Day 18
June 21, 2007
Travelodge Motel                                             
Great Bend, Kansas 

I was on the road at 6:10am, after gassing at a Centex con store down the street from the motel.  It was a peaceful morning in Great Bend.  The weather guesser on the motel tv advised there was no rain in the area, but a 20% chance of afternoon showers.  This time of year, in the eastern U.S., always a 20% chance of rain.
I took U.S. 56 east out of the city, and soon I was back on the Plains making my way to the Mississippi River.  It was a nice morning.  The quiet 1300 floated over the roadbed at 70 mph.  "I gotta watch my speed today, I've been lucky so far."

Sunrise came and went while I was out among the farms and feed stocks.   This early morning ride reminded me of those crack of dawn days at the pickle plant.  We had to be AT work by 6am, and the scent of the area was noticeably stronger in the early dawn.  It seemed to hover around your head.  There was some kind of railroad switching yard across the street from the plant, and the sounds of trains drifted across.  In the lumber yard in the opposite direction, a incessant pounding noise, like a pneumatic pile driver hammering down a 100 foot steel pole, banged from sun up to sun down.  The echoes reverberated everywhere, "whump ooooooo, whump ooooooo."  You got use to it, and the odd times it was down was the only time you noticed it, because the quiet was so foreign.

​ "Sunrise came and went"
Why riding a motorcycle brings such thoughts to my head I don't know, but I enjoy them.  Out here on the Plains you don't have to think about riding as intensely as usual and your mind is free to seek the more pleasant things in the memory bank.  I know I talk about my pickle plant days a lot, but they were so important to me.  What my time there taught me I've carried all my life.

The ride into McPherson was one of the better rides of the tour.  The miles and time went by quickly.  Flags were half mast at the local fire station to honor the loss of the 9 South Carolina firefighters.  Traffic lights were still on flash.

I left the city on SR 150.  Today's ride is another custom route created in my study.  It is complicated with numerous route changes, it was certainly not the most direct way to Cape Giradeau, but infinitely better then a interstate ride.  "I hope I picked some good roads for today," was one of my thoughts.

I was beginning to see a few more trees now, and green foliage was spread in the hills around Emporia, my long ride across the Plains was over.

Farm tractors were thumping their way to the fields along 160 and I waved to their drivers.  They will not come in till well after dark.  A farmer's life is not for me, but I can see why it appeals.  A guy can be his own boss, and work his fields as he sees fit.  It is a craft that can be handed down to the next generation.  Those items are hard to come by now days.

I switched routes to U.S. 50 near Emporia.

It was still  morning when I arrived in the city.  A train cut me off downtown, and on top of that I made a wrong turn.  How I misread the GPS I don't know, but I did.  I went down a busy boulevard while the unit recalculated.  Next thing I know I'm near a college campus on back streets following the Zumo directions to my next waypoint.  It takes me right to it, and I only loose about 5 minutes of travel time.

The ride now shifts to a series of state and county roads.  True back roads.  I went south to SR 99 and then turned off east on CR 58, carefully following the route I layed out in the software several months ago.  I've ridden across Kansas a dozen times, so I had to be creative finding new roads to ride.  As far as roads in Kansas go I picked a nice one when I chose 58.

The GPS is telling me to make a left turn onto 57 but the sign on the road says 58.  "Hmmmmm something is amiss.  Must be a typo in the software, because the locals surely know this is 58 and probably has been for 60 years, why they put a sign HERE.  Anyway the number is not gonna matter, the purple line says to turn."  I took the route, pretty sure it would all work out and I'd get to Fort Scott.

The landscape was all rural and rolling hills.  "Dang, I found all 4 of the curves in Kansas this morning,"as the ruler straight road suddenly came to a bending right hand curve.  Over the tops of a few more rises, and the road bent back left.  Road builders back in the old days were reluctant to slice a road through a man's crops, so they followed fence, crop, and property lines.  It was a charming ride.
​One of the 4 curves in Kansas.  All of them are on CR 58
Near Madison, Kansas.

A big farm house, clustered around a clove of old trees, and a nearby creek caught my attention.  It needed painting, and the barn door was wide open.  A dirt road ended at the rear bumpers of a pick up truck and mini van.   I didn't see any people about, and I don't know why the image stuck with me.  Perhaps it was because it reminded me of Alabama.

Two hundred miles after leaving Great Bend I found my way into Le Roy and took refuge in the town center at a busy store.  The front was some kind of timber looking wood, but a nice table stood under the eaves.  I went inside, picked out a lukewarm Mountain Dew, and bag of chips to go with my sandwich, and prepared for a nice break.  About that time the door flung open, a man stepped in about 40, he had a soft kindly face but it was terribly drawn, and was bent in the shoulders as if yoked to something.  He wore a baseball cap with a absurd 5 inch crown.
​The store at Le Roy Kansas.
"HEY!"  he shouted out to no one in particular.

I responded, "HEY!"

"that's a fancy mosickle ya got out there"

"yeah it does alright", as I gathered up my purchase and went outside.

