Bicycling, Road Logs, The Great Adventure, Travel

Road Log: Deadly Bridge to Memphis

Last time I walked the Giant five miles to get him repaired, then found myself caught in the tense atmosphere of Hayti, Missouri.

Day 85 (September 29, 2012)

The Drury Inn’s breakfast setup wasn’t quite on a par with their dinner buffet, but I filled up and got ready. I had a long way to go to Memphis—nearly 100 miles—and I was determined to make it in one day. If I did, I had a place to stay with a Couchsurfing host named Michael and his roommate. Plus, tonight was Saturday night, the perfect time to meet a new city.

The wind demons were with me. As I biked down the entrance ramp to I-55 a strong north breeze grabbed me like a sail. Gods, I love a good tailwind.

I regret that I didn’t detour to Caruthersville the day before. It’s right on the river (unlike Hayti) and looks like a bigger town, and if I hand’t had such a late start with bike repairs it might have been my stopping point for the night. Perhaps it would have been a more welcoming place. But now it was out of my way, and with fond memories of my Couchsurfing stint in St. Louis the week before I was eager to be among friends again.

Day 85 was one of my finest bicycle rides. I chose the Interstate because it was flat, smooth pavement with a wide shoulder, and in rural areas a freeway is quite pleasant. With few bends and no trees, the wind howled down behind me and kept me going like a speedboat. I was amazed at the time I made—and how little effort it took. I decided to lean into my pedaling and add manpower to windpower, and found myself cruising at a good 17 miles per hour for much of the trip. At one point I stopped for ice cream at a gas station; I almost felt guilty taking a break and “wasting” the free windpower.

But the wind didn’t let up. I entered Arkansas earlier than expected (there was one little corner of it before crossing the river to Memphis, Tennessee). I habitually calculate my mileage, speed and ETA in my head, so that I always know roughly when I’ll arrive at a given town. By the time I passed Blytheville my math said I’d be grossly early (which was fine by me). But 100 miles is a long way to go and, remembering my ridiculous delays into St. Louis, I decided not to adjust my ETA with Michael.

It was a good call. In the afternoon the wind did eventually weaken, but that wasn’t the problem. I was already 70 miles in by then. The real problem was the change in highway conditions.

As you  near a big city, the interstates become unrideable. It’s not just the heavier, more aggressive traffic, though that’s not fun. It’s not even the more frequent (and busier) entrances and exits you have to cross. It’s the road itself. Heavy traffic, pavement torn to hell and the debris on the shoulder is a minefield. You can’t go a single meter without dodging a sparkplug, a nail, a busted tire, a busted bottle.

That’s why I normally exit interstates before approaching a city, but here I had no choice. I had to pass through West Memphis (a separate town on the Arkansas side of the river), and West Memphis only has two bridges to the big city. That means all roads converge onto one of the two, both of which are freeway.

As I swerved through detritus and put a nervous eye on my rear view mirror, it occurred to me (for the first time) that I had no idea if either bridge had a pedestrian walkway or even  shoulder. As eager as I was to cross, I decided to pull off in West Memphis and do some research. I had planned to use the I-55 “Memphis & Arkansas Bridge” but if the other one (the I-40 “Harrahan Bridge”) had a better lane for me, I’d gladly add the extra miles.

A little googling showed that neither was promising. On satellite view, it looked like the I-55 Bridge might actually have a shoulder the whole way across. But I was really hoping that one or the other had a real pedestrian/bike path.

Wikipedia answered my question, but not optimistically. Of the two, Harrahan has no pedestrian path at all, and I-55 had one, but it had been closed off—one of the worst urban planning decisions I’ve heard of.

(I know maintaining sidewalks costs money, and big bridges may not get a lot of foot/bike traffic. But it’s important to realize that a major bridge often represents the only crossing for miles, and pedestrians and cyclists typically can’t go around. That means that closing off, or not adding, a pedestrian path doesn’t discourage hikers and cyclists from crossing. It just guarantees they’ll be forced to do it in the most dangerous conditions possible.)

