Photo: Trans Am Bike Race blog, Nathan Jones and Anthony Dryer
On the other side of the bridge we pass a statue of Popeye and enter Chester. Evan and I each pack two feet of breakfast sandwiches from Subway, our blond friend heads home to Farmington and we ride into the farm lands of Illinois. Southern Illinois is just as hilly as Missouri. The riding is rural and fun. We rollercoaster our way to Wine Hill, past Shiloh Hill to Campbell Hill. We wind past deserted store fronts in Ava and stop at a gas station on the outskirts of Carbondale, near Southern Illinois University to load up for the night. We ride through the woods of Giant City State Park past Spring Arbor Lake, then Little Grassy Lake, then Devils Kitchen Lake. It’s a perfect warm evening ending a hot summer day. I imagine the Bikecentennial riders of ’76 camping and swimming on their big adventure. It’s the first and only time I’m nostalgic for their trip– so many young people crossed the country that summer.
We pass through Goreville in the dark. Out of town, on narrow Tunnel Hill Road, drivers line up behind us, blind to the oncoming traffic. They’re courteous, but It’s unnerving to be followed in the dark. It feels like being stalked.
We ride the hills of the Shawnee National Forest. My headlight illuminates road signs for steep descents. I watch the curves of the route on my GPS and pray that there is no debris in the road. Up and down we ride to Elizabethtown. It’s quiet and well lit and still. Past midnight we find the historic hotel on the shores of the Ohio River. We roll the bikes through the grass to the back porch, our private entry. I plug in, shower, pull the felt blanket over my head and fall asleep.
We’re out just after 5AM to ride the ten miles to Cave-In-Rock. We make it there five minutes before the first ferry at 6. Nathan and Anthony meet us at the dock to ride with us across. I eat the last six inches of egg sandwich while we wait for the ferry to board. It’s a free ten minute ride across the Ohio River. A couple in a Sedan wait for us on the other side and welcome us into Kentucky. It’s an early morning, but they wanted to see us off. We sign a poster and start pedaling uphill. Fifteen days into the race across the country, only two states stand between me and the Atlantic– the two hardest states, Kentucky and Virginia.