Sunday, July 6, 2008
Day 3: Tipton to Galesburg, IL
I woke up about 5:00 AM Thursday. My concern about someone discovering my stealth campsite and the constant noise courtesy of the local avian population meant that I was done sleeping. At least the early morning call of the ring-necked pheasant made it feel somewhat like home. In 20 minutes, I broke camp, packed, cleaned the mud off of my cleats, and headed into town in search of food and a place to clean up a bit. Thankfully, the Tipton Family Restaurant opens at 5 AM during the week. I parked my bike on the sidewalk, grabbed a change of clothes along with my camera charger, and sat down in a booth close to the front door. I was the cafe's third customer of the morning. The others were two local farmers having breakfast before making their rounds for the day. I was feeling fairly hungry, so I ordered coffee, orange juice, two pancakes, and a side of corned beef hash. While my order was being prepared, I plugged in the battery charger then went to the rest room to splash a bit of water on my face and change into some new riding clothes. I had a quick chat with one of the farmers about my planned route to Muscatine. He confirmed that I shouldn't have any issues with road closures on the roads I was taking. A few minutes after I sat down in the booth, my breakfast arrived. A nice sized plate of hash and two of the largest pancakes I've seen in recent months. I opted to eat slow and try and get as much food in me as possible to fuel today's ride. This had the side benefit of giving my camera battery some additional time to charge.
Riding into town, I happened to look up and notice that Tipton had already installed their RAGBRAI banner at the entrance to town. Tipton is one of the overnight stops on RAGBRAI this year and the residents are quite excited about the event. While I was finishing my breakfast, more of the locals were coming in for their morning coffee or breakfast meetings. There was interest in my trip and whether I was going to be back again at the end of the month. One person walked in and commented that my bike appeared to be loaded up and ready to head to Sturgis for Bike Week.
Leaving the restaurant, I noted the still cool and humid air along with the northeast wind. Since I was a bit chilled riding into town, I decided to give my new arm warmers a try. I had discussed the merits of arm warmers with Chuck from Kyle's bikes on our night time gravel ride just a few days earlier. Hopefully, they'd both keep me warm and keep the sun off my arms. Fueled and clothed, I headed south out of Tipton on IA Hwy 38 and was immediately greeted with more rolling hills. The good news was the grades were a gentler since this was a main route to I-80 and beyond. The bad news was this was a main route to I-80 and beyond, so the first few miles were filled with cars and a number of semi trucks heading both north and south. After crossing the I-80, the road flattened considerably since I was close to the flood plain of the Iowa River. The ride into Muscatine was pleasant and non-eventful. I did run into a three mile stretch of gravel not too far outside of town. At this point, the appearance of a gravel road didn't require anything other than a downshift and slightly looser grip on the handle bars. At 8:30 AM, I found myself descending into Muscatine. The route was considerably flatter than last year's trek from Dyersville during RAGBRAI. I had planned on stopping for a snack of some sort in Muscatine. Once I arrived, I wasn't hungry and I wanted to keep moving so I could reach Galesburg by a reasonable hour. I headed north a few blocks to the Hwy 92 bridge and started to cross the Mississippi river. Traffic on the bridge was much lighter than I expected. I stopped on the bridge for a number of minutes and took a number of photos without any concern for my safety. Another nice feature of this bridge was the metal plates on the shoulders that covered the expansion joints. This allowed me to ride across the bridge without catching a tire in the joint itself.
After crossing the bridge, Illinois 92 has a nice paved shoulder that made for comfortable riding without needing to be concerned about traffic. About 2 miles from the river, I turned south onto a very smooth county road and cruised with the tail wind. Before I turned east to the climb up the bluff, I stopped to have a drink and a Clif bar. At this point, the gnats descended on me. Recent rains have caused the gnat populations to explode everywhere in the midwest. I decided that I should minimize any further stops to keep the insects at bay. I climbed back on the bike and started the climb. It was long, but not as steep as I was expecting considering I was on a county road. With the load I was carrying, it was still a solid bit of work and I was happy to reach the top. There's nothing like a friend to greet you at the end of a hard effort. Today, my friend was the northeast headwind, flowing unchecked across the corn and soybean fields of western Illinois. Since I was heading primarily east and south today, I decided the best thing to do was find a comfortable gear and keep spinning. For today, this turned out to be a 36x23 or a 36x20. I continued riding east to the town of Buffalo Prairie, cursing the headwind but rolling along at a steady 12.5 - 13.5 MPH.
