Hello from Carbondale, Illinois, where the TransAm does a short stint on the way West before Missouri. I hit the thousand mile marker recently and survived the Kentucky gauntlet, though things really picked up for the better in the state’s Western half.
The harsh hills have become bucolic, rolling farmland for this stretch. I’ve been working on my moos to greet the cattle contentedly grazing near the road. The riding has become more pleasant, though we’re still getting knocked down to ‘granny gear’ on the steepest ones. Some of the terrain has been flat enough to almost double the pace compared to the past few weeks of riding.
Dog attacks are still commonplace unfortunately, with reckless rural pet owners abound out here. Just yesterday, a fellow cyclist, Steve, toppled off his bike after one bit into his bags and pulled him into a ditch. I have my pepper spray ready every day for them and am expecting the onslaught to continue through Missouri. My tolerance for unruly dogs has plummeted way down again after this trip.
Since Berea, I’ve partnered up with one of the warrior cyclists, Amanda (Warrior Expeditions sponsors veterans of combat for trips like this and the AT.) We’ve had a similar, fast pace and a good personal connection, so it’s been smooth staying around each other. It’s great having someone watching your back, to banter with and motivate on these long days of riding.
Together, we opted to do a loop trail that splits from TransAm to visit Mammoth Cave State Park. It’s home to the longest known cave system in the world, and we did a short walk through its most accessible portion as a midday break. I’d love to go back sometime and do one of the very in-depth ones, but not on a day with hours of cycling!
Around this loop, which started near Pres. Lincoln’s birthplace of Hodgenville, we also got caught upon the border of Central Time. It’s been weird being right on that edge and watching our devices struggle to pick the right timezone, as well as experiencing the shift in daylight. At this pace it’s analogous to getting hit by daylight savings again. Am I bikelagged?
I’ve found myself drifting into a crepuscular rhythm out here. My body almost immediately adapted to waking up at first light, which is the best time to get miles in out here. I then start to feel pretty sour when it comes to midday and the climbs are exacerbated by a glaring sun. I’d like to start taking longer breaks in the midday, reading, juggling or napping, and then finishing as the sun is waning over the horizon.
Now that I’ve got three weeks and change of cycling in, I can say I prefer distance hiking to biking. The general aches and pains of hiking all day are trivial to the constant sense of butthurt that creeps in on you after being in the saddle all day every day. Riding out here has real perils in managing vehicular traffic. Another Warrior Cyclist, Robert, was recently hit by a truck and sustained non-fatal injuries, but his trip is over. I’m constantly wary of everyone else on the road, in contrast to being able to daydream ambulating in the woods.
My diet of gas station dregs out here is definitively worse than what I ate on the AT as well. I also prefer the divide of no devices rather than this grey area where I’m hunting down Wi-Fi wherever and constantly filling up on power. Grievances aired, I’m still content with this trip and very committed to finishing. I’d even probably do another bike tour some day, but man.. the butthurt is real.
Illinois crosses into Missouri tomorrow over the Mississippi River in Chester. Eventually we’ll get to Kansas where it allegedly flattens out entirely. I’ll only believe it when I see it!