Today I cross journey across Missouri and halfway through Kansas. Highlights include a great morning ride, an eagle, a free lunch, and somehow managing to beat the closing bell… twice!
I slept well, though I had to adjust the air conditioner in the middle of the night because I had it too low. <shrug> It felt good at the time.
Unlike yesterday, I had set an alarm that would allow me to at least look at what this hotel had to offer for breakfast.
Instead, I should have slept another half hour.
They had some bread and bagels, along with butter and cream cheese. They also had some fruit juices, coffee (which I’m not interested in), and some cold cereal and milk.
Pretty sparse… actually, kind of lame.
Back in my room, I decided that I’d use the extra time to dress my leathers, which was one of the pre-trip chores that I hadn’t finished before I left.
Leather goods, especially ones abused as much as motorcycle gear, need to be oiled periodically to keep the leather supple, prevent cracking, and to foster a bit of water repellence. There are lots of products that can dress leather, but I like the harder compounds because their easier to control. It basically looks (and feels) a bit like dense Vaseline. You wipe it all over the exposed surfaces of the leather and the leather absorbs it over time. On a hot day like this one, the pores on the leather will open wide and suck down the dressing compound like a sponge. The finished leathers will remain a bit slimy until they’ve absorbed the compound.
One downside to dressing leathers, especially black leather, is that you always end up with dirty fingernails and the feeling that you just put way too much lotion on your hands. I needed a shower anyway, so I decided to wash up before my departure. One caveat to showering before the ride is that I’ll be braiding my hair while it’s still wet. That means I’ll have kinky hair later. Remind me to post a photo for Karen; she likes it when I’ve got kinky hair.
When I finally made it outside to load the bike, I was surprised to find that two miracles had occurred:
- The humidity was mostly gone. It was still plenty warm with temperatures in the upper 80ºs (29ºC) but it was infinitely more tolerable with lower humidity. I took a quick look at the precipitation radar and there was nothing to west of me all the way to the Rocky Mountains… and I wasn’t going anywhere near that far today.
- The tiny (nearly microscopic) screw to the storage door on my INNOVV K5 dash cam unit, the screw that I’d somehow dropped in the dark parking lot the night before, nearly jumped off the ground and bit me. I found it literally in the first five seconds of looking. Ha-Le-fucking-lu-jia! That’s one trip to the hardware store that I won’t have to make.
Unlike a lot of the highways that cross the Mississippi River at St. Louis, Missouri, US50 actually uses the I255 and I270 bypasses to go around the bunper-to-bumper congestion downtown where five major highways all come together to use the same bridge. This fortunate condition meant my trip around one of the two remaining big cities on my route would not require weeping and grinding of teeth to overcome.
At the turn south before the river crossing, I did catch a distant glimpse of the downtown skyline and the ever-impressive stainless steel Gateway Arch. I wouldn’t have been prudent to stop for a photo; I’ll see if the dash cam picked it up.
Being a Sunday morning, the roads weren’t exactly rush hour concentrations. It was sparse enough that one brave Jeep driver passed me at ludicrous speed. Curious, I tagged along for a while just to time him; he was flirting with triple-digit MPH values.
Upon crossing the river, I was able to see the arch again far off to the north. From this angle, the arch was sideways and looked more like a tower than an arch.
After the river crossing, it was only about 10 minutes to get to the I44 interchange where US50, again, tags alone with an interstate highway near a big city. You could do a lot worse than travel I44. Yes, it’s often horribly congested near St. Louis, but it runs through some wonderfully hilly country with lots of impressive rock cuts and river valleys to ride/drive through. This time, however, I’d only be on it for a few miles before exiting when US50 made its own path west across the middle of Missouri.
For those of you who haven’t ridden it, I have a new flash for you:
US50 in eastern Missouri is a fantastic road!
