The Ultimate Ride to the Ride Part 7: Southern Illinois

Catch up: This is a cross-country bike tour with a twist: Chris Reichel pedaled a road bike towing a mountain bike from Colorado to North Carolina and hit all the best trails along the way. If you missed earlier installments of the Ultimate Ride to the Ride, see them here.

By Chris Reichel


I know that there are a few really good trail systems around St. Louis that I didn’t ride while I was there and that hurts me a little, but I chose to rest my legs and be a tourist, instead. I had never spent any significant time there and wanted to check out everything the city had to offer. I visited some bike shops, bellied up to a few great bars and, of course, went to the City Museum. The City Museum, despite its bland sounding name, isn’t your typical snooze-fest of a museum. It is a fully functional and user-friendly piece of art, open for everyone to play with and on. It was truly impressive.

Schedules and bike touring don’t mix…

Finally saying goodbye to my travel partner and setting off again alone, I crawled my way out of St. Louis on a Monday afternoon. Coincidentally, there happened to be a few breweries along my route and I couldn’t just ride by without stopping. It wasn’t until 10 p.m. that, with the bridge to Illinois in sight, I swerved away from Alpha Brewing.


Halfway over the bridge, I stopped to take in the St. Louis skyline. I was now officially east of the Mississippi. I congratulated myself out loud on the arbitrary milestone and coasted down the other side of the bridge toward a giant casino complex. It seemed like an odd place to find a casino, but there it was. Its garish lights reflected off a barge being pushed up river and it looked to me like some sort of sad Las Vegas reject.

Once on the streets of East St. Louis, I couldn’t help but note the juxtaposition between the “haves” and the “have nots” I had just experienced. Fifteen minutes prior I was in a bustling, hip and affluent urban neighborhood. Now, only a river away, I was riding through what appeared to be a modern day ghost town. The streets lined with abandoned buildings and no real signs of life, sans for a few stray cats or the occasional person sitting on a porch. It was a lot to mull over as I rode south into the night, finally making camp in a town park around 2 a.m.


Up at dawn, I tapped out the miles toward Carbondale. Some friends of mine were driving across the country and I convinced them to come find me and camp out for the night. We made our way to Lake Murphysboro State Park and had a real nice time fishing and catching up alongside this pretty little lake. I was up early the next morning to beat the heat, but even at sunrise the humidity was suffocating. I said goodbye to my friends and pedaled the few short miles to Kinkaid Lake.

The area called The Spillway is better known as a spot for keg parties and swimming holes, but there is also a nice little piece of singletrack there. The trail didn’t look like it had seen much use lately but that just made it a little more challenging. I rode for a couple hours, smashing through hundreds of spider webs all while the sounds of high horsepower boats rumbled like thunder from the lake.


Flying high from riding a new trail and a dip in the local swimming hole, I loaded up the White Buffalo (pictured below) and rode into Carbondale. I needed to swap a bottom bracket on my tow bike, and I obviously didn’t have the tools on me to get the job done. I polled social media for the best bike shop in town and all opinions sent me to The Bike Surgeon. Being a former bike shop wrench, I would never expect this repair to be done on the same day. So I spoiled myself and got a hotel room for a couple days before dropping my bike off.

Much to my surprise, the crew at the shop turned my repair around in a couple hours. With my trusty steed back in working condition I used my down time to sample local restaurants and sample a few beers I had never heard of. The biggest find/surprise was Scratch Brewery. They are doing some great things and their brews are worth seeking out.

In case you forgot what his rig looks like…

Rested, refreshed and well fed, I pointed it south toward Kentucky, but not without a stop at the Cedar Lake trails. I had intended to only ride these trails for a couple of hours in order to make an arbitrary mileage goal for the day but, before I knew it, the sun was setting and I was still on my mountain bike. Schedules and bike touring don’t mix, so I found myself a good place to camp and saved the pavement and traffic for the next morning.

Up with the sun, I tapped out 70 miles to yet another state line. In some ways, borders are just invisible lines drawn on a map. But when you are on bike tour, they are significant measures of progress and usually provide a much-needed mental boost. As I crossed the Ohio River, on one of the most sketchy steel deck bridges I have ever seen, it felt like I was starting a new chapter in this tour. The final and best chapter yet to come.