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Memphis TN to Greenville MS

Memphis TN bicycle routes

Lingering in Memphis

I had second breakfast, of sorts, at Otherland’s Coffee Bar for a coffee & giant oatmeal-raisin cookie. It was a strategic move, being on my way to Downtown, Beale Street and the riverfront, as much as a destination in and of itself. The coffee was quite good; I would have been tempted to hang out longer had they not been playing a country-music-only satellite radio station.

Dyer's Burgers on Beale St

I’m not sure what I was expecting of Beale St, but I was disappointed. It reminded me much more of State St on the University of Wisconsin-Madison campus where I went to college than anything. Except the shops were famous, and all of the door-tenders were soliciting passers-by to come in and spend. Perhaps if I’d been there in the evening instead of mid-afternoon, or if I’d gone to a live music show I’d have a different opinion. I stopped at Dyer’s Burgers to get my grease fix (I’m glad I got the triple, because it was still small) and indulged in a strawberry shake.

I-40 Bridge

Afterwards I lingered on the riverfront, paying a visit to the I-40 Visitor’s Bureau, before heading to Rendezvous for BBQ. My first impression of Rendezvous was “what kind of a hole-in-the-wall is this, with it’s only entrance on some back alley?” which was confirmed when the doorman double checked that I was double locking my bicycle. Then he suggested that I bring it inside, where he would personally watch it. My impression of Rendezvous improved drastically from there on. I had the half-rack of ribs with beef brisket, both excellent. The ribs were covered with a dry-rub, which I decided after a carefully scientific taste-test that I preferred as-is to adding either their sweet or their mild B-B-Q sauces.

Friday my new tires showed up, but too late in the day to think of setting off. Instead I tagged along with the crew from DeCleyre House to an indoor-trailer-park-themed rent party. There must have been close to ten camper-trailers in the large building. Other highlights were the live band and the photo-booth-trailer that featured a variety of masks and props with the camera’s view projected on a big screen outside. Hilarity ensued.

Saturday: said goodbyes, packed up and rolled leisurely for one last breakfast at Brother Juniper’s, but the big crowd at Brother Juniper’s  caused me to stop at at CK’s Coffee Shop instead. I stopped by the Peddler again, but saw neither Giles nor Kelly either time–sorry guys, I tried, twice. I made a stop a grocery store and  saw Bobby, the Peddler’s Chief Mechanic, and then finally made it to Java Cabana for lunch: a turkey-mozzarella panini & choc chip coffee. (It was nothing like Hard Times Cafe in Minneapolis.)


Welcome to Arkansas

After finding my way to the Metal Museum (sadly too late in the day to spare an hour to explore it), I reached the I-55 bridge, and then took a gravel road that degenerated into a dirt two-track through some field that later turned to mud.





Arkansas Dirt Two-track ahead

Arkansas: Dirt Two-track astern

After cleaning enough of the pernicious stuff off that I could roll the bike again, I briefly considered stealth camping next to the river (dark had fallen), but the forecast of impending rain convinced me to escape the dirt road before it all became impassable mud.

I stopped for the night at Tom Sawyer River RV “campground” in West Memphis AR, about 30 miles for the day, but by 4AM I couldn’t take the smell of sewage any longer & left between lightning bolts.

I rode all day under gray skies to the National Forest south of Marianna AR, about 57 miles. Just as I was getting off the road to make camp for the night I heard that dreaded “hiss” of an inner-tube rapidly going flat. At camp I found a hole in the sidewall near tread but no foreign object. Hoping for the best I patched it, and crawled into the tent.

KFFA: King Biscuit Time broadcast booth

The next morning, Monday, the deluge started. At 10 AM I gave up and broke camp, slowly riding all 17 miles of gravel to Helena AR in the rain. When I reached the Delta Cultural Center I found it closed, but one of the employees let me in anyway, and hurried me to the radio broadcasting booth for the last 5 minutes of the live “King Biscuit Time” broadcast. I had my 30 seconds of fame on the air. (I believe it was the November 21st broadcast, but I haven’t verified this yet. The announcer, Sonny Payne, was a little hard of hearing from World War II, and heard my name as “John”. Still, pretty cool.)

Welcome to Mississippi

From Helena I headed for “Uncle Henry’s Place” Restaurant & Inn, but found it closed. The rain had picked up again, and, after aborted attempts to stealth camp (too muddy) and find a church (couldn’t find the preacher’s house to ask permission) I wound up at a gas station and reconsidered my situation over a “double jumbo” (12-oz) cheese burger. Heading six miles back on shoulder-less, high-traffic, Highway 49 to the casino hotel seemed like my best option, when an equally bedraggled man sat down at the gas station’s cafe. In talking to him, DeLane proceeded to invite me over to his house, and I was soon loading my bike into the back of his pickup truck.

DeLane & his wife Mary Ann were two of the kindest people I’ve met yet. They offered me a shower, which I gratefully accepted, washed my thoroughly soaked and muddy clothes, fed me second diner, dessert, and then we relaxed around the table, watching Mad TV before I retired to one of their living room couches.

The next morning I tried to leave when the rain let up, but couldn’t find the garage where DeLane had let me park my bike for the night. Going back in to ask Mary Ann, she pointed it out, and then offered me a pancake breakfast. After breakfast I found my bike with a half-flat front tire, and replaced the tube I thought I had fixed at DeCleyre two days prior. Roy, one of the local farmers stopped by and helped me hold the bike up while putting things back together.

