XCountry – Pt 1 (2006)

How to See the Country Without Stopping

This trip was made possible by Eisenhower and his Interstate System…

Because this trip covers so many miles and so many days, I’m going to break it up into three sections: the Journey East, the Ride North and The Return. As usual, I’ve written this for myself, so if I ramble on about seemingly insignificant details its because that’s what stuck out in my memory, and what I wanted to preserve. If there’s too much to read you can at least enjoy the pictures or save it for another day!

The Journey East

And the trip begins. I was to meet family and friends along the East Coast and had limited time to get there and back. This trip is about timelines, miles covered and days of indulgent relaxation.

June 7~25, 2006
7,234 miles
Map Link

It was an auspicious start to my trip. My KLR had been giving me fits somewhere along the flow of fuel, so I had let the tank get fairly dry in order to make it easier to drain when I got back from my trip to the East Coast. Unfortunately, I didn’t realize just how low the fuel level had gotten until I sputtered to a stop at the unforgiving side on the road on the Alaskan Way Viaduct on my way home from work. The plan had been to run home quickly after work, say good bye to the kitties one more time and then hop on the pre-packed GS to attend a monthly motorcycle meet, VME, that was taking place that evening. From there I would launch my Epic Tour of the Interstate System of America.

The plan was being revised whether I wanted it to be or not.

I stood at the convenient-but-rare pullover space I had stopped in and waited next to my bike. Rush hour traffic roared past me at 60+ mph. I could see that some drivers saw me too late to stop to help. It is an unforgiving road in that there is very little in way of egress, no turnarounds, and because it is elevated, there was no accessibility to the city below me. I stood a while a longer, not sure how desperate I was to frantically flag someone down. Not more than 10 minutes later a Porsche convertible pulled sharply in behind my bike. I smiled gratefully and approached the driver. I explained that I was out of gas, and he explained that he was on his way to VME. What a coincidence! He offered to take me to get some gas and return me to my bike, which I gladly accepted. I had gas in a can at my house, which was less than 5 miles away. Sitting in full gear in a convertible is interesting, but I don’t recommend it. It was a short time later that we stood by the bike, cranking the starter as the fresh fuel made its way into the carburetor. The bike roared to life, I thanked my Good Samaritan (Jim) and said I’d look him up when I got to VME. It was a quick ride home, a rushed goodbye to the kitties and then I was on the BMW, not to return home for 19 days.

The usual crowd was at VME, I saw and thanked Jim once again and at 7pm I got back on the bike to head east for a very long time. It was a quick trip out of the city and soon I was flowing over the Cascades, ever conscious of the passing time and how late I was going to be at my first stop of the evening. I post frequently to a motorcycle Internet forum (STN) and I had made arrangements to stay with an STN friend of mine who lives in Ephrata, WA, a short 170 miles along I-90. I could see that I was going to be late so I stopped to call when I was an hour away to let Travis know how far I had gotten. He, in turn, made sure that the steaks were being put on the grill just as I rolled up to the house. I met his family and we talked for a while before I retired to the guest room for the evening. I had made it out of the city and I was on my way!

My family isn’t very close physically but we do like to try to get together periodically. This vacation would be one of those times. Because of time, work and financial constraints, the majority of the family would not be able to leave the Great Lakes region, so I said I’d come to them. My sister who lives in Tennessee wouldn’t make the trip up to the Great Lakes, so I said that I’d come to see her. And the same Internet forum that was to provide me with friends to stay with along this journey was also having a National Meet in West Virginia, so I said that I’d come to that, too. It was to be a social visit, once I got there.

