Tour de Shawnee 2016
“I already don’t want to get up in the morning,” I say to my husband as he turns out the lights on our Cape Girardeau, Missouri hotel room. The lights go out and we go to sleep. Tomorrow will be the last organized ride of our riding season: the Tour de Shawnee.
The Tour de Shawnee is a charity bicycle ride held in the southernmost part of Illinois. This year the charity benefiting from the funds raised is the M.S. society. Jeff and I have ridden it for several years. This year, I’m not enthusiastic about the ride. I’ve recently changed jobs and the stress of that major life change has left me tired. I’ve not devoted much time to training either on or off the bike. I feel insecure in my ability to ride the hills on this route even though Jeff has reassured me I did a much harder ride 2 weeks ago on the Pedal the Cause ride.
The next morning our alarms sound and we take our morning medications. Jeff’s feet connect with the floor as my head reconnects with the soft pillow provided by the Drury Suites. The room is dark and cool. I have no trouble returning to slumber.
All too soon, Jeff returns and begins nagging me to awaken:
“You need to wake up sweet girl.”
“It’s time to get ready to ride, sweetie.”
“I love you, get up.”
This guy won’t go away. He won’t shut up. I have married the most annoying man in the universe. Ugh! My motto is: if you love someone, let her sleep.
Eventually, he nags me enough that I move sloth-like from the bed to the bathroom and begin preparing for the ride. As I apply moisturizer to my haggard face, Jeff appears with a cup of coffee. Clearly, I have married the most sensitive, wonderful man in the universe. Because my motto is: if you love someone, bring her coffee.
The magical hot liquid does its job. I awaken and continue through my pre-ride rituals. I finish my preparations as Jeff maneuvers bicycles out of the hotel room and to the car. I very much want to wear my new Sugoi shorts, the ones that have the newest, most comfortable chamois; however, Jeff reports that it is cold outside. Grudgingly, I opt for my long, Sugoi tights with fleece lining. Another reason, I am not psyched about this ride is the cold, October temperature. Most people would say it is going to be a nice day. The high is forecasted to be 67 degrees (F). At 6:30 a.m., the temperature is in the 40’s. It is difficult to know exactly what to wear on days like this. Dressing warmly enough for the 8 a.m. start leaves you hot later in the ride. Dressing for the forecasted warmer temperatures you will encounter later in the day leaves you freezing for the first hour or two. Layering is smart, but there is always the question of how you will transport the shed layers after you remove them. I ponder all of this as I look at the array of cycling clothes on display across the foot of the hotel bed.
I choose the long, black, Sugoi tights; a black, short sleeve jersey with a purple and pink dragonfly design, white arm warmers with a pink tattoo design and my high visibility pink, nylon, Sugoi jacket. The jacket is held together with magnets and can be converted from a full jacket to either a vest without sleeves or a bolero jacket. It can also be folded into itself to a small packet which can be attached easily to the bike. I feel I’m ready for whatever this day brings.
I wish I could bring myself to be more excited about the ride. Normally, I have butterflies and am excited to get to ride. Today, I am ho-hum and might actually prefer staying in bed while watching movies and eating junk food. I am careful not to voice these thoughts. Jeff appears to be excited for the ride and I don’t want to infect him with my case of the blahs.
We enter the car and drive back toward Illinois. I accidently call my mom. While it is good to hear her voice, I am stricken with guilt about calling her so early. She informs me that Carrier Mills is filled with dense fog. I assure her we are not seeing any fog. We say goodbye as the car approaches the Cape Girardeau bridge. The sunrise over the bridge is spectacular and fills the car with a warm, coral glow. I feel a bit more optimistic and begin to warm to the idea of riding today. As we cross the bridge, we see dense, white fog covering the land called Illinois.
We leave the clear skies of Missouri and head into the Illinois fog. As we drive from the river toward Olive Branch, Illinois, the fog becomes patchy. We drive into and out of the white clouds. I worry about bicycling with such terrible visibility. Jeff remains optimistic. We continue onward.
