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     Bicycle Tour 2003 page 5 ...

October 18, 2003

9:00 AM

You couldn’t ask for a more perfect morning for a bike ride.  The air is cool and crisp, the sun is shining, and there is very little breeze.  From somewhere behind the treeline, across the river, I can hear the sound of airplanes taking off from Rosecrans Airport.  Judging by the frequency of these sounds, it must also be an excellent day to fly! 

It’s a ride of several miles to get from my campsite to the bridge which crosses the Missouri River, to take me into Kansas.  I stopped just beyond the casino at a nice little city park along the river, where I made use of the dreaded “modern pit toilet” before striking out onto the busy highway.  As I rode along the river, I stopped twice to make adjustments to my “layering”…  it was darned chilly in the dark shade of the overhanging trees along the railroad tracks, especially with the added wind chill of a 14 mph cadence.  As the road emerged into the sunshine, the chill was gone, and another change of attire was in order. 

I soon found myself back downtown, meandering through a dilapidated industrial section of the city, beneath the highway overpasses.  The area reminded me a great deal of the river bottoms in Kansas City – old brick buildings, carcasses of long-retired machinery rusting alongside abandoned warehouses.  It even had the same musty, oily smell.  I had to zig and zag amongst the downtown one-way streets to find my way to the highway access ramp.  As I did, I drew quite a few stares from very puzzled laborers working on a building renovation.  At first, I was intimidated and nervous.  But a friendly but dirty face called out “Hey, where ya headed?”.  “Atchison!” I shouted back.  A handful of flannel-clad men gave me the thumbs up, and called out a few words of encouragement.  With the luck of the concrete finishers and bricklayers at my back, I pedaled onto the Highway 36 access ramp. 

It’s quite a steep climb to ascend the looping ramp onto the elevated overpass.  With the bike in “granny gear”, it was a long and challenging ride up to the bridge.  Despite a generous shoulder on the bridge, the crossing over the river was tremendously nerve-wracking, with heavy traffic zooming past at 65 MPH.  To make matters worse, the shoulder was strewn with debris – broken bottles, nuts and bolts, trash, sticks, rocks, and the ever-present roadkill (what are these animals doing on a long bridge over the river?).  I mustered my strength in an attempt to sprint as quickly as possible across the bridge, thereby minimizing my presence there.  Halfway across the bridge, right over the middle of the river (vertigo!), something went terribly wrong.  The pavement suddenly seemed more irregular, and the bike seemed to resist rolling in a straight line.  It took a moment before my brain was able to grasp the reality:  my front tire had gone flat. 

In the blink of an eye, I made the decision to keep riding.  I knew this was not going to do any good for the tire, tube, and wheel rim… but the alternative of walking the bike across the bridge in heavy traffic was not a pleasant thought.  I did my best to gingerly distribute my weight onto the back wheel, without crashing the bike.  With forty pounds of gear in my rear panniers, this was an interesting balancing act.  As I rolled across the bridge apron, there was an exit to an outer road.  Now clear of the highway traffic, I dismounted and began walking the bike. 

At the end of the lengthy exit ramp was a small outpost of civilization, including a gas station.  I could smell the coffee from where I was standing!  The thought of changing a flat on the shoulder of the exit ramp made me shudder, so I continued walking the bike toward the gas station.  Walking the bike, with all the gear attached, proved to be far more difficult that riding.  Without the gyroscopic effect of spinning wheels, the top-heavy bike tended to wander side to side.  My forearms ached from resisting the bike’s desire to fall over. 

I “parked” my bike along a curb, and went inside to find coffee.  While I was at it, I found a ham, egg, and cheese croissant, and a couple of Dunkin Donuts.  It’s all about the carbs, baby!  I briefly contemplated throwing in the towel, and calling for a ride home.  I quickly realized that I would be terribly disappointed in myself to let a flat tire end my adventure, and I chastised my aching legs for even THINKING about quitting!  So, as I worked on fueling my “engine”, I set to work on changing the tire tube.  In my trunk bag, I had packed a spare tube, and patching kit with plenty of rubber patches.  Confident that this would be the ONLY flat tire I would experience, I replaced the tube with my new spare.  I stowed the damaged tube in my bag; this would now be my “spare” in the event of a dire emergency. 

