Natchez Trace Tour Day #15
Grand Rivers KY to Cave-In-Rock IL
Today: 57.9 miles Cumulative this tour: 809.4 miles
Morning came too soon for me. My first thought of the day was that we might want to take another rest day right here.
Jack and I were both kinda quiet this morning and left the motel by 7:30am, rolling over to an adjacent restaurant called Miss Scarlet’s. The interior was decked out like a speakeasy with Scarlett O’hara memorabilia adorning every wall, including signed photos from Vivian Leigh. Incongruously, a funk Philly soundtrack played in the background.
I scored 2 poached eggs, French toast, and grits – so much I couldn’t finish. I think I was actually still working on that Pizza By The Pound from last night. Jack enjoyed his veggie omelet. Good fuel for today’s ride.
Twelve miles to Smithland. A glance at today’s map somehow suggested dogs, and we certainly weren’t disappointed in that regard. In all, 6 or 8 spirited chases in this stretch, nothing unusual, none too aggressive. Over enough distance, Jack and I can outrun practically any dog unless it’s uphill.
My bike started a peculiar chirp this morning. The pitch was high enough that I had a hard time figuring out where it was coming from. I eventually grabbed onto my rear rack while riding and it stopped. One of the stainless steel bushings was fretting against a rack support, and once tightened the chirp was silent.
In Smithland KY, we stopped at the convenience store. I grabbed a bottle of coffee for tomorrow morning in camp, some tropical juice, and other snacks for the ride today, since no further services are expected. The clerk was a very friendly lady interested in our trip.
I went back in to use the restroom, then struck up a conversation with an older gentleman who seemed to know every nook and cranny of the town, and gave me a verbal tour. He suggested that we roll around down by the river for a while, so we decided to take him up on it.
The town sits at the confluence of the Ohio and Cumberland Rivers upriver from Paducah. On Riverfront Drive we found several old buildings, including the historic Gower House (http://www.westernkyhistory.org/livingston/gowhse.html), and the Smithland Lock & Dam.
Leaving Smithland, we rolled about 3 miles up US60, which is pretty tight and include semi traffic. We turned west on SR137 following the Ohio River. Somewhere in here, as I rode along, I heard a loud clank of metal a few hundred yards behind me. My mind immediately painted a picture of Jack and his bike obliterated onto the front grill of a speeding semi. To my relief, he was perfectly safe. I think a semi had just hit a pothole or something and its load had shifted.
We followed the river for 10 miles, but because of the hills we barely caught sight of it. At McMurry Road we encountered perhaps the toughest climb of the entire trip, and good 2/3 mile of at least 18% grade. Even set in full out granny mode (24 x 32) we could only mash along at 3 mph, trying gamely to stay balanced. Even the ACA maps contain a warning about his hill.
Thirteen more miles to Carrsville. It’s a supremely quiet little place, a collection of houses and a church or two. We saw not a soul except for a group of old guys in one backyard who stared at us.
We found the boat ramp in Carrsville and used it for our lunch break. It turned into a serene 30 minute stop watching the water roll by.
Sixteen more hilly miles took us through Tolu, and my legs were wearing out a little bit. I noticed the volunteer fire department building there and photo’d it. My father-in-law pointed out later that I’d cut off the one item of real interest – the warring siren on top of the building that he’d personally sold them!
We reached SR91 and turned north to the ferry. This is always a fun part for me on a bike. We shared this one with a couple of cars and 1 semi, rolling north across the Ohio River to the town of Cave-In-Rock IL.
On the opposite side, I rolled around a little bit taking photos of the water front, then did a truly inglorious face plant on the bike. I must have looked like Arte Johnson on his tricycle, and Jack was laughing (once he figured out I was OK).
We scoped out the restaurants then rolled off to find our campground. On the way were signs to the cave, so we decided to go there first. It’s quite a beautiful cave with interesting acoustics and a mysterious calm to it. We were the only ones there for a while.
The cave used to be called River Pirate Cave and I guess there is some dark history – you can read more here http://www.interestingamerica.com/2011-07-18_Cave-in-Rock_by_Phil_Dotree_47.html. It’s nicely prepared for tourists, with walkways and steps leading along the river bank and up to the cave entrance.
We found our campsite and were greeted by five or six deer strolling right through the center. A nice welcome! The friendly campground hosts suggested we visit the cave (done) and charged us $10 for a site. For some reason we decided to chug up one last steep road to find our spot on top of a hill under some big trees and near the wash house.
Rolling back into town, we decided on Roses’ Kountry Kitchen for dinner. Jack – stuffed baked potatoes and a cheese & tomato sandwich. Rich – 2 piece catfish dinner with baked beans, sliced tomatoes, and unsweetened tea. Was that catfish ever good! For dessert Jack had turtle pie and I had peach cobbler. We even contemplated a milkshake but they had no vanilla ice cream. Great dinner and all for about $25 – excellent stop.
Jack and I mutually acknowledged that I generally go slightly faster up hills and Jack generally goes faster down hills, but we always seem to end up at the end together. I consider myself very lucky to have such a friend and riding partner. Among our other philosophical musings, we both agreed that we’re perfectly happy with far less than perfection in our lives.
Back in camp, a coolness was emerging and I knew it would be a good night of sleeping here. Wow, one day more to this tour. Looking back, it’d been increasingly tough riding throughout this tour, and Jack and I felt pretty darn fit by now.
I decided that one had to be fairly tough to do this. A touring cyclist in America is fighting against a (usually) lousy infrastructure and will encounter a share of bad drivers. This particular tour added in a good number of hills and dogs.
So what counters that? It’s balanced out by the wondrous riding, the intangible feeling of that strong reliable engine within you as your foundation. It’s the beauty around you. It’s the natural world unfiltered around you. It’s the people you meet. It’s the food that you savor.
These kinds of thoughts swirled around in my head as I drifted off tonight.