Shawnee Bikepack v2.2: Trail magic (IWIO)

Part 1: Friday
Part 2: Hike-a-bikepack
Part 3: Recitation of woes
Some additional commentary from Chuck in green.

"No good story ever ended, 'It got hard, and then we quit.'"
~the one and only Bob F. Jenkins

Bob M.F. Jenkins!

I knew I was being a big baby, I just couldn't seem to shake it. Our hot meal raised my spirits incrementally, but then we had to venture back out into the rain, still falling steadily as ever. Was it only yesterday I'd rolled my precious Fargo into my classroom so it didn't get wet? I'm not a hardy pioneer: one day of rain had turned me into Eeyore.

As I'd hoped, we found a Dollar General on the way to the state park.  I bought a sweatshirt and pants, a fluffy blanket, a pool float to replace my sleeping pad, and even a backpack to carry my purchases. The clerk double bagged everything to keep it dry on our ride, and my $50 investment yielded a 1000% return on happiness.

Since I was wearing a hydration pack, Chuck was kind enough to carry my new backpack.
Our next stop was the gas station next door for big cups of hot coffee. We were about halfway through and in no hurry to rush to a soggy campground when the magic began. A man who apparently knew everyone in town walked in and began talking with the people at the table next to us. Noticing our bikes, our bedraggled appearance, the puddles forming beneath our chairs, or some combination of these, he asked if we had a place to stay.

"We're camping at Ferne Clyffe," we told him. Though my Dollar General spending spree had set my mind at ease, I still wasn't thrilled about another rainy night in a tent, and my face surely reflected that. I'd guess it showed something between my mom's expression every time our family arrived at the budget hotels my dad invariably booked for our vacations and a kidnapping victim's silent cry for help.

He looked at us, looked out at the falling rain, looked back at us: "You know, the local Methodist church here hosts bikers as one of their ministries."

I thought sleeping inside sounded pretty nice. Chuck was less convinced, and after all, what had I bought that Dollar General gear for, anyway? We thanked our would-be benefactor and told him we'd think about it.  Our table neighbors checked in with us before they left, but we decided to stick with our original plan.

Chuck: My "less convinced" logic was pinned to the hopes of scoring a pavilion in the park to set our tents up under. With weather this bad we surely would have our pick from an empty campground.

It was a short ride to the state park. Though we'd expected the campground to be deserted on such a chilly, rainy weekend, it was packed. The nearest empty site had a reservation tag, but the end date was that day. Obviously the other campers had left and the campground hosts hadn't made it around to collect expired tags yet. We set up our tents, failed to pay for our site (no hosts on duty), and headed for warm showers.

 After washing myself and my riding clothes, I spend a long time attempting to dry them under the hand dryer and then emerged back into the...dry evening? Yes, it had finally stopped raining. I tried again to pay for our site, then Chuck and I puttered around kind of organizing things and wondering what to do next. It was early evening, but we didn't have any chairs and everything around us was completely soaked. Not such a nice night to hang out.

 A small delegation from a nearby site came over, introduced themselves, and invited us to join them around their fire. Their camping group was a big part of the reason the campground was so busy; their monthly meet-up had coincided with our visit, and instead of going to bed early we spent the evening around a campfire with 20+ new friends, eating their food ("guests eat first!"), drinking their drinks, and enjoying the fun bunch we'd lucked into meeting.

The potluck dinner had been set up in here.
Sometime after dark a camper pulled up at our site and started walking around. I went over to see what was going on, and it turned out the people who'd reserved the site had changed their reservation and the campground hosts hadn't changed the tag. We had accidentally poached their site, but since they only needed the concrete pad and our tents were out of the way, they were OK with sharing.

Eventually, after turning down multiple offers of beds in our new friends' campers or at least extra blankets (too bad I didn't meet them before I bought out Dollar General!), we headed back to our tents. Despite all my worries about the cold, I slept just fine.

Homeward bound!
We woke the next morning to dry skies, packed up, donated my purchases to whoever in the camping group wanted them, and headed back out of the state park. We'd both brought breakfast food, but the thought of gas station coffee and biscuits and gravy 2 miles away was far more compelling.

Gas station breakfast for the win!
There was zero urgency to our travel. We'd already decided to take the roads back to the Jeep, so we had about 30 miles and all day long to get there. The weather was comfortable. The sun was out. The scenery was beautiful. Unlike the previous day, traffic was light and friendly.

"We're definitely touring the wrong trail," I told Chuck. The wine trail sounds much more fun than the River to River trail!
Approaching Giant City on a really pretty stretch of road.
We bypassed Panther Den, deciding to save it for another trip, and in what seemed like no time were rolling back through Giant City State Park, this time stopping to take some pictures. Then it was back through Makanda, casting dirty looks towards the coffee shop as we passed, and up up up the paved climb out of town.
While dangerous areas do exist in the park, none of them are actually on the roads, and none of the trails are bike legal.
Tons of big rocks and bluffs
 Back at the intersection with Highway 51 we paused briefly so I could load the trail bypass route onto my Garmin, then started off again. One of the enduring regret from my summer solo trip was missing the apple dumplings at Flamm's Orchard, and I'd been looking forward to them all morning. Happily, they were open this time around, and the dumplings (with ice cream!) were well worth the wait. We shooed away bees and people-watched on the busy fall Sunday, a perfect day to bring the family apple picking, and I felt delighted to have arrived there on my bike.

So. good.
In another ten miles we were back at the Jeep following a huge downhill and then a bigger than expected uphill back to our parking area. Though the Bald Knob Cross was only about 1.5 miles further, we skipped it to avoid further climbing. In the end, my only regrets about the whole trip are the times I skipped the opportunity to see something cool (the cross, Panther Den) in the interests of "getting there", whether "there" was the campground or just back to the Jeep. I tend to get too destination focused and forget to enjoy the journey as much (or at all, like on Saturday).

Those are pretty mild regrets over a really cool weekend, though. While there were times I definitely wasn't enjoying myself, another Bob-ism we regularly quote is "IWIO" ("it'll work itself out"), which it did. The hike-a-bike ended, the rain stopped, the nice person to mean person ratio had to be over 10:1 once I stopped fixating on the jerks. If I'd quit in the rain, the trip would have felt like a failure; now, it's a war story. Never underestimate the redeeming power of clear days, friendly strangers, and apple dumplings.

Next: Logistics


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