Cycling back to Alton, we then drove to our next destination, St. Genevieve, Mo.
As its website proclaims, “This is a charming, laid-back town where bicycles don’t need locks and people stroll in and out of inviting little shops filled with antiques, crafts and wine.” It’s also the oldest settlement by Europeans in Missouri and many historical sites have been preserved.
The town seemed a little hung over the Monday we arrived as the weekend before was Jour de Fete Days, the city’s largest celebration that draws thousands of people. Not only had our reservations at the Hotel Genevieve been forgotten, but it was shut down completely. However, a few quick calls by the kind people at the visitor’s center soon tracked down the owner who arranged for us to get a key to a room and the entire, eerily vacant hotel as well. If you’re looking for an elegant place to stay with great service look elsewhere, but for $45 a night the room was clean and the location in the heart of the city excellent.
The next morning we took the Modoc ferry across the river ($3 each, one-way) and cycled north along Bluff Rd. in Illinois. The first five miles were a dream. The sun hid behind the bluffs giving us a cool, shaded ride after several relentless days of heat and sun. The road was smooth, traffic non-existent and a gentle tailwind picked up as we glided on the level road. The bluffs have been mined along this stretch for many years, making them extra interesting to study. Some of the bigger mines– a few go as deep as three miles, we were told– emitted a steady river of cool air, a welcome treat especially on the hot ride back.
Our first stop was about five miles out at Prairie Du Rocher (pronounced like Leo Durocher). It was too early for lunch and we thought we’d head to Maeystown– “a town time forgot” according to at least one brochure– a little further up the road. Several other towns in this area also boasted the same slogan.
Besides all the forgotten towns, another peculiarity of this part of the country is that the locals have no sense of distance, and they seem to like it that way. Typically mileage to the next town is not posted anywhere– but if it is posted, it’s posted in at least three places with three widely varying guesses as to how far it is to the next town. In the case of Maeystown, mileage was not given and a quick survey of the locals in Du Rocher returned guesses of five to 10 miles.
With five miles already behind us, we thought that even the longest estimate would make for a perfect 30-mile out and back day. About a dozen miles further down the road, however, we came across a road crew and I asked them, “How far to Maeystown?”
“About four,” one worker offered and another chimed in with, “Closer to eight.”
So at a minimum our total mileage for the day was creeping near 50.
A few more miles down the road we stopped to discuss whether we should give up and turn back, when a woman mysteriously appeared seemingly out of nowhere. She offered that our destination was a short mile away and added, “...and it’s all downhill.” After climbing a gentle grade for the next three miles we finally came to Maeystown.
There was a lovely looking restaurant on the edge of town, but it was closed.
Guess they forgot to open it
A kindly gentlemen, who looked like the twin to the lady on the road, stopped to see if we were in distress and offered to make us lunch in his home. Sabra declined out of modesty before I could say “you betcha” and my heart sank (or was it my stomach?). The only thing to do was to return to Du Rocher, a harder ride than before with the sun starting to bake and the tail wind now a head wind.
All is well that ends well, however. A cold beer and hamburger basket revived us at Lisa’s Bar and Grill. We struck up a conversation with a kindly farmer who told us about the mines in the bluffs.
He asked us where we were from.
I replied, “Iowa City, it’s a town time forgot about 900 miles from here.” He seemed pleased with the answer.