I had left after work on Wednesday, which left me just over two weeks to travel over 7,000 miles. In two days I was expected to stay with another STN friend of mine in Broomfield (Denver), CO, a mere 1,200 miles away as the semi flies. Travis offered to ride with me for a while when I left Ephrata that morning, showing me some back roads that were infinitely more interesting and beautiful than the standard thoroughfares. We meandered (as much as you can meander on straight farm roads) and passed through the wildlife refuge of Potholes State Park. When we came to the Columbia River we were treated to some winding roads directed by flowing rivers and dry canyons. We followed the Columbia along its great south-to-west bend and then were spit out into Oregon. I couldn’t tell you the roads we took. They were all small, mostly un-numbered routes passing by tiny farming communities or desolate rolling hills. I was wary of the time, knowing that I wanted to make it to Wyoming in time to set up camp before nightfall, but I was also enjoying my tour. When Travis and I reached I-90 in Pendleton he escorted me the last few miles as the highway rose to cross over Deadman Pass. At an overlook I pulled over to take a picture, I thanked him again and we said our goodbyes, as his turnaround exit was coming up.

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Kachess Lake (Cascades), never looking fuller

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Travis’ mascot

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An overlook off the Interstate in Oregon

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The view as provided by this overlook

Once I was on my own, I rolled on the throttle and became serious about putting on the miles. It was almost noon and I felt like I had been riding in circles all morning, despite Travis’ assurance that we had made good time. I followed the highway to the east, descending from the dry pine forests and back into wide, arid plains. The heat was mounting and I took a short break at a rest stop where I read about the Oregon Trail and its passage through this very site. I looked around at the landscape and after a bit of work of blotting out the wide, easy path that the interstate created, it was difficult to imagine hauling wagons through the steep canyons, around and over trees, all the while looking for food and water. Here I was on my 1150cc motorcycle, everything I needed packed on it, food and water available every 50 miles or so, and all I had to do to get somewhere was to twist my wrist ever-so-slightly. A lot can change in 150 years.

I reached the Idaho border without fanfare. The sky was sporting high, fluffy clouds, it was getting warmer and I still had an entire state to cross. I would periodically glance down at my map case and consider my options. I was torn between the ever-present desire for interesting back roads versus the advantage of speed and reliability of interstates. I had chosen to end my night somewhere in the southwestern corner of Wyoming, an area I had circumvented during my trip last summer through the western states, but the quandary lay in which way to get there? I stopped for a disappointing lunch in Jerome, ID. Disappointing because despite my search for a small, local café I was left with the only option of Pizza Hut. But still, lunch for $3.98 isn’t too bad. I debated my route right up to the very last minute and then peeled to the south at the junction of 84 & 86 in order to stay on the interstate and make more time.

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Eastern Oregon roads

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A buffet of fuel grades

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Darkening skies as I head south

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A textured sky

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I see rainbows more often than I should

The weather to the south did not look like it was going to welcome me. Dense and dark clouds gathered above the mountains in the distance, and I could see where the rain was sheeting down on the landscape below. A rainbow graced the mountains to my left, and darker clouds were on the right. The wind was steady and the air was cooling down slightly. An hour later I was in Utah and I could see that the storm was centered further south with flashes of lightening frequently lighting up the clouds. I wondered if I would miss the storm when I took the turn past Odgen to head east again, into Wyoming.

Lightening continued to dance in the clouds above. Sometimes it showed itself as razor-sharp daggers stabbing the earth, other times as soft bursts that lit up the clouds from behind, like a shaded 30 watt bulb. The rain started softly, but boldly. Large drops spattered across the crowded highway. I was in the metropolis of cities that hunker down along the shores of the Great Salt Lake and the number of vehicles on the roads had increased tremendously. In addition to the rain and the traffic, it was also getting dark. I focused on finding my exit, hoping that I was taking the right one, but then again, not really caring if I did. I must have taken a good one, because I found myself flying along a deep-walled canyon, wide interstate turns posted at “50 mph” and the sky was as dark as pitch. The rain had begun in earnest as I made my way up the canyon, but relented as I escaped the grasp of the Salt Lake storm. Empty threats from the thwarted storm followed me in the form of more lightening, sometimes with a streak reappearing multiple times in the same spot.

