When I started thinking about a weekend bike tour a few weeks ago, I wanted to come up with something that Pam would enjoy. I proposed we would drive up to St. Louis and ride from Columbia, IL down to St. Genevieve, MO, spend the night in a B & B, then ride back the next day.
I knew that ride was absolutely flat as a pancake, and around 50 miles one way. There is a lot to see and experience in “old town” St. Gen, so I figured we could eat a foo-foo dinner, browse some shops, take in a leisurely breakfast on Sunday, and still have time for a leisurely return trip.
We drove up Friday evening and spent the night in Fenton. From there, it was a 20 minute drive over to Columbia, where we attempted to get very early lunch before departing. We were disappointed to learn that the coffee shop/café we had chosen wouldn’t serve us lunch before 11:00 am, so we had to settle for a 2nd breakfast instead. The lunch menu looked better to us, so we left a little disappointed, but with our stomachs full.
Our ride would take us down the Mississippi River Valley from Columbia to Modoc, where we would catch the ferry across the river. The biggest part of the ride we were riding either on top of the levee, or just “inland” from it. There are lots of big time farming operations out there, and fields ranged from those in the process of being plowed, to knee high wheat, with a lot of 6-inch corn thrown in.
As we got settled into a pace heading south, it didn’t take long to figure out the wind was going to be in our face the entire way. We didn’t think much of it, but I did adjust my expectations down a little, thinking it would take a little longer and be more work than one would wish for a 50 mile ride.
Pam started with arm-warmers on but we also figured out quickly that it was going to get pretty darn hot before we finished the day. Things were going pretty well as we skirted the edge of the town of Valmeyer at about 17 miles. There was a nice little park there and we almost stopped for our first break, then talked ourselves out of it. It was kind of crowded with youth baseball going on, and we typically try to stop around 20 miles, so we opted to keep riding.
That was a mistake because we rode off into the middle of nothing. And when I say nothing, I mean nothing. Actually, let me re-phrase that. We rode off into the middle of the hot blazing sun, with not a spec of shade and no place to pull over for a break. Twenty miles passed. Then 23 miles passed, and I found myself wishing for a stop really badly. At 25 miles, I was muttering to myself, and by the time we finally found shade, we had ridden a total of 30 miles.
The cookie we had held back for our first rest stop didn’t go very far, so I supplemented it with a Honey Stinger Waffle for good measure.
At this point, we also had to go off our planned route. We had been riding on Levee Road, and planned to take it quite a bit further. Unfortunately, it turned to gravel, with a big ole’ sign warning it was for government maintenance only. To me, it wasn’t a big deal. I knew we needed to keep going south for quite a while, then jog east to pick up the next little town. The network of roads out there is pretty good, and I had pored over the map in planning the route so I was good to go. Pam, on the other hand wasn’t. It had been bad enough that she was blindly following the route I had loaded into my Garmin, but now we weren’t even following the route! I finally got enough cell phone service to pull up a map and show her where we were and where our next intended stop was. Fortunately, by that time we were just two miles from it because it was still hotter than Hades out there and we were pedaling straight into the wind.
I had planned to stop at Fort Chartres State Park for our second break. There is a restored French fort there that is open to the public. It’s actually quite nice, and made for a pleasant half-hour of wandering around and exploring.
We wandered into the museum, and began chatting with the State Parks guy who seemed to be in charge. As we talked, it became obvious that he was a wealth of knowledge about the place, so I finally asked him when he started working there. His answer was 1971! Good grief, he had spent his entire career at Fort Chartres!
As much as we enjoyed exploring the fort (and we practically had it to ourselves), we realized we needed to get moving if we were going to get to St. Gen at a reasonable hour.
The little town of Prairie du Rocher was our next stop, just about 3 miles down the road. It was the 40 mile point of our ride, so we stopped at the grocery store for a Snickers and drinks. They tasted so good that we added some ice cream for good measure, then set off in high spirits for the ferry. We calculated we should be rolling into our B & B between 4:45 and 5:00, so we didn’t mind the final 10 miles into the wind.
As we pulled down to the ferry landing, all of a sudden, I pulled up in shock!
The ferry wasn’t running due to high water! Let me tell you, that was enough to make a good Baptist cuss. Talk about disheartening. We were just two miles from our B & B after a hard afternoon of riding and no way to get across the Mississippi River. It wasn’t good…..
TO BE CONTINUED