Legs dotted with pink cream and the rest of me slathered with sunscreen for a sun that’s not awake, off into the early morning half-light I go. It’s not quite that time when light starts running down the dark to give it a wet willy, so my headlight is washing the road in front of my wheel to guide me. Roll on through, roll on.
Oncoming headlights catch my eyes and my pupils shrink to a more petite size. So much traffic for this time of the morning. Does everyone have a 6am start? It’s certainly waking up my brain.
I comfort myself with the thought that I’m probably more easily seen at this time, what with my three flashing red rear lights, a reflective triangle on Zimmerman, and my awesome headlight of supreme showiness. It’s a theory. I’m sticking to it.
As the light rises, things come into focus. Mostly hills. I kind of wish they would go out of focus again, but I have no time to think about that. I’m too busy climbing them.
It’s not so much that they’re hard. It just always seems to be that just when you get near the top of a hard-won climb, a car will come and hover behind you and get impatient. Or worse still, a truck. Or worse still than that, they’ll come from both directions at the same time and danger will cuddle us all close to its bosom and whisper things in our ears. Take a chance. Who’s game?
Carry on. Carry on.
You know what else, this road surface is a little rough for my liking, so if you could just see your way to fixing that. That and the hill thing. And the truck thing, while you’re at it. Oh, and if you wouldn’t mind, it would be just lovely if the heat turned down a bit.
Who the hell are you talking to?
That’s happening a lot actually. I realize I’m talking to myself with alarming frequency. And Precious gets an earful too, though for some reason that seems legitimate to me. Like he is a valid conversationalist.
These one-way thought streams are not riveting conversations either. More like:
“Don’t forget to write the [way you were feeling] about the [thing that happened] down. You won’t forget that will you?”
I will repeat this to myself for a mile or so, figuring the repetition will brand it on my brain, but then I’ll forget it somehow. I’ll start talking to myself about something else. Or I’ll round a bend and see a hill downward-facing-dogging itself before me and say out loud “Oh, you are kidding”, or something equally whiny.
I’m not cut out for this. This solitary existence where the only person I talk to with any frequency is myself. And my bike. But I can’t dwell on this for now. I have a day to get through and this day holds some Ozarks proper. What that means exactly, I don’t know, but apparently I’m to be stabbed repeatedly in the legs around Alley Spring. So. There’s always that.
But that’s still hours away and right now all I have is this rolling canvas toasting with the mid-morning sun. Hammer, hammer down, then hammer gear shift, hammer, gear shift, stand and the don’t-make-it-every-time-but-nearly-every-time routine.
Winding roads and sudden fast downhills. Then up again. Through forrest and flats, up hills and over dales.
A few of these blighters are just too steep to roll all the way over even with a great run up, so I stand on the gear until the last possible second when I realize the truth and quickly clip out. So close to the top at times that it literally takes 3 or 5 steps to get there as I push. Frustration gives way to elation as I’m immediately rewarded with a downhill.
Fast, fast down I go. Trucks fly up and I am very wary at their approach as I get wings, knowing their gusty temperaments tend to make mine wobble a little.
I stop at a bridge and gaze into a wide expanse of green river. Linger. Drink slowly from a bottle and imagine myself in a canoe and breaking the skate-able surface with my paddle. But my canoe is getting restless here, it’s obvious I’m delaying, so I pull my bravado right up next to me and get it to tell me to move on.
A slow climb up a hill. The first stab on the map and it’s not so bad. Surprisingly good actually. I take a break at the side of the road and eat a little tin of peaches with the spoon I now keep in my back pocket for such occasions. Well, if that’s what they’re all like, I think, that’s not so bad. Somewhere in the back of my pea brain, I know that this is the thought of a ego in denial.
We are, after all, in Ozarks National Scenic Riverways. Or as they are now known, Ozarks National Janeen Slaughterways.
The giant sky, decorated here and there with lace-like white, crushes down on me. It’s trying to prepare me by making me feel small. It need not bother. I’m tiny as a cricket on a highway.
I grizzle up a hill into Eminence. Don’t even pause. I think it’s best to get this day over and done with as soon as possible, and the more stops I make, the less likely that is. It’s a sad decision because things start to progressively get worse for me. My legs are being little girls and my brain just isn’t in the mood for positivity today.
Could have something to do with the sudden increase in canoe-laden traffic. Cars with awkward fiberglass or plastic passengers strapped to their roofs buzz by. I stop again, at the top of a hill just outside Eminence, and stuff handfuls of trail mix into my mouth. Mix up a bottle of Nuun. Delay. Avoid.
