7. Nixa: Retrospective

I continue to write from my tent, on what’s left of the juice in my laptop, following the same, day-by-day, backwards direction I took up at Lola’s in Nixa this morning.


I’m sitting on a hilltop in a gorgeous spot, under a small grove of mature trees, with an expansive view of forested countryside, half a mile above the highway to my west, having walked my bike around a locked gate with a sign advertising 235 acres for sale by one Jim Stockton, whose phone number may be found adjacent to the “No Trespassing” notice posted there as well.


I don’t mean to be disrespectful, or a smart aleck, but if I never violated a no-trespassing sign, state-sponsored or private, I’d have to stay at home.


It sure is nice up here – abundant soft grass, a good breeze, insects chirping, stars in the sky. Such are the rewards of breaking a few small rules – all the while respectful of the ground I briefly occupy, never leaving trash behind, for example.


I tried but was unable earlier today, while I had access to the Internet, to figure out how to compress my photos into a zip file. So I’ll try to finish my writing now and leave that frustrating task for my next period of Internet access


  • #7911 – Present campsite. Night of Wednesday, 21 Sep. 
  • #7912 – My travel-worn lower legs. As they appeared a few hours ago, when it was still light out. Scratched by the underbrush, bitten by bugs, oiled perhaps as well by the odd touch of poison ivy. 
  • #7917 – All set up and cozy for the night. Tent-dweller’s view to the south as dusk approaches. 
  • #7914 – Sunset from my gorgeous hilltop perch in the southwest corner of Missouri. 
  • #7771 – Back to September 16. More decay – this time of the rural species. Just off the Katy Trail. Quite lovely, wouldn’t you agree? 
  • #7775 – Dotty’s, where I ate not one but two lunches. If I remember right, this was back in Hartsburg. 
  • #7798 – I wanted to spend one night, at least, beside the Missouri River. At last I found a spot, stopping a bit earlier than necessary to avail myself of this opportunity, knowing that I’d cross the river at Boonville and see the last of it the following day. Here I sat and cried again for my brother. I called my mom from this spot, as I do every third day now, conserving the minutes on my cell phone. She told me Tom was “in hospice,” meaning they’d brought in a professional caretaker, someone he and Lee had selected in advance, to ease his way through the final stages of his illness. He will die at home. Mom sounded OK, but when I asked her how she was holding up, she said she was “a basket case.” When the time comes, Amy will drop by in person to give her the inevitable news. Here I finished my bottle of dry red Merlot from Hermann, MO, feeling that my tears were flowing with the river. I studied the opposite shore through my 9x field glasses, amazed at how close they made everything look. I was also astonished at how many little critters came drifting by, close to the shore, only their little heads visible above the waterline. Turtles, I suppose, and snakes. Maybe the odd beaver. Then I called Elizabeth and explained, in a breaking voice, siedzę tu i płakam sobie, przy tej szlachetnej rzece. She said, “Oh, Bob, I’m so sorry.” Then she asked when I’d be home. Not till the end of October. Because I want to see the country, and this is a good time to do it. Yes, I have enough warm clothes. Yes, I’ll be careful.   Note here one of the most marvelous innovations in my traveling routine over the past few years. A couple years ago, I found a thermarest at Campmore in Paramus, NJ – best outdoor store I’ve ever come across – that provides backrest support. For years I leaned painfully on an elbow – first one and then another – studying my maps for the next day, making notes of mileage and expenses, and reading one of my books at night in my tent. Now I enjoy remarkable comfort, even as I sit, after a couple hours of evening administrative work followed by the writing of this (and one other) missive, debating whether or not to pop that second can of Foster Ale I picked up some hours ago. Note the backrest of my handy thermarest, rising up, beckoning, from within the tent. 
  • #7799 – The ground here in places wouldn’t support my weight. My walking stick just splooked right down into it. I didn’t dare to walk out across the lower-lying patches.   The river was lovely, broader than you sense from this photo, changing subtly in color as evening approached. 
  • #7720 – Starting now on the morning of September 15th. I don’t know when I’ve ever parked my bike with the rear wheel so deeply sunk in mud. Partly a statement about how soggy the ground was, partly a reflection of how much stuff I’m carrying. 