As I rode away, I was pleased with myself for “rising to the challenge”.  With quick releases on my wheel, the tube change had been relatively simple, and had taken only 20 minutes or so.  It had taken me longer to eat my second breakfast.  Smug with my success, I headed west on “Old 238”, which parallels Highway 36 for a few miles before re-joining it.  This desolate road was in poor repair, but had the distinct advantage of absolutely NO traffic.  I never saw a single car the entire 3.5 miles.  The setting was classic Kansas:  corn on one side, soybeans on the other.  The landscape was dotted with ramshackle farmhouses, disintegrating barns, and rusty, mangled windmills.  By this time, the temperature had risen well into the fifties, and I stopped to shed my long sleeve shirt and athletic pants.

I am always very conscious of how I look in lycra bicycling shorts.  It certainly isn’t pretty.  And a year or two ago, I would have never considered wearing them publicly.  However, though some may use the garb merely as a fashion statement, I have since discovered that there are very practical reasons for dressing like a spandex freak.  “Regular” shorts tend to have thick seams in places where they can quickly make quite an impression.  Literally.  Long bike rides can easily cause such seams to carve deep ruts into some very tender tissue.  I’ve also come to appreciate the practicality of synthetic fabrics…  a genuine cycling jersey constructed of a “dry weave” (perspiration wicking) material is far more comfortable than cotton, which tends to saturate and resist evaporation.  So there I am, pedaling away in my bright red jersey and black lycra bike shorts.  Now that you know… try not to think about it.


12:00 Noon

Wathena, Kansas.  According to the historical landmark sign, it’s an old Indian name.  I think it translates as “last outpost of civilization before never-ending uphill climb”.  But I could be wrong. 

West of Wathena is … well… NOTHING.  As I’m pedaling furiously onward, all I can think about is “Hey, isn’t Kansas supposed to be FLAT?”.  Not THIS part of Kansas.  The terrain is remarkably hilly, with a general trend upward.  This segment, at the time, seemed to never end.  But in retrospect, it seems like a very small frame of time.  This is likely due to the lack of reference points…  no towns, no stores, no ANYTHING, really.  My next waypoint was Troy, Kansas, about 15 miles from Wathena.  One eight mile segment of this route is all one never-ending hill.  I’m honestly not sure how I made it.  I simply set a comfortable cadence, and kept it up for nearly two hours.  All the while, my brain was repeating stupid little diversions, like “keep spinning!” and “slow and steady wins the race!”.  How do you get there?  You turn the cranks, one rotation at a time. 

The long hill teased me as I went.  About every half mile or so, there was a hump in the road which at a distance appeared to be the top of the hill.  But as you’d get a little closer, you’d discover that it was nothing more than a modest rise which concealed another half-mile segment of the hill.  After about five miles of this hill, I spotted a huge roadside produce market, and wheeled in for a break.  Parking my bike between two rows of rotting pumpkins, I went inside to have a look around.  Who knew that there were so many varieties of apples?  Not feeling very adventurous, and worried that I might select a much-too-tart pie apple, I selected a Red Delicious.  Out of the cooler, I snagged a plastic bottle of apple cider, to quench my thirst and replenish those all-important carbs. 

The old woman at the cash register rang up $0.99 for the cider, and $0.15 for the apple!  “Nice day for a bike ride!” she remarked.  I asked if the hill had an end.  “Not for a while!” she replied.  Wonderful.  As I sipped my cider outside the store, I noticed the markings on the bottle.  “Stephenson’s Orchard, Lee’s Summit, Missouri”.  For the record, it wasn’t very good cider. 