On my way out I saw Kevin, the owner of a small general store, again and I had to stop for an early second breakfast: country fried steak, mashed potatoes & green beans. Kevin said he had considered letting me stay in his store overnight, but thought my plan for Uncle Henry’s place sounded ironclad. All’s well that ends well, however. I’m  truly overwhelmed at how kind the people of Lula MS are.

Great River Road State Park, Closed due to flood damage

Finally rolling out about 1PM, I made it to Great River Road State Park (in Rosedale MS) in the dark, completely exhausted after 72 wet and windy miles. The next morning as I was leaving I learned the park was actually closed pending flood repair.

Jim's Cafe

In Greenville I found Jim’s Cafe, where I was offered indoor parking, and had a turkey “dinner” including okra.




Leroy Percy State Park

I finished off the day at Leroy Percy State Park, south of Greenville MS, where I took an actual rest day on Thanksgiving.




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Lost Week

The story of my “lost week” is still forthcoming; for now the summary is: no Sprint cell phone service or even wifi in the Mississippi (state) delta region, but plenty of rain and kind people. I’m safe in Vicksburg MS, and will try to get a few things posted tomorrow before heading for the Natchez Trace parkway.

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Meeman-Shelby Forest State Park to Memphis TN

Meeman-Shelby Forest State Park to Memphis TN, 28 miles

I got up at 5AM, and had everything packed up before the rain started. And rain it did, all day long. I looked for a picnic shelter at the state park, but it had partially collapsed and didn’t look safe, so I had a little breakfast picnic on the covered front porch of what might have been the arts & crafts building (it was the only place I could light the stove).

The 18 miles into Memphis saw traffic gradually pick up, although I was pleased to see the major arterial roads mostly had signed and striped bicycle lanes. I rolled by Cafe Eclectic and decided it’s always time for second breakfast. Bacon-Egg-Cheese Croissant at Cafe EclecticI had a bacon-egg-cheese croissant, and buckwheat pancakes. Inside I was seated at the bar, next to a guy named Jeff who started asking about my bike, my trip, etc, and said that his brother, for whom he was waiting, was also a cyclist, and would likely be able to recommend a place to stay in Memphis.

When Gary, Jeff”s brother, showed up, he recommended the Pilgrim Hose Hostel. I emailed them as instructed and headed into the rain in search of a bike shop to replace my fraying front dérailleur cable. The closest bike shop, according to my GPS, was Midtown Bike, supposedly near the hostel. Unfortunately the GPS’ map is out of date: Midtown Bike Co. had since moved (to downtown I later learned), so I set off in search of the the next closest bike shop: Peddler Bike Shop.

Peddler Bike Shop

Peddler was open, and I was able install a new front dérailleur cable and get another bottle of chain lube (I should have filled mine before I left). While I had the bike in the stand I inspected my rear tire boot job, and discovered I needed a new rear tire, too.

Wounded rear tire


The boot, while keeping the tube from blowing, wasn’t enough to keep the tire sidewall from bulging in a threatening manner. Clearly I wasn’t going to put any more fully-loaded miles on it than I had to.

While I was there, the owner, Hal, also recommended the Pilgrim House Hostel. Giles, one of the mechanics, said they had space in their house, and having not heard back from the hostel, I accepted.

From there I went to Garibaldi’s Pizza, where Allyson, one of  Giles’ hose-mates worked. I put away a (thin crust) 14-inch Chicken-Alfredo-Spinach pizza, to much amazement. (If it had been a thick-crust pizza I would have had to scale it down a bit.)

DeCleyre House

After that I headed for Giles’ place: DeCleyre House. It’s an interesting place: an old building that’s sporting lots of crazy additions, so the place is like a maze, has a huge private library, a constantly evolving set of murals on the walls, and is populated with aspiring artists and other cool people like that. Very welcoming. Naturally they’re hip to the whole car-free lifestyle thing, and they’ve hosted a number of touring cyclists over the years.

Hanging out in Memphis TN

Gyro Omelet, biscuit and cheesy grits at Brother Juniper's

Since Marathon Supreme’s are a hard-to-find a specialty item, I had a few days to check out Memphis. I first headed to Brother Juniper’s for second breakfast, where I tried a gyro omelet and cheesy grits. I liked the omelet. Grits might be a taste I’ll have to acquire.

Clarence Saunder's Pink Palace

Next was the Pink Palace Museums, part mansion from Clarence Saunderslegacy, it now includes a history museum, planetarium and an IMAX theater. I spent the afternoon exploring the history museum.

Recipe for a shrunken head.

One exhibit that caught my eye was “how to make a shrunken head”; somehow it made me think of my cousin Justin (you’d have to have grown up with him to appreciate why).

For lunch I heeded a locals’ recommendation and headed for Central B-B-Q, where I had a pulled pork sandwich, with coleslaw inside, and a New Belgium Brewing “Snow Day” stout.

Dinner was at RP Tracks, a typical college bar, where I had the 1/2 pound “RP Burger” with bacon and Gouda, and steak fries. And another New Belgium Brewing “Snow Day” stout.

After two very full days I retired to DeCleyre House for an early evening.