It was now fully dark, it was wet and I was in no mood to find a place to set up camp for the night. I pulled into Evanston, WY, population 11,507 and the official practice center of the Jamaican bobsled team. I stopped at the first non-chain motel I found to inquire about the price. She quoted me a rate that wasn’t extraordinary, but higher than I was hoping to get away with. I thanked her and said that I’d keep going. She suggested the Economy Inn down the street, and off I went in search of it. Just as I was to turn left into the Economy Inn’s parking lot, I spied one of my favorite things: an old-fashioned flashing neon motel sign. It was the Hilltop Motel and it was calling my name. I pulled up to the office, removed my gloves and helmet and walked up to the door. There was a homemade sign taped up on the inside. “If you’d like to rent a room for the night, please come to the tavern behind you.” I turned around and sure enough, 30’ away was a tavern, complete with blaring music and pool tables. It was after 10pm, so I wasn’t too surprised that the office wasn’t open and I crossed over the parking lot and through the open door. A young and slightly harried looking bartender greeted me with a smile as I asked her if she had a room for me. She quoted me $30 for a smoking room, which was all she had. I accepted it and unpacked the bike into a large and clean room. Well, mostly clean. Apparently the empty can of Budweiser behind the door escaped the scrutiny of the housekeeper. It had been a 13-hour day on the bike, covering 773 miles, and I was ready to sleep.

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A warm and inviting motel room

Not wanting to make every day a drudgery of interstates, I chose to visit Flaming Gorge in Wyoming/Utah on my way to my next night’s accommodations. I started out back on the interstate but was happy to jump off near Fort Bridger and take some more scenic two-lanes to the Gorge. The geology immediately began to change, offering up hues of green, red and orange rocks. The air was getting warm again as I searched each small town I passed by for two things: gas and a post office. I had a couple of post cards to send off, and I also wanted the reassurance of a full tank of gas in this environment. Unfortunately, each dot on the map represented not so much a town as a cluster of outbuildings. No gas or post in sight. Just after I passed McKinnon, my last hopeful town in Wyoming, did I spy a surprise: a post office in the middle of a field. It was merely a shed at the side of the road with a small gravel turnaround provided for those souls who frequented it, but it would take my post cards and send them on their way! Then I looked more closely at the structure. The windows were shuttered. The door was closed. There wasn’t anyone around. My hopes were crushed, but I thought I’d get a picture of it anyway. I parked the bike, took a couple of shots and then decided to give the door a shot – to see if it was open. And it was! Inside was a very small room with PO Boxes and a mail slot to slip in outgoing mail. I eagerly slid my two postcards into the waiting slot and returned to my bike a happy traveler. Only after I was miles down the road did I realize that I had neglected to put stamps on either card.

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Morning road in Wyoming

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McKinnon post office

I entered the town of Manila, UT, which is apparently the gateway to the Flaming Gorge and all of the wonders it holds. Judging from the storefronts and advertisements, the “wonders” include fishing and not much else. Regardless, it was a nice town and the local ranger station employee did her best to find me some fun stickers for my bike. After filling the tank, I circled around the south side of the Gorge, the road diving into a great kaleidoscope of sediment before rebounding up into the sky. As the road twisted its way up the south end of the Gorge the geography of the area lay exposed below. Each switchback brought forth a better view, enticing me to stop my bike more than once for that “better shot”. I finally crossed a couple of bridges that were under construction, signaling that I was heading north and away from the main area of the Gorge. According to my map, there was a road – possibly dirt – that would lead me into Colorado. This would save me a considerable amount of time and probably provide a bit of adventure while I was at it. Of course the problem laid in the fact that I didn’t know the name of this road, or where exactly it was. What I did know is that it turned from the main road shortly after crossing back into Wyoming and then headed east. As I crossed the state line I watched carefully for a likely looking road and when I thought I found it, I circled back to check it out. As luck would have it, an SUV was coming from the very direction I wanted to head so I stopped to ask them if this was the road that would take me to Craig, CO. The driver said that it did, and the passenger looked at me with concern and said “But its dirt!” I smiled at her and said “Good!” before riding off into the dust.

