13. Vienna: That’s “VAI-yenna”

 

Night of October 1, 2011

 

Propped up in my tent on this thermarest I bought two years ago … a huge innovation, since it has straps and metal ribbing that allow it to work as a chair with back support. Sipping what’s left of the $5 red wine I opened for lunch on the road. Wearing most of my clothes. It’s supposed to get down into the thirties tonight. I feel the chill already.

 

I’m on the north side of Hwy 146, about a third of the way across the southern tip of Illinois. I stopped an hour before I needed to because I was tired of dodging heavy traffic on a highway with no shoulders … looking into my mirror to see what’s coming up from behind, looking ahead, balancing the two. When there’s no oncoming traffic, the traffic from behind passes around, leaving me plenty of leeway. But I keep a good eye out. Sometimes when there’s traffic in both directions, I have no choice but to pull off the road onto the gravel and grass.

 

I was getting worn down by this rather nerve-wracking exercise. So when I saw a likely spot, I took it. Also, I didn’t want to camp close to the next major intersection, not too far ahead, with north-south highways – 37, 45 and then the Interstate 24. It would be too noisy and too built up. The town of Vienna (pronounced VAI – yenna) sits on the intersection of 146 and 45, a likely spot to grab a hot breakfast and access the Internet. So I wanted to save that for morning too. There isn’t too much in the way of towns after that for a while.

 

I haven’t set the alarm on my iPod either. Today I made my earliest start so far. I was packed and rolling before sunrise – very crisp out too, me in my shorts, sandals and light jacket. But tomorrow I’ll be in no rush. I should have plenty of time to reach Golconda and decide whether I want to stand down there for a day or not. From the ferry crossing at Cave-in-Rock, I’ve plotted my course a day or two’s ride farther east into Kentucky.

 

Starting yesterday morning …

 

  • #8074 – Them old cotton fields back home. At my first stop this morning, I overheard some locals talking about a cotton festival in Sikeston today. 

 

 

