Two Centuries In One – From the St. Louis Arch to Downtown Evansville

I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith – 2 Timothy 4:7

As I entered the darkness that morning with Andrew, and set off from under the Arch of St. Louis at 5:05 AM, I couldn’t help but think about the Mass the night before.  Inexplicably, the priest had celebrated the feast of St. Peters & Paul upon the vigil celebration of the Sunday observance, and in doing so, the words that became the motto for Sr. Madonna echoed in my ears.  They were words of confirmation, of hope, and of courage, that our journey like hers, would bring us home safely in what would be a prodigious ride. 

So as the two shadowy figures rode slowly towards the oldest bridge west of St. Louis, in securing their first river crossing into East St. Louis, all was possible.  The sun was just beginning to creep upward in the Eastern sky.  The streets were quiet on this last day of June in the 13th year of the 21st century of the year of our Lord.  The sky would be overcast for much of the day, as rain was scattered through the area, but the temperatures had mercifully cooled off and would be barely reach the mid 70’s.  The winds were out of the north and would only aid or be neutral until the final push home.  Promise was in the air. 

As the sun finally began its perpetual rise, we found ourselves gliding out of the metropolitan area,  out into the countryside where towns were not defined by stadiums and skyscrapers, but by steeples and water towers.  As the world was waking up on a Sunday morning, we quickly found ourselves in Pinckneyville near mile 62 around 8:30.  All was going according to plan.  As we departed and headed toward Sesser, the gateway to Rend Lake, the skies remained calm, but tenuous.  As we approached the massive body of water on the highway that would bisect it, a coastline emerged reminiscent of a place far away.  Pictures beckoned halfway across, and just as quickly we were off once again, headed southerly through Benton only to hit the century mark as items rolled off the bike behind me. Not too long afterward, we pulled into Galatia just before the bells began tolling at noon.  One hundred and eighteen miles had just passed us by.  As we refueled and sent out a couple of messages, we knew Kentucky lay not that far away.

As we approached the river bottoms having passed through Harrisburg, with an owl flying over our head, the hills of the Shawnee National Forest loomed just to our south as the seeming never-ending expanse of flatness lie before.   Signs for Shawneetown began to emerge, and just as quickly the bridge across our beloved Ohio appeared on the horizon.  Illinois was quickly leaving us, and with great gratitude and intense joy we said goodbye as we climbed the worn, bedraggled bridge into our third state of the day.  As we descended into Kentucky, we stopped to pose, only to briefly look behind as we forged ahead.  A few minutes later, drops began to fall from the sky only to emerge in a torrential downpour.  No cover appeared in sight, and yet we persisted, hoping that a respite would appear around the corner.  And there, midst sheets of heavy rain, appeared a remote heavenly abode, at the intersection of Hwy 109, leading to Sturgis, Kentucky.  We ducked under cover, and began to eat and take in the massive downpour that forced us into a serendipitous break at mile 152. 

Finally, after much waiting, the rain began to subside, and as we said goodbye to our new motorcycle friend, we went off into the hills leading to Morganfield, for the last push of the day.  As always, my brother set out with great purpose, and we began to trade off the chore of battling the wind that had been our friend for so much of the ride.  The rain remained steady, but light, and as we approached Henderson we knew that our journey was reaching its final miles.  After a few uncertain turns, we emerged from downtown onto Highway 41, with one last anxious push upward.  As we crested the ancient river for the last time, our hills were gone that day and we reveled in the backdrop as the horses lay silent at the track that lie before. 

With that, we turned onto Waterworks Road, our final destination on the Evansville Riverfront only miles away.  Joy welled up inside of me.  All that could have gone wrong had gone right, and I could not but help poetically proclaim that “Life is not an empty dream…” as we rode aside.  As we turned onto the Greenway, and I gave thanks for the life that had been preserved years ago in the spot that I was passing, that river quietly ebbed at our side.  We dropped onto Riverside, and there in the distance we could see them waiting.  Our hundreds had turned into one, and then none.  We arrived amid shouting and smiling, disbelief that just a few minutes before 6 PM Central Standard Time, we had crossed two centuries of history in one day.  Our children jumped on our bikes and we reveled in the hugs and satisfaction that came with knowing that our journey had been unlike any other. 

By the time the day was done, we had crossed four states, ten counties, and nine county seats in addition to many more railroad tracks, water towers, and churches than we could count.  We had averaged around 18.8 miles an hour, with a little less than 13 hours of total travel time and roughly 10 hours, 38 minutes in the saddle. The hills were light and the roads were good. We had three official stops for refueling, a few picture breaks, and a few other quick stops to recover dropped gear among other miscellaneous reasons.  Despite all of our precautions, we were blessed with no mechanical issues and only coagulated, seared gel ended up running down my side due to a lack of securing the cap.  It was an epic ride defined by two mighty rivers that started our day and ended our night as they flowed evermore.

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