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Entering Flaming Gorge

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The road leading to the water’s edge

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Flaming Gorge

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The dirt road to Colorado

The dirt was fairly well packed, with some loose gravel strewn on top to make it interesting. The road reached into the desolation of the desert and I smiled at the thought of seeing places that few others had seen. Then the pavement began. This surprised me, but I took it in stride, increased my pace and figured that while I had been looking for some off-roading, this was fun too. Just as I was getting into the groove of the curves and elevation changes of the road, the pavement ended again. I was back to dirt, but this time with more gravel. The road wasn’t particularly challenging, but knowing that I was out there alone, not sure if anyone else used this road much and that I more than likely couldn’t pick the bike up by myself if I dropped it kept me riding well within my limits. Occasionally there would be a junction in the road, with both choices looking equally well used and signs that indicated locations that I knew nothing about. I guessed when I came to these, hoping that I wasn’t wasting my time riding down a dead-end road. I wondered what I had gotten myself into when I saw a sign proclaiming that a 14% grade was approaching, and to use caution. You don’t realize just how steep 14% is until you’re descending it on a fully loaded motorcycle, loose dirt on the road, single lane, dried ruts in the mud and tight switchbacks. I kept the bike in low gear, stayed easy on the rear brake and hoped that no one was coming up. After stopping for a couple of pictures (which never do something like this justice) I made it to the bottom, where the landscape opened up and the road became infiltrated with sand. I eventually rode my way out of the sandy bottomland and regained a fast, well-packed dirt road. I knew I had chosen correctly when I saw the sign I had been searching for: “Welcome to Colorful Colorado”.

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14% grade downhill

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Looking uphill

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Looking back from whence I came

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Welcome to Colorado

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A very wet future

The state line was marked by asphalt and it took no time at all before I was flying along at 70mph, the welcome air blowing through my vents and cooling me down. A quick stop in Maybell, CO for a beverage and then it was to be straight across Route 14 to Fort Collins and then to Broomfield for the night. My own lack of paying attention put a kink in this plan. I was enjoying the ride through Steamboat Springs, other than the insufferable traffic, and looking forward to crossing over Rabbit Ears Pass, an enjoyable section of road I had discovered during last summer’s big ride. I saw the turn of for Walden, a town I had come through from Wyoming last year on my way through and figured that it was north, and I didn’t want to go north. Rather than checking the map right there in front of me, I stayed on Route 40 and took a turn to the south. The plan would be altered once again. Ominous clouds were gathered on the horizon and each turn in the road kept me guessing as to whether or not I’d pass under them. It didn’t take long for the suspense to be lifted and I found myself being pelted by a barrage of hail. It pummeled me through my gear and just when I thought I was through the storm’s center, I ran into more. Fortunately I have good gear and I remained warm and dry through all of this.

I had come quite a way across the Rocky Mountains before I realized just how much of delay it was going to be. My wrong turn was going to cost me – literally. I was coming up to Rocky Mountain National Park, with it’s $20 entrance fee and slow speed limits, and there was no convenient way around it. The man in the Park’s ticket booth agreed with me as I handed him my expired National Parks Pass, as well as my lament that I was just trying to get to Fort Collins and took a wrong turn. He smiled as he handed my Pass back to me and wished me a good ride, without asking for the entrance fee. He either didn’t notice the expiration or took pity on me. Either way I was thrilled and immediately started to work on my mindset. I was coming into the Park with a very negative view: I had only wanted to whisk my way to Carl’s house and now I found myself delayed even more. Instead, I told myself that I was on vacation and I should enjoy riding through a Park I hadn’t been through in almost a decade. I settled back into my seat and began sightseeing.

The park was not all that I remembered, mostly because I came in from a different direction than I used to. Eventually I got to the heart of RMNP and began to recognize mountain peaks, valleys and river formations. Ah – it’s a beautiful place. I looked fondly at Longs Peak, the highest peak in the park and was still amazed that I had climbed to the top of it once, and almost twice, before. I came wandering gently through the to the other side of the park, to the tourist town of Estes Park and made one more stop before heading down to the flatlands. I called Carl to let him know where I was so that he could gauge when to expect me, as well as to get any direction changes seeing as I would be arriving from a different town. To my glee, I also found some very kitschy stickers to put on my bike before I left the store