In a few minutes, we arrive at Olive Branch, Illinois. Olive Branch is a small town of a little over 800 people. It boasts a gas station, a cafe, a few churches, a grain elevator, and a community center which also houses the town library. Our destination is the community center. We arrive and are motioned to park in a freshly mowed field between the library end of the community center and the grain elevator. We are ushered to the most interior row of parked cars. The sun is rising over the field revealing cyclists gathered around the trunks of their cars. They are in various stages of pre-ride preparation. There is a little chatter, but most are silently focused on their tasks. Many take big sips of coffee from travel mugs and paper cups. I too swig from my travel mug before exiting the car.
Exiting the car, the sharp morning air slaps me in the face. It is cold. My desire to ride fades. Jeff and I begin the long walk to the registration area inside the community building. The grass in the field has been recently mowed, but it is still high. This morning it is also wet. As I walk through the field, my feet become wet and cold. By the time we arrive at the community building, my shoes are covered in wet hay. The community building is abuzz with activity. Cyclists are registering, picking up packets, and eating the breakfast the ride has provided. We have not pre-registered, so we head to on-site registration. We pay our money and receive numbers and the right to ride. There is no goody bag or T-shirt for the slackers who register on-site.
We pay our money, receive our numbers, pick up some safety pins, take a couple of route maps and head out of the building. We make a stop at the bright blue outhouses. I exit the blue box and see no sign of Jeff. I stand awkwardly alone in the crowd waiting for Jeff. People pass all around me, but there is no sign of Jeff. An orange glow moves toward me. A tall 60 – something man with grey hair and a high visibility orange shirt appears directly in front of me. I forget his opening line, but I find myself involved in chit-chat with this man. I don’t mind at first, but I am anxious to return to the car and prepare for the ride. I am also anxious to find my husband. As I chat with the man, I find whatever answer I give him to his question, he will one-up me with his own, better story. The conversation devolves into listening to him humble-brag. My patience is waning. I notice the blue box in which I thought Jeff was located is now empty. Perhaps Jeff couldn’t see me behind this giant orange glow. When the man pauses for breath, I interject, “I need to find my husband,” and leave him in my metaphoric dust. The grass is much too wet for actual dust.
I trudge through the wet hay to our car where I find Jeff happily preparing for the ride. He has not considered I might be standing alone in front of a line of porta-potties waiting for him while he was cheerily carrying out his riding preparations. I am momentarily aggravated. I shake my head and quickly forgive him. He is too happy and too cute to hate.
Hate is the word our neighbor on my side of the car uses to describe his feelings about the cold weather. He uses a few other choice words as well. I laugh as he apologizes for his cursing and assure him I understand and agree with his feelings. Most of the riders seem a little more grumbly and groggy than they have on the summer rides. Parked by our driver’s side door is a black jeep with a pink bike rack on the back. It is owned by a young couple. The young woman looks fiercely fit. She wears a long-sleeve jersey, black cycling shorts, and black, knee-high socks with skulls on them. She looks like a Viking as she walks her bike toward the road with her long, blonde hair flowing behind her. As she strides away, the young man yells, “Hey hon, ya want your helmet?” She laughs, replies that she does and trudges back toward the Jeep. It’s nice to know I’m not the only one feeling the blows dealt by my arch-nemesis; morning.
Jeff and I complete our pre-ride rituals and begin our trek from the car to the start line. There is an unorganized gathering of riders on the blacktop in front of the community center. We see our friend, Shon, there. It will be our one and only sighting of Shon during the ride. He is riding the 100 mile route. We are riding the 60 mile route. He will finish before we do. We stand and face the flag as the national anthem is sung. The woman who sings it does a good job and there is muffled applause from gloved hands as she finishes.
After the national anthem, we mount our bikes and start the ride. It is chaos. All levels of riders are mingled together. I find myself stuck behind a bicycle built for two which appears to be captained by Sir Brakes-Alot. I choose to pedal the flat side of my pedal and not clip in. The blacktop makes a sharp ramp to connect to the highway and I do not want to lose my forward momentum. We make it onto the highway and in a few yards, Sir Brakes-Alot steers his bicycle built for two away from me and onto the 15 mile route. I am relieved. I don’t know where Jeff is, but I am full of faith that he will find me. Soon he is beside me and we are pedaling in the cold morning air.
