The objective is simple: Ride to the Columbia, Missouri and get there in time so share dinner my friends gathering for the event.
The alarm went off at 8:30am. I got up and took a look outside and saw bright blue skies with widely scattered clouds. The weather forecast for my location (Gilman, Illinois) said that it was currently 67° F and going up to 78° F. The forecast for my destination called for an afternoon high of 83° with a ~50% chance of a thunderstorm. With those temperatures, I would be fine in a short sleeved t-shirt under my jacket.
I still had about 330 miles to ride to get to Columbia, Missouri via my selected route of US24, so I’d better get going if I’m going to get there in time to join the other attendees for dinner.
I took a quick shower, got dressed and walked downstairs to the hotel lobby to check out the breakfast offerings, which would shut down at 10am. The offerings were slim, and I don’t mean low-fat. I grabbed a cup of yogurt and fixed myself a bowl of Frosted Flakes.
Back in my room, I suited up, remembering to remove the heated jacket liner from inside my jacket; I wouldn’t need it today.
Down at the Nightowl, waiting patiently in the parking lot, loaded my gear and exchanged my heated gloves for my perforated gloves. I started the day on my phone in terms of trip logs, trip tracking, and map creation. With the Nightowl fired up, I could see that I only had about 60 miles left in the tank, so I made an immediate stop at a gas station on my way west out of town. I pulled out of Gilman at 9:37am.
Heading west out of Gilman, US24 travels nearly due west for nearly 80 miles until it reaches the city of Peoria and the Illinois river valley. Along this stretch, there’s not a lot of dramatic scenery, unless you find small towns and corn fields dramatic. The scenery prompted memories of the early Meet-in-the-Middle (MITM) gatherings we had years ago a hundred (or so) miles south of here. The group rides for those gatherings were often jokingly referred to as Corn Field Tours.
Like yesterday, there was a lot of post-harvest trimming and cleanup taking place in those corn fields. Similarly, I noticed activity at some of the grain elevators.
Traveling through these small towns, it felt like several of them were familiar. I knew this to be false since I’d never traveled US24 across Illinois before. I think these small towns were reminiscent of several of the towns I traveled through earlier this year while crossing Illinois on US50.
The pleasant coolness of the morning soon gave way to warmer temperatures and I took a moment between passing other traffic to open the vents on my jacket.
As I neared Peoria, Illinois, I wondered why I couldn’t see its downtown skyline in the distance. I knew Peoria was a good sized town and would undoubtedly have a few tall buildings in the city center. The landscape around me was flat as a pancake as far as the eye could see. I started to wonder if Peoria consisted of no building over two stories high.
Then US24 descended into the Illinois River valley.
The Illinois River is a significant river supporting a great deal of barge traffic. It hadn’t occurred to me that its valley would be a few hundred feet deep and that an entire downtown skyline could hide in the valley without being scene from some distance above.
US24 didn’t cross the Illinois River into Peoria. Instead, it traveled down the eastern bank of the river through several small towns before crossing at Pekin, Illinois. Traveling along the river, I noticed that the riverbanks were lined with dozens of empty barges, which seemed unusual. I later learned that this is common for the harvest time of year when shipping companies stage empty barges in preparation to move the harvest up and down the river.
Once across the Illinois River, US24 continued down the river valley, but actual views of the river were rare. Much like the Mississippi River, the Illinois River is lined with countless backwaters, slews, and stranded portions of river. I saw road signs pointing towards access sites for places like Banner Marsh and Rice Lake. Many of these bodies of water, along with the main river channel itself, is often lined with trees. It’s pretty to ride through, but didn’t provide any dramatic river valley vistas.
Following the edge of the river valley meant there was more vertical variation to the ride. The river valley bottom was always to the left. The river bank rose, sometimes dramatically, to the right. I saw several homes built high on the river bank side of the road, some of them high up on the bank and reached by steep driveways that would be impossible to climb in the northern winters I was accustomed to. I was tempted to ride up one of the driveways just to see what kind of view was available.
