Shawnee bikepack v2: The road home

Part 1
Part 2
Part 3

I woke up just before 6 to a dry site. My weather app showed the predicted storms were now pushed back until 10. I packed up, ate a quick breakfast (granola and vanilla protein powder "milk", eaten out of a plastic baggie because I'm fancy like that), and, when I could put it off no longer, got back into my sweat-soaked bike clothes. A night draped over picnic table benches had done little to dry them off. I rolled out a 7 a.m. thinking I'd be well on my way to the car by the time the rain started.

Thanks to cell service, it was super easy to find my way back to the route from the campground. Actually, I probably would have been fine even without a signal because I still had the Gaia maps I'd downloaded back in March, but I never looked at them this trip. The trip back down Baptist Hill Road was much faster than my hike-a-bike up, and then I promptly missed my turn onto Eastern Star Trail.

I caught the mistake right away and retraced my pedal strokes, making the correct turn and stopping at the creepy abandoned trailer. Did I really want to wrestle my bike back up that slippery trail? No, I did not. A quick check of Google maps showed that the road I'd just turned from led to my route. Even a shoulderless hill sounded more appealing than the trail. Once again I backtracked, then started climbing.

A mile later, I reached the top of the hill just as the sky opened up. I pulled over to put on my rain jacket, realizing as I did so that my clothes couldn't possibly get any wetter. I tucked the jacket back away and put on a cycling cap to keep the rain out of my eyes, then waited until the deluge slowed. I wasn't worried about getting wet, but I was worried about drivers seeing me.

When the shower slowed enough for good visibility I started off again. With my chunky tires I had no worries about sliding on the wet pavement, and between the cooler temperatures and the silliness of riding a loaded bike through a rain storm, I was loving life.

My smile disappeared with the first lightning strike. The next few miles were spent nervously counting the decreasing space between the lightning and thunder while scanning the roadside for shelter. Spotting the overhanging porch at Flamm Orchards' concession window, I made a beeline for the dry space beneath it.

Sadly the orchard wasn't open yet, so no apple dumplings for me. I pulled out my phone to check the radar but had to wait until my pruny hands dried enough to operate the touch screen. Once they could, I got the good news that the storm was moving away from my route. Onwards!

Shawnee bikepack v2

The rest of the ride to Alto Pass was uneventful. There were more periods of rain but none as heavy as the first. I had to make a quick stop at the end of my reroute to load the map home, then before I knew it I was pushing my bike up the small hill into town. I topped off my water at the park then made a return trip to Duty's Market for my morning coffee.

Shawnee  bikepack v2

The man behind the counter was super nice. Upon hearing I was riding part of the River to River, he told me stories about horseback riding most of it with friends who rode the whole thing. I took my coffee outside to drink it since I didn't have service in the store, and he came out to make sure I knew that I was welcome to sit inside in the a/c and to fill my bottles.

Shawnee bikepack v2
Somehow I missed seeing this the first day, I guess because I was looking at Bald Knob Cross on the opposite side of the road.
The return trip from Alto Pass is mostly downhill, much kinder than the ride there even before you factor in the far more comfortable temperatures. Even so, I wasn't feeling awesome. I was a little tired and just wanted to be back at my car. When I started to feel grumpy I reminded myself that, if I was at home, this is exactly what I'd wish I was doing.

The positive self-talk was only minimally helpful, but about this time I rounded a turn and saw a big tree limb across the road. A couple of guys were parked on the other side of it, unsuccessfully trying to drag it off the road. They weren't having much luck because it was still attached to the tree. I wished them good luck, dragged my bike underneath it, and continued on my way, once again happy to be riding instead of driving.

Shawnee bikepack v2
Almost back!
The last part of my route before rejoining the levee road traverses Southern Illinois' famous "Snake Road", which is closed every year to protect reptiles and amphibians as they migrate between the bluffs on one side and the swamp on the other. Happily, I didn't see anything more exotic than a few deer.

Shawnee bikepack v2

I'd encouraged myself earlier in the ride by discounting the last, flat 8 miles on the levees, but this only worked until I got there. I briefly considered detouring onto Rte. 3 instead of following the levee, but it wasn't any shorter and definitely had more traffic. I stuck with my plan, churning away the miles and watching the clouds, wondering if the next round of storms would hit before I made it to my car. (They didn't).

Shawnee bikepack v2

After what seemed like a long time, I rolled into Grand Tower with maybe more relief than triumph. I loaded up my bike and then popped into City Hall to let the guys know I'd made it back and was taking my car. "Did you stay dry?" one of them started to ask, then looked at my waterlogged self and laughed. We shared a couple of storm stories, then I changed into some dry clothes and headed home.

I'd call the trip a success, if not a resounding one. I planned out a route, didn't get lost, and survived the trip. I had everything that I needed with me and not much that I didn't.

On the other hand, I again stopped short of my initial goal, which means I need to be either more realistic in my planning or be more committed to the plan. I had a harder time than I expected with a route that wasn't all that difficult. That's probably 40% heat/humidity, 40% poor training, and 20% hey, riding with a loaded bike isn't easy.

I didn't really run into any problems, which was good, but it also means I didn't find out how I would have dealt with them. I'm sure that eventually my luck will run out and I'll get to do some on-the-job training. I feel like I'm starting to figure things out, though I definitely want to move up to at least a 2-night trip.


Blackburn Outpost handelbar roll/dry bag:

  • tent
  • camp clothes

Blackburn Outpost seat pack/dry bag:

  • Jet Boil
  • sleeping pad (Thermarest neo air)
  • Ozark Trail "packable" blanket (no more packable than my 32* down bag)

Revelate Mountain feedbag:

  • a couple snacks
  • electrolytes/allergy meds/ibuprofen
  • phone

Revelate Jerry can:

  • snacks

Revelate Tangle frame bag:

  • two tubes
  • frame pump
  • tire patches & tire levers
  • chain lube
  • tent stakes
  • backup battery & cords
  • maybe something else

Osprey Raven 14

  • 3L water
  • chapstick
  • med kit
  • camp food (2 mountain house meals, a few instant coffee packets, cereal/protein powder)
  • collapsible bowl and spork
  • camp shoes
  • soap, contact solution, toothbrush, toothpaste
  • paper maps
  • SOL bivvy (why??? The lowest forecast temp was 71.)
Things I didn't need:
  • I definitely could have done without the blanket and bivvy. It was way too hot to need those, and the blanket took up a ton of space. 
  • Bringing a second MH meal on a 2-day trip when I was going through three (well, in reality two since I didn't make it to Ferne Clyffe) towns was just silly. 
  • I didn't bother with the collapsible bowl; I just ate out of the bags. 
  • I didn't use any of the things in the Tangle bag except the phone/Garmin cord, but that was just because I was lucky enough to not have any problems.
Things I maybe should have brought:
  • Um, a bike tool? Of course, then I'd also have to know how to use it.
  • A friend. Doing this on my own was a good experience, but adventures are best shared.


  1. Don't be so hard on yourself, you did it! I am wondering whether I could bike to a campsite now...

    1. I'm sure you could!

      I guess I don't think of it so much as being hard on myself as just comparing where I am now to where I need to be in three years.

  2. Replies
    1. The one I used for this ride is a Trek XCaliber 9. It’s got Maxxis Ardent tires that are more for mountain bike trails and are 2.3” wide.


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