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East Prairie MO to Meeman-Shelby Forest State Park TN

East Prairie MO to Reelfoot Lake TN, 57 miles

Chilly early (4:45AM) wakeup; I had ice on the tent rain fly again. Rob drove up about 5AM, as I was just about finished packing up the tent. When I got to the Depot B-B-Q restaurant he bought me (first) breakfast. I chose the biscuits & gravy with ham. Saw Jim from last night, and a few other farmers and other early risers. I bought myself second breakfast: biscuits & gravy with sausage. The biscuits were fresh out of the oven, just as Rob promised, and delicious; the best I’ve had yet. Rob spent about an hour talking with me, recommending various sights to see, and said if I chose to stick around one more day he’d invite me over to do laundry. After Rob went off to take his daughter to have her wisdom teeth removed, I lingered another hour in indecision. Around 7:30AM the place was really filling up, so I beat a hasty retreat to my bike, and set off in search of a replacement for my broken bottle of dish soap. The first drug store didn’t open till 8, and the second didn’t open till 8:30, so I decided to scope out the town. I found Rob’s office on Washington Ave, and then the library. Which was unfortunately closed for Veteran’s Day. So I kept riding. Eventually 8:00AM came, and I re-tried the drug store, but got the wrong (8:30) one.

Beauton Drug, East Prairie MO

A few blocks over I found not only the right one, now open, but the pharmacist overheard my quest for a replacement bottle, and she offered up not only a liquid-tight medicine bottle, but also dish soap to fill it. For free. I love small towns. Mission accomplished, I queried the GPS for a park to hang out in while trying to decide where to go next.

My GPS claimed to not only know the location of Towosahgy State Historic Site, one of Rob’s recommendations, but also claimed it was just 10 miles away. Decision made, I rolled East for Towosahgy. I saw ice on the puddles in the drainage ditches, although the day was already warming up quickly. The first 7 miles flew by relatively effortlessly, but then roads started turned to coarse gravel, and he winds turned into headwinds. The last several miles were a slog.

Towosahgy State Historic Site

When I finally reached Towosahgy, it featured Native American (burial?) mounds, but most of the interpretive displays had been destroyed in the Spring 2011 flooding. Due to the extremely early start to the morning, I managed to do some of my first sight-seeing of the tour. I’m not really sure what to make of the mounds, but I spent about an hour wandering anyway.


Towosahgy: Temple Mound

Missouri State Map

Looking at a map at Towosahgy, I saw Big Oak Tree State Park was allegedly only 5 miles away, and decided to make that my next stop on my way to the Dorena-Hickman Ferry.

Thinking I needed to find water before continuing, I was surprised to then spot a spigot hiding behind the split-rail fence. I started to ride off, thinking my 1L Nalgene bottle would be enough to get me to Big Oak Tree State Park, but then thought better of it and tried the spigot. The water that came out was muddy brown, but it soon cleared up. I filled up the 6L Dromedary and planned to filter it later just to be sure it was safe.

The winds had ceased to calm; and I remembered both Rick (from Cape Girardeau)’s and Rob’s mention that the hills would be replaced by winds from here south. Trying to navigate one gravel road between farm fields, I was soon playing chicken with a combine. I pulled over to let it pass, and it came to a halt next to me. The door opened, and one of the farmers from breakfast (whose name I never caught) leaned out, saying “Long time no see!” He confirmed that I was on the right road to the State Park, and I rode on.

Not long after that a pickup truck pulled up behind me, and two other farmers asked about my destination and if I needed anything, saying they didn’t see many bicyclists on the little gravel farm roads. I told them I was headed for the State Park, then the ferry, and thanked them for their concern.

Big Oak Tree State Park

I reached Big Oak Tree State Park about noon, and walked the 1.4 mile “boardwalk” to the end, feeling like a dwarf among giant trees.

Windscreen v2: aluminum flashing

Feeling hungry, I tried out the new windscreen while heating water (it worked well) for coffee and oatmeal with raisins, cinnamon, almonds, two spork-fulls of peanut butter and a dash of olive oil for lunch (calories = fuel).

Road Ends In Water. Got Ferry?

By now it was after 2pm, and I was feeling pressed for time. I headed for the ferry in a vain hurry, and then had to wait for it to arrive.

Dorena-Hickman Ferry

$2 for bicyclists, and I’m glad I wore the rain suit even though I stood near the back of the ferry.

Arriving in Hickman KY about an hour before sunset, I had a funny feeling about the place. It didn’t get any better when when I had a very persistent dog chase me for over a quarter-mile even while I walked the bike, or when a retired couple pulled up in a large pickup truck while I was putting on my jacket & warmer hat a bit later, at sunset. Seeing the bike on the ground, they asked if I was alright, asked about my origin & destination, warned me to be careful in New Orleans, and then the woman (who looked very much like a golden raisin that had spent too much time in a tanning booth) said with disdain “it’s only a bicycle” and they roared off.

I continued in the dark for about an hour till I was in Tennessee. The day’s fierce headwinds had finally begun to slack and the GPS claimed I was only 15 miles from Reelfoot Lake State Park. I had my worst dog scare yet when two yapping mutts appeared out of the darkness at my heels just as a semi-truck was approaching from behind. Fear got me moving at double-digit speeds again, which I sustained the remaining 6 miles.

And then things really got weird. The GPS said turn right, and pointed left. There were houses to the right; there was a sign for “Reelfoot Lake Wildlife Management Area” to the left. Taking a wild guess, I headed left. Yet another surprise dog attack, but this one backed down from my headlight as I chased it back into it’s yard. When the GPS claimed I had reached the park all I saw was a one-lane gravel road, and a ways down a sign for “wetland management in progress”. By now lack of sleep, exertion, cold, and leftover adrenaline combined with low blood sugar: I was a mess. I decided to sort things out in the daylight, threw the tent down in the first clearing I spotted, ate something and passed out.

