"Oh, it's a good day," I said as we rolled out of a convenience store on our way to Illinois, my belly full of root beer, Fritos, and chocolate.
I don't think I've ever been in a hostel where everyone was awake and packing by 5 a.m. The three westbound guys were up at 4:30 and the whole place, minus Mick, was clear by 6. Josh, Claudia, Seth, and I stopped at 3 gas stations before we found breakfast sandwiches, and then made our way out of Farmington. Claudia sped ahead and George was a few minutes behind, so Josh, Seth, and I rode together for most of the morning. It was 48 miles to Chester, Illinois and it felt great to be on the road in the cool morning air.
It rained on us twice this morning, leaving us damp and the air thick, but I felt strong and was excited to cross the Mississippi! We made it down to the river just before noon, to find a very narrow two-lane bridge with no shoulder. It was a little scary to cross but we pedaled hard and made it without incident. Crossing the Mississippi River is such a milestone for me; I remember looking at the maps before we started and thinking how far we would have come once we reached this point. It truly feels like we are in the eastern part of the country!
We found Claudia waiting at the Illinois sign on the other side and waited for George for a group picture. Apparently Chester, IL is where Popeye was created, and the town had Popeye statues and paintings on display. We rode to Subway for lunch and debated which route to take to Murphysboro, about 35 miles away. The Adventure Cycling maps list two options, a hilly route and a flat route closer to the river, both the same distance to town. George took the hilly route as it was more of a country road, and Josh, Seth, and I opted for the flat route. We thought at first we had made a mistake as the road was narrow and rough, with semis flying past us every few seconds. Conditions improved after a few miles as most of the truck traffic turned to go to the train yard next to the road.
We stayed on the state route, cutting off 6 miles, and got into town at 5. We stopped at a Mexican place and feasted before riding the last 3 miles to a motel. We were going to take a day off tomorrow but we may ride 9 miles into Carbondale as it is a larger town.
I am sad to leave Missouri but excited to only have 3 more states between us and the Atlantic!