I had no qualms about adding more than a hundred miles to my ride, even with many of them into a strong southerly wind, as Dwight is easily one of the more extraordinary people on the planet--an idealist whose Vietnam war protests earned him a several hundred page FBI file and a man wanted in half a dozen countries for his various escapades, some on behalf of the Sea Shepherd Society sinking a whaling ship and a drift netter, and also for escaping from Mexico City's maximum security prison, one of only two people to manage the feat along with Pancho Villa.
Dwight has also made his mark in academia, winning countless awards for his exuberant teaching style. He had retired from teaching several years ago to devote more time to his writing and traveling and farm. It was a difficult decision to leave his farm and take a break from the writing (two exhilarating autobiographical books in the past two years) and his vast network of friends dating back to his student years in the '60s, but he couldn't resist the call of the classroom.
It wasn't a typical career move for a financially-set 67-year old, but there is nothing typical about Dwight. He is an authority on computer security and loves imparting his knowledge. It was no surprise to see that he is thriving back on campus, not only teaching but in getting around on his bicycle in this flat, sprawling metropolis. With a population of 160,000 it is the largest of the thirty-some Springfields scattered around the US. An added attraction for me was that it also has a Carnegie Library, a grand edifice with a large, matching addition to its backside.
The Webb City Carnegie though was very much alive and had a timeless brick style unto its own in a quiet residential neighborhood.
It was my third Carnegie in my first seventy-five miles of Missouri. They each elicited a spontaneous "Wow" when I spotted them in the distance, each strikingly majestic and an upgrade on the predominantly brick, though still distinguished, Carnegies of Kansas. The first was in Webb City, a suburb of Joplin, which has its own Carnegie. Janina and I had been through Joplin in January on our way back from Texas, and had swung by its Carnegie, but didn't take the time to zip up to Webb City, as we were somewhat pressed for time. The Joplin Carnegie was of the large urban class, though closed down and surrounded by a fence. It was magnificent enough to visit again, but I resisted, saving myself a few miles.
Its beauty added to my exhilaration of being in Missouri, closing in on Dwight. Missouri had a vitality that was lacking in Kansas. Crossing into the state was akin to crossing from a downtrodden country into one of more affluence, such as from Cambodia to Thailand or into Colombia from Ecuador. I hadn't realized how burdened and dispirited were so many of the Kansans until I crossed into Missouri and encountered a surge of upbeat and outgoing folk. The Kansans were nice and hardly hostile or outwardly sullen, but they certainly weren't as imbued with the positive energy of those in Missouri. I hadn't sensed that two years ago when I stuck to the central part of the state before crossing into Missouri, but it was most pronounced this year even though the farmers had been drought-ridden two years ago and should have been deeply depressed. It was almost as if they were putting on a brave front back then and were expressing a solidarity against their woes.
The Carnegie in Oswego, Kansas was representative of the Kansas I experienced this year, somewhat rundown and short on funds, not even open on Mondays. A cardboard sign out front advertised cans of soda for fifty cents to raise money for the library.
My final Carnegie in Kansas was fifteen miles down the road in Columbus, shortly before the border. It had Monday hours and was as regal as any.
Just inside the door was the standard portrait of Carnegie along with a plaque acknowledging his gift.
Missouri further perked by spirits as I joined up with historic Route 66 in Webb City. The forested terrain was also a welcome change from the predominant Plains of Kansas. Signs at the entry to towns gave their population rather than their elevation or year of founding.
Along with the official road signs promoting 66 were countless businesses named for the route--diners, cafes, laundromats, sports bars and even a movie theater in Webb City that was still offering "The Rocky Horror Picture Show."
I followed Route 66 to Carthage and its magnificent domed Carnegie gleaming in the setting sun.
The next day I continued on 66 for sixty miles to Springfield. It was fully rural with no towns big enough for a grocery store. I had to settle on service stations for water and food. I passed two groups of motorcyclists in tight formation heading west, one of twenty and the other of eight, who no doubt were on a dream trip following the route from Chicago to California. I peered closely to see if I could detect their nationality, knowing it is a popular undertaking for Europeans, but no telling details or features betrayed where they might be from. It was exciting though to know that whoever they were, they were most certainly all thrilled to be experiencing this legendary road, just as I was.
But I would leave it in Springfield, heading north for a series of Carnegies, rather than continuing along a route I had already ridden to St. Louis despite the allure of a handful of friends there that I'm always happy to visit.