Denver to Chicago

 

Fall 2006

 

Denis Kertz, ©2006

 

Day 31: Tue, Oct 03, 2006 - Plains, TX to Post, TX [91.5, 7:46:12, 11.8 mph]

There was no breakfast place in town so I bought milk and cereal at the grocery store for breakfast and a banana.Todayís route gave me three options with 3 towns spaced about 30 miles apart.

 

I started for Brownfield 32 miles away.For the day I saw mostly cotton fields and some milo fields.With the flat terrain it was not exciting scenery.All day it seemed I must have been on a slight grade since I seemed to be 1-2 mph slower than I would have expected.

 

When I entered Brownfield, 9,500, I found the library for Internet access.After that I stopped for a burrito and cold drink.It was about 1:00 when I left town for Tahoke, 28 miles away.It was pretty warm when I left so I was in shorts and a light, long sleeve jersey.It would have been really warm but there was a crosswind that helped keep me cool.

 

With no change in scenery I just cranked out the miles on the road with a good, wide shoulder and little traffic.I made Tahoka, 2,900, just before 3:30 and stopped for another cold drink.The only thing that bothered me about the heat was the warm water in my water bottles.

 

With plenty of daylight I set off for Post, another 26 miles and just cranked out the miles.Finally, with about 5 miles to go there was a change in scenery.There was an honest-to-god descent into a sea of green.

 

In this town of 3,700 I found a Subway and ate there.I checked a motel that looked inexpensive but they wanted $45.I rode back to the Subway and washed up in the restroom.A couple there told me about the town park just south of town and I went there.It was by a small lake with many birds carrying on simultaneous conversations.I set up hurriedly because the mosquitoes were voracious.Then I walked to a nearby drive-in to write my notes.

 

It was a very warm night and not great for camping.I never zipped up my sleeping bag and sometimes I slept outside the sleeping bag.

Day 32: Wed, Oct 04, 2006 - Post, TX to Haskell, TX [114.8, 9:37:24, 11.9 mph]

The birds at the lake woke me in the morning with their raucous noise.I rode the short distance back to town for a breakfast of pancakes and ham which was okay.I augmented that with a cereal breakfast from the grocery store.I finally left at 9:15 which seemed a late but it was more like 8:15 to me with the time zone change from mountain to central.

 

The scene change yesterday from cotton fields to brush continued as I rode through brush country most of the day.It was 80 miles to Aspermont, my likely destination, with another 30 miles to Haskell, a more desirable stop but less likely.Because of the country there were few towns early on with 43 miles to Clairemont with an estimated population of 100.It was easier riding today through rolling brush country.Unfortunately, the wide shoulder was pretty rough for a good part of the way.The chip seal in a number of places was mixed and I finally resorted to riding just inside the white line, where vehicles had compacted and smoothed the chip seal, when I could.

 

It was another warm day with temps in the high 80s, low 90s and I started the ride in shorts.Riding wasnít so bad because it created a breeze but drinking warm water wasnít fun.So I hoped for a cold drink at Clairemont but it was just a trailer and a couple of abandoned buildings.I continued on to Jayton where after 54 miles I got my cold drink.

 

It was another 23 miles to Aspermont, a town of 1,000.When I got there just after 4:00 I saw it had a motel and my plan was a motel for the night.I stopped at a food mart for a cold drink and then some ice cream when I saw ice cream in Dixie cups on sale 2 for $1.After that I felt pretty good and debated the merits of continuing to Haskell, another 31 miles, for a total of 110 miles.I realized if I made Haskell, tomorrowís route to Graham, the logical destination, would be a short 63 miles.Otherwise, I would be faced with a 93 mile ride.Later I learned I was off by 9 miles and it was a question of 72 versus 102 miles.

 

So I took off feeling good.At this point much of the brush country was left behind and replaced by farmland.Along the way I got flagged down by a guy in a pickup, and trucks were the predominant vehicles in this part of the country, along side the road.He just had to know what kind of trip I was doing and I told him.

 

Ten miles from Haskell I passed through Rule where I was surprised to find a motel.It looked run down so I thought it might be a real bargain.This was reinforced when I pressed the office door bell and the button fell off.However, I passed when I found the bargain was $38.So I finished the 10 miles to Haskell, 3,100, arriving at 7:30, about 10 minutes after the sun had disappeared.

 

I found the motel on the east side, the only one in town I was told by the guy who flagged me down.It cost $50 but I took it.It was actually a very nice room for the price with Internet access and a continental breakfast but I was disappointed it didnít have laundry facilities.