The woman was right… the hill went on for a good, long while.  It was another three miles before I encountered a small downhill run, followed by another series of climbs.  A couple of miles outside of Troy, Kansas, I was astounded to find a HUGE estate… very much in the middle of nowhere.  This was obviously a multi-million dollar property, with an unbelievably large house at the top of a long, winding, concrete driveway.  The many acres surrounding the house were immaculately landscaped, and carefully groomed.  A small lake at the front of the property looked like something out of a Disney theme park.  After many miles of rundown farmhouses, abandoned trailers, and dilapidated hay barns, this remarkable property struck me as very… well, ODD.  What very wealth person had elected to build his dream home in the middle of nowhere?  I finally concluded that it must be Courage, Muriel, and Eustace.  The cartoon royalties must have really paid off.  And I rode on. 

At Troy, I turned south on Highway 7, toward Atchison.  Between Troy and Atchison is… NOTHING.  Nothing but endless miles of soybeans and roadkill.  Rolling hills (ack!), blowing dust, and an abundance of grasshoppers.  Avoiding the grasshoppers became a bit of a diversion, though there were so very many of them, it was often impossible.  This was a lousy highway for bicycling, with very little shoulder, and with deep runoff ditches only a foot or two from the white line.  Fortunately, the traffic was very light, and I rode much of the mileage right on the roadway (with a watchful eye on the rear-view mirror attached to my helmet). 

At one point, I stopped to munch a candy bar (more carbs!) and hydrate.  I had stopped at the end of a dirt access road in order to get away from the highway, and as I rested, a pickup truck came down the dirt road.  The farmer stopped, shut off the engine, and chatted for a few minutes.  I found this to be unusual, since up to that point, I had attracted little attention.  He asked where I had come from, and where I was headed.  Then he cautioned about heavier traffic closer to Atchison, and remarked that the highway was under construction a little farther down the road.  I thanked him, and he went on his way.  As I watched him drive out of sight, for a moment, I felt very much alone.  With nothing but soybeans and dust in every direction, as far as the eye could see, it would be a long while before I reached the next outpost of civilization.  I couldn’t help but think to myself that my bike would have fit very nicely in the back of that pickup.


4:00 PM

The road construction turned out to be a non-issue.  Bridge work was underway, and the highway department had installed an elaborate traffic light system to allow traffic to cross the single remaining lane of the bridge in one direction at a time.  There wasn’t a car in sight, and I was highly tempted to scoot right past the red light, and zip across the bridge.  But the bridge was several hundred feet long, and it was quite possible that I could get halfway across and encounter a car going the other way.  So, feeling a tad bit foolish, I waited for the light to change to green.  

In a moment, the light changed, and I pedaled casually across the bridge.  When I reached the other side of the creek, there still was not a car in sight, and I realized that this was the perfect opportunity for a bio break.  I leaned the bike against a guard rail, and walked down the hill to find a tree to water.  As I did, I was thinking that I could have just as well urinated in the middle of the highway.  Who would know?  Down in the creek valley, there was no wind, and it was unbelievably quiet and still. 

Back on the road, I had quite a climb to get out of the little valley.  As I crested the long hill, I was surprised by a stiff breeze out of the south.  As forecast, the wind had shifted out of the south, bringing warmer temperatures.  This also meant that the headwind I’d battled while traveling west… was STILL a headwind.  And now it was stronger than ever.  My modest but consistent pace of 9 or 10 MPH was quickly slowed to 8 MPH, according to my bike computer. 

Eight or ten miles out of Atchison, I stopped at the top of a hill to eat another candy bar, and have another good long drink.  As I was straddling my bike, trying to decide whether or not to dismount, a very large dog – Rottweiler, maybe? – came bounding over the berm on the far side of the road, and snarled angrily at me.  As my heart leapt into my throat, the dog began barking fiercely, baring his teeth as he did so.  From a distance, I heard a voice yell “Vicar!  Get back here!”.  Vicar did not respond, and continued to intimidate me.  The Fear-O-Sensor was off the scale. 

