Alabama trip, Day 2, Monday March 27 – Mt Vernon IN to Marion KY

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Originally posted to LiveJournal, 18-Apr-2006
The day’s destination was Marion, KY — about 70 miles by bicycle from Mount Vernon. It was still a little cool for camping, and we had reason to believe there was a motel there.

The first order of business was to cross back to the Illinois side of the Wabash River. The bridge is a toll bridge, and only one lane was open. I asked the toll collector if I could ride across. She didn’t know why not. She also didn’t know what to charge me so she let me go for free. When it was my lane’s turn to go, I let all the other traffic go ahead and then followed behind. I almost kept up, too.

I had hoped to go south on County Road 3, near New Haven, but that road was closed.

But I found another paved road, leading past a place identified on the map as “Cottonwood”.
This photo shows what the road was like:
Near Cottonwood, Illinois

Pretty bleak, I suppose, but I enjoy riding in places like that. There were a few houses at Cottonwood, if I remember correctly. Then the pavement gave out and I found myself on a couple miles of gravel.
Gravel road near Cottonwood, IL
Then there was a little more pavement, and then there was more gravel. Rain was threatening, so I got out my rain gear and reversed direction to take a paved turn I had passed up, in hopes that it would take me to Ridgeway. It did, and I was glad to be on pavement when the rains came.

In Ridgeway I got a bite to eat at a gas station. I suppose I was a conspicuous customer with my ugly yellow rain suit. One outgoing young man (well, younger than me) asked about my bike ride, and was especially interested when I mentioned Tecumseh and history. He knew all about the story I was following. He proceeded to tell me how the state of Illinois had missed out by not turning Shawneetown into a big tourist place, but nobody wanted to build down there because no one could get flood insurance. He identified himself as the local mortician and coroner, which was why he knew all about local history. I have since kicked myself for not asking him what the connection was. It’s all about dead people, maybe?

I took my hamburger back to a booth, next to where the local geezers were sitting around a table. In the old days I suppose they would have been the ones sitting around a pot-bellied stove with a crackerbarrel at hand. They were full of jokes about the windshield wipers on my vehicle. Well, one disadvantage to wearing glasses is the need to keep them clear of rain when riding. It is somewhat of a chore to keep wiping them off with my fingers.

Mr. Coroner had told me that the ferry at Cave-in-Rock ran quite late into the evening — maybe 9 pm or so. This was good news. I didn’t want to ride 20 miles down to the ferry crossing only to find it wasn’t running, which would have meant a 20 mile ride back to Hwy 13 which could take me to the only alternative, the bridge at Shawneetown.

The rain ended, but those last 20 miles were hilly and difficult, as I had expected them to be. There was no more flat prairie. The wind had been against me all day. There was a fair amount of truck traffic, too. I was surprised that so many 18-wheelers would be using the ferry, but I presume they did. There were no other obvious routes they would have taken. By the time I got to the ferry it was quite a bit later in the day than I had expected, and there were no more trucks.
Cave-in-Rock ferry
On the crossing I got ready for some night riding. Marion was a dozen miles away, through Kentucky hill country. By the time I started climbing out of the flood plain it was dark. The first few miles of hills were through Amish farm country. This was the first I knew there were any Amish people at all in Kentucky. And even after I knew it, I had trouble figuring out what one oncoming vehicle was — with flashing lights and a strange repetitive sound. Some sort of farm harvest machinery stuck on the road? In spring? No, it was just an Amish buggy. (That’s not the first time I’ve had trouble making sense out of an oncoming Amish vehicle at night.) There was some real climbing to do here, plus twists and turns. I was tired enough that I even got off and walked my bike up part of one hill. Farmhouses along the road were lit with gas or kerosene lights.

And then the motor vehicle traffic picked up to a heavier level than I would have liked, but finally I made it to Marion, where I asked at a gas station where the motels were. There was only one, and it was only a mile further.

It was probably quite the classy place back in the 1950s or 60s. It was long in the tooth by now, and the only heat was a little portable electric heater. I could have collapsed immediately on the bed, but managed to stay awake to go get a fast-food meal first.

Myra had visited Shawneetown, and told how it had changed since the time we saw it in 1971. Most of the buildings were gone except for the bank (which was what Mr. Coroner had been trying to tell me, too.) From her description I could tell she remembered the 1971 visit a lot better than I did, and I had thought I had a vivid memory of it myself.

72.5 miles for the day.

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