good to us.  He knew we were riding across the US, so he got the bikes ready for us in 24 hours, and allowed us to come in and pick them up on a day his shop was closed.  Thank you Cho!

Tuesday’s 51-mile ride from Carbondale to Chester, IL, would have been relatively easy, but for the rain which stayed with us from ten miles into the ride, and the steady stream of coal trucks on the highway-with-no-shoulder we rode the last ten miles. Much of the ride was in the floodplain behind the levee along the Illinois side of the Mississippi River.  Despite the rain, that part of the ride was enjoyable.  There was almost no traffic, so we had the roads mostly to ourselves as we passed farms, small rural communities, a facility for transferring grain to barges, and the Cora Coal Terminal, where coal is transferred from train to ground to barge. 

Chester is the home of the creator of Popeye. There are tributes to Popeye scattered throughout  the small town.  Wednesday morning, just before crossing the Chester Bridge over the Mississippi River into Missouri, we stopped to see the Popeye Statue.

Crossing the Mississippi was a significant milestone for us, marking a transition from east to west.  And we did it on our 37th wedding anniversary! 

The Chester Bridge is a narrow two-laner, so Missouri-bound traffic had to slow down behind us as we crossed.  The adventure of the  ride across the bridge was marred only slightly by the jerk who decided to welcome us into Missouri by rolling down his window as he passed from behind us and screamed “Get the fu&k out of the road!” I’d never been to Missouri before, so this was the first thing someone said to me there. 

It rained on us the first three hours of the 48-mile ride from Chester to Farmington, MO.  On top of that, the Missouri section of the TransAmerica Route immediately lived up to its reputation of being a roller-coaster, with unrelenting hills, many of them with steep grades. The ride was one of the hardest we’ve done on this trip. 

In Farmington, we stayed in a hostel for bike tourists. The hostel is cool.  It is housed on the second floor of a historic two-story former jail.  As built in the 1930’s, the jail was on the ground floor, and the sheriff and his family lived on the second floor.  The hostel has three bunk rooms containing a total of 14 bunks.  It has two showers and toilets, a washer and dryer, a kitchen, a lounge area with a television, a work area with a computer, and secure storage for the bicycles. All for $20 per guest per night. 

We spent the night there with our newfound friends Mark and Pat (aka the Chicagoans), who had left Carbondale the day before us but had taken a day off in Farmington, and with a bicyclist from Wyoming, who was heading east.  We had a delicious dinner with Mark and Pat at a restaurant they had discovered the night before.

We’ve so enjoyed connecting with Mark and Pat.  We don’t often ride together, but most nights since we met in Sebree KY on May 26, we’ve wound up overnighting in the same town, and sometimes even the same exact place.  We often eat dinner together, exchange tales from our rides, and get to know each other better.  Our developing friendship has been a nice bit of serendipity on this journey. 

Thursday we rode 39 miles to Johnson’s Shut-Ins State Park, where we camped overnight. There, we were joined by our good friends Bob and Michele, from the Buffalo, NY, area. Shelly and I met Bob when we three were attending the University of Oregon 1979-81, and Bob and I shared an apartment when we were seniors at the UO.  Bob married Michele soon thereafter, and we have visited them at their home in Eden, NY, and they have visited us in Eugene.  Bob and Michele were in the process of fifth-wheeling their way home from California when they decided to detour south at Kansas City, MO, just to see us.

Bob and Michele pulled into the campground at the state park and promptly prepared a feast for the six of us (Mark and Pat too were in the campground for the night): spaghetti and meatballs, garlic bread, garden salad, fruit salad, beer and wine, and dessert. The meal was fabulous, and the six of us had a ball sitting around the picnic table eating and talking late into the beautiful star-filled night. Thank you Bob and Michele!  What good friends. 

The next stretch of road was supposed to be very difficult (according to cyclists and the locals), so we divided it into two shorter rides; first from  the state park to Ellington, MO (28 miles), and then from Ellington to Eminence, MO (29 miles).  Both rides were tough, with the unrelenting hills with steep grades.  These two rides were really beautiful too though, taking us through the forests of the Ozark Mountains and through the Ozark National Scenic Waterway. 

Today we rode ourselves out of the most difficult part of the Ozark Mountains – hooray! – 43 miles from Eminence to Houston, MO.  Here in Houston, we can look as far out on the horizon to the west as our eyes can see, and there is not a serious mountain in sight.  Nice.  Very nice. 

Steve and Julie.  Bob and Michele.  Mark and Pat. All of our friends who are communicating with us on this blog, via emails, by texts or with phone calls. This part of our journey has reminded Shelly and me of the importance of our friends in our lives. 

This Post Has 4 Comments

  1. Bob P.

    It was great seeing you guys! We will keep watching your journey and wishing our good friends all the best! Godspeed.

  2. Jane

    I love being on the trip with you, without riding in the rain and being yelled at by motorists. Wonderful narrative and pictures, again. So glad you have friends long the way too. I was so hoping Missouri was flat, but you proved otherwise. Ride on! Sent your blog out to more folks……

  3. Diane Schilling

    I am so enjoying your travel blog. There are some things I want to do, but biking cross country is not one of them. For me, I am living that experience through you. Hope you don’t have too many more a**holes like you encountered on that bridge, but both good people and jerks abound. Guess if I ever want to learn how to travel light, I will have to give you a call! Safe travels!

  4. Rick

    It sounds like you guys are having a great time. Really happy for both of you. Jens, I can’t believe how thin you look. When you get home And need a new wardrobe you can borrow clothes from me until you put some weight back on. Continue safe travels. I love reading about your adventure and look forward to seeing you when you arrive safely back home. Love to you both, Rick

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