Attempting to remain calm, I did not make eye contact, and remained more or less motionless.  Vicar launched into another barking fit.  He seemed reluctant to cross the highway (fortunately), though he was pacing at the edge of the road, as if contemplating when to make his move.  The voice called out again:  “Vicar!  Get over here!”.  Yes, please.  Vicar stood his ground.  I finally spotted “the voice”… three men were standing across a field, hitting golf balls into acres of soybeans.  I wonder if golf balls are hard on farm equipment?  Finally, the voice got nasty.  “Goddammit, Vicar, get your ass over here!   Right now!”.  Apparently, Vicar understood profanity, and he gradually pulled back away from the road. 

This seemed like the perfect time to make a getaway.  I mounted my bike, and slowly and quietly propelled myself forward, and down the long hill.  Vicar was barking furiously again, and the voice was swearing at the top of his lungs.  I accelerated into a sprint, and bypassed several sprockets on my way to the highest gear.  Racing down the steep hill at 35 MPH, I let out a “whoop!” as the old farmhouse continued to shrink in my rearview mirror.  At the bottom of the hill, my excitement changed to horror, as I realized that my rear tire had gone flat.


5:00 PM

No reason to panic.  What’s the big deal?  So I have no spare tube, and I’ll have to patch one.  I can do that.  So I’ve never removed a rear wheel before, and I’m not quite sure how to handle the derailleur assembly.  Big deal.  So I’m in the middle of nowhere, and there’s no place to lay the bike.  So there’s a huge Rottweiler a half mile away that wants to eat me.  So I’m low on water.  Hey, I’m not worried. 

So there’s no cell phone service here.  Okay, NOW I’m worried. 

This point marks yet another juncture where, given half a chance, I would have readily called for help.  But throwing in the towel was apparently not in the cards for me at this point.  As I paused to weigh my options, I realized that I really only had one:  fix the tube, or spend the rest of my life alongside this soybean field.  Did I mention the dog? 

Removing the rear wheel, which had never been removed since the bicycle was assembled by the bike shop, was a modest challenge.  But I soon had it off the bike, and after saying a little prayer that I would be able to put it back ON, I set to work removing the tire.  I was very pleased with myself when I quickly located the hole, and had it patched up in a matter of ten minutes or so.  I installed the tube back into the tire, and inflated it to pressure with my mini hand pump. 

Re-installing the wheel and getting the chain and derailleur back into place went smoothly.  As I tightened the quick releases, my frustration began to fade, and my enthusiasm slowly returned.  I wouldn’t have to live in a soybean field after all!  I wiped my hands on the grass (note to self:  next time, bring paper towels and hand cleaner), and set the bike upright.  I think I may have let loose with another celebratory “whoop” at this point, but my celebration was short lived.  I rolled only a few hundred yards before the rear tire went flat again.  Groan. 

Obviously, I had missed a hole.  Sure enough, there was more damage in an entirely different part of the tube.  I’ve since figured out that sometimes, a tube gets a hole… but because it is in contact with the inside of the tire, it does not leak.  When you remove the tube to repair ANOTHER hole, the holes that were not leaking before, now begin to do so.  This repair went more quickly, as I was now an experienced tube patching technician.  Unfortunately, the repair may have gone a bit TOO quickly. 

This repair only took me another few hundred yards. 

If I get three strikes, am I out? 

This time, I spent a great deal of time scrutinizing the tube.  With a more careful evaluation, I found THREE more pinholes.  The tube was entirely SHOT.  I dug out the tube I had removed from the FRONT tire earlier in the morning, and went to work patching it.  This tube had TWO holes in it.  After patching them both, I inflated the tube OUTSIDE the tire, and squeezed it every which way to see if it would remain inflated.  Contrary to my usual luck, the tube seemed to be holding air.  I re-installed the tube, re-mounted the wheel, packed up my tools, and cautiously set out on the road again. 

I held my breath… and so did the tire.


6:00 PM

After eight miles of challenging terrain, I came to the proverbial fork in the road, just north of Atchison.  The sun was low on the horizon, and the long pants came back out as the temperature began to drop.  As I consulted my maps, I discovered that I had not printed out a detail map of Atchison… only a high-level view.  I supposed that the road to the left was the highway which bypassed Atchison, and took me to the east side of town where I would cross the river back into Missouri.  My original plan had been to camp at Lewis and Clark State Park, which was, in my estimation, about ten or twelve miles into Missouri beyond Atchison. 