Reelfoot Lake to Hall TN, 61 miles

Clearly I wasn’t in the state park, because I woke up to a group of deer hunters assembling on the other side of a gate I didn’t remember. As they unloaded 4-wheelers, I packed up quickly and rolled out just as they started shooting off in the distance.

Dorothy's Famous Foods

The GPS claimed there was a cafe eight miles away, so I rode on, but had no luck in Tiptonville (the cafe was closed), and continued on to Ridgely. Ridgely didn’t look much better: everything was closed, regardless of all the “OPEN” signs on display everywhere. On my way back out of Ridgely, I saw a truck at Dorothy’s Famous Foods, and found Dorothy had now opened the place for business.

Coffee. Ham omelet. Side of bacon. Toast slathered with butter on both sides. Round two: Bacon omelet. Butter with another side of toast. And then donut holes. Listened to Dorothy talk about her restaurant, her family, her town, and everything else under the sun. Small towns are quaint like that.

Cotton bales in the field

Rolling out of town, I saw numerous cotton fields, including some baled for transportation to the “cotton gin.”

Facing a long slog into the wind, I did something for which I’ve always derided other cyclists in the past: listening to music while riding. I’ve always had a negative opinion of it in the past because most people with earphones seem dangerously oblivious to the real world.
You have to understand: the wind was atrocious, I had 35 miles of nothing to see but empty, already harvested farm fields, a wide shoulder of good pavement and I only put in the right (non-traffic-side) earphone. It seemed to help: I felt my cadence syncing to the music and I saw my average speed pick up from eight to a blistering 10 MPH.

Kudzu covered hillside

I continued into the wind, eventually seeing a hillside consumed by kudzu.

Charlene's Colony of Shoppes

Some indeterminate time later I crossed out of farm country and passed Charlene’s Colony of Shoppes, so I had lunch at the Tea Room: a dainty little chicken-cheese croissant with a cute little side salad for an outrageous $9.95 (plus another $2 for coffee)! It got slightly better when one of the cooks came out and offered me a free bowl of corn chowder.

The evening finished off with a stop at a grocery store, then a gas station for an ice-cream sandwich and a gallon of water, and finally camping in the corner of a farm field.

Hall to Fort Pillow Historic State Park TN, 38 miles

After an early morning (pre-dawn) departure, I found a little road-side park with picnic tables for cooking breakfast.

The headwinds were still formidable. At noon I reached  some little gas station/convenience store, and stopped for lunch: a very dry BBQ beef sandwich, with coleslaw and “potato logs”. Followed by a very dry cheeseburger topped with the driest bacon I’ve ever tasted. And more potato logs. Heat lamps must be a wonderful thing. Or something.

Fort Pillow State Historic Park

I took an eight mile detour despite even worse headwinds, and finally reached Fort Pillow Historic State Park. $8/night. It was a beautiful campground, with a modern bath-house and wonderful showers.

73F & windy, perfect for air-drying clothes

I washed laundry & then strung up a clothesline at my campsite to take advantage of the 73F temps and strong winds. Except for the early (5pm) sunset, it felt just like a Minnesota summer evening.

Fort Pillow Historic State Park to Meeman-Shelby Forest State Park TN, 67 miles

Fort Pillow State Park was so nice I was torn between taking a rest day and pressing on. The forecast of rain urged me to press on. I reached Covington about lunch time, when disaster struck.

Shredded sidewall

Looking for lunch, circling Covington, I decided to cross a grass median in search of a bacon cheeseburger. PSSSSHHHTTT! I’d glancingly hit the jagged edge of a broken-off pipe (former sign-post?) that shredded the sidewall of my front tire, and gashed the sidewall of my rear tire (although I didn’t know that till later). Hungry but refusing to let it ruin my mood, I installed the spare tire & one of the seven tubes I’d carried for 1500+ miles over the last 5 weeks. I stopped at the nearby Mexican restaurant for a beef chimi-changa with rice, beans, guacamole, sour-cream, pico de gallo and a negra modelo. Thoroughly stuffed, I staggered out the door at 3PM and attempted to cover as many of the remaining 35 miles as possible by sunset.

I made it all but 6 miles to the park when disaster struck, again: the rear tire flatted on a one-lane gravel road, in the dark, while the thunderstorm I’d been evading all day drew closer. I managed to boot the tire and roll on, only losing an hour in the process (everything takes longer in the dark, even with a head-mounted-lamp).

Despite strange problems where my GPS kept “forgetting” where I was, and so was unable to calculate how far to the park, I eventually got there.

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Cherokee Pass to East Prairie MO

Cherokee Pass to Cape Girardeau MO, 56 miles.

Longhorn (Roach) Motel in Cherokee Pass. I’m not sure it was worth the $35, although the location was right & I got a much-needed shower, washed clothes & got the blog caught up via the hotel’s wifi.

Although the ACA Great Rivers South Map listed a plethora of grocery stores & restaurants along this section, most of them were closed. For good. I rolled 12 miles from the motel in search of breakfast. In retrospect, I probably should have eaten at the gas station Subway.

I reached a small market in Marquand that fortunately had a deli serving breakfast: a “half-order” of biscuits & gravy, 2 eggs, bacon & toast. Chased by a bacon-egg-cheese sandwich. With coffee. 32oz of coffee. Not great coffee, but coffee none the less. Fire in the belly finally lit, I rolled on in search of hills.