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Low clouds and lots of snow

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Valley shot

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Looking across the Rockies

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Damp and chilly at 12,100′

Traffic thwarted any thoughts of flying down the mountain and I spent the time fuming inside my helmet, frustrated at the inability to fully explore the depths of the corners presented before me. By the time the traffic opened up so did the roads. Now I was trundling through the city of Boulder at rush hour. Boulder has definitely grown up, and I’m not sure if it’s for the better. A couple of wrong turns and a frustrated phone call later I was finally at my destination: Carl and Rita’s house in Broomfield. They had already eaten dinner (yes, I was late) but they offered me some wonderful macaroni and cheese that hit the spot perfectly. More wonderful conversation filled the evening and then it was off to bed for the lot of us, as Carl was leaving for the STN the next day, but he was going to take a different circuitous route. The next morning we rode together as far as Denver, where he kept going south while I once again turned my bike eastward. Behold the wonders of Kansas!!!!

It was hot. The map I had in my map case showed the entire state of Kansas, a very depressing view as the miles clicked by, micron by micron. I don’t find Kansas an unattractive state to ride through. What I do detest is just how long it takes to ride through it. And how hot it is. And humid. With no real diversions. Oh well, its just Kansas. I made it as far as Hayes before I had to stop for gas. I stood there at the pumps in 100-degree heat in full gear, watching cruisers go by, the riders wearing jeans and a t-shirt. I felt silly, but I knew that I wouldn’t shed any of the gear. Weird stuff happens, you know? Sure enough, about 10 miles past Hayes there was an accident. I have no idea what happened; it was noon on a clear day, the interstate makes no radical change of direction, traffic was light and flowing well. But there, in the middle of both westbound lanes, was a mini van that looked like it had rolled over and came to a rest perpendicular to the roadway. Traffic was just beginning to back up behind it and the emergency crews hadn’t arrived yet. See? Weird stuff happens. I was happy in my gear, even though I was getting the beginnings of a rash that would haunt me for the rest of the trip.

After Hayes I made the momentous decision to go south at Salina. This would put me closer to the Ozarks, an area I was keen to explore, as well as give me a shot as some Kansas back roads east of Wichita. How can anyone not get excited about riding through the backroads of Kansas? At Salina I made the Big Turn and was now heading south. It was getting warmer and damper. I was ready for a break off the bike and started to look for a place to eat. Mom and Pop diners are a dying breed along the interstate, and I just wanted a salad anyway, so I chose Applebee’s, figuring that as a national chain their food quality would be up to par. I was mistaken. While not worth sending back, the salad left a lot to be desired. I ate most of it though, simply because it was there and I was there. I didn’t linger afterwards and was soon looking for the road that would take me to rural Kansas, Route 400. It was easy enough to find and once on it I felt a complete change come over me. Interstates are soul-sucking things. They rob you of pleasure by adding some invisible shroud over you and your bike. Only by exiting the interstate can you shed that shroud and be free. Its odd, and I can’t really put it to words, but they are two completely different feelings. It was good to be free again.

The roads I chose were generally unremarkable, but much more pleasant based on what I wrote in the paragraph above. The heat still haunted me and I kept studying my map to try and figure out where I wanted to go and where I wanted to be. I was halfway between Wichita and the Missouri border when I came across a second accident. I didn’t see this one, but I was only the second car in line to be turned off the road for a detour to go around a “very bad accident up ahead”. I wondered then about fate and timing. I had stopped just a few miles back to take some pictures of an old farmhouse, and I estimated that the time I took for that stop would have put me right about where and when the accident was. I chalked it up to “good luck” and followed the lead car through the detour.