Once in Buffalo Prairie, I stopped for a cold Coke and a short rest. Buffalo Prairie is the quintessential small rural town. The building I stopped at was a combination feed store, grocery store and post office. The town's other business was a combination meat locker, elevator and sandwich shop. I drank my Coke while talking with some of the other store patrons about my trip. They found it hard to believe that they were halfway between Tipton and Galesburg, or that I had covered close to 45 miles on a bicycle already that morning. After some additional talk, I bought another Coke for the road hit the road again. After enjoying the tailwind for a few miles, I made the next turn on my cue sheet which took me on to a gravel road. After pausing for a couple of minutes to make sure my directions were correct, and to take some more photos, I started down the road into the valley below. Crossing a small bridge, I came to an intersection and turned right to scout the next section of road. I was going to be riding a beautiful tree shaded section of gravel. Unfortunately, it was also going to be up a hill that was soon to peak at 10% grade. I am used to riding a 2.1" tire on gravel, not the 37 mm Continentals that came on my LHT. The tires, combined with the weight of all my "stuff" made for a challenging ride. As I rode onto the slope of the hill I quickly shifted into a 36x34 and kept my legs moving while wandering around to stay on the firmest part of the road. Eventually, I made it to a flatter section near the top of the climb. On my left, I noted a very poorly maintained mobile home with a yard full of junk, some long forgotten cars, and a large dumpster. Forging ahead, I rode up one more short, steep section of gravel before being deposited back onto the chipseal roads that are common in this part of rural Illinois. The remainder of the morning was uneventful, finishing with some additional east and south segments and depositing me into Aledo. It was almost noon, I was tired, and it was time for lunch.
I took a quick loop through the business district surrounding the town square, noting any eating establishments. I finally settled on The Garden Family Restaurant, not far from where I entered the square. Judging by the number of cars pulling up as I dismounted, I had picked a good place to eat. I ordered a grilled chicken sandwich with swiss, a small bowl of beef and noodle soup, fries and a glass of Mountain Dew. The soup was salty, which I found quite enjoyable after the morning's effort. Once the main course was finished, I had a piece of apple pie with ice cream. Nothing spectacular, but it was certainly edible. Looking at the staff, it was obvious that this was a family owned and operated business. The father and one other man were running the kitchen, while the mother and daughter waited on customers, with the help of one young man who obviously was not related to any of them. I drank a glass of water, had another refill of Mountain Dew and then headed back outside to apply some sunscreen and continue my journey. I had a brief chat with a rather wildly bearded man in overalls and a wide brimmed hat about the flooding that had hit the western part of the county. He seemed somewhat accepting of the hand that fate had dealt him. He said something to me in what I am pretty sure was Klingon, and wandered up the street. I guess my friend Bill was right when he said Aledo was an interesting town.
I rode south out of Aledo, past the high school, the country club, and other points south. Soon I would find myself riding on chip seal into the east wind. I passed through the town of Sunbeam and almost missed it. I am pretty sure that it consisted of a church and a house. Further east, I found myself on the outskirts of Burgess, a town consisting of three north-south avenues and two cross streets. There are many small towns in this part of Illinois. Not long after passing Burgess, I turned south and few minutes later, rode into the town of Alexis, the penultimate town on my journey. I found a convenience store, and bought some Gatorade (2 for $3 here too). During the time I was in the store, three other customers came in, and all of them, including a woman in her 60's, left the store with at least one case of beer in their arms. People in Alexis evidently know how to celebrate the 4th in style. The road out of Alexis wandered south and east with a couple of small hills and eventually I found myself on Illinois Route 164, headed into Galesburg.
Cyclists are rare in Galesburg, other than those that are riding to or from a bar. Cyclists that are assertive and take the entire lane confuse people. I had a lot of people giving me dirty looks as they had to use the left lane to get around me while I was riding down Main Street. While I was riding in the left hand lane due to a right lane closure, I had one driver who decided he'd rather cross the double yellow on the four lane street rather than wait the 30 seconds for me to clear the construction zone.
As I got closer to my sister's house, I decided to stop at a grocery store to get some tasty adult beverages to celebrate the end of my journey. As I was loading a case of beer on my front rack, an older gentleman walked up and asked me about my ride. He's retired, and one of the things he does to pass the time is look for people with stories to tell. Fully loaded touring bikes mean a story of some sort. He assumed initially that I was on a cross country trip. I gave him the Cliff's Notes version of the last few days, and after a few more minutes of conversation, I thanked him for the conversation and excused myself. A few minutes, and a few side streets later, I arrived at my final destination, not more that 30 minutes after my wife had arrived in one of our vehicles.
I relaxed with a couple of cold beers, took a shower, and then took my sister and brother-in-law out for tacos and margaritas at a local taco house. The night air was perfect, so we sat on the patio to eat. A couple of hours later, I was laying in a comfortable bed, already thinking ahead to RAGBRAI later this month, as well as other opportunities to take more trips like this in the future.
Route for the day is here.
Photos from the day are here.