And hills did I find. (One of the locals I later spoke with considered the Ozarks tougher cycling than even the Rockies, because the Ozarks are relentless, never giving you a chance to recover from the steep climbs. He also pointed out that repeating a 300 foot climb (and immediately descending it) ten times contiguously is not only just as much climbing as a 3,000 foot mountain pass; you never get a chance to settle into a steady cadence.)

My only regret of the day is neither the hills, nor even the difficulty finding food establishments that hadn’t gone out of business, but that just as I was escaping a five-dog ambush, thanks to the owner’s intervention, I crested a hill and picked up enough speed I wasn’t able to stop at an open-for-business eating establishment that boasted homemade pie and cinnamon rolls by the time I saw it. Minimum calorie requirements having just been met (I may or may not have actually licked my plate of biscuits and gravy clean, but you won’t hear it from me), I was disinclined to stop, turn around and climb the hill. Even for pie. To the over-loaded touring cyclist, momentum is precious. <sigh> Such is life.

I didn’t see another open food establishment (grocery store or restaurant) until I reached the Gordonville Grille (in Gordonville, of course). It was 4pm, and the skies were threatening rain. I spied an RV park via Google Maps about 8 miles away. Given the choice of riding dry and having to cook in the rain, or eating at the restaurant and riding in the rain I chose the latter. Inside I found the 1/2# steak burger (came with bacon) &  Shlaflay  pale ale to my liking. The rain was light, almost refreshing. The final turn put me on “Kingshighway”, a $5 name for a high-speed suburban arterial road. Fortunately it had good shoulders.

Cape RV Campground was expensive, $21.60 for a tent site, but it did feature electric & water at each site, as well as two open wifi access points and nice showers. I set the tent up in the rain, and it continued to rain & thunder-storm all night.

Cape Girardeau, 17 miles

Cyclewerx Bike Shop

In the morning, rolling towards the river on Kingshighway, I passed Cyclewerx bike shop where I met John, the owner, & Kyle the  mechanic. They graciously spent almost an hour talking with me, recommending rides, routes and campgrounds. Unfortunately Fort Defiance State Park was closed due to being under water, and the bridge back into Missouri was closed due to construction, so I stuck around Cape Girardeau.

After getting groceries, my next priority was lunch. I found a conveniently placed diner style restaurant I’d never heard of, Huddle House (I later learned it’s a chain), and had their house triple cheeseburger & the world’s smallest piece of carrot cake. From there I followed Broadway to the river, and spent the rest of the afternoon looking at the Cape Girardeau Wall of Fame.

Cape Girardeau Wall of Fame

From there I headed for “Trail of Tears” State Park, but it got both dark and cold before I got there, and so I found a place to camp out of the way.

Cape Girardeau to East Prairie MO, 60 miles

In the morning, I stopped at the “Cup ‘n’ Cork” coffee shop & wine bar for coffee & wifi. Just after finishing my blueberry scone, a gentleman walked in and asked about my touring bicycle. Turns out Rick was a kindered spirit, car-free and big into bicycle touring. I offered to buy him a cup of coffee to keep him around talking about touring tips he’d learned the over the years, but he bought me another cup instead. Somehow we got around to my plan to head for East Prairie for my General Delivery package from my folks, and Rick pointed out that, tomorrow being Vetran’s Day, I would have to catch the Post Office today or risk waiting till Monday. Armed with a few routing suggestions from Rick’s old bicycle commute, and an amazing tailwind, I made 30 of the 40 miles in just 90 minutes (20 MPH average pace)!

(BTW, Rick also recommended “Al’s Place” in Farmington MO and “Running Spring Hunting Lodge” in Everton MO as touring-cyclist friendly lodging places for future reference.)

 The last ten miles into East Prairie were a real grind; either the wind or the road had shifted and the wind was now in my face.

As I was unpacking my package, a well-dressed man came out of the Post Office and asked about my trip. He was Rob Barker, an attorney in town. He mentioned that a nearby church hosted cyclists during the annual Tour de Corn, and opened it’s Family Life Center (with showers and restrooms) to Tour de Corn cyclists. With a few well-placed phone calls then arranged for me to camp at the church. He recommended the warmer option of a nearby hotel, as well as two  restaurants in town.

After repacking the box I’d received from my folks with a few more things I decided I didn’t REALLY need to keep hauling up any more hills (my digital camera–the one on my phone is all I ever use, as well as a second set of SmartWool underclothes: t-shirt, boxers and medium-height pair of socks–I can only wear one set at a time, and unworn duplicates just take up space and are dead weight on hills), I headed for the church, and  found the Family Life Center and availed myself of a shower and shave. I discovered my bottle of dish soap had broken, spilling dishsoap all over the redundant containment device (zip-top sandwich baggie). Fortunately only a little had escaped the baggie. I’ll have to find a more robust dish soap bottle in the morning.

Then it was off to dinner at the Depot B-B-Q restaurant. The staff recommended their fish plate (like chicken “fingers” but fish), served with toast, fries and coleslaw. Very tasty. Locals started filtering in, and one of them, Jim, started asking about my trip. There’s something charming about small towns like that.

Having spent all day taking advantage of the (mostly) favorable wind, I had only snacked for lunch, and had my usual “power snack” of ice-cream sandwich and coffee in Charleston, so one dinner wasn’t enough. Round two was a patty melt (delicious!) and “cheese balls”, sort of like spicy cheese curds, served with ranch dressing. The combination worked well.

