Trip Log – Day 318 – Kansas City KS to Lawrence, KS

to-lawrence-ksSeptember 18, 2016 – Sun, 80 degrees

Miles Today: 44

Miles to Date: 16,448

States to Date: 45

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Summer Sunday – and the living is easy. I had forty-four beautiful, easy miles along the Kansas River Valley.

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Kansas Speedway is a huge piece of environmental art. The painted seats are visible from State Ave for miles. There was a huge motorcycle rally planned there today, so I got up and around it before the noise got too great.

img_7375The only hill to speak of was University of Kansas campus – which sits on a precipice from all directions.

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Trip Log – Day 317 – Kansas City MO to Kansas City KS

to-kansas-city-ksSeptember 17, 2016 – Sun, 80 degrees

Miles Today: 28

Miles to Date: 16,404

States to Date: 45

img_7347Everything’s up to date in Kansas City

They gone about as fer as they can go

– Oscar Hammerstein

My first time ever in Kansas City: a striking, friendly place that’s really a collection of places. If Saint Louis is the last Eastern city in our country, Kansas City is the first Western metropolis. It doesn’t have a single core from which things sprawl. Rather, Kansas City includes multiple nodes of development strung together by wide boulevards and residential areas. I had a gorgeous day to explore the new place.

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The city is famous for its fountains.

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I like the stately 8-plax apartments with big porches that were built in the 1920’s.

img_7367Snazzy KU Medical Center sits right off State Line Road. Within a few blocks the grade descends to the Kansas River and I was in an entirely different place. Kansas City KS is Hispanic and poor. Further west thin men trembled outside of by-the-week motels and buxom women in tight skirts offered to sell what I’m not buying. Eventually State Avenue becomes just another strip of bog box stores and franchises.

screen-shot-2016-09-18-at-4-59-10-pmMy host is an ardent dog lover. We watched Benji, an awful, saccharine 70’s movie that turned funny when Craig’s dogs barked at the ones on the screen. Afterward we went to Quik Trip for dessert smoothies. We sat outside on a warm night under the full moon and watched people buy pop and fill up their pick-ups. Saturday night. Welcome to Kansas.

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Trip Log – Day 316 – Cameron, MO to Kansas City MO

to-kansas-city-moSeptember 16, 2016 – Rain, 75 degrees

Miles Today: 66

Miles to Date: 16,376

States to Date: 44

images-1I woke to the threat of rain and pedaled with determination to Independence, motivated by the darkening skies and Harry S. Truman’s straightforward nature. Presidential Library #8 along my tour. Growing up, my father loved Truman’s no nonsense style, so I’ve always viewed him as a sort of hero. But he’s a complicated hero: a repeated failure in business; politically tied to patronage; a strategic rather than qualified choice for FDR’s fourth term running mate despite the near certain knowledge that this VP would ascend to the top spot.

Truman proved to be more decisive than anyone anticipated. He dropped the bomb on Japan, integrated the armed forces, solidified the Cold War, put us in Korea yet fired Marshall when the popular general wanted to invade China as well. He lived his motto: The buck stops here.

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One quote near the end of the museum sequence reinforced how much Truman created the world we inhabit today. “America in 1952 was a nation at the peak of its economic and military power. Yet paradoxically, this America of confidence, prosperity and military strength was also haunted by uncertainties, frustrations and a sense of vulnerability. Power and insecurity, plenty and want, generosity and prejudice – America in 1952 embodied all of these contradictions.” As they do in 2016.

images-2The rain was steady by the time I left Harry’s place. Still, I stopped at the Community of Christ Temple because it cut such a distinctive profile on the skyline. Turns out to be creation of a splinter group of the Church of Jesus Christ of Later Day Saints who stress Joseph Smith’s early teachings and collective peace. The theology did not grab me, but the grandeur of the building and its dedication to world peace drew me in.

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The sky lightened and I sang Muddy Waters as I pedaled west, even if the lyrics are not quite right for me:

I‘m going to Kansas City, Kansas City here I come.
I’m going to Kansas City, Kansas City here I come.
They got some crazy little women there
And I’m gonna get me one.

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Trip Log – Day 315 – Marshall MO to Cameron MO

to-cameron-moSeptember 15, 2016 – Sunny, 85 degrees

Miles Today: 91

Miles to Date: 16,310

States to Date: 44

img_7308I woke before dawn, excited for the ride; stretched, breakfasted, and was on the road by seven. I always enjoy riding in the morning. The horizontal light highlighted the galvanized silos and skittered off the corn tassels. I got good miles behind me before the heat set in; the breeze gentle as the contours of the land. I rode the shoulder of US 65 north, across the Missouri River to Carrollton, then thirty miles west on Missouri 10, which follows the crease between the flood plain and the foothills. I logged fifty-nine miles and reached Richmond before noon: a new personal best.

img_7312What gave me such motivation? Yesterday I received an email titled, ‘I See You are in Missouri’ from a college friend. Bill made his fortune in technology and finance and retired at age thirty-nine. I saw him three years ago at his spacious house in North Jersey with his wife and youngest child, who was following in his three older siblings’ footsteps in applying to elite colleges. We had a good visit, but I didn’t contact Bill on this journey because I bypassed North Jersey. Turns out that while I pedaled fate threw Bill a curveball. An old childhood flame from his youth in Lima, Peru contacted him on Facebook. The two reconnected. In April, Bill left his wife and affluent New Jersey for a farm in Cameron, MO. Wouldn’t you wake before dawn and pedal 91 miles out of your way to get the skinny on that?

img_7321I was famished when I arrived at Jeffrey Kyle’s, a terrific family-owned buffet and restaurant for lunch. Next time you are in Richmond, eat there.

