Sunday, August 2, 2009

Phase 2 Day 5-7

Day 5 of Phase 2
July 30, 2009
Rest Day in Gravois Mills, MO
Weather: Overcast and warm
Where we slept: Aunt Ellen’s lake house

After a late night of reminiscing, engaging in deep theological banter and wine, we woke up this morning a little groggy, wishing for a few more hours in the sack. But we had promised Amy at the Westside Star Newspaper that we would show up at the office around 10am to take a photo.

So we did our best to pull ourselves together over coffee and LIFE cereal, and made it down to the newspaper office just after 10. We had done most of the interview yesterday, so we only spent about 5 minutes with Amy at the newspaper. I asked her to make sure to mention World of Wheels bike shop in her article, since they had taken such good care of me the day before.

On our way home, we stopped in at the Central Bank where my Uncle Rob works to say hello. He was having a rough day, dealing with more than a few impatient customers, so we did our best to offer him a little comic relief before heading out.

After running an errand or two, we drove to the Kidwell Care Center in Versailles, where a couple of Ellen’s church members lived. Being a minister in the community, Ellen was a familiar face around the center, and so we walked right on in to the assisted living wing of the building. Halfway down the hall, a woman in a motor scooter exclaimed, “Shoot! I’m out of batteries! Good GOSH, when this thing gets low, it sure runs out fast!”

We stopped in to visit Eileen McKinley, a 95-year-young firecracker of a lady that had belonged to Ellen’s church for ages. Eileen’s son and his wife were visiting, and gave us a tour of Eileen’s artwork that decorated the walls of the room. She is a remarkable painter—cats being her favorite subject. She had painted ceramic plates and remarkable oil portraits. Quite the perfectionist, Eileen could hardly stand to look at one of her current projects—a portrait of a little Andean girl with a small puppy by her side. The painting was being taken from a photo, and the likeness was museum quality. But Eileen was frustrated as all get out by the little puppy peeking out from behind the girl. Dad suggested that she get out her eraser and paint a cat there instead. Eileen liked that idea a lot.

Eileen is a musician, and loves to play country music on the organ she keeps in her room. Unfortunately, she suffered from a stroke three or four years ago, and only had the use of her right hand anymore, so playing the organ was less-than-satisfying for her. I asked her if she wouldn’t mind collaborating with me to play a duet then—with her playing the right hand part and I the left. It took a little bit of convincing, but once we were got ourselves parked at the piano, we went to town.

She apologized several times for her poor eyesight, claiming that she couldn’t read the music that well, while playing a note-perfect rendition of “America the Beautiful” together with me. Our first verse ended on a sour note (I called it the Blues version) so we went one more round, singing as we played. In the end I think we were both pretty proud of our musical collaboration.

Lunch was getting started, so we let Eileen and her family get down to the dining room. Ellen, Dad and I left the nursing home feeling pretty uplifted by our visit. Musical collaboration has a bonding effect unlike any other activity I’ve known.

We were getting pretty hungry ourselves, so we drove about an hour to Osage Beach, where my friend Jessi is working for the summer. She was volunteering in Nicaragua at the same time that I was, and I hadn’t seen her in a year. It’s always a strange experience seeing someone in such a wildly different context than the last time that you were together.

Jessi juggled all ten tables, including our own, and still found enough time to stop by and chat with me from time to time. Still, we had so much catching up to do, I insisted that she come by Ellen’s house after work to just sit on the dock and chat.

We drove back to Gravois Mills, and I immediately passed out on the futon. I was so tired, I didn’t even know how much time had passed before I woke up to the sound of Uncle Rob and Dad carrying furniture into the garage. Rob and Ellen were buying a new bed, and to my wonderment, had taken the pontoon boat across the river to pick it up! I hopped out of bed, and lent a hand unloading the boat and carrying the mattress up to the garage.

After a hearty steak dinner at the house, we went out for one last boat ride as the day slipped away into night. The lake is so calm in the late evening hours: It feels like you’re the only people out there. We watched the sun slip away and the stars emerge, waving to families sitting in their backyards and laughing around campfires.