While it was still sunny, the clouds in the sky had grown from small wisps and puffs into larger cumulus clouds. A few of these were getting taller and could eventually grow into storm cells. One of those taller clouds was also carrying a thin veil of rain beneath it. The wind was pushing it north and across my path. It wasn’t developing very quickly, so when I reached it, I encountered only a few minutes of light rain. It was just enough to speckle the Nightowl’s windshield.
The increase in rolling landscape increased the challenge level when it came time to pass slower traffic. This was especially true with the harvest equipment that was traveling from field to field; some of these pieces of equipment were a wide as one-and-a-half lanes of highway.
It was getting close to noon and I was getting hungry. I also wanted to call in to a Zoom meeting at work that was scheduled for 1pm. I know I’m on vacation, but I had a few points I wanted to make sure were addressed.
Nearly every small town has some sort of dining establishment. I don’t mean one of the fast food franchises that we all know. I was looking for a local business.
As I passed through the town of Astoria, Illinois, I looked for possibilities. There were none. I’d ridden through town on the main drag and was headed back out into the farmer’s fields when I decided that this town looked too large to not have a diner of some sort. I turned around in a parking lot and headed back into town.
At the edge of the parking lot was a nice pink sign advertising the Slaw Dogs Diner. Aha! There is a diner in town. I noted that the address was on a side street; no wonder I didn’t see it from the main drag through town.
I found the diner and parked outside. There was one other vehicle in the parking lot. It looked like Slaw Dogs was rather small. It shared a single building with a gift shop. Judging from what I could see through the windows, I couldn’t tell where the gift shop ended and the diner began. I didn’t see an open/closed sign, but I did see people inside through the window, so I took off the helmet and gloves and walked through the door.
I could easily see the gift shop; it was full of every Christmas-themed trinket and decoration known to mankind. I could see a counter with a cash register. I could even see what looked like a small kitchen with a soda fountain. I couldn’t not, at first glance, see a diner.
There were several people sitting at one booth to the right. Behind the counter, a pleasant middle-aged woman looked at me and said, “Aw, I bet you’re looking for food.”
Her tone made me feel like a starving puppy.
I nodded and replied, “That was my hope.”
She explained that she had been closed for over a year due to Covid, but was thinking she may reopen soon. Consequently, the kitchen was stocked and the grill and deep fryer were on, but she wasn’t actually open for food yet.
“But…” she paused, “have a seat in the corner and I’ll feed ya’.”
I sat in the only other booth that wasn’t covered with make-shift display surfaces for Christmas trinkets. She asked what I wanted to drink and hustled off to fetch me a Diet Coke. Returning to the table, she delivered my drink, took a seat across from me in the booth, and pulled out a pen and order pad. She explained that she didn’t have menus printed yet, so she simply asked what I felt like. I put the ball back in her court by asking if there was anything that she felt was exceptionally good.
She proceeded to describe a philly-cheesesteak-style sandwich that sounded positively delectable but ended the mouthwatering description with an apology; she can’t get the bread she likes for those right now, so they’re off the menu. She then ran through a long list of grilled sandwiches and deep fried sides that she could prepare. I requested a bacon cheeseburger with swiss cheese, onion, lettuce, mayonnaise, and BBQ sauce, with a side order of french fries and some of the special homemade cole slaw.
While I waited for the food, I tried to answer a few messages from my phone but I only had one bar of service. With this little bandwidth, there wasn’t much chance of participating in my Zoom call later.
Since I was literally the only food customer in the place, my food was set down in front of my, piping hot, in about six minutes.
The burger was quite good and the fries were hot and tasty. The special cole slaw was unusual. It wasn’t cream-based but more of a vinegar base with a sweet and sour taste to it; I liked it and ate it all.
After eating, I had to sneak around a Christmas tree that was blocking the path to the restroom. Upon returning, I grabbed my jacket approached the counter and asked what I owed.
I paid $13 and told her to keep the change.
It was too close to 1pm to try and ride to a town that had better cell service, so I rode the Nightowl a few blocks to a city center park that I passed earlier. I found a shady spot, parked the Nightowl, and sat down at a picnic table.
I was able to connect to the Zoom call, but my input was distracting for the other participants because my connection was so bad. I ended up bailing on using the internet connection for the call and simply dialed in to the meeting. This worked better and I was able to contribute.
