12. Sikeston: Cotton Country

Thursday evening, 29 Sep ‘11

Off Hwy 153, southwest of Sikeston, MO


The countryside is very open here, so it wasn’t real easy finding a place to set up camp where I wouldn’t be in view. One of the marvels of this kind of travel is that you always do find a place. More often than not, the locations are surprisingly attractive. Tonight’s is not one of them, though it isn’t in the least unpleasant either. I am camping behind an old, abandoned silo, shielded from view of the road by tall grass and scrub, with a broad field of brown and withered corn on my other side. The tall, dead cornstalks crackle as the breeze caresses them.


I aim to find a wifi spot and breakfast in Sikeston, maybe an hour’s ride from here. My intention is to post this quickly and concentrate on covering ground. I’ll search in Cape Girardeau for a bike shop where I can buy a spare tire – which seems like a good precaution now. With any luck, I’ll sleep in southern Illinois tomorrow night.


At this point, I’m plotting my course strictly on my atlases and maps, mainly pre-sliced & separated pages from the DeLorme state atlases I’ve owned, in some cases, for several years, anticipating of just such an occasion as this. I am subject to altering my plans, but each evening, as part of my routine and before it’s fully dark, I determine the route I’ll take on the following day, and how it’ll leave me positioned for the next day’s journey.


I rode a little over 81 miles today, my longest distance so far. I thought I had a chance to make it past Sikeston, but strong headwinds right out of the north slowed me down … along with a poor, gravely surface on 153 and one place a few miles back where road workers enforced a long wait.


I got to talking with the young fellow holding up the sign, a self-professed “government worker.” As with many such encounters I have along the way, I was favorably impressed with the spirit of criticism and mistrust the people I talk with reserve for the powers that be. The woman at the post office in Piggot, AR, who helped me mail a few items back home, described how she’d refused to allow her son to be administered Ritalin by the local schools. He was difficult to raise for a while, but he turned out fine – a bit dyslexic, which hasn’t kept him from working as an computer technician for a company that makes pipes, and cultivating multiple skills so as to enhance his likelihood of remaining employed.


I love Mexican food, and I’ve eaten at Mexican restaurants three of the last four days. The folks who served me today, in Piggot, were part of a family operation. They’d been in town for six years and claimed the only Mexicans around are the ones who set up Mexican eating joints. T


hese people were from Guadalajara, Jalisco, and small towns nearby. They were all incredulous that I was riding a bicycle across country. “Do you stay in hotels? Where do you bathe? How many miles a day do you ride?” So I wrote my blog address on a napkin … and soon noticed one of them had his little palm device out and was examining my pictures – if not my (very difficult!) text in English.


I especially liked the older woman – somebody’s aunt. She was such a perfectly “Mexican” type. We joked about my giving her English lessons. Several of the family members waited on me graciously, keeping my coffee cup filled … as I listened to Daryl Bradford Smith interview Adrian Salbuchi on an audio file now more than a week old (<iamthewitness.com>). There wasn’t really anything new for me in what they said. More dire warnings about what’s coming down in the final stretch of this year. I’m still inclined to think they’re right.


I don’t know how to transfer these audio files to my iPod, or else I’d listen to them as I cycle. The iPod is mated with my desktop computer back home, and I can’t get it to take on the fresh audio files I download at my wifi stops. There isn’t enough juice on my computer – or enough of my own energy and time – to listen to these files on the laptop in my tent in the evenings. So, instead, I am listening for the second, third or fourth time to Mark Passio’s 78-file series on mind control, the occult and our encroaching political lockdown, which he describes as brought on by a bird with two wings – one, cultural Marxism; the other, corporate fascism. It’s repetitious, but I find it worth reviewing.


I’ve long since noted that Mexicans in the US tend to gravitate from one region of Mexico to a particular region of the States. Thus, all the Mexicans around where I live in New Jersey seem to come from Puebla. When I was a youth in Mexico, someone taught me a goofy saying – Puerco, cochino, marrano, todo come el poblano. I don’t know if it’s true or not, or whether people from Puebla would be insulted if you quoted this. But at least it rhymes, and it does stick in your mind.


