Sunday, May 26, 2013

Popeye the Sailor Man - Chester, Illinois

Day 19 - Festus, Missouri to Chester, Illinois 61.4 miles

The morning ride took us to Ste. Genevieve in search of the Moduc ferry.  The MRT route was really well marked - we were thrilled to see trail signs on a regular basis, because they really have been few and far between until this point.  Unfortunately, the road was not the best for cycling as the shoulder was very narrow, with a drop on one side and rumble strips on the other.  It was quite a white knuckle trip as we twisted and turned, climbed and dropped our way into town.

MRT and Great River Road signage

Ste. Genevieve is the oldest European settlement west of the Mississippi and you can see a strong French Canadian influence everywhere.  We took our time walking the town and soaking it all in.  The town has done a wonderful job preserving and sharing it's colourful history.  We enjoyed lunch at an outdoor cafe and met a great couple who were on a motorcycle weekend trip.  They gave us some terrific camping and route tips.

Historic Sainte Genevieve - Mississippi River Trail

We were a bit shocked to learn that the flood gates protecting Ste. Genevieve had only been opened a week ago, the highway had been flooded out and the ferry had been closed.  We feel like we have been putting luck to the test, so today we made the decision to leave the MRT route for a while and head inland along the Trans American trail out of Chester.  We are wanting to connect to the Natchez Trace Parkway and eventually catch up to the MRT in Natchez.  It will add a few extra miles to our trip - how hard could that be?

Flood Gate protecting Ste. Genevieve - Mississippi River Trail
Our lunch break was extended as we had a long wait for the Moduc ferry.  This wonderful little ferry takes you across the Mississippi from Missouri to Illinois.  The loading protocol is a little different than British Columbia Ferries.  You have to signal the boat, by pulling up the ramp and flashing your headlights....a unique challenge for cyclists!  We waved and tried to signal to no avail and resigned ourselves that we would need to just sit it out and wait for a car.  We sat on a log and watched the river go by, when a couple who were down by the river enjoying a picnic lunch noticed us, and drove their car over to signal the boat for us.  Greatly appreciated.....our rescuer had been born and raised 70 years in Ste. Genevieve.

Loading dock - Moduc Ferry - Mississippi River Trail
A couple of motorcyclists joined us on the ferry.  They were proud, Vietnam combat vets out for a weekend ride.  The motorcyclists always look a little intimidating with their big, powerful Harleys, leather jackets etc, beside us on our bikes, but it never fails that the bikers are the first to chat and to offer help.  As one fellow told is the brotherhood of 2 wheels.  I guess we have been accepted as the "nerdy cousins."

Enjoying the Moduc Ferry - the "french connection" between  Missouri and Illinois
We finally arrived for the evening in Chester, home of Popeye ......not quite as far as we had planned to travel for the day, but another day rich in experiences and once again touched by the kindness of strangers.

Brutus and Rob - Chester, Illinois
Giggle of the day:

We felt back at home when we put our wheels on Illinois soil.  The farmers were busy in the fields, cars gave us lots of room and random strangers would ask if we needed water....that friendly Illinois vibe.  As we pedalled our way through the countryside, we experienced simultaneous allergy attacks.  Our eyes swelled up....almost to the point of being closed shut and we started sneezing..  Quite the experience - we looked like creatures from a horror movie by the time we ended our ride.

Which way?

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