Bicycling, Road Logs, The Great Adventure, Travel

Road Log: Dubuque to St. Louis

The Giant and me on the lift in Dubuque. (I also pedaled up this hill.)

The Giant and me on the lift in Dubuque. (I also pedaled up this hill.)

Since I’m getting back on the road, it’s long past time to finish the road logs from the first leg of my journey. This one covers the period from limping into Dubuque to reaching St. Louis.

(The Adventure Log last saw our young writer bicycling into Dubuque, Iowa with a damaged brake. That was over a year ago—the dates below are 2012.)

Day 66 – 70 (September 10-14, 2012)

Stayed at Jack’s beautiful house overlooking the Country Club on top of the hill in Dubuque. I found Jack through Couchsurfing but he turned out the be an old friend of Urban Haas. When I arrived he was conducting a board meeting for the art museum in his living room. Once I showered up I joined right in. Jack also introduced me to many great new friends, and I met a stunning woman named Lauren. Pushed out my stay here to get writing done.

I could picture myself living here. Dubuque is a great town and Jack is a wonderful friend. “Reclusive Dubuque author” is now my backup plan.

A man named David repaired the Giant. Brand new front brake. If there’s such a thing as a Bicycle Monk, David is it.

Nights are cold! Jack wanted me to stay the weekend to attend an art event, but I want to push on.

Day 70 (September 14)

Headed out bright and early (ha) with a plan of using a freeway for the first time. When I entered the freeway I was overwhelmed (even though it was light traffic). It was very uncomfortable being out there, and I sought a way out—but there’s no parallel route. But I ended up liking the freeway. I stayed on even after there was a parallel. Smooth, flat road and I had a tailwind!

I wrote: “[These] 80 miles were some of the most pleasant biking I’ve ever done. Being on the freeway was meditative.”

Arrived Davenport to stay with Dustin, who lives on the entire top floor of a former apartment building, converted into his print shop and home. He gave me my own studio apartment! We had a great time out over beers and I got to see giant bus decals printing out on his machines. Got very drunk off just two pints. 71.0 miles.


My host, Jack, in Dubuque.

My host, Jack, in Dubuque.

Day 71

Departed a little reluctantly. Not recovered from yesterday’s bike ride, beer really hit me, and the thought of Jack’s great house is still a tempting memory. Plus, Davenport & the Quad Cities seem like a fun little metro (twice as much fun as the Twin Cities, Jack!). I wish I could explore. But headed south, still seeking to beat the cold nights.

Just a block from Dustin’s studio is an artist’s house with amazing metal sculptures out front.

Long ride, lots of odd turns to get around natural features. Mostly country, but started off with spectacular view on the bridge over the river in the Quad Cities.

Arrived Monmouth, Illinois just after suppertime. Cruised nicer neighborhoods in hopes of finding someone who would suggest a place to stay. A woman walking her dog ended up putting me in touch with her Methodist church, leading to one of the single best experiences of the trip (see below).

Really intrigued that towns in this area of Illinois all have a central plaza, often with a roundabout! Great Mexican restaurant near this one (they doted after I ordered tacos with onion, cilantro and lime instead of tomato, lettuce and cheese) and a local Mexican market too. Could buy quality hot sauce if needed. 69.4 miles.


Day 72

I stayed for the Sunday service. The pastor, John, is a great guy. All my hosts here have been amazing—it was truly uplifting to meet such supportive and open minded people.

Eventually I headed out, and Pastor John promised to put me in touch with a Methodist minister in the next town who might put me up.

I blessed the Church and its people before I left.

High spirits gave way to a tough day (first one since Dubuque). My first flat tire of the trip. Took forever to change, practically forgot how. Fellow cyclist in a pickup truck pulled up and offered help, but I’d already knocked on a door and begged use of an air compressor (having troubles with portable pump). He informed me this section of Highway 67 chews up bikes. Really rough pavement.

(Drew’s note: Although this was my first flat tire, it would not be my last—from here out they were incredibly common, often one a day or more.)

Approaching Beardstown quite a vista. Crest a hill and below is a river then the town. There was a magical moment, on top of the hill in a wooded area, where I “caught up to summer” heading south: the temperature of the air abruptly changed, and it smelled like summer flowers again, not autumn. Catching up to summer on a bike! I stopped and thanked the gods, the living universe for such a moment.

Arrived evening in Beardstown, IL. Mosquitoes just coming out as I arrived.  Pastor Bob offered to put me up at a motel(!). He checked me in and said he’s going to meet me for breakfast in the morning. 72.9 miles.


Day 73

Today’s weather promised thunderstorms, and I wanted to stay another day. Didn’t want to burden Pastor Bob’s congregation—offered to camp out, or do chores and stay in his garage. He insisted to put me up another night at the motel. Very generous.

At breakfast he made clear the reason he’s being kind is to convert me to following Christ.

Accomplished a great deal of writing. There were some thunderstorms, but not bad. Had lunch at a cafe around the town square, explored town a bit.

Went to a hardware store as well. As I left, someone shouted at me. It was a young woman on her break from Pizza Hut. She saw my bike and wanted to know about my trip. She invited me to have dinner with her and her fiancé.

Bri and Phil were amazing hosts. We had a delicious home-cooked dinner at their trailer home outside Beardstown (they gave me a ride, which I appreciated between the rain & coming home late at night). Bri is quite a chef and made chocolate lava cakes for desert! They’re great music fans and travel everywhere for music festivals. They organized their own music festival near Beardstown & it made money in its first year.

They also explained to me the tension in Beardstown between longtime white residents and a growing Mexican immigrant population.

Day 74 (September 18)

Headed out a little wistful, but well rested & full of happy feelings. Also excited about getting close to St. Louis. Decided to do a 100 mile day to reach a Couchsurfing host family just outside the city. Was extra excited because this was the first time I’d be staying with a family with kids.

