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Brian Cray - Hitchhikin', Trainhoppin', and Wanderin'

Wanderin' the world, at will, by any means

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Suicide to Springfield

Train Hopping Springfield

The sound of steel bouncing around under tons of empty coal cars lulled me into a meditative state, neither asleep nor awake.  With every sudden stop, sideout, signal or crew change I kept my wits about me and woke up from my trance-like daze.  Riding empty coal felt much like a gondola, missing out on the scenic views of America, just waiting to end up somewhere new, to continue wanderin’.  But, my ride did not last long that night before halting in Marion, Arkansas just a few miles over the Mississippi River.  Fear encroached my body, prying my eyes open, keeping me sleep-deprived, afraid of becoming another hobo victim to loaded coal.  My head bobbed in and out of sleep, as I tried to stay awake, with the night sky bellowing its chilling bursts of laughter making the empty coal car feel like a walk-in freezer.  I packed up my gear and pulled myself up the inclined wall, untying my rope and fleeing down the ladder into the yard.  Tiptoeing around the yard, pip…pip…pip…the ballast jostled beneath my boots.  My eyes wandered to the tracks, watching a yard dog shunt together a string of freight cars towards the east end of the yard.  Hmmm…maybe my train just stopped in the yard on the main line I thought.  As I crept through the yard crossing strings of freight cars my mind succumbed to complete exhaustion.  I wobbled parallel to the tracks.  Dragging each of my feet, I veered off the gravel access road.  I bushwacked through the woods in case security happened to drive by in the wee hours of the morning.  I marched through mud and muck, dead trees and sticker bushes, leaves and corn crunched and crackled with every step as dogs yelped in the distance.  

Train Hopping Springfield

Train Hopping Springfield – Ridin’ suicide through the Ozark Mountains

I slithered in the shadows like a snake zigzagging along the ground, but why I did not know?  No one came, and why I wandered to the front I did not know either?  In my mind I heard a loud whoooooosh thinking all the air released, meaning my train was not going anywhere for a while.  Maybe I did, maybe I didn’t.  So I walked towards the front to confirm, taking a roundabout, ridiculously complicated approach, to see if the front engine still connected to the consist of empty coal cars.  No sooner did my squinty little eyes approach the front-end did that son-of-a-bitch air up causing me to fumble in my tracks and dance around like a madman.  I pounced for the nearest empty coal car as she started rollin’ at a slow 2-3 mph speed and climbed up the ladder.  But I did not make the same mistake twice, jumping in and sliding down on my ass.  No, I tied that rope up around the first rung quickly, throwing the rest of it inside the car and continued to shimmy myself in, unscathed, cold and bone-tired.

I sat there on the frigid metal floor, pissed that I left my cardboard towards the end of the train, yearning for its insulation.  I also forgot to check the back-end of the train for a DPU, an unlocked unit meant a warm heated floor to sleep on, a cozy bathroom to drop-a-chop, and a power outlet to keep my phone charged.  If only I slept more to human…if only…but instead I sat there shaking like a wind-up toy.  Afraid of getting too comfortable I never unrolled my bedroll and nestled into it.  Instead, I layered up.  First, I wiggled my fingers into my wool gloves, then came my second layer of pants, and another jacket and that did the trick, keeping me warm and insulated.  However, as we chugged onward my hallucinatory naps became disturbed from yet another element of Mother Nature, not the wind, not the cold air, but droplets of rain plunged from the gloomy sky.  At first they delicately splattered across my brow and the speed of the locomotive dried them with ease, but soon an army of them started to plummet faster and faster in a monsoon of tears.

I immediately rummaged through my pack, grabbing my tarp and threw myself under it.  Instead of looking at four silver walls of a metal box my world shortly shrunk to seeing the crinkles of blue nylon triangulate around my body.  I sat like this for hours fading in and out of life in a blank state of mind.  Water filled up beneath my feet as the coal soaked it up, keeping both me and my pack dry, instead of us swimming in a fish tank.  

