Of Pests and Pickles

After finding out first-hand why it's misery living in Missouri, I eagerly depart Jefferson City. Although it’s the first week in October, the back-to-summer temperatures make the ride delightful. The weather, however, would not hold.

For the first time ever, the day’s notable events unfold after I’m done riding. I glide into the nearly empty Katy Roundhouse campground in Franklin, Missouri.

An inexpensive and well-appointed campground right on the trail.

An inexpensive and well-appointed campground right on the trail.

Every good blog needs a shower scene, and the best blogs have a shower scene with arachnids. Imagine me in flip flops, hanging up the towel and running the water. This is a make or break my day moment: will the hot water be hot enough?

Yes. I step in and a frog hops out. I check to make sure he hasn’t left any friends behind and start spinning in place to wet my shoulders. I lean my head forward into the stream of delicious hotness and see a dark splotch on my arm. It’s not part of my skin. It’s a thick spider with beady eyes and it’s scarier than Halloween. I flick it onto the wall and mercilessly smash it with my flip flop, turning this shower into blood bath. When nature attacks, I rally in self-defense.

Although I’m sleeping under the stars, I’m not willing to eat out of a tin can. With no restaurants in Franklin, I bike three miles down the trail and over the Missouri River to Boonville. Riding the Katy without the trailer is luxurious, but getting back will be daunting in the pitch black. I gear up with a headlamp and a tail light. I note the 45% chance of rain, which is under 50, so we’re still good. I think.

Sunset on the Katy Trail as I bike to Boonville for the best fried pickles ever.

Sunset on the Katy Trail as I bike to Boonville for the best fried pickles ever.

The protected bike lane on the bridge over the Missouri River is an added bonus that erases my concern about biking with cars in the dark.

Eating out in Boonville

Couples are dining at the historic Hotel Frederick, built out of brick in 1905. Their river-view terrace is one option for dinner, but I decide to bike along Main Street to get a lay of the land.

I pause outside Maggie’s Bar and Grill, which looks like the town dive. It’s definitely a cheaper option, but is it any good? The owner of the thrift shop across the street is heading inside.

“This is the place you wanna go,” she says, seeing me hesitate by the door as I wait for a gut reaction to kick in.

“What about that hotel down the street?” I ask. I’ve already had my share of gut-busting pub food on this trip and bet the hotel’s menu offers more sophistication, like salad.

“This is better,” she smiles, letting herself in and eyeing me to follow.

The restaurant is packed, not even a seat at the bar. I take an open table by the door next to a black trash bag and old chairs piled up by the window. I’m not even sure the table is in service, but the ambiance doesn’t matter because the McMaggie Burger with two 5 oz. patties and cheese is one of the best I’ve sunk my teeth into—in any state.

After almost 50 miles, I deserve a side and order the homemade fried pickles, a first on this trip. In fact, I can’t recall ever having fried pickles. These sandwich-style pickle chips are lightly breaded, deep fried and furnace toasty. My tongue protests, but they’re so good I can’t wait for these babies to cool. I dip them in chipotle mayo as a complementary coolant. I’m on a culinary cloud nine and can't believe this little restaurant is so big on flavor.

Biking back to camp

I step outside and get blasted by dirt and debris swirling down Main Street in a foreboding wind. I load a weather app and find out that during dinner the chance of rain went from 40 to 100 percent, and that prediction is seconds away. I race to unlock the bike as fat, wet drops pelt me one at a time.

I pedal furiously down Main Street, but it’s too late. I reach the bridge in a steady downpour and instinctively ditch the bike on the grass outside the hotel and duck under the terrace overhang for shelter.

The trail dusty bike could use a bath and my parents could use a call. We spend the next 45 minutes on the phone as I wait out the wetness. This little town is done for the night and so am I.

I recross the bridge and look up at the last of the street lights, wishing I could take one with me. The trail is now carpeted with slick leaves. Only my headlamp breaks the darkness when sudden barking interrupts the silence. I switch to a high beam and angry eyes the color of Mountain Dew are dancing in the darkness with malevolence.

This is my troll under the bridge encounter. I stop and wait, wondering how to get out of this jam. I follow the hologram eyes with my headlamp. I can’t tell if the dog is loose. The barking continues, so I floor it.

I don’t think a shared bike has gone from 0 to 20 in faster time. I lose sight of the eyes and unleash a guttural scream with all my might. I have the bigger voice. Wet leaves spin off the tires as I plow ahead with primordial fear. The moment I fear—a toothy jaw sinking into my calf—never comes. I stop screaming. The eyes are gone and it’s quiet except for the spinning spokes. I slow down and for a moment turn off my headlamp to ride in the dark in "recovery" mode.

At the campground my gear is soggy and my heart rate is elevated, but damn, those fried pickles were worth it.