Folks who ran the Mexican restaurants I ate at in Mountain Home and Ash Flat were all from Guanajuato, which I consider my home state in Mexico. I proudly told them I knew and remembered la Valenciana, las momias, el Pipila and el callejon del beso. They were busy and didn’t seem all that impressed. But the food was excellent!


Here is an old song that I used to love, in a worthy rendition by two of the classic Mexican vocalists of half a century ago. It celebrates a string of towns in this beautiful and historic state at the geographical center of the country. Its famous opening lines are joyously macabre, in a perfectly Mexican style:


No vale nada la vida,

La vida no vale nada.

Comienza siempre llorando,

Y asi llorando se acaba.


Life is not worth anything.

It always starts with crying,

And so with crying it ends.




So here, following, is a retrospective of the past few days. As I did previously with the consolidation I wrote in Nixa, within each day the pictures and commentary are chronological, but the days themselves run in reverse order, from the present moment back to something less than a week ago.


Actually, time is getting funny for me now – one of the reasons it’s good to induce this kind of experience. I’m a little over two weeks out of Mom’s place in Kirkwood. Bt the measure “two weeks” has none of the normally quantified meaning it would have back home, in a context of settled routine.


I can’t really say how “long” I’ve been on the road like this, with my bicycle and tent. What I feel is that I’ve got most of the kinks worked out of my travel system, spent a bit more money than ought to be necessary, as a daily average, from here on out, and passed an important milestone of meaning with Tom’s long torment brought to a close and his life now sealed as a finished entity for all who knew him. I feel I am in a different phase of my journey now, and that crossing the Mississippi, almost certainly tomorrow, will put me into fresh psychological terrain.


I was sure that by now I’d have made camp for two or three nights in one spot, lingered to explore, to rest, and to squander a few hours of leisure Online. But progress has been slow, due to all the rain, and to hassles I had with sending out my pictures by email, so I just kept moving every day, even if I only made 20, 30 or 40 miles between morning and night.


Now I’m thinking I’d still like to have one day just to rest and linger in a pretty spot – somewhere that offers both an Internet connection and a preponderance of natural beauty. After studying my maps this evening, I’ve got my sites fixed on Golconda – on Hwy 146 in Illinois, deep in the Shawnee National Forest, and beside the Ohio River, not far downstream from where I plan to cross into Kentucky by ferry, off Hwy 1, at Cave-in-Rock. I could reasonably be there, or within easy striking distance, by Saturday afternoon or evening.