Train Hopping Springfield

Train Hopping Springfield – Ridin’ Suicide on Empty Coal right outside some bum-fuck town…

The empty coal train barely moved.  And when I say barely, I mean from 9 PM until sunrise we traveled a measly ~100 miles, reaching Hardy a little after 9 AM before the rain finally settled to a soft drizzle.  I sat there befuddled, unsure of my next move.  Daylight ruined any chance I had at nabbing a rear unit as I lay just 20 freight cars back from the front engine, in plain sight of the engineer.  So I stayed put in my prison pondering my next move.  The intermittent rain, lack of sleep, constant stopping and starting of the train all infuriated my already agitated sleep-deprived state.  I capitulated not long after stopping in Thayer, MO.  Did I get off at a siding and wait for the next train to roll through?  Hell no, but I got off.  That in itself involved a doozy of ninja-like moves that I pulled out of my repertoire.  How so?  Well, “Plan A” took me to the rope spread out along the sloped wall.  I gripped it nicely between my fingers feeling it ooze with murky water, coal dust lining my hands.  Water dripped down the wall in a slippery stream of fluid as I planted my feet midway in the empty coal car.  I yanked a bit too hard and with a sudden snap and a squeak my legs fell out from under me as I slid down landing into a pile of coal.  I coughed, my face covered in soot, smearing the wet black coal over the back of my pants and onto my hands.  “FUCK, GOD DAMMIT…”  This called for “Plan B.”  Now what was “Plan B?”  I had no fuckin’ clue.  I looked at my options, throwing a 40 pound pack over a 10 foot wall….impossible, my guns could not even throw a shot-put over that, let alone my gear.  So I improvised.  I walked over to the cross-braced section of the coal car and started to climb my way up the slanted beam that connected to the middle like a triangle.  Once I reached the top beam I pulled myself up, chucking one leg over.  My muscles screamed in pain with the extra weight, but I found no other way without any usable rope.  My feet swung freely a story above the ground as I wiggled towards the perimeter of the empty coal car.  I made swift movements progressing forward like an inchworm until reaching the top rung of the ladder, climbing down to free myself from the hell below.  A dog barked erratically across the street as I walked the train hoping to reach the back-end in time to bag the DPU, but nope.  Instead I cast eyes on the face of a young woman whom looked astonished as she planted her eyes upon my legs walking across the ballast by the train.  I knew I blew my cover, with her and with the engineer, but I needed out.

I drifted towards the woods bushwacking through fallen trees, branches snapped and rattled beneath the rustling of leaves until a sweet silence hit the air and the hoses began to hiss once again whispering near departure in my ears.  I stood up and hopped on the only car available in plain view, a floor-less empty coal car.  Yup, I rode suicide, clinging onto anything and everything for fear of getting thrown off from any future slack-action.  Her once soft melodies chugging along the tracks, steel-on-steel, became a cacophonous mess of rattling for my drained ears to hear, but it kept me awake and ticking.  For the first time in hours my eyes felt nourished and awake, not due to sleep.  The blurring views around me, the countryside whistling in the wind, cows grazing, and the Ozark Mountains standing tall in the distance with the hue of blue horizon floating above them like the ocean floor, it all gave me juice.  I clung onto the little porch available, taking in the scenery like the bum I was, freeloading across America to Springfield, MO.  I looked down between my feet watching the centripetal acceleration of the axle spin vigorously along the tracks. The rail wheels smoothly reverberated against the tracks, clickety-clack…clickety-clack, as we bumped and jived through each small town getting closer to Kansas City, MO.  Railroad crossing after railroad crossing I stood still and camouflaged in black attire.  I remained visible to the outside world if a person really paid attention as the train plowed through their town, looking past the blinking red signals and at the empty coal cars flying on by, to see a lone hobo ridin’ the rails.  But, most too occupied on their smartphones never witnessed my whereabouts to call me into the police, hell, even a police officer himself did not notice me, and if he did he just did not care.  

She rolled into Springfield, MO right as the sky fell asleep, closing her blinds to the world, without the slightest sunset peeking between the dense layer of stratus clouds.  Rain finally ceased and I found my opportunity to hop off as she rolled delicately along the tracks behind a plethora of industrial buildings.  I held onto the rung with my right hand and proceeded to jump and run letting go as I picked  up enough momentum.  She trotted along towards the yard as I bid my farewells, scoping out the woods for a place to set up camp, and as her butt-end rolled past me, I snickered with a gritty smile, shaking my head.  The unit cruised by flaunting me as I spent the last 21 hours escaping the rain.  “Son-of-a-bitch,” I thought.

Train Hopping Springfield

Train Hopping Springfield – Goin’ through a valley

I waddled along over the ballast and the tracks drifting into a thick section of sycamore, cottonwood and short-leaf pine trees.  Autumn leaves piled beneath my boots softly whispering between the gusts of wind with each rustle.  I sought out an open area to lay out my bedroll and pack across the mountain of leaves configuring a tarp shelter above it. This shielded me from any potential rainstorm while the flames of my campfire pacified my existence, out there alone in the wilderness.

