From Mount Vernon to Mount Vernon

After a busy evening with Travis, it’s time to move on towards St. Louis. What a car can drive in two hours will take me three days. And there ain’t anything see until I hit that Gateway Arch.

It’s Sunday and I’m covering 50 miles through rural southern Illinois. Delafield, Dahlgren, Belle Rive, Opdyke. Do these places sound big to you? McLeansboro, with 3,000 people, is my first crossroads and best bet for lunch. I bike towards La Palmita Real Mexican Restaurant, which I find on Google Maps and hear is good from Travis. It’s now for sale.

 Peoples National Bank, McLeansboro

Peoples National Bank, McLeansboro

 S Washington St, McLeansboro on a Sunday

S Washington St, McLeansboro on a Sunday

The town square is large and silent. Two cars are parked in an area that could accommodate 100. Half of the stores facing the square are out of business and the rest are closed on Sunday.

Two exceptions: Dairy Queen and the local Chinese dive, which Travis warned me to stay away from. For reliability, I reluctantly order Dairy Queen, and it’s good I do. I will pass no other food options until my destination of Mount Vernon (Illinois, not Indiana where I passed through the day before).

Even Dairy Queen is deserted. I eat in the parking lot, using the concrete wheel stop as an observation perch. A lone pickup truck circles the square. Then I get some company: a young couple from Chicago pulls up in a shiny SUV. They can’t find anything open either.

They’re dressed in athletic gear and were camping for the weekend. They visited NYC recently and are stunned to see a Citi Bike in Illinois. I must be sponsored by Citi or something, right? Nope, just here on my own. As token of support they offer an overripe banana to help me on my journey. I eagerly accept.

Stormy skies
The ride to Mount Vernon is uneventful except for one thing: it rains. I have been blessed with dry weather for all but three days: that downpour in Delaware, a slightly soggy entrance into Cincinnati, and now on the way to Mount Vernon. Less than a mile from my hotel, it downpours Delaware style. Luckily, this time I’m equipped with a Cleverhood the company sent me with their compliments.

After I dry off and settle in, the rain abates and I’m free to wander out for dinner. The problem is that Mount Vernon is strip mall hell. Chain hotels cluster around chain restaurants that cluster around the interstate. It’s a vicious cycle.

Just as I’m silently crying over the thought of dinner at Panda Express, I see a giant grocery store. Saved by Kroger! They say to never go food shopping while hungry, and it’s true. I walk out with $50 worth of fresh fruit, yogurt and protein bars, which I eat in my room while watching the latest episode of Fear the Walking Dead.

Not a memorable day, and the next two won’t be either as I slowly advance through cow town Illinois towards my Midwestern prize of St. Louis.

 Typical southern Illinois road

Typical southern Illinois road