My bad hunch was right. Hoping to ascertain if I could still access the “closed off” walkway, or if there might be a shoulder to bike on, I found a horrifying news story. On August 12, just six weeks before me, a cyclist using my same route was struck by a truck and killed on the I-55 bridge.

This created strong emotions for me. I felt an immediate kinship with that man, for one thing. How could I not see myself in his shoes? And I felt a powerful anger at the truck driver, at city or state officials who closed of the sidewalk, at anyone who could have prevented his death. The normal reaction to a news story like this is that people call the cyclist “stupid” for being out there in the first place. But when you understand how inevitable using the bridge is—how there are no other options for a cyclist to take—that insulting reaction feels like poison in your heart.

I considered if I should abort the crossing. There was another river crossing all the way back at, you guessed it, Caruthersville. A hundred miles back against the wind to practically where I’d started this morning. And I had no idea if that bridge had a shoulder, either.

No, I was going to cross. I studied the satellite imagery carefully. It looked like (looked like) the pedestrian walkway was still there, and opened onto a grassy slope before the bridge. I could ride my bike on the shoulder to that point, and if the grassy slope wasn’t too steep I could cross it to get to the walkway.

If it was too steep, well, then I’d figure that out when I got there.

Looking at the satellite imagery I saw something sinister. I could see where the walkway started at the beginning of the bridge, and I could see the concrete barrier that prevents access from the highway. But the shoulder narrows before that point. In other words, if you plan on cycling up to the bridge and then climbing over the barrier to the walkway, you’re forced out into traffic before you get there.

Only by looking at satellite imagery would you know that you need to abandon the highway long before the bridge and walk on the grass to survive.

Rest In Peace, Pierre McReynolds. You were trying to come home from work by the only route available to you. Your work is over now. I wish we could’ve crossed the bridge together.

Cycling Hazard Memphis & Arkansas Bridge

Cycling hazard on I-55 Memphis & Arkansas Bridge

I made up my mind and off I went. Complicating matters, all the shrapnel on the highway through West Memphis got to the Giant—I could tell he was slowly losing air from one tire. Thanks to the tire goo I didn’t need to immediately stop and change it, but if I didn’t hurry up I might end up with a flat at sunset on the wrong side of the river.

I began the long, ominous climb up the freeway section toward the bridge. I’ve never felt so somber. If the grassy slope was too steep I’d have to either give up or bike out in traffic.

Eventually I reached the beginning of the fence. Even though I was nowhere near the bridge yet, thanks to my sleuth work I knew I had to exit. I walked the Giant off the freeway onto the grass. It was steep but not too steep. I made my way toward the bridge.

Eventually, I reached the point where—on the other side of the barrier from myself—the shoulder disappears. I could easily have been out there, wondering what the heck I was supposed to do. Instead 200 feet ahead of me was a nice open walkway to use. I made offerings in memory of Pierre and left that awful place behind.

The walkway itself was no joy to use, being neglected and covered in debris, but I was grateful for it. Sometimes you cold see the river below you through holes covered with boards. I walked the Giant. It was about sunset, and the River looked majestic beneath me, but I had a hard time feeling spiritual. I made offerings in greeting and continued across.

The far end wasn’t closed off at all. It gave way to a crumbly old cement staircase that leads to a park and a side street. I checked directions on my phone and navigated back to main roads, then to Michael’s apartment, which I reached just at dusk. The Giant’s front tire drooped, and so did your Rogue Priest. 98.1 miles.

Map 1Map 2

Total traveled this leg: 98.1

Total traveled since Day 1: 1355.3

Next time Memphis is my oyster! Until then, enjoy other road logs.

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My book Lúnasa Days has been called “like Paulo Coelho only darker.”

Available in paperback and on Kindle. Get your copy here.

Adventure, Bicycling, Road Logs, The Great Adventure, Travel

Road Log: Race, Threats & Tension in South Missouri

Last time I repaired my wounded bicyle and set off with new tires. But the day was far from over.

Hayti, Mo. Photo via St. Louis Post-Dispatch.

Day 84 (September 28, 2012) continued

It was 45 more miles to Hayti, and I didn’t start till after noon—already hungry again, a I recall, but unwilling to delay to eat a meal. I sure wished I had the other half of that wasted salad from Lambert’s.