Seriously, it was a revelation. The road surface itself was in (usually) good shape. The route winds it’s way in and around the forested hills of central Missouri. I expected more fields than forest, but the reality is the other way around. Most of the hills are forested with the few level areas in the valleys cleared for farms or livestock. The road, at times, seemed like it was designed by an engineer who really wanted to build roller coasters. Not only did the road go up and down a lot, it insisted on gently weaving around, leaving pleasant sweepers to wind our bikes around.
Most of the curves are posted at 50 or 45 MPH, but a bike can go around them 20-30 MPH faster. There are definitely more technical roads than this stretch of US50, but this one never gives you a “I’m may not survive this corner” vibe like the more twisty roads in motorcycle legends.
I was thoroughly enjoying my ride, noting how many of the rivers I’d crossed were populated with fishing boats, pleasure boats, or both. Just past one of these bridges, a large bird to my left caught my attention. For one, he was a large bird. Also, his markings were familiar. He cooperated with my classification efforts by turning to parallel the road as I passed so I could get a good look at him. Definitely a bald eagle, which is very cool for me since we don’t get many of them in Michigan. I’ll see if he shows up on the dash cam video.
After an hours or two winding my way across Missouri, my stomach started reminding me that we’d skipped breakfast. This road was a bit off the beaten path, so all the familiar franchises were not to be found. (Not that it matters, I tend to avoid them on trips like this anyway.)
I’d spotted a few decent lunch candidates, but they were often fairly crowded. Given that this is a Sunday and shortly after noon, the few rural eating establishments that were open on a Sunday would be busy with post-church family dinner out gatherings.
I finally found what I was looking for (apologies to U2) in the quaint village of Linn, Missouri… population 1,492. The establishment was BJ’s Restaurant and Lounge and it appeared to be the only restaurant in the entire town. I scouted out a parking spot where the Nightowl wouldn’t be baking in sun (who really wants to sit in a hot seat, right?), and went in.
The layout of BJs was interesting: the bar was win the front; it was obviously the primary feature. The dining room was through a small portal into a back room with nice big windows overlooking the valley north of town. The staff were all female and ranged from an older hostess to a bus girl who might be in junior high school.
The one downside to my timing was that all the other clientele were dressed in their best Sunday-go-to-meeting clothes and I was in black leather. Still, they didn’t throw me out. The young girl showed me to a table and ran off to fetch me a glass of ice water.
The menu was nicely varied and featured breakfast and lunch; I was encourage to order from either menu… or better yet, both. Having not eaten yet, I probably could have ordered food from both menus, but I stuck with breakfast since that was what had been so disappointedly denied me back as last night’s motel.
I ordered a half order of biscuits and sausage gravy with a side order of a pancake. At the last moment, I added a second pancake.
While I waited for my food, I pulled out my iPhone and caught up with happenings online. I noticed that my friend who’s hosting Redbeard’s memorial/party posted a new message that there a few early arrivals on Thursday would be engaging in some extra activities that others could plan to join in on if they, too, would be there that early.
This sounded like fun, but I was thinking that I’d arrive on Friday… not Thursday.
I could arrive on Thursday…
I just have to go a bit further each day.
How much further…?
This is what I was mulling over when my food arrived. The biscuits looked good and the gravy had plenty of sausage in it and was pleasantly peppery. The pancakes… I should have stuck with one. They were huge and almost filled the dinner plate from edge to edge.
Towards the end of my meal, the waitress dropped by and we started to chat. (She had some time now with most of the other customers having finished and departed.) She asked where I was going.
Side note: There is a town called California in Missouri and it’s about an hour west of Linn, so that wasn’t a stupid question.
I proceeded to tell her about the party, why we’re having it, and why I chose to take this specific route. She listened to it all and thought it was “really cool”.
Having finished my breakfast bonanza of food, I donned my jacket, grabbed my helmet and stopped at the cashier to pay. I mentioned that I hadn’t received a tab at my table, to which the hostess reports that, “your bill has been taken care of”.
“Oh?”, I reply, raising one eyebrow.
“That’s right”, she smiled. “You’re all set.”