After a productive conversation, I announced that I was going to bail out of the meeting. The others were going to stay online and talk about other non-work stuff. I hopped back on the Nightowl and continued west.
After a few minutes, I realized that I’d forgotten one point. I prompted Siri to redial my last number and in a moment I was reconnected to the meeting, this time from my Sena Bluetooth headset while riding down US24. The noise cancelation must be pretty good because was on the call for almost 20 minutes before they realized that I was riding.
Fun with technology.
It didn’t take long to reach Quincy, with is the town on the Illinois side of the Mississippi River that constitutes the Illinois/Missouri border. I’d been watching my dwindling gas supply wondering if I’d make Missouri before I needed to fill up. Missouri doesn’t tax gasoline as highly as Illinois, so gas there is less expensive. By the time I was entering downtown Quincy and could actually see the Mississippi River, I knew I had plenty of gas to get across to Missouri. While waiting at a stoplight, I chuckled at the notion that I would spend ~$27,000 on a motorcycle, another ~$2,000 on accessories and customizations, and then fret over a difference of $0.30/gallon of gas. For a big gas tank in a large truck, yes, it’s a significant difference, but for the 7-gallon tank on the Nightowl, I was pushing my gas reserves to save a whopping $2.10… max.
Penny wise and dollar foolish. (roll eyes)
The bridge arrangement in Quincy is interesting: one two-lane bridge for westbound traffic and another two-lane bridge for eastbound traffic. One of these bridges is being reworked, so there were signs everywhere warning about delays crossing the river since both directions of traffic only had one lane on the remaining bridge. For my crossing, there was very little delay, if any. Much like on the Illinois River earlier, I noted several empty barges staged along the shore of the Mississippi River.
Just west of the bridge was a line of gas stations and other conveniences; I stopped for gas and cleaned 500 miles worth of bugs off the Nightowl’s windshield.
Just west of West Quincy, US24 turns south and heads for Hannibal, Missouri and US36. This stretch was four-lane divided highway and had the highest speed limit I’d seen all day. Waze’s current estimate of my arrival time in Columbia was just before 5pm and I didn’t want that to slip any later or I may miss dinner with friends.
The terrain in Missouri was more rolling that Illinois, which made it more scenic. The fields and forests along the highway seemed green enough, but the water level in the Mark Twain Lake reservoir seemed very low; there was only a small creek of water running through the upper reaches of the lake and the rest of the bottom was covered with a lush field of green weeds.
My chosen highway, US24, doesn’t actually travel through Columbia, Missouri. It does, however, pass a mere 35 miles north of Columbia at the town of Moberly. From Moberly, US63 travels south to Columbia. It also is four-lane divided so I made excellent time for the last half-hour of the trip.
I pulled into the hotel parking lot at 4:54pm and parked behind a familiar Harley under the covered parking in front of the lobby.
I didn’t even have time to get off the Nightowl before my friend Fins emerged from the lobby and greeted me. Apparently, most of our group was split between two hotels that were literally across the street from each other. He was headed over the other hotel to join the others at the restaurant/bar. I said that I’d check in and join them as soon as I could.
The hotel clerk checked me in and I lugged my gear down the hall to my room… to find a Do not disturb sign hanging from the door.
Not a good sign.
I rechecked the room number written on the key sleeve; this was the correct room. I slid the key into the lock and slowly opened the door. There was a bag of toiletries open on the bathroom counter and a woman in a towel drying her hair on the far side of the room.
I closed the door and returned to the desk.
The hotel clerk didn’t seem overly upset over the mistake. She quickly typed into her computer, create a new set of keys for me, and directed me to a different room, which was, thankfully, devoid of other occupants.
Is this a common problem? This is the second time this has happened to me in the last four months!
I quickly moved in, splashed some water on my face, and walked over to the other hotel. I didn’t immediately find my friends. By systematically covering the main floor, I eventually heard a cacophony of laughter in the distance. Following that sound, I found the group in the hotel restaurant/bar.
Hugs were exchanged.
Drinks were ordered.
Food was consumed.
Lies were told.
People who failed to show up were talked about.
Here’s today’s map with the traditional altitude overlay.
Attend the memorial gathering. Hang out with friends.