The ride itself was pleasant, except for the “phantom flats” I kept imagining. After you have a series of flat tires, every bump or weird section of pavement makes you think you’ve got another one. Or at least, that’s what happens to me.

Hayti was a trip. I kept wondering if it was named after Haiti, which Wikipedia says it was. Like their namesake they’ve even had earthquake problems, but the Missouri one only broke windows. I found out from locals that the town’s name is pronounced differently, too: Hay-tie.

As the name implies, Hayti is a predominantly black town. According to the Census it’s 50% white and 40% black, but I think if you counted the surrounding rural area you’d find those numbers reversed. In parts of the South there are white towns and there are black towns, and this is something I didn’t know before I rolled in on the Giant. The white people in town seemed (generally speaking) cliquish and wary, whereas the black people were friendly and open to me although totally incredulous about what I was doing.

First thing when I coasted in off the freeway I saw a giant Drury Inn & Suites hotel, a chain I’d never seen up north but would discover is ubiquitous in the South. It was late afternoon with plenty of time before sunset, but thunderstorms were forecast for tonight. I really didn’t want to camp out, and if I had to I wanted to at least be somewhere safe.

I decided to cruise through town and check it out. My goal was to identify a good dinner spot as well as somewhere to sleep. This is often the most stressful part of my day. I don’t like imposing on people and I’m not a natural at just strolling up to folks and making friends. But I knew I had to start canvassing the area.

One road took me through the center of town and out into some suburban African American neighborhoods. This seemed promising. I felt really awkward as the only white face I’d seen yet, but I reminded myself that that had little to do with whether people would be hospitable. I biked through a few neighborhoods and spoke with a family that was outside. They didn’t offer their backyard for camping, but they did want to help. But the whole idea really puzzled them. Why was I doing this?

This is something I’d see over and over on my trip. White people might be incredulous about my Journey, but they’re generally supportive or even wowed by it. They share my thrill of adventure. I’ve gotten mixed reactions from black people, but it’s much more common to just shake their heads in total disbelief. But this sort of adventure seldom ends well for black people in the United States: I don’t think it would be safe for a black person to do what I’m doing. Not without sponsors and planned stopping points. They wouldn’t receive any of the popular support that I’ve received, and given recent events I’m not sure they could expect good results from knocking on doors or sitting on someone’s porch in a rainstorm.

(That’s my own limited view as a white person trying to make sense of the different reactions I got. I’d welcome insight, especially from readers of color.)

(And if any of said readers of color <cough ahem Fly Brother cough> want to join up for a leg and challenge that status quo together, I would love that.)

For a place to spend the night, the family recommended I go a couple miles back up the freeway to a rest area I’d seen, which has a 24/7 McDonald’s. They suggested I could hang out there all night as long as I bought something.

I continued my search. Going around some more neighborhoods closer to town, I thought of trying what a friend had recommended: just call the police and ask them where you can camp out. The police were closed, at least via their non-emergency line, and a trip to their office by the town’s central square showed it was locked.

Next I focused on churches. Several were closed, but some local families directed me to one in particular with a pastor they knew would help. The church door was open, and it looked like they were getting ready for choir practice. The people gathered in the entrance looked at me like I was from Mars. I could easily believe that this was the only time in their church history that a white person walked in.

Timidly I asked for the pastor, and they sent someone upstairs to get him. He came down, looking every inch the Southern preacher in his immaculate suit, complete with a carnation on his breast. He was very friendly and asked me with true concern how he could help me. He looked totally comfortable talking to a person of another race, and that made me feel more comfortable too.

I explained what I was doing and, like the families I had met, he was incredulous. But he didn’t question it or make jokes. Unfortunately, for a place I could camp, he drew a blank.

“If we had known you were coming we could’ve talked to some of the families,” he said. “With so little notice I don’t feel there’s much I can do for you.”

