A Trip Across the Heartland
July 1996

This is a journal that I kept as we rode the second leg of our multi-year cross-country cycling journey. Enjoy!     Duc

Saturday, 7/20 Guttenberg, IA to Bellevue, IA, 65 miles

It was hilly! Most of the day we went along the Mississippi River, so I thought the route would be fairly flat. Big mistake! We felt like we climbed more today than even that day over Togwotee Pass in Wyoming in ’91. A total of eight big ones, each at least a mile long, and all crest about 400 feet above the river. The view was spectacular, but the legs paid the price.

We had a late start out of Guttenberg because of the snafu with the Avis rental car. When we rented the car, Avis insisted on having me adding Dennis Kohrs (who would drive the car back to Louisville) in person. But when Dennis and I drove down to Dubuque airport to add his name to the rental agreement, they didn’t even look at me. A wasted two hours and over a hundred of miles of driving because of stupid corporate "procedures." Avis ought to change their slogan to "We try (to make it) harder." It was almost 1 o’clock when we finally pedalled up the hill out of Guttenberg on the way to Dubuque and Bellevue, our overnight stay tonight.

Luckily it was overcast and cool all day, allowing us to finish the ride, though drained but not overly spent, ready to ride again tomorrow. We got through Dubuque, the only big town on today’s route, without much problem thanks to the map of the city I grabbed while at the airport earlier.

Bellevue was much smaller than we remember, and the only room we could get was at the Riverview Motel, hard by the river and right above the Riverview Restaurant and Bar. But it was a pretty good evening, considering we didn’t even get to town until 7:30 pm. Had dinner, watched a barge lock through, then watched the Olympics on TV. We were trying to establishing a rhythm for the trip.

This area of northeast Iowa has a strong Catholic influence, and the most visible sign of this heritage is the presence of many splendored churches in the area. Although we didn’t go through some of these towns today, we’re somewhat familiar with this area from our many RAGBRAI trips previously. Who can forget the grand basilica in Dyersville, or the great stone Gothic church at St. Patrick Garryowen. Today’s route is not an exception. Even little Buene Vista, not much more than a wide spot in the road, boasts a huge church right in the middle of town. Late in the afternoon, the imposing church at St. Donatus, high on the hill and visible for many miles, became the beacon for us as we drew near Bellevue. It never fails to inspire awe in me to think of the pioneers and early settlers building these "legacies" of their faith in what was the frontier at the time. What awesome legacies!

Sunday, 7/21 Bellevue, IA to Rock Falls, IL, 78 miles

The sprinkle we felt at the start of the ride in Bellevue was the sign of the things to come all day. Indeed, the day started out cool and got cooler. It probably got no warmer than 70° and this is late July! In Illinois! And the clouds only lifted briefly in mid-afternoon when we got to Sterling/Rock Falls.

We crossed the Mississippi River at Sabula Island to Savanna, Ill. The great river is very broad and forms many channels at this point. It’s difficult to tell where the marshy swamps end and the river starts. But the main channel crossing was a harrowing experience on that metal grid bridge deck. But we had a pleasant enough stop in Savanna, Ill., at the gas station. We sat reading the Sunday paper on the rocking chairs in front of the store for a while and enjoying the brief sunshine. Coming out of Savanna, we took to a secondary road and eventually ended up on gravel, at the same time that it sprinkled the hardest all day, so we got rather dirty for a while. On top of that, this being Sunday, we didn’t find many stores open in either Chadwick or Milledgeville, the two little towns we went through. Thankfully, we made it to Sterling/Rock Falls without much difficulty and with the clearing sky. But the story of the day was the raging headwind out of the east all day.

The crossing of the Rock River from Sterling into Rock Falls turned out to be a lot easier than I had anticipated. In fact, it was down right easy, even with the flooded river. Instead of crossing on the big US 52 bridge, we found the smaller bridge on Peoria Avenue much to our liking less traffic. And the towns are just big enough to provide two or three motels out on the south side of town by the expressway. We stayed at the Super 8 motel, very convenient to the Bennigan’s just across the street. More Olympics coverage on TV for the evening.