  • #7721 – On my first night out, after leaving Tom’s and Lee’s, I was caught in some very heavy rain. The fly on my MSR Hubba-Hubba tent leaked – admitting a fine mist, even some larger drops. I shipped a lot of water that night. Fortunately, I’d set up so all of it collected in – rather massive – puddles along the sides and in the corners. I mopped it up several times with one of my large bandana handkerchiefs. None of my clothes or bedding got wet, so I was perfectly comfortable. This gave me cause to reflect on one of the seven fundamental laws of nature – polarity. I’m not absolutely certain, but I believe there are no absolutes. Thus, attributions like wet and dry, cold and warm, dirty and clean are relative and a matter of degree. All of these scales of opposition pertain to what one experiences living in the outdoors, away from the normal comforts and conveniences of home. So far, at least, I’ve remained dry, warm and clean enough to feel more than satisfied with the exchange of routine comfort for the wonderfully revitalizing effects of fresh impressions, stimulating newness and heightened alertness to one’s surroundings that always seem to accompany the adventure of the open road. Following that night’s heavy rain near Lake Saint Louis – in fact, it was still raining when I broke camp and hit the road – I came across a large Target store only six-tenths of a mile up the road. I purchased a one-mil-thick painter’s drop cloth to reinforce the water-resistant properties of my rain fly – just in case I encounter another downpour. It doesn’t look very elegant, and it’s awkward to handle, but so far it’s helped to keep me dry. Later I contacted Cascade Designs and arranged for a new fly to be shipped to an outdoor store in Jonesboro, Arkansas, where I’ll pick it up about a week from now. I’m going to mail the old one back to the manufacturer. I think there’s a good chance they’ll refund my $100 for the replacement. The tent is only five years old, and I’ve only slept out in it maybe 50 nights. Shouldn’t the material hold up better than that? I’ve always been careful to protect it from excessive exposure to the damaging ultraviolet in the light of day. 
  • #7729 – I stopped here for breakfast, hungry as a bear. Nothing fancy on hand … just “breakfast sandwiches” with eggs and various kinds of pork. I remarked on how delicious they were – not because I much cared for the plain Jane white hamburger buns they came served on, but because I wanted to express appreciation for use I was given of a shower in the back of the building. I’d asked if they had paper towels, so I could dry myself after washing up a bit. Otherwise, I would have fished my towel out of my bike bag. The lady generously handed me a large bath towel. The bathroom wasn’t exactly spic and span, but it wasn’t filthy either. It had an old-style, country smell that reminded me of the basement in my grandparents’ home, where Grandpa had a major workshop and where Grandma kept a pantry almost like a root cellar. I was so grateful to take an honest-to-goodness hot shower! Anyway, the lady told me, with a knowing smile, that the breakfast sandwiches were delicious because they were made with fresh eggs. Oh, I said, like from the chickens I saw in your yard as I was coming in? Later I got her to talk some more, exchanging impressions of our very different worlds. Once she spent a night in the building pictured here – but couldn’t sleep because of the traffic noise. The older of her two sons, aged ten, was in 4H and wanted to learn swine. She advised against it because there was no profit in this, but he really wanted to do it, so she let him. None of the local people in these parts raises commercial hogs anymore. It just isn’t worth it. If you wanted one, though, you’d pay $170 for a 250-pound hog. 
  • #7730 – An open stretch of the Katy Trail, west of Peers. At points the trail comes right up against the left bank of the Missouri River. At other points they separate for as much as a mile or more. All of this is rich bottom land, excellent for farming. 
  • #7735 – Another relic of prosperous, bygone days. 
  • #7750 
  • #7759 – Many of these historic markers describe the Lewis and Clark expedition, which made its way upstream through here in May of 1804, progressing about ten miles a day. 
  • #7762 – Characteristic bluffs along the Missouri River. Passing through beautiful woodlands, following the old “Katy” – Kansas, Texas and Missouri – railroad line, which ceased operation in the 1980s. 
  • #7764 – I scored a bottle of local wine in Hermann. Central Missouri is still an excellent wine-producing region. In the 1870s and 80s, Missouri was producing more wine than any state in the Union, and product from this area won gold medals in Vienna. 
  • #7767 – Mature cornfields make a decent place to camp, affording visual cover and causing one to feel close to an essentially American feature of the land. Unfortunately, due to a drought this year, nearly all of the cornfields I saw were parched like this one; the ears of corn were shriveled and red. 
  • #7768 – Trusty steed … reposing for the night. 