That was fair. I tried to explain that I wasn’t looking to be taken into someone’s home, that even just permission to put my hammock next to the church for the night would do. (The church had no trees, so how I’d rig it up to sleep through a thunderstorm I can’t say, but I figured I’d leave that problem for later.) The idea of me camping there seemed to make him uncomfortable. I’m not qualified to say why: it may have been concern for my own safety, or it may have been the possibility of my hammock raising awkward questions with the police, which the church would have to answer.

One way or another, with a look of pain at having to turn me away, the answer was no. I thanked him for considering it and apologized for interrupting their rehearsal. I got on my bike and pedaled away.

I still had a couple hours before true sunset, but the thunderheads were on the horizon. I explored more areas off the town center and found a white neighborhood. I figured I may as well try my luck with them, too.

No one was outside so I knocked on a door. They had a large fenced yard and a front porch. I left the bike by the street where it was clearly visible. When a 50ish white man answered, I motioned to the bike and explained what I was doing.

He wore a deep frown at the sight of me, and nothing I said changed it. I asked if he knew of anyone in the area who might let me camp out for the night.

There was a long silence. When he spoke his voice was ice cold. “You’re on my porch,” he said.

My heart sank. I heard the threat in his tone loud and clear. I have no doubt he was a proud gun owner and for all I knew he was fingering one on his waist even as we spoke through the screen door. I raised my hands apologetically.

“I’m very sorry, sir. I didn’t mean to bother you.”

I took a step away from the door but he wasn’t done.

“Son this town isn’t safe. You camp out here someone’s liable to shoot you. And if they don’t you’ll get arrested. You better move on.”

Right. I better move on, on a bicycle, in a thunderstorm at night when the next town is 20 miles away and likely just as rude as your insufferable ass.

My mouth opened and every fiber of my soul strained to unload a, “That’s mighty Christian of you, sir.” Instead I said: “I understand sir. Thank you sir.” I got out of there.

Hopping on the bike, I considered then (as I still do now) that he may have just been the bad apple in a barrel of friendly neighbors. And maybe he was. But there was nothing about the white neighborhood that spoke of hospitality or even friendliness. Unlike the black streets, every door was closed, every yard had a fence and the few people I saw stared more with suspicion than curiosity.

Hayti is a pretty little town. But, like many towns I visited in the South, racial tension colored everything—and ultimately makes it unwelcoming to strangers. The black community was friendly but couldn’t help even though they wanted to, because we had no shared cultural understanding and everything I was doing was completely alien. I got the sense they wondered why I was there and not looking for help in a white town. Meanwhile the white people could have easily helped and didn’t because they’re irrationally paranoid. They cower behind fences and think they have to defend what’s theirs because the Revolution could come take it at any moment. The result is strangers, of any race, are threats to be neutralized.

At least, that’s my conclusion. I only had one day there, and admittedly I’m an unusual visitor. But I have to make sense of my experiences in that one day and to me, it shook out along racial lines. Throughout the South, any town I found with high racial tensions ended up being unfriendly toward me—from both sides of the race line but especially the whites. I felt much more welcome in single-race villages (white or black) or large cities.

I biked back to the freeway, headed not toward the McDonald’s but to the Drury Inn. I worried about the cost but I felt too defeated to stealth-camp in a thunderstorm. At the Drury, something good finally happened.

At the counter I found a straight-laced woman who could have been a school marm straight out of the 1800s.

She told me a room would be over $100.

“I hate to ask this,” I said. And that was certainly true. “I’m a minister and I’m bicycling to South America. I don’t have a big budget. Most nights I camp out, but you can see there are thunderstorms on the way—” Actually she couldn’t, in the Drury’s windowless lobby. “—Is there any chance you can offer a discount?”

She stared at me a long moment, not returning my smile. Then she pushed one key on her keyboard and said, “That’ll be $70, sir.”

I could have kissed her, although I suspect that’s against her religion. Instead I thanked her. I know that request only worked because she assumed I was a minister of the Christian variety, and probably that my South America plan was a mission. But after all the costs and setbacks of the last 24 hours, I didn’t care.

“May you be blessed,” I told her, a phrase I’ve found works very well in the South.

