Pere Marquette State Park, Ill., Sunday, Aug. 14, 2011:
We departed the Millennium Hotel in downtown St. Louis at about 8 a.m. This time, we used the McKinley Bridge to cross the river. The steel truss bridge was built in 1910 to get Route 66 traffic across the river (later the Chain of Rocks Bridge was put into service so traffic could bypass the city). We prefer to get a few miles behind us before eating on a long day to break the trip up, but I couldn’t find any evidence that there was a place serving breakfast for the first half of the trip, so we opted for a convenience store a little off the route in Venice, Ill. At best, I was hoping for a breakfast pizza and fresh fruit, but I was willing to settle for doughnuts. Armies and this cyclist travel on their stomachs. The store, which featured a walkup window for late night liquor sales, had neither– so I settled for two packages of Hostess Cupcakes and coffee. Sabra had a bottle of Gatorade and a granola bar. The girl just doesn’t know how to prepare for a long ride on a hot day.
On the Illinois side we stopped to look at a map posted in a kiosk. While we were studying it, a local cyclist suggested we take the “bicycle-friendly” Highway 3 instead of the trail, and we took his advice.
As a rule, I never listen to counsel on the best way to go, unless the person offering it rides as well. Non-riders mean well, but generally lack appreciation of things like hills or heavy traffic when selecting a route. If there is a bike trail we usually take it, but the trail along this section was in poor condition.
Route 3 proved to have a paved 6-foot shoulder, low traffic and lots of broken glass (two out of three isn’t bad).
As the morning wore on, the temperature went up and a headwind developed, but we felt we made good time reaching the truck park in Alton at about 11:30 a.m. With 23 miles down and 24 to go, we ducked in to the Argosy Casino for a sandwich for the road.
Leaving Alton, we picked up the Sam Vadalabene Bike Trail and headed to Grafton looking for a place to picnic, one of my favorite parts of the day. The trail hugs the bluffs, which are impressive but hard to appreciate from this vantage. We did find a idyllic place to eat, in the shade with a good view of the river, however.
At the 42-mile mark we hit Grafton and stopped for a beer at the Loading Dock, a large bar and grill on the river. We were actually too hot to enjoy it, and we pushed off fairly quickly. We just hit the far edge of town when Sabra came up with a flat, which we quickly fixed with the assistance of a couple of strangers.
The last five miles into The Lodge proved to be hilly– our first of the trip – and we showed up with little gas in the tank.
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