Keokuk to Sikeston

Day 4  March 21

Keokuk, IA to Sikeston, MO

65F and overcast when we left the hotel in the morning.  And glory be – no wind!  We headed across the river hoping to avoid the big storms to the south of us.  More flooding was reported in Louisiana and Arkansas.  The red bud trees continue to astound us.  Their color is almost a faint neon pink? Purple? Fuschia? And the flowers seem to grow directly out of the branches, outlining them in the process. It reminds me of the creosote shrubs in the desert – only their flowers are yellow.  

As we crossed over the river we could see a big Hydro power plant near the lock just upriver from the bridge. Makes me wonder why there aren’t more hydro plants along this big river, instead of all the coal fired ones.  

We soon came to a town called Warsaw and passed (and stopped) a castle looking building that was the Warsaw Brewing Company.  Too early in the morning to be open, we still pulled in to look at it and take some video. Part of the brick building (the bottling building) had burned and is now a shell, but the main three story structure with little turrets on the corners is a restaurant and we assume still a microbrewery.

Noticed some daffodils nearby that had already finished blooming.  Driving along this two lane blacktop road into Warsaw the limestone cliffs on our left were covered with forest that was showing more and more green, interspersed with wild forsythia shrubs glowing yellow in the greyish light.  The town of Warsaw looked pretty bleak, with many empty storefronts.

From here the route took us through flat agricultural lands – the old, vast river bottoms.  Far in the distance we could see the dark hills of the Missouri shore.  It is always mind boggling to look across from one set of hills on the west to those on the east and realize that at one time, when the glaciers were melting to the north, this space was filled with water.  And we think the mighty Mississippi is a broad river.

We couldn’t see the river for much of the way until we got to Quincy, IL.  In one quiet slough there was a flock of pelicans and further on we spotted a big flock of snow geese (both the white and blue phases) in a farm field.

Quincy is a nice river town built on a hill. The typical brick buildings stand tall along the streets, looking down to the river. This is a memorable town for me because some years ago when we were working on our Grandparent Illinois Style we came through here and stopped at a bike shop for some small items and we left with a beautiful stylin’ new Trek hybrid bike. It was a nice cross between mountain bike and street bike, a sweet pale yellow with leather hand grips and seat and flower designs on the frame.  I fell in love immediately and still find it the most comfortable bike I’ve ever owned.  It could very well be the bike I ride on the 2013 trip.  One shocking discovery in Quincy was the posting of $4.09 for unleaded gas.

Leaving town the road was a narrow two lane with agricultural industrial plants to the right.  We wanted to mail a couple postcards and our guide book told about an unusual P.O. in Kinderhook, IL worth stopping for.  Sure enough, it was the most unique little post office building we’ve ever seen – built entirely of rocks, marbles, stoneware bottles and other miscellania.  I spent a lot of time looking closely at the rocks – many were geodes or quartz – and Mike took photos and a video.  Inside the postmistress told me the story.  It had been the garage of a Dr. who lived in the house (no longer there) next door.  It was the late 1920s and early 30s. Hard times.  People paid the Dr., who was a rockhound, with pretty or unique rocks.  He also built a short wall along the sidewalk and the story is that every child in town contributed something of theirs to the wall.  Unfortunately, as so often happens, uncaring thieves have pried some of the special pieces out of the concrete.  This is one Post Office I REALLY hope isn’t closed, though it’s on the  list.  Only 200 some people in town.  What a loss it would be.

South of Kinderhook, the shrubbery was noticeably greener, with more leaves visible on the trees.  We had gotten 58.7 mpg so far on this day, and then the south wind hit us again. We drove along rolling hills with little to no traffic, which is a good thing because there is no shoulder on the road. Dandelions bloomed along the edge of the road and we saw our first mockingbird of the trip.

We caught a ferry (free) that carried us across the Illinois River at Brussels.  The man who motioned us forward said, “I didn’t even hear you.”  - referring to our electric engine which is engaged when we’re stopped or just coasting. That led to more discussion about Prius cars and then, ofcourse – the weather.  He commented about how the last five years or so have had been very strange.
In Illinois we emerged onto a road near Pere Marquette State Park, one of our favorite places from our Grandparent IL book research. We were here that year in the early spring also and remembered our impressions of the stunning flowering trees.  A good bike trail starts in the park and goes to the town of Alton.  At one point it goes out onto the highway, but at least there is a good shoulder to ride on. 
At 1 p.m. the temperature had reached 77F and there was still a hazy overcast sky with a strong south wind. Saw a tug pushing 12 barges into big white capped waves.

We could see the big arch over in St. Louis, MO as we tried to find our way through east St. Louis.  After some wrong guesses and turns, and requesting help from another motorist waiting at a light next to us, we finally found our way out to Cahokia and then after another wrong turn we managed to accidently find ourselves on the right biking road. First cypress trees seen leafing out. On our left the limestone cliffs had large caves/tunnels in them. These are old lead mines and it appeared that now they’re excavating gravel out of the cliffs.

At 3 p.m. it was 79F and we saw the first flowering dogwoods.  On the river I saw barges loaded to the brim with coal and earlier we’d seen a bulldozer driving on top of a ‘mountain’ of coal with the dust curling up behind and blowing away.  Glad I don’t live near that place.  Sorry for those who do.  As we neared Cairo we saw farmers spreading fertilizer on their fields.  Golden yellow mustard spread like a blanket beneath an orchard of trees we didn’t recognize.  Nut trees?  As if it were a mustard flower fluttering by, a yellow sulfur butterfly tilted back and forth past our car.  As we drove into Cairo and scanned the GPS for possible lodging, we became convinced that we’d have to go someplace else to find a hotel.  We found the most options in Sikeston, MO – 20 miles away.  Mike pulled out his computer and with our MiFi he was able to use Priceline.  Found a Days Inn – only 1 star, but we took it.
After getting settled in to the adequate room, we walked over to a Mexican restaurant a few blocks away.  No sidewalks of course,  so we trekked through parking lots and crossed the highway with the lights.  We shared a tasty nachos fajitas plate and some refried beans.  Guess we’ve crossed the Mason Dixon line, because behind us a group parted ways with , ‘see y’all later’  .  


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