I write these words from my seat by the open window, the lapping of water a soothing accompaniment to the noise of thoughts that lazily row along, paralyzed by the beauty of the sky’s reflection upon the cool pacific waters. The weather is more than kind; the bugs are around but possess not the evolutionary impulse to bite; no headwinds, no heat, no sunburn, no hills to climb and no more gas station produce; we are glad to be back on Bainbridge.
I recall our final days with the same shade of glory as one who recalls those long lost high school days, that time of vibrancy and youth which held as much the juice of life as a ripened berry. The memory of such vital times oozes when allowed to linger, the sweet nectar of victory dripping down my chin the more details I recall. I daydream; backwards spins the reel of time…
In the tail end of a day, mile 54 swept us out of Kansas and into Missouri. We cross the unadorned state line while cruising up and over endless petite hills, stopping at the turnoff to the town of Amsterdam, where we set up camp in a park for the night. We sleep soundly and awaken with a nagging hunger, a pain satisfied by the packaged sweets we reluctantly savor for breakfast. Backcountry roads without a shoulder and with plenty of steep and stumpy hills sums up the ride from Amsterdam to Clinton; we stop along the way for a bite in Butler before finishing the 23 miles to town. We are surprised when the waitress states “cash only” after we’ve eaten the pizza and fries, which we don’t usually carry. Our pockets are empty, and catching me before I disentangle the contents of my panniers in a desperate search for change she sweetly offers to accept a check mailed to the Ballard Grill at our earliest convenience; this gesture is a flower in the bouquet of human kindness we’ve collected along the way.
We arrive in Clinton ready for a bed in an air conditioned room and allow ourselves this luxury after noticing Trenton’s fluctuating body temperature; it’s heat exhaustion alright. He runs a fever most of the night and I grow doubtful we’ll ever make it to grandma’s farm on time as planned; he might need an extra day of rest. Fortunately, he awakens refreshed and ready to leave the road behind for a 37 mile stretch of the Katy Trail.
No cars, no steep grades, no rolling hills and plenty of shade: its our dream come true, and we glide upon Katy’s packed dirt with excitement and ease, adoring the tree-given shade and the jungle vines tucked behind her manicured edges. The Katy Trail is a total of 237 miles and spans the state of Missouri, but it takes a northward turn and we need to get off and ride the highway in order to continue east towards our destination.
We ride until we reach Tipton and decide to spend another night indoors at the local motel. Trenton walks across the street to a Chinese restaurant and orders carry out, a dinner of rice, vegetables, and noodles; real food.
We awaken and head for the Tipton cafe before riding out, where we spend a while talking to the locals, one of whom is the uncle of comedian and actor David Koechner, a charmingly witty older man in overalls and an appetite for sharing the history of his town, long ago settled by German immigrants who took to farming as a way of life.
We leave Tipton after breakfast, and the sky is heavy with rain. I tell Trenton that with my iPhone tuned to a crime thriller audiobook, the gray gloom of the atmosphere, the wide shoulder and easy riding I can at moments forget my bike, the soreness of my bum and the swelling in my knees, transplanting myself to California in December, wrapped in blankets upon a furry rug before a wood burning furnace, a marshmallow floating on the surface of the steaming hot chocolate in my Free Willy mug, my eyes happily devouring a good book. We glide along the highway shoulder quickly, as if surfing a wave, and just then our ride is blessed with the falling of rain; the droplets at first are seconds apart, and then hoards of sky water spills from the black pockets overhead with a blaze of fury. We haven’t had a good rain since Kansas; we pedal cheerfully through the storm, the cool water a welcoming refreshment after so many days of unforgiving sun. We arrive in Jefferson City ready for lunch, and I have my first Jimmie John’s sandwich, followed by a sip of something warm from a local coffee shop.
The sun is out after lunch and we ride through the streets of downtown to reconnect with the Katy Trail which has come full circle to begin its second eastern route from Missouri’s capitol city.
Ahhhh how soothing to be riding again this trail; I can rest my habit of perceiving danger from behind, permitting my eyes to peer leisurely upon the miles of dirt ahead.
It’s getting late and along the trial options for camping and food are scarce. One small town after another, we are growing weary as the sun passes further beyond the farmed fields. Dinner is cereal and a bag of chips; we put aside our good-eating efforts knowing this is our last night on the road and indulge in the junk thats been haunting us since our May departure. We continue to ride into the night, fireflies lighting the way, the moon showering the leaves and dancing the shadows between us. Trenton snags his rear pannier on a fallen tree and the binding breaks; the fractured bag puts pressure on his back wheel and we decide to stop. There’s an historic marker not too far ahead: a huge rock which has successfully evaded erosion all these years, and which now sits awkwardly exposed along the trail. We establish camp behind the gargantuan stone and sleep soundly through the night, the undying sounds of crickets and creatures all around, the stars brilliant and bright; we talk of how much we’ll miss this for the months we are grounded at home.
The next morning is our final day; we have only to ride 47 miles, 40 of which are on the Katy, before reaching grandma’s farm. Today feels different than all the rest, the home stretch, the culmination of months of patience, endurance, and hard work.
Each 10 miles we gain we stop and celebrate, acknowledging that we are about to finish what we started, only 30 or 20 or 10 more miles to go. Then we’re off the trail and onto gravel, and its 8 more miles, then 7…6…4…3…2….
We can see grandma Mary Ann; she’s tied balloons around the mailbox that reflect the glittering sun with the word “welcome!” in silvers and blues. She catches our finale with her camera, ringing the farm’s dinner bell in the process to alert Uncle David and Aunt Shawna as to our arrival , a sound that rings through the valley until its mighty reverberation is lost in the brush of the hillsides forever.
Grandma Mary Ann keeps us busy the next four days, sweeping us in new directions, gifting us an insider’s view of life on a farm in Missouri. We take canoes down a nearby creek with Dorothy,
pop into St. Lois for a peek at the Arch and the cathedral with Cathy, a trainer of Arabian horses,
seek refuge from processed foods at Whole Foods, have iced tea with neighbors, pet horses, and play Chinese checkers around the kitchen table at the days’ end. Shawna has developed a skill for cooking vegan cuisine, and we eat well throughout the duration of our stay on the farm. On July 31 we head to the airport to take a four hour flight over the land we have for the past two months traversed by bike.
On August 17 2013, Trenton and I will be married. Trenton’s proposal in India this past December came just 3 months after we met at a mediation center in California. We quickly established a deep connection made even deeper by our mutual love for cycling. It was, after all, on a bike that Trenton had set off from home, completing the Seattle to San Francisco tour before meeting me and completing the ride to Joshua Tree as a couple.
It is to celebrate our marriage with friends and family in the near perfect August weather on Bainbridge Island that we have paused our US tour, having left our bicycles at Dorothy’s house pending our return in late September. Until then, the adventure continues in a much different light, as we begin a new chapter of life as Mr. and Mrs. Trenton Gibbons.