Next day – Thursday, September 22, 2011

Written from Lakeview, MO, which people here refer to as Branson West.


It’s pouring rain. Hours and hours. The inside of my tent was like a lake when I woke up this morning. After a while, I just quit bailing it out. Previously, I’d spread my painter’s drop cloth on top of the defective rain fly. But last night, before I went to sleep, the hilltop breeze was really tearing at it. So I tucked it under the rain fly instead. Thought I was pretty clever, but not really. In all my hundreds of nights of sleeping out, I don’t think I’ve ever gotten so wet – I mean my bedding, clothing and whatever else was inside the tent with me. It wasn’t terribly cold, and so I didn’t feel particularly uncomfortable. I just patiently started gathering things up, preserving the dryness of the most critical items as well as I could – the clothes I was wearing, my maps, book and electronics: computer, camera, iPod.


Next step was to find a Laundromat. Within a mile or so, I stopped at a UPS mailbox place in a mini shopping center and got good advice from the fellow working there. He told me to stay off 13 heading south. Very soon it loses its shoulder. It carries a lot of traffic, and people “fly” on it. Instead, I’m going to head back east, towards Branson, then catch the 265 bypass all the way around to where it connects with Highway 65 well south of Branson itself. I haven’t got any desire to see Branson. I went through there a couple years ago with a rented car, and it’s just a big tourist Mecca – with a Bible belt flavor.


I also got directed to a Laundromat, where the lady’s been real nice about accommodating me. I very slowly and deliberately dried out my tent, bedding and other stuff on low heat. Now I’ve got the clothes washed – including most of what I’d washed a couple days ago in Springfield, because it didn’t stay dry in my panniers through the downpour. So when that’s all dry and folded, when I’ve got my bike saddled up again and have changed back into my riding clothes, I’ll cruise across the road for a hot breakfast. Then, assuming the breakfast place doesn’t have wifi, which it probably doesn’t, I’ll hang out at MacDonald’s until I’ve got all my Internet business taken care of. At which point I probably won’t send off another letter like this for 8 or 10 days, maybe from Jonesboro.


I’m going to stay on main roads now, where I can rely on there being a good shoulder. 65 south, then (mostly at least – I may detour through Jasper) 62 east from Harrison across most of northern Arkansas.


Now I’ll continue to write the captions to my pictures – backwards as I was doing yesterday, all the way back to Tuesday the 13th, when I left Kirkwood and visited Tom and Lee at Lake Saint Louis.