We got back to the house around 10pm, and got out Rob’s telescope to peek at the clear night sky. Rob showed us the craters of the moon, and even found Jupiter shining brightly in the east. Through the telescope, you could even see four of Jupiter’s moons orbiting the massive planet.

Jessi arrived after work at about 10:30, and we stayed up well past 2 am. We sat on the dock watching a meteor shower, huddled under a big towel on the porch swing, drinking beer. It was so wonderful to see her, having shared so many ups and downs together during our time in Nicaragua. Sometimes, the best friends are those to whom you have no need to explain things, and Jessi is one of those friends.

We knew it was time for bed when we heard Dad’s snores drifting all the way down to the lake. We tip-toed back to the house, and crawled into the two futons that Ellen and Dad had gotten ready for each of us.

Day 6 of Phase 2
July 31, 2009
Montrose to Sedalia, MO on the Katy Trail
60 miles
Weather: 82 and blue skies for ages
Where we slept: Missouri State Fairgrounds, Sedalia, MO

Today, it was time to say goodbye to Ellen and Rob, who had been so very good to us during our time in Lake of the Ozarks. Jessi stayed for breakfast this morning, Rob already having left for work early in the morning. We had bacon and eggs and sweet rolls and coffee—all of the essential ingredients to woo me out of bed after another night short on sleep.

Jessi left for work around 9:30, and then I spent the next hour or so packing up all my odds and ends into the van. As we said goodbye to Ellen, we commented once again how refreshing it is to spend time with extended family one-on-one, outside the typical stress of the family reunion environment.

We drove the hour and a half back to Montrose while trying in vain to have a phone conversation with my mom. We kept going in and out of service, but for some reason we kept on trying.

A few miles from Montrose, a little town called Tightwad, Missouri popped up on our GPS system, so a detour was clearly in order. We stopped in at the tourist center (a gas station) and took pictures at the Tightwad Bank. It’s pretty impressive for a town of 63 to have their own bank.

We got to Montrose around noon, and went right back to the bar where I had called it quits on Tuesday afternoon. It took slightly longer than normal to get all my gear in place and get on the road, since the two days off had resulted in a less-than-organized support van.

I drew more than a few funny glances from the old-timers who were getting an early start on their weekend at the bar. They stepped out of their red pickup trucks in their denim overalls and muttered, “What in God’s name?” under their breath.

By 12:30, I was on the road, with a little lead in my shorts after too much time off and too little sleep. I got to Clinton, MO, where the Katy Trail starts, around 3:30.

One of my dear Nicaraguan friends just so happens to be working in Warrensburg, Missouri this summer, a short drive from Clinton. So we took yet another break, tossing the bike in the van and driving about 30 miles for dinner.

He was so happy to be living there, and it was a beautiful thing to see such a dear friend from Nicaragua on the same day I got to see Jessi. It’s making me itch to go back for a reunion visit.

We got back to Clinton around 5:30, and took a few pictures at the trailhead of Katy Trail State Park. The trail is a converted railroad line (the Missouri-Kansas-Texas line), and will carry me traffic-free all the way to St. Louis. Way cool.

The ride was beautiful for the 35 miles into Sedalia. All around the trail, trees arch overhead, offering a welcome relief to the sun’s blazing heat.

I saw hardly a soul on the trail the whole evening, save one Amish man working in his fields. I shouted to him the only phrase I know in Pennsylvania Dutch: “Bie vist du?” – “How ya doin’?” –and relished the surprised and pleased look on his face that an obviously not-Amish kid wearing lycra on a bike had greeted him thusly.

I crossed paths with loads of wildlife. I wish I were more adept at identifying bird species, because today the trail was just vibrating with color and life. However I can pretty confidently identify the family of wild turkeys I saw running down the path away from me: The mama, papa, and seven baby turkeys couldn’t figure out how to escape the tunnel of trees, and so just continued to fly straight on ahead of me for several hundred yards.