Monday, 7/22 Rock Falls, IL to Streator, IL, 98 miles

What a great day! We ended up at almost 100 miles but we weren’t devastated by any means. A cloud cover all morning assured that it stayed cool. Then when the sun came out in the afternoon, we enjoyed a mostly tailwind for the eastward leg from Henry to Streator. Got to Streator without much trouble except for the last part of the day, the ride on SR 18 into Streator had a little too much traffic. Otherwise it was a great day for routing. Walnut-Wyanet Rd., which we were on for more than 30 miles, was great. Mostly deserted, very little traffic, flat to slightly rolling. In short, a great road.

We met Al Baron as we stood pondering the "Road Closed" sign on CR 6, the shortest, most direct way to Henry. He rode up within 30 seconds of our arrival. He’s also riding cross-country, though you couldn’t tell by his bike. He was riding a full-out racing bike with just a fanny pack on him. We found out he was being sagged by wife Jane. We all decided to chance the closed road and to meet up for lunch in Henry. Interesting couple. We spent a good hour talking to them in the park in Henry, enjoying the sunshine while Al fixed his flat tire. We ended up staying at the same hotel in Streator, shared a pizza dinner and swapped stories late into the night.

The Illinois River was barely back into its banks in Henry after a rare summer flood caused by heavy thunderstorms in the Chicago area last week.

A storm blew through town in late afternoon, but it rained only a little and promised to be another great day tomorrow clear and not too hot, with high in the low 80s.

Tuesday, 7/23 Streator, IL to Rantoul, IL, 97 miles

Wind, wind, and more wind. The wind was out of the west or southwest all day. We went mostly south today and that SW wind was a killer. More than 60 miles total southbound, and we earned every bit of it.

Al and Jane left about the same time we did, but they continued on toward the east, while we maintained our southeasterly direction, which in Illinois means going straight south a bit, then straight east a bit more, and repeat. We started out in the fog and the going was pretty easy for the first 20 miles or so, as we headed east toward Odell and Emmington, but once we turned south after Emmington, we stared straight into that SW wind that we’d have to deal with the rest of the day. The long ride yesterday took its toll on Paula and she was pretty spent after 30 miles, and we still had more than 60 to go.

The 10-12 miles going into Chatsworth was the most difficult I’ve remembered doing. It was comparable to that day of hellish wind on the high plain outside of Ogallala, Neb., in 1991. We worked without any break because of the flat terrain and the quartering headwind, and just can’t seem to maintain any kind of speed at all. Chatsworth, though slow coming, was a good break. We had a leisurely lunch at the Old Chapel Inn (no kidding! it was in an old church) and by the time we got going again, we still had 40 miles to go, but we were feeling a bit better.

And slugging it out was what we did. Except or a short break in Elliot to drink a couple of pops out of the machine (no store!) we didn’t stop at all. It takes 210 pedal strokes to go a mile! Your mind had to be occupied somehow.

The day itself was a perfect (but rare) summer day brilliant blue sky, low humidity and not too hot at all. When we got into Rantoul at 4 pm, I had hardly sweated at all.

Tomorrow: another long day in store.

We are definitely settling into a rhythm of life on the road. And it’s a good life riding all day with your spouse. Televised Olympics games on the tube in the evening so we have something to watch other than the usual eye garbage.

Wednesday, 7/24 Rantoul, IL to Marshall, IL, 93 miles

What a serendipitous day weather-wise. It rained in the early morning hours before we got up, yet was mostly dry when we started out from Rantoul. It stayed mostly cloudy most of the morning though the edge of the clearing clouds was right over us, and moving southeasterly at about the same speed as we were. It wasn’t until when we stopped for lunch in Hume that the clouds raced ahead and it was sunny the rest of the way.

The SW wind was still there today and the toll it took was severe. The 35-mile march toward Marshall after lunch was doubly difficult because, again, as was yesterday, we found no place to stop and take a break. Finally we just pulled over under some trees in Dudley and lie down on some concrete walkway. I even power-napped for a few minutes. Rural Illinois is full of little burgs and villages, but one cannot count on any store in most of these little towns. As the farming economy changed over the years, and people become more mobile with the automobiles, these little hamlets usually can’t support even a little grocery store.

The mid-afternoon storm came roaring out of the northwest and chased us all the way into Marshall and enticed us to get a motel room for yet another night instead of the planned camping at Lincoln Trail State Park just south of town. Oh well!

But the storm blew right over us and it cleared up. And it feels much more comfortable after the front passed through. The next few days are forecasted to be very nice. It’s shaping up to be a great week for a bike ride after all.