The road to the right, I guessed, would probably take me into the heart of Atchison.  This sounded promising, since I had not eaten any lunch (okay, so I had candy bars for lunch!).  I speculated that turning right would take me to a vast array of delicious fast food delights… while a left turn would potentially bypass Atchison, and force me to resign myself to cooking a rice dish when I got to camp – if ever I got to camp.  I was beginning to imagine that I would be spending the night in a highway right-of-way.  The right turn was tremendously tempting… but had the potential of adding many miles to my trip.  My weary legs vetoed the idea, against a loud protest from my stomach.  To the left! 

After a few miles, I found myself in an old residential neighborhood.  I came upon a small city park, and rode over with the hope of refilling my water bottles.  Unfortunately, though there was a water fountain and a sink at the bathrooms, only the toilet actually had running water.  I still had my last unopened bottle of water, so it was not yet time to panic.  Across the street was a large family having a barbecue.  I contemplated stopping to ask for directions, but when I spotted their large dog, I decided I’d just ride on. 

Another few blocks, and I passed a sign indicating that Amelia Earhardt’s childhood home was a few blocks away.  I contemplated riding over for a look, but the twilight was upon me, and I still hadn’t found food, water, or a place to camp.  I rode on. 

A few blocks later, I found a family getting out of their car in the parking lot of a church.  Figuring that I’d be safe with fine church-going folk, I stopped to ask for assistance.  I am always amused at how people respond to inquiries from a cyclist.  I asked, “Is there some place nearby where I could get something to eat?”.  The man replied, “I dunno, what are you hungry for?”. 

A standard response for this sort of inquiry, I’m sure… but I confess, I wanted to scream and shout.  I had not eaten a real meal since my second breakfast; did the guy think I was going to pedal past a half dozen restaurants on a quest for something that suited me best?  I replied, “Oh, any kind of fast food would do… McDonald’s, Wendy’s, whatever… is there anything like that nearby?”.  He replied that yes, there was a McDonald’s nearby.  I was careful to qualify his definition of “nearby”, since “nearby” in a car could mean several miles.  He explained that I was only 6 or 8 blocks from sheer caloric bliss. 

I thanked him, and rode 8 blocks, only to find NOTHING.  I asked another stranger for assistance.  He seemed to be more lost than I was.  At this point, I realized that I was in downtown Atchison.  The left turn had not bypassed Atchison after all, but rather had taken me right into the heart of the city.  I rode a couple more blocks, and discovered that the golden arches had been hidden behind a tall (well, for Atchison) building.  I locked up the bike, and went inside to contemplate my fate, just as the sun slipped below the horizon.


6:45 PM

I used to say that I could eat McDonald’s for every meal, and be perfectly content.  That was back in my “pre-thirty” days, before my metabolism caught up with me and my waist disappeared.  Over the last couple of years, I’ve eaten less and less McDonald’s, and for the last few months, it just hasn’t been AT ALL appealing. 

Man, were those fries tasty. 

As I was enthusiastically stuffing my face with Quarter Pounder and golden french fries, a gentleman walked toward me carrying a tray of food for his family.  He was a heavy-set guy…  okay, I’m being kind; he was obese.  As he settled into his seat, he struck up a conversation.  Where did I ride from, how many miles did I ride today, and what was my destination.  To the last question, I replied that I had intended to ride all the way to Lewis and Clark Lake to make camp.  But after a fun-filled day of patching inner tubes, I obviously wasn’t going to make it to camp.  I explained that I was simply going to “throw in the towel” and call for a ride. 

