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

May 28, 2014

Lonedell to Bluffton

Americans, it's widely agreed, were put on this earth to amuse the rest of us. Marking your water towers Hot and Cold is an excellent step in that direction
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"WE RIDE the Katy Trail every year, four churches combined, and over the years we've raised enough money to build a dozen homes in St Louis."

I met Dean on the trail, close to my day's end. He was driving a white car laden with everything his charges needed, and enough to spare that he could refill my bottles, add ice and hand me something refreshing of a blueness never intended by nature.

I queried the word "homes". He looked at me puzzled. His face was lean and tanned and I could well believe, as he told me, that he had ridden the Transam and doubtless more besides.

"Homes, you know," he replied not seeing my problem.

Muscular Christianity, riding for homes for those who need them
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A younger woman travelling with him said: "For single parents and other people in need. We raise the money but they have to help with the building. We call it sweat equity."

I told her I'd ridden through St Louis and she smiled resignedly and said: "Well, you've seen the sort of problem we have there."

I couldn't work out how old Dean was. But I met his wife, driving another car, and she said they'd been married for 50 years. She knew France, she said. She'd been in the Dordogne valley, which is two valleys north of where I live.

"I was in Taizé," she explained as though I'd know it. I didn't and I'm having to guess the spelling from her pronunciation. "It's where the retreat is."

That didn't help either so she explained that a Brother Roger lived there and that he had helped people during the war. I never did find out more because another hungry cyclist arrived but I was impressed by the cause to which she, Dean and the others had devoted themselves. Muscular Christianity.

I got to the Katy Trail after an increasingly busy ride to the town of Washington and then a few kilometres across a plain which accommodated the town's airport.

"Sure gives a whole new sense t'adventure cycling," a construction worker in a white helmet and bright yellow jacket called over. He was maybe 35 and tall and muscular and had little white lines around his eyes where the sun hadn't penetrated. I stopped and he pointed at my bags. I explained what was in each.

"Sure like to do something like that, but...". He pointed wistfully at a giant roll of electrical cable waiting to be unwound, connected and then buried.

That was at Dutzow. The trail comes close to the road at that point and it was no trouble to find it. Katy is a contraction of the name of the railway company that had lines there, a choice it made to save money even though it knew the Missouri plain was prone to flood. There haven't been trains for years and the track route had fallen into half jungle when a benefactor who worked nearby gave his money to turn it into a trail for cyclists.

Peers store, once a lonely landmark on the trail, is now empty and for sale
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Pretty buildings in run-down communities
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It has a legendary role in American cycle-touring although the only riders I saw were day-trippers. And I don't want to speak ill of something so cherished but it's slow going because of the crushed gravel and, when I could, I took to the smooth and quiet road that ran only a puff of steam away.

One of the Muscular Christians had asked to take my picture.

"I gotta grandson wants to do that that, maybe ride across the country. Show him your picture and that might give him an idea," he said. Again, I explained what was in each of the bags. When I got to the front right, which holds the cooking gear, he came close to stepping back in amazement.

"You heat water?" he said, not once but several times.

"Well, I cook simple meals as well," I offered.

"But you heat water? Every morning?"

I don't know why that should have impressed him so much but I refuse to reject adulation. Some, I think, was that not only did Dean and his wife bear fruit and soft drinks but the riders' bags were carried to a hotel each night.

My own plans were simpler. I wanted the campground which my notes said was beside the trail at Bluffton. And so I rode under a darkening sky past Hermann and on through Rhineland (do you see a thread here?) and noticed that the post office in Rhineland had been opened by Bill Clinton, maybe because the town was the first in America to take government money to rebuid outside the flood zone. Three good floods in one year persuaded all but one household that it'd be better to be elsewhere.

The question I'm always asked at home is: "Tu vas prendre la Route Soixante-Six?" And I explain that it hasn't existed for decades. But today, nevertheless, I rode for a few minutes on where once it had been
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New road on the left, Route 66 on the right
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The Katy Trail... on and on through the light gravel, sometimes sheltered, other times not
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Well, I didn't find the campground. It's there but it's not beside the trail. I pushed on, convinced I couldn't be wrong but worried and then convinced that I was. It became darker and it rained. I looked down promising tracks for a place to hide a tent. And then, like a trap to entice wild campers into an ambush by landowners bearing guns, a little meadow of soft, almost flat grass and a path that led from it to nowhere at all.

I pitched my tent, content that nobody in his right mind was going to come out in the gloom and rain to see if, by chance, a cyclist might have camped there, and I fell asleep to the sound of boats on the river.

Today's ride: 124 km (77 miles)
Total: 2,113 km (1,312 miles)

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