Day 113 • June 22, 2012 • Chester to Murphysboro, IL • 35 miles
We started out following the Mississippi Levee Alternative route today on our Adventure Cycling map but missed a turn and wound up staying on Highway 3. This worked out pretty well, flat and relatively light traffic.
The only issue with traffic today was the coal trucks. They were well behaved but very numerous. Every time one passed we either got a blast of headwind that canceled our natural tailwind, or a big boost to our tailwind. I think with just a few more travelling in our direction we could have avoided pedaling altogether. It struck me that there were so many coal trucks on the road when a perfectly good railroad line paralleled the highway and I think actually made a more direct connection between the port in Chester and the origin of the coal. One explanation we heard a couple of times is that rail freight is just too unreliable—your payload may sit on a siding for a week before continuing on toward its destination. Another theory we heard a few days later is that trucking is so highly subsidized by the federal government that it winds up faster and cheaper than rail, and consequently railroad infrastructure is decaying. The subsidy is primarily in the form of highway maintenance. In this view modern roadways suffer almost no damage from passenger cars; virtually all of the wear and tear is caused by commercial trucks, and the cost is substantially more than gasoline and other transportation taxes cover. While cycling often benefits from failed railways, I’d rather see these rights of way used for trains than bikes.
We loitered for a long time in Murphysboro deciding where to spend the night. Lake Murphysboro State Park has camping but we’d already passed it and some pretty good hills along the way, we weren’t too keen on experiencing them twice again. We were at the McDonald’s which seems to be a common gathering place for locals in a lot of these small towns. Gas stations are popular too. Someone explained that there just weren’t any local restaurants left in Murphysboro. Murphysboro didn’t seem that blighted to me—downtown still has a lot of businesses open, though here we were at the McDonalds too. We we had formed the habit of using McDonald’s to fill our water bladders with ice water—they consistently have working ice, filtered water, are ubiquitous, and don’t seem to mind (well, we usually didn’t ask). I think we could have found an alternative restaurant if we wanted too; I thought Murphysboro was a pretty charming town.
We’d resigned ourselves to a motel and were about to head out when Tabitha rolled up on her bike, towing a couple of kids. She was interested in our tandem setup and made an offer we couldn’t refuse: dinner and a place to set up our tent in her yard. Turns out she’s a Warm Showers host. Some hosts like a little lead time for these arrangements so we tended not to use Warm Showers in such spur of the moment situations, our usual . This time, however, we just loitered long enough and Warm Showers came to us!