The morning air is cold and so are we. For several months, my long fingered cycling gloves have been in my Cat 5 cycling bag. I felt silly having them at rides that were held in 100 degree summer heat, but I knew where they were. Today, I felt smug knowing they were safely packed in my bag. That smugness left me when I found I had 3 pairs of fingerless gloves, but my full fingered gloves were not in the bag. Before leaving home, I had decided to clean and reorganize my Cat 5 bag. The gloves did not make it back into the bag. As a result of my organizing attempts, my fingers are freezing. Placing my fingers on the metal brake levers is excruciating. Beside me, Jeff is shivering so hard he can’t ride a straight line. He has opted to only wear arm warmers with his short sleeve jersey and forgo a jacket. He rues his decision.
We pedal along our course which takes us on a country blacktop lined with shade trees. A few weeks earlier this shade would be welcome. Today, it compounds our discomfort. We are still close enough to the start that riders are clumped together. The road begins a slight ascent then flattens. We soon come to a short steep hill. Most riders ride up it, but a few have chosen to walk their bikes. I know this is not “the big hill” on this ride. We continue until the blacktop makes a sharp left turn. There it is: the big hill. It is littered with people walking their bikes up the hill. I shift to my lowest gear and pedal my bike up the hill. It is hard. The grade hits 22%. Everyone ahead of me is walking his or her bike. There are no butts on bikes except for me and Jeff. The walkers don’t mind taking the center of the road. I silently curse them. My curses aren’t audible because I’m gasping for air. I’m mouth breathing and reaching for the bottom of my lungs as I begin to wheeze. I keep pedaling. A recumbent rider pulls up beside me, his chain pops and he almost wrecks into me. His friend on a second recumbent passes me, swerves in front of me, turns his bike broadside in the middle of the road and stops. Somehow, I manage to avoid all of this and keep going up the hill. I am going slowly, but I am going. My butt is still on the bike. I am still pedaling. Jeff is behind me. I reach the small plateau about one third of the way up the hill. A woman holding a sky blue bike is standing by the side of the road on the plateau. She sees me and attempts to mount her bike. I know from past experience if you are not strong enough to keep pedaling past this plateau then you are not strong enough to start on it. She is unsuccessful in her attempts, but dangerously close to knocking me over. Jeff later tells me he was terrified she would wreck me. She doesn’t wreck me. She begins her walk of shame up the hill as I continue to pedal. I am off the short plateau and beginning to climb again. The grade isn’t quite as steep as the lower one-third of the hill, but it is still quite challenging. I make it to the point of the hill you can see from the bottom. This is the point you might think is the top of the hill, but it isn’t. I want to quit, but the hill continues. It goes up and curves to the right. The top of the hill is an intersection with another road. A minivan is blocking traffic coming from the left. I pedal and pedal and pedal. I make it to the curve. I keep pedaling. Eventually, I make it to the crest of the hill. I want to pedal away and recover on the bike, but I am out of breath. I know there are more hills ahead. I stop just beyond the crest of the hill. Jeff stops with me. I catch my breath and drink water before rolling down the hill.
After catching my breath we roll down the hill, only to be met by the next steep uphill. I am leading up the hill with Jeff close behind me. A couple of strong riders pass me with ease. A woman I guess to be in her late thirties or early forties struggles, but finally passes me. She is followed by an older man wearing a dirty coat and blue jeans. The left leg of his jeans are secured with a bright red band. He struggles up the hill and rides beside me for an uncomfortable distance. When he is right beside me, he turns and looks at me and says, “If I ever get around you, you will never see me again. I will be gone.” I laugh, but soon realize he is not joking. He eventually makes it around me, up the hill and quickly down the hill. If only his words were true.
The downhill is fast, fun and over too quickly. We are now in the woods of Southern Illinois. The road is tar and chip lined on the right and left side by brown leaves which have fallen from the tall trees on either side of it. I ride this road and struggle up the next hill. Midway to the top I spot dirty grandpa and his friend? Daughter? Wife? Girlfriend? Caregiver? They are stopped at the top of the hill. We soon pass them and head down the hill. The couple take to their bikes and with much effort pass us again. Dirty grandpa does not like being passed. They zoom down the hill and we let them go. We roll down the hill and start the next uphill. The road makes a Y at the top of the hill. We veer left and see Dirty Grandpa walking his bike and his friend waiting for him at the top of the hill. We pass them and continue riding.