  • #8052 – Earliest start I’ve gotten so far. Sunrise. All packed up and ready to roll. September 29th
  • #8053 – I didn’t notice till I was leaving this morning, but the place where I slept last night belonged to a large parcel of land (“The Farm”) waiting to be subdivided into private plots of an acre or two. Many of the lovely places where I’ve been fortunate to find a berth, over the years, have been in tenuous transition like that. Were I ever to return, the circumstances would probably be less favorable. I remember what an adventure it was to hitchhike back and forth across the USA in the mid-seventies. Good thing I did that while it was still possible. Today it’s illegal to hitchhike – or pick up hitchhikers – almost everywhere. 
  • #8058 – One of the peculiar features of northeast Arkansas geography … Crowley’s Ridge, visible as a gentle eminence in the distance. It runs for a long ways, generally north to south, extending into southern Missouri. The rest of the land, on both sides, is flat as a table, and good farming. By contrast, the Ozark Plateau almost seems to have more rock in it than dirt. Back in West Branson, the lady who managed the laundromat I dried out my gear at described how she and her husband had some work done on their property nearby. When the workmen came upon a patch of actual soil, it was such a phenomenon that people were summoned from all around to look at it and marvel. 
  • #8060 – Straight, flat roads with wide shoulders – easy riding. I made good time today, especially in the morning. For the most part, rather light traffic. 
  • #8063 – Crossing the state line back into Missouri. I had stopped here briefly, on the Arkansas side, back upstream, to cool off in the rather muddy, swiftly moving water. It felt good, and revived me for continued exertions. 
  • #8068 – More flat, straight, lightly trafficked roads in the very southeast of Missouri, just above the bootheel. Pretty countryside. A trifle warm, but perfectly acceptable weather. 
  • #8071 – Expansive cotton fields in Missouri, like the ones I saw in northeast Arkansas. This is only a couple miles south of where I’m sitting at the moment. 
  • #8036 – Fallen giant. Going back some years, another instance of decay. This was in the patch of woods beside where I’d slept. Morning of Tuesday, September 28th
  • #8037 – First sight of Jonesboro. I took the wrong turn here, heading on the bypass around the south of town, rather than cutting across the north, as I’d planned. As often happens in such cases, my mistake turned out to be a good idea. The route back north was ideal, bringing me to an excellent coffee shop with wifi, where I washed my hair and shaved in their beautifully appointed men’s room, and where I spent more hours than I’d imagined I would tending my email. 
  • #8038 – Main Street in downtown Jonesboro. As usual, the older buildings have a far more attractive character than those in the newer, outlying districts. 
  • #8039 – Gearhead Outfitters. Excellent outdoor store on South Main, where Cascade Designs shipped the replacement rain fly for my tent. The friendly and helpful staff was anticipating my arrival. Across the street was a large bicycle shop, part of the same establishment.   Unfortunately, they didn’t have a spare tire – that would twist and fold – for a touring bike like mine. Nearly all of what they catered to was mountain biking. The guys there seemed sure I’d find one at a certain bike shop in Cape Girardeau, since it’s on the Mississippi Trail, and therefore ought to get its share of two-wheeled travelers like me. They were very interested in what I was doing, and stood in a cluster admiring my Surly Long Haul Trucker. The deep green leather Brooks saddle, one of my custom alterations from the stock model bike, was particularly noted. One of the mechanics compared it to a good baseball mitt – after you’ve got it broken in, there’s nothing better. When I went across the street to grab a quick burger at one of the nice downtown restaurants, they insisted I leave my bike in the shop with them. “Don’t worry,” they assured me. “We’ll guard it with our lives.” 
  • #8040 – Ahhhhhh. After being blindsided in the Bible Belt – riding for several days through a string of completely “dry” counties – this busy little establishment heaved into view like an oasis in the desert. The fellows at the bike shop had told me I’d find relief just north of the Greene County Line … adding something about skid marks on the highway leading in that direction. 
  • #8045 – Another lovely spot to spread out for the night. Soft, luxuriant grass. Dilapidated farm elements. No hint of other people anywhere around. Far enough from the busy highway for the roar of traffic to reach the ear like a distant, gentle surf. 