By the time I reached Sedalia, it was quite dark. Thankfully, the new headlight that Aunt Ellen bought me illuminated the whole trail. Unfortunately, that meant I could see all of the giant black flies, gnats, and spider webs flying at me, like some twisted version of Guitar Hero.

I decided that riding my bike in the woods alone after dark was neither fun, nor a good idea, even though there was no traffic to consider.

I found Dad in Sedalia at the Missouri State Fairgrounds, which was packed with 4-H and Future Farmers of America folks, getting ready for a big equestrian event tomorrow. It took us a while, but eventually we found a corner of the lot that seemed appropriate for tent camping.

There was already another cycle tourist there—the first we’ve seen since getting back on the road Sunday. I was so excited to swap stories and see where he was going, but he was sitting zipped up in his tent, reading with a flashlight. (I knew he was a cycle-tourist by the loaded bike leaning on the tree next to his tent.)

I didn’t feel right walking up to a guy camping alone in his tent and probably scaring him out of his mind, so I just set up my tent near his and stretched, hoping he would come out on his own before too long. In hindsight, that sounds just as creepy.

Regardless, it wasn’t long before I met Ryan, who was cycling from his home near Austin, TX, to Kalamazoo, MI, to visit “a very special girl.” He just graduated medical school, and instead of starting his residency right away, decided to take a year off and do adventurous stuff like a cycle tour.

Being that he was the first cyclist we’ve met, and we’re carrying a car full of snacks and treats for just such an occasion, we may have gotten a little over excited and shoved too many candy bars at Ryan. But I think he understood, and graciously accepted our gifts.

I cleaned up in the semi-sketchy locker-room showers at the fairgrounds, and headed to bed to write this journal. Before hitting the sack, Ryan and I decided to ride together for a bit tomorrow, to add a little camaraderie to our very solitary days on the bike.

Day 7 of Phase 2
August 1, 2009
Sedalia to Jefferson City, MO on the Katy Trail
86 miles
Weather: Chilly, Rainy morning, sunny cool afternoon
Where we slept: Cousin Brian’s House, Fulton, MO

I woke up just before my alarm this morning at 6:58, to the sound of a few raindrops falling on my tent. It’s always the hardest to get yourself out of bed when you know that a rainy sky awaits you on the other side of the tent flap.

Nonetheless, I was eager to get on the trail and enjoy riding another day traffic-free. Dad packed up our tent, while I fired up the ol’ camp stove and cooked a big pot full of grits and oatmeal. It would have been a lot tastier if I could have found the honey, but Dad and Ryan didn’t complain too much.

An old man in a pickup with a cigarette hangin’ off his lips drove up around 7:05, eager to collect the $10 camping fee from both Ryan and us. Ryan was in the shower at the moment, so the old geezer told Dad, “You tell that young man I’ll be back to see him.”

Ryan got settled up and we were on the road just before 8am. It was raining pretty steadily, but a pretty solid canopy of trees covered the trail. We made darn good time for the first couple of hours, as the trail was pretty empty and we didn’t have to worry about carrying our gear or avoiding traffic.

On our way out of Sedalia, we biked past a house whose backyard butted right up to the trail. The owners must have been a witty, whimsical crew, as they had a display of punny things displayed on the trail. A tiny chair and a rocking horse were each mounted on a 12-foot tall pole, with signs reading, “High Horse” and “High Chair.” We chuckled as we rode by, until we saw a big wooden box labeled “Baby Rattlers.” Our curiosity got the better of us (at this moment I took the opportunity to explain to Ryan what a “Mary Moment” is) and we turned around to investigate. You had to get really close to see through the wire mesh into the box…which contained several toy rattles that babies play with. It was enough to keep me smiling for several more miles.