The road continues it’s undulating course. We loop around turning from heading northwest to traveling southwest. With the change in direction comes a change in altitude. We begin a long, fast descent. A trio of faster riders pass us shouting encouragement. We race down the hill and roll along a valley floor. The road is a smooth tar and chip surface. It is cold here in the shade of the tall trees. I feel good, but am low on caffeine. I know the first rest stop will have coffee. My hands are cold, my feet are cold, my nose is drippy. I dream of hot cup of coffee.
As I dream of coffee, we continue our ride along the valley floor until we see a bright red sign reading: STEEP HILL! I know these signs are meant to be helpful; however, they fill me with more dread than I would have if I just saw the hill. The pedaling becomes harder as we near the hill. We are riding uphill and the hill does indeed look steep. I shift my bike to a smaller gear and spin upward. The road curves to the left as the hill continues upward. The low branches of the trees part and I see a large group of cyclists walking their bikes up the hill. Seriously!?! Nobody is riding up this hill. It is steep, but rideable. They crest the hill while I am at the half-way point. They rest, recover, and drink water while I pedal up the hill with Jeff close behind me. I am tired; and yet, still riding the bike. We crest the hill, pass the walkers and ride on our way.
As we ride on our way, the sun is growing warmer, but the morning air is still cold. I still have dreams of coffee. I am tired, but motivated by my dreams of the hot magic liquid. We ride in the morning sun when we begin to be passed by some of the walkers. It irritates me. They used very little energy walking their bikes up the hill and are now sprinting toward the rest stop. I swallow my pride and continue pedaling.
Before long, we pedal to the end of the blacktop and intersect with Route 3. We pause for traffic and then enter the highway. In less than a mile we are at the turn to Thebes. Thebes sits on a bluff overlooking the Mississippi River. The entry to Thebes is uphill. We make a sharp left turn, bump across the gutter, and pedal uphill on a poorly maintained Thebes street. We push hard to make it up the hill and then make another left before we reach the top. Again, we bounce across a bumpy gutter, avoid potholes and large manhole covers which rise above the pavement. In a few feet we make a sharp right and find ourselves pedaling a ridge line in the middle of Thebes. Thebes is poverty stricken. Small homes and rusting trailers with cars on blocks line the street. To the right and uphill from us is a small bar. The building is decaying and dirty. There are iron bars on the doors and the windows. Neon signs glow from behind the iron bars. A plastic banner flaps and crackles in the wind as it advertises gaming and beer are available inside the crumbling building. We decline the invitation and pedal westward. As we pedal to the highpoint of the ridge, the buildings become nicer. We ride to the point where the hill crests and we begin a sharp downhill. A well-maintained brick church is to our left. Ahead, the road continues a sharp descent as it curves to the right. Straight ahead, is a small gravel drive that leads to a modest home partially hidden from view by the ridge. If we continued along this path we would drop off the edge of the cliff and drop into a small park. We do not follow this path, but catch a glimpse of the bright blue Mississippi as we make a sharp left into a gravel drive.
As we turn into the gravel drive, we see the drive makes a circle in the midst of a clearing of trees. The right side of the drive is cluttered with people and bicycles making their way to and from a folding table laden with snacks. We cruise to the left. There are several picnic tables to the left and more cyclist scattered about. We continue around the circle and stop near a light pole in the middle of the circle against which we lean our bikes. The middle of the circle contains a picnic table and a monument. We are standing in front of the back entrance to the Old Thebes Courthouse. To the right, we have a view of a the Mighty Mississippi. To the left is a view of a railroad trestle crossing the river. It is a beautiful, crisp fall day. We leave the bikes and head to the snack table, I am looking for that cup of coffee I have fantasized about for over half of the morning’s ride. I find it is nothing, but a fantasy. For the first time in the 5 years I have been riding this ride, there is no coffee at this rest stop. This must be a mistake! I must not be looking in the right spot. All I see is dreadful Gatorade. I ask one of the volunteers if there is coffee. She looks shocked and replies that there is no coffee. I remark that there has been coffee in the past. She states she can’t imagine wanting coffee after riding the hills. I do my best to remain civil and inform her that it is actually quite cold. I then thank her for the snacks and continue back to the bike where I meet Jeff.