 

I had my heart set on pizza and was given directions to a place inside a grocery store.It was too far to walk so I took my bike with my lights in the darkness and got there just after 8:00, when the pizza/deli had just closed.So I backtracked to a Subway along the way.Then I checked out the Laundromat and learned it was open all night.I rode back to the motel, showered, and grabbed my dirty clothes and rode back to the Laundromat.

 

After that I took advantage of the Internet access at the motel and then wrote my notes, not getting to bed until after midnight.

Day 33: Thu, Oct 05, 2006 - Haskell, TX to Graham, TX [77.5, 7:15:15, 10.6 mph]

The continental breakfast was a disappointment.It was only cereal and some pastries.I prefer my own cereal so all I got was milk and a pastry.That wasnít enough so I had to hunt up a restaurant.After asking I found a place going south through town.I also found another motel and it undoubtedly would have been at least a little less expensive.

 

I had a good 2+2+2 with real bacon.As I left 2 guys asked me where I was headed.I get a kick out of peopleís reaction when I say Chicago, which never occurs to them as a logical destination.Then the confusion is complete when I say I started in Denver and they canít imagine what I am doing in Texas.

 

Texas is still in a heat wave with temperatures expected around 90 but it was a bit cool with a breeze and I started with my tights.It was 72 miles to Graham and I hoped it would be easier than the last 3 days.It started out okay with a smooth shoulder but then turned nasty.The shoulder reverted to the rough chip seal and I was only making about 8 mph, 3-4 mph less than I expected on what looked like a flat route.There was a bit of headwind and my legs might have been a bit tired from yesterdayís long ride.It was agonizing to grind out at 8 mph and project that out to a 9 hour day Ė just what I didnít want.

 

Finally, after 25 miles the road became rolling and I reverted to normal speeds.I could only conjecture I was gradually climbing on what I thought was a flat road.With an improved disposition I made it to Throckmorton, a town of 900, shortly before 1:00 and stopped for a cold drink.Earlier I had started wondering if I might need to stop for the day in this town.

 

I set out again about 1:15 to Newcastle, another 26 miles.Over the last couple days the riding had degenerated into how fast I could get to the next cold drink.This dayís ride was through a combination of brush country and farmland.Since the scenery was not exciting that let me focus almost totally on a cold drink.

 

The section to Newcastle started out with a great smooth shoulder but that was interrupted by about 5 miles of road construction which would have been okay except for the smell of a freshly oiled road.Then the smooth shoulder returned for a while until the last 5 miles to Newcastle.

 

Newcastle was a town of 500 and I momentarily feared it didnít have a cold drink but I found a place.After that it was 13 miles to Graham, a sizeable town of 8,700.Those miles went fairly quickly and I reached town at 5:00.Last nightís motel proprietor had warned me that the motels were on the other side of town so I knew I had to go all the way through town.At first all I saw were the more upscale motels but then I rode right past a somewhat decrepit, run down looking place and found a room for $30.50 in cash, credit cart not allowed, and I had to fork over most of my remaining cash.But the room was okay with a bed, TV, remote, and air conditioning.

 

Determined to make up for last nightís aborted pizza run, I got some cash from an ATM and walked to a Pizza Hut.I ate an entire medium pan pizza.

Day 34: Fri, Oct 06, 2006 - Graham, TX to Decatur, TX [73.9, 7:08:35, 10.3 mph]

Last night at Pizza Hut I asked about breakfast and was surprised there apparently wasnít a real breakfast place in a town of 8,700.So my choice was either Dairy Queen or McDonalds.I chose the latter and had 2 Egg McMuffins plus a house newspaper.Then I stopped at the grocery store for milk and a cereal breakfast.

 

It was 2 miles back to the junction to pick up 380 at the other end of town.My destination was Decatur, 66 miles away.The good thing was a cold drink was never more than 15 miles as the heat wave continued with a projected high near 90.

 

The scenery was similar to yesterday except the brush had grown up into full fledged trees but it was still rather unexciting country riding.

 

I passed up a stop at Bryan, halfway to Jacksboro, and continued the 28 miles to Jacksboro.Along the way I noticed a grasshopper on my pannier and I wondered if he realized he was leaving family and friends behind as he hitched a ride.However, as soon as I got into town he hopped off so maybe he knew what he was doing.In town I had a 32 oz soda and thought it was so good I had another.That was a mistake and it left me bloated.I left shortly after noon and it took about an hour to work off the excessive drink.

 

About halfway between Jacksboro and Decatur I passed by Lake Bridgeport.There were services by the lake at Runaway Bay so I stopped for a cold drink.As I left I could tell my rear tire was nearly flat.It was apparently a slow leak so I just pumped it up to what my sick pump would put out, about 40 psi.

 

There was noticeably more traffic for the day but it really picked up the last 10 miles to Decatur.It was nearly continuous traffic in at least one direction with a lot of big construction trucks.Once again I was reminded why I hate the noisy traffic, especially after the little traffic on 380 up until today.