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Kansas fields

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Windmills in the distance

At Parsons, KS I stopped for a cold drink and to re-check my maps a little more thoroughly. An older gentleman stopped to talk to me as I stood in the glaring sun studying my map. He told me how he used to ride and would meet up with 20,000 other bikers in Colorado each year. He really enjoyed it, I could tell by how enthusiastically he told his stories, but then he said he high-sided and really messed himself up. He suffered road rash over 80% of his body, among other injuries. I didn’t feel so awkward in my ‘stitch after hearing him say that. He said that he can’t ride now because of a weak knee, but when I suggested that he look into getting a trike his eyes lit up and he said that he was considering that. I think that he misses riding and enjoyed having someone to talk with about it. But while he was talking the sun was falling and I still didn’t know where I was going. He took his leave and I was left staring at the pile of gum I had just stepped in. Sigh. It was time to hit the road again.

The road leading out of Kansas was as straight as the road leading in. Missouri wasn’t much different, other than the road took one sharp dive to the south and then left me alone to ponder the great nothingness that is there. Not completely “nothing”, of course. I passed a crowded drag strip on the way to Joplin and was tempted to stop and get photos of some of the cars, but it wasn’t quite tempting enough. I was on a mission to find The Sign. The sign that would read something like “Joe’s Campground, next right”. That’s all I wanted: a small, homey campground off the side of the road with some running water and a couple of people to talk with as the twilight faded. It was not to be found. Instead, I found myself in downtown Joplin, a more depressing downtown I had never been in. The storefronts were boarded up, falling down or closing down. Dollar Stores took up where real retail stores had failed. Dirt had filtered its way to the gutters and all had a gray and dingy look to it. And to top it off, a police car was tailing me. Ah, trying to catch the tourist going over the 25mph limit, hey? Well, they weren’t going to get me! I played by the rules, inspecting the crumbling bricks closely as I rolled slowly by. I changed lanes to allow the police car to get ahead of me, which it did. But as it rolled past me to the red light I saw the occupants weren’t in uniform. And the female passenger turned to smile at me. Who were they? I did what any unassuming motorcyclist would do and rolled up next to them, asking if they could recommend which direction to head for a campground. The passenger relayed this question to the driver, they consulted, the light turned green and they asked me to follow them around the corner. I did and we parked our vehicles to discuss what I needed and if they could help. They were both wearing red polo shirts with some official-looking patches sewn on the sleeves, but in no way did they resemble officers of the law. They were very friendly and said that if I would wait for them they would be back in two minutes and would take me to a campground just south of town. I agreed and was ready to follow them when they came back down the street, two minutes later. We rolled through the rest of Joplin and took a small side street just past the junction for I-44. This led down to Shoal Creek Dr, which coincidentally follows Shoal Creek. The police car pulled into a parking spot along a wide, landscaped green space next to the river bank. I pulled in after them and they got out of the car. This was it. I looked around. There were some permanent grill stands, a few picnic tables and a couple of parking squares. In no way did it even remotely resemble a place I could camp. I took the opportunity to ask who they were. It turns out there is a “volunteer group” who works with the police force performing helpful tasks like traffic enforcement and checking on houses (presumably for people who are out of town). I thanked them for their time and consideration and proceeded to scope out a good place for the tent. They got back into their car and headed down the road. The siren blipped shortly and I suspect that the driver hit the button on accident. I moved the bike down to the river’s edge and set up camp. It was going to be a nice spot to sleep. I took a walk along the river towards a main parking area hoping to find some “amenities” but to no avail. Not even a port-a-potty awaited me. Some campground this turned out to be. I was pleasantly surprised to see lightening bugs hovering in the grass, as I hadn’t seen any since I moved to Seattle over 10 years ago. I went back to the campsite, went through some stuff and then when darkness and mosquitoes set in I crawled into the tent. I had all vents open in the tent to let the breeze blow through, as the humidity and heat hadn’t fallen yet. I was being serenaded by the gentle flow of the river, the rustle of the leaves and the chirp of crickets and was just on the cusp of total sleep, when a new sound started up: rain drops on the tent. Because of the heat I hadn’t put on the rain fly and I was loath to get up and put it on now. I tried very hard to ignore the rain, thinking that it would just go away. But I couldn’t ignore it because what would happen if it really did start to pour? I got up, threw the rain fly loosely over the top of the tent, crawled back inside and the rain stopped. Murphy, you should be shot.