We eat our snacks and drink our water which does not warm my hands or body the way a cup of coffee would have. I mourn my loss and try to forget it. We snap a few pictures outside and then head inside the Old Thebes Courthouse. The historical society is doing its best to keep the courthouse in good repair. This is a landmark of great historical significance. The building was built in 1848, legend tells that Dred Scott spent the night in the jail there. Legend also states Abraham Lincoln also practiced law there. No documentation has been able to prove either of these legends; however, there is just enough historical evidence to make both legends possible. A black male was held in the prison at the same time as the Dred Scott case. Lincoln was acquainted with a family in the area and was known to have visited the family. It is an interesting building with an interesting history. I encourage you to visit it. While visiting, be sure to step onto the porch and enjoy the view of the Mississippi River from the bluff. Jeff and I did.
After leaving the courthouse, we refilled our water bottles, mounted our bikes and resumed our ride. The ride left the courthouse drive and resumed a downward descent. The hill leaving the courthouse is steep. I ride the breaks. At the bottom of this slope, our street ends T-ing into another street. We look for traffic and then make a left turn continuing our descent. The street flattens. A small park stands between us and the river. Before we reach the park, our route takes us to the right. We parallel the river then swerve slightly away from it and head slightly uphill. We pass several houses and single-wide trailers which look as if they may have seen floodwaters in times past. We pass a small roadside park with a shelter housing picnic tables, a scenic view of the river and a historical marker which we don’t have time to stop and read. We reach a steep uphill ramp taking us from a park area up to Route 3.
Route 3 is devoid of traffic. We leave Thebes behind and travel north along Route 3. Forest is to our right. Across the road and to our left is the Mississippi River. Traffic is light on Route 3, but it gets heavier as we near the turn for Cape Girardeau, Mo. Just as I am tiring of the highway traffic, I see our turn ahead to the right. There is a group of cyclists gathered at the right side of the secondary road. A van is stopped on the left side. A SAG vehicle passes us, turns into the road just ahead of us, and abruptly stops. We turn into the side road and start riding past the SAG truck just as the driver wildly swings open his door almost hitting me. Cycle Jerk! This vehicle is owned by a shop with which I have a history. At another ride a few years ago, this guy asked me if I bought my bicycle just because it is pink. I still hold a grudge and today’s actions solidify in my mind I will never enter that shop. We make it past the rude SAG driver and the crowd of riders. It is unclear what has happened, but one woman is holding her crank arm in the air above her head. There is help in abundance. We continue our ride.
We ride on Old Route 13 and cross a bifurcation of the Mississippi River. We discuss the chaos we just passed. I am feeling good and riding well. We quickly ride downhill and begin to ride under a railroad trestle. Gravel! We both yell together. We manage to miss a large amount of gravel on the road. I’m surprised there was no warning. The ride has been very good to post signage for road hazards. I don’t give it much thought as we continue along our route. Before long we are in the woods on the secondary road when Jeff notices his Garmin is stating we are off course. We see markings for a turn to the left; however, it is the color for a shorter route than the one we are taking. There are no green markings for the 60 mile route. We pull over to look at the route map. We are trying to decipher the map and our surroundings when two riders approach: Dirty Grandpa and his companion. They approach yammering much to our dismay. Jeff tries to read the map amid their insipid whining. If only they would be quiet, we might be able to figure out the map. The woman pulls up beside me much too close for my comfort. I see now that she is much older than I had originally thought. I do not like people in my personal space and she is in my face asking me questions most of which do not pertain to the map. As we stand there, a woman in a small SUV approaches. She has no idea where the road for which we are looking is located, but that does not stop her from telling us which direction she thinks we should go. We attempt to nicely tell her we do not wish to take the same route as the other cyclists she has seen. She fails to understand that we do not wish to take the shortest route possible; but instead, she continues giving directions. We attempt to ignore her and the dirty grandparents as they all begin talking at once. Finally, the motorist leaves and the dirty grandparents speedily head south down Old Route 3. Jeff feels we should turn around and head back toward Route 3. I only remember one road and it was heavily graveled. Reluctantly, we