I was a bit flustered and wondered who I had to thank for this generosity. I assume that the waitress I spoke to picked up my tab. It was only about $5 worth of food, but still, the gesture was very nice and completely unexpected. Not knowing what to do next, I quietly thanked her and walked through the bar and out the front door.
Crossing the parking lot to the Nightowl, it occurred to me that this was exactly the kind of thing that happens in all the road-trip stories that Redbeard would tell.
<chuckle> Seems appropriate.
Side note: In my moment of embarrassment from the gesture, I completely forgot to leave a cash tip. I’d usually apply a tip when I fill out the credit card receipt, but I didn’t have to do that this time. <groan> I should have left a few bucks. I’m a moron.
Good thing I stopped for lunch when I did. US50 turns into a four-lane and skirts towns after that all the way to Jefferson City. Jefferson City looked like a cool place to explore. Lots of old architecture spread over a series of hills, some of them exposing rocky cliffs.
Now this it was mid-afternoon, it was getting hotter now, but still tolerable. Thankfully, the humidity was staying low.
Stop for gas in… crap. I don’t know where I am. What’s the address on this receipt that the last customer left on the pump. Crap! No address on the receipt. Oh well, I’ll look it up later.
The answer to the $64,000 question is: Centerview, Missouri. I don’t think it’s actually a town. I think that’s the name of the region marked by that lonely gas station, and nothing more.
At this point, I’m about 275 miles into the day and my core muscles are starting to hurt now. I can practically hear some of my readers protesting that I can certainly do more than this and have done so in the past. This much is true. The difference for this trip is that, either through the over abundance of sloth I exhibited during the pandemic, or the weight loss I’ve been working on since January, I don’t have the core muscles that I used to have. Consequently, sitting upright in the motorcycle saddle for several hours, with no backrest, starts to hurt after a while. Doing stretches helps for a few minutes, but I’m sore again soon enough. I really need to start hitting the yoga hard.
After enduring the extra heat and traffic congestion of my south-side slice through Kansas City, I traveled down I35, which US50 was tagging along on for a southwest exit from the metro mess.
US50 ended its partnership with I35 at Emporia, so I exited there and rode through town, looking at what it had to offer. This was, after all, my original pseudo-target for the day. I could stay here for the night, but it’s only 5:45pm and if I stop for a bit to stretch my core, I certainly could go further. Going further is going to be required if I’m going to arrive at the party a day early…
Things to think about.
I stopped at a convenience store to hydrate, stretch, and use the restroom. I parked the Nightowl in a shady spot beside the store. This shade was already occupied by a chair and a bucket of sand with cigarette butts in it. I guess this is where the employees go to have a smoke break. Nobody was taking a smoke break now, so I purchased something to drink and borrowed the chair to rest my core. Ahh. Much better.
I languished in the shade for, frankly, a bit too long. Karen saw that I’d stopped moving (she can see my moving map) and texted me to see if I was stopping for the night. I called her and we chatted a bit.
Eventually, I decided to press on and try to get to Newton (at least) and preferably Hutchinson. I checked for rooms available at these towns and Newton was a total bust; nothing there, much less with available rooms. It’s still too hot for me to camp; I needed air conditioning. I eventually found a room in Hutchinson and reserved it.
Now my marching orders were clear; another 90 minutes (or so) in the saddle.
About that time, I checked Facebook and found that a Kansas local, my friend Frank, saw my previous posts and figured I’d continue to follow US50. He suggested an excellent place for dinner in Cottonwood Falls. I looked it up and the suggested restaurant was a mere 20 miles down the road I already planned to take!
Cool. I love it when a plan comes together!
The restaurant ended up being so close I wasn’t really looking for it and almost drove by it. There was even an available parking spot right in front of the door. Cool! I’ll drop in, eat, get back on the road, and then I won’t have to find a late dinner when I reach Hutchinson.
Alas, it was not to be.
I approached the hostess of the Ad Astra restaurant and asked if she had an available table. The place looked busy, but there were a few tables still empty.