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A couple of nails and a coat of paint should do it

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A full moon in Missouri

Today would be a day for exploration. The plan (you’d think I’d learn by now) was to poke around the Ozarks and then take a straight shot to my sister’s house in Franklin, TN. The bike packed up easily enough (I was getting good at this) and I plotted a route on my map. I was in the mood for food, so I promised myself that I’d stop at the first real diner I saw on the way. That wouldn’t be until Cassville, over an hour later, but at least I found a place. And what a place it was. At first I wasn’t sure if it was a restaurant or a used car lot, but as I rode by I figured that it was worth looking into, because that many cars in a parking lot meant that if there was food being served, it had to be good. I turned around and found a place to park. I went inside and found a quiet table in the corner. I was immediately struck by the size of the customers. They were, well, large. Not obese, but more like Weebles, those toys of yesteryear that would wobble around but never fall over. And not just one or two of the patrons had reached this size – all of them had. It was amazing. But then I saw the waitress bring out a plate to a nearby table and I understood why. The plate itself must have measured 14” x 8” in diameter, and the food piled on top of it brought it to at least 3” high. Preposterous that anyone could eat that much food! When the waitress took my order I made it as small as possible: one egg, toast and bacon. What she brought out still filled the plate and I could only eat half of it, as the butter that oozed from the eggs and toast was overwhelming. The bacon, however, was tasty. As I sat there in mute amazement of the spectacle of humanity before me, my eyes wandered to the cartoons playing on the TV high in the corner. The characters there were unfamiliar to me but seemed very appropriate: every one of them was ball-shaped. The lead character, sensing some unknown danger, called out to his comrades to “Roll for your lives!” at which point they all literally rolled out of the room. The appropriateness was astounding. I paid my bill and felt no guilt in leaving behind what food I did.

The Ozarks: land of banjos and waterways. Or so I’ve been led to believe. Instead I found leafy green hills, stark lakes and limited scenery. I think that I had made the mistake of building up the area in a way that could not be matched. Add to that the fact that I was once again on a limited time budget and didn’t get a chance to fully explore some roads and I think that I got the wrong impression. I wandered as best as I could, trying to find what I thought would epitomize the Ozark heart while still making my way towards Tennessee. That’s when I realized that you really couldn’t get to Tennessee from the Ozarks. I was nearing Gainesville, approximately 1/3 of the way across Missouri and realizing that not one single road was a direct or fast link to the next state over. Even dropping down into Arkansas wouldn’t help at this point. So I tried to enjoy the road I was on, which other than periodic poor pavement issues really was quite splendid at this point, and kept forging ahead. I did stop in Gainesville to go over my maps and get something to drink. The locals there were very helpful and made the suggestion that I head north to Route 60, as it was straighter (faster) then the Route 160 I was on. I was really craving more curving roads but once again speed won out. I headed north, a small detour that would lead me to fast roads and mile-eating pavement. I managed to stay in Missouri right up until the last minute, even following that little leg you see in the state outline in the southeast corner. The terrain had flattened out and I crossed the Mississippi River with ease, once again marveling at those who ferried their way across such an expanse a century ago. Once in Tennessee I regained the shroud of the interstates and was on a fast track to my sister’s house. I called her from near Dyersburg, but she had no idea where that was and therefore couldn’t give me an ETA. I left it at that, chugged some more water and kept on going. I let the GPS tell me what roads to take as I got closer and was doing fine until the big loop turnoff from highway to side streets, where the Garmin froze and gave me no more instructions. Fortunately I had my sister’s directions in the map case and was able to find her house after only one wrong driveway. Those McMansions all look alike, I tell you. Linda and Steve (her husband) were pleasantly surprised at my arrival, as they hadn’t heard my super-stealth BMW pull up into the driveway. I stayed with Linda for a full day the next day, doing nothing much but still enjoying my time with her. Steve had to work, but Linda works out of her home, so it was easy for her to play hooky while I was there.

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Camping by the Shoal River in Joplin, MO

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Local architecture

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Fields of Missouri

Continue to Part II

Tell me what you think! I want to know!