Just outside of Sedalia, the Katy trail got a little confusing. A sign directed us off the old railroad path, and had us follow a painted trail on the road through the neighborhoods, where it eventually dead-ended at a “T” in the road. We stopped, confused, and waited for a car to pass so that we could ask for directions. A pickup truck approached with an old man wearing a ball cap and smoking a cigarette (not the tax collector from the fairground, but probably his brother) and I tried to flag him down, sort of standing in his way in the road.

“Can we ask you a question?” I asked.

“I need to turn there,” he replied.

“Right. Well we’re lost. Can you tell us where the Katy Trail picks up?”

“Down a mile, left a mile, right a mile. Now I need to turn there,” he grunted, without skipping a beat.
His directions were a lot better than his demeanor, and we got back on track before too long.

A few miles up the trail, we met another cycle tourist, riding from New York to the West Coast. Michael was a researcher for IBM originally from Switzerland. It was really nice to have someone coming from the other direction that could tell us about trail conditions up ahead. We talked for a solid 45 minutes or so before parting ways.

Ryan and I both thoroughly enjoyed having someone to talk while riding for the first time in a while. It’s amazing the topics you can cover when you’re riding side-by-side for nearly 12 hours. You would never sit with a near stranger in a café or a bar for 12 hours, learning each other’s life story, but cycle touring is a whole different world.

I learned that Ryan was headed to Michigan for a bigger reason than to just visit his girlfriend: He was on his way there to propose to her. (I suspected as much, but waited until he spilled the beans.) We talked all about his plan for the proposal, and I even referred him to a jeweler friend of ours to help him design a special something for his gal.

We had heard all about the old Katy Bridge over the Missouri that we were going to cross, and when we got to Boonesville, we marveled at the giant Iron truss bridge across the river. But unfortunately the drawbridge portion of the bridge was in the up position, and we had to cross on the very boring highway bridge upriver.

On the other side, we met up with my dad, and a 68-year-old cyclist who announced that he had just ridden 60 miles, and had 38 more to go, with all the gusto and authority of an army colonel.

We rode past foxes, indigo buntings, hawks, and deer. The Katy Trail runs alongside a beautiful bluff on the east, and wetlands and cornfields on the right. At one point, we heard music drifting over the cliffs from an ambiguous direction…just enough to add an air of mystery to the place.

Ryan and I took another Mary Moment to follow a trailhead up to the Eagle Bluff Overlook—a .75 mile hike straight uphill to a little wooden platform that showed us the giant Missouri valley below. It was worth the hike, but my legs are sure gonna feel those stairs tomorrow.

We stopped for lunch at a trailside café in Rocheport, which was both café and bikeshop, run entirely by middle-aged flamboyant gay men. Certainly not something I was expecting in Central Missouri. The food was excellent, and the service more than entertaining. As we were leaving, Ryan noticed that his front tire was low, and what better place to have that happen than in front of a bike shop! We borrowed their tools and discovered that Ryan had run over a thorn. A few minutes later, we were all patched up and ready to roll again.

Just a few miles from the end of our day, we stopped for a good break at a little campsite and store called Cooper’s Landing. Cooper ran the place with the help of Ginger, who had 7 kids with her late husband, and 3 grandkids, and was pretty feisty for a self-proclaimed “old hippie.” There in the middle of nowhere, situated on the most beautiful curve of the Missouri River, they ran both a Thai restaurant and a BBQ joint, and had live music 5 nights a week. It was certainly an unexpected surprise, and Ryan and I were only able to pry ourselves away knowing that my cousin Brian was expecting us in Jefferson City later that night.

In total, we rode about 86 miles that day—more than Ryan had ever done in a single day. I was pretty proud of the both of us, as we made it in before dark, just in time to enjoy a glorious sunset over the cornfields.

We threw everything in the back of the van, and drove about 20 miles to Brian’s place in Fulton. (Fulton is infamous for housing the state penitentiary and mental hospital…neither of which are Brian’s home, just for clarification.)

Over pizza, beer, and M&M’s, we got cleaned up, ran some laundry, and enjoyed good conversation late into the night.

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