  • #8075 – Pretty Missouri countryside. Off Hwy 77, looking north. Another tough road with no shoulders and considerable traffic, much of it consisting of large, heavy trucks. Note the forested hill to the right. I am starting to get into ups and downs again. 
  • #8077 – Last night’s camp, Friday. Just a trifle raw and in the open. But there was absolutely no one in sight.  There were some large dog prints in the dirt, but they weren’t fresh, and after dark I heard coyotes howling in the distance. The main highway north and south is off to the left, behind a large stand of trees where a loud vesper chorus of bird song resounded as I was showing up and scoping out the scene. The highway running across the center of this photo, from west to east, is brand new and hasn’t been opened up yet. There was a lot of noisy traffic on the other side of the barrier, a hundred yards to the west, but the place I set up camp was well off the beaten track – just the way I like it. 
  • #8083 – In the Men’s Room upstairs at the beautiful Schnuck’s Grocery Store on William St., on the south side of Cape Girardeau. You can brush your teeth, shave, wash your hair and take a little sponge bath with wet paper towels in a place like this, all in about 15 minutes. It’s not quite the same as a good hot shower, but it makes you feel so human again. Thank you, Schnuck’s! On such occasions, I’m conscientious about wiping up any splattered water and leaving the premises as clean as I found them. I always used to think it looked tacky when I’d see some guy shaving in a public restroom. But I’ve noticed that it’s better to look than to feel tacky. So far, no one’s hassled me. 
  • #8082 – People in the smaller towns are amazingly laid back and accommodating. Of course, I wheeled my bike inside the store and found a likely spot to prop it up – in the produce section. I’m extremely sensitive about where I leave it when it’s going to be out of sight and untended for a few moments. (I wouldn’t have parked it outdoors in front, for example, while I cleaned up and shopped inside the store.) I also leave my snotty handkerchiefs in sight and exercise other techniques that would make my outfit unattractive as an object for pilfering. Moreover, it’s so heavy and awkward to move that very few, even experienced bicyclists, would know how to roll it away. One old fellow named Stanley – during an earlier stop that morning, back out at a crossroads convenience store in the countryside – commented perceptively that I have a lot of money tied up in my rig. I sure do, and it’s taken many years to put the whole thing together – fine-tuned and upgraded every time I travel like this. As a rule, I don’t take any chances. They used to hang horse thieves in the Old West, and I can appreciate the logic behind such a harsh policy. If somebody ever took off with my mount – heaven forbid – it would be an incalculable loss to me. Much worse than just a major inconvenience and financial setback. The setting and population are critical. Once in Portland, Maine, I leaned my loaded bike beside the entrance of a public library, thinking to use the Internet. But I didn’t leave it there untended; I didn’t even go inside – only because of the way some fellows hanging around were sizing it up. Once in Romania, at a resort just north of Constanta, I left my slippers above the water line and went for a swim in the Black Sea. Gypsy women in their brightly colored dresses were patrolling the beach in the early evening, walking up and down. When I came out of the water, my slippers had disappeared. There are people who will steal anything that isn’t nailed down. Once in Torun, Poland, walking in the historic old town, out of the blue, a Gypsy boy thrust his hand into my large bicycle messenger’s bag. But I was quick and grabbed his arm before he could fish anything out and disappear. Social elements and occurrences like this don’t appear at all on the horizon of the small towns I’ve visited across Middle America. In addition, the merchant folk are more decent and civilized than they are on the congested, impersonal East Coast, where I live. I still haven’t heard anyone say, “Sorry, no bicycles are allowed in here.” ¶ What did happen is that, after I’d been in the store for maybe half an hour, an assistant manager named Jon kindly suggested I put my bike behind the swinging doors, in the employees-only area, back by the loading dock. No one would mess with it there, and it would be out of everybody’s way. So, with ample peace of mind, I resumed my tour of the spacious store, stocking up on a few nice grocery items, and later enjoyed a second breakfast in the Deli Section. I also gave Jon my blog address, as I’ve done now in several other business encounters like this along my route since creating the blog account in Yellville, AR, a week ago. Note the handlebar bag hanging at the far right above the sink. This is my cockpit. It contains my most essential items – including debit card, cash and ID. It’s the one item I keep near me at all times. 
  • #8085 – French vanilla. Coffee is an essential fixture of every morning for me, and I’ve always been a purist in my tastes. I don’t touch dark roasts. Nothing fancy … please. Just plain-Jane house blend for me, thank you. I might very occasionally add cream – and I do mean cream, or at least half-and-half. But several mornings ago, back in Bono, AR, purely on a whim, I pulled the lever on the French vanilla spout when I’d stopped at the small town convenience store to take a break. “Dang!” I said to myself. “I do like the way this tastes.” So when I saw the same label on a lever this morning at the Schuck’s in Cape Girardeau, I made the same decision, with the same delightful result. I even went back for a refill – a bargain at twenty-five cents. Incidentally, we had Schnuck’s Grocery Stores when I was growing up in St. Louis County half a century ago. Speaking with Mom on my cell phone this evening, I mentioned the beautiful Schnuck’s in Cape Girardeau – with its attentive staff – and she declared, “Oh, yes. I shop at Schnuck’s here too.” 