When I left, the bent looking man was entertaining the lady clerk with a story about the last time he went to see a mutual friend.  He told the lady, "I was gonna tell him about seeing his daughter out with the Herbert boy, but it ain't good to distract a man cuttin meat with a high speed saw."

After observing the surroundings I found this place was famous for the local beef jerky.  The processing building was next to the store but it didn't look busy.

I ate my sandwich, and put a few notes in the Axim.  I was almost finished when a deputy pulled in.  "Long way from home,"  "yeah, but not as far as I have been.  I'm lookin to get back to the house tomorrow."  The deputy had small hands and big feet.  His cowboy boots were pointed toe with brass caps.

The excitement of Le Roy was underwhelming so I got back on the road.  

I followed 58 till it crossed U.S. 169.  At the intersection I held ground for a southbound SUV, with right signal on.  "I ain't goin out there till I'm sure he's gonna turn."  When he did I went across to Colony and picked up CR 1132.  A short ride followed, then I went to U.S. 59.  The highway turned off to the right but I continued straight on SR 31.   "Man I hope I did this right, if not I'm gonna be screwed."  It seemed like a lot of route changes.
With the Plains behind me, the land was more green and inviting.   I was still seeing farms with grain elevators, but they were not as big.
​It was a long ride across the Kansas Plains.
The GPS pointed me to SR 3, a dirt road.  "Must be some kind of mistake, I don't click on dirt roads."  But I guess I did this time.  "Well, I can chose another route to Fort Scott but it might add a lot of time and miles."  The road looked packed down, and hard, and not very dusty.  After turning in, I instinctively checked the "miles to next turn" window.  It was less than a mile.  "I'll go there and if it's not a highway I'll do something else."

The dirt road came out to U.S. 54, and all was good.  I was going to arrive in Fort Scott by lunch as planned.
Approaching the city from the west I noted a long line of irrigation things, spewing water far out in the fields.
On the outskirts of the city I went in a empty parking lot to check lunch options.  I was in the mood for a Sonic Chicken sandwich so I went to the GPS food menu.  Sure enough, a store was 2 miles away.  It was off route but that is not a big deal when you have directions.  While I was stopped,  2 young ladies in a red Civic tooted the horn at me.  I waved back.  How disappointed they would be if they could see under all my riding gear.  I'm sure they had romantic images of some young, handsome Long Rider full of adventure, on a fancy motorcycle with like riding gear, passing through a mostly boring Kansas town.  Well they got most of it right anyway, no need to spoil things letting them think otherwise. 

The Sonic was right where the GPS told me it was, but there was no outside table.  Never saw that at a Sonic before.  I circled the unit, making sure I didn't overlook it, and then to a nearby Wendy's.  

I had a good signal for the first time all day and caught up on my messages.  "Man I need to ride 200 before stopping again, I still have a long way to go."  When I finished eating I went to a nearby Shell station and topped off the tank.  

I continued on U.S. 54 into West Missouri and followed the custom route to SR 43.  Traffic picked up considerably when I crossed state lines.

The riding was not good on U.S. 54, too many cars.  I'd managed to pass 3 or 4 only to find that many more.
Route N was my next route, and I don't know if it is considered a local or state road.  It just read N.  These Missouri backroads were much different than those in the north on Day 2.  It was Friday afternoon and I was near a large lake area, and trucks pulling boats were everywhere.   Lines of cars were smothering the roadways.  It was slow going.

I had hopes route B would be better but it was not.  I was coming into Stockton, my planned stopping point for this day, but I had already made the call to push on east, so when the custom route ran out, I went to the next days and tabbed "go to."  I knew the route began on the other side of the lake.

In Fort Stockton, large clouds had gathered swelling like water balloons.  They were dark and full of water, and sure enough the bottom dropped out on me must as I entered the city limits.  Claps of thunder shook the ground, and lightening streaked in several directions.  It was the first rain I'd seen in 2 weeks, and after all those long hours in the desert I welcomed it.  

I was sitting out a traffic light in a torrential downpour and didn't mind.  I looked around me as water rushed down the curbs to storm drains, I relished in the coolness of the once super heated air, "rain is a good thing," I thought, lest the land become dry, and dusty like I see so much in my travels.

I needed to check something on the Zumo and went to a con store gas pump to get out of the rain.  A clerk was standing by chasing potential customers off with, "pumps down, satellite knocked out by the storm."  I told her, " I don't need any gas m'am I just need to get outta the rain a second."

A few miles after picking up SR 32 the rain went away and the sun came back out.  It was typical summer thunderstorm, they are hit and miss.  The traffic thinned out but it was still slow going through the numerous communities.  Missouri just seems to be a crowded place.

A photo op presented itself when I went by a very old gas station.  The store collapsed on itself, but the rusting pump still sat outside.  A sign on the pump read, "contains lead" they haven't made leaded gasoline in what?  Thirty years?  I stopped for a pic and to look things over.  Price on the pump read "39 cents."  I starred at the old contraption a long time, as if to verify my memory was correct, that there really was a time I could fill my ride up for 3 dollars.
​Old gas pump in the Missouri hills.
By the time I made it into Lebanon I knew I was going to have to do something different.  The zumo put my time of arrival at 8:30pm if continued on present course.  More dark clouds loomed in the east, and traffic was getting worse.  I stopped at a con store parking lot near I-44 and asked the zumo to pilot me to Giradeau quickest route.  A few seconds later I had my route, with a estimated run time of 2 hours, putting me in the city about 6 pm.

