Not so Miserable in MissouriPosted: June 28, 2013
I woke up in Twin Bridges State Park, the fishing capital of Oklahoma (and not much else), resolved to leave the state. As beautiful as the landscape is in Oklahoma I found the culture, the roads, and frankly the smell to be taxing at best. I smelled road kill in the department store parking lot where I worked on my bicycle. The putrescence of death seemed to linger literally everywhere in Oklahoma. Such was my resolve I took one last look at the map and burned it some satisfaction.
I left Twin Bridges State Park (sidenote:unless you are an avid fisher there is no reason to go to this “park”. They do not even have fire rings. There are a few camp sites on either side of the highway, however the comfort stations were quite nice) and headed east since the dreaded turnpike was north and the Missouri border was closer.
Peddling like a man possessed I have rarely been so happy to see a state border. I stopped and took the customary picture and headed toward 71 N. The roads immediately improved. I even saw a few “share the road” bicycle signs, something sorely missed in Oklahoma. I reached 71 and to my dismay it was a four lane free way. Wikipedia had lead me to believe it had remained unchanged despite encroaching free ways. Not the case. I stopped at a Kum and Go for a Totally Naked, a staple drink by this point, and tried to get directions north without using the free way. No luck. After a short lunch at a high school picnic table covered in scrawling of “call me maybe” proceeding phone numbers I struck out on an access road. After several miles it abruptly ended and I was forced back west. I crossed over 71 once again and determined not to go back into Oklahoma I rolled Ruckus through the tall grass of the embankment down to the free way. I rode to the next exit hoping to procure a map. I stopped at a Phillips 66 and Rhonda the clerk guffawed at the cost of the map. I was inclined to agree but didn’t have other options until the store manager asked if I would like to look it over in the station. Yes. Yes I did.
After about forty-five minutes and two different maps I had my path. I thanked the women and off I went. After sometime I became concerned about my cartography reading skill since my north bound highway had yet to appear. I stopped to get water and solve this route dilemma. The clerk at the station was all of sixteen and no help at all. How ever there was a guy about my age, “Matt” the patch on his shirt said, who told me I was paralleling the road I wanted and gave me directions on how to get there (I found out later the maps I used were out dated and incorrect). I thanked him and as I went to pull out a ladder hanging off the back of a trailer nearly took my head off. I ducked just in time and the truck groaned away. Shaking my still attached head, Matt’s directions rang true and I finally was on my way.
As I neared Joplin, MO. the road threatened to turn back into 71. I had enough of this plan stuff and figured head north. That’s all I had to do. For a time this worked and I enjoyed the ride passing a cemetery so old some of the stones were un legible and others had ending dates in the early 1800’s. I also came across a yard decorated with old farm and war implements including a 500 pound bomb (case I hope) standing on end.
North/south roads ended eventually and I was forced to choose east or west. Intending to stay away from 71 I turned west and quickly found a north bound highway. I cruised down it for a time until I found a suitable camping spot. Through some dense vines I found a love glade made just for wild camping. Perfect cover and soft ground.
Since I did not have a particular plan I road north west knowing there were a few state parks in that direction. After getting directions from an amiable old man in Mindenmines, a town of about 365, who told me he was a state patrol man for 30 years, a post man for 35 years, and preacher of the local church for 25 years which made him a, “postal, pistol packin’, preacher”. Good stuff.
His directions sent me weaving down back roads but got me to the park. Prairie State Park has free back pack sites, but there is no water, toilet, or fire besides cook stoves allowed. I opted for the pay site. Unfortunately they did not have showers but they offered the creek running directly behind my site, which I happily accepted and got my first wash in what felt like forever.
Feeling rejuvenated I struck out on the trails. The park was gorgeous prairie teaming with flowers and wild life. I went on a search for the bison who were supposed to be on the south east corner of the park. The trail spilled me out on the road and intending to pick it back up further down the way I continued on my course. Soon I was out of the park. I decided to walk east a short ways just in case and sure enough there was a bull on the other side of the fence.
I hiked back and realized I was the only person at the park except one other, Chris, who was collecting the yearly data on the prairie for a 20 some year old study. He gave me an apple and some smokes and we sat and chatted. He told me he saw me walk within 500 yards of the entire herd while still in the park. How I missed that is beyond me. I only can guess there was a rise between us. Chris went to the hill to get reception to call his wife of two weeks and I went to bed. The next morning I found an apple, nutrigrain bars, and a pack of smokes sitting on my picnic table. Chris… what a guy.
Despite the food Chris gave me I was incredibly hungry and very tired of gas station food. I stopped in a town of 150 called moundville at a place sporting a Coors Light sign. I walked in and it was one square room 15X15 with a small kitchen jutting out the back. The walls were lined with coolers and shelves and for seating there was a six top in the middle and two two tops on the edges. Initial the tables were full so I was there only for water, but while I waited for the water one opened up and decided to eat. I got a cheese burger, chips, and cottage cheese. Quite good. I spoke with the locals about the hay harvest and my ride and stepped out to get my phone. When I came back and asked the owner what I owed him, he told me it was already taken care of. The man I had chatted with paid my bill. The waitress said, “Welcome to Vernon County.” as I thanked the man. I left a generous tip and thanked everyone again. The owner then insisted I took a powerade. More thanks. I told them I just might stay in Vernon County if this keeps up.
I struck out for Nevada (the first “a” has a short sound), but felt incredibly fatigued all day. I assumed I was just feeling the toll of riding so many days in a row until I got a text from my buddy Joe telling me there was a 110 degree heat index that day. Dear god. I needed to get out of the sun. I reached Nevada just as my spirit was about fold and found the library.
The librarians asked me if I was riding and where I was going. I gave the standard and answer the younger of the two (early 30’s) said she couldn’t do that. “The weather is just too hot down here.” she nearly moaned. I told her most people didn’t have A/C until 20 years ago and I still didn’t have A/C in my house. The elder one said she didn’t have electricity in her house until she was a freshman in highschool. “See, she could take it.” I said smiling at the younger. “Yeah, she’s tougher than me.” she smiled back. I decided it was time to get cleaned up and this heat would not do. I found a room at the Nevada Inn for about $40, stopped at a grocery store for fresh veggies and something to microwave (you have no idea how much I miss those two things) and turned the TV and A/C all the way up. I was in heaven.
The Nevada in was nice enough, and the bathroom was enormous, bigger than some apartments I’ve had. I ate all my veggies and microwave pizza and pot stickers with utter delight and drifted off to the first none sweaty sleep in days.
The next day a north wind kicked up and brought the temp down. More getting lost. More tracking east and west and not North. While I stopped for lunch on a tiny bridge a pretty blonde woman driving a truck pulled up and asked if I was OK. “Yep. Just eating some lunch.” “Do you need water?” I did. Not badly but I was lower than I wanted. She took a cup out of the truck full of ice and water and poured it into my bottle explaining she was on her way back from the post office. She told me to watch out for poison ivy. She was allergic. She gave me directions to the nearest town and water. I thanked her and off she went. In rich hill I got water and talked with a quirky volunteer fire fighter, missing all of his lower teeth due to a car accident who gave me directions north. The road was really bad at parts, but his directions were true and soon reached better roads.
I scared some deer out of there bed in a prairie and took it for myself as they grunted at me from the bushes. I feel asleep amazingly quickly. I am in Butler, MO. Next stop, Blue Springs. I’ll be half way home.