Tuesday, June 5, 1984
Carbondale, Ill. to Ste. Genevieve, Mo.
I’m reprinting the day-to-day journal entries of a cross-country bicycle tour my friend and I took in 1984. More about the TransAmerica Tour 1984
We bicycled up along the Mississippi River to Ste. Genevieve to waves and some applause. If we had festooned our bikes with flags, the people lining the streets might have thrown money.
After crossing the bridge across the Mississippi River at Chester, we ran into the Olympic torch caravan at St. Mary’s. It was amazing luck to cross paths with this event again.
Everything is very low-key, compared to the scene in Berea. Essentially two Winnebagos were parked in a roadside lot, some runners were milling around waiting to pick up the relay. AT&T sponsors the torch run, and the guys who do all the heavy lifting between cities are AT&T employees. Two hundred were chosen, 16 on this week-long stretch, to run four miles twice a day with the torch.
The torch, which they get to keep, weighs 2 pounds, 4 ounces, is about 2 feet long, and is filled with butane.
We talked with some runners, I posed with a torch, and then we took off. People stood along our route waiting for the torch to arrive. They must have thought Bruce and I were the advance guard, as many waved (OK, many people wave to us every day) and some applauded (no one ever applauds).
After dinner, I went out to call Becky and couldn’t get back in the hotel; it was locked up tight. I didn’t realize there were two keys, one for the room and another for the hotel front door. After banging on the front door, I walked to pool hall across the street and called the hotel. No one answered. I walked around the building and found a fire escape ladder that led to a first floor roof next to our room window. I climbed it, walked across the roof, and knocked on our window. It was dark. I woke up Bruce, who sat up all wild-eyed looking. It startled the heck out of him.
That wasn’t my only adventure of the day. In the early afternoon, we had ridden all the way down to the Modoc-Ste. Genevieve ferry, only to find out it had been closed for three years. On our way back to the highway and down to the bridge at Chester, we could see storm clouds looming. Bruce hailed a guy driving a pickup truck. He was kind enough to carry us and our bikes down to the toll bridge at Chester. We got a “free ride” across the bridge because the toll takers couldn’t figure out what to charge bicyclists.
The bridge is the site of another major tourist attraction, the Popeye statue, which I never knew existed.
Headline: June 5, 1986 — Two mid-Westerners said they raced their cars from Boston to LA at an average 86 mph and didn’t receive a single ticket. …
In sunny skies, we knocked off about 50 miles before noon. The wind was bad in our faces. But the terrain was flat. We stopped for lunch at a little cafe in Ellis Grove and figured we had about 13 miles to the Mississippi ferry that would take us [from Illinois] right to St. Gen.
When we set out after lunch, the storm clouds had gathered and it didn’t look good. After a few miles we could actually see the rain coming down about a mile to our right. It was fascinating to watch. There was a slight drizzle over us, but nothing so violent as we were watching to the north.
About a mile from the ferry site, a car stopped us and the driver said that the ferry has been closed for three years and that the only way to cross the river is by the Chester Bridge, which is about 15 miles back the way we came.
That’s when the heavy rain started.
Time to hitch
We were right in the thick of it now, and after some ethical discussion, we decided at my suggestion to hitch a ride to the bridge. It was already close to 2 p.m. and we were looking at two hours just backtracking, which is to say nothing of the miles from Chester to St. Gen.
Surprisingly, our ride came along within minutes. A pickup passed and I waved it over. The guy was going to within 1/2 mile of the bridge and he was happy to give us a lift. From the bridge we still had 20 miles. It all worked out for the best, though.
Leaving Illinois, we passed the Menard Penitentiary. A sign along the road [within eye shot of the high, barbed-wire fence and imposing prison] said, “Do not pick up hitchhikers.”
And there at the bridge, there was a big statue of Popeye the spinach-eating sailor. It seems that his creator was from Chester, and as the plaque explained, the Popeye character was drawn from a real person, a local “scrapper,” it said. Wimpy “the hamburger friend” was also based on a real character.
But the best was that we again ran into the torch runners, about 10 miles outside of St. Gen. We talked to some of the runners and the support people in those big vans. They were waiting for a runner to come in so they could take over.
The town of St. Genevieve itself is small but noteworthy. Settled by the French in the mid-1700s, many of the original buildings still stand. The town was a contemporary of St. Louis and New Orleans [but it kind of died on the vine].
We are again splurging by staying at the Hotel St. Genevieve in the old part of the city. The old quarter is not exactly what I had expected (I was thinking of Jackson Square in New Orleans’ French Quarter), but it’s nice. We were too late arriving for much exploring, but hopefully we will check it out further tomorrow morning. I am extremely tired tonight. The day off in Carbondale seems to have done me more harm than good.
Day 25 — “‘Show me” some respect”
View 1984 Bicycle Tour in a larger map