Fuck Outta Here White Boy

Train Hopping Memphis

The stiff concrete made me toss and turn early morning. I continued to lay there unable to wake from my comfortable zzz’s until broken free by the charming noise of a bellowing horn.  I thought none of it as I packed my gear in a lackadaisical fashion, ready to tramp it down the highway, hitchin’ into town.  Train Hopping Memphis looked like a bust after ending up in Rossville IM Facility.  I sat 40 miles away from Memphis, my next hop out spot, taking me one step closer to Denver.  I scuffed my boots down the slanted concrete embankment, bracing myself with every step, as the locomotive at the signal came into plain view.  My slow pace quickly turned into a rampant scamper into a field of wheat.  I followed the wye towards the left, trudging through the dense brush, stalking the train for the perfect moment to hop in a well.  I stood silently minimizing the rustling beneath my boots, the rust-colored leaves crinkled softly with each tiny step.  An engineer stood toward the front engine as I hid behind the barren branches of the woods.  Twigs crunched and snapped as I plowed deeper into the brush, tramping parallel to the tracks, counting the freight cars one-by-one.  My incognito attempt to reach the middle of the train left me in complete exhaustion.  I removed one article after the other, my pores drenching in sweat, and then I hit a crossroad with yet another obstacle making my path longer and more drawn out.  My boots squished as I reached a creek, moist clay engulfed them like quicksand, and I slipped and slid reaching for a tree to break my fall.  My hands clasped the base, continuing to fall forward with a loud scrunch, as if I pulled a lever, flinging my legs spastically as I plopped both feet into the bed of the muddy creek.  Water splashed like the sound of a belly-flop into a pool.  I stood there expressionless, shaking my head, as I sunk deeper into the mud.  My hands fumbled for anything, reaching for tree roots to pull me out, as I peeled my feet up out of the glue.

Train Hopping Memphis

Train Hopping Memphis – Right outside Rossville IM Facility, creeping through fields to hop on a train

But that did not end my battle with the swampy creeks of Tennessee, just a few feet further ahead lay another one, too wide to jump across.  I followed the banks, my boots squeaking with each step, until I found the narrowest point to cross.  A fallen tree trunk lay across the creek.  I treated it like a balance beam as I steadily walked across, one foot in front of the other.  It felt like an eternity since I left the bridge, bushwacking through the woods to walk a measly length of 20 freight cars, still leaving me in sight of the engineer.  Instead of trekking through the woods I moseyed further into the adjacent, ripe, corn field.  I roamed around the brink of the woods like a maze leisurely treading along back towards the train tracks.  By this point I no longer saw the front end of the locomotive making it at least 40 freight cars back.  A thick section of sticker bushes, vines and branches separated me from the ballast.  I stomped through, slicing my hands, and fingers, getting tangled in the yarn of weeds surrounding me.  But, I kept at it, furiously pushing forward with a tense bit of anger draining my brow.  “GODDAMNIT, fuckin’ shit…”  A small culvert lay before me.  I unstrapped my pack and threw her over, jumping shortly after.  The first DS I tiptoed along looked ride-able judging from the plethora of monikers etched in the steel.  Reaching up the ladder I poked my head over to see a small well and porch fit for riding.  I unzipped my jacket and took it off along with my t-shirt letting them breathe in the sun, soaking in the rays to dry.  I cooled off briefly, the breeze tickled my nipples, making my hair stand on end as I poked my head out past the container to see the signal.  She changed green and that soft sound of air fizzled in the hose between the freight cars, gently hissing its harmonious sound of departure.  I layered up ready to move out, and stayed low for the next several miles as we reached Memphis, hopping off behind the Target, where I stocked up on the essentials, canned fish, trail mix, and peanut butter.

