Day 71: Franklin, MO to Windsor, MO - Between the Ends of America - CycleBlaze

June 22, 2011

Day 71: Franklin, MO to Windsor, MO

The wind blows all night. There's no storm; that's just what it does around here.

I cross the Missouri River one last time and leave the Katy Trail just a few miles up the road at Boonville. Soon I come across these strange things called hills and traffic and pavement. It's tougher riding, especially without the trees around to help block the strong headwind, but I don't mind because the world comes alive again. Tiny birds chirp on the power line next to the road. Hawks hang far above in the breeze, changing direction and rising and falling without ever flapping their wings. Fields of grain ripple in waves. The sky shines a brilliant and cloudless blue with a three-quarter moon barely visible to the west.

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Over grilled cheese sandwiches in Pilot Grove I learn about chicken butchering techniques, find out which local guys died from heart attacks and kidney failures last week, and discover that the wind doesn't always blow like this out here. It turns out I'm just really unlucky.

Back on the road I work as hard as I can, but even on the flats I struggle to break eight miles per hour. It feels like I'm riding up a steep, never-ending hill, except that there's no hope of finding the reward of a downhill on the other side. Yet somehow it's ok; I feel good. Passing drivers wave, the bugs are gone, and the fields around me explode with color. Puffy white clouds dot the sky, and sometimes their shadows fall on the road and speed past me in the opposite direction. The hills turn out to be short and easy, and for the first time in what seems like weeks the extreme heat and humidity are gone.

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I pass through the tiny town of Beaman and spot a grocery store a few hundred feet off the road and down a gravel driveway. It's a modest building with white metal siding, a tiny sign, and none of the soda or beer advertisements that hang all over the front walls of most food places around here. As I look through my bag for my wallet I notice three young Mennonite children playing in the yard of the adjacent house. The boy wears dark blue overalls and a green John Deere hat, while both girls wear long pink dresses that hang down to their ankles. None of them are older than nine but they're all dressed like little adults. Not too many touring bikers come through this place, so each one stares intently and watches every move I make.

Inside I'm the only customer. One woman runs the store and stocks the five long rows of white metal shelves, most of which stand three-quarters filled with both packaged food and huge clear plastic bags of raw ingredients like flour, sugar, and corn starch. When I walk up to the register, the woman stops stocking and comes over to ring up my items. She's very slightly built, wears a dark blue ankle-length dress, and has her hair pulled back tightly into a small bun covered by a simple white cap. Two bottles of water, a can of soda, and a candy bar come to $1.48. At first I wonder if she missed something. Then I figure it's just the low rural prices. It's not until a few minutes later, sitting on the edge of the concrete patio out front, that I realize it's a grocery store that sells for the convenience of the community, not for profit.

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The wind blows a constant 20 to 25 miles per hour in my face and gusts over 30. For hours, all I hear is wind. When I spit it blows backward so quickly that I don't see the big white ball hit the ground. The riding is painfully slow and still takes almost all of the effort I can put out.

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Sedalia is a big town with all kinds of gas stations and fast food places, and also a beautiful and historic-looking downtown with brick buildings, wide streets, and old iron lampposts. Unfortunately it has exactly zero camping options, which leaves me with two choices: ride 30 miles to Windsor through a bastard headwind on roads, or ride 20 miles to Windsor through a bastard headwind on the Katy Trail. Worn down by the wind I disappoint myself and go back to the Katy, even though I know it won't make me happy and might lull me to sleep.

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A healthy dinner.
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It ends up serving its purpose, saving me miles and offering up its barrier of trees to break the force of the wind. It also adds a new challenge: dodging giant piles of horse crap.

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The trail drops me off in Windsor, where the small downtown is still alive but not thriving. A couple of banks and gas stations and insurance agencies keep clean and bright storefronts, but they sit surrounded by a closed pharmacy, shoe store, and real estate brokerage. Many of the nearby shops seem to be just barely holding on. A sign with a slogan reading "Consider Windsor" hangs on the large message board at the center of town, swinging in the breeze as a sad reminder that this place that used to sit at the junction of two busy railroad lines has seen its greatest days come and go, with no hope of returning.

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A beautiful park waits for me at the edge of town. A lake stocked with fish sits at the middle, surrounded by gazebos, picnic benches, walking trails, a jungle gym, and paddle boats available for rent. It seems like an amazing place to lay my head for a night. Then I realize that the campground area was added as an afterthought, shoved in a back corner between a pair of roads and under the approach path to a nearby Air Force base.

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Sinister-looking B2 bombers and dark gray C141 cargo planes fly directly over my tent in the early evening and cars roll past every few minutes. Frogs croak on the banks of the lake, crickets chirp in the nearby stands of trees, and people yell and dogs bark in the front yards of the houses down the street. As I think about how badly today kicked my ass, I notice that the trees have stopped moving, that the wind has died completely. It makes me feel even more tired, even more defeated. Most days on this trip have turned out to be great in some way, no matter how small. But today beat me up and I feel like I have nothing but 71 hard miles to show for it. Sleep can't come fast enough.

Today's ride: 71 miles (114 km)
Total: 3,399 miles (5,470 km)

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