Saturday, July 12, 2008

St Charles, Missouri to Hannibal, Missouri

This weekend's ride was to Hannibal Missouri, boyhood home of Mark Twain. The forecast was calling for thunderstorms through the day so I grabbed my rain suit and decided to leave the camera at home. As with last week's ride in to Illinois I had to start out on I-70, this time headed west. I had about a 10 mile section from home to State Route 61. SR 61 is a four lane road that runs pretty straight through some painfully flat farmland. There's not a lot of variety in scenery but since I had a specific destination in mind I didn't mind too much. The trip up was an uninspiring 93 miles. The road was decently paved and traffic was light at 10:00 on a Saturday morning. The section of SR 61 north of I-70 was no where near as interesting as the section south I rode last week.

Once to Hannibal I stopped for a quick lunch at Taco Bell along the prerequisite fast food, strip mall road off of the interstate. After lunch I felt ready to cruise around downtown to check out the sites. I have to confess that I've never read Tom Sawyer, Huck Finn or any of Mark Twain's other works. As a result I didn't spend much time site seeing. I decided to come back some other time with my wife to take a ride on a stern wheeler. The effects of the past couple of months of flooding were still evident with buildings sandbagged and debris and brown grass in the low areas. This would actually be a theme for the rest of the trip back. After consulting my map, I saw that State Route 79 actually runs closer along the Mississippi River so that's the road I decided to take. Shortly out of Hannibal 79 starts up into the hills. The road from Hannibal to Clarksville is as fun a motorcycle road as I've ever been on. There are constant twists, gentle, high speed arcs and several changes in altitude. One long gentle high speed corner was especially fun and I let out an involuntary whoop after going around it at close to 80 mph. There was little traffic and ample passing opportunities for the times when I got stuck behind the odd slow moving truck. I also saw a lot of evidence of the flooding and unfortunately I saw several homes with the dirty brown mark on the side some as high as half the height of the door. It really put a damper on my spirits and made me appreciate how lucky I am.

Most of the rest of the ride was straight and uneventful. I slowly started easing back into St Peters and before I knew it there was I-70 again. The total for the trip was 205 miles. I've been doing long rides to make up for the lack of mileage this summer and last.

Please give to the Salvation Army. I know the Red Cross is helping also but from what I saw the Salvation Army was everywhere and looked to be doing the most in the areas without the media attention.

Saturday, July 5, 2008

St Charles, Missouri to Chester, Illinois

I'm ashamed to say that I've just taken my first ride of the year. I've been so busy with a new job and moving to another state that I haven't really got to ride. I've always thought that the excuse of no money and no time rang a little false but I'm finding out that adult responsibilities do intrude into my Peter Pan riding land. As I headed out from our new house in St Charles, Missouri on I-270 around the southern end of the St Louis area all the emotion of a motorcycle ride came back over me. I don't know what chemical response it triggers but it goes right to the pleasure center of my brain.

I left this morning at 9:30 and jumped on I-70 to I-270. I usually try to avoid the interstates when I can but I had a specific goal in mind and the freeway offered the most direct route. After about 30 miles I took exit 6 at Columbia, Illinois and headed south on IL 3. I picked a road that I was hoping ran close with the Mississippi River. IL 3 doesn't, which actually worked out to my advantage. For some reason it hadn't occurred to me that the Mississippi has been flooding the mid-west for the better part of the summer. As I got to Evansville I saw evidence of the Kaskaskia River over flowing it's banks. I was starting to worry that I may have to turn around. I decided to press on. It was a 76 mile trip from Columbia to Chester, Illinois. The road is what I see every time I ride in the areas along the Mississippi. There were miles of farmland with corn, no hills and straight roads to the horizon. While it wasn't the most scenic or challenging road I've ever been on it was a good one to blow the riding cobwebs out on. I got to Chester to be greeted by a sign proclaiming it the birthplace of Popeye, the sailor. The downtown was full of Popeye shops and signs. I wanted to save exploring Popeye's history for another day. After a burrito at the Hardee's/Red Burrito, I turned onto IL 150 heading west and crossed the River Bridge into Missouri. Illinois 150 turns into Missouri 51 and I followed that to route H. I started up State Route 61 which is very much like my old stomping grounds SR 40, the old national highway. 61 runs closer to the Mississippi and as a result I saw a lot more flooding. In St Mary a large portion of 61 was under water. As far as I could tell no homes were affected which I was thankful for. A sign proclaimed the route opened to local traffic only. Since there wasn't an alternative but to go back I made my way through town and pressed on.

Route 61 was an improvement on IL 3 but just barely. There were more hills and a few turns but for the most part I didn't get to use the sidewall of my tires except the few times I got on or off the freeway. There is some pretty scenery and there are few places on my "next time" list. And unlike the Illinois side the secondary roads are paved. I'm not sure about the Illinois side of this trip but I will be revisiting the south eastern portion of Missouri again. And let's be honest, I'll visit Chester again, at least to visit the Popeye museum.

The last portion of the ride consisted of me getting on and off of I-55. Like 40 and I-70, SR 61 and I-55 parallel and overlap one another. I was torn by my desire to get off the bike (I haven't built up the rider's butt yet) and see the back roads. I finally hit I-270 again and made a beeline for home, weaving through some thick traffic. I was disappointed to note that I was 5 miles short of an even 200 mile trip. Maybe next time.