head south down Old Route 3. Jeff is grumbling that we are going south when we need to go north. We have lost our momentum. We pass a farmhouse when Jeff decides to stop and consult the map again. The cue sheet says we need to turn left on Bodieville Road. Google maps cannot find a Bodieville Road. A minivan passes us and then stops and asks if he can help. He is working the next rest stop. He does not know where Bodieville Road is located. He is trying to help. Meanwhile, a large farm dog is stalking him. Suddenly a local farmer is yelling at the dog. The farmer comes marching down the road, attempts and fails to corral the dog. The dog runs off. The man asks the farmer if he knows of Bodieville Road. The farmer replies that he does and intimates that everyone should know that. He points to the south and states we will go through the bridge and then make a left hand turn. OK. We head to the south, much to Jeff’s displeasure. We encounter several small rolling hills. Jeff grumbles that we are heading back to Thebes. I am hopeful we are headed in the correct direction. Soon we are through the hills. We have not crossed a bridge. There has been no left hand turn. Now we crest the final hill and see a left hand turn. It is the road we traveled on our way to Thebes. Ahead of us is Route 3. We are back at Thebes. On the road ahead of us is Dirty Grandpa and Grandma joined by a couple of other cyclists. Yikes! We have made a big circle. We stop. Jeff is angry. The dirty grandparents approach. Dirty Grandpa positions his bicycle in front of Jeff. Dirty Grandma stops just inches to my right side. They are blabbing nonstop. Jeff and I both are looking at our phones trying to decipher the map. There is no Bodieville Road listed on any map we consult. The minivan approaches. We talk with the helpful volunteer while the dirty grandparents attempt to talk over us. The helpful volunteer offers to drive the road in the opposite direction and see if he can find Bodieville Road. He leaves stating he will return and let us know what he finds. Meanwhile Jeff and I continue to consult various online maps.
Suddenly Dirty Grandma states, “I have an idea!”
We ignore her. She pulls out the route map and cue sheet and shoves it between my phone and my face. “Here! Call this number for SAG and ask them where the road is.” she demands.
“No, You call it. I’m looking at the map.” I state roughly.
She is undeterred. She does not call the number, but begins trying to make small talk with me. If there is something I hate more than people being in my personal space then it is mind-numbing, boring chit-chat. I especially hate it when I am trying to concentrate. She wants to know where we live. I grudgingly say Mount Vernon. That isn’t entirely accurate, but I’m not sure I want this couple having more accurate information about my residence.
“Oh we live close to Mount Vernon!” Dirty Grandpa shouts. “I live half-way to Mount Vernon. I live in a half-way house.” he adds with a snicker.
The hair on the back of my neck rises. I now see it. The band on his leg isn’t there to protect his jeans from the chain on his bike. It is there to monitor his location. Jeff is ignoring this discourse as hard as he can. I am becoming more and more discouraged with the time we are losing. “Be nice. Be nice. Be nice Be nice.” is running through my head as the dirty grandparents blather.
CRASH! The most horrible noise is produced as Dirty Grandma’s bike falls on top of mine. I look in disbelief.
“LADY!” I yell and force myself to stop with that one word.
She bends over and yanks at her bike. Unfortunately, her bike’s handlebars are entangled with mine. She yanks again before I can stop her. Jeff comes to life.
“STOP!” he yells in a voice which frightens and comforts me.
Dirty Grandma stops and looks at him bewilderedly. Jeff gentle disentangles the bikes. The woman begins to speak. Jeff glares at her. I bend over and gently rub the front fork of my bicycle. It isn’t hurt; and yet, I feel the need to nurture it and comfort it in a motherly way. I want to kiss away its boo-boo. Jeff has moved closer to me in a protective stance. The dirty grandparents wisely move away. Dirty Grandma neither apologizes nor looks particularly remorseful for her actions. I almost believe she did it intentionally to get my attention. I try to rein in my emotions, but at this moment I am seething with anger. It is also at this moment that the helpful volunteer returns.
The helpful volunteer returns with the information that Bodieville Road is located at the other end of Old Route 3. The dirty grandparents scurry away from us heading north. We let them go and talk to the helpful volunteer for a few minutes. We have two choices. We can head south on Old Route 3 through the hills and behind the dirty grandparents or we can head south a few feet to New Route 3 and circle back around to the other end of Old Route 3. After a brief discussion, we choose to face the hills of Old Route 3 rather than the traffic of New Route 3. We have lost about an hour of time with this detour of 5 miles. We are trying to shake free of the depression and frustration we feel.
