Day 23: Carthage, MO to Strafford, MO
Distance: 87 miles
Climbing: 3,100 feet
For more photos, be sure to check Flickr.
It would not be an exaggeration to say that I was not looking forward to today. This “three-day rain event” is really bad timing. And of course, there has been a drought here all spring, so I really can’t begrudge them the rain, but even the local forecasters seem to think it may be too much of a good thing.
Carthage seemed like an interesting place. Did you know that the first major land engagement of the Civil War happened there? There also is a large and imposing gothic county courthouse. Tim Arnold and I got a close-up look at it on our way back from Braum’s ice cream after dinner last night.
I had a big breakfast (two orders of French toast) on the theory that if it did rain it would be that much harder to eat on the bike. It wasn’t raining when I went to breakfast in town, nor when I came back. But by the time we were supposed to load our bags on the trailers, it was starting to shower. I actually was kind of glad, because it meant I didn’t have to wonder whether I should put on my rain pants or not at the start. I hate the rain pants, but I hate stopping to put them on in mid ride even more.
I rode all the way to the first rest stop with Franz and Gerd at a fairly easy pace. Lon had us riding on farm roads insstead of Route 66 because Rt. 96 (which used to be 66) has lots of truck traffic. This part of the ride was absolutely lovely and rural, with lots of farm fields and dogs who would half-heartedly come out to bark at us but not really be into giving serious chase. I chatted quite a bit with Gerd and even asked Franz whether he was experiencing any tiredness on the ride (no, he is not). He really is an excellent cyclist. At dinner tonight, I learned that he and his wife do track stands when they have to stop on their tandem.
I stopped just before the first rest stop to put the hood on my jacket up. The showers seemed to come and go all through these 30 miles, but they seemed to be coming harder. Gerd and Franz rode ahead around a corner. Then, through “operator error,” I rode right past the rest stop at a Baptist church, even though I saw the church and knew that the stop was at a church. I realized my mistake fairly quickly, though, when I got to a long straight stretch and saw no sign of Franz and Gerd.
I doubled back to the church, where Rosemary had parked her SUV under a driveway awning. Minutes after I pulled in, the rain started coming down harder. Lon and Susan’s group pulled in a few minutes later, and the heavens opened up. It was really raining now, and folks were happy to accept the hospitality of the Baptists, who let us use their restrooms and stand in their foyer trying to keep warm. More than one person was eyeing the church’s school bus fleet as well, wondering how many cyclists one of them could hold.
I was just resigning myself to leaving and heading back out into the thunderstorm, when I realized that Lon was showing no sign of wanting to decamp. I took this as a sign that it might be better to wait. Sure enough, when Lon finally did decide to leave, it was while it was still raining, but the worst was over and things gradually improved for the rest of the day. Franz and Gerd had left earlier and spent 20 minutes in what Franz described as “sheer hell.”
Alas, I was a little slow getting out of the church (last-minute bathroom stop), and Lon and Susan’s group had almost a minute head start on me. I half-heartedly started to chase them but quickly realized that it would be a poor use of energy that I might need later. So I rode the next stretch almost completely by myself. This was when the real Missouri “rollers” started: those series of straight, short, steep hills like the back of an asphalt sea monster. As I would start one set of rollers, I’d see the group ahead of me disappearing over the top of the last hill ahead of me.
My cyclometer got all messed up by the rain (waterproof, right…), so I was extra careful to make sure that I got each turn right, and sightings of the group ahead of me were reassuring. Eventually, I realized that I was coming up to another rest stop and assumed (correctly) that I’d be able to join the group ahead of me there if I was a little quicker when Lon put on his helmet.
From that stop we rode through more of the same kind of farmlands and hills, until we crossed over I-44 at mile 67, after which we were heading into Springfield. We rode right through downtown Springfield (this is the only PAC Tour where you actually go through cities like Santa Fe, Albuquerque, Amarillo, Tulsa, and Springfield; usually PAC Tours avoid all cities as much as possible). Before we got out of town, we stopped at a Steak and Shake that Lon believes is the original Steak and Shake from 1932. Lon and I did some malted milkshake research there.
Lots of Route 66 business and references in Springfield.
From lunch, it was only 13 miles to our motel, and the weather was actually nice at this point. I had taken all my rain gear off at mile 50.
Nice modern motel with high-speed wireless Internet access, so maybe I can get caught up with my photos tonight, too. I need to hurry, though, because tomorrow promises to be a challenging day – with more weather and more miles.