1984 Bike Tour: Day 21 – Pirates, bandits and skeeters at Cave-in-Rock

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Saturday, June 2, 1984
Sebree, Ky. – Cave-in-Rock, Ill.
54 miles

Locater map

I’m reprinting the day-to-day journal entries of a cross-country bike tour my friend and I took in 1984. More about the TransAmerica Tour 1984

Gene’s Journal

We crossed the brown-with-mud Ohio River on the Ida L ferry this afternoon on our ride through the former haunt of pirates and bandits and the present-day domain of mosquitoes.

We were happy to leave the Sebree park, what with freight trains passing by all night. Our route immediately detoured because of the flooding (the paper said 30,000 acres were underwater due to the Green River backing up), but we still made good time into Dixon, where folks told us a small group of bicycle tourists had passed through yesterday.

At Marietta’s Cafe in Marion, we signed the guestbook and saw the names of three cyclists from Connecticut (the same guys we’ve been leapfrogging ever since Virginia) just above ours. The cafe is delightful, with seating for 100. We sat at the counter, and learned that Marietta, the owner since 1981, just loved having cyclists come in. We chatted with the waitress and ate fish fillet, 2 veggies, cornbread and ice tea for $3. Pie ala mode cost another 90 cents.

We made good time to the ferry (above), which has operated since the 1800s. It’s just a barge with a tugboat attached. The town of Cave-in-Rock is on the other side, and we rode up to the campground, which was marked by a sign “Dump Station Campground.” How appropriate. Once again we showered at a public spigot and were beset with mosquitoes.

Cave-in-Rock gets its name for a cave that overlooks the Ohio River through a 25-foot opening. It’s dark, damp and bigger than a house inside. One of the first owners was a guy named Wilson, who called it Wilson’s Liquor Vault and House of Entertainment. It was a bar, gambling joint, and whorehouse. Then Mason showed up, and things got bad. Mason led a band of pirates who would stop settlers coming down the river, rob and kill them. (I remember scenes here from “How the West Was Won” and “Davy Crockett and the River Pirates.”)

We learned about the Harpe brothers, who were not only wicked, but insane. In the 1800s they pillaged the section of Kentucky we had just passed through, until Big Harpe was killed by vigilantes — his head stuck on a pole. Little Harpe escaped and lived with the river pirates. Eventually Wilson and Mason were killed by their own people. When a posse finally cleaned out the place, they removed 60 skeletons. (I have since found more accurate information on these Cave-in-Rock pirates.)

We walked along the river (below) over to Kaylor’s Cafe for dinner — $2.98 for a huge plate of spaghetti. Afterwards we stopped in a rock shop where a guy was buying hundreds of dollars in rocks. Later, just to make conversation, we asked the owner about the rocks and where he got them. He clammed up. He must have thought we were pirates.

Back at the campsite, the mosquitoes attacked us. Bruce dove in the tent, but I was determined to enjoy the evening and built a smoky fire. I sat downwind of the smoke and still swatted away the mosquitoes. I quickly joined Bruce in the tent.

Headline: June 2, 1984
President Reagan lands in Ireland,
the home of his ancestors,
to begin tour of Europe…

Bruce’s Journal

Said goodbye to the barbecue fellas and we hit the road at 7 this morning, making first Dixon, then Clay, then a non-stop 25 miles to Marion; all told, about 45 miles by noon.

We ate at a great place called the Marion Cafe (actually, Marietta’s) right on the main drag. I had the special: breast of chicken, two veggies, homemade roll and drink for $3. The woman [who owned the place] had a log for bikers to sign and she was very friendly.

Speaking of which–on the way to Marion, two older sisters stopped us to talk. They just wanted to know about where we had come from and where we were going. They were nice old ladies. The one was visiting from Ohio to see her mother’s grave. They wished us luck and a safe trip. That happens several times each day here. People have been extremely friendly to us.

After lunch, I stopped across the street [at the courthouse] to use the facilities and there was a sign in the courthouse that said, “Do not spit on floor.”

We had an easy 10 miles to the Ohio River and the ferry which took us out of Kentucky and into Illinois at Cave-in Rock. So long, Kentucky. It was a remarkable state in its diversity, but just the same, its mountains worked us hard. Even harder, I think, than Virginia.

At any rate, Cave-in Rock is exactly what it says: a cave in the rocky bluffs overlooking the river. The place is a state park now and we are camped here (no shower for the second night in a row). This place has an infamous history, which I’ll not go into (I bought a book about it at the local rock shop).

So we looked around, snapped a few obligatory pictures and had a great meal at Kaylor’s Cafe: fresh garden salad, spaghetti and homemade strawberry pie with ice cream for dessert.

I’m looking forward to Carbondale tomorrow night. It will be the Charlottsville of Illinois. I’ll get my bike fixed, we’ll stay in a motel, get clean, do laundry and see a film (“Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom,” I hope). All we have to do is make the 80 miles from here to there and tackle the Little Ozarks in the process.

It was hot today (high 80s, I am told), but it’s supposed to be cool tomorrow. The wind persisted today, although we picked up (miraculously) a tailwind from Marion to the border.

We are in the tent now, avoiding the mosquitoes, getting ready for bed. It’s 8:20.


Day 22 — “Like cowboys after a cattle drive”

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  1. It is an excellent post. Thanks for sharing your past bike tour experience in the 1984.

  1. […] this link: 1984 Bike Tour: Day 21 – Pirates, bandits and skeeters at Cave-in … This entry was posted in Blog Search and tagged country, day, entries, friend, gene, ida, […]

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