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October 16, 2003

I took the day off from work today.  I had requested both today and tomorrow as vacation days, with the intention of leaving on my tour TODAY.  There are at least two things stopping me from departing:  my panniers are still not finished, and it’s raining.  I’m inclined to cancel the entire foolish notion… but in case I change my mind, the forecast for Friday, Saturday, and Sunday is quite favorable.  Or at least DRY, though perhaps a bit cool at night. 


The rain has ended, and I’m making the final adjustments to the panniers, which are now mounted on the bicycle.  They look pretty darn good, if I do say so myself.  I don’t think anyone will know that they are not commercially made.  I admit it – I’m darned proud.  They actually came out better than I expected. 

I’ve decided to go ahead and begin loading up the gear, mainly to see if it will all fit in the panniers, trunk bag, and handlebar bag.  I am very hesitant to strike out on a long ride with all the gear in the new bags, since I’ve never ridden a bike with 40 pounds of gear loaded onto it.  My original intention was to make some training rides with a partial load, then with a full load, until I am comfortable with the idea of riding long distances with a great deal of weight on the bike.  Alas, there’s no time for that.  I’ve even thought about re-scheduling the trip… but it’s already mid-October, and the nights are quickly getting much cooler.  I don’t have the gear for camping in sub-freezing weather, and if I did, it would be much too heavy for a bicycle tour. 

Tomorrow, I intend to strike out with the load of gear, and see how it goes.  I expect that I will likely ride a dozen miles or so, realize how difficult and/or impossible this is going to be, and then turn around and head home.  And who knows… if I get a spark of inspiration, maybe I’ll pedal on, all the way to St. Joseph.  If I reach a point where I’m ready to throw in the towel, I can always call for a ride.  That’s why God invented cell phones!


October 17, 2003

9:00 AM

Gorgeous day!  It’s cool this morning, in the fifties.  But it’s partly sunny, with more sun expected later in the day.  Looks like a fabulous day to ride. 

My wife has asked me to join her for breakfast, as she and the kids are leaving today to go to Phoenix for a few days.  So I’m off to Bob Evans to “fuel up”.


11:00 AM

Breakfast was very nice, and time well spent.  Unfortunately, the late hour makes it unlikely that I would have enough daylight to ride all the way to St. Joseph.  My best estimate is that the route to St. Joe is a little less than 60 miles.  My usual average speed is 10 MPH; with a full load of gear, I don’t realistically expect to cover more than about 8 MPH.  Nonetheless, I’ve got the bike packed up and ready to go, and I’m heading out.  Wish me luck!


Here’s the itinerary for the trip:

DAY ONE:  From Parkville, through Weatherby Lake.  Then through Kansas City to Platte City.  From Platte City, follow a state highway which more or less parallels I-29, a few miles to the west.  This goes all the way to St. Joseph.  Approximately 56 miles.

DAY TWO:  From St. Joseph, cross the Missouri River into Kansas.  Ride west to the little town of Troy, Kansas, then turn south to head for Atchison, Kansas.  On the east side of Atchison, cross the Missouri River again, back into Missouri.  Camp at Lewis and Clark State Park along Lewis and Clark Lake.  Approximately 48 miles.

DAY THREE:  Lewis and Clark to Iatan, then Weston, via 45 Highway.  Continue on 45 from Weston, to Farley, then to Highway K.  Almost home!  Take Highway K down by the river, and follow the river and railroad back to downtown Parkville.  Then the last series of hills, from downtown to Riss Lake.  Approximately 45 miles.


12:00 Noon

Terrific day for a bike ride!  I’ve pedaled all the way through Weatherby Lake, including across the dam.  I stopped and took a picture of the Platte County water tower near Weatherby.  It’s still jacket weather, and I’m wearing the long athletic pants I bought for the occasion.  I look like a complete geek, but I’m very comfortable.  It’s all about synthetics, baby! 

