Sunday, August 22, 2004

Day Four

Start: Junction City KS (19598)
End: St Louis MO (20024)
426 miles

Another fine day. The Weather Channel (essential programming for traveling motorcyclists) shows that I'm still between two major storm fronts and will stay there today. There's heavy rain a day in front of me and a day behind me, but I've lucked out and hit the sweet spot for my eastbound journey. :)

Jeanne and I gear up and head out early. She is going back to Wichita, although she wavers a bit when I tell her she should just come on out to Virginia with me. (Me: "Oh, c'mon, just do it. It'll be fun." Her: "I didn't pack anything." Me: "I bet we could find someplace between here and Virginia that could sell you a toothbrush.") She coulda ... between jobs at the moment, nothing crucial to prevent her from just taking off for a few days ... but she's supposed to go pick up her truck and/or trailer from somewhere today, and finally decides not to blow it off. Ah well. Next time, kiddo! We say our goodbyes, and I thank her profusely for coming up and riding with me for a bit. I have very much enjoyed our meetup, and look forward to seeing her again.

Back to road time. Kansas is greening up imperceptibly as I head east. I pass through capital Topeka, Lawrence, and cross the state line at Kansas City, where the Kansas River flows into the broad Missouri. Rivers that big always trip me out, I'm not used to them, LOL. Kansas City MO is the first truly major Midwest town I've seen, and the largest since Denver. Skyscrapers cluster downtown, looking important, the interstate shoehorning its way between. Royals and Chiefs Stadiums catch my eye on the right-hand side, but I can't spend more than a microsecond looking at them, because the road is lousy with morning traffic and lots and lots of construction. They are widening the freeway all the way past the town of Independence, and the lane shifts are numerous and nasty. Keeps me on my toes!

The urban cluster of western Missouri finally dies out and I am back to riding wide-open road. My goodness, Missouri is really quite lovely. It's more rolling-hills than Kansas, and it all looks lush and green. The land is checkerboarded with planted crops, fallow fields, and what looks like wild grasslands. Stands of trees mark the watercourses, which I cross with more frequency now. I am enjoying myself immensely. I guess I had no idea what to expect from the prairie states, but I certainly hadn't thought I would see land this charming. My sister and her family recently visited here, and were so taken by it that they're looking for property and planning to move out of California. Now I see why. At the next stop for gas, I call my sister. "Hey, was it Warrensburg or Warrenton where you were looking to move?" "Warrensburg," she answers. "Well, guess where I am." I've managed to pull off into a BP on the Warrensburg exit ... we get a pretty good chuckle out of that.

Ride, gas, ride some more. More miles. More scenery. I see lots and lots of billboards advertising roadside-attraction caves, and wineries. Makes sense, if you think about it. This part of the country is all limestone, part of an ancient seabed before the continents took their current shape. Perfect soil for vineyards. Perfect conditions for cave formation. The hills roll on, the road cutting across their fertile contours. I smile, and sing to myself, happily flying along.

Another gas stop, and I strike up a conversation with an older fellow riding a 70's-era Kawasaki. His bike is all packed up and he's obviously traveling long-distance too. He tells me he's been to Portland OR, then down to Las Vegas, and now he is returning to New York. Ah, that explains the Yankee cap! His Kawa is obviously well-loved, it looks spotless and meticulously maintained in spite of being twenty-some years old. I always think those long banana seats look uncomfortable, though. We wish each other safe riding. I will see him several times again this day along the road, and we will wave greetings to each other.

Late afternoon, and I have made good time across Missouri. St Louis is, I believe, the biggest Midwest city besides Chicago, and it certainly has plenty of urban sprawl. I am used to riding in this sort of traffic, but I can see where it would be awfully intimidating to someone who learned to ride in the countryside. I pass through suburb after suburb, their names meaningless to me, seeing strip malls and housing developments and all the familiar-seeming features of cities. I have the directions to Blue's house zipped up in my left breast pocket, but of course I can't pull out and check my little scribbled piece of paper while I am riding. Predictably, I miss my offramp. I eventually figure out that I need to turn around, get a little sidetracked on one of the loop highways, manage to point myself in the right direction, and find my way to the St George suburb of St Louis. I pull into Blue's driveway around 5:00 pm.

Blue is an absolute sweetheart; she welcomes me into her home and it's sooo nice to have some creature comforts after several days of hotel stays. We gab for a while (and let me tell you, for those of you that haven't met Blue ... she's quite a talker! I do manage to get some words in edgewise, though. LOL) and then I head off to take a shower, put on clean non-riding clothes, and generally feel civilized again. Air comes over later. They're going to show me the town. Somehow it feels strange to sit in a car again. Hee. We go out for dinner ... I figure, when in St Louis, oughtta do barbeque ... and it is QUITE the feed, we scarf down piles of ribs and brisket and chicken. Air cracks me up. She's one of those people whose wit is so dry it's positively desiccated. (Me: "Wow, we pigged out." Air: "I think we got a pig in.") After dinner, we do the tourist thang, go see the Arch and walk around the plaza for a little while, then do a little driving tour of some of the historic neighborhoods around St Louis. We don't stay out too late, since the two of them will ride with me a ways tomorrow. Off to bed, and sweet dreams!

Next: Day Five

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