Day 26: Proper Popeye sendoff from Illinois

7/10/15: 47 miles, Chester, Ill., to Farmington, Mo.

We set a new record for waking up late today. We didn’t get out of the bike shack behind the Eagles lodge until about 12:30 p.m. Sure, you could say we, uh, went to bed late. Or we had a few too many drinks that we paid for or didn’t. To be fair, we were inside of a dark little shack with an air conditioner that cranked all night (or morning).

I helped John true his wheel and adjust his brakes as my coffee cooled. Once we were ready to go, it was almost 1 p.m. and into the high 80s. That the city of Chester was under a boil alert because of the recent flooding didn’t help, either, because we had no more water. The bar wasn’t open until 3. Our first stop, then, was a Casey’s gas station to get some water and Gatorades.

John and I definitely had a case of the slows, so we dragged out crossing the Mississippi into Missouri by checking out all the Popeye stuff in town. Elzie Segar, the creator of the cartoon with a famous appetite for spinach, was from Chester, making it the appropriate spot for statues, historical plaques, and an authority for local lore.

The big draw, for sure, was Spinach Can Collectibles. An emporium of all things Popeye drew John and I in like the weary travelers we were. We met the owner, Debby, who joked about the recent news of Jared from Subway getting caught in a child pornography scheme: “He’s gonna have to worry about another type of footlong now!” she cracked. We bought some postcards, took some pictures, and made stops at all the Popeye points of interest around town before rolling across the Mississippi.

Welcome to Missouri

Chester is linked to Perry Country, Mo., via the Chester Bridge. According to Wikipedia, the bridge was first built on August 23, 1942, as a toll bridge. A July 1944 storm wrecked sections of it, but it was reopened in August 1946. They stopped collecting tolls in 1989. You’d think riding across one of the Mississippi, a river marked for its historical, cultural and geological grandeur, would inspire a sense of Americana in the many bike tourers that traverse the Chester Bridge.

Nay. The small, two-lane, shoulderless truck route made for a stressful sprint across. Luckily we descended into Missouri, eliminating what could’ve been a nerve-wracking climb.

The first few miles of Missouri lie in the Mississippi River flood plain, meaning it’s pretty flat. Strangely enough, there was a chunk of Illinois on our map that lay west of the river, too: Kaskaskia, Ill. It’s the only municipality west of the Mississippi, but it’s more of a ghost town these days after repeated floodings during its history.

We hit Missouri’s first climbs after 10 miles or so — short, mercilessly steep hills from which we wouldn’t have relief until four days from now.

Backing up a bit. Before I took this trip, Missouri was the only state on the TransAmerica Trail that others warned me about. Not just the hills, as those were par for the course. The lack of shoulders on the state routes, the short sight distance in the Ozarks (meaning cars wouldn’t see me until they whipped around turns), and aggressive drivers were all consistent headaches for every cyclist. We’d come to find out we weren’t an exception.

As we got deeper into southeastern Missouri, the road became more of a self-propelled roller coaster. Each grueling climb released into a wicked fast descent (30+ mph) that carried us over the subsequent rolling hills.

In Coffman, the pavement turned pink:

Because we got such a late start, we expected to do only about 50 miles. With 12 to go before we arrived in Farmington, where we planned to stay that night, we made an impromptu stop:

In Farmington, we stayed at Al’s Place Bike Hostel. It was an old jailhouse converted into lodging for cyclists on the TransAm. And it was across the street from a bike shop, to boot.

By far this was the nicest accommodation we had so far on the trip. With bike storage on the first floor, the second floor felt like one of those decked-out condos where the cast would stay on MTV’s “Real World.” Several clean bedrooms with bunkbeds, fresh linens and towels. Lots of outlets. Huge bathrooms with all the soaps. Leather couches. Laundry. Modern kitchen. Air conditioning.

There were a few people staying there already: Jen, from Quebec, riding the TransAm west to east. Lexi and Sebastian, a couple from Germany. And Pete from Chicago who had just ridden the Western Express. More on them later.

We went out for dinner and beers in town before turning in. Three sessions of hitting the sauce in one 24-hour period? John and I were fast asleep.

Here are some shots of the hostel:











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