Just west of Tiffany Springs Park, I took Tiffany Park Road (apt name, eh?) to the west.   The maps I’ve printed out from the Internet show that this road intersects with N Highway.  What the map does NOT show is that this road is paved only for the first two miles or so.  Then there is a mile of gravel before it intersects with N Highway.  This might be just fine for the average mountain bike, but it’s certainly not the best thing for my narrow road tires.  Faced with the setback of back-tracking, and adding a total of four wasted miles to my trip, I decided to brave the gravel.  Fortunately, it didn’t seem to hurt anything. 

N Highway is not well-suited for bicycling, as there is literally no shoulder.  But the traffic is very light, and the few motorists I encountered were very courteous and accommodating.  It’s a pleasant, winding road, with a few challenging hills, and lots of gentle ups and downs.  The scenery is terrific, especially since we’re at the peak for the fall foliage.  Most amazing to me is how it’s so very quiet, out here in the middle of nowhere.  I haven’t seen Courage or Muriel or Eustace yet. 

I’ve arrived at Platte City, and I’m stopping for lunch.


1:00 PM

Enjoyed a profoundly greasy cheeseburger with grilled onion and mushrooms at an interesting place called “The Country Cookin’ Cafe”.  Not surprisingly, and despite a huge breakfast, I was starving.  Cycling burns an astounding amount of calories – even a modest cadence can easily burn 250 calories per hour or more.  Racers are said to burn as much as 800 calories per hour.  I’m in no danger of that, of course… but even at a modest 30 calories per mile, I’ve earned the cheeseburger.  Show me the carbs. 

Back on the road.


2:00 PM

I was attacked by a dog!  Yikes.  What a horror.  I was cycling past a vineyard, when a big dog came bolting across the field and out into the road.  His owner was shouting at him the whole time, but the vicious dog didn’t seem to care one whit.  Barking and snarling, he raced back and forth behind my bike, as I peddled furiously to get the heck out of there.  Unfortunately, it was on a stretch of modest uphill grade, so my departure was hardly expeditious.  As the dog ran behind the bike, he was nipping at my panniers.  At one point, he got his teeth on the right pannier, and I heard an audible “tick” or “rip”. 

After a moment or so, the dog lost interest and went off to terrorize some OTHER stupid animal.  It must be quite a thrill for a dog to chase a bicycle… I’m sure his diminutive brain is thinking, “Ah, finally!  Something I can actually CATCH!”  Not that he’d have any idea what to do if he DID catch something.  Anyway, I peddled on ahead, with the intent of getting well out of range of the dog’s territory before stopping to inspect the damage. 

Unfortunately, the damage was significant.  I am pleased as I can be to report that my tedious hand-stitching was still intact!  But I had made an egregious engineering error.  There is an important distinction between Plexiglas and Lexan.  Both look very similar – just clear plastic.  But Lexan, when manufactured in very thick sheets, is bulletproof (literally).  Plexiglas, on the other hand, is actually quite brittle.  It does not withstand a solid impact… say, such as a dog nipping at your pannier.  Guess which one I used to make the rigid back of the panniers?  Plexiglas, of course, sandwiched between two layers of fabric.  The right side backing was broken into two pieces.  The mounts were still holding just fine, so I dismissed the damage as not likely to re-occur, and continued on my way.


3:30 PM

A while later, I stopped at a very nice park near New Market, Missouri, provided by the local church.  I was dismayed to discover that the damage to pannier had gotten worse; the Plexiglas backing had broken into THREE pieces.  When I checked the OTHER pannier, which was intact at my last stop, I discovered that it was broken into NUMEROUS pieces.  Worst of all, it had broken around one of the mount points, and a mounting bolt was missing.  This left the pack hanging by three bolts rather than four.  Not good. 

Realizing that my forty pounds of gear was about to fall off the bike and be spilled all over the highway (probably on a 30 MPH downhill run, knowing my luck), I reluctantly concluded that my trip was over.  Obviously, I couldn’t travel for two and a half more days with a set of panniers which was clearly falling apart.  So I grabbed the cell phone, and checked for service. 

One advantage of my planned route was that since it closely paralleled I-29, Sprint PCS service was available along most of my route.  In fact, from the park, I could clearly see the antenna for the nearest cell site, near the interstate.  The signal strength was excellent.  So I could hear very clearly when I reached Dan, who advised me that he was on an airplane in San Jose.  I figured there wasn’t much point to our conversation once I had determined his location, but in the interest of being polite, I calmed my nerves and explained my predicament.  Dan quickly suggested that I call Nancy, and see if she would be agreeable to bringing the van to rescue me. 

