The rumble of… trains?: Monticello to Clinton
Tuesday April 16, 2013, 34 miles (55 km) – Total so far: 101 miles (162 km)
The forecast calls for a 40 percent chance of rain and thunderstorms this afternoon with a north wind 10-15 mph shifting northeast, high of 53F.
At 7.30 am, though, there are shafts of sunlight streaming through the remainders of last night’s clouds. Based on the forecast, my thought is to head for Lincoln, skipping Clinton by staying south, picking up a tailwind as it swings northeasterly later in the morning. Since it will only reach the low 50s F today, it will be good to have the wind at my back instead of in my face! I will determine route selection as I go – easy to do with Illinois’ excellent bike maps. Even if I end up just wanting to go to Clinton, I’ll just delay the north-bound run til later and hope that the north wind has swung a bit easterly by then. Oh, the best laid plans…. I have a lot of faith in the National Weather Service, but the forecast is going to let me down today.
I head west in sunny skies and cool temps. I’m not even very sore today. I travel onward on lightly travelled roads, excited to be riding and living another dream. I note the soggy fields, the water standing in puddles and ponds in many places. The earthy smell of sodden soil wafts along in the crosswind. At one point, I travel under a host of power lines associated with the nuclear plant further north.
And then…I hear this rumbling in the distance. It’s a confusing percussion of sound that is so faint I’m not certain I’ve even heard anything the first time it rolls forth across the fields. The second time I hear it is a few minutes later when I’m taking a photo of yet another bit of standing water. The sound is like that of train cars being coupled. Wow, where is that coming from? I look at my map to see where the nearest train line might be. I can’t see one. Hmmm….
I continue riding. The sky grows a bit darker to the west, but I don’t take too much notice since the radar was clear this morning and the storms aren’t forecast until this afternoon. However, about 8 miles from Maroa, the coupling of train cars grows louder… and is starting to sound a whole lot more like thunder. I start pedaling harder. As I inch closer to Maroa, the sky grows darker and darker, quicker and quicker. Holy crap – the thunder is unmistakable now, and I’m calculating how quickly I can do 6 miles. I have no idea what the little town might contain, but surely it will have something taller than me, so that I’m not the highest point in the landscape.
The thunder is rolling, rumbling and cracking now. The sky is so dark to the west, the underside of birds’ wings nearly glow white in contrast to the black mass behind. On the outskirts of town, I start to see the lightning. Holy f&*k, I’m scared. The wind is gusty and variable now, the trees bent over one way, then another. I roll down the main street, lightning flashing off to the west. I see some open-sided dug-outs at the baseball field – not a great option but a possibility. I then see a gas station, and a sign for a library at the same time. I head for the library, in the violent gusting of wind. The 40% chance of afternoon thunderstorms has just turned ‘100 percent chance at 9am’. I’m hoping that library will be open at this time on a Tuesday in a town of 200.
Luckily, the library is open. The sky goes dark above and the lightning flashes closer as I lock the bike to a rack, put the rain covers on the front panniers, make sure my rear panniers are closed tightly and pull out my valuables and the handlebar bag off the bike. I’m only in the library for about 2 minutes before the storm hits with incredibly close lightning and thunder.
The library is in a fairly new building and the meeting room is full of older ladies knitting quilts together. They are as surprised by the storm as me. I wait it out, reading the newspaper and discovering the beauty of an iPod with wifi connectivity for checking the radar and looking for a place to stay in Clinton. I’m definitely not going to make Lincoln today. All the while, it pours rain and the thunder rolls. Occasionally, the lights flicker.
Finally, radar and a check of the sky indicates I can make a run for it. I will have to ride against the wind (which is not swinging northeast!) on a 4-lane divided highway, but I’m hoping for a wide shoulder. Once I get out there, the road is good. The shoulder is huge, and most people are moving over the full lane to give me room, too. I’m pedaling with all my power. I can see the next round of storms advancing on me in my rear-view mirror. They look even more menacing than the stuff I barely beat to Maroa.
I do okay, but the long, steep uphill out of Salt Creek slows me considerably. Did anyone say: Em is still pudgy and out-of-shape at this point!? This time, I don’t beat the rain. It catches me just as I turn off onto Business 51 at the same time as the shoulder narrows. I’m now riding in pouring rain with an 18-inch shoulder – all the cars have their headlights on and their wipers on full-speed. Oh, this sucks, big time. And then there is a flash of lightning off to my right. One, one thousand, two one… BOOM! Oh crap, oh crap, oh crap.
I make it into town and find the cheap motel. It is only noon but I go to see about a room anyway. The Indian owners are very friendly – totally ignoring the fact that I’m absolutely soaked and dripping on everything. I return the sign-in card soggy. Again I pay $40 cash. The man is incredibly friendly and says I can take the bike in the room. His wife gives me some extra old towels, too. The room is nice and clean, big, smells fine. The outside of the place is mint green and ‘original’, probably from the 1940s or 50s – but the inside is much nicer and quite a deal for $40.
The rain subsides a bit in the afternoon, but the high of 44F and the wind chill in the 30s F makes me glad I stopped. There was absolute earthworm carnage today – after the earthworm casualties of yesterday. I have dead earthworms, or pieces of earthworms, everywhere – on my pannier covers, all over the bike and front rack, even smeared on my socks. The smell is so bad – a mix of grit, earth, rain and death. YUCK!!!
The TV says the area I was in today got the most rain of central Illinois – 1.22 inches. They expect to get 3.5 inches in the Monday-Thursday period. The area I’m heading to is supposed to get 3.75. I may have to stick to highways or end up riding through, or detouring around, lots of flooded roads. Verne says to fix the weather as it is very hard to command from the pannier. There is a flash flood watch for the whole area I’m riding through. Sunshine and rainbows… no chance.