This trip was inspired by the second season of the television show “Feasting on Asphalt”. We are following the Great River Road that runs along the Mississippi River from Venice, Louisiana to the headwaters in Lake Itasca State Park, Minnesota. When possible we will stop at locations featured in the show, however time has found many of them closed.
It was a rough night for sure. Piper insisted on sleeping with her face next to mine on the back of the seat. It sounds really sweet and it is…until she snorts and you get dog snot all over the side of your face. And then there’s Leo who may be little but he sure likes to take up a lot of space. I found myself perched on the edge of the seat pressed up against the door more than once with Leo resting comfortably next to me. Then there’s Jack, the always watchful guard dog. Any sound from close outside and I’d hear a low rumbling growl from the seat next to me. When the sky started to grow light, I gave up on any thoughts of sleep and took the dogs for a walk around the campground. I was still a bit confused as there were no individual sites marked but as we were moving on, I wasn’t too concerned. It seemed like a nice campground and was well above the flooded river. I poured food out for the dogs and once they had eaten their breakfast, I loaded them back into the car and we headed back into town. When we got to the road, I saw the sign for our refuge for the evening: Randolph County State Recreation Area.
We made our way back to the Great River Road and just as we were about to cross the Mississippi River again, we found a statue for what I imagine would be Chester Illinois’ greatest export: Popeye the Sailor Man. That’s right, Popeye’s creator was from Chester. Well I’m not a fan of canned spinach (shudder) but I am a big fan of baby spinach and that’s close enough for me. As I was taking photos of the dogs, a farmer’s market was being set up in the lot of the visitor’s centre behind us and we scanned the early offerings. I left with a beautiful basket of strawberries and I was busily devouring them as soon as we were back on the road and headed into Missouri.
Strawberries alone will not keep a person fuelled and with the less than fulfilling sleep I soon found myself in desperate need of caffeine and I made my way into Perryville. Coffee beckoned but I was met by roadblock after roadblock. What kind of villainy stands in the way between this intrepid traveller and the much needed boost of coffee? The banners and posters proclaimed that I had arrived in the midst of Maydays. Had I been planning on staying for a day or two, I would have hung around. Alas, that was not in the plan and I parked the car as close as I could and walked to Villainous Grounds. Imagine a sweet coffee chop and comic book store all rolled up in one place. It was like heaven to this nerd traveller and I lingered longer than I needed to chat with the locals. I learned that there was going to be a solar eclipse in August and Perryville was in the middle of the path of the eclipse so come August, the entire town will be crammed full of people. Farmers have even left fields unplanted so they can rent out space for tents. Brilliant if I do say so. With a chocolate cheesecake latte in hand (a-freaking-mazing), we were soon back on the road and headed for St. Louis.
Now Feasting on Asphalt went through St. Louis twice: in the first season, they stopped at Ted Drewes for frozen custard. We had also stopped at Ted Drewes on the way through last September. In the second season of Feasting on Asphalt, they stopped at several donut shops because apparently the citizens of St. Louis LOVE donuts. I also enjoy donuts so this was going to be a donut visit. I decided that we would stop at three donut places: two that had been featured on Feasting on Asphalt and a third to be determined.
As we were heading into St. Louis, and what promised to be donut nirvana, I saw a large park so I decided to give the dogs a bit of a stretch. I had planned to keep them on leash, but when I saw signs that said dogs have to have a leash not on leash, well they went for a run. If you’re going to have ambiguous signage, folks like me are going to take advantage of it. We didn’t wander too long because it was getting really warm. As the dogs were re-hydrating, I planned out my visits and when I saw a place called Ex Cop Donut Shop that was an obvious starting point. How could I not go to a place called Ex Cop Donut Shop? I strapped the dogs back into the car and off we went.
We were pulling into the lot of Ex Cop Donut Shop. The sign said that it should be open. It wasn’t. I’ll admit that I threw a little bit of a temper tantrum. There may have even been some choice language. OK. Next place.
Donut Drive-in was one of the places on Feasting on Asphalt and I was happy to see that they were fairly close by. It was also close to Ted Drewes and it was a hot day…There was a short line-up out the door of Donut Drive-in but it moved fairly quickly. Then it was my turn and even though I had been standing in line and eying the donut selection, when the young man behind the counter asked what I wanted, I panicked and asked him to just give me half a dozen of what his choice. When I took the box from him, I momentarily questioned my sanity. What the hell was I thinking?! But when I snuck a peek as I walked back to the car, the smell of yeasty sugary goodness was like a comfortable blanket. I brought the dogs out of the car and we sat on the grass under the closest thing to shade we could find. I ate two donuts so fast that I couldn’t remember what they were. They were good. Very different from the light offerings in Natchez; these were much more dense and substantial and more like a traditional donut. Feeling satisfied, I looked up the hours for Ted Drewes and sadly they were not open yet. I’ll confess I wasn’t too disappointed as there were more donuts to eat and we set back out on the road to World’s Fair Donuts.World’s Fair Donuts is in a bit of a tricky spot to get to especially with nearby construction but we successfully navigated our way into the parking lot. When I walked in, I was surprised when I was greeted by a rather rotund bulldog at the door. She looked as though she had developed a taste for donuts as well, a dog after my own heart. Having taken the edge off my donut craving, I asked the woman at the counter to just give me two donuts. She seemed a bit surprised by the request but she soon handed me a bag and said that she thinks I’ll like these. I went to get the dogs and we again sat on in a shady patch of grass at the side of the property and I opened my bag. One glazed number was filled with a jam, strawberry I think. It was good but there was barely any jam inside so it was just a small divot of flavour. Now the other donut was interesting: it had a definite lemon flavour and what seemed like some kind of a crunch on top. It was really good.