Banana Cream Cake

Given free wifi and coffee refills, I followed the above with a slice of banana cream cake. Think form of carrot-cake, but taste of banana bread. Wonder-twin powers activate. It was different but good, although I think I still prefer carrot cake. Rob Barker came in as I was working on the banana cream cake, and filled me in on local attractions and points of interest on my way south.

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St. Louis to Cherokee Pass MO

I’ve had several days without cell phone service, wifi or campgrounds with running water, so here’s the story since leaving St. Louis:

St. Louis to Meramac State Park, 70 miles.

Katy Trail State Park

Brent and Katie drove me to the  Weldon Spring intersection of the Katy Trail. The Katy Trail is a former rail corridor with gentle grades, a nice crushed limestone surface, and impressive views of rock walls, forests and farm fields.
I had lunch at the Augusta Brewing Company, a bacon-cheeseburger and one of the house IPA’s. It was good but not remarkable other than being right on the Katy Trail at Augusta.

1000.0 miles

I made a minor milestone: my odometer rolled over 1000 miles for the trip!

I got in to Meramac State Park after dark, and was disappointed to find my $12 didn’t include a shower because the park shuts off all running water after November 1st for the “off season.”

Meramac State Park to Mark Twain National Forest near Potosi MO, 42 miles.
The flat land was replaced by big rolling hills as I entered the Ozarks.
I set new record high & low speeds for the tour: 42 MPH & 3.3 MPH, first descending into and then climbing back out of the same valley on State Road 185, near County Road N. Shortly thereafter I got caught in a traffic back-up: a car had hit a utility pole, and we had to wait for the police, fire department and utility company to clear the scene. While waiting, the driver of the car ahead of me opened his door and struck up a conversation: he and his son had seen me near Washington MO the day before, and wondered where I was going.



Rolling up one big hill I caught sight of Lyubuvs Mercantile, a general store so new it didn’t have running water yet,  where two motorcyclists, Dave & Dave enjoined me to stop a spell. I talked bikes and touring, both motor- and bicycles, with them till my stomach couldn’t wait any longer. Then I went inside and I had a late “lunch” of an ice-cream sandwich & coffee (bottled water + two Folger’s single serve coffee “tea-” bags + microwave oven = coffee like substance). I talked to the owner while waiting for my coffee to cool enough to drink; turns out she left an office job in Moscow, moved to New York, Pennsylvania and now Missouri with her family so they could live in the country, where she works at the store during the day and at some unnamed factory at night.

The wide-open spaces are hard to capture, but I’m still trying.

It’s also hard to capture just how steep and endless these hills are.

Rolling into Potosi MO about 5pm, I was delighted to find Boo’s Market was mainly a restaurant (even with wifi). Dinner of consisted of “The Trojan”, a bacon double 1/3 # cheeseburger (nicely blackened & crispy) with fries & two Shlaflay Oatmeal Stouts (an excellent oatmeal stout, much better IMHO than the Slaflay “APA” American Pale Ale I tried in Hannibal).

Mark Twain National Forest

Given the proximity of the Mark Twain National Forest, I had to make a point of camping there, just because I could.

Mark Twain National Forest to Johnson’s Shut Ins State Park, Lesterville MO, 52 miles.

Cousin's Outdoors General Store

At Cousin’s Outdoors general store I had an early first lunch of an “everything” sandwich (turkey, ham and salami, with pepper jack cheese) coffee & chocolate mini-donuts. While working on that sandwich, I met deer hunters Dave & his son Devon, who were so amazed at this trip they (as well as the store clerk) took my blog address. Good luck hunting next week Dave & Devon! Afterwards came second lunch: a salami sandwich (with pepper jack cheese), coffee & an ice-cream sandwich.

Johnson's Shut-Ins State Park

I made it to Johnson’s Shut-Ins State Park, but ran out of park before finding the camp ground. My knees were both aching, and it had gotten dark, so I found a place to camp out of sight.

Johnson’s Shut-Ins State Park to Longhorn Motel, Cherokee Pass MO, 61 miles.
I was out of potatoes for breakfast, but it didn’t matter because the rain started before I finished eating my oatmeal & bacon. Fortunately I got everything packed up & was rolling before the skies really opened up.

Biscuits & Gravy, round 2

As the rain continued, I reached Lesterville and spied a little gas station/cafe. Feeling under-caffeinated, but low on cash (their credit card machine wasn’t working), second breakfast consisted of two full orders of biscuits & gravy and coffee. Coffee/blood ratio restored, I noticed the rain had stopped and there was a bank across the road, so I was able to get my last $100 bill broken (thanks for buying the “Big Dummy” cargo bike Paul!).

I also hit a new record high speed: 43.5 MPH. When I saw 40 MPH I touched the brakes so I could make the corner at the bottom of the hill. I’m happy to report that the 26″ wheel Surly “Long Haul Trucker” touring bicycle offers stable handling even at 30+ MPH with the recommended 60/40 front/rear weight balance.

I had several unpleasant dog encounters today, the worst at a place that also had a pair of goats.

As the day was winding down I rolled into Cherokee Pass MO, but couldn’t corroborate the existence of the campground my map alleged was in Cobalt Village. Low on both water and energy, and with less than an hour before sunset, I decided no good decision would come on an empty stomach, so I went to the only open restaurant in sight and had a pulled pork sandwich with potato salad AND french fries (must be carb deficient) at the BBQ joint at the intersection of Highway 67 & County  Road C. Meanwhile, I decided the “Long Horn” Motel across the road would do at $35/night, as I badly wanted a shower and wifi, having not had cell-phone service in several days. The key didn’t work in the door, so I had to go back for another one. The room came fully equipped with cockroaches and one burnt-out light bulb. But the wifi worked, so I was able to talk to my folks via Skype and hash out the design for a new and improved stove wind screen, to be included in their next care package via USPS General Delivery.