  • #7701 – Tuesday the 14th. Map describing a very pretty and extensive network of trails in a nature preserve, which includes the part of Katy Trail that I came in on. You can see Katy Trail in orange as it skirts the Missouri River on the map at the center of this signboard. The day before, I rode north from this point, about 12 miles to Royale Court on Lake Saint Louis. 
  • #7703 – Exquisite bathing spot, pristine water, on the Busch Greenway. I’d stopped to cool off here the day before, immersing myself completely, clothes an all, in a fairly deep pool where the stream bends here. It was my first day out on the trail, very hot, and I was overheated. By the time I reached Tom’s place, maybe an hour and a half later, I had completely dried out under the baking sun. The next morning, when I took this picture, I wasn’t even tempted to get in. Brrrr. It was cool and very wet outside. Which is how it’s been for almost all of my trip since then. Funny … because they had a drought here all summer. 
  • #7704 – Back on the Katy Trail, along the Missouri, pelted with September rain. 
  • #7707 – Weldon Spring, one of the many trailheads along Katy Trail. I stopped here for about two hours to get out of the rain. Had a couple shots of my Armenian cognac to warm up, also some oatmeal and instant coffee. 
  • #7709 – Shelter from the storm. 
  • #7710 – Another characteristic rock face along the Missouri. 
  • #7674 – About halfway between Kirkwood and Lake Saint Louis. ¶ “… Away, I’m bound go, ‘Cross the wide Missouri …” 



  • #7678 – View downstream from the bridge. 
  • #7680 – Now on the Katy Trail. Looking back up at the bridge, and reading measurements of the river’s capacity to rise. 
  • #7683 – A welcome relief from busy roads. Hard to believe such a lovely trail runs for all of about 265 miles, almost all the way across the state. 
  • #7685 – Too much of a temptation not to plunge in here, on such a hot afternoon. 
  • #7686 – Same spot – looking ahead, to the north. 
  • #7688 – The Gazebo at the Lissner place, where Tom and Lee were married 32 years ago. 
  • # 7689 – The old Lissner home, right on the lake, which I remember visiting years and years ago. About a year ago, Tom and Lee bought a second home (their first is in Denver) just two doors down from here. 
  • #7698 – The bicycle and the Lexis. Lee is in the doorway, from the garage to the kitchen. Fred took this shot. “I’m going to miss you … I love you, Big Time … Talk to you soon … See you soon.” Lake Saint Louis: 13 Sep ’11. 
  • #7667 – Perfect way to spend the last evening of my visit with Mom. Maureen invited us to hear her group, The Statesmen, do a vocal concert at an old folks home for the blind just a few blocks from where Mom lives. There are only about 30 residents here, and I think all of them are out of their minds, in addition to being “visually impaired.” At first blush, the place looks more attractive than Bethesda, but also pricier. I wouldn’t want to live with all these crazy people, though, many of them in diapers or on virtual life support. The attendants were very tender and good humored with them. Mom is seated in the center foreground, in the red blouse. I attended all of primary school with Maureen, kindergarten through 6th grade. She lived two blocks down Warson Road from us, first house on the other side of the creek. I had a crush on her from about the time I was able to sense there was some earth-shattering difference between boys and girls. Once we transferred out of Warson Woods and into our Rock Hill junior high school, Maureen got tracked with all the smart kids, while I went into classes with the low-IQ types, hoodlums and blacks. We didn’t connect again until a year and a half ago, when we stumbled across each other on a social website. This visit was the second time I’ve seen her. Maureen has been singing with this The Statesmen since high school. She is the shorter of the two brown-haired women standing at the near end of the group. I would describe what they did as jazzy renditions of old-line American songs. They were high spirited and very good. The first number was one my dad always used to sing – “Kiss me once and kiss me twice, then kiss me once again. It’s been a long, long time.”


  • The third song was one I’ve liked ever since I heard it in a movie back in my college days in San Francisco, which I associate with a girl I was in love with then – “High upon a hill … (???) …“ I can’t remember the title, however, or find a link to it on the Internet. Lovely, haunting melody though. Unfortunately, one of the two pianists was unable to make it, causing a mix-up with the sheet music. So one whole portion of the program – the patriotic songs, including “Battle Hymn of the Republic” – got left out. Maureen was one of the stars. Two or three times she stood separately at the front and performed with a quartet, a couple men and a couple women. There were brainy kids in our small primary school class, but I never thought of Maureen as one of them. Today her intelligence impresses me, not that she’s flashy about being bright. It made me proud to rediscover this kind and decent person from my early childhood, proud of the sense of our shared origins, of being cut from the same, quality, old-line middle-American stock.




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