Chester, IL to Pittsburg, KS – Missouri Doesn’t Want Me to Miss It

21 Jun

 

I’m in a laundromat in Pittsburg, KS just over the Missouri border washing the salt stain rorshach tests off my shirts. I woke to an intense rainstorm that fish could have travelled through overland. After 4 days in Missouri and 21 days total I’m finally on flat land.

 
It’s a strange mental space to put myself in. The Ozarks differed little from the Appalacians in the routine; 1-2 steep hills every mile all day, up and down and up.  In Missouri it’s: Climb, Peak, Dive, Creek. In Kentucky it’s: Climb, Peak, Dive, Poverty. To keep my morale up through the hills and the exhaustion I’ve had to put myself into the mental space for the last 3 weeks of “There’s always one more hill.” No matter how many climbs I get through in a day, no matter how hot, there’s always one final climb between me and wherever I’m trying to get to, so never think you’re done. Today I saw Pittsburg’s water tower from two miles away, not one more hill in between. 

“There’s always one more hill” is the advice I give to everyone I meet bicycling because it’s the most useful advice I know. The most useless advice is “Be safe,” which everyone tells me, but no one tells me how. A road worker points to the Semis constantly passing and says “Those’ll run you over” and I reply “Yes, I too understand physics.” My biggest fear on this trip is cars and I worry every day. I know I’ll end this trip in shape, but how do I make sure that shape isn’t a 2 dimensional one? Do I ride closer to the median, to make myself more visible but present more of a target, or closer to the shoulder, less visible but more avoidable? Apparently, closer to the shoulder doesn’t work because 2 days ago an air conditioner repair man blinded by the sun sideswiped me into a ditch with his van’s mirror. 

107 miles in, any fatigue I was feeling is gone as I’m back up in an instant, memorizing the van’s description for the police or to hunt him down myself. The van continues for a moment to a driveway, then turns around and parks across from me. The driver gets out apologizing & dialing 911, keeps apologizing as I decline paramedics, as we call the police for an accident report, as we wait 45 minutes for the police to actually show up. Two members of his family died in car wrecks recently so he feels sick about this. I’m feeling better as we wait. My shoulder is barely bruised and this is one of the nicer drivers I’ve met today. This stretch of Missouri Highway has been a day of too close semis, barking dogs and asshole hillbillies. After the cop leaves I tell the driver he owes me a beer and a ride to my campsite and we’re square. We head to that Midwestern convenience staple, the Kum n Go, and I get my PBRs and a couple Kum n Go lighters as gifts for back home. The clerk looks to be in High School, wearing a button up shirt and a bow tie, remarks “I’ve never tried PBR. Any good?” 
His friend hanging by the counter, equally young, says “Yeah man, it’s way to classy to use for beer pong”

I get to my campsite, shake hands with the driver, who apologizes again, set up my tent and reflect that my “Days Without A Car Accident” board just dropped from 37 to 00. Osha’s gonna have my ass.   

 
Despite Missouri’s best efforts, I’d come to like it. I really enjoy the 5 foot tall rolls of hay in the fields, watching farmers pick them up with forklifts, moving them ant-like into long rows or scattered across the rolling hills of grassland. The stampede of cows through creeks as they spook when I pass and I race beside them. I visit Alley Springs, an old grist mill. I stand at the sandstone hills above, watching some of the 81 million gallons of aqua blue water pass through the mill’s fall, dark green sea grass waving beneath the current and look back to a time when a blacksmiths, general store, and school house surrounded this shady brook. When farmers brougth their grain to be ground between the stone wheels. Getting the latest word from their neighbors as they waited their turn, stocking up on supplies, shoeing horses or repairing equipment. 

I continue to meet interesting people. A grad student couple from UMASS, the girl who worked at the Baltimore Sun telling me about having to vacate rooms so they could shoot scenes for “The Wire.” The Mayor of Ash Grove, who sits at my table, fills me in on Nathan Boone’s history here and how the Phenix mine provided the marble for an SF Museum in the 20’s, then picks up my tab for lunch. The customers in a convenience store in Houston, MO that look straight out of a David Lynch casting call. 2 Brits, a Web developer and lawyer, who’ve given their notice and biked all through Australia, NZ, Tasmania and America. Chatting with members of the Baltic Cyclist association with Brits, Poles and Lithuanians, going from Beijing to London as we stay in a Farmington bike hostel converted from a jail cell. 

Yesterday evening I’m approaching Golden City. I’ve climbed the last of the Ozark hills and am now in flat, easy pastureland. The muscles built from three weeks of climbs power me along, the wind roaring by my ears. I’ve reached the cool part of the day and I’m flying, ready for sleep and waking to the easy stretches of Kentucky ahead. Then the stench invades my nostrils and for the next 15 minutes I pedal through what smells like a particularly strong fart. Missouri really doesn’t want me to miss it.     
 

 
Advertisements

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: