Monday, August 10, 2009

Days 8 and 9

I hate to admit it, but I'm a little behind on my blogging. I have had a lot less time to type in the past few days, so I hope you'll bear with me as I get it all put into the computer.

Here are a few entries to keep you going until I can get more writing done.

My Aunt Shelley says that waiting for my blog posts to appear reminds her of waiting for J.K. Rowling to publish the next Harry Potter books. While I appreciate that compliment (she's a little biased, I think), I also know the feeling she's talking about, and will do my best to get this thing up to date in the next few days.

Day 8 of Phase 2
August 2, 2009
Jefferson City to Marthasville, MO
65.5 Miles
Weather: Bright and Sunny!
Where we slept: Relax Inn Motel, Warrenton, MO

In the comfort of my cousin Ryan’s house, we slept in far past our alarms, and woke up to the smell of coffee, pancakes, and eggs on the stove. It sure is nice to be with family!

We spent a good little while updating the blog, checking email, and doing the general putzing around that happens when we get too comfortable in our surroundings. But eventually, it was well past time to hit the trail, so we hugged Brian and loaded into the car at 11am.

When we reached the trailhead, we spent a few minutes debating which direction was East: Dad was just sure we had come from the one direction last night, and we were pretty darn sure that the same direction was where we were headed today. Ryan and I ended up being right (Dad was parked the opposite direction last night so I can see how he got confused.

There wasn’t a spigot anywhere to fill up our big five-gallon water cooler, but Ryan found a rouge drinking fountain that shot water in an impressive 5-foot arch—dangerous to the unsuspecting thirsty cyclist, but perfect for filling a cooler.

Way back in Yellowstone, my cousin Adam told me to look forward to the wineries along the Katy Trail. I had circled Hermann, MO on my map weeks ago, and today was the day that I would pass through.

With that in mind, Ryan and I high-tailed it down the path, discussing everything from James Earl Ray to the Great Divide Basin to the watershed of the Great Lakes. You’d be amazed the things that come up when you have that much time to chat with a person!

Around midday, we found ourselves at a little rest stop called Steamboat Junction; a campsite/refreshment stand/farm that wasn’t even on the Katy Trail map. Dan and Sandra Bends run the snack shop out of a little stand they had built right next to the trail, selling sodas and snacks and most importantly, snow cones, to the hungry trail-riders.

We chatted for a while before I noticed the sign on the refrigerator that said:

Since our concession stand is only open weekends, we have a few items for self-service in the old refrigerator. Please leave your money in, and take your change from the blue dish on the counter. Put bills in the campsite ‘check-in’ slot. If you need help, you can pick up the walkie-talkie and radio on over to the house.

Not many people run a business that way anymore, and I tell you what, it’s sure a breath of fresh air. Dan and Sandra’s house was called “Steamboat Junction” because it was built out of wood salvaged from the wreck of the steamboat Clara, which had sunk in the Missouri river nearby in 1870. It was a beautiful little corner of the world, and Ryan and I left sporting blue-raspberry smiles.

We rolled on, so eager to get to the Hermann wineries that we didn’t even notice the giant black snake laying across the path, which Ryan rolled over before he even knew what happened. I never saw the thing, but Ryan and I both turned around to see if the snake was okay (in hindsight, not the smartest thing to do, in case the snake was okay and just royally ticked off). We retraced our path for about 50 yards, but saw no snake or anything else. Hopefully, no serious damage was done.

It was nearly 5pm when we got to McKittrick, the town right across the Missouri River from Hermann. Standing at the trailhead, trying to navigate by a not-so-detailed map of the area, was a tall, bronzed brunette, with the muscular legs and lycra shorts of a true cycle-tourist. She was leaning on a fully loaded bike, so we obviously struck up a conversation.

Mary is from Southwestern Virginia, and has enough spitfire energy to win over any stranger she meets as she travels solo across the country. She is just this side of a few major life changes (a big breakup, a shake-up at work) and decided that this trip was just the thing she needed to get things sorted out in her life.

We were very much ready for dinner, and hoped to get into Hermann across the river before the wineries closed. Mary rode her bike over the bridge to meet us at a restaurant for dinner. She was spending the night at a church there in Hermann.

Ryan and I locked our bikes up at the trailhead, and Dad picked us up in the van, driving us to a restaurant that he had scouted out. It turns out, the wineries closed 5 minutes before we got into town. So we did the next best thing, and went to a little pub that served both local beer and wine.

Just as we pulled up to the restaurant, a man of about 60 came running up to us out of nowhere. “Get off the streets!” he shouted. “That pretty young lady needs to end her bike trip right now! It isn’t safe! The riots start tomorrow night at 5!”

“Riots?” I said. “What riots are you talking about?”

“They found it! Obama’s REAL birth certificate! He’s a KENYAN. I knew it all along! He’s been faking this whole time. He’s from Mumbasi or whatever. He’s a MUMBASIAN! The real birth certificate is signed and sealed by the tribal chief and everything! No doubt about it, it’s the REAL THING!”

“Oh yeah, sure. You’re full of it,” said Mary, laughing unabashedly in this guy’s face.

“No really! Federal hearings being tomorrow in California to get him out of office! The riots start tomorrow! It’s all over Fox News! They can’t stop talking about it!”

At that point, we all laughed a little bit. “I’ll bet Fox News really is all over THAT news,” Ryan said.
“Do you know what this MEANS???? Everything he’s signed since he’s been in office is NULL and VOID! Can you believe it? The stimulus package, tax plan, and HEALTHCARE. ALL NULL AND VOID!!!”

Just then, I breathed a sigh of relief. For a minute or two, I actually entertained the idea that maybe someone had turned up a birth certificate somewhere. The guy was sane enough and believed what he was saying just enough to sound almost convincing. But unless I had missed some seriously major news in the past few weeks, I knew that Obama hadn’t signed any healthcare legislation, and this guy was probably just a little crazier than I initially thought.

We left the Birther out on the street, walking in and out of storefronts to announce the news about the upcoming spontaneous riot he was planning. Once inside, we asked the bartender to turn on the news for us, just to make sure that all was well in the universe. NBC nightly news was talking about missing Americans in Iran, and assuming that Obama’s birth certificate would be the lead news story, we all breathed a sigh of relief.

In an adventurous mood, we ordered crawdads and frog legs to start off the meal, which were new flavors for several of us around the table. We sipped local beer and swapped stories, Mary suggesting to Ryan that what he really ought to do is ride a horse, not a bike, up to Michigan to propose to his girlfriend. I guess riding 2000 miles on a bike isn’t quite epic enough.

An hour or two later, we said farewell to the lovely Mary, happy to have met yet another special soul out on the road. I was a little anxious about the time, knowing that dark would fall sooner than we were ready.

We rode another 20 or 30 miles after dinner, Ryan absolutely loving riding at dusk. The sun set gloriously behind us, the crickets and gnats came out to play, and we did our best to dodge the dozens of little frogs hopping out of our way on the trail. (The old video game FROGGER came to mind.)

When we arrived in Marthasville, it was completely dark. Thanks to the super-powered headlight Aunt Ellen bought me, we had been able to ride safely away from traffic on the bike trail.

In town, we were told by Ann the paramedic that we were free to camp in the park by the trail, but there was no running water at the trailhead, and she unfortunately couldn’t let us use the shower at the EMS station in case she was called out on an emergency. Instead, we parked our bikes in the EMS station behind the ambulances, saving ourselves the headache of unpacking and repacking the van—a big ordeal with two bikes to think about.

Dad had found us a discounted hotel room just north of Marthasville along the interstate in Warrenton, so we fired up the GPS, and were once again so grateful to have Dad and the van on hand. I certainly don’t take it for granted that he’s here…but I did have a moment when I realized just how spoiled I’ve become, choosing to drive to a hotel instead of just camping right at the trailhead. In fairness, I did have about 3000 gnats stuck in the sweat on my arms, legs, and face. A shower just sounded so nice!

Our room at the Relax Inn smelled of mold and curry (the latter slightly making up for the former), and the hot water suddenly shut off in the middle of each shower. But there were three big double beds in a row (something I’ve never seen before), and Shark Week kept us more than entertained.

One more day, one more adventure, and one more night of the deepest sleep.

Day 9 of Phase 2
August 3, 2009
Marthasville, MO to the St. Louis Arch
About 60 miles
Weather: Just another Sticky-Hot St. Louis Summer Day
Where we slept: Aunt Shelley’s House, Granite City, IL

This morning, our alarms tried to wake us up before 7:30, but our comfortable beds kept us snoring until just past 8:30. The great thing about having a support vehicle and a hotel room is that getting ready in the morning takes a LOT less time. We left just as the clock rolled over to 9.

Of course, we couldn’t hit the trail without a decent breakfast and coffee, so we pulled over at the Waffle House before leaving town.

It was just the kind of smoke-filled dive diner we’ve learned to love on this trip: A juke box played truly terrible tween pop while the short-order cook-in-training did his best not to burn our waffles and keep up with the instructions of all four waitresses.

After several cups of coffee and greasy goodness we got on the road—making one quick stop at Radio Shack to buy new batteries for my SPOT personal tracker.

The night before, our friend Ann the Paramedic told us about a preserved slave cabin in the heart of town, which allowed visitors to see the actual shackles and whipping posts used during the antebellum period. We did our best to find them in town, but didn’t have much success before finding ourselves back at the EMS station. Taking it as a sign, we gave up our search for the slave cabin, and retrieved our bikes from Buddy, the other paramedic now on duty.

A few minutes later, we were back on the Katy Trail, but were soon detoured once again by a sign leading us to Daniel Boone’s original gravesite. To be perfectly honest, none of us could really explain exactly who Boone was or why he was famous, but we knew the name well enough to make a point of visiting his family cemetery.

The old brass memorial that had stood over Boone’s grave for almost 100 years was stolen this year by a methamphetamine addict looking to sell scrap metal for drugs. A new, polished granite marker took its place, having been dedicated just a week ago by the Daughters of the American Revolution. Supposedly, Boone and his wife had been moved at some point in the 20th century to a new gravesite in Kentucky, but local lore suggested that two slaves had been buried overtop of Boone and his wife, and that it was their remains that had been moved, not Mastuh and Missus B.

Several historical markers along the Katy Trail told us more about Boone’s life, and left me with the general impression that he was a man elevated to mythological status over the years, but whose real story was a lot more morally ambiguous. Such is history recorded by the victors of wars.

Ryan and I had reached the point at which we were comfortable enough with each other to just ride in silence, which we did for many of the miles today. As we approached St. Louis, just a few miles before it was time to leave the Katy Trail for good, something broke our silence:

Riding side by side, about a foot apart, Ryan and I were both startled by a squirrel darting across the path. It crossed Ryan’s path first, (he rode on my left), and being quite alarmed itself, tried to dash forward on the path to stay out of our way. The little guy was just fast enough to keep up with our bikes, but couldn’t outrun us, and so ran for about five seconds in between our two bikes, looking back and forth at the four massive whirring wheels on either side of him.

Looking for an out, the little guy took a very brave yet poorly judged kamikaze dive in between my wheels, and my heart leapt into my throat as I felt my rear wheel roll over his little body.


“DID THAT REALLY JUST HAPPEN???” I shouted at Ryan. “No way that just happened. Oh my GOODNESS is he OKAY???”

I was so horrified that I couldn’t turn around and look. Ryan assured me that he saw the squirrel get up and run off the path, sure that I hadn’t killed it. But then he saw just how horrified I was and couldn’t help twisting the knife just a little bit:

“I’m sure you didn’t kill it. You probably only broke it’s jaw. He’ll likely die a slow, excruciating death in the forest now, starving because he can’t chew.”

Attempting to look somewhat cool about it, I tried to laugh as he continued making me feel guilty. But secretly, I thought that if Ryan didn’t shut up about the squirrel, he was going to have his own broken jaw to worry about.

About three miles from the eastern terminus of the Katy Trail, we climbed up a couple of switchbacks to the main highway to cross the Missouri River on the 364 pedestrian bridge into Maryland Heights. Our bike path took us parallel to a major traffic artery of the city, and Dad had a hard time following us. Eventually, we came to a lakeside restaurant (closed on Mondays, of course) where Dad was able to find us in the parking lot and replenish our bottles and bellies.

From that point, we had to kind of wing it to find our way through the city. Ryan and I laughed as Dad tried to get directions from the only two people around—a pair of 14-year-old-girls on their bicycles. They, like, didn’t like know exactly where we should like, GO, but they thought like maybe Dad should just like, read the map.

The next lady we met was slightly more helpful, directing us into town via Olive Ave, which took us right downtown into Forest Park. However, she swore to us that the road wasn’t too busy, and most certainly had a shoulder the whole way, neither of which was even remotely true.

Ryan remarked that it was one of the more stressful cycling experiences he had ever had, not being particularly experienced in city cycling. But we made it though town safely, stopping just outside of Forest Park to meet up with Dad.

For those of you who don’t know, St. Louis is like a second home to me. For the past several summers, I have worked as an actor at the St. Louis MUNY in Forest Park. The MUNY is the nation’s oldest and largest outdoor theatre, producing several musicals every summer for thousands and thousands of patrons every night. (The theatre holds over 10,000 people, and is a pretty impressive sight on Google Earth.)

I’ve done eight different shows with the MUNY, living for several weeks at a time with my Aunt Shelley in nearby Granite City, Illinois. This is the first summer in years that I haven’t done a show with them (I even took a break from my time in Nicaragua last summer to come perform in THE PRODUCERS), and so all summer I have been looking forward to riding my bike onto the lot and visiting with the cast and crew, and then visiting Shelley’s family in Granite City.

One of my favorite things about St. Louis is IMO’s Pizza—a very different kind of pizza made with a super-thin crust and provel cheese. I love it so much that my Mom has even considered mailing me a frozen IMO’s pizza on my birthday.

So just before we got to Forest Park (St. Louis’ version of Central Park, only 1.5 times the size), we took a quick pit stop in the parking lot of Taco Bell on Skinker and Olive to meet up with Dad. He had stopped at an IMO’s along the way and picked up a pizza for lunch. As soon as I saw the box, I said, “Oh no! Shelley always gets IMO’s on my first night in town! She’s not going to know what to do if I have IMO’s for lunch beforehand!”

Knowing that some people hate IMO’s as much as I love it, I prepped Ryan for the new culinary experience, and was relieved to find that he really quite liked it. Phew. Hope he doesn’t mind having it for dinner, too!

To make the most of my visit to the MUNY, I wanted to arrive just as rehearsal was getting out around six. Showman that I am, I shamelessly loaded all of my gear onto my bike: After months of imagining what it would be like to show up at the MUNY and say, “Oh, I just rode my bike here from Seattle…no biggie,” it seemed very anti-climatic to have all of my gear sitting in Dad’s minivan.

Ryan felt silly riding unloaded next to me, so he loaded up too. Guess my dramatic side is a little contagious.

Together we rode onto the lot, and I wasn’t disappointed by the surprised looks on everyone’s faces. It was so wonderful to reconnect with old friends, and even more so to see their reactions when I told them what I’ve been doing all summer.

I took Ryan out on the stage to show him just how big the MUNY really is. He had a hard time believing that I have performed in front of that many people before.

We spent about an hour and a half on the lot, but it was the busiest time of the week: HAIRSPRAY, their final show of the summer, was opening in just a few hours. So I hugged people as quickly as I could, and promised to be back the following night to see the show.

Ryan and I rode the rest of the afternoon with our gear on the bikes, remarking how many more opportunities we had to talk to folks about our trip when they saw our loaded bikes.

We cycled through downtown St. Louis, stopping on Market Street near the Old Court House to stop and take our photos with the Arch. (If you get too close, you can’t get the arch in the shot, because it is so big!)

Taking our sweet time to soak up the glory of it all, we each rolled underneath the arch—the gateway to the west (and I guess, the east, too!)—as the sun set through the windows of the court house behind us. It was pretty darn cool. Take THAT Lewis and Clark!

Ryan borrowed my phone to call his girlfriend for the first time in a few days, and I surveyed the Mississippi River and all of the excited faces around me. I looked over and saw Dad a hundred meters away, lying directly underneath the center of the arch, talking to Mom on the phone.

It was a perfect place to call it a day, and so we rolled our bikes down to the parking lot by the river, and started loading up into the van. It’s only a few short miles to Shelley’s house from the arch, but it isn’t a great idea to cycle through East St. Louis after sunset.

As we were loading up, we were horrified to witness a father screaming at his eight-year-old son in the parking lot. It isn’t worth going into the details now, but suffice it to say there was obvious abuse going on—mental, emotional, and even physical. It was bad enough that I had to physically restrain Dad from going over there and getting involved.

Sometimes you can doubt whether you are just witnessing horrible parenting, or true abuse. Our society teaches us not to meddle in our neighbor’s business, especially in family affairs. But other times, your gut tells you just how wrong the situation is, and so I wrote down the license plate number of the car he was driving, and made a point of calling family services. I don’t know if it will do any good at all, but as I reported the details to the person on the phone, they affirmed my decision to say something.

On a lighter note, it only took us about 15 minutes to drive to Aunt Shelley’s house, where Ryan’s friend Shay was waiting to pick him up and take him to her place nearby. They stayed for another round of IMO’s pizza (AMAZING!), and chatted with us well into the evening.

It was like coming home to arrive at Shelley’s: I have spent so much time there that I felt like I could really let my hair down. Everyone is just the same as last summer, except Tommy has grown another 4 or 5 inches (he’s over 6’8” now, I’d guess), and Mary has painted her bedroom blue. We didn’t stay up too late, as we are often wont to do, because the cycling really took it out of me today.

I slept so soundly in my usual summer bed, I hardly even noticed Dad’s snoring.

No comments: