[posted to the Wheeled Migration Yahoo Group on Oct 23, 2004]
Sorry for the long message, folks, but I was out of dialup range for almost a week!
In my last message I said I was going to hotfoot it out of Missouri on the US highways, since I had learned that they, unlike most most Missouri highways, have paved shoulders. Like most information I've gotten from local people, this turned out to be true only within an area of a few miles! I left Jefferson City on Monday morning headed southwest on US 54. When I saw the generous expanse of shoulder -- 10 feet, practically a bike lane -- I was so happy I started singing gospel: "I got a little piece o' pavement... to myself, I got the whole shoulder to myself!" My mood was further lightened when I turned on my radio and encountered some phenomenal radio reception. I was listening to weather reports from so far away I couldn't believe they were talking about the same day! Apparently Columbia, MO was having thunderstorms and a tornado watch while I had clear skies and Smooth Jazz (tm) to balance out the screaming semis a few feet away.
The shoulder lasted until I got to Lake of the Ozarks, which is the mutant offspring of suburban sprawl and tourist trap. I try to maintain a fairly positive tone on this list, so I'll just say that Lake of the Ozarks is no place for a bicycle. As soon as I started riding Tuesday morning I noticed my back tire felt spongy. I stopped several times to examine and pump it, but I couldn't convince myself whether or not it was losing air, so I kept going. As I headed down a hill and out of "town" in morning rush-hour traffic, I saw the highway's shoulder resume ahead. Again my heart leapt with joy, and I swerved onto it... at about 30 MPH. The right wheel of the trailer hit a bump, and the trailer balanced on its left wheel for about 20 feet while I tried to figure out what was happening and what I could do about it. If I had swerved back to the left the trailer might have landed back on its wheels, but there were cars coming up behind, so I kept going right. As the trailer crashed down on its left side, the cargo slipped out of its bungees and skidded on the asphalt upside down for about 10 feet before I got everything stopped. The autoharp's waterproof kayak bag now has a few small holes in it, as does the tent's storage bag, but both the tent and harp appear to be fine. At the time I was very upset about what had happened, but in retrospect I'm just glad it wasn't worse!
A little later, I crested a long hill on the highway and felt a familiar bump-bump-bump beneath me. My back tire was completely flat! I had just checked it for the umpteenth time a few minutes before. I found a mysterious gash in the side wall of the tire, but I didn't find a corresponding hole in the tube. Didn't have time to investigate; just replaced both tube and tire. This was the crummy BMX tire I bought in Peoria. I put on a much sturdier one that I bought in Fairfield. While I was replacing the tire, my mind was whirling to revise my travel plans for the day... surely after all these misadventures it must be 2 or 2:30 already. The sky was so overcast I couldn't tell how much daylight I had left, so I got out my watch ... 12:30. I just started laughing... so much had happened, and the day wasn't even half over!
Toward the end of the day Tuesday the shoulder ran out again, and the folks I asked said it would be intermittent all the way to Kansas. As grateful as I had been to ride on a shoulder, I was just as glad to leave the highway behind and hit the county roads again, now with reasonable slopes. They were so quiet! The corn-and-soybean hegemony of the upper midwest was at last broken up with fields of hay, pasture, clover, sunflowers, and winter wheat, all of which host fewer crickets than I've been used to hearing. I stayed Tuesday night at Pomme de Terre State Park, near the fishing town of Nemo. Wednesday I continued on back roads to Prairie State Park, near Liberal, MO, and very close to the Kansas border. Prairie State Park is the largest expanse of native prairie in Missouri, but I didn't get to see much of it because visitors to most of the park are warned to stay in their cars to protect them from roaming bison! Fortunately the campground is outside the bison range.
On Friday morning I finally rode into Kansas. In high school and college, I had a tradition of always playing "Carry On Wayward Son" and "Song for America" by the band Kansas whenever I'd cross the border into Kansas. I didn't have the tape with me this time, so I sang the songs in my head. My father met me at Big Hill Lake Park, near Coffeyville, after one of the longest day's rides I've had: I rode from before sunup to after sundown with only one real break. I also rode through a pretty serious thunderstorm in the afternoon, but I was amply forewarned, so none of my gear got wet. Dad and I had never camped in a tent together before! It seemed like the thing to do.
This morning (Saturday), Dad loaded my trailer into the car, and I covered almost 70 miles into Bartlesville, Oklahoma in about 7 hours. The fact that I'm now in my hometown -- and that I bicycled here from Minnesota, by way of Ohio -- hasn't really sunk in yet!
Favorite Missouri quirk: In St. Louis, Panera Bread is called St. Louis Bread Company. Same menu, same decor, same Good-Vibes-lookin' logo, different name. The locals say Panera started in St. Louis, but I've heard that about several other cities. Maybe a bunch of chains merged.
Second Favorite Missouri Quirk: Like most states west of the Mississippi, and unlike those east, any municipality is called a "city," even if it has less than 100 people or is part of an urban area. The neighborhood of St. Louis where my friends live is University City, and there's a building there called "City of University City City Hall."
Least Favorite Missouri quirk: No shoulders on the roads. Not even 6 inches, not even gravel or grass, just a ditch (and I mean a ditch) or a sheer cliff or a guard rail. I don't know what drivers do when they have breakdowns -- didn't see any. Maybe the cars behind just push them down (or off!) the road.
Second Least Favorite Missouri Quirk: The gubernatorial race. These candidates have nothing positive to say. Their radio ads are poison in listeners' ears. I hope they both lose.
Favorite Kansas Quirk: Kansas highways are represented by cheery orange suns, Kansas being the sunflower state. Every other state I know of [except Minnesota] uses black-and-white highway signs for all but the Interstates, which are red, white, and blue. But Kansas signs are orange!
I'll be in Bartlesville until at least November 3rd. I should have some new photos to share in a day or two! --Ben