The lawn is weeping with the dew and I screw up my nose as the fresh cut grass from yesterday sticks to my shoe. Walking around to the front of the jail, I try brush it off a little with the inside of my other shoe, then give up.
“Bah! You’re touring,” I say to myself. “You should let yourself get dirty.”
Parking Precious and Mr Zimmerman near the back stairs of Al’s Place in Farmington, I begin to slowly pack. To stretch out the time into a thin string of unwillingness to leave. I know I have to go. To move on. To hit the road. To tuck more miles under my flabby stomach belt.
Dry the dishes. Remove sheets. Clean the kitchen. Leave money in the donation box. One last, longing look as I pull the door closed.
The future. It calls to me.
Down the main street I go, flanked on either side by lavish homes and gardens. Beautiful period structures with manicured lawns and inviting porches. Proudly they stand, throwbacks to a thriving time of iron and industry. Now, just prime real estate.
This place. I like this place.
Before long, my map is telling me to turn off the main drag and onto a a quieter road. Then another swift turn. Small climb. The sign for St. Joe’s State Park flashes by and it takes a little while, but before long it has slathered its good mood onto me. The sun is still low and the morning cool. Trees reach out and touch me with their cool auras and chlorophyl smiles as I pass by. It’s as pretty as a photoshopped stock photo, still and perfect. There’s the smell of morning. Listen. Insects and frogs and the soft whir of my tires on the smooth road.
An effort. An effort is made to enjoy this. To soak up the feeling I’m having of peace and tranquility. Serene quietude. Now this, this is a good start to the day and I’m smiling, even as cars pass close by and a few rouge dogs run out to chase my mood away.
I know it’s going to get worse. That the day is going to head as far downhill as the elevation charts on my maps head up. The words Ozark Mountains are flashed across today’s second map panel, so that’s gonna tear up my afternoon note cards and throw them out the window.
But so far, not too bad. A few quad stretchers, but nothing that twists my gut into a frightening balloon animal that would scare children at parties. Just joyful meandering.
A nice downhill and then I find myself out on the 32. And now, not so nice.
There’s a rough and horrible shoulder with a wandering rash of debris and occasional disappearing surface. Trucks waft on my left and blow grit right into my once-optimistic face. At least there is a shoulder, and I’m grateful that the rumble strip is the kind that’s thin and actually quite pleasant to ride of from time-to-time. Like a little massage of the brain sent via the bum and soles of the feet.
The shoulder gets worse. The shoulder gets better. The shoulder gets worse again and then disappears completely.
Everyone talks about the shoulderless roads of Missouri. The crumbling edges. The narrow paths. So I find myself snuggling up to the white line that’s half missing in places and attempting to appear larger than I am. My mirror, attached to my sunglasses and angled perfectly so that a slight turn of my head reveals all, is eagle eyed in its glint. I’m completely fine with how dorky it makes me look, by the way, as it’s saved me numerous times. It’s on the Janeen/Precious/Zimmerman team. Fletch. I just named it Fletch.
For a moment, I’m very aware of how quiet it is. That it’s past the early morning bird song and insect chorus and has entered a new phase. That time of the morning where you look at yourself hard in the mirror, pause to pep-talk yourself up, then head off to tear a chunk out of the day with your freshly cleaned teeth.
Yes, it’s very quiet. Nothing but the creak of the trailer from time to time and the wheeze of my own breathing as I creep up a rise. For a moment, I feel blanketed by loneliness and a sense of being the only person on earth.
Perhaps the only person, but not the only creature. The road is narrow, twisty and unforgiving and as I round a blind corner there are dogs. Joke dogs, but barky, growly, snappy dogs.
Three chihuahuas spring out of the grass and begin their pursuit. I stop and laugh in their thin little faces, they look so funny. So serious. So ‘objects in the mirror are larger than they appear’. But then I began to think about how they’re in the middle of the road on a blind corner and all it would take is one car to come around that bend and snuff those yaps right out.
“Go home, dummies,” I say, then slowly begin to pedal off. They chase, I pedal faster and I watch in my mirror as they disappear from view.
On and on and here’s a hill and there it goes. I’m still waiting. For the real climbs that surely must begin today. The next corner. Perhaps there’s one lurking around the next corner? Nope, nothing yet. Long, steady, consistent grade climbs rear their heads more often, but I find them quite soothing. Flick flick, down to a comfy, sustainable gear and just stick at it until I’m over.
After one such ascent, I crest the rise and noodle down towards a sign. Johnson’s Shut In State Park. I don’t know what a shut in is, but I do know that water has done what water does and I need to perhaps find somewhere to, you know, use a hand blow dryer.
In a clearing devoid of trees, I see a sad building squatting there. It looks new and quite fresh off the standard tourist building production line, yet the parking lot is virtually empty. As I draw closer, even I can sense how it yearns for the footfalls of nature lovers and their reluctant progeny.
Precious stays outside while I, under the guise of ‘just looking’, wander around looking for the restroom. Mission accomplished. As I emerge, having spent some time inspecting the curious flushing system, I notice some binoculars on the landing and head on over to stick my peepers to its. I peer out into the distance, not sure about what I’m looking at. Looks like a valley full of boulders. And no trees.
It’s then I notice a board with information on it. Ok, I get it. Years ago, this was a well-treed and sexy valley where nature lovers could come and be all naturey and bird lovery. Then, in 2005, a reservoir breached and 1.3 billion gallons of water went WHEE! and rushed through the valley and carved out the dull mess I see before me. Trees were swept off their feet and the facilities that were here before had their knees taken out from under them.
How have I never heard about this?
