Friends: It wasn't until after Winona on Route 19, after nearly 200 miles of biking through the Ozarks, that we finally encountered a series of those killer steep hills the region is notorious for. We had been warned of brutally steep, "heart-attack," hills just ahead for miles and miles. There were hills that someone unaccustomed to a bike with low gears might have considered forbidding, but to us, it was all child's play, especially to Don Jaime, living in the Andes.
For 100 miles of Route 19, after 100 miles on Historic Route 66, we had enjoyed absolutely idyllic cycling on a gently rolling and twisting road with no traffic through thickly forested terrain following a ridge line with only a couple of dips down to rivers and then a four or five hundred foot climb back up to the ridge line. It was one of those roads where I wished I had a traveling companion to jointly revel in the fabulous cycling, and lo and behold, I did. Don Jaime was ecstatic beyond belief at a paved road without the annoyance of cars. The occasional pick-up that passed us gave a wide berth and was in no hurry to pass. The only shout from a motorist was someone who noticed The Don had dropped a glove a little ways back.
Fortunately the wall-steep hills came in just a few small batches. We had several miles of relatively flat terrain until the next batch. We couldn't complain at all though. Maybe some worse ones await us in Arkansas, just ahead from Thayer, a most amiable town where we didn't have to fill out forms to use the computer promising not to go to porno sites. It is a town of euphemisms with a church referred to as a "Worship Center," and an antique store called "Creative Poverty."
We can't say we've encountered any hostility whatsoever either on our bikes or off. We must be a rare site, grown men in tights, but no one has queried us about our attire. We've been prepared to tell them we dance for the New York Ballet and are on a holiday trying to gain some extra strength in our legs to keep up with the young up-and-coming dancers in our company.
At the Cherryville general store/cafe/post office we were the object of some extra attention. One of the hefty good ol' boys sitting at a table sipping coffees came over to our table with some friendly advice. "I hope you boys are taking your vitamins," he said. "You're going to need 'em for the hills up ahead." After a few minutes of conversation he returned to his table and told his mates, "I told them boys they better be taking their vitamins." That drew some chuckles. Then one of them said, "Yeah, if they get a heart-attack, I wouldn't want to give 'em mouth-to-mouth."
The daily special was a fish sandwich. Even though it was after noon I asked if I could have pancakes. The waitress, who also served as the cook and tended to the cash register in this one person operation, said she could whip some up. I wondered about the flour she used when she presented me with a nice fat barely tinged trio of albinos. She must have been in a hurry tending to the other customers as their color was due to their only being only half-cooked. I was so hungry I ate them anyway, dousing them with half a bottle of syrup to make their doughiness somewhat palatable.
It is not always easy to determine whether some of the homes along the road are lived in or not. Dogs are one way to tell. Near the top of one hill we could see a dilapidated shack that look abandoned until we stirred up six dogs each, tied to its own pole into a frenzy of barking and charging at us the length of their chain. As we came along side them a rotund, disheveled woman in her underwear, with a belly drooping half way to her knees, stepped out onto her porch to see what had riled her critters. One glance at us and she retreated back inside.
Don Jaime sighed, "Some of these Missouri folk make the poor of Ecuador look like gentry."
Earlier in the day The Don felt more at home when we passed the startling sight of a llama and an alpaca grazing in a pasture. They came trotting towards us. Don Jaime proudly said, " I think they recognize I'm from their homeland." He stopped and hopped off his bike to give them a closer look, grabbing a bunch of weeds to offer them. He couldn't entice them closer than twenty feet, even trying some other vegetation, hoping it might be more to their liking. After a couple of minutes he gave up.
Just after we resumed our riding a pick-up truck turned down the dirt road bordering the pasture. Don Jaime sped up and waved at the motorist. She stopped. She told us that many of the farmers in the area have such animals to protect their calves from predators. Don Jaime had never heard of such a thing and was eager to tell friends back in Ecuador all about it. Then he told me, "Be sure to put that in your blog." That has been his constant refrain. I was counting on him to post a journal of our travels, as he did of our first trip, but so far I'm our lone trip chronicler.
Two nights ago in Eminence, he decided he wanted to sleep in a hotel rather than wild camp once again. His sleeping bag isn't as warm as mine and with unseasonably cold temperatures near freezing the night before, hadn't gotten the best of sleeps. He had quite a choice of bed and breakfasts and cabins and motels to choose from, while I easily found a spot to pitch my tent just out of town along one of the two rivers that converge there, making it a popular canoeing spot.
The town only had one bar though without much of a choice of beer. The Don has just started his own brew pub down in Banos and has been checking out locals beers along the way. His four beers a night are "research." The bar closed at nine on a Saturday night, barely enough time for his research. He was invited to drink with a woman and her husband celebrating her 29th birthday. She was crying in her beer, as her mother hadn't called to wish her Happy Birthday. "Be sure to put that in your blog," The Don said.
We were surprised to see no road kill deer along Route 19 through the thick forest. The husband and wife proprietors of the general store/service station in Timber, the only place offering supplies on the 44-mile stretch between Salem and Eminence, told us that was because there was so little traffic on the road, as there was plenty of deer. Its also because the deer have retreated deeper into the woods, as the hunting season has just begun, though the first two weeks of it are just for youth. The men hate that as it alerts the deer that the hunt is on and makes it harder for them to find them once they can start hunting next week.
We had a good hour's conversation with the couple as we snacked and rested our legs. On the wall was the Tea Party manifesto. "We better not talk politics here, " Don Jaime commented. We didn't need to, as they filled us in on all the local color we could want. They'd lived there for more than 40 years. They stock their store by buying from the Wal-Mart 25 miles away in Salem. Many people complain that their food is more expensive than the Wal-Mart, but then complain if they take a day off or if they are a little late in opening. The wife said she used to read three or four books a week sitting in the store waiting for customers, but since she got Netflix, she watches three or four movies a day and hardly reads any more. She keeps a gun behind the counter, but hasn't had to use it. Her husband hunts, but uses his gun more often to kill the raccoons and possums that come around their chicken coop. When we left, she thanked us for the nice conversation.
When we arrived in Alton about an hour before dark last night The Don was worried he might not be able to find a six-pack for his evening's research at our campsite, as it was a Sunday and we were greeted by a sign listing the town's ten or so churches. But one of the town's two gas stations had a refrigerator full of beer, though mostly of the all too common standbys. The Don was worried at first that he would have to settle for Heineken. "For a beer snob like me, it will do in a pinch," he commented. But then on closer look he found Boulevard, which we had seen on the menu in Cuba and had been told came from a micro-brewery in Kansas City. Don Jaime declined it then in preference to a more local brew, but was now happy to give it a try.
About three miles out of town we ventured down a dirt road a couple tenths of a mile and disappeared into the forest. We then ducked under a drooping barbed wire fence to a patch of pine trees on the fringe of a meadow. There were a few scattered rocks that we could gather to make a ring for a fire place. It wasn't so cold that we needed a fire, but The Don has a compulsion to fire-building, perhaps due to some Creek blood in his heritage. He frequently builds a fire at his bed-and-breakfast in Ecuador. He proved his devotion to fire-building by going at it just after he set up his tent, even before opening one of his beers. Even he was surprised by his priorities.
While I ate my ramen and baked beans, the Don did his research, waiting to eat his pizza until later. And we reflected on Another Great Day on the Bike.