Sunday, February 15, 2015

2014: Day Two continues, be ready for Plan B

St. Charles trail head, 130 miles of Katy Trail behind me
My Connect the Dots Tour continues, with the second half of day 2.

Within 15 miles, a loose rear rack had dumped my load, and I had fixed two flat tires. This was not a good start to the day, and a third flat could make it worse, as I realized my patch kit was back home in my rack trunk. I was now riding gingerly, watching for every possible rut or bump in the trail (both flats had been pinch flats, the tires were holding up fine).

As I continued east, I approached another section of limestone bluffs, towering over the trail and river. Twenty foot tall river navigation towers now came with each bend in the river, though I had yet to anything on the water larger than an occasional fishing skiff and a crew doing levee work. With my day already over an hour behind “schedule”, I forced myself to relax, enjoy the scenery and take pictures.
Work on the river banks

At Marthasville, a restored KATY caboose was home to a trail side hot dog and ice cream stand, and it was the first I found that was open since leaving Columbia. I enjoyed a Diet Coke and a hot dog, and asked about a hardware store, but no luck, the caboose was the only thing open in town. I continued east, still nursing my bike over over bump or rut that might be my catastrophic third flat. 
A massive limestone over hang along the trail

At the SR47 Trail Head I found a sign for a bike shop, and gave them a call, but they were almost 6 miles off the trail. The owner offered to meet me with a tube, but could not leave for another hour and a half. I weighed my options and moved on.

The small towns of Dutzow, Augusta, Matson all rolled by, and finally at Defiance, I found a town that was open, and it had a bike shop. I picked up another tube, a patch kit and used their floor pump. I also topped off my Gatorade bottles and CamelBak, and enjoyed an ice cream bar. But the one thing I did not do was “top-off” my my iPhone or back-up batteries, something I did not think about until I was leaving town.

By now it was already 3 in the afternoon, and I still had 20 miles of Katy left, just to make St. Charles. The haze had burned off by now, and when not in a tunnel of trees, I was riding under sunny skies, into a light easterly wind. Just as I was trying to make time, it was against a headwind.

After Defiance, the next town up was Weldon Springs, and I was now transitioning out of rural Missouri and bumping against the outer edges of greater St. Louis. The first sign was a gated community running along the trail, and the next was overhead. Just after watching a deer cross the trail ahead of me, I started to hear a low rumble. I came around a slight bend, and suddenly I was in midst of a huge construction park for a new bridge across the Missouri for I-40. The old and new bridges were over a 100 feet above the trail, the highways running across the top of the riverside bluffs.
The Katy crossing under the new & old I40 brides over the Missouri

After crossing under I-40, there were more signs of suburbia along the trail. I began to see more riders and walkers, and parks and subdivision abutted the trail. Yet the Katy continued to surprise me, as I would again be enclosed by vine covered trees clinging to rough rock cuttings on my left, with marshy tree filled sloughs on my right.
Lewis & Clark statues in St. Charles

Finally the transition was complete, as the trail began to weave along the edges of parking lots, old freight yards and a sports arena. I crossed under I-70, and within a few miles I was in St. Charles, the starting point for Lewis and Clark. Near their bicentennial monument, I asked a passerby to take my picture, and after 130 miles, I left the Katy to begin the pavement portion of my trip. For a short stretch I rolled along the brick main street, passing a restaurant where I had dined at with Linda’s family.

It was 5 pm, with 65 of my planned 85 miles to my overnight and just about 2 ½ hours of daylight. I was working my way through St. Charles during rush hour, navigating by iPhone, but another issue started coming up. The battery was running low, and I had used up both back-up batteries. I had dinner on the bike for in camp, so I hit a quick shop to top off my water bottles, grabbed a snack, and continued on.

A rode a few miles on combination of neighborhood street and trunk roads, and crested a hill just before I crossed I360. This brought me to another family landmark, a fast food intersection from our frequent road trips between home and family in Missouri. I was now looking north and out over the floodplains of the Mississippi, and somewhere ahead was the Golden Eagle ferry crossing.

The retail and industrial parks north of St. Charles rapidly gave way to floodplain farmland. A hazy overcast contributed to the late afternoon sky, another reminder the remaining daylight would soon be limiting my options. Once I had road signs guiding me, I put my phone in “Airplane” mode, hoping to save enough battery for more navigation help later. With pavement and little traffic, I relished the chance to open up the pace a little bit, now riding a steady 16/17 mph.

I made the final turn toward the ferry landing, and the farm land gave way to sloughs and marshy woods. I came to a final bend, and a line of cars was was waiting. The rivers was almost 1/2 mile wide, and the running ferry was on the opposite shore. It took about 10 minutes for it to cross the river and land, and while I was waiting, my iPhone finally shut down.
Crossing the Mississippi on the Golden Eagle (Illinois) ferry

After boarding the ferry, the 10 minute crossing of the Mississippi included all the familiar sounds of throbbing marine diesels, water slapping against the side of the ferry, and chains rattling on steel as they were pulled by the deck hand. (Between the Great Lakes, the Northwest and the great rivers, I seem to have knack for working ferry crossings into bike tours.)

Leaning over the side, I snapped a few picture evening sky on the river, and the approaching Illinois shoreline. A busy tavern was just above the landing, and I considered stopping here, but my male optimism held out for the making the Brussels ferry, after the deckhand told me it was just 5-6 miles and combination of turns I almost followed.

Back on the road, I started with a steep climb out of Golden Eagle, cresting the first hill after about a half mile. It was just the first, as the road now followed a gently climbing ridge with rolling green pastures falling off on either side. After another half mile of climbing I could now see across the Mississippi behind me, and to the east, the Illinois River valley. The quiet pastoral view was breathtaking. Or maybe it was all that climbing after almost 80 miles.

I passed a couple intersections, all gravel roads. My Illinois State map (navigation Plan B) did not have enough detail, but I should have been riding around the southern edge of this finger of land between two rivers. But the scale of the map did not provide enough detail to really show where I was, and the hazy evening sky did not give a true indication of true west or east.
The land between the rivers.

After 5 miles, I came to a T-intersection, with a sign indicating Brussels to the left, but nothing to the right, and nothing to indicate the ferry landing. I was headed to the “Brussels” ferry, so why not head to Brussels? It was already after 7, with sunset looming. So I choose left, and didn’t look back (a fateful decision, it turns out). After a couple of miles of rolling hills, I was still climbing, and just assumed the ferry would be a steep drop from the ridge, just like the Golden Eagle ferry I had started from.

Another 3 miles, and I saw a church steeple rising from a cluster of buildings, and was passed by a couple cars. I finally rolled into town and up the “main” street, with two open taverns, but no sign indicating the ferry landing. So I doubled back to the first first tavern I had passed, and leaned my bike against the side. I was at 85 miles, and it was early twilight, so I was running out of options.

I walked inside, and up to bar, which had a half dozen locals. The twenty something bartender came up to me asked if I wanted anything. I politely asked “How far is the Brussels ferry from here?”

“The Ferry? Oh, it’s about 9-10 miles down the road from here.” She answered, indicating the direction I had entered town from.

I was spending the night in Brussels.

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