As I disconnected, I came very close to going ahead and dialing Nancy on her cell phone.  No doubt that if I explained that I had an emergency, if it were at all humanly possible, Nancy would indeed come to my aid.  But I began to think, “is it REALLY an emergency?”.  After all, what would I do if I wasn’t able to reach anyone to come pick me up?  At that thought, the ingenious geek section of my brain kicked into high gear, and I began contemplating my options. 

I remembered that part of my emergency gear consisted of a 20 foot length of polyester strapping, like the straps on a backpack.  I’d also brought along a handful of buckles to go with the strapping.  My original intention was to use the strapping to – would you believe – better secure the panniers to the bike rack supports.  But the bags had worked so well when I packed them, that I omitted the straps, and simply threw the strapping into my trunk bag.  In retrospect, I’d have likely avoided much of the damage to the panniers if I had strapped them down to begin with. 

In about 20 minutes, I had sufficiently MacGyver’ed my panniers in such a way as to give some confidence that they would stay put for a while.  I resolved to simply check them every few miles, and see how things went.  After a little snack (burn those carbs!) and a long drink, I was back on the road. 

And that’s the FIRST time I nearly gave up and went home.


5:00 PM

At this point, I’m getting close to the St. Joe city limits, and the traffic is getting heavier.  It’s Friday night… not exactly the best time to be competing with rush hour traffic on a fully loaded bike.


6:45 PM

Destination achieved!  I am beside myself that I made it.  I’m at the Sunset Grill restaurant and River Pointe resort.  That’s a bit of an over-statement, but more about that in a minute. 

The ride into St. Joe was challenging, to say the least.  Highway 371 becomes S. 22nd Street in the city, and continues through a tired and worn residential area on its way downtown.  This was a neighborhood which, if located in a larger city, would probably not be safe after dark.  But in St. Joe, I felt safe pretty much wherever I went, though a bit depressed by the overwhelming dark mood of the run-down residential district.  I took a few side streets to avoid the heavy traffic on the major thoroughfares, and I noticed that virtually no one was visible outdoors.  Odd. 

The mood downtown wasn’t much cheerier, and I was beginning to wish that I’d called for a ride after all.  As I followed my map toward the river, I began to get rather concerned about where I was going.  I’d planned to camp at the River Pointe resort, or some such.  I’d called them earlier in the week, and they had indicated that I would be welcome to pitch a tent on their property along the river.  But the road leading to the “resort” wound past a dingy industrial area west of downtown, and seemed to continue out into the middle of nowhere.  As I left downtown, I noticed a sign on the road indicating that this was the way to the “St. Joe Frontier Casino”.  This at least gave me hope that there was civilization somewhere down this dark and ominous road. 

The road ran along the railroad bed, near the river.  Though it was only twilight, it seemed very dark riding beneath the dense tree cover, as the sun sank behind the hills on the other side of the river.  There was NO traffic, and I began to wonder if I’d taken a wrong turn.  After a couple of miles, the road intersected with an east-west road.  This road was generating a steady stream of cars on to “Waterworks Road”, where I was riding.  As I passed this intersection, I realized where the cars were going – half a mile ahead was the promised casino.  I crossed a small bridge, passed a nice little riverfront park, and found myself directly in front of the casino. 

I reasoned that the Sunset Grill and River Pointe “resort” must be very near by, and likely catered to casino patrons.  Eager to end my long day (and rest my saddle-sore buttocks), I picked up the cadence and raced past the casino in search of my final destination.  On the other side of the casino I found… NOTHING.  Trees.  Railroad.  Dark road to nowhere.  What to do now? 

In a leap of faith, I pedaled onward.  Beyond the casino by a half mile was a very nice, brand new community stadium.  It appeared to be recently completed, and possibly not yet open for little league games.  Still no restaurant!  Luckily, a sign appeared, advertising the Sunset Grill, straight ahead.  I rode on, nervously, for another two miles or so before I finally spotted the Sunset Grill, a few hundred feet off the main road.  The “resort” part was quite a misnomer.  The resort was actually a handful of shabby little cabins situated near the river.  But the restaurant was old, quaint, and inviting… and something smelled good. 