 

Decatur was at the intersection of 380 and 287.Later I realized I should have taken the 287 exit but I passed by.When I realized I was passing Decatur I took the next exit and came in the back way.The good thing is this took me through the historic downtown.Like Haskell and Graham, Decatur had a downtown square with a courthouse in the center.Haskell looked like it had seen better days with about a third of the buildings abandoned but Decatur looked in much better shape.

 

When I asked I learned all the motels were along 287.That told me I wasnít going to find anything inexpensive so I also asked about the town park.It wasnít far away but the guy was doubtful the police would allow camping.When I checked it out I found a recreation area rather than a typical town park with a couple of ball diamonds and a skate board and there really wasnít a picnic/camping area.

 

Earlier I had asked directions to the motels from 2 guys.The first guy got flustered trying to give precise directions that I was glad I didnít try.The second guy gave me a simple, direct route to 287 from where I could see the area and figure out how to make my way around.

 

This area was just a typical strip mall area with fast food places and motels.I found the library but there was only 20 minutes left to closing so I didnít bother.Along 287 I could see a Ramada, a Comfort Inn, a Days Inn, and a Super 8.I figured the Super 8 was probably the cheapest and I was right next to it.I got a room for $51 with my AARP discount.I can remember when Super 8 was a competitor of Motel 6 for budget accommodations but has since become much more upscale.My room was really nice.

 

After settling in I walked close to a mile to a Dairy Queen that was having an all-you-can eat Friday night catfish dinner for $9.I had that but opted for water for drink.I had just about ODíd on soda fountain drinks during this heat wave and water was looking better all the time.

Day 35: Sat, Oct 07, 2006 - Decatur, TX to Denton, TX [33.2, 3:02:27, 10.9 mph]

The continental breakfast was no better than the other day with just cereal and pastries.There was an IHOP on the other side of the freeway so I managed to get there with some creative riding and had their multigrain and nuts pancakes.From there I was able to make my way back through the town square and back to 380.

 

380 started as a 4-lane rolling highway with not quite as much traffic as yesterday but still much more than I like.My destination was Denton, 27 miles away.My intention was to make this an easy day which it was.I also planned to visit a couple of bike shops to see if I could fix or replace my Topeak pump.

 

When I got to Denton I found a Waffle House at the intersection of 380 and I35.Had I known about it I would probably have settled for a late breakfast and a double pecan waffle.Once I reached I35, 380 became a congested in-town 4-lane road.I knew there would be motels by the interstate but I kept my eye for anything along 380 that would be less expensive.

 

When I reached Elm Street I realized I was just a block from one of the bike shops.I thought I had lucked out when I saw a Topeak replacement hose in the shop but it was for a floor pump model.So I picked up a patch kit and rode on to the other bike shop.It was just south of the town square which had a nice courthouse in the center and vibrant businesses surrounding it.

 

The second bike shop carried Topeak pumps but was out of my particular type, which looks like a frame pump but unfolds into a floor pump style.The bike guy showed me the location of some motels on Google Maps but they were all along the interstate.

 

I rode north through the town square and found the library for Internet access.I researched some motels along 380 and found some near McKinsey which I didnít realize at the time was about 30 miles away.Then I headed back to 380 and east on 380 to find a motel.

 

I lucked out and in a couple of miles there was a lone motel on the east edge of Denton.It was obvious it would be the best deal and I got a room for $40.60.It wasnít the best location for services but there was a food mart and an Italian and a Mexican restaurant nearby.

 

I watched some college football and had a small pizza at the Italian restaurant.Back at the motel I discovered the MU-Texas Tech gave was on and watched MU win 38-21.

Day 36: Sun, Oct 08, 2006 - Denton, TX to Emory, TX [94.1, 8:07:27, 11.5 mph]

I wouldnít have been able to get breakfast except the Mexican restaurant had it on weekends.I had scrambled eggs, bacon, and potatoes with refried beans and tortilla chips.It was filling but not my idea of breakfast.Back at the motel I had my cereal breakfast.

 

I left at 9:00 destined for at least Greenville, 60 miles away, and possibly further.First, it was 30 miles to McKinney.It was lucky I found last nightís motel because there was nothing else until McKinney.There was a huge church, the Denton Bible Church.With this huge complex in this upscale area with new cars and pickups in this bastion of Republicanism (there were no Democratic wins in Denton Country in 2006), I couldnít help wonder how many of these folks saw the disconnect between their professed faith and the reality of their support for the most immoral president of our generation.