This information moved the needle in my brain from ‘only interested in the restroom’ to ‘let’s totally look around.’ Downstairs I go. Right up to the automatic doors and into the tourist information center. Inside I find dry and lifeless bones, desiccated insects, rock walls and very lifelike naturalists hovering, ready to pounce on questions curious tourists may have.
Stopping by a table of ‘please touch’ items, I pick up a jawbone and feign great interest while I ponder what to do about being the only person in here and the only object of attention for the naturalist. As I admire the toothy jaw, my eyes drift down to to table to the many skeletal items laid out there.
Now, I don’t know much, but I can tell you this. Drawing on my vast knowledge of animal skulls (and a human one I once picked up by accident – long story), I can tell you that there were no horse, cow or sheep heads there. One looked a little goaty. But the others? No idea. This is not my country. All these animals are alien and weird.
I could find out what each one is if I just ask that naturalist over there pretending to straighten some pamphlets. Do not turn head. Flick eyes over. Think about it. Put bones back. Check out next display.
In the gift shop area, I almost buy a Greetings from Missouri postcard with a donkey on it. But then there’s the hassle of posting it, I think, stuffing it back in its little slot. It takes a few seconds to remove my fingers from it. The regret is adding a time in its appointment calendar when it’ll come back and remind me that I didn’t buy it even though I wanted to.
With one last gaze around the displays and without making eye contact with the naturalist, I back towards the door, hands clasped behind my back in an ‘hmm, isn’t this all interesting’ fashion. Turn, then out.
“Thanks for coming!”
“No worries,” I say, startled, and throw up a wave as I walk out the door. Regret makes another appointment regarding my desire to ask questions but being too shy to do so.
As I mix up a Gatorade cocktail outside, I examine some of the stone garden. Read some plaques. Learn stuff. But before long the lack of shade and the glare of the sun bouncing off the white pavement right into my eye hastens my departure.
One sign reads “An Ozark Oasis.” I think you need more trees for that.
Back on the road and away we go. The trees are changing again, and now pines line the road to escort me through these passes. Even though there are a couple of good hills, I’m not hurting. But still counting down the miles until I can turn over another map panel. Panel turning equals progress and I need to feel like there is progress, else my brittle ego cracks and the fissures work away at my motivation.
A bridge. The water below is crystal clear and green. More and more, I’ve noticed this change. In Kentucky, rivers were brown and mysterious. Here, they’re glassy and all ‘look what’s in me’. They’re also incredibly inviting on a hot day and right now, I just want to get down there and not even take off my shoes and just wade right in. Flop down dramatically. Sit there. Fall back. Submerge.
But hunger snaps me out of it. Push on. Find a feed bag.
By the time I reach Centerville, I decide I’m making good enough time to actually have a sit-down lunch with a plate and chewing and contemplation. Slim pickings in Centerville though.
What one needs at a time like this is a giant arrow to point the way, and there’s one right there. Three of the lights work and flash their noses along the spine of the arrow. The arrow itself points to the 21 Diner, which at first glance looks haunted and empty. I enter and find it charming and quaint. Old-fashioned coke wallpaper runs a rail around the walls, red booths invite me to sit. Records hang on the wall and each booth reminds me of Arnold’s on Happy Days. In the middle, random grocery items and a book area that’s a little reminiscent of a library but probably isn’t.
The lady at the counter waits.
I order a chicken BLT and don’t expect much, but when it arrives, it’s seriously top notch. The lettuce fresh, the chicken tender. I pour my coke into the crushed ice-filled cup and it spits a little in my face as I take slug. Glorious fizz down my parched throat.
Refreshed and thoroughly charmed, I feel ready to tackle the afternoon. Not far to go to my stop and so far, the Ozarks haven’t bitten my legs too hard. Just little nips. I head off, belly full but waiting, always waiting for those hills. I spy a giant spider’s lair and it triggers the thought that I have seen one of these nearly every day since I started. Giant sections of a tree branch wrapped in a fine net of web and containing a cemetery of bodies and dark looking objects. What kind of spider makes a home like that? Is it big? Does it jump on your face when you get close?
I’m not going to find out.
The Ozarks hold back their punch. I wait, it never comes, and before long I’m rolling into Ellington, my designated stop for the night. I turn and head towards my accommodations. Now here is an establishment trying to elevate itself from the from the smoking embers of cheap motel mundaneness.
The Shady Rivers Motel could look just like a hotel, but it chooses to make an effort. The impressive columns that stand tall and proudly as they hold the awning suggest an impressive nobility. One you know it won’t have when you get in there, but you appreciate the effort.
After checking in and confirming this, I slow-walk to the shops, pick up some pull-top peaches for my panniers, snacky things, and on a whim, a tub of ice-cream DIBS. Fast walk it back to the room so they don’t melt before I get a chance to eat them.
Later, after inhaling an entire tin of peach halves, I sit on top of my very attractive duvet, admire the hotel room art – I have a serious obsession with the art choices in cheap hotels – and methodically pop DIBS into my mouth one after the other. The weather channel keeps me company. I can’t seem to stop shoving these ice-cream nuggets in, but I don’t even notice until the entire tub is empty. Hmmm, that’s probably not good.
This thought is confirmed about 10 minutes later when I’m caught off-guard by the need to throw them all up. Now, see, I have no issue with throwing up bad food, but who the hell throws up ice-cream? Sacrilege. But perhaps too much sweetness so soon after riding confused my stomach and it just said ‘enough!’ and decided the best way to handle it was to get rid of it. I felt fine after it was gone.
Which is pretty much how I feel most days after I finish riding. When the pain of the day is just a dull memory imprinted on my aching legs and behind my slowly falling-asleep eyes.
Fine. I feel fine.
Date: August 24, 2010
From: Farmington, MO
To: Ellington, MO
Distance: 65.29 miles
View Garmin Data >