Train Hopping Memphis

Train Hopping Memphis – Ridin’ an IM outta Rossville, gettin’ me 40 miles closer to civilization to hop out in Memphis, TN

To avoid the yard in Memphis I walked to a further hop out, 12 miles away. East Memphis felt neighborly, with white picket fences, immaculate homes in gated communities and a copious surplus of churches.  I felt safe as I trotted along on the 4-hour trek, putting me at the signals before the Mississippi Bridge, right after sunset.  But, I misjudged the thought of potentially ending up in the ghetto past dark.  I guess I brain farted and simply overlooked that high probability.  For the first time in a while I walked with a stone-cold petrified expression plastered on my face, alert and ready for any precarious situation, hoping it didn’t end in violence.  Despite carrying a thick stick, strapped to the bottom of my pack, this would not help if a gang jumped me and started throwing slobberknockers from every which way.  I walked at an awkward speed through the abandoned streets of West Memphis.  Vacant buildings with broken windows and shattered glass scattered across the sidewalk became all too common as I crept through the shadows of the hood.  The lights shined dimmer giving me a ghastly chill as if a spectre followed close behind ready for a malicious attack.  My head swiveled like a meth addict fiending for dope as paranoia cast over me afraid of my milieu.  Boarded homes with structural damage occupied families with their rusty junkers slumped over rubble where driveway once resided.  Lights peeked through the boards of these homes along with yelling and other commotion.  I kept walking like a speed-walker who couldn’t run.

As I walked deeper into West Memphis I put myself in a ghetto of black people, all hood, all racist, and the hatred flowed so freely off their tongues as they sat on their corners treating them like stoops.  They sipped on grape j00se getting tipsy in the street with their homeboys huddled around em, rappin’, cursin’, nigga this, nigga that, until they spotted me.  The only white boy roaming the streets of the ghetto at 9 PM, with a backpack, caught their drunken eye.  

“A man…Aaa man…I’m talkin’ to you cracka ass white boy…yeh YOU.  The fuck you doin’ here boy…”

My head shifted from looking at the ground to the inebriated group of black men lounging on the corner.

“I…I…headin’ to…”

Before I even got the chance for the words to roll off my tongue one cut me off.

“KEEP WALKIN…I SAID…KEEP FUCKIN WALKIN…ain’t nobody care about your white ass…get da fuck outta here boy, before sometin happens…you know what it is…”

My feet kept marching forward as my head stuck glued to their fake silver chains, oversized t-shirts and sagging jeans.  Didn’t they know in prison that meant you were down? I broke free and tilted my head back to the street, walking further and further away, my ears catching glimpses of laughter, and antagonizing phrases trying to provoke me.

“You rap white boy?”

“Fuckin’ pussy ass mo’fucker…that what I tought…KEEP WALKIN…shiiiiittt…bitch.”

This wasn’t some college party where a drunk kid threw a punch and I beat his ass.  I stood there as a pariah in a crime district, where my color skin was not accepted, surrounded by gangs and groups of men five deep.  People probably got shot and stabbed every day here.  Security bars lined store windows with bulletproof glass shielding clerks from potential harm and here I tramped through all the muck.  My eyes caught glimpses of handshake drug deals going down, along with a lot of people just standing around staring at me with beady eyes of disapproval.  I just kept on walking counting the miles down until my destination.

I avoided confrontation, kept my head down, my hood up and wiggled my hands into my gloves.  Why? It covered my skin making the “W” disappear from my chest.  I calmed down, and shifted to a more casual, comfortable stroll, slowly exiting the turmoil behind me.  

My stomach grumbled, but I feared walking into any fast food joint this late at night in an area where I was not well liked.  So I let my appetite plateau from a gurgling digestive noise to an empty void state.  Involuntarily muscle spasms felt like pulsating ripples of loose skin.  My legs shook and I began limping onward so close to my destination I almost crawled to ease the discomfort, but I kept my spirit up and hobbled forward.  

Train Hopping Memphis

Train Hopping Memphis – Downtown West Memphis Street Art

I reached an abandoned district of low-income housing.  Brick buildings stood there decrepit, every opening nailed with wooden boards, and graffiti scrawled over every inch of wall, “RIP Betor” (Rest in Peace Ronnie Bobal, a graffiti artist from Memphis, TN who died of a heroine overdose at the age of 29).  East Georgia Street set me a mile or so back from an easy access point to the tracks right behind the industrial wasteland of rubble in downtown West Memphis.  A smile broke out across my exhausted face as grease dribbled down my hair and into my red teary eyes.  I glanced up to see a spastic black man dancing in the street next to a dime-store hooker.  She stood there tall and in 6-inch red heels, covered in a red scandalous shawl barely covering her fat ass.  Her bleach blonde nappy hair mixed with streaks of brown masked her eyes.  She wore enough makeup fit for a circus clown.  She waited patiently as the man danced, tapping his shoes together, singing, spewing non-sense out of his mouth.  He grabbed her hand and placed something in it.  I presumed it a twenty or another denomination of money.

