Start: Piedmont, MO
Finish: Cape Girardeau, MO
Weather: 85 degrees, overcast
Bike Time: 8 hours
Distance to date: 1,492
I have crossed the Mississippi many times, and in each location the land eased out into a long, flat plane, miles of forecourt before the main event. So, I thought today would be a long, easy
descent to that Ole Man River. No way. Southern Missouri just kept slapping up at me, hill after hill. Cape Girardeau sticks out into the flow of the river like a polyp, and I guess whatever ground
is beneath it defies erosion. But I made it to western shore and have a nice room in the only motel left in the old part of town, within walking distance of the historic (read neglected) downtown.
Riding through Missouri I find myself thinking a lot about stuff. Every town here has a Wal-Mart, lined with aisles of stuff. Knowing that I would be short on services today, I stopped in the one in Piedmont to pick up energy bars, and I am pretty sure there was enough flat screen TV’s on display to
provide one to every resident of the tiny town. Even if a pandemic of TV buying occurred, Wal-Mart would have them replenished within 48 hours. The store was jammed with goods, and it wasn’t even a Supercenter (see how well I know my Wal-Mart classifications). Within a short shelf life, all of that stuff will get moved out of the store and into people’s
houses, or cars, or yards, which are already brimming.
Along rural Missouri people live close the road, and their stuff is everywhere. Sure, there are the trailers with careless yards of tires, refrigerator hulks and dead RV’s, and there are the rural Grey Gardens folks, pathological hoarders whose yards are stacked with stuff they can neither find nor live without; one expects to see those oddities in the rural woods. What is really remarkable, though, is the standard issue ranch whose garage has been turned into a room, with a double wide metal carport in front, and four vehicles, and a tracker, and a stack of bikes, and plastic toddler toys, and a love swing, and ceramic pots, and a stone wishing well and three barking dogs behind a fence and satellite dish on the roof. And that is not all, because every one of these small towns has rows of rows of U-Storage buildings, for all the stuff that doesn’t get scattered around the yard.
Even I, pedaling everything, have more than I need. I wanted some Neatsfoot Oil to soften my saddle. Two or three ounces would have been fine, but the smallest size was pint, so that is what I am carrying. I haul four liters of water, though I have never dipped into the fourth one. I carry at least three extra tire tubes and energy bars. My extra baggage is determined by contingency needs that give me comfort. I never want to run out of water, or tire tubes or energy bars, but if my tire blows, which can happen, I have no back-up. It is my calculated risk. Are such calculations valid for the stuff that I see along the Missouri highway, or stuck in the garage turned spare room, or
locked away in a storage rental? Our stuff is choking us.
So with all this excess baggage filling my brain, it was lovely this afternoon to come upon the Bollinger Mill, a State Historic Site with the oldest covered bridge in Missouri and a stately, pre-Civil war mill along a small waterfall. The pristine simplicity of the mill and the bridge settled my mind and provided a counterpoint to the chaos of the contemporary dwellings.
By 3:30 pm I rolled past the typical confusion of a major Interstate intersection at I-55. I discovered there was one
remaining motel left downtown, tired but clean and run by Indians, as most of the non-chain motels are these days. It
was only a short walk from the motel to the historic center of Cape Girardeau, a charming downtown with muralled levee and walkway along the Mississippi River. City Hall sits high on a bluff with a commanding view of the river. It is all rather grand, and once upon a time was much livelier than it is
today. I found an excellent barbeque joint to satisfy my latest craving – rib tips and cole slaw and baked beans, and that squishy white bread that only barbeque places serve with a straight face. This is a very satisfying place to spend the evening.
Bollinger Mill and Covered Bridge, Burfordsville, MO
Looking South, the Mississippi River at Cape Girardeau, MO