Casey to Vandalia - The woman who sat on the toilet too long (and other odd American tales) - CycleBlaze

May 23, 2014

Casey to Vandalia

Celebrity starts low in rural America
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BIG DECISION today. Should I or should I not ride 22km south to see a five-metre mug tree? I mean, it's not every day you get to see a tree two storeys high, covered with mugs and with an outhouse on top. But a man can have too much. The world's largest wind chimes, the largest golf tee and more can see him through for a while. Especially with the prospect of seeing what's said to be the tallest Christian cross in the country, ignoring rival claims from other Christians down in Florida.

"Sure can see it from all over," a man said after I interrupted his grass-mowing in a quest for water. The morning was already humid and hot. "Big ol' thing, it is. You won't miss it, that's for sure."

He handed me my refilled bottles and told me Effingham was 15 miles down the road. A hundred metres later I passed a sign that said it was eight. I'm starting a competition for the most wildly inaccurate estimate of distance that I encounter on this ride.

In fact, I did miss it. It's true that you get a pretty good view from the interstate, which is the road he probably takes, but you can't see it from the town itself because it's out on an industrial site beyond the railway. I called at the library where a bright woman called Joanna gave me a map and inked in my route and said: "One o' my colleagues is from Briddan and she'd sure like to meet you."

It's big... and it's shaped like a cross. Spot my bike to get an idea of its height
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Press a button and hear a super-confident man tell you the word of the Lord
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Effingham's cross is 60m high, made of steel and weighs 180 tonnes. I think I ought to describe it to you but there's little to say about a 60m cross other than that it's very high. It looks down on what the Cross Foundation says is 20 million interstate drivers each year and spreads the Word. A fast-food joint came to the same conclusion because alongside but discreetly separated is a colourful billboard urging drivers to "Eat as though you mean it." It summed up the American credo: appeals to pray and to eat, all in the same field.

I wandered about the base of the monument and pressed a button on one of the dark stones on which were engraved the Ten Commandments. One of those deep and super-confident American voices then told me just what the commandment in question meant.

I pushed my bike across grass to the visitor centre. Through the window I could read a leaflet telling me that the Lord was coming. But maybe not just right now because the staff had gone home for lunch.

From an enormous cross to this tiny church at Pocahontas
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The inside is full-sized, however
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I rode on to Vandalia, which sounds like instant custard, and offered myself at the police station. Permission, please, to camp in the park.

"Sure thing," the policeman said, beaming and welcoming me to town. "I just need to check you on our computer, see you're not on the wanted list. You have ID?"

I said I did, that I had a passport deep in one of my bags, although I couldn't remember which. Did he want me to go through them all to find it?

"No trouble, sir, just tell me who you are and when you were born and I'll check you out."

So I did, although what the chances were that a wanted criminal would arrive on a bicycle and hope to sleep in the park and that he'd give his right name, I have no idea. But policemen have jobs to do.

Or perhaps they don't. Not too pressing anyway.

"Just give me a moment and I'll get my car and lead you up there," he said.

I declined. I had shopping to get and I didn't suppose he wanted to drive through town, up hills at 8kmh, with a tired cyclist behind him.

"Maybe if you had a map of the town?"

He looked flustered. He didn't think the Vandalia police had a map of the town, not that they could give me. But in time he photo-copied a much photo-copied street map and marked the park and the nearby shops in yellow and we parted with smiles and handshakes and a "Good to make your acquaintance, sir."

Another happy day had ended.

Today's ride: 121 km (75 miles)
Total: 1,720 km (1,068 miles)

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