After six days moving due west across Missouri, I hit the end of the Katy Trail in Clinton. Kansas City to the northwest, home to bike sharing, barbecue and baseball’s World Series champs, is just off my trajectory. It would take two days to bike to KC and then two days to bike back. With autumn setting in, I don’t have time for such a detour. I need to bomb south along the western border of Missouri towards Joplin, which will take three days.
Nostalgia for the Katy Trail starts as soon as I hit the road out of Clinton. Instead of the shaded riverside, I’m baking in blinding sun on a divided highway. Instead of crushed rock—packed and graded—I’m bouncing along jagged gravel and broken pavement on the shoulder of Missouri Route 13.
I tell myself to keep calm and Katy on. I’ve faced uneven surfaces before, just like on the Katy Trail. Except this is much different. Mixed in with the gravel are screws, tail light fragments, glass shards, bygone bungee cords and armadillo carcasses.
Not just one dead armadillo, but a dozen. It’s like there was a war and all the armadillos lost. Seeing these noble creatures turned upside down and bloated by death tugs at my heartstrings. Others have been squished paper-thin by vehicle wheels. I don’t want to adopt a highway, I want to adopt an armadillo.
Based on the armored animal carnage, I’m not betting on 13 being a lucky number. I follow Google Maps off the highway and onto local roads that go from paved to gravel.
I pick a shady spot to dismount and open a yogurt I took from the motel breakfast. I try to break once an hour and have a snack if needed. Plans quickly change when three dogs come charging out of a house, one big one with two little yippers in tow. Fortunately the owner calls them off and I move down the road to eat in peace.
While I expect gravel roads on this route, the rolling hills catch me off guard. Flat riding the past six days weakens my ability to adapt to inclines, and now I’m getting a bitter taste of the edge of the Ozarks, which I’ve been avoiding at all costs. These hills aren’t particularly high, but they roll up and down and up and down and up and outta sight.
The farms are Sunday quiet. I am the only thing moving across the landscape unless you count the cows perturbed by my presence.
Interestingly, cows and horses have opposite reactions to Countri Bike. Cows turn and run. Normally pretty lazy, they will stop grazing to move to the far end of the pen. Horses will approach with instant interest. Maybe it’s because I’m riding an iron horse of sorts, but horses are more attracted to what I’m doing than some of my “friends” in New York who don’t realize that I’m moving across America on a Citi Bike. (Which begs the question, are they really friends, but it’s New York and people get consumed with their own lives and can’t see beyond a three block radius.)
In rural western Missouri, roads apparently run out of names and are assigned numbers and letters. Directions turn into alphabet soup. E intersects with B and VV. DD diverges from OO. Had I taken a different route, I might have seen KKK. Not a road sign, but the Church of Israel in the hills around Schell City, says a woman I meet that night in the motel laundry room in El Dorado Springs.
Finding El Dorado forever eluded Spanish conquistadors and it nearly breaks me. Read about what happens next….