  • #8089 – Conveniently located, right next to Schnuck’s, is the Cape Bicycle Shop, which I’d found on the Internet and phoned the previous day from Sikeston. Don the manager, good as his word, was waiting for me shortly after opening, with a 28-and-three-eighths-inch folding tire (kind of an odd size) – all rolled up in a compact ball – suitable for me to pack away neatly in one of my bags … buttressing my peace of mind as I head out into the hinterlands of Illinois and Kentucky, where I expect well-stocked bicycle shops to be in short supply. The morning had been decidedly brisk, even at this low elevation. So I laid in a pair of gloves as well. I’m sure I will put them to use immediately tomorrow, before my tires hit the asphalt, a hundred yards up a grassy slope from where I sit. In fact, if I had them in my tent with me now, I’d certainly be wearing them. Don followed me outside to record my satisfied departure from his store. Yes, that’s right. East, down William Street to Sprigg. Then head south, and you’ll connect with 74, which will get you across the river. The bridge is very wide … good for bicycles. 
  • #8091- But as it happened, I dallied for a while in town. Wouldn’t you have done the same … if you had an hour to squander in Cape Girardeau, Missouri, which you’d probably never see again, and two good wheels to get you around? Here is a view of the old downtown section – looking east on Broadway, towards the river. 
  • #8094 – This is Main Street, if I remember right, looking south towards the bridge I would later cross. It runs parallel to the river, a block away. This part of town is oriented towards tourism … and much less down at heel than some of the nearby areas I saw. 
  • #8097 – This shot was taken by a lady tourist from New Hampshire. Yes, Cape Girardeau has been marked by an uncommon share of history, and it draws visitors from far and wide. Thanks to one of the plaques nearby, I learned that a million gallons of water a second flow past this spot. Which makes the Mississippi the tenth largest river in the world. The Amazon channels ten times that volume of drink. The Ohio, which joins the Mississippi just a little ways south of here, and which drains a much smaller – but much wetter – region, carries twice as much water. The Mississippi basin drains over 40% of the continental USA, including all or parts of more than thirty states, and its watershed extends into two Canadian provinces as well. 
  • #8110 – St. Ignatius, German Catholic Church, 1853. 
  • #8112 & 8113 – An attractive bridge.  
  • #8115 – Father of waters. Looking downstream, from the center of the bridge. Huckleberry Finn and Jim came by here on their raft … a long, long time ago. 
  • #8117 – Mingling waters from points as far separated as the northern Rockies and western New York State. 
  • #8122 – Add another of these signs to my Extensive collection. 
  • #8126 – Mid-afternoon. Time for a break on the grass … off a side road, well back from the busy highway. 
  • #8128 – Decent red wine, French baguette (I wish I’d bought two), crumbly white cheese and an apple. With the sun beating hard on my naked torso. A fine picnic lunch. Thanks again, Schnuck’s! 
  • #8130 – Note the non-existent shoulder along Hwy 146 in the southern tip of Illinois. This can be tricky to negotiate. If I steer onto the gravel at the right – to get out of the way of traffic – it is loose and unstable enough as to create the risk of overturning my cumbersome vehicle. On this occasion, however, I stopped deliberately … with another aim in mind. 
  • #8132 – More parched cornstalks, against a cloudless blue October sky. They rustled in the stiff, persistent wind … as I took my aim at the thirsty roots of one of them. 
  • #8136 – Another soft, idyllic spot to unroll one’s bedding for a night of peaceful slumber. The white roof of my tent – the only part that’s not mosquito netting – is barely visible in the lower right center of the picture. My bicycle is propped to rest for the night, in the shadow of the large tree to the rear and farther to the right. Sounds nice. But would you believe … some idiot on a motorcycle, maybe half a mile east of here, has, for at least the past hour, been roaring around in circles – I presume – because the loud, insistent, internal combustion farting noises go on, and on, and on. Some day I’m going to understand why it’s OK for guys on motorcycles to raise hell like this. Anywhere. Anytime. In this case, way out in the countryside, where I’ve labored hard to arrive in the expectation of better peace and quiet than is normal in the congested region where I live, a dozen miles west of Times Square, New York. Even my wax earplugs don’t help much to subdue this ugly rasping scraping of the atmosphere. Oh, well. I’m going to turn in now in spite of it. And I don’t think it’ll stop me from snoozing off. Several layers of clothing on already …. cozy down bag pulled around me … cap on my head. The juice is almost gone on my laptop anyway. That’s about how long it takes to sum up, to reflect on, only two days of riding. 

 

Next morning: Jumbo’s Restaurant, east end of Vienna.

 

More on that later ….

 

My computer is slowly recharging, from a plug in the wall at my table … as I look over this posting and put away a hearty county breakfast.

 

I’ll grab something light and perfunctory across the road at McDonalds, where they’ve got a wifi connection that will finish up my business here in town.

 

Another lovely fall day. The morning was not as cold as I’d thought it would be.

 

The sheer freshness of a morning in the countryside is one of the more pleasant and invigorating features of a bicycle journey.

 

 

 

 

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