 

The other standout of the day was the continuous real estate billboard bombardment.Every other billboard seemed to be touting some housing development in this rural area on the northeastern outskirts of the Dallas area.This continued all the way to Princeton in a stretch of almost 40 miles.And in Princeton, a town of 2,000, there was a huge high school Ė big enough to hold the entire town.I could only guess it had been over built to handle projected growth.

 

The morning was cool and comfortable, fine for my tights and long sleeve jersey.There were also plenty of food marts for a cold drink but I didnít stop until McKinney.I also pumped up my rear tire as it looked a little low.

 

There was a lot of traffic on 380 that started as a 6-lane and was a 4-lane most of the way.Just before Farmersville it became a 2-lane and traffic eased off somewhat.About 4 miles from Greenville I felt my rear tire was very soft.I stopped and found a slow leak and fixed it.My balky pump did a reasonable job of inflation.

 

On the outskirts of Greenville I picked up 69 southeast.At this point 380 apparently ended, probably preempted by I30.I stopped at a food mart with a Subway and ordered a foot long sub, ate half and saved the other half for later.Then I headed south towards Emory, 26 miles, with possible stops at Lone Oak and Point.

 

This was better cycling, a little easier and a little less traffic and better scenery.I was feeling fine so I passed through Lone Oak.A few miles outside Point there was a motel that I thought was closed but a sign advertised $25 rooms.I wasnít planning to stop but that rate enticed me.However, the owner said he wouldnít have a room for a couple days.I couldnít wait that long so I continued on.

 

In Point, I saw a turnoff for a state park Ė perfect I thought.At the turnoff there was nothing in sight and no mileage signs so I asked at the food mart at the turnoff.At first I was told 4 miles but then it sounded longer.With at most 1 hour of daylight I wasnít prepared to risk it so I continued on to Emory, another 8 miles.

 

I rode through Emory looking for a town park and motels.I saw the park but didnít see the motel until my return pass.It wasnít cheap looking so I settled in the town park.After setting up I walked across the street to a Dairy Queen, which was very popular on a Sunday night.I had a blizzard, wrote my notes, and cleaned up.

Day 37: Mon, Oct 09, 2006 - Emory, TX to Marshall, TX [94.6, 7:54:30, 11.9 mph]

When I got up I discovered my rear tire, that I had fixed yesterday, was flat again.Not the way to start the day but at least I didnít have to unpack the bike.There was a water canal along the park so I used that to find the leak.It was a slow one that I wouldnít have found without water.Even after locating it I wasnít sure exactly where it was so I patched and hoped I covered the hole.My balky pump inflated the tire to a reasonable pressure.

 

Since the pumped worked well enough I decided to find the slow leak in the front tire.I found and fixed it.It was good that I did because in the time it took I discovered my rear tire was already going soft.So I removed it again and found the leak.It was right next to the new patch, suggesting I missed patching it.However, this leak was more noticeable and I could feel the leaking air against my face whereas I couldnít the first time I patched the tire.I also couldnít find anything in the tire itself.So I fixed it again using a patch from the kit I bought just the other day in Denton.

 

Finally after almost an hour I loaded my bike and rode just north to a cafť I saw coming into town that looked like a breakfast place.It was.Their waitress didnít describe their pancakes in great terms so I opted for their daily special which was fine.

 

While I was eating I reviewed my maps and the dayís route down 69 and east on 80.I noticed that 154 went all the way to Marshall and bypassed Longview and probably a lot of traffic.I discussed 154 with a local and it seemed like a viable alternative so I decided to take it.

 

On my way out of town I stopped at a grocery store and had my usual cereal breakfast.So I didnít actually leave until close to 10:00, largely due to my flat tire fiasco.

 

I rode 6 miles south to Alba where I took 182 east to connect with 154.182 was a great country road.It was narrow without a shoulder but it didnít need to be wide with little traffic.It ran 12 miles before it joined 154 just outside Quitman.I stopped in Quitman for a cold drink on what was already a fairly warm day.

 

At this point 154 didnít have a shoulder but it was wider than 182 and that accommodated the increase in traffic.154 in combination with 182 would turn out to be easily the most scenic section of my ride across Texas, through hilly countryside with trees and occasional ranches.The trees were close enough to the road that they provided some relief from the sun and projected interesting shade patterns across the road.

 

12 miles outside Gilmer the road improved to a smoother road surface.I stopped in Gilmer for a cold drink and got to talking with another guy there.He stated that 154 was much hillier the rest of the way and suggested heading down to Longview to bypass the hills.

 

So I took off on 154 looking for 1650 that was supposed to cutover to 259 to Longview.Fortunately, I never found that road.Later I discovered I would have had to turn on another side road first to get to 1650.When I stopped in Diana I inquired again and a local told me 154 really wasnít that hilly.In fact he said after Harleton it was mostly downhill to Marshall.