Alley Springs is exactly where it happens. Alley Springs is where I became truly discouraged and am forced to battle with my brain in an old-fashioned bare-knuckled brawl. I can tell this is the hub of it all. The canoe rentals, the shady rest area with fancy toilet (foot pedal flush!), and inviting picnic area.
Just after this area, it goes up. A hill.
I don’t climb this hill. This hill climbs me. An attempt is made to stick at it. To stay in my granny and just persevere. But I can’t do this for long and I just give up. Decide it’s just not worth killing myself for in this heat. Too long at too high a grade and I will give up before it does. So I walk. Take my licks and just walk. Stop. Walk. Stop.
It takes me a long time to get to the top, but like all hills, it’s behind me now. As long as it stays there and they all stay there, I’m fine.
It takes a little while for my enthusiasm to come back, but it’s given a big jolt when I round a bend and there is a magical view of the Ozark riverways. Panoramic even. It says to me “I know you’re tired, but I bet even you will stop and take a photograph.”
True. I will. And what’s more, this seems like an Everest moment. Views mean triumph and so victory poses must be captured. Precious gets a few, then I take some of us together. It’s too bright to see if they’re any good in the tiny LCD screen, the sun robs me of this confirmation, but I have a sense that they’re keepers.
With one last glance at the view, I turn my gaze toward the next climb. It is immediate, but over quickly and things settle down a bit after that. I can just ride and roll and make it through.
It’s not long after lunch when I roll into Summerville and make the decision that I’m done for the day. Short day. Why not? I turn towards the shops and a soda machine beckons me from in front of the grocery store. As I stand there drinking it, I watch the sheriff chatting with a local further down the street. Cars amble by. It is quiet.
A woman comes out of the grocery store and goes to get in her pick up.
“Where you going with that thing?” she asks.
I tell her.
You toothless, I think. But I don’t say it. I laugh a quiet laugh and say some dumb thing and she laughs and is gone. Crazy. Pft. I’m not crazy. Although there is that talking to myself thing. And I think Precious is a real live person. But I don’t think that’s what she was referring to.
There’s a sign pointing in the direction of an inn. It’s not the name of the inn that I’m looking for, but when I find it, it’s not called the name I have either. Both the sign and my maps are talking about the same place.
Rose’s Green Roof Inn. I can tell it is going to be special.
As I pull in to the dirt driveway, a woman walking across it and to the office door says hello.
Jauntily and with a little too much joy at having stopped for the day, I enquire as to a room. We enter the office to negotiate.
“It’s $30,” she says, before adding “Cash only”
Cheapest. Hotel. Ever. I’ve got a good feeling about the decor already.
It does not let me down. Sparse and simple. The bedspread is to die for, green and fake felt and adorned with black bears. The mattress on the bed is like one you get at camp. Ready for accidents in the night and slippery even with sheets on it. One pillow looks weird and I pick it up. Compression foam. Methinks it hath been compressed one-too-many times.
But I don’t care. The shower works, it cost $30 and I have a fantastic view of a truck stop.
After my economy shower, I grab my notebook and pen and mosey on to the Trails End restaurant. As I burst through the saloon doors, the piano player stops and everyone turns and stares. Actually no, that doesn’t happen. No piano. And there are only two other customers in here anyway.
A waitress pops by my booth with a girl in tow. It’s the girl’s first day on the job and she’s learning the ropes, asking a lot of questions and being treated to the wisdom of the old hand.
Sandwich ordered and a giant Dr. Pepper on the way, I gaze out the open window next to my booth and let the breeze tickle my freshly showered face.
“Do you always bring ‘em a straw?” I hear the girl ask behind me as they bring the drink over together.
The food is passable, and I hang out writing well after the other two customers have left. The afternoon starts to die. I should really go and type some stuff up, but I’ll be back. Around 5.30. That’s the time I heard the lady tell the new girl that it ‘gets real busy’. I’ve noticed a lot of restaurants close at 8 in these small towns, so I’m learning to eat early.
Back at the inn, I sit out in front of my room on a plastic chair with my laptop and tippety type. There’s a little chill to the air but it feels fresh and good. Every now and then I look up to watch a car pass lazily by and think, this is a really small town.
When I go back to the Trails End for dinner, the restaurant is packed with four customers. The pool table looks longingly over at them. A bored fan whirls.
“Sit anywhere?” I ask, without irony. I go for the same booth I had earlier and order the special from the girl who’s flying solo now. Thrown in the deep end on her first night. She’s polite, energetic and excited.
She even brings me a straw.
Date: August 25, 2010
From: Ellington, MO
To: Summersville, MO
Distance: 46.88 miles
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