“Oh, don’t do THAT!” the guy says.  He goes on to explain that he used to be an avid cyclist (apparently back in the days before his penchant for fast food got the best of him).  He was impressed with my panniers, and asked about how much gear I was carrying.  When I detailed my route from St. Joe, to Troy, then to Atchison, he said “Oh, gee, that’s the WORST way to go!  No shoulders, busy highway!  You should have gone…. Blah blah blah”.  NOW you tell me.  Then he said, “You really shouldn’t give up now.  You’re not that far from camp.”  He went on to correct my assertion that I was headed for Lewis and Clark Lake… “It’s actually Sugar Lake, but the state park is called Lewis and Clark”.  I found out later that this is not entirely correct.  Sugar Lake had, in fact, been renamed to Lewis and Clark Lake… but the locals were still in denial.  Then the gentleman waved his arms at me, and said, “Come here!” as he headed for the exit door. 

I was dumbstruck for an instant, then I shrugged my shoulders, abandoned my dinner for a moment, and followed him outside.  He pointed to the southeast.  “See that bridge?”  With the labyrinth of overpasses criss-crossing the horizon, I hadn’t really noticed the long narrow bridge.  He explained that this was the bridge across the Missouri River.  I had assumed that I was miles from the Missouri state line, but in reality I was only a few hundred yards away.  After pondering for a moment, it occurred to me that it should have been obvious that downtown Atchison is right on the river.  Yet I had guessed that I was far from it. 

“So how many miles is it to Lewis and Clark State Park?” I asked.  He replied that it was less than five miles.  I immediately sought to get absolute clarity on this assertion, since most folks tend to communicate distances in “car miles” instead of “bike miles”.  Five miles COULD mean that it’s five miles of highway until you get to the access road, which is another five miles in length.  But Mr. Cyclist Gone Big Mac was hip to the challenges of cycling, and gave me very specific information.  “I could drive there in about four minutes”, he said.  He went on to explain that once I crossed the bridge, it was about four miles to the intersection of Highway 45.  I’d have to go another mile on 45, and then turn on the park access road.  The campground was less than a half mile from the highway. 

My despair had turned into hope!  I quickly finished my dinner, gave my “free McFlurry” Monopoly game piece to Fat Boy as a “thank you”, and headed back to my bike.  The twilight was nearly faded, and I was eager to get across the narrow river bridge before losing the last of the sunlight.  I activated my LED flasher, switched on my headlight, and pedaled out into the street.  The bridge crossing was a challenge, as there was no shoulder whatsoever.  Riding in the far right segment of the traffic lane, I was within a foot of the concrete side barrier.  Even in this position, it was impossible for traffic to pass me and remain within the lane.  Fortunately, the cars behind me were courteous and considerate, and waited patiently as I spun the cranks like Forrest Gump in a sprint.  “Pedal, Forrest, pedal!” 

The highway from the bridge to the next intersection was straight and flat, with a decent but littered shoulder.  I cruised along at 14 MPH or so (hard to tell exactly, since my bike computer had ceased to function) with only modest traffic to interrupt my cadence.  I spent much of my time on the smooth surface of the traffic lane, watching my rear view mirror carefully for approaching vehicles.  The time and distance passed quickly, as the last of the daylight faded away behind me.  As I approached the intersection with Highway 45, I noticed a dizzying array of flashing lights near the intersection.  A twinge of worry seeped into my tired brain, as I contemplated what the occasion might be.  Auto accident?  Fire?  Sobriety checkpoint?  Highway closed?  As I got closer, I discovered that the few cars which had passed me were now stopped at the intersection.  A fire truck appeared on Highway 45, and turned through the intersection.  It U-turned in front of me, and lumbered down the shoulder past the line of waiting cars.  Already on the shoulder, I followed the truck. 

At the intersection, strewn across the right turn lane, was a horrible car accident.  A truck had broad-sided a white Pontiac, and shoved it through the intersection and into the far turn lane.  The firemen were assembling the Jaws of Life for an extraction.  I stopped behind the fire truck, dumbstruck and unsure as to what to do next.  As I was puzzling, a Highway Patrolman approached me from behind a row of flares.  For an instant, I thought I was in trouble… but his friendly demeanor and broad smile quickly put me at ease.  He took a quick look at my loaded bike, and said “Headed for the state park?”.  Yep.  We had a brief conversation, and I quickly recounted my day’s point of origin, and my various trials and tribulations.  “Well, good news… you’re almost there!”.  Then he waved me on past the fire truck, explaining that now was a good time to ride Highway 45 in the dark; they weren’t going to allow any cars to go that way until the wreck was cleared. 