Merino wool clothes are really well suited to this kind of on-the-go active lifestyle, but the only thing grosser than my long-sleeve SmartWool t-shirt was the short-sleeve SmartWool t-shirt I’ve been wearing under it since leaving St. Louis (and to think both had been freshly laundered just four days and 225 miles ago). After showering, the next most important thing was washing clothes; it was probably the worst laundry I’ve washed the whole trip.

Peanut-butter Tortilla

Two peanut-butter tortilla’s later, I sat down to update the blog. Next up: setting up the tent on the bed to keep the cockroaches, mosquitoes & what-have-you’s at bay.

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St. Louis, MO

The morning dawned cold and rainy. Over first breakfast, Katie offered to make pancakes, and I happened to remember the following recipe:

1 cup flour (white or whole wheat)
3/4 – 1 cup milk (to desired thickness)
1 egg, beaten
1 tablespoon sugar
1 tablespoon baking powder
2 tablespoons vegetable oil
1/2 – 1 teaspoon salt (to taste)

Not only is Katie an excellent pancake cook, she even found frozen blueberries to add. Brent came back from a doctor’s appointment, and offered to take me shopping in search of the MSR accessories needed to connect my two MSR Dromedary water containers to my Katadyn water filter. We stopped by The Alpine Shop (no luck) on the way to REI, where the two pieces I needed were available, but only as part of a $20 kit. Not wanting to spend $40 for 40 cents of plastic, I explained my delimma to Betsy, one of the employees, who went to the trouble of calling MSR on my behalf and having the two pieces mailed to me.

Brent and I found lunch at Bar Italia; I had an Italian sausage & red sauce dish over fettuccine noodles, while Brent had much the same except veal and tubular noodles. Both of them were excellent, especially washed down with with a Peroni beer.

St. Louis Arch

Suitably fortified, we headed out in search of The Arch, which we found amongst the raindrops. Pictures had not prepared me for the immensity of it. At 630 feet tall, it was hard to photograph from any closer. Around the corner, we also caught sight of the Eads Bridge, an engineering marvel and the oldest surviving bridge across the Mississippi River, but I didn’t manage to get any photos.

From there we drove past the Budweiser Brewery, impressive for it’s size if nothing else.

Budweiser Brewery

After much slow highway traffic, we returned to Brent’s parents home, and found dinner almost ready: Breaded pork-chops, Au graten potatoes, green beans, a savory zucchini bread and applesauce.

After dinner we played several games of “Bananagrams”, sort of a personal scrabble game without the board. Katie dominated. At some point, someone mentioned a frozen custard establishment, and a mad scramble ensued to make it before they closed at 9:30. We made it with seven minutes to spare. I had a “grasshopper” (mint) one and it was even better than Culver’s frozen custard (my only other point of reference). On the way back we stopped by the YMCA, and saw a giant statue of a man “Awakening” out of the ground (very zombie-esque).


I have to add that this is one of the coolest families I’ve ever met. John & Ruth welcomed me into their home for two nights, treating me just like family even though we’d never met before; Brent, Katie and I having only met over three days while biking the Oregon coast two months ago. Brent spent nearly all day driving me around, helping me round up gear for the tour as well as introducing me to all things St. Louis, including radio station KDHX (88.1 MHz) which was playing jazz & blues (two of my, and it turns out Brent’s, favorites), the new & now famous baseball stadium, bike lanes & sharrows, St. Louis bicycle culture, etc). St. Louis is a cool town, and I regret not having months to check it out more fully. Brent & Katie also drove me out to the Katy Trail so I could resume my tour without having to endure more suburban traffic on bicycle-unfriendly high-speed arterial roads, and included a stop at Whole Foods so I could stock up on those things that have proved hard-to-find in small-town grocery stores (quinoa, raw almonds, dark chocolate, etc). They’re driving to Colorado today, and I wish them luck in landing jobs & re-locating to Denver. I hope we meet again.

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Day 19: Foley MO to St Louis MO, 60 miles

I was up at 6 and rolling by 6:45, just as the sky was starting to turn pink in the east. I continued south on MO-79 about 12 miles before finding a park where I could cook breakfast. The weather had warmed up considerably, and I was soon shedding layers and thinking about lunch. I came upon a gas station, and stopped in looking for white gas. Instead I found a 16 oz cup of coffee, a gigantic ice-cream sandwich and a recommendation to try the hardware store.

909 miles and I just got to St Paul? (MO, not MN)

Continuing on, I spied a shiny disc on the road, and stopped to discover a very beat up quarter. Half an hour later a familiar looking road sign appeared: St. Paul city limits.

Near O’Fallon I was getting hungry (again) and the GPS suggested the Main Street Diner. On my way into the downtown I passed through a concrete road paving project and got to see a “Commander III” at work. Once on Main Street I spied a hardware store, so I stopped again to inquire about white gas. Turns out they did have it, but only in gallon cans.

Country fried steak, mashed potatoes and green beans.

Leaving the hardware store I found Mary’s Cafe, and stopped in for two rounds of the lunch special: country fried steak and potatoes covered in gravy with green beens,

Cheesecake and chocolate mousse.

followed by chocolate & cheesecake mousse for dessert. The service was quick, the food was amazing, and both Mary (the owner) and Terry (the cook) were both interested in hearing about how “a little guy like [me] could eat so much”, so I told them about this trip, to much awe and amusement.