Really liked the town of Jacksonville, Illinois. Another central square/park, and there was even music playing over public loudspeakers in the town center. Stopped at a diner, Norma’s North Star Diner—first sighting of hot sauce out on every table in a (white-owned) restaurant. Welcome to the South! Also stopped at a bookstore, Our Town Books.

(Drew’s note: sadly I no longer remember what book I got there, though it may have been the Nietzsche book I regretted buying for a long, long time. Or the Søren Kierkegaard book that I’d wanted to read ever since hearing a podcast reading of The Expectation of Faith from my hammock in Wisconsin.)

Also found out there are two bicycle shops (!) in Jacksonville, couldn’t find one but stopped at the Village Cyclery which was right on my way. Very helpful staff, got my tubes and learned more about how different size tubes can fit the same tire (within reason). Also straightened out my portable pump, though it never did end up being very good.

Then a long, trance-like afternoon of biking that was just delightful. Had some fun with my shadow on Seiler Road just outside Godfrey, IL and enjoyed the casual pre-sunset ride that comes with being on time for once.

Somewhere around there I biked my 1000th mile!

My hosts in Bethalto, IL are an amazing family. The two teen daughters are “unschooled” and as far as I can tell it worked. Two bright, innovative socially-adjusted kids and two proud parents. They put me up in a den/guest bedroom and fed me an amazing spaghetti dinner that I was more than ready for after (almost) a hundred mile ride.

Really wish I could’ve spent more time with them. 95.3 miles.


My shadow.

My shadow.

Day 75 (September 19) – Arrival in St. Louis

Started off extremely excited about today’s trip. Should have been easy—mere 40 miles—and I was enticed onward by a beautiful vision: arriving early afternoon to a house where my host was preparing a big gourmet meal, plus wine, for me and two other new Couchsurfing arrivals. I couldn’t wait!

But this became one of my most hated days. What could’ve taken 5 hours or less turned into a long, frustrating day thanks to a 14 mph headwind, bad trails and getting lost.

To start with I accepted directions from non-cyclists without double checking them. I was eager to get started and it seemed like an easy trip. This cost me.

The wind was so strong, and the commuter traffic so heavy, that I was exhausted in the first 2 miles and stopped to rest outside a church.

I passed what I’m told is one of the best local burger joints in the St. Louis area. I didn’t go in because of the great meal awaiting me. Later I regretted this, but I guess if I had wasted any more time I might still be out there.

When I eventually found my trail I had gone miles out my way, but figured that at least with an actual bike trail the rest would be easy. I was wrong.

I spent most of the day fantasizing about a scathing public letter I could write to the idiot(s) who designed the Confluence Trail. If you’re reading this go eat broken glass.

Here are some thoughts on the trail:

  • It’s a levee top trail. For some reason urban planners love putting bike trails on top of levees which means most urban planners don’t ride bikes. When you’re on top of a levee it means the biking is hard no matter which direction the wind is coming from. Put the trail below the levee on the river side for a prettier view, an automatic windbreak and less noise.
  • The Confluence Trail is paved, like all good urban bike trails. (Road bikes can’t use gravel trails, and road bikes loaded with gear—like mine—get flat tires quickly on gravel.) Unfortunately, the paved trail suddenly turns to gravel-only once it reaches (of course) a secluded stretch with no side-roads to turn on. You guys are assholes.
  • There are signs with about 40 “rules of the bike trail” in 12-point font every quarter mile or so. Really? Could we have spent that money on pavement?
  • At one point, without signage to guide cyclists, the bicycle trail just disappears into an industrial park. Seriously, look at the map link—it’s the part a little ways north of where I cross the river, where my route literally makes a loop around some giant warehouse. On top of the lack of signs to guide you through/around this, the whole area is covered in NO TRESPASSING signs and dire corporate warnings of what happens to people who go there without a tanker truck. I for real yelled curses.
  • A section of the Confluence Trail has serious, scary-looking potholes. The Transit authority was kind enough to put out orange cones to mark them—except they didn’t use weighted cones, so in the strong wind I was stuck weaving around sink holes while dodging mobile cones.

Did it all fighting that headwind, but when it takes an hour to advance just 2 miles on an urban bike trail, the wind’s not the only thing wrong.

One nice thing about today was reuniting with the Mississippi River. Since Davenport my route cut away from her slightly, the main road being straighter than the winding river. (This had troubled me at one point and I considered taking winding roads to stay closer to her shore, but glad I went the way I did.) I made offerings when I reached her.

It was neat to see the Confluence, where the Missouri River joins the Mississippi. At this point I’ve seen the Wisconsin, Illinois and Missouri Rivers (and crossed two of them) as well as the Mississip.

Once across, the trail remained poorly marked in the city, more getting lost. It was great though to bike right past downtown St. Louis and the Arch. I’ve been up the Arch but never got to admire the city from bicycle before.

Finally, more than 5 hours late, I reached Laurie’s house after 6 pm. I’d been calling her throughout the day to update her and she was very understanding. She said this has happened to other bicyclists who have come to stay with her.

We had a terrific meal that began one of the best experiences of my trip, but that’s a story for next time…

49.3 miles (nine of them unnecessary).


Total traveled this leg: 357.9

Total traveled since Day 1: 1067.0

The miles I count include all biking intended to carry me forward on the trip (including longcuts and getting lost) but excludes lots of local biking around the areas where I stay. I try to make the maps match the exact, actual route I took but sometimes Google doesn’t cooperate. The result is that sometimes I conservatively adjust the mileage from what Google says.

You can also see the other road logs:

Minnesota Log

Wisconsin Edition

More coming soon.