As I let the donuts settle, I scanned for the next stop and when I saw Vincent Van Donut my mind was made up. I guess I’m a sucker for fun and whimsical names. When I parked the car next to Vincent Van Donut, I felt a sort of familiarity and I paused to look around. For some reason, the area reminded me of Toronto with kind of an artsy area in the midst of gentrification. I’m not sure if that’s accurate but it didn’t matter; there were donuts to be had. Then I stepped inside and realized that the vibe was more like Ottawa and Suzy Q donuts for these were artisnal donuts staring back at me from inside the cases. Large offerings of sweet donuts next to savory donuts beckoned but I settled for a maple bacon donut, the last one. And an americano to wash it down.
While the dogs were eager to help me, the maple glaze had a bit of cayenne pepper which lent a delicious kick but I felt would wreak havoc on little puppy tummies so I gave them teeny nibbles of unglazed donut and little bits of bacon which seemed to ease their hurt feelings. It was a struggle to swallow the last few bites but I managed. With the coffee clutched in hand, I took the dogs for another short walk, partly to check the area but mostly to ease my sense of total gluttony. It was a very short walk as the day was getting hotter. We stayed on the shady side of the streets but soon retreated to the comfort of air conditioning as we headed out.
When I saw the Cahokia Mounds were a short distance away, I crossed back into Illinois. These were the largest mounds of the Mississippian culture left and if I had been impressed by the second largest mounds at Emerald Mound, well then I had to check out the largest.
Blew my mind. Mounds rose up from the flat ground on either side of the highway and then I saw Monks Mound, the largest of them all. The steady stream of people going to and from the top of the mound was in direct contrast to the other mounds we had visited. There were even people using the stairs to work out. We hiked to the top and I paused to admire the view and give the dogs a chance to sniff and rest a bit before we went back to the parking lot. There was next to no shade at the top except the little bits found under benches so we didn’t linger too long. There was far more shade in a stand of trees next to the lot and we sat in the grass as I encouraged the dogs to drink as much as they wanted. Of course they would rather socialize then drink so I eventually gave up and we got back into the car.
I was going to stop in Alton because, well it’s Alton. But I just couldn’t bear the thought of eating anything at that point and it was so hot I wanted to keep the dogs in the cool car for a bit longer rather than go traipsing along more hot concrete. So we continued on.
And then we got to Nauvoo. Not only does it have a fun name, but it is also home to Illinois’ oldest winery which had been featured on Feasting on Asphalt. I owed it to everyone to stop. Several things made me happy that we stopped: they sell wine, they serve wine, and dogs are allowed on the patio. I sampled a few wines and selected a sweet concord. Then I learned that they used the same wine to make a slushie. My ears perked right up. A wine slushie!? I practically tore the door off the hinges when I left the store area and went to the bar area in the next building. I ordered my slushie and then decided to get a pizza, chicken bacon ranch please. I took a table on the patio in between the two buildings, surprised and delighted that I was the only one out there, and retrieved the dogs. After guzzling some of the water I poured out for them, they were soon flopped out around me. I’m really happy that they are so comfortable on patios but it made me wonder if I take them to too many patios. I shrugged the thought off as I took a sip of my slush. When the pizza arrived, I was in patio heaven.
I had seen a sign for a state park and found it within walking distance of the winery. Had I thought things through, I could have set up camp and then walked to the winery. It’s probably better that I didn’t do that since I would have just had more wine slushies. There was no staff working, no permits in the permit box, and zero for cell reception to book online so I just went and found a site to set up camp. There were plenty of available sites and none had reserved signs so I decided to chance it. As I was slowly pitching my tent, I was dismayed to see that we had some hitchhikers: more lone star ticks from our campsite in Natchez, Mississippi. Despite my best efforts to get them off the tent, when we all piled inside, I could still see some walking across the tent. And even though it was still light out I was soon asleep, the long day and poor sleep the night before having taken it’s toll on me. I think I may have even been asleep before the dogs.