 

Based on this localís input, I decided to continue on 154.The only problem was it was 4:30 and I had 28 miles to Marshall and would be pushing daylight.154 continued its rolling, winding route much like before but wasnít quite as enjoyable because I had to push the pace to avoid nightfall.154 seemed not to be much hillier than before but it was doubtful whether it was mostly downhill to Marshall.

 

Of course, daylight was fading rapidly as I approached Marshall.Near Marshall I took a rode south to 80 and passed through town on 80.As I feared I found no motels so I stopped at the junction with 59 and asked.As I feared they were south on 59 towards the interstate so I rode that way.

 

In a couple blocks I spotted the Budget Inn where I got a room for $40, more expensive because I had to pay for a double.I was famished so I ate at a Chinese buffet I had spotted on my ride into town.

Day 38: Tue, Oct 10, 2006 - Marshall, TX to Bossier City, LA [45.8, 3:47:42, 12.1 mph]

It was overcast in the morning with the threat of afternoon thunderstorms.I rode south a bit looking for breakfast but gave up and turned around and rode to the junction with 80.I got some milk for a cereal breakfast and then stopped at a McDonalds for an Egg McMuffin.

 

After 2 long days and with the threat of rain looming I figured the 40 miles to Shreveport was a good destination.Heading east, 80 was a good road with little traffic.Most of the traffic was on the parallel I20.As I approached the Louisiana border 80 ran side-by-side with I20, separated by about 30 feet.

 

It sprinkled a few drops along the way.After 25 miles I stopped at a large truck stop for a break.

 

I didnít know any great way into and through Shreveport, population 198,000, so I just followed 80 which took me past the Independence Bowl and through some industrial areas.I was hoping to find the library and expected it would be someplace downtown.At an intersection downtown I asked a passerby where the library was and she pointed to a building on the diagonal opposite corner.It didnít stand out as a library and there didnít appear to be any sign.

 

I spent a good hour at the library and when I walked out it was raining lightly.My first thought was to kill some more time at the library but I wanted to get settled in a motel before the evening rush.So I put on my rain gear and set off.In a couple blocks I crossed the Red River into Bossier City, a city of 56,000.I was concerned the motels would all be by the I20 but I found several motels along 80.I picked the Budget Motel and got a room for $35 including taxes.

 

The motel was okay, a little small but it wasnít the greatest location.However, there was a nearby mall with a food court and it had a Subway where I ate.On my way back I picked up a few things at a grocery store and settled in for the night.

Day 39: Wed, Oct 11, 2006 - Bossier City, LA to Monroe, LA [105.2, 7:54:35, 13.3 mph]\

I ate breakfast in my room using the milk I had stashed in my small refrigerator.My front tire was very soft so I found a slow leak and fixed it.Now I only had 2 small patches left from the patch kit I bought in Denton.

 

I already knew where I was eating breakfast.My research in the library showed a Waffle House east on 80 so I saddled up and rode out.I found the Waffle House about 4 miles later at the intersection of I20/I220.I had my usual double pecan waffle.

 

My plan was to ride to Reston, a little less than 80 miles.I expected a relatively easy ride since it would be mostly flat and I had some tail wind.80 started out as a 4-lane divided which was overkill since the traffic didnít warrant more than 2 lanes.The shoulder would have been fine if it didnít have a rumble strip right down the middle.It was also an inconsistent shoulder and I rode the right side sometimes and one either side of the white line at times.

 

About 5 miles from Minden 80 reverted to 2 lanes.I stopped briefly in Minden and moved on.After Minden the shoulder disappeared which was okay since there was very little traffic.However, the traffic lane was fairly bumpy with lots of cracks across the pavement.On the bright side 80 turned into a fairly nice ride through wooded countryside.

 

I stopped in Gibsland which claimed to have an authentic Bonnie & Clyde Museum.Itís harder to get something reasonable to eat in food marts now.Louisiana is the deep South which believes if it isnít fried it isnít food.I rode another 8 miles to Arcadia and found more fried food.

 

The next stop was Ruston but it was hard to know how far away it was.Louisiana apparently doesnít believe in highway signs giving away mileages.I saw 2-3 signs all day.But I made Rustin, home of Louisiana Tech, by 2:30.When I was told Monroe was another 32 miles I figured I might as well push on.I was feeling fine and riding at a good pace and there was no particular reason to stay in Ruston.

 

When I set out I discovered I was no longer on 80 and had to decide whether to turn north or south at a stop.Fortunately, 2 guys came along and pointed out I20 was north so I knew I had to head that way and rejoined 80.

 

I pulled into West Monroe, population 13,250, right at 5:00 and at 100 miles for the day.I rode through town in some messy traffic.I crossed the Ouachita River and entered Monroe, population 53,000.I started looking for a motel and found the Texas Motel where I got a room for $33 but had to pay cash.The proprietor pointed out that there was a buffet a couple doors down that I was embarrassed to have missed.I ate there and absolutely stuffed myself.

 

Afterwards I found an ATM machine to replenish my cash.Then I ran into a Fed Ex guy at a food mart who drew a map to a Waffle House on my way out of town in the morning.

Day 40: Thu, Oct 12, 2006 - Monroe, LA to Tallulah, LA [62.4, 5:44:01, 10.9 mph]

I walked to a food mart for milk and ate in my room.Then I set off east on 80.I had thought I was on the east side of town but I was on the west side.So I had a fair ride through town, passing by the University of Louisiana Monroe, formerly known as Northeastern Louisiana, and through some road construction.At the east edge of town was the Waffle House the Fed Ex guy told me about.I had the double pecan waffles and they were better than yesterday.But the location didnít seem very good and there were only a couple other customers around.

 

I left at 8:30 on an overcast, cool, windy day.The wind was northeast so it was a fair head wind that made it a struggle to maintain a double digit speed even thought the route was flat all day.80 ran along side a railroad and I heard some loud train whistles.I had a line of trees separating me from the railroad on my right but the left side was frequently open and left me vulnerable to the wind.I saw my first cotton fields since West Texas.

 

80 was frequently in sad shape.One section of concrete had sizeable asphalt repairs.However, there was a 20 mile stretch between Rayville and Waverly that was in great condition.Then 80 deteriorated again with frequent bad cracks for long stretches a couple feet from and parallel to the white line.Fortunately, the light traffic made it easy to maneuver around the bad cracks.

 

With the cool weather there was no need to stop for cold drinks.So I rode all the way to Tallulah, population 9,200, before stopping at 1:30.Then I was faced with the decision whether to continue the 25-30 miles to Vicksburg or call it a day.The forecast was for some rain in the afternoon and that combined with the head wind and no bail out made Vicksburg an iffy proposition.

 

When I stopped at the town library there were a few sprinkles and that cemented my decision to call it a day.But the library was a bit of a disappointment because I couldnít print on the laser printer which needed toner.Of course, when I left the library the sky was clearing but the wind still prevailed so calling it a day was probably a good idea.

 

I rode a little east on 80 and found a motel for $40 cash.This marked the 5th consecutive motel I had stayed in that was run by an Indian person, who appear to have a lock on budget motels.

 

The motel was located between a pizza place and a grocery store and I took advantage of both.However, it wasnít near any breakfast place and there really wasnít anything in town.Most likely I would have to head south out of town towards I20 if I insisted on a real breakfast.

Day 41: Fri, Oct 13, 2006 - Tallulah, LA to Vicksburg, MS [38.6, 4:17:17, 9.0 mph]

I ate my cereal and banana in my room and set off at 7:45 since there was no breakfast place within reason.The road started out very nice but that only lasted 5 miles when it reverted to its rough and cracked surface.Combined with some head wind it wasnít great cycling.

 

The way east was through Mississippi delta country with a lot of cotton fields.Most were already picked but I got to see some cotton picking in action in one large field with several pickers working the field.

 

It was a little less than 20 miles to the Mississippi River.I didnít realize I was there when 8 was blocked off at a bridge but then I remembered reading that the 80 bridge over the river was closed.That was a dilemma because that left the I20 Bridge and bicycles werenít allowed on it.So I would have had to backtrack to I20 and call for a taxi from Vicksburg or pull a Ulysses Grant and head further south to cross the river.

 

Instead I decided to finagle a solution.The railroad track was immediately adjacent to 80 and they both shared the same bridge.The railroad track had a narrow pathway on both sides of the track and I decided to use one.I rolled my bike up on the pathway which was corrugated iron with teeth.Then I saw a train coming the other way and I retreated until it passed.

 

I got back on the pathway, feeling less comfortable because there didnít appear to be that much room when the train passed by.I also didnít feel comfortable riding my bike on the iron teeth grating.Fortunately, there was only a low fence separating the tracks from 80.So I unloaded my bike and dropped my panniers over the fence and lifted my bike across.

 

When I reloaded my bike I had a nice personal bridge and took my time riding across with a nice view of the Mississippi.I hoped the other side would be easier but it wasnít.The roadway climbed a bit while the railroad stayed flat.The road was blocked again at the east end of the bridge with a drop off on both sides.So I had to retreat a bit to where the roadway and railway were adjacent and reverse the unloading procedure to get back on the tracks.From there I pushed my bike off the tracks but I still wasnít done.I was faced with a hill by the Visitor Center that was fenced off between the railroad and the visitor center.So I had to push my bike around the other side of the visitor center to I20 which passed right by the visitor center.From there I was able to ride the wrong way up an entrance ramp and get to the visitor center.

 

After checking out the visitor center I saw a Waffle House on the other side of I20.So I was compelled to ride to it on an overpass and have a late breakfast.The cook was skeptical that I could handle a double pecan waffle but it was no problem, as it hadnít been the last 2 mornings.

 

I planned to spend the rest of the day in Vicksburg and investigate some options for getting home by other than pedal power.I had previously checked out Amtrak that I went from New Orleans to Chicago but it apparently didnít go through Vicksburg.I confirmed that and that I would have to go to Jackson to catch the train.The other option was renting a car one way but Vicksburg only had an Enterprise and they didnít do one way rentals.

 

That left my option as riding to Jackson.I would have considered riding north another 250 miles to Memphis and deciding at that point whether to return home or continue riding but the weather forecast for Sun-Thu was very iffy.

 

I spent the rest of the day checking out Vicksburg which has a storied history as a key battle site during the Civil War for control of the Mississippi River.I rode through the historic downtown.I checked in at the library and had to pay $1 for Internet access.Ironically, this was the only library on the trip that charged for Internet and it had the worst Internet access of all the libraries I had used.Their PCs were under equipped with memory and I couldnít use Google Maps without choking a PC.

 

Last I stopped at the Vicksburg National Military Park.This park preserves the site of the American Civil War Battle of Vicksburg, waged from March 29 to July 4, 1863.It had a nice visitor center with a good presentation on Grantís siege of the city that lasted 47 days.There was also a 16 mile ride through the park.I elected to ride only a few miles but it was very nice, hilly, and green with many trees and many monuments to the members of both sides of the historic siege.

 

Finally, I rode just a little east of the park to a campground and got a tent site for $12 and ate at a Subway.

Day 42: Sat, Oct 14, 2006 - Vicksburg, MS to Jackson, MS [44.7, 4:00:48, 11.1 mph]

I hit the sack at 9:00 so I was up at 6:15 with the sun not due until about 7:10 which is about when I left the campground.I stopped at a food mart for a cereal breakfast and then rode a little east on Clay Street to a Waffle House, possibly my last one of the trip.The waitresses seemed confused about who should serve me or they were trying to extend the stay of my last breakfast.I ended up having my usual Waffle House breakfast.

 

As I left town there was a motel advertising $25 rooms.I was satisfied with my tent site but if I had opted for a motel I likely would not have seen this one and it would have aggravated me no end to miss a good deal.

 

The plan for the day was the Amtrak station in Jackson to see if I could get my bike home by other than pedal power.I wasnít exactly sure that 80 went the entire way and I could avoid I20.However, I started on Clay which turned into 80.

 

80 was a narrow 2-lane shoulderless road that cut a narrow swath through the rolling countryside.Initially, there was more traffic than I liked but that died off as I got away from the Vicksburg area.It was about 40 miles to Jackson and the Amtrak to Chicago left about 5:00 pm so I expected to have time to burn if everything worked out.

 

The road was fine for a while and then it deteriorated somewhat but not as bad as in Louisiana.

 

After a little over 10 miles of riding the defining moment of the day occurred.As I was riding I saw something in my peripheral vision fly to my forehead.I thought it might be a mosquito and I tried to swipe it away.Apparently I didnít succeed because about 20 seconds later I got stung.At first I thought it was a mosquito bite but it hurt way too much for that.

 

Iíve been stung before and lived so I wasnít worried.Then 10-15 minutes later I started itching, first around my scalp and then around my waist and wrists.I couldnít imagine what could have caused that.When my crotch started itching that was aggravated by the pedaling and I stopped to apply some ointment.When I did I could feel big hives.When I took a peek at my waist and groin they were all red splotches.Finally, I realized I must be suffering an allergic reaction to the sting.

 

Around this time 80 appeared to end at Edwards, a small town, and I picked up the I20 frontage road, which the folks at the campground told me about and called old 80.As the itching increased after passing through Edwards I wondered if I should have stopped for something.Then things got worse.My legs started feeling very lethargic and I could just barely pedal.Fortunately, the road was good and flat and I could manage about 10 mph when I should have been doing 12-14 mph.At that point I started wondering whether I could make Jackson for medical attention.

 

And then I started having trouble swallowing.Drinking a little water was an effort.I wondered how much worse this was going to get.Never having had any reaction to a sting other than some local pain and swelling I wondered if this could get really bad.The only good news was the itching had faded.I debated whether it would be better to stop and rest but there really wasnít any good stopping place.