Thoroughly stuffed, I ventured outside, and then had a 15 minute argument with my GPS. Google Maps insisted it was 24 miles to the Dewey’s Pizza on North Kirkwood Road in St. Louis, while the GPS insisted it was 122 miles. I took several wrong turns before figuring out Google Maps was routing me down several bicycle trails the GPS knew nothing about. I had to make a U-turn and back-track several miles through suburban mall traffic before finding my way to the first of many bike paths.

St. Louis area bicycle paths

Two hours later, I finally found my way to Kirkwood. Being a few minutes early, I looked around and discovered I had stopped right in front of  Bicycles of Kirkwood, so I walked in and had a wonderful chat with Mike, the owner and his mother.

At Dewey’s Pizza I met up with two new old friends from Minneapolis, Brent & Katie, whom I’d serendipitously met on the first day of my bicycle tour along the Oregon Coast back in September (while I was just in Oregon for a week, they were riding from Seattle to Santa Barbra). We had a grand little reunion, and enjoyed a walnut-grape salad, mushroom pizza, and an Italian meats pizza, along with beers from St. Louis (Shlaflay) and Denver (Left Hand Brewing). Brent & Katie graciously invited me to stay with them; they had even brought the trunk rack for their car for my bicycle.

Brent & Katie were staying with Brent’s folks, John and Ruth, while visiting St. Louis, who were equally gracious in welcoming me into their home.

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Day 18: Ashburn MO to Foley MO, 50 miles

Morning at Anderson Conservation Area

The Anderson Conservation Area near Ashburn MO is the epitome of primitive camping: you have a class 5 (very coarse) gravel parking lot. And that’s it. No water. No toilets. No services at all. I couldn’t even put a tent stake in the ground, but the price was right (FREE!) so I opened the tent roof vents and tried to weight one side of the rain fly open with my sandals for ventilation.

In the morning a Missouri Conservation officer came by to put up some new sign, and we talked for a bit as I was packing up after breakfast.

Hilltop view

The day was beautiful, with large hills (my slowest climb was 3.3 MPH, walking might have been faster), stiff headwinds, and warm weather like I haven’t seen (70F) since the beginning of this tour.

Mr. Jim E. Davis

I took MO-79 south to Louisiana MO, looking for lunch or a grocery store, and instead I met Mr. Jim E. Davis. He invited me in to his shop, a one-time cafe, that he was preparing to sell (along with everything inside) so he could move to Hawaii. Inside he had a “1938 Flyer” single speed bicycle, a “1973 Triumph” motorcycle, and a collection of paintings he had done (they looked like acrylic rather than oil paint, but I could be mistaken). He put on a CD of instrumental music by Madonna,  “CHURCH AMY” or something like that, as we sat at the cafe’s bar and we talked of cabbages and kings for an hour or so, until hunger motivated me to leave.

Enjoying the warm weather, I rolled on through farm fields and more big hills till I came to a diner in Clarksville. They had a half-pound bacon DOUBLE  cheeseburger, so I got it. Nicely charred, as were the thick-cut fries. Not sure where I was going to end up for the night, I filled my 4L water container and tried to make the most of the warm afternoon.

I found an IGA grocery store in Elsberry, where I stuffed my panniers. I had seen a sign for an RV campground on my way into Elsberry, so I headed back north for that, but dark fell before I reached it. My knee was starting to ache again, so I found a place to camp out of the way and had a cold dinner of summer sausage, sharp cheddar cheese, peanuts and raisins (GORP).

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Day 17: Mark Twain Cave Campground to Stealth Camping near Anderson Conservation Area, 22 miles

I woke up a bit before 7AM, and got an early start to the morning. Given the stated price of $19/night, I wanted to make full use of the facilities: warm shower, wash clothes, etc. I also tried using the Trangia Alcohol stove for bacon & potatoes because it’s lower heat output makes frying bacon & potatoes less of an excercise in nano-second-level timing. It was cold enough that I couldn’t get the remaining isopropyl alcohol to light, so I forfeited my planned quasi-scientific comparison of isopropyl vs methyl alcohols as fuels, and  topped it up with yellow bottle “Heet”. Wow, what a difference! It lit with the first match, burned hotter and with much less soot; wish I’d tried this weeks ago!

When I rolled out about 11:30AM, I found the office again locked and deserted, same as last night. Not seeing any other way to leave payment, I just left.

Having just one day left on my old dental insurance, I was pleasantly surprised when I was able to get an appointment for a cleaning at Hannibal Dental Group, and even more pleased when they confirmed that insurance would pay the entire fee. The staff were super friendly and cleaning seemed to go quicker than I remembered.

After that, I spent a fruitless half-hour searching for an open restaurant at 3:45PMon a Monday. The “Rumor Has It” bar & grill was the only option, and I had a bacon-blue-cheese burger with fries, featuring coleslaw in addition to the blue cheese, and tried a couple of local brews: Schlafly “APA” (American Pale Ale), a somewhat hoppy pale ale and an O’Fallon “Hemp Hop Rye” Amber Ale. While neither would be mistaken for the deliciously-slap-you-silly Surly Furious, they were both pretty good.

After applying ibuprofen to my aching left knee twice today, we’re now on speaking terms, so I filled up my 4L MSR DromLite and headed for the free camping at the Anderson Conservation Area parking lot.

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