Friday, 11 September 2015

Familiar Place Names in Far Off Lands

Location: Peoria, IL, USA
We set off from Massey Marina bright and early but were drowning in sweat in no time after the road turned to gravel and then presented us with by far the steepest grade we'd seen since Duffy Lake Road. Despite my instincts telling me to get off my bike I forced myself not to give in and did initially attempt to ride it, but pedalling a loaded bike up a 15% hill in loose gravel is way beyond my capabilities and after very nearly stacking it I got off and began the sweat-inducing effort of pushing a heavily laden bike up something I'd find hard to walk up. Tom followed suit shortly after and we both heaved and huffed, sweat dripping freely as we battled against gravity to shove our pack mules to the top. As soon as it flattened out a bit we hopped back on to give our aching arms a rest, then, thankfully, order (and tarmac) were restored. From there on it was pretty easy riding through rural towns and rolling farmland. We reached Sabula, 'Iowa's Island City', where we took a long, low causeway across the water, past fishermen and huge clumps of lily pads. We both thought it felt like the Everglades in Florida, not that I've ever been. The causeway led to a large blue truss bridge over the river proper.  I would have liked to get photos of the bridge, which was probably the biggest truss bridge we've been over, but unfortunately the driver behind me had no idea how to deal with cyclists and so I just had to pedal as hard as I could to get up and over the bridge so I could then pull over on the other side and let them finally pass us.

Crossing the river meant crossing into a new state, Illinois, our thirteenth, but sadly no sign. Savanna, the town on the Illinois side, had a sweet little train car museum where we ate our lunch, but they didn't have wifi so we crossed the road to the KFC to scrounge internet access from the car park to let our host for that night how we were getting on. From Savanna we were able to get onto the Great River Trail which would take us the remaining 45 miles to Port Byron. Its not all a segregated bike path, but even when you're on roads they are very quiet back roads. It felt very different from what we'd ridden through so far; the houses were much smaller, quite a few trailer homes, it felt poorer, and actually the lady in the train car museum had said that Illinois is a very poor state, which surprised us both. We then cycled towards a very large group of buildings which as we got closer became apparent was a prison. It was huge, it can house 1800 prisoners. Turns out its also pretty much empty and always has been; there's one reason the state of Illinois is broke, they spent over $170 million on a prison that doesn't get used. Not long after that a cyclist rides towards us and it turns out its our host, Bruce, come to ride the last twenty or so miles with us. We got into Port Byron, home of our hosts, Will B. Riding, a giant rider on a penny farthing, and the annual Tug Fest, a tug of war across the river between Port Byron and LeClaire! Wish we'd been in town for that!

Bruce and Becky were prolific cyclists in their day, fitting tours in around working full time and raising kids, often taking the kids along too. They have also ridden the Paris-Brest-Paris which I am now tempted to attempt myself. They were kind enough to let us stay for a rest day so the following day we had a very lazy day and did close to nothing. Bruce rode out with us the following morning, despite the fact it looked very likely to rain, and then did rain, very heavily. We said goodbye to the Mississippi and rode east along the Hennepin Canal which was wonderful, though the trail was in varying conditions from asphalt to overgrown dirt. We parted ways after a bite to eat in Annawan where we left the canal trail and instead rode the back roads south. We passed through both Sheffield and Bradford, and past a sign for Castleton, all of which made us chuckle, and made it to our Warm Showers hosts earlier than we had expected.

We had a fantastic evening with Amber and Florin; we went out for an amazing steak dinner and then got a tour around Peoria. They both work at Caterpillar and took us to see the D10, a massive digger, and then we wandered around downtown, listening to open air live music and watching the beautifully lit paddle boat, the Spirit of Peoria, come in to dock.

The next morning, Amber and Florin rode out of town with us after cooking us an amazing waffle breakfast. It was really foggy when we left but luckily we got to ride on bike trails through the city and by the time we were across the river and on the edge of Peoria we were out of the fog.

After saying goodbye to our new friends we called in at the Aldi. I am genuinely excited that I can shop at Aldi. Not only do they stock the same delicious chocolate they do in the UK, they are also organised in the same way so shopping is so much easier for me than in the standard, large American grocery stores. We were soon back on the trail stocked up with goodies on our way to the city of Normal where we needed to get some fuel for our stove which was running very low and, since we were camping for the next couple of nights, was therefore essential if we wanted to eat more than granola bars and jerky. Sadly this did not go as smoothly as one would hope.

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