 

Eventually, after an hour or so I started feeling better.I regained the energy in my legs and had only a little difficulty swallowing.When I reached Clinton on the outskirts of Jackson, the frontage road ended and I thought I was forced on to I20.I got on I20 and off at the food mart at the next exit, less than a mile.

 

I felt fairly decent although I still had a little difficulty drinking.When I went in the restroom, the mirror revealed that I was puffy around my nose bridge and eyebrows.When I checked my map, I saw I could pick up 80 just by going north over the I20 overpass.I confirmed that with the proprietor and took off for about another 10 miles to get downtown.80 was a 4-lane road with a center turn lane and no shoulder so it was not a good cycling road.After a few miles it developed a shoulder and was okay.

 

After 5-6 miles on 80 I turned left on Robinson Street.It had no shoulder but had less traffic.In 4 miles it ended at Capitol Street and I took it to 300 W, the location of the train station.This was very close to the capitol but was a run down area of town.The next block was mostly boarded up closed businesses.

 

When I wheeled my bike into the station the Amtrak area did not look promising.There was only one passenger and no sales agent in sight.However, I found an agent in back and told him I wanted to go to Chicago if I could get my bike on the train.

 

He checked and they had a bike box, one that was large enough for the bike without any panniers and only required removing the pedals and turning the handlebar sideways.So I got a ticket for $181, somewhat more expensive as a last minute purchase, and $10 for the bike, a far cry from the $50-80 charged by the airlines.

 

I had gotten to the station at 1:00 and took about an hour to pack my bike and the remaining gear into 3 checked bags, my duffel bag with sleeping bag and tent, my front panniers lashed together, and my rear panniers lashed together.I used my nylon back pack for my carryon stuff.All in all, a fairly pleasant packing experience compared to my standard airline packing.

 

After packing I went in to the restroom for a sponge bath and a change of clothes.What I saw in the mirror was somewhat shocking.My left eye was about half closed and my right eye about quarter closed.It was a little surprising that the ticket agent hadnít comment on my appearance and I explained I was really much better looking than I looked.I also noticed when I put on my wrist watch that my wrist was swollen enough that I had to use one more notch in the watch band than normal.

 

After checking everything it was 2:30 and boarding wasnít until 5:27.So I had some time to kill and walked around downtown to see the capitol, the courthouse, and other sights.

 

Boarding was on schedule on our Superliner from New Orleans with main stops at Jackson, Memphis, and Chicago.Inexplicably, in light of all the empty seats, I got assigned a seat next to another occupant.When I questioned this I got moved to an empty aisle.

 

The train left promptly on time at 5:44.And immediately the woman in front of me felt compelled to start a cell conversation, informing her listener that she was off and carrying on from there.On cue the person in front of her started her conversation and chatted for about 30 minutes.I would dearly have loved to have access to the intercom so I could have informed passengers that cell phone usage was not mandatory and sometimes just impolite.Later, one woman insisted on jabbering on her cell phone for an hour up to 11 pm while others were trying to sleep.

 

With sunset about 6:30 I only had about an hour of viewing time.With the train scheduled to arrive at 9 am that mean most of the ride would be in darkness.

Day 43: Sun, Oct 15, 2006 - Jackson, MS to Naperville, IL [36.8, 3:25:57, 10.7 mph]

I slept reasonably well under the circumstances.Around 6:30 am the woman in front of me was unable to control herself and started up a cell conversation.At 7:00 I headed to the lunge car and got a cup of coffee and cinnamon roll.I enjoyed this while watching the passing landscape in the early morning sun in the lounge car without the intrusion of any cell conversations.

 

At the Homewood stop the lounge car closed and I had to retreat to my seat.I did enjoy an empty seat next to me the entire way. My swollen face was worse in the morning and perhaps that was why no one sat next to me.My face was so swollen around my eyes and nose that a smile forced my eyes to close.

 

We pulled into Chicago Union Station slightly ahead of the 9:00 schedule.I retrieved my regular checked bags promptly but the bike box was delivered in the basement.To get to the basement I had to take an elevator but I couldnít do that until a security person waved a magic wand in the elevator.That took about 15 minutes and then I had everything.

 

It was easy putting everything back together and I was on the road just after 10:00.A station officer on a Sedgway warned me to put on shoes rather than sandals, claiming it was a wind chill 27F with wind from the west but I didnít have a problem.I used a section of the Grand Illinois Trail to get me out of the Chicago downtown to the Illinois Prairie Path.It was generally okay riding and some scenic parts down tree covered roads and then the prairie path itself.No doubt riding was better because it was a Sunday morning.

 

When I reached Glen Ellyn I detoured from the prairie path and made my way home to Naperville, arriving just after 2:00.


 


 

Copyright Denis Kertz, 2006. All rights reserved.