Twenty-One: Alphabet Soup (Chester to Farmington, MISSOURI)

by davidharries

Miles: 54
Total: 1,433

Assault at first light. That’s the plan, man. The target: Penitentiary Bridge over the Mississipi. The crossing into Missouri’s a narrow two-laner, with no shoulder. Melissa and Faye in Buckhorn Lake (day 10) said to just take the lane and ride over. There’s a fair bit of truck traffic and no room to pass. Why DOTs refuse to tack on few more bucks for shoulders when shelling out millions on a bridge is beyond me.

But before the bridge, I stopped for a photo with Popeye, another TransAm must-have. Two big things collected in the first four miles of the day. Right over the bridge, gas fell about 40 cents to the mid-$3.40s/gallon, and I was in heaven. Not from the gas prices or the heavy-looking fireworks stands –I bet you can really lose a limb in Missouri — but from the flat floodplain. The next 10 miles were full of corn, soy and a nary a bump. Man, the US grows a lot of corn. I mean, A LOT. It’s not something you realize till spending hours and hours, miles and miles pedaling next to armies of maize. It is neat to see how the corn’s come up as I’ve come across.

The flat inevitably ended, and I started climbing away from the river valley. Up and down, up and down. Some folks call Missouri hills a human-powered roller coaster. I crossed paths with Danny, who’s racing the TransAm, W>E. He’s having fun, though the winner, Mike Hall, has finished. The first thing he said was, “Did you cross another guy?” followed by, “How long ago?” These folks are nuts. Danny’s chasing a guy he had 30 miles on last night. He was overtaken while sleeping, and they don’t sleep much. The best competitors average 15 mph across the entire country. Average. That includes naps, food stops, mechanical issues, everything. They’re carrying minimal equipment, strong lights and remarkable discipline.

The roads changed from numbered routes to lettered routes in Missouri. I rode on H, Z, N, P, B and F today.

A few miles later I crossed two westbounders. They looked like roadies out for a spin, and one was. A half hour later or so, Brian McEntire pulls up alongside me. He was riding with the guy who organizing the TransAm race, and picking his brain. Brian lives in Farmington, and did the TransAm a couple of years ago. He says he’d like to race it. We spent a very pleasant 10 miles or so together. He’s out for a lunch-break ride and I enjoyed the company and conversation. See, I told you even crossing solo you meet folks. Brian had to get back to the office, but left me at Crown Valley, A brewery/distillery/winery about 15 miles out of Farmington. I stopped in for a pint of Black IPA, the first decent beer I’ve had since Sweetwater in Falls of Rough. It was nice to get out of the heat for a bit, too. The last stretch into town was slow, equally from the beer (always a gamble when there are still miles to put in) and reticulating grades.

Farmington’s fabulous. About 16,000 people, it has its own identity, but also embraces its position on the trail. The overnight halt is Al’s Place, a block from the courthouse because it was a jail until 1996. You store and can work on your bike downstairs, and upstairs is a hostel. The requested donation’s $20, and it’s more of an apartment than hostel. There are 14 bunks, two bathrooms, A/C, wifi, a computer to use, limited kitchen and full laundry. Farmington runs the service for cyclists, and uses inmate labor for maintenance. The hostel’s named for a local Al, who was an avid cyclist and friend to tourists before succumbing to cancer in middle age. The digs are decorated with signed jerseys, bicycles and other paraphernalia. It’s wild — Google it. I didn’t take any interior photos.

It’s easy to forget you arrived on bike
when sitting on a sofa, finishing Game of Thrones’ season four. Trevor started later than I did, and was headed down the road farther today, but we got together for chocolate-dipped soft serve cones at Hunt’s Dairy Bar and did some raccoon-replacing at the nearby grocery. We may not see each other again this trip. It’s interesting how people pass in and out. Somehow, transience amplifies our shared experience.