Sometimes things just don't work out the way it you plan.  I was dealing with that in Lebanon.

I took the interstate, from here on out I was just going to try to get home by way of Giradeau.  The 1300 quickly came up to speed on the downhill ramp, and I merged into a moderate flow of traffic.  It felt good after the last 100 miles of slogging the back roads of Missouri.  

I followed I-44 north to just south of St. Louis.  I was routed off the interstate by the GPS, but I knew the geography of the land and why this turn.  "The unit is going to cut the corner of St. Louis and take me to I-55."  I knew both interstates joined somewhere in the city. 

Back in the rich con store land of the east, I rode all the way to the GPS gas gauge flashed on.  I think it was the first time since day one I did that.  Working the cut off over to I-55, I found a Shell station and topped off the tank.  Traffic was beastly as I negotiated the urban sprawl to get over to I-55.  I had some miles of none red lights and shopping centers, but I was always stuck behind a row of cars.

When I-55 appeared I took it south.  The interstate basically follows the Mississippi River all the way to Memphis.  "Well I'm at the Mississippi, home is not far off."  For a southern boy, the River has a special meaning.

The southbound lane was choked in St Louis commuter traffic but was moving.  It cleared away after 25-30 miles.  The Zumo said I had 54 miles to target.  I wasn't sure where I was going to spend the night, but was sure it would be a motel.

A few signs along the highway boasted of General Grant spending the night here, as well as Mark Twain.  I guess the Chamber of Commerce can now add the BamaRider.

I made quick work of the last 50 miles and arrived in the Cape looking for a place to stay.  I took the second exit, and all the motels there were high dollar.  So I went back to the first exit to look around.  I checked the Hampton Inn, and best rate was 85 dollars!  I went down the street to the local flop house, operated by the typical motel types in the USA-foreign.

The name of the place was the Holiday.  NO, that Holiday.  I knew it was bad when I went in the office and the desk was behind bullet proof glass, and behind the desk was the apartment the family lived.

"How much is it?"

"35 dollars"

"Ok I'll take it"

After registering I was directed to go around back.  "At least the place has covered parking," but that doesn't mean much, not going to rain.  I timidly opened the door of the room and my worst fears was confirmed.  A musty, dank odor hit me.  The walls were block, a plastic 5 gallon bucket served as a trash can.  The room did have what once looked like a kitchen.  "This place use to rent rooms by the week."

The day's ride came in for 666 miles.  The devil's number, but that didn't frighten me.  "I got sumptin for him, if he comes MY way."  Coming of custom route saved me 2 hours according to the GPS.  I normally would have stayed on the back road ride, but I needed to get to the Cape at decent hour.

Across the parking lot a couple of down and out studio apartments had several occupants, and next to them was a really bad Laundromat.  I'm sure it was owned by the motel operators.  The clients didn't look to be tax paying.

"I've been in some dumps before but this is the champ."  I turned the tv on and it was so dark I thought I had left my  Oakleys on.  "I bet not even Uncle Phil has been in a place worst than this, and he's been some roach bag dumps.  I knew I should have stayed at the KOA back down the road.  I could have saved 15 dollars and had a clean place to boot."

I took a shower and then loaded up the bike to ride down to the next exit.  While motel shopping I noticed a Texas Roadhouse Grill.  My favorite steakhouse.  The exit is 3 or so miles south of me.  It was my last night on the road, and I usually eat steak, but lately I eat chicken for health reasons.  The steakhouse was busy, so I did a end run and went to the bar.  

"What ya havin hun?"

"diet coke and the grilled chicken, baked potato with butter on the side."

"you got it"

The place was loud, so any phone conversations were out.

Two guys sat next to me, they were my age, with golf shirts on.  I had my helmet next to me.  "Your bike outside with Alabama plates?"


"what brings ya here?"

"Just passin through, my last day on the road after a 8000 mile trip"

"man, that must be nice"

"It was, and a lot fun"

I finished the wait time with my journal notes, and then downed my supper with thoughts of home the next day.  Nothing happens I should be home in time for the 5pm Mass at St. Josephs.

The 5 mile ride back to the motel was dark, and to the best of my memory the only night time riding of the entire tour.  I really didn't want to go back to that dump, but had little choice.

While I was gone a HD rider had checked in 2 doors down.  Misery loves company I reckon.   I never saw the rider.

I called Debbie and gave the report and asked the garage door be up the next day.  I told her about the flop house I was in. "Are you sure you are ok?"  "I dunno baby, its bad."  "Uncle Phil is not there either?"  "No he's not, I don't think even HE would check in this place."  All I wanted was the morning to come in so I could LEAVE.

The bed appeared to be neat, but I pulled the spread waaaaaaay back just in case.  The dark tv was hopeless.  I missed my neat little tent, with the simple bed that has only seen the likes of me.
I set the Ironman for 5:30 am to get on the road by 6.  I had a feeling I wasn't going to need it.