Admittedly, after eight hours on a bike, most anything would have smelled good, as long as it was dinner.  Fortunately, the restaurant turned out to be very good, and very reasonably priced.  I rested my weary and throbbing legs while I enjoyed a KC strip steak and a twice-baked potato.  The restaurant’s claim to fame was the fabulous sunset over the Missouri River – which I had missed by about a half hour.  I saw only the fading orange streaks of high cumulus clouds as the last of the twilight faded away.

I contemplated inquiring about a place to pitch a tent, but my inspection on the way in suggested that this was NOT the best place to make camp.  The restaurant and cabins were out in the open, and too close to the river.  I decided that I had a couple of better options back towards the casino – the community stadium, and the riverfront park.  I got back on the bike, and pedaled the two miles back whence I came. 

Behind the stadium, I found a large open field surrounded by tall trees on three sides.  Beyond the tree line to the south, I could see the lights of the casino, about a quarter mile away.  To the west was a dense woods leading to the river.  The area was far away from the road, isolated and quiet.  I began unpacking my gear, and pitched my tent along the east side of the field.  I was pleased that I’d packed a small LED flashlight with a handy clip, which I attached to my bike helmet.  This worked nicely to illuminate things as I set up camp.  By 8:30, I was relaxing on my air mattress, and reading the book I’d brought along.  By 9:30, I was sound asleep. 

Unfortunately, by 10:00 PM I was wide awake again, as I realized that the railroad tracks were just beyond the road.  I would never have imagined that St. Joe would be such a bustle of train traffic, but the sound of train whistles pierced the night nearly every 30 minutes, all night long.  By daybreak, I had gotten to the point where I was waking up at the first low rumble of an approaching diesel engine.  As the rumble would grow louder, I could nearly predict when I’d hear the first shrill scream of the train whistle.  I also noted that some engineers are fans of multiple short bursts, while others enjoy the nearly painful effect of a sustained blast.  Both are equally effective at discouraging sleep.  I decided it would be wise to make a couple of potty runs in the night, lest I leave myself vulnerable to peeing my pants during the next whistle stop. 

In the night, there were several occasions when I heard obvious animal sounds outside the tent, very nearby.  I had judiciously elected to bring the bicycle into the tent with me, since this seemed more practical than completely unloading every storage bag on the bike.  I’m glad I did, since it would have been a bad thing if some wild animal had attempted to swipe the snacks out of my trunk bag.  I never saw any critters…  but judging by the previous day’s reportoire of road kill, there are multiple options.  Skunk is the most likely, or perhaps a raccoon or opossum.  Possibly even a deer, though the sounds seemed more consistent with a smaller animal.  Groundhog?  Beaver?  Jimmy Hoffa? 

By dawn, the temperature had dropped to 42 degrees, according to my cheap little thermometer.  I was surprisingly cozy in my high-tech, lightweight, low bulk sleeping bag.  Obviously, a large, bulky sleeping bag is not easily carried on a bicycle… so I had concerns about the lighter, highly compressible bag.  I’d even brought a small fleece blanket to help keep me warm.  The bag turned out to be plenty warm, but I was glad to have the blanket to cover whatever got chilly – usually my head and my ears. 

In the morning, I broke out my little backpacking stove, and boiled water for instant oatmeal.  Ever vigilant about keeping my gear weight and bulk to a minumum, I had brought no measuring cup.  I estimated the required amount of water.  Unfortunately, I over-estimated by a mile, and wound up having oatmeal soup for breakfast.  I began to gradually stow my gear, though I was in no particular hurry.  I decided that he best option would be to wait until the sun came up over the hill to provide a little warmth before I hit the road.  Even on a day of moderate temperature, the wind chill created by riding fast can be very unpleasant.  I read my book for a little while, then packed up my things, and walked the bike back to the pavement, leaving not a trace of my overnight stay.


Copyright 2009 Brian A. Moffet