Hello from eastern Illinois!
Sorry for the incredible lack of communication. We've quite literally had no Internet or phone for days on end (mine getting in a fight with an epic lightening storm, resulting in it's demise, has not helped). Really, smoke signals have had their appeal. :) But finally we're broke down in a little town in the middle of the Midwest due to spoke problems, and the ambulance station (the only mechanic in town) is right across from a dazzling, air conditioned public library oasis. A sticky combination of too much to say, limited time, and a memory where city parks are beginning to blend, will probably result in a post a little less than par. But...se la vie.
Okay: I left off at Clinton, Missouri. The head of the Katy trail. The trail itself was a thin slice of heaven spanning the hilly "show it all" state...and we were very happy for that. The night before we left we ended up meeting up with two guys from Peru who had just finished the trail, and we're informed of its in's and out's over some sweet guitar and stars. Most of the trail is sandwiched in between thick wooded areas and farms, speckled occasionally with back road towns (most not even having a grocery store). We met up with Stephanie, Ryan and Paul along the way, making our group a whopping 7 people. There is too much to say about the Katy, so I will present a list in hopes of encompassing a bit: camping huddled under a rain fly in an epic Missouri thunderstorm, hitting an armadillo via bike whilst reopening my knee, night ride forest paths lit by fireflies, a bike hostel with ping pong tables galore, small town picnic and pork steak sandwiches, astrological readings behind sappy cowboy performances, camping in a Christmas colored, neon sheep farm, and being fed the most gourmet lunch of my life under a pavilion next to the Missouri river, and experiencing the true Missouri cuisine of fried gizzards, gooey butter cake, and what is known as "toasted ravioli." Basically: besides a slew of flat tires due to crushed limestone roads, the Katy has been one of the best places I've seen so far.
Next stop was St. Louis!
YAY! We finally made it to a real city....which also means city riding. Ouchy. Riding with cars and people is totally different than the placidity of dear Kansas. In light of a slight personal vendetta I have, I must admit, St. Louis was one of the most hospitable places we've gone through so far. We stayed with an amazing family in the suburbs, who cooked us a dinner that was just slight of divinity. They had razors, soap, shampoo, fresh towels and made up beds for us all, as well as a bag of bagels to send us on our way after a full course breakfast. Some people are so selfless, I am humbled by the kindness. (another example is randomly talking to a stranger in a park about our trip, and after about 5 minutes she came back with a wad of $200 as a contribution to our cause)...sigh.
The next day we woke up and had a full day of just city riding (meaning it would take us all day to get across St. Louis). After 7 flat tires total, Paul and I found ourselves stranded from the group with no tubes for my tires (which was ironic...considering that morning I was laughing about how many extra tubes I had). After hitchhiking to the nearest town, we came 5 minutes after the only bike shop in town closed. So... not surprisingly we found ourselves out of options, marooned at a super market, sitting on the ground engrossed in a group sing a long. This seemed to be the best resolution to the problem at the time, and was actually the catalyst for a discussion with a stranger who eventually offered her yard for the night and her pickup as a means of transportation. Once again...kindness of strangers.
This particular house was....quite honestly the most bizarre place I have EVER slept. A bright blue farm house (painted to honor the blueness of our her father's eyes) stuck haphazardly in between rows of sunflowers atop a sharp rolling hill. Usually this would be not so strange, but in combination with 18 bunny rabbits wandering the yard and stacked in cages, a memory garden comprised of tacky statues and fake flowers, and a man who liked to knit and had recently had 6 heart bypasses....I found the circumstances borderline hysterical. Some times life deals you random cards. We found ourselves hunched over a small BBQ grill with a metal platter melting cheese and apples on tortillas listening to our host's theories on out of body experience and "happy places" (which she later tried to induce on me by holding my temples). Hah. Neato.
The next day I was finally able to get my tubes, after swerving in and out of hills and touring the flood areas of the town in an old pick up. We road to Chester, Illinois. Chester, in comparison to our previous night, I thought could not be any weirder. Annnd..I was wrong. Chester is what is known as "The Home of Popeye." Meaning everything in sight is Popeye themed. Gas stations, laundry mats, restaurants either had spinach or sailor outfits painted on the sides. We went to a small homestead in the middle of town where it seemed everyone knew one another, besides us of course, being the spandex clad outsiders. Here I experienced an Illinois speciality known as a "One Hot Pony," which is basically potato chips, nacho cheese, bright red hot sauce, and a slab of chicken wedged amongst the mess.
The next day we road to Carbondale, marking HALFWAY for us. Yay! We stayed with a friend of Lucy's she met last time she road, Aur, owner of a solar power business, a kick ass cook, and the BEST salsa dancer in the state of Illinois. After getting a pannier rack set up on my bike, indulging in a fine Thai dinner thanks to Natalie (the last rider to join us) and her mom, and boxing up the trailer I had been carrying (which weighed 33 pounds!) to send back to our friend in Kansas, Aur informed us that the next morning he was planning on leaving for the nation's oldest hippy commune and would like if we could join him. UM HELLO!? Yes.
The next morning all of sandwiched into Aur's hippy van, picked up a hitchhiker or two along the way, and jammed out to jazz all the way to southern Tennessee (217 miles off route). The hippy commune was first started back in the 60's, after sending a fleet of beat up school buses across the country on search for fertile land. We were there just in time for their annual festival, known as Ragweed, celebrating a time where the commune was busted for pot plants spotted from planes, which turned out to be just a field of ragweed (a harmless, totally not hallucinogenic, weed that grows all over the state). In order to commemorate the event, they celebrate every year with fireworks, dance, vegan food, and an array of brightly colored clothes. It was a sight to be seen. We found ourselves munching organic salad and soy ice cream made at their own local farm and touring their solar power, alternative thinking elementary school. Also, interestingly enough, I ended up running into a guy from Goucher! The world is small.
Like clockwork, the sun set and lightening and rain followed. Dancing to Bob Marley bare foot in a hippy commune marks what is probably one of the most memorable 4th of July's I'll ever see.
That morning we woke up, after all huddling in the hippy van for shelter, and drove to a blueberry farm. After parking the car a ways back and tip toeing to the field, we picked about 10 pounds of berries for the road. Dew drops, fresh leaves, wet earth and about 310 blueberries in my stomach, we decided there is very little things more religious than being humbled by nature in such a way on a Sunday morning.
Anyways: Now we're in Mt. Vernon, Illinois, waiting to fix a broken spoke. Tomorrow we'll be in Indiana. Only 20 more days left on the Trek and I am starting to fear going back to normal life. Living in a perma-high off of endorphins, experiencing the will and way of the universe pushing us into different situations, and never resting my head in the same place twice will all be hard to give up.
Miss you all.
Alive and in love with life,