Posted by: twistsoffeet | June 9, 2011

Balls of Steel and Road Kill


Warning: if you are easily offended you may not wish to read this post.

I will not be obscene or perverted or even raunchy. Okay… maybe a little raunchy.

You have been warned and can read or not or you can skip down to skip down to where I advise it is safe to read.

I woke early and started riding today at 5:30 AM.  It was a beautiful day to ride on a two lane highway without a shoulder.

At first it was okay because of very little traffic, but things picked up, especially the big rig traffic screaming by at 55 mph and nowhere for me to go.  I started to feel a little heavy in the drawers and actually checked to see if I had unwittingly soiled myself; no, I had not.  The thing was that I had been riding this suicide highway and was not terrified like I should have been. I found I had grown a set of steel balls somehow overnight.

I should have been terrified on this road, but I was no longer frightened. I do not really understand because a semi rushing by at 55 mph with less than one foot of air between the two of us should scare a normal individual.  Apparently I have gotten used to it and that is what frightens me. If I am not frightened, I may let my guard down or become complacent.

Or what if I were somehow to lose my balance and fall under the semi?!  I really should still be terrified, but no I had to grow a set of steel ones.  I am still afraid of the big rigs coming at me from the opposite direction while another is fast approaching from behind.

When a semi comes barreling down the highway from the other direction, his draft is like hitting a wall and then it slams you sideways.  If it were to knock me off in front of the other truck coming from behind me, it would not be pretty. I guess I still have a little fear, which means the steel used is apparently not a high grade hardened variety of steel. I hope I do not upgrade.

Roadkill is nasty.  All along this trip, I have been surrounded by it.  In Florida, it was armadillo and raccoons then in Georgia, I started getting a few possum added into the mix. Alabama was largely armadillo with a few raccoons and possum.  Then came Tennessee, where everything just increased: more armadillos, more raccoons, more possum, and an occasional deer and then some domestic pets. Kentucky holds the title so far, though, with lots of armadillo, lots of possum and raccoon, and many, many deer and domestic animals, as well as skunk.  Add into the mix all along the way, many birds especially in Tennessee and Kentucky… sometimes 300 or more in a day.  And with mid to upper 90’s for temperatures, it all becomes a disgustingly foul smelling journey.  I never noticed it in a car, but while  riding a bike and breathing as much as I have to do, as well as being closer to the offender, it is at times sickening.  I mention all this because even though I– and probably the reader as well– have seen road kill before, but I never knew it was so prevalent.

So if you plan on a tour like this during the summer months, be prepared. By the way, so far Illinois has had little in the way of road kill, which pleases me immensely.

Okay, it is now safe to read with little possibility of being offended.

I rode 48 miles today and now I am in the Devils Backbone Park and Campground in Grand Tower IL”  The ride started with a few short but steep hills that spanked me early on, but then opened up into about ten miles of flat road. I was in heaven, just pedaling along leisurely with little effort other than watching for the traffic that could potentially end my day.  Although this part of the ride started with a decent shoulder, all good things must come to an end.  The shoulder ended and so did the flat road.

Suddenly, long gradual hills and short steep hills, up and down, and up and down, got my legs to burning, but not my lungs. I can hear someone out there saying, “shift to a lower gear and lose the burning muscles and use your aerobic power!”

That is all great if you are not pulling a trailer, but with a trailer, even my super lowest gear gets the muscles to burning.

Finally I arrived in Anna, IL ,where I wanted to quit for the day, but was only 20 miles into the ride, so I couldn’t. I continued on through Jonesboro, when the road started dropping with just an occasional little hill.  Then it would drop again.  I know I shouldn’t do it, but I never touched the brakes and hit speeds up to 36 mph, and it felt so good.  At the bottom the road was flat as a pancake for the next 25 miles.  This time my little bit of peace and serenity lasted for the rest of the day’s ride.

I stopped in Wolf Lake to inquire about camping and met Myra at the community center; she was great. She offered several suggestions, including camping behind the community center and she even offered to leave the place open so I could use the facilities.  She gave me several bottles of water and three bottles of Gatorade, and let me fill my water bottles.  Myra told me about a natural spring on my route a few miles down the road, where I could fill my bottles again and then remembered that the town of Grand Tower has the Devils Backbone Campground and Park, which is right on the Mississippi, where I could camp and shower.

She said there is no charge and only two miles down the road.  The only two things she got wrong was that it is actually nine miles to Grand Tower, and two more to the park.  Also it is not free.

They have several different rates based on time and type of camping.  At this time, all the prices looked very reasonable and modest. Tent camping is currently only $7.50, but as always this can change.  Part of the campground did receive flood damage, but most of it had already been cleaned up.  The restrooms have been recently renovated– just this last last couple of weeks– but the showers could use some work, and they will be renovated  as funds become available.

The park and campground itself are clean and well groomed, and the staff are very friendly and helpful. I spoke with George, who is on the park board, and he was kind and helpful, and I want to personally thank him for his assistance.

I am sitting at a pavilion in the park right now, and it is very comfortable, serene, and relaxing to watchthe Mississippi waters just flow on by. Occasionally, a barge comes by, either going up or down river, and it is really a bit of a marvel to see these monsters move on the river.

The journals of Lewis and Clark mention camping on the direct opposite bank of the river, and a drawing even exists showing their camp with Keel boat on shore, behind this little island I am looking at right now.  So at this campground, you get camping at a modest fee, along with clean facilities a nice park with a great view… and you also get history. You really cannot beat this combination.

All along this tour, I have followed several different paths of the Trail of Tears, and today much of my ride was on a section of the trail.  I have ancestors who walked the trail, and riding it has amazed me with just how strong they had to have been to survive.  I honestly do not know what version of the trail, or in what group they walked the trail, but I have been touched by their spirit and history, since I have now ridden portions of the trail.  Their strength and determination to survive was monumental.

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