Day 26: Saint Louis, MO to Litchfield, IL
Distance: 72 miles
Climbing: 2,500 feet
Yesterday, I told myself that I needed to stop looking at the weather forecast. After all, there’s nothing I can do about it. I look at the forecast, see bad news, and immediately start worrying.
So, the first thing I did this morning was to check the weather forecast.
Amazingly, the forecast was better than it had been when I went to bed last night: Partly sunny skies in Saint Louis in the morning, followed by showers and cloudy skies in the afternoon.
After yesterday’s drowning, this sounded like perfect picnic weather. And since today was such a short day, who knows, maybe there wouldn’t be any rain at all…
I left the motel with Lon, Susan, and possibly Jim Hlavka. I thought that would be easier than reading the route card and getting lost. We were just about the last ones out of the motel, but we overtook a few people on the eight-mile ride to breakfast. As a bonus, I got to hear Susan’s reminiscences about growing up in Saint Louis and to hear both of them chew out a driver who shouted something nasty at us and then got stuck at a red light.
Breakfast was fun, although we all carefully locked our bikes. Then we rode to the famous Arch, where we stopped for some pictures and gawking.
Next, we tried to get on to the St. Louis Riverfront trail, but the first floodgate was closed, so we ended up taking a somewhat unpleasant street route instead. Franz later told us that a local showed him and some others how to get onto the trail a different way.
Everyone eventually wound up at the famous Chain of Rocks Bridge, which is now open only to bikes and pedestrians. We had it pretty much to ourselves, and the view was wonderful, with downtown Saint Louis sparkling in bright sunshine in the distance and the rapids of the Confluence below us. We said goodbye to Susan Notorangelo before crossing the bridge; she’s staying in Saint Louis for a family wedding.
The next few miles featured some vintage concrete pavement, another bridge over a canal, and at mile 32 a really pretty bike path. I was riding with Franz now. Being from Northern California, I was shocked at how quickly the weather changed, even though I had read the forecast. Before I knew it, we were riding with the partly sunny skies to our right and a giant, menacing black swirl of clouds to our left. The wind was picking up, and it was from the west, which sort of helped us most of the time. We picked up the pace in a (futile) effort to outrun the rain.
All we really got was a shower, but it was enough for both of us to put our rain jackets on. The temperature dropped, too. I don’t think Lon ever expected that we’d be cycling in the mid 50’s in Illinois in May.
The showers let up as we got to the town of Livingstone, where Franz and I decided to stop at a recommended (by the route card) café for the Country Inn Motel. This was a great, cheap lunch; I had fried chicken, bread, mashed potatoes with gravy, green beans, Mr. Pibb, and a giant piece of coconut cream pie for less than $10.
Lon and several other riders rolled in while we were eating. We left with Lon and, almost immediately, the rain showers started again. Back with the jackets. A few more miles and the showers stopped and we had to stop, too, to take off the jackets (at least Lon and I did; Franz seems to have a great tolerance for wearing his rain jacket).
The rain was more of a nuisance than anything else; the wind was more of a factor. This was a strong cross wind when we were heading north and a slight tailwind when we were heading north east. On the rare occasions when we went due east, we really flew. This is the same wind it’s predicted that we’ll have for more than 120 miles tomorrow. The terrain is very flat, so the wind is the big obstacle.
Somewhere, we picked up Reed and Jim H., and Jim led us into Litchfield at a pulse-pounding pace. He’s got more than 20 years on me, but it was all I could do to hold on. Reed, who’s no slouch himself, also just managed to keep up, although he stayed far enough back to make sure that he wasn’t getting a draft. “I finally realized, ‘Hey, he’s not riding tomorrow,’” Reed told me as we both dropped back for the last mile or two into town. Jim’s one of our crew, so he rides only on alternate days. Plus, he later told me that he spotted at least four Eastern bluebirds.
During a fair bit of the final northward stretch toward Litchfield, we were paralleling some abandoned Route 66 pavement on our right. Lon rode across the median to check this out for a while. It looked pretty bumpy, but when he was ready to catch back up to us he just did that fast thing he does and he was suddenly ahead of us. The pavement ended with a guardrail-style barrier, but he somehow navigated between that and a ditch to get right back onto the highway without losing any ground.
We were among the very first in to the motel, so I managed to get some laundry done and reorganize my bag before dinner (at the excellent Ariston Restaurant, which is the most high-falutin’ place we’ve seen since La Posada). It’s a relief to know that I won’t (cross fingers) need to do any more laundry on this trip.
We’ve reached a point where I can actually envisage the remaining days – the end is actually in sight. But first, we need to make it to Bloomington on the longest (mileage) day of our trip.