She also told me that if I hurried, I was just minutes away from the 9 pm closing of the Drury’s dinner buffet, free for guests. I couldn’t believe it. I had spotted a little black-owned restaurant in town that offered grilled sausages and barbeque, and I had planned to go back there for dinner. But I wasn’t about to argue. I stowed the Giant in a hurry and got in line for the buffet.

Happy Hour was also happening, but I didn’t feel like a drink that night. Besides, what kind of minister throws back two-for-one cocktails? Well, my kind, I suppose.

Sober, stuffed and exhausted, I found my way back to my room. Hopefully tomorrow would be a better day.

Effective miles 45.7 miles.

(As noted last time there was also 5+ miles of walking, 11 miles of biking around Sikeston, plus lots of biking around Hayti, not included.)

Map. (Shows only effective miles.)

Total traveled this leg: 45.7

Total traveled since Day 1: 1257.2

Next time I take my shot at Memphis—and a gamble on a bridge. Till then, here are all my road logs.

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My book Lúnasa Days has been called “like Paulo Coelho only darker.”

Available in paperback and on Kindle. Get your copy here.

Bicycling, Road Logs, The Great Adventure, Travel

Road Log: Mending the Giant

Last time I had to hitch a ride back to Sikeston after the Giant’s tire met its end…

Semo Cycle owners Tony and Jill in their shop.

Day 84 (September 28, 2012)

The next day presented new problems. Semo Cycle was over 5 miles from my motel—and I had no wheels. I had to walk the bike the whole way.

With that came logistical challenges. You shouldn’t load a bike with weight when it has a flat, so the smart call was to leave my equipment in the motel and come all the way back after the repair. It was going to be a late start on the road.

Now it may sound easy to walk a bicycle, but it’s not. Not for more than a few hundred feet. The reason is that you’re off-center, pushing something on one side of you. It’s rough on your back and wears you out quickly. With a flat it’s even worse because now the bike is working against you. And the Giant is no ballerina even on a good day.

I underestimated how long the walk would take. Leaving by 8, I hoped to make Semo by 9:30 or so. It was almost 11 when I arrived. The worst part was just after starting. An SUV slowed down and honked. I looked over and who did I see—the man who gave shelter two nights ago! There I was, sweating, pushing a bike that clearly didn’t work, on the side of the road, and he… waved and kept driving. I tried to signal to him. I would gladly have paid him gas money if he could take me the five miles to the bike shop. But for whatever reason, he didn’t connect the dots that a cyclist walking their cycle is a bad sign. Off he went.

I did see some beautiful scenes on the walk. As soon as possible I turned off the main road and took a quieter one that went through the rural edge of town. I saw the fog burning off half-wild Southern fields and thickets. I got suspicious looks from occasional families. When I got back to the main road I even stopped for doughnuts and coffee (heck, why not).

This is also about the time I saw my first ever cotton field, ready for the pickin’. They’re beautiful:

Not every cotton field has this happy family in it, but every cotton field is this beautiful. Photo by Brent Caswell.

Thankfully Tony was ready for me. Once I got there he showed me the long-distance road tires which were indeed the best money can buy (and yet still startlingly affordable—I love bikes). They would carry me all the way to New Orleans.

We looked at the chewed up patch on my old tire, too. It hadn’t been that way when we rotated tires yesterday. Both of us had inspected the tires together, and I have to take the blame on this one. I was still inexperienced at changing tires, and I remember how roughly I would scrape the levers (tire changing tools) along the rubber. Little strips of rubber would always peel off when I changed a flat. I probably ripped open that weak spot myself when I changed my first flat the day before. I’ve learned to be a lot gentler.

Tony helped me out in other ways, too. After he heard how much I hated using my cheap air pump, he gave me a CO2 gun for free (!). With a few cheap CO2 cartridges, it wouldn’t get my tire all the way up to cruising PSI but it would inflate it enough to ride to the next gas station. That was amazing of him. I treasured that gun all the way across the Delta and vowed to pass it on for free to another cyclist once I could afford a quality air pump.

