September 7, 2016 – Sunny, 90 degrees
Miles Today: 84
Miles to Date: 15,879
States to Date: 43
If the only constant in life is change, the only certainty in bicycle touring is that expectations will be dashed. The day began with such promise. Rising from my sumptuous bed in The Poet’s House, absorbing the Harmonie Labyrinth on the way out of town, riding on smooth blacktop with a fresh breeze and light filtering through the trees. And, of course, there was corn. Acres upon acres of it. I hardly minded the head wind because it made the tassels dance all the way across the Wabash, and the Little Wabash, and through miles of Illinois.
Forty miles in I turned onto US 45 and everything changed. Six miles of dusty road construction, widening a highway with such scant traffic I wondered whose palm got scratched to make it happen. Hungry and parched and powdered as Pig Pen, I looked forward to a nice lunch in Eldorado.
The nicest thing I can say about Eldorado is that it needs so much more than a wider highway leaving town. It’s big enough to have a Subway and a McDonald’s and a Hardee’s, but not so large that those chains allow any other eateries to survive. I exited US 45 and pedaled through downtown in vain search of a cafe: nothing but ‘antique’ stores dusty as my bike and town offices plopped into aging storefronts.
On the way out of town I passed a city park on a hill with covered picnic tables and a drinking fountain. At least, I thought, I could have some shade while I ate lunch from the food stores in my pannier. My arrival attracted too many drifters to comfortably attend to the middle-class functions of checking email and applying sunscreen I usually do during a break. I gobbled my Cliff bar, gave a smile and a wave, and spun out of town.
No more cornfields, no more dabbled light. Who knew Southern Illinois produced coal, by strip mining? The remaining little towns didn’t offer so much as a convenience store.
According to the sign on the edge of town, Benton has 7,100 people, but I don’t know where they are. True, there were more buildings in downtown than I’d seen all day, but they were just as underutilized. My EconoLodge next to I-57 was very nice, but there was nothing, nothing near it. I don’t mind savaging one meal one meal a day from my bag: trial mix or power bars of dried fruit. But when lunch and dinner are high-density energy food, I go to bed unsatisfied. Which is all right. I imagine that people who live here all the time are unsatisfied in many ways as well.