We ride back through the hills, past the farm of bad directions, through the loose gravel and up a small incline to find Bodieville Road. There it is. The sign has the same name as the road on the route map we were given by event organizers. Google maps names this the McClure Gale Road. Google maps is incorrect. There also is a green mark painted on the pavement marking the turn and a metal sign marking the turn. We have no one to blame but ourselves for missing the turn.
Finally, we make the correct turn. Bodieville Road is smooth, flat and empty of cars and cyclists. Far to our left is the faster traffic on Route 3. We are riding parallel to Route 3 toward McClure. Before long we arrive in McClure. I am tired and ready for a stop. The route takes a right on Grapevine Trail. Despite being named a trail, Grapevine Trail is actually a paved, striped highway which travels through the middle of McClure. McClure is a modest village with modest, but clean homes lining the road. We pedal along Grapevine when we see Dirty Grandpa pedaling toward us. Following him is Dirty Grandma. I can’t even look at them. Jeff points trying to indicate to them that they are traveling in the wrong direction.
“I know! I know!” yells Dirty Grandpa.
They continue traveling west. We continue traveling east. I hope they are quitting the ride.
We continue on Grapevine Trail heading out of McClure. We pass an impressive, brick house which is labeled The McClure House. It is a large, brick, Victorian home which was built in the 1880’s. It stands alone with fields surrounding it. I later learn from an internet search that the house and the town were named for the owners of the house: Thomas J. and Caroline McClure. It stands proud and pretty in the autumn sun. We pass it and continue our journey.
Our journey takes us out of McClure, across railroad tracks and into rural Alexander County via Grapevine Trail which is also known as County Highway 4. County Highway 4 is smooth and flat. To our right and left are flat, open, farm fields. We pedal for a few miles then the road makes a gentle curve to the right, then we begin a gentle uphill as the road widely curves to the left. We pass over a small creek as a large hill appears to our right. We pass over the bridge and we find ourselves on the road between a steep hill which is home to a cemetery. The hill is so steep I wonder if its inhabitants have been buried standing upright. To our left is a small valley on which is placed a small home. Next door to the home is a small church. This is the home of our next rest stop. We make a left turn from the smooth pavement of County Highway 4 onto the chunky gravel of the church’s driveway. The churchyard is in need of mowing. The church house is in need of powerwashing. Its vinyl siding has some white peeking out from the green flora growing on it. In front of the church was a folding table of treats with friendly volunteers offering them to us. Among the volunteers is the man in the minivan. We talk for a few moments, eat snacks and are grateful for the rest.
We haven’t been there long when Dirty Grandpa and Grandma arrive. Everyone becomes quiet as the older couple begin chattering and grabbing snacks. As much as I try to avoid them, they find a way to enter my path. Jeff is quickly losing patience. Before we can refill our water bottles, don helmets and mount our bicycles, the dirty grandparents have left the rest stop ahead of us. Jeff is not happy.
We say goodbye and thank you to our rest stop hosts and resume our ride. Our ride begins with a gentle uphill. The uphill continues for several miles. The road curves gently to the right and left, but it always continues upward. I spin and spin. We finally reach our next turn. We turn to the left onto County Line Road. For a moment the road flattens. I am tempted to stop and rest, but ahead of me is a ridge line and a very hard climb. I don’t want to lose momentum so I stay on the bike and pedal.
As I pedal, I feel my legs tiring. The road is rising. We are riding on a scenic, country, tar and chip road which is lined on either side by trees. The ground on each side of the road is littered with leaves. The road makes gentle turns to the right and left, but it continues its upward trajectory. At first the grade is gentle, but it increases. It seems it will never end. The pedaling becomes harder and harder. Soon, we are to the steepest part of the climb. A white farmhouse is at the top of the hill to the right. I want to make it to the farmhouse. I also want to jump off the bike and walk. I keep pedaling. I push down on the pedals and pull up as well. It is taking everything I have to make it up this hill. I keep going. Jeff is behind me. At last, I make it to the top. It is tempting to stop in the driveway of the farmhouse and rest. I resist the temptation and enjoy a short downhill coast.
The downhill does not last long. We are soon pedaling back uphill. There are two peaks on this ridge. We are now making our way up to the second peak. It isn’t quite as steep as the first peak, but I am tired. I continue to pedal keeping my butt on the seat. We rode this route last year and I remembered a long descent, but that seems to be a figment of my imagination. The road continues upward. I pedal and pedal and pedal. I think the hills will never end when at long last the hill breaks and the bike is rolling without being pedaled.