Last, he filled up my tubes with goo. This (I’ve learned) is a point of contention with cyclists. The idea is the goo is supposed to prevent flats by sealing tiny punctures. A lot of cyclists think it’s just a stupid waste of money that doesn’t really work. But I experienced a substantial change: before the goo, a puncture meant an explosive flat and immediate roadside repairs. That’s unpleasant (working in the hot sun) and causes unexpected delays far from help. After the goo, I noticed that I would finish a day with two functioning tires and then find a flat in the morning. Clearly I had gotten the flat the day before but the goo kept it to a gradual leak. This is infinitely better: it means you can do the repair in shade before even setting out, and if there’s any problem you’re likely near a hardware store if not a proper bike store.

I always want goo in my tires, and when a bike shop doesn’t offer it or hassles me about it, it really pisses me off. Bike store owners: get a pile of this stuff and offer it with all tire/tube changes. You can charge an extra dollar and you might save someone from a really crappy day.

Bike Stores, Please Offer Tire Goo!

Anyway, Tony at Semo Cycle and his wife were both amazing. They invited me to stick around for a week and join a big area bike tour, and warned me about some common hazards in the area. They’re really everything I want in a friendly local bike shop. If your trip ever takes you near Sikeston, stop at Semo Cycle and give these guys some business.

Finally the Giant was well and it was time to hit the road. Once again I wanted to head at least as far as Hayti, and given the late start I figured I’d get no farther than that. But that would put me in striking distance of Memphis the following day, where Couchsurfing hosts and a new city to explore awaited.

This is the part where my memory was foggy. Clearly I biked 5+ miles (not included in mileage) back to the motel, but then what? It makes absolutely no sense to do five more miles back out Semo Cycle way to take the country road, but I think that’s what I did. That sounds very much like me. I definitely don’t remember getting on the flippin’ Interstate with its cloverleafs, nor taking its frontage road, which zags back and forth. I already knew the pavement was reliable on rural Highway 61/62, and I believe I went out of my way to take it as far as I could. That would mean cruising past Semo Cycle one more time, which sounds familiar.

So that’s what the mileage and map will reflect.

Day 84 to be continued next time. Until then, you can check out other road logs.

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My book Lúnasa Days has been called “like Paulo Coelho only darker.”

Available in paperback and on Kindle. Get your copy here.

Bicycling, Road Logs, The Great Adventure, Travel

Road Log: South of St. Louis

I’m continuing my long-overdue project of writing up my road logs from the first leg of my Journey.

The last entry described my week in St. Louis, making friends and breaking hearts! (Okay, only my own heart.) After much hospitality and many fond memories, I set off again on bicycle, this time aiming for Memphis—which was many days away.

The landscape and culture changed as I entered the South. This eventually brought new challenges. But it starts off happy…

Yes, I went through a town called FESTUS!

Yes, I went through a town called FESTUS!

Day 80 (September 24, 2012)

Set off for Perryville, with a place to stay all arranged! Not sure on exactly the family connection, but the sister of someone’s wife or friend lives in Perryville and Laurie arranged for me to stay with her tonight!

Got a little bit of a late start, easy to do from Laurie’s house. Tough headwind. Heavy traffic on the main highways, then had a flat tire once I was finally more in the sticks. Walked the bike to next gas station (still have air pump troubles) and took forever to fix it.

Mostly shadowed Interstate 55 on parallel Highway 61. Eventually the two split up, and I had a choice of two routes: winding 61 forming the “scenic” route near the river (through the town of St. Genevieve, which I think is a great name) and 55 running a straight line. with less mileage.

Based the hilly terrain and how late I was running, I took the freeway. That made the late afternoon easier with about 20 miles on a (mostly paved, mostly good) shoulder.

However it stinks! Armadillos have reached this region (one of my Missouri friends was shocked and said I mis-identified rats, but no, it’s true!) and apparently they are nature’s fodder for roadkill. Sometimes I couldn’t go an eighth of a mile without seeing one, squashed and crunchy. They must not be used to dodging things, what with the armored shells. They have the worst smell of any roadkill so far.

Pretty frayed by the time I got in, just at dusk, but Tina and her friend Jean seem like a blast. Tina had some homemade gumbo for me and then got right to the beers and margaritas! Talk about a warm welcome.

