I had initially thought that this morning would be our last one in Illinois, but I was wrong. It turns out that Chester is on the Illinois side of the Mississippi River. The day was sort of a blur and the one Porter I had with dinner hit me like an ambien, so I'm going to bullet out my thoughts and observations from the day:
- I wasn't planning on weighing myself until the final day, but the host last night had a scale and I was too curious to not check. I've lost 10 pounds so far. Shedding 10 pounds in 3.5 weeks isn't bad, but it's a little underwhelming when you consider that I bike 5-7 hours every day. I was expecting something more drastic, but hey at least I don't look emaciated.
- The trail had two route options today, so we chose the flatter one called the Mississippi Levee alternate route. Though I can't speak to how the other route was, I'd suggest everyone on the trail also take the alternate. For about 20 miles, we were riding on flat single lane roads that were surrounded by water on both sides. Sometimes biking through hours of corn fields makes me feel too land-locked and uncomfortable. Cruising comfortably with the flattest terrain, looking over each shoulder to see the water, and having Jack Johnson provide the soundtrack made it my most peaceful ride of the trip. I was so content. Of course that route led us directly to a 10 mile strip that had more MACK trucks than a street that allows cyclists should, but that's ok. The previous views made it worth it. I took some photos with my camera, but won't be able to upload them until we finally pass a place with wifi.
- That 10 mile battle with the trucks brought us directly into our home for the night: Chester, IL. After entering the city limits, we began to see images of Popeye the Sailor man all over. He was on the welcome sign and incorporated into every business' decorations. We had lunch at a fine local eatery called Subway and checked out a bakery across the street. While talking with the owner of the bakery, she explained why Popeye was such a big deal in Chester.
The artist who created Popeye, E. C. Segar, grew up in Chester; several of the characters were even based on people that Segar had known in the town. The baker continued her story and taught us that Popeye wasn't initially in the first comic; he actually didn't appear until almost 10 years later. The initial protagonist in Segar's stories was Olive Oyl, though her parents, brother, and boyfriend, Hamgravy, were recurring characters. With the immediate success of Popeye, Segar decided to cut some characters from the plot. There are statues of the characters all over town, but a mural was what caught my eye the most. It depicts Popeye and the characters that made the cut on a boat leaving Chester as those that Segar removed from the plot stayed on land and waved goodbye. The mural cleverly represents when E. C. Segar hit success and left Chester for either Hollywood or Chicago (we heard conflicting stories), bringing Popeye and a few friends with him. I never expected to learn so much about a cartoon from the '30s this summer, but towns like Chester are exactly what I was looking for when I set trail out of Virginia a few weeks back.
- We're staying at a hostel run by the Eagles. They're some type of group like the Knights of Columbus; their lodge (how did they not name it The Eagle's Nest? Come on, guys) is a full restaurant and bar. We got showers, bunks, and an AC, but I was even more jazzed that we were able to have a good meal, drink some cold beer, and sink some quarters into some old arcade games. Illinois has been very good to us- as we approach the hills and mountains of Missouri, we will be leaving on low gears and high notes.
- Tomorrow's ride will be a short 45 or so to Farmington, MO. We could go on to a further town, but there's a White Castle there and we won't want to move after splitting a crave case. With my birthday being Sunday and the Ozark Mountains starting with the beginning of the week, I'm going to campaign for a rest day there on Sunday. I don't really care what I do on my birthday, but I'd rather spend it on a couch than my bike.
Well, moving onto the 4th of 6 states tomorrow. That sounds pretty good, doesn't it?