  • #8041 – Two tall Buds … mounted like Christmas tree ornaments – were a merry addition to my already bulging bags. Still cool, they went down real nice, slow and easy, in my tent. Instead of reading, for a change, I enjoyed the glow of my liquid refreshment by shuffling through a long and varied medley of music on my iPod, gazing ardently up at the starry sky through the mosquito netting on my tent and entertaining a pageant of thoughts – as Wordsworth put it – “too deep for tears.” Perhaps because of the unaccustomed intake of drink, I woke up after several hours and couldn’t fall asleep again. It seems like about every other night I sleep well and deeply, while about half the time my sleep is restless … or disturbed, as it was that one night by the barking dog, or another night by some creature in a tree above me, which issued raucous, cawing screeches at intervals of about one every sixty seconds … for hours. Finally, last night, I fell asleep again. I had a weird, complex, and unpleasant dream about St. Mary’s College. The old president, Brother Mel, wanted to play chess with me, amidst a jumble of large-scale excavations and construction. After I stepped in some fresh concrete they’d been laying and smoothing out, the Mexican gardeners who’d always been so friendly with me there got angry and told me not to come back. 
  • #8045 – In a surprisingly large proportion of cases, the spots I gravitate to as campsites are bucolic, serene and exquisite … as this one was. 
  • #7996 – This was the morning of Tuesday the 26th, the day Tom’s life would be “celebrated” in Lake Saint Louis. I’d already determined to hold my own parallel observations. So I was not in any rush to pack up and leave. As soon as the sun had peeked above the tree line and warmed the air, I enjoyed a bath in the river, being about due for one anyway. I was a competitive swimmer in my teens, and I’m still as at home in water as I am on my feet. For many years, wherever I’ve traveled, I’ve taken a solemn delight in baptizing myself in whatever natural body of water there was at hand – from the glorious, exotic and famous to the humble, the unnamed and the absurd. Here and there I’ve missed a good bet, but this is one I’m glad I took the leisure to appreciate. Swimming trunks? Oh. They’re still in the bottom of my bag. I haven’t put ‘em on since the last time I went into the sauna after yoga class at the LA Fitness Club in Clifton … quite some weeks ago now. I just brought them along for insurance, in case I’m ever at a public beach or something. Occasionally this does happen, you know. 
  • #8002 – I made coffee on my little stove, and drank it unhurriedly with the sun on my face. 
  • 8003 – For once, I left my tent out in the sun until it was good and dry. Note the blue pickup truck in the background. The two guys working out there didn’t begrudge my borrowing a patch of their ground to rest on for a night. 
  • #8004 – Good rubber. I’ve never had such luck with my tires on a bicycle journey as I have this time around. I still haven’t had a flat tire (knock on wood) … and my odometer reads 934 miles since I rolled out of our storage locker on the morning of September 2nd, way back in Immigrants-ville – Clifton, NJ, USA. Just by way of contrast, once about three years ago, when I was riding across western Maine and northern New Hampshire, I had five flats in one day. Then, the next morning, another one. Usually it’s on the back wheel – the harder to pull out and work on, because that’s where most of the weight is settled, and it takes a beating. 
  • #8009 – 3 o’clock Tuesday afternoon, September 27. 
  • #8011 – Hot tea with oatmeal, thinking of the gathering in Tom’s memory up at Lake Saint Louis. You have to unpack and spread out a lot of stuff, just to get at the stove, water, provisions bag and cooking utensils. 
  • #8020 – Out of the Ozarks. Fast road going east towards Jonesboro. 
  • #8028 – Vast field of peas, where I camped on Tuesday night. 
  • #8033 – Comfy bedroom, between the trees and the peas. 
  • #8029 – Sunset behind the sea of peas. 
  • #7984 – Hardy, AR. The pretty and historic main street, a little east of where I camped on Monday night. 
  • #7934 & 7937 – Rolling highway and a vista of the wooded highlands. Just after crossing over into Arkansas. The first of these shots is before I turned off the main road towards Omaha. The second was south of Omaha, before rejoining the divided highway going south towards Harrison. 


Well, here I am in Sikeston, with the morning almost gone.


I lost time looking for a decent wifi breakfast spot, finally settled on a Burger King. Their breakfast platter wasn’t actually all that bad. The coffee’s nothing to write home about.


I couldn’t finish my posting last night because the battery ran down. The laptop uses juice at about twice the rate it recharges its battery at from a place like this.


Again this morning there was a powerful headwind, right out of the north and east, exactly the way I’m going. So I’ll probably make slow progress and camp just short of Cape Girardeau, do my business there first thing tomorrow, then cross the Mississippi and plunge into the southern tip of Illinois.


It’ll take a while to load all the pictures on my blog. I haven’t opened my emails yet either, or downloaded any of my favorite radio shows. I’m fixated on clearing out of here as quickly as I can. Maybe in an hour? Two…?


The computer is a real time sink. One of these days I’m going to loosen my attachment to it.













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