Learning that I love the Missouri accent. 70.7 miles.


Day 81 – Library Day!

Tina generously offered that I can stay for a rest day if I like, and I decided to use at least part of that day working. There’s no wi-fi in Tina’s house, but Perryville has a public library that’s part of an impressive new community center. It also has a full gym. I was able to bike over there, set up my laptop and write for several hours.

In the evening I tried to help Tina with some computer problems. She said she’s been wanting wi-fi for a while, and when I explained how it worked she drove us to Wal-Mart where I helped her pick out a wireless router.

I learned a lot from Jeanie and Tina. They’ve had hard lives in part because the men they most recently loved did not marry them. Older men tend not to want to marry (often they have already been married) but for an older woman it seems marriage is still a crucial safeguard even today.

I also found out that Tina is a dedicated book lover. When I asked her what some of her favorite books are, she topped the list with Les Miserables. When she heard I’ve never read it she handed me the copy. She offered that I take it with me but only if I would read it. I balked. The thing is over 1,500 pages which is more than I like to read and definitely way more than I want to carry. But I started it that same night, and in the first 20 pages or so I was convinced. This book is amazing!

(André’s note: that book would later end up really being a source of strength during the hard financial times in November/December.)

Day 82 (September 26) — Green Sky

Headed toward Sikeston, MO. Fierce storms on the radar. Tina suggested I stay another day, but want to get moving toward New Orleans. Hoping to make it by 10/17 to meet Saumya and Urban!

Didn’t get farther than the main street of town before the clouds arrived and opened up. Took shelter at a gas station. Friendly owner was supportive of my trip & gave me access to his business wi-fi network. Watched radar and thought a lot about risk management. Made a plan to dash to the next town, on the belief I could bike fast enough to pass between thunderheads.

Plan worked!

Got a little wet, but once I outran the storm it was kind of nice. Followed a rural route through Longtown, Uniontown, and Old Appletown. The Missouri country views are beautiful after a rain shower: everything bright and glistening.

Eventually turned back onto Interstate 55 for straight shot to Sikeston, Missouri. Started to make fantastic time, really got into zone. Late in afternoon, very nasty clouds on the horizon and the sky spooky green like tornado weather. Started to see lightning off in the west.

Made a decision to continue as far as I could before the storm hit. I was only 10, 11 miles out from Sikeston—hoping to make town. I had a loose idea of going to (regionally) famous Lambert’s Cafe once I arrived, maybe storm would subside by the time I was done eating.

Didn’t make it! Just two, three miles from Sikeston, I had to seek shelter. I was on the interstate and had to bail, heading across a field and fence to a frontage road with a few houses.

Hoisted Giant over the fence and pushed him, with difficulty, through tall grass as rain and fierce wind hit. Approached a well-maintained house with a front porch, reasoning I could wait out the storm on the porch even if no one was home.

Knocked on the door, and a man answered! Older guy, maybe 60, white, friendly enough. Gave me a towel and offered me a drink, but I just took water.

We sat on his porch awhile watching the storm. Originally my request was: may I wait it out and then push on. When the rain slowed though, it was getting dark. I straight out asked him if I could stay there for the night.

(This may have been first time I made such a bold request.)

He was open to it but worried because there was no spare bed for me. I told him I would be happy on a couch or the floor. He seemed a little abashed that he hadn’t offered earlier. “Of course you can stay,” he said. So I did.

I liked this guy. He’s my opposite in many ways, a conservative and has some old fashioned racial views. But he was also lifelong Navy, retired now, and understood the travel and adventure bug. He was open minded on religious matters, disliking formal religion but believing in a spiritual path.

We had some good talks, particularly about his recently passed wife (they’d been together since high school and she had passed about a year ago). They had planned a beautiful retirement together and now it was just him. He told me a lot about the value of marriage, not just of love but of marriage itself, as an institution.

His couch was comfortable and I slept well. 65.4 miles.


Total traveled this leg: 136.1

Total traveled since Day 1: 1203.1

In the next sections, racial tension starts to become a serious presence in the towns I visit, and bike problems become severe. I hope to post it soon. Until then you can check out all the road logs up to date.