We rode down to Pizza Hut, about a mile away, for dinner.

Thursday, 7/25 Marshall, IL to Bloomfield, IN, 86 miles

It’s supposed to be a short day, yet we still ended up with 86 miles.

The weather continued to be spectacular sunny, breezy and high only in the low 80s. We started out on SR 1 out of Marshall, but quickly ducked off of it to the smaller roads to go down to Hutsonville. After several ziggings and zaggings we got to Hutsonville for an extended break and I placed a call to colleagues at Dow Corning just to say hi.

Once we crossed the Wabash River into Indiana, we quickly got off the busy SR 154 to the smaller county road (CR300N) that parallels it to the north. Its paving surface is quite a bit more "aggresssive," Runge-esque even, but it’s still much better than taking our chance out on the main drag. However, the situation changed after lunch in Sullivan. The road petered out to gravel then to rocks on the side road east of town, forcing us out to SR 54 where the coal and gravel trucks fly. They just weren’t slowing down any for just two cyclists on a tandem, loaded or not. So again, we zigzagged across the main road trying to get to Bloomfield in one piece. But this produced a couple of frustrating moments when we missed a turn on the road and ended up all the way in Pleasantville where the road ends (on the map, at least), and the confusing jog in Lyons also slowed us down a bit. That and the attempt by the locals to give us directions. The last snafu was the closed bridge on a small road to cross the White River. We had to go back out to SR 54, but luckily it was but a mile or two on it before we got to town.

On top of all that, the only room left in town was at the rinky-dink Sleepy Hollow Motel, and a smoking room at that, and it stinks!

But all of the frustrations are offset by the chance encounter with Nellie Roach, the secretary for the city of Bloomfield. Instead of just giving us directions to a restaurant, she offered to drive us there and had dinner with us. If not for her, we wouldn’t have had a chance for a good buffet dinner at the Good Times Restaurant, a good five miles west of town on SR 54.

Friday, 7/26 Bloomfield, IN to Spring Mill State Park, Mitchell, IN, 55 miles

Luckily it’s a short day, as it was a hilly day. No sooner than we left Bloomfield that the terrain turned hilly. We were in a nice long valley through Mineral and Koleen, but then it was the first of many climbs up to Owensburg. A couple more climbs put us in Silverville where we conferred with the elderly couple and decided to stick to the planned course and go down to Williams. Which turned out great as we got to cross the East Fork of the White River on the Williams Covered Bridge, about 200 feet long, still in great shape.

We were now in the White River watershed and the terrain is decidedly hilly as the roads climb up and down the many ridges and folds of the land. More climbing followed as we tried to get to Mitchell by smaller county roads without getting on either SR 37 or 60. It was a good decision as it took us what seemed like five minutes of waiting before we could even cross 37 north of Mitchell. East of 37, we followed some unknown Dan Henries (probably TRIRI’s) right into Spring Mill State Park.

A nice place! We got in early, set up camp, cleaned up and still had plenty of time to loaf around before the multitude started to arrive for the weekend. The dinner at the lodge was pretty good also worth the effort to get on the bike to get there.

All in all, it’s been a great trip so far. Can’t wait to get home to see the boys. Just one more ride in the morning.

Saturday, 7/27 Spring Mill State Park, Mitchell, IN to Louisville, 81 miles

We were now in familiar territory. I’ve been here on club rides before, so we navigated pretty much from memory. Livonia, Becks Mill, Short Corner, Martinsburg, all rolled by without much problem. Suddenly we were in Greenville and now in really familiar territory. We had to take a little circuituous route to get to the top of the hill in Edwardsville to approach New Albany from the west instead of barging in from the crowded north side.

Pretty soon, after a lunch at the Dairy Queen on State Street in New Albany, we got on the bike for the last leg home. Rode through the deserted streets of the industrial area in Jeffersonville and crossed the Ohio River on the Clark Bridge. We are home!

As if to underscore the insularity of life on the roads, we didn't have any knowledge of the bombing at the Olympics Centennial Park in Atlanta last night. Not until we got home and turned on the news that we learned of the terrible incident. For most of the day today, we were probably the only two people in America completely in the dark about the bombing. It was a harsh welcome back to reality!

Totals: 654 miles over 8 days.

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Web posted: 15 April 1999
last updated: 4 August 2000