I carefully rode around the truck, and around the mangled wreckage of the Pontiac.  The firemen were just removing what was left of the passenger side door.  Fortunately, I couldn’t see anything due to the bright work lights shining in my eyes, and I hurried past the horror.  With no traffic, I had the dark highway all to myself, and I rode directly in the lane.  As the flashing lights twinkled in my rearview mirror, I spotted the lake just ahead.  Less than a mile from the tragic intersection, I found the access road to the campground and state park.  I was glad to have my flashlight readily available, as I would not have been able to read the sign without it. 

Barely a half mile down the road, I spotted a large campfire, and heard the cheery sounds of chattering Boy Scouts on a campout.  The entrance to the campground was pitch dark, and I had to stop the bike and shuffle right up to the signs to read them with my flashlight.  I followed a sign which read “Campground Host” with an arrow to the left.


8:00 PM

The Campground Host turned out to be an elderly, retired couple, living in a trailer at one of the campsites.  Not easy to find in the dark!  When I found the trailer, there was no one at home.  As I stood scratching my head, a voice from across the lane shouted, “You looking for the hosts?  They’re over here, around the campfire!”.  The elderly couple came walking slowly toward me.  They were flabbergasted when they saw the bicycle.  “I ain’t never seen anybody come campin’ here on a bicycle!” said the old man, whose ill-fitting dentures obviously presented a serious detriment to effective speech.  I filled out the state form, paid my eight bucks, and asked where I could find a campsite. 

The old man explained that only a handful of sites remained.  This was surprising, since it’s the middle of October.  Shucks, I thought that camping season was pretty much over.  Not so!  About one third of the campground was occupied by Boy Scouts.  The other two thirds was a mix of RVs, pop-ups, and tents.  The gentleman indicated that he would drive his car to the open sites, and I could follow and select the site I liked best.  When he stopped at the first site, I immediately said “This is fine!”.  At this point, any place I could pitch a tent would have been perfectly suitable.  I quickly found a nice flat spot, and began to set up camp. 

A half dozen sites away, the Boy Scouts had a remarkable camping setup.  They had erected a huge canvas canopy, surrounded by a dozen bright Coleman lanterns.  I snickered a bit when I saw all of their gear – multi-burner propane stoves, coolers, lanterns… even a couple of drip coffeemakers.  Compared to my fist-sized backpacking stove, this setup looked like the kitchen at the local IHOP.  I guess nowadays, if you can’t go through the McDonald’s drive-through, you’re roughing it. 

This time, I left the bike outside the tent, and angled my air mattress diagonally in order to allow more room for my legs.  I reasoned that there was little risk of critter invasion, given the level of activity in the campground.  I quickly settled in and clipped my flashlight to the tent above my head, so that I could read my book.  It’s a terrific book – “Ghost Rider, Tales of the Healing Road” by Neil Peart.  Mr. Peart is the much heralded drummer from Rush.  A few years ago, he lost his 19 year old daughter in an automobile accident.  Sadly, his wife died of cancer only 10 months later.  The book is the story of his travels by motorcycle, over tens of thousands of miles, for many months.  It’s an intriguing story…  but I was so exhausted, I didn’t even finish a single chapter before I shut off the flashlight and quickly drifted off to sleep.


I’d like to report that I slept soundly all night, but alas, it just isn’t so.  After “lights out”, the scouts next door continued their conversations from inside their tents, until very late.  And wouldn’t you know it, this camping site was again only a few hundred yards from a railroad track!  It was a restless night, spent fretting about everything from trains to condensation.  At one point, I awoke with a painful leg cramp.  Fortunately, the pain quickly subsided after some gentle massage.  My last late night memory was of the nearby sound of an owl, hoo-hoo-hooting across the lake.


Copyright 2009 Brian A. Moffet