Okay, you caught me, we had to cross back into Illinois before reaching Missouri. A couple important things happened here I suppose. Joe was able to get another I-phone in Carbondale, site of Southern Illinois University (his first one took swimming lessons in his open rain jacket pocket). Also, we rolled through Chester, IL home to Popeye the Sailor. You might be suspicious, much as I was, to hear that Popeye is from the Midwest - not many oceans around here, no? It made more sense when we learned that this was actually home to the author that created the lovable cartoon character. Cut Popeye some slack alright, not everyone can smoke a pipe and be a healthy role model for children who refuse to eat vegetables. On a more serious note, it was in Chester that we realized peddling over the Rockies might be a foolish (or perhaps impossible) endeavor. Talk of Amtrak stations and rental cars started flying around as we debated our desire to test fate.
From Popeye’s home it was just a skip over the Mississippi river into Missouri. Here you can see the largest barge arrangement we have witnessed the entire trip, proving the waterway is still vital to interstate commerce. It should be noted that while the sign for Missouri bears the slogan “The Show me State,” we were unable to determine the origin of this clever nickname (though we thought of some inappropriate examples). Perhaps it indicates that we should have booked a tour guide before entering the commonwealth? Maybe one day I will consult Wikipedia.
One thing you don’t need a tour guide to discover in Missouri is a plethora of armadillo carcasses. Prior to this trip my only hands-on armadillo experience was a horrific basket fashioned from one of the critters that sat on our entertainment center. Judging by their numbers, the poor creatures really seem to struggle with crossing the road safely. In addition to loads of expired armadillos we also spotted a number of ancient looking miniature turtles and even one tarantula. Who knew Missouri roadsides harbored so many intriguing species?
As the flat levees of the Mississippi gave way to rolling hills we found ourselves climbing into the Ozark Mountains. The fall colors were beautiful and served to keep our minds off of the seemingly endless roller-coaster terrain. Unfortunately, the roads lacked any kind of overlooks and the one magnificent clearing was atop a ridge where the rain was pouring down and I dared not pull out my camera. You’ll have to make due with this dozer snapshot. It was also in the Ozarks that we met Ian, fellow cycle tourist and adventure traveler. In addition to making his own panniers (see pic) he had hopped several trains in the not so distant past, something that Clancy has taken a fancy to lately. We invited Ian to ride with us since he seemed like a really chill guy. To our chagrin, he accepted our offer and rode with us for a few hours until his bike began experiencing mechanical difficulties. Since he wasn’t too far from home he was able to call his mom who was kind enough to come pick him up (mom’s are great like that!). We were sad to loose our newly acquired fourth riding buddy but were thankful that he had transportation. Luckily, we hadn’t seen the last of Ian. That night we pulled into the small town of Eminence and began sorting out food and lodging arrangements. While we were standing in front of the market Ian walked up to us with his mother (and savior) Lisa. “Hi Guys!” chimed Ian. “Would you care to join us for dinner, I just ordered a pizza,” followed Lisa. Hardly in a position to refuse, we graciously accepted and soon found ourselves inhaling some fabulous pizza pie. Despite our poor manners and the fact that we hadn’t showered in days, Ian and Lisa put up with us astoundingly well. We were thrilled to have the company and were sad when it came time to say our farewells. They even offered to have us crash at their place but they lived a full 40 miles away. We probably should have taken them up on their offer though; we ended up spending the night in an exceptionally sketchy picnic shelter. Numerous cars pulled up throughout the night, likely surprised to find us in “their spot.”
A couple days later down the line in the little town of Ash Grove we had much better luck finding shelter - this time at an Orthodox church appropriately named “Unexpected Joy Chapel.” Father Moses was happy to have us in the recently constructed sanctuary. We soon found out that he wasn’t your average Father of the faith. Moses had lived on a commune, had a son working in Antarctica, and was related to Daniel Boone. He extended an invite to the local Afro American Heritage Museum for the following morning and left us to our dinner plans. We promptly loaded up at the grocery store and returned to start cooking a feast of monumental proportions. There were chicken breasts, mashed potatoes and gravy, biscuits, vegetables, and a beautiful salad prepared by Joe. Clancy made sure we didn’t go hungry for dessert by whipping up some brownies. It was the most proper family dinner that the three of us had created together. The next morning after some omelets we made our way down to the Afro American Heritage Museum. What Father Moses failed to mention was that he is the establishment’s curator and sole proprietor. He had set aside his morning just to give us a tour of the museum, and boy howdy did we get a tour. The downtown building was brimming with slavery artifacts, underground railroad memorabilia, and books containing family history that really belonged in the Smithsonian. You see, Father Moses is a direct descendant of slaves and his passion is sharing with others the lives of those that were held in captivity and some of their ironic freedoms. It would be easy for someone in his position to perhaps be angry, accusatory, and resentful but Moses didn’t come off like this in the slightest. His presence was something to behold - I suppose that’s why National Geographic had done a special on his museum and a biographical documentary narrated by James Earl Jones is in the works.