She asked if I had a reservation.
The hostess backpedalled into full apology mode. All the available tables are there for imminent reservations. She simply couldn’t accommodate a walk-in.
Bummer. Back down the road I go. Maybe I looked like I coudn’t afford the items on the menu.(?)
It was almost 7pm now and the traffic had dwindled down to almost nothing. Consequently, a good pace was easy to maintain and the miles rolled. I’m willing to bet that this region has had plenty of rain so far this season. The fields of crops look green and lush, with the exception of a series of fields with dark black soil and pretty little neatly-spaced lines of seedlings. I couldn’t tell what it was, but it was in several fields and it looked like it was just getting it’s growth started. The corn fields, on the other hand, all looked like they were well on their way to beating the “knee high by the Fourth of July” axiom.
In truth, I wasn’t really looking forward to Kansas. It was greener than I expected and a little more rolling that anticipated. (Certainly more rolling than Nebraska!) Those black fields were rich; you could almost smell the dirt from the road. I saw a few farms where they were already cutting the hay to make bales/stacks. You think a fresh-cut lawn smells good? Try an entire field of freshly cut hay.
Another feature of this stretch of US50 was that it followed the path of a BNSF mainline. I lost track of how many trains I saw, though they were all eastbound. Several were intermodal trains, with a artist’s palette of brightly colored containers neatly stacked in their well cars. A few others were boring grain trains with their grey covered hoppers lumbering down the tracks.
I could tell that I was nearing Hutchinson from a fair distance; you could see the huge grain elevators from far away. They were huge and there wasn’t one or two of them. I counted at least seven long rows of grain elevators as big as the impressive ones in Chicago’s port on Lake Michigan.
The motel I chose wasn’t directly on US50, but it was only a few miles north, so it was easy to find. I pulled into the motel parking lot and ended the day at 8:20pm.
After unpacking the Nightowl, I checked the local food options. Unfortunately, there wasn’t much available because is was a Sunday evening and some of these heartland towns practically roll up the streets for the night after 9pm. Lucky for me, the Texas T-Bone Steakhouse is open until 9:30pm and they’re only a few minutes ride away. Cool.
I arrive in what should be plenty of time, but they’re closing early because they’re short handed… in nine minutes. I’m lucky again, because they decide to serve me anyway. I order a Margarita, a pulled pork sandwich, and a side of baked beans.
While I wait for the food to arrive, and start slurping down my Margarita, I scope out the rest of the trip to see what it will take to achieve a Thursday arrival; one day early. In short, it’s doable, but I’ll need to make Salina, Colorado tomorrow.
I check for rooms for tomorrow night in Salina, Colorado. Unfortunately, Salina is a tourist town, so all the rooms are absurdly expensive. I check the local campgrounds but they’re all RV only; no accommodations for tent campers. I decide to pick the least expensive room and accept the expense. The room does look nice. Now I’m committed for tomorrow.
My food arrives and the pulled pork is good, tender and flavorful. I even find about a half-a-pig of pork mixed in with the baked beans; very nice.
I eat, guzzle my Margarita and two huge glasses of ice water. I pay and don my jacket for the ride home (to the room). As I leave, I see that there are other customers who were already seated when I arrived and they’re still there. Alas, these people want to go home! Oh well.
On the way back to the model, I decide to fill up the Nightowl before turning in. I don’t have to drive very far before I find a gas station. Within five seconds of my turning off the motor, the gas station attendant runs out and warns me that I need to run my card now and start pumping or the pumps will shut off at 9:30pm, which is in about one minute. I beat the clock again. (Yea! Go Me!)
The following is the path for the day.
The Gateway Arch and bald eagle promises must be broken since they only show up in the on-board video as tiny features. I’m still getting used to what shows up and what doesn’t.
Get my ass to Salina, Colorado, or my reserved non-refundable hotel room will be wasted money.
A promise kept
Earlier in this post, I promised Karen a shot of me with kinky hair.