Bill and Jan’s farm is off a dirt road that Google cannot find. I headed north on Missouri 13 without a clear destination, texted Bill from Casey’s General Store in Polo, and hung around for direction. So much buzz in a small town convenience store. One man scratched dozens and dozens of lottery tickets without any sense of joy. A queue formed at the ATM, People bought a steady stream of cigarettes and pop and beer. Four people worked the joint, always busy.

screen-shot-2016-09-17-at-3-55-30-pmBill messaged me to ride west on Highway 116 where he and Jan picked me up at a truck stop along I-35. They toted Tom and me to their patch of South America via Missouri, where they raise Alpaca and thrive on their renewed connection.

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Trip Log – Day 314 – Columbia MO to Marshall MO

to-marshallSeptember 14, 2016 – Sunny, 75 degrees

Miles Today: 68

Miles to Date: 16,219

States to Date: 44

 screen-shot-2016-09-14-at-9-01-38-pmToday was a terrific day of bicycle touring, though it still did not win me over to gravel. I spent the first 30 miles on Missouri’s famous KATY Trail. It is bucolic and serene, the limestone cliffs are striking and the Missouri River expansive. It is likely the best gravel trail I’ve been on. However, when I pedaled through a passing storm my entire bike got covered in dirt and there’s too much friction to ever feel any speed. Nonetheless I passed more cycle tourists in three hours than I’ve seen in three months. Clearly, I am in the minority on this preference.

img_7307I was hungry when I reached Boonville. The town has a newish, garish casino, and I recalled that casinos have great buffets. The hostess wasn’t too keen to invite me and my panniers to the buffet line, but she kept her smile pasted. I had a terrific lunch that fueled me through an afternoon of fluffy clouds, little traffic, and great pavement. Arrow Rock is a neat little restored town; Marshall is famous for Jim the Wonder Dog. The park dedicated to this fabled animal is worth the detour off the highway and into the town square.

I looked for a coin-op car wash to clean my bike, but no such luck. So, I maneuvered Tom into the tub at the Marshall Lodge and gave him a good shower. After he dried, I lubed his chain. He’s as good as before he ever skittered along the KATY Trail. So am I. And we have some misty photos of the broad valley to show for our effort.

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Trip Log – Day 313 – Kingdom City MO to Columbia MO

to-columbiaSeptember 13, 2016 – Sunny, 75 degrees

Miles Today: 28

Miles to Date: 16,151

States to Date: 44

 img_7288True confession: I do not seek out absolutely every contact I know to discuss tomorrow. I’ve passed on few Catholic recommendations because, well, I have a lot of history with that church. And today, in Columbia, I didn’t bother to seek out University of Missouri Press, publisher of Architecture by Moonlight and bane of my existence for over a year. The book came out so well, but there was no reason the birthing needed to be so difficult.

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Instead, I had a short but lovely ride, toured the Mizzou campus, and spent the afternoon in the Columbia Public Library. A much better way to spend time.

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Trip Log – Day 312 – Lake Saint Louis MO to Kingdom City MO

to-kingdom-citySeptember 12, 2016 – Sunny, 75 degrees

Miles Today: 70

Miles to Date: 16,123

States to Date: 44

Missouri’s bicycle claim to fame is the KATY Trail – 237 miles from Machens to Clinton, mostly along the Missouri River. But it’s gravel, and I dislike the dust that creates. It’s removed from towns and cities, which I seek out. So, despite Google Map’s consistent attempts to route me on the KATY Trial, I stay on paved roads. Today, instead of paralleling the Missouri River, I paralleled Interstate 70. It may not have been as pretty, but it was a more representative view of our country in this century than following the river Lewis and Clark mapped two centuries ago.

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I was not just pedaling west, I was pedaling into the West, following in the shadow of the fur traders, the trappers, the Conestoga pioneers, the renegade Confederates, the railroad builders, the homesteaders, the Depression farmers, and the beatniks; generations of people who pushed this direction for fortune or security or plain old fun. As thousands and thousands of people whizzed by me in air-conditioned comfort I thought about how hard this journey had been for those who came before; how easy it is today.

screen-shot-2016-09-12-at-9-20-35-pmThe Interstate highway system is our nation’s second most auspicious feat, superseded only by depositing a man on the moon. It changed our conception of space and time: Americans live at a mile a minute. It changed our geography from discrete cities and towns whose streets ended in countryside to continuous strings of pavement that sprout houses and stores and industrial nodes all along their path. I passed more construction along the I-70 corridor fifty miles from downtown Saint Louis than I did in the city core. Eventually, the path from Saint Louis to Kansas City will be a linear city in its own right.

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One ironic thing about the Interstate highways is that, in their determination to make us go fast and safe, they blur distinctions. We build up the low lands and hollow out the hills to make smooth grades. We bring universal commerce to the on-ramps, which undermine local purveyors. In making it so easy to cross our land, we’ve made it virtually impossible to identify where we are. Our landmarks are not ravines and cliffs; they’re exit signs and golden arches.

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Another irony is that, in making it so easy to go west, we’ve commoditized the adventure. Sure, it’s fun to drive coast to coast. But it’s not an achievement, its not difficult in any way. Since anyone can do it, there’s nothing remarkable in the feat.

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The Interstates are just another example of how our culture, in its rush to make life easy, has smoothed our experiences and made them less distinct. Our physical lives are so comfortable, yet our mental and spiritual lives are not comparably satisfied. As someone I talked with recently said, “We are fat cats, starving.”

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