Today was a big milestone for two reasons. Firstly I have now cycled more than 1,000 miles, and have completed about a quater of the official trip distance (4,300). I suspect that unless things change, I will finish in fewer miles than that. I seem to be deviating from the official ACA route quite a bit as, in parts, it seems to be convoluted and indirect – avoiding more direct back roads that are just as scenic. The second milestone today was crossing into Illinois. Psychologically crossing state lines gives you a boost – it’s a sign of progress beyond ticking the miles off on the map. The crossing into Illinois felt more substantial than moving into Kentucky from Virginia, as I had to cross the Ohio river in a ferry.
I thought, after my first few days in Kentucky, that I would be pleased to leave the state. However, throught my time there the state has grown on me. The eastern part of the state was poor and the people, while not openly hostile, were not exactly friendly. But the western half was filled with friendly people – just about every time I stopped for a break, someone asked me if i was OK ( + there were fewer wild dogs!).
I think I was spoiled by yesterdays ride – it was the first predominantly flat ride I’d had since eastern Virginia. Today however I was back to the hills. Increasingly large rollercoaster hills really slowed my progress. It was disheartening, every time I crested a hill to see another one waiting for me. I that I can say goodbye to flat streches of road until Kansas now as I have the ‘Illinois Ozarks’ to deal with here and then the Ozark mountains themselves in Missouri. I still made good progress, and was lucky with the weather – cool and dry – perfect cycling conditions.
I’m spending the night in the village of ‘Cave-In-Rock’ which is imaginatively name after a natural cave created by the Ohio river. It was originally a stronghold for outlaws including the bandit Logan Belt, Philip Alston the Counterfeiter, the pirate Samuel Mason, and the Sturdivant Gang. I am also close to the ‘Trail of Tears’ – in the early 1800’s when American settlers headed west into Illinois, the Native Americans were shifted off the land. In 1839 about 14000 Cherokees were forced off the land and made to move 800 miles to modern day Oklahoma through this part of Illinois. Short of food and held up by floating ice in the Mississippi, over 4000 of the Indians died, hence the name Trail of Tears. Due to these historical atractions Cave-In-Rock is a tourist town, but in the off season everything seems to be shut and run down. It is like a ghost town, with a few odd people wandering around. The motel I am staying in redefines grotty – it’s being run out of a trailer, which stinks, by a toothless old man who smells nearly as bad. The room is equally aweful – everthing is moth-eaten – I don’t want to think about how long it’s been since anyone gave it a proper clean. I went to the only place that’s open anywhere near here for supper, which was as eery as the rest of this area – and outrageously racist if the open conversation between the other couple of tables was anything to go by.
I’m going get an early night and get out of here early tomorrow morning.