Gravity is no longer fighting me. I let the bike roll. Jeff pulls ahead of me. He is braver than I am. We roll downhill for several miles. This fast, free ride makes all the uphill worthwhile. This is joyous. We continue coasting along the country road until it intersects Highway 127 and we find our next rest stop.
Our next rest stop is manned by a local 4-H group. They do not appear too friendly when we ride into the roadside clearing. I am unsure why we are greeted by such grumpy hosts when I see Dirty Grandpa and Dirty Grandma standing in front of the lone picnic table. Jeff and I lean our bikes against a tree. Jeff begins making an adjustment to his seat while I stand awkwardly between the bikes and the picnic table drinking water. I wander to the table and peruse the snacks. Hotdog! I mean, they have hotdogs at this rest stop. With the help of the pre-teen girls assembled at the picnic table, I make a hotdog, grab some chips and go back to the bikes where Jeff is still working on his seat. I show him my bounty and his eyes brighten with interest. We are hungry. Soon the dirty grandparents leave and we return to the picnic table. Jeff makes a hotdog. I grab a full size Snickers bar. I love 4-H!
The 4-H kids begin to voice their displeasure at Dirty Grandpa and Dirty Grandma. Evidently the couple was making the kids uneasy. Once they leave, the group becomes more congenial. We have a good visit while enjoying lunch. The 4-H group packs up and leaves. We make a couple of adjustments to my bike then we head south on Highway 127.
We pedal for several miles on Highway 127 then take a left turn onto County Highway 5. The wind increases and is right in our faces. We take another left turn and turn north. We then take a right had turn back into the wind and wind our way through the country to the small town of Ulin.
I am searching Ulin for a rest stop, gas station, Coke machine, etc. Ulin offers nothing. I am tired and craving a Coca-Cola. I don’t know why, but I believe a Coke is the remedy for my sluggishness. Sugar and caffeine sound like a good solution to my current energy crisis. We cruise through Ulin without finding refreshment. We leave Ulin and head toward Pulaski on Old Highway 51. The wind is fierce. I am becoming more and more fatigued. A roadsign informs me there are 7 miles to Pulaski. I pedal the 7 miles and we find the small town of Pulaski. We enter the small town and pass a Family Dollar store. Ahead of us is a steep hill. My heart sinks. My legs ache. I cannot ride up this hill. It looms ahead of me becoming bigger as we approach it. I tell Jeff I won’t be able to ride up it. He is concerned about me. We are approaching the hill. I make a plan to pull off the road into a parking lot and circle back to the Family Dollar and find a Coke. Blessedly, we see a green arrow on the pavement pointing us to a road to our left. We take it and do not need to face the steep hill.
We continue on the road to our left. No rest stops appear. Neither do we see any convenience stores or restaurants. We keep pedaling, but I want to stop. I am tired. We begin to leave town and we are both dismayed. Then I see a flash of bright orange far off the road to the right. We pedal toward it. We are approaching a fairground. Young people stand at the entryway to the fairgrounds and wave us into the driveway.
We have arrived at the Pulaski County Fairgrounds which are hosting the Pecan Festival. We are greeted by loud rap music. Several young people are dancing under a pavilion. Many vendors sell barbecue. There are many booths selling crafts and various wares. We roll past a couple of buildings and hear people yelling at us to come back. We have passed our rest stop. Our hosts are friendly and happy to have us in their community. They are proud of the Pecan Festival and invite us to return that evening after our ride. We talk, eat their snacks and drink hot apple cider. We explore a little bit and I find my Coke. It hits the spot. Most of the participants are African-American. I wondered how we would be received when we rode into the festival. I felt truly welcomed. Our hosts were warm, and genuinely friendly. As we leave the fairgrounds our hosts wish us well on our ride and encourage us to return.
We leave the fairgrounds and continue through the countryside winding our way back to Olive Branch. I am tired. Finally, we make it back to the Community Center. I am glad to be done. We make it back to find there are still many riders out on the course. I feel good about that. We enter the community center to find there is plenty of food left. We indulge in chili and brownies. We are tired, but it has been a good day. I was able to ride up all the hills. My goals for the ride have been met.