Toto, I Don’t Think We’re in California Anymore

Apart from the Ozark Mountains, my abiding memory of Missouri is Mrs Redneck cursing Mr Redneck in the most unsavory terms for leaving the gate open and letting the dogs out. I counted at least seven dogs run out. With that many dogs, two hands, and one can of pepper spray, I had switched to stealth mode, so to my delight, she hadn’t seen me approaching. “Bad day?”, I enquired politely, as I cycled past.

Approaching Kansas, the landscape started to level off. At the state sign, I asked the Swedish cyclist I had met the night before whether he had packed his ruby slippers, but since he asked me to repeat the question three times, I concluded the Wizard of Oz didn’t make it to Sweden.

One thing I’m hoping is that Kansas has brighter tortoises. They amble out onto the road from the grassy verges and sit sunning themselves on the Tarmac. Meanwhile, I’ve seen enough tortoises flattened to tortillas to last me a lifetime. I stop at each sunbather, lift it from the rear, gently set it down in a sunny patch on the grassy verge, and tell it that the waiter will be along shortly. “Why from the rear?”, you ask. Well, a particularly large individual clearly did not want to be moved along. It was flatter than the other tortoises I had encountered, and it had a tail. Thinking it was just crotchety, I tried to nudge it to the side of the road with my foot instead. To my dismay, it sank its teeth into my cycling shoe. Recovering my composure, I told it to suit itself (in terms similar to those used by Mrs Redneck) and minced off. Later that evening, I learned on the World Wide Web that it was a snapping turtle and not to be messed with. Special advisory to any gentlemen considering taking a refreshing dip in a lake or river in these parts: Be sure to wear your swimming shorts!

Mississippi Blues

Crossing the Mississippi at Chester, Illinois gave me a tremendous buzz – especially after the previous evening’s flat tire while riding a levee in a downpour. With my head down due to the strong headwind, I missed the Welcome to Missouri sign 😦

With its lush green, rolling landscape, Missouri reminded me of the south of England, but without the quaint villages and tearooms. After the Appalachians in Virginia and Kentucky, I thought I was done with strenuous climbs for a while, so the Ozark Mountains in Missouri came as a bit of a surprise. The climbs were shorter but steeper, and the descents very fast. I reached a record 42 mph in the Ozarks.

Mountains seem to trap bad weather. To get the most reliable forecast, I’ve taken to asking a local, but I guess wishful thinking is why I didn’t ask yesterday. Soon after I set out, the skies darkened, the rain started, and claps of thunder rolled in the distance. Flashes of lightning soon became unnervingly close. I spotted a gazebo near the roadside and rode to it. The three military guys were already sheltering there. We hung around for a bit, but with Pilots Knob just 4 miles away (yes, that really was the name of the town), I headed to it at warp speed

“Give it all you’ve got, Scotty”, I urged myself on. Decelerating at what looked like a cafe, I was initially thrown by the name “The Hustler”, especially given the name of the town. But perhaps it was “The Rustler”. Difficult to tell in the driving rain. Anyway, the military guys seemed to know what they were doing, so I followed them in, hoping that I wasn’t inadvertently entering a house of ill repute. A quick glance at the diners reassured me that it was a family establishment.

The forecast on the TV above the counter spelled more doom and gloom, so the military guys opted to stay in Pilots Knob. But I felt the Force was with me, and after double-checking with the platinum blonde behind the counter, I decided to go on. It turned out to be a good move, for as I was leaving the cafe, a customer pushed $20 into my hand. She had heard that I was cycling across America. I suspect she thought I was too poor to take the bus!