Bluffton to Russellville - The woman who sat on the toilet too long (and other odd American tales) - CycleBlaze

May 29, 2014

Bluffton to Russellville

Morning at my impromptu campground within sight of the Missouri
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THREE HUNDRED metres after starting off, I found a campground. Not the one I'd been looking for but one of the hiker-biker sites that dot the trail. No matter - I'd had the better deal, I reckoned, and I still got the wash and the shave that I lacked in my otherwise superior accommodation along the way.

It is almost obligatory to take a photo of the Standing Rock and to explain that it not only has flood markings from years back but that it's not a fallen boulder but all that remains of a larger block worn by wind and water
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Lovely stories from Mokane, a two-horse town that boomed when the Missouri, Kansas and Eastern Railroad arrived there, an event of which the community was so proud that it named itself after the first syllables of each word.

There are old stations like this all along the trail. But few towns have such good stories as Mokane's
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It was a riotous place in those days and the sheriff needed a jail. He commissioned an architect, with the consequence that the architect was so proud when he saw the job finished that he got drunk and disorderly and became his own creation's first occupant.

It was symbolic of the town's fortunes. The population rose to 1 000, a sizable town in those days, and then sank year by year until now there's little more than a handful of houses and a main street of a couple of bars, a place which sells coffee to good ol' boys who doubtless have their regular seats, a post office and a shop.

Where old cars rest gently in a woodland glade
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The post office was run by a mumsy woman of the sort who'd know all the town's secrets. She made the usual astonished observations about riding across America and said she saw many cyclists using the trail but that I was the first riding so far.

She paused and said: "You get to go in the market yet?"

I said I hadn't.

"Well, we have a market up the road and a cyclist came up there and he wanted to bring his bike inside rather than leave it on the street. He said he didn't want it stolen. So, my friend who runs it, she said 'Look about you, honey. You see anyone here in shape? They ain't gonna steal your bicycle. There's not one who could get to the end of the street without collapsing.'"

Getting into Jefferson City used to be a near-murderous joust with traffic on the main highway. Now there's a bridge for walkers and cyclists
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...but it doesn't go straight up
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...although it does save a lot of anguish and bloodshed
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They were having a big day out on the lawn in front of the capitol building when I got to Jefferson City. Getting into the city used to be a nightmare, a long and dangerous battle on a shoulderless main highway across the river. Since then, sense has prevailed and the city and a benefactor have provided a spiral access to a cycling and pedestrian bridge bolted to the side of the highway and separated from it by a fence. It takes a moment to find but it's a moment well worth taking.

I walked the slope up to the state government building, a self-consciously grand place with a dome like a cathedral's, and into the edges of the crowd. A woman in her 50s with a green T-shirt, a name tag, a blue bag and a smile to light half the town, walked quickly across the road to join me.

Big day out in the state capital - but the man from the local paper never found me
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"Well, welcome!", she beamed, as though I'd wandered into her private party. "You just passing through?"

I explained what had brought me there and she paused and said: "You just wait a moment. I'll be back." And she walked back into the crowd on the other side of the road. I waited as instructed and looked around at what I had learned was State Employees Recognition Day, although all the stalls I could see on the capitol lawn were occupied by commercial companies and sometimes charities. Amplified music was playing and half a dozen men and women, noticeably slimmer than most, were improvising a line dance on the steps under the stony gaze of Thomas Jefferson.

"Local paper's gonna come lookin' for ya," my friend said when she returned. "Wanna talk to ya, but they lost their photographer man for the moment."

Impertinently steep hills stood in my way out of the city but finally they and the traffic calmed down. I rolled on, the wind at my back, sometimes up, sometimes down, gaining time on my timetable for the ride. No point in rushing because I'm meeting Karen in Larned and there's no point in getting there early.

This is farming country
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I reached Russellville, population 450, in mid-afternoon and wondered about camping. The streets were quiet except for two retired men gossiping at the end of a driveway.

"Sorry to interrupt what was doubtless a learned conversation," I said. They laughed. I asked if there was somewhere I could pitch a tent, moving on in the morning.

"Well, there's the park," the younger man thought, "but I don't know about camping there." He wasn't suggesting it couldn't be done, only that he'd never been asked.

"I could ask at the police station," I suggested.

"Oh, we ain't got one o'those. Not big enough for that." And then Norris, the elder one, said: "You go just round the corner there and there's a little telephone exchange there and my land goes right down opposite that and you're welcome to camp there."

And so tonight I am the fairy, or at any rate the gnome, at the bottom of Norris's garden.

Today's ride: 82 km (51 miles)
Total: 2,195 km (1,363 miles)

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