I tried to creep by without conversation, but my efforts were futile.  “Yo kid, what you doin’ here…you in the army.  That a big backpack to be carryin’…name Kevin…where you from?”

“Delaware”

“Nah kid, where ya comin’ from?”

“Hunstville, Alabama.”

“HUNTSVILLE, ALABAMA….daymmmm…how you get all the way to deez parts?”

“Hoppin’ trains, that’s where I’m headed actually…you know if the tracks are closeby?”

“Ohhh shiiiittt…yeh…yeh…yeh…not military, so you a train hoppa.  You a train hoppa kid…you hop dem trains and end up places.  What are ya…like a straggla?”

“Hah…yeah I guess…I work seasonal jobs and wander around between, headin’ to Denver.”

“DENVER…by train…boy it cold up there…you crazy.  How you hop the train…like how you a train hoppa, where you ride?”

“Porches, boxcars, grainers, anything with a floor really…”

“Huh…you speakin’ non-sense kid…where you from?”

“Delaware, I told you already.”

“Nah but where ya comin’ from…”

“Huntsville, Alabama”

He chattered his teeth as his head bobbed and weaved side-to-side.  I noticed his short-term memory was shot to hell, as he reiterated the same questions over-and-over until finally I broke free of his antics.

“I gotta get goin’ dude…gotta catch one of these trains to get to Missouri.”

“Oh…you a train hoppa are ya…you hop dem trains…Well…nice to meet ya.”

The broad stood there speechless, and expressionless.  I knew her line of work made hard circumstances for her and put her in danger.  She just stared blankly like a zombie as he grabbed her hand, swinging her arm, as they stumbled into the adjacent field.

I skedaddled on down the empty street figuring he just paid her for a blowjob behind a bush and chuckled.  What a fuckin’ night I thought and I made it out alive.  Air brakes screeched and wheels squealed along the tracks catching my interest.  My head jerked to the left and I sprinted behind the vacant complex, laying low in the empty parking lot sprawled out against trash and rubble.

Two NS front engines gingerly edged along the tracks, stopping briefly before the river.  Their cargo consisted of empty coal trains, exactly what I wanted to hop to get to Kansas City, MO.  I jumped up to my feet and flung my pack over my shoulders ready to make a run for it.  As I set foot on the ballast I checked both directions of tracks only to see another oncoming train.

“Shit…,” I backed down and fled to the dilapidated wall of crumbling brick, seeking cover.  My ride slowly crept along the tracks picking up speed until crossing the bridge leaving only coal dust in her tracks.  “Dammit, that was my chance outta here,”

I lay down briefly against the earth her cool breath chilling my back as my ears wiggled in excitement from the noise of a oncoming front engine.  BNSF crept by me at a snail’s pace with empty coal cars following behind in the consist.  I wandered behind the shadows of coal cars walking another mile in the direction I previously came.  My body drowned in sweat and I de-layered while I thought about where to ride, trying my best to keep my eyelids open from their droopy, jaded state.  Every coal car sat there porch-less, and I did not want to ride suicide through the night.  I strolled alongside the string of coal cars roaming towards the back-end of the locomotive.  A car parked alongside the train and caused me to halt in my tracks, retracing my footsteps, any attempt at riding the unit looked nil.  So what did I do?  I walked all this way probably 14 fuckin’ miles.  I wasn’t giving up that easily, not to empty coal, not to any stopped train.  So without hesitation, I clasped onto the brisk rungs of a ladder and hopped into the top of an empty coal car.  The slippery metal box felt intimidating like a fortress with deep impenetrable walls.  I let go of the ladder and immediately slid down the 45 degree slant planting the back-end of my rump against the floor.  Coal dust spattered into the air brushing soot across my face, causing me to cough uncontrollably.  I pulled out a few pieces of cardboard, laying them across the coal covered floor.

Train Hopping Memphis Empty Coal Car

Train Hopping Memphis – Empty coal car at night rollin’ outta of Tennessee over the Mississippi River

Then came the ingenuitive thinking.  How the fuck would I get out of here with my backpack?  I monkeyed my way between the reinforced beams of the metal box swinging up the triangular buttress.  My ass sat against the frigid beam, my legs dangling freely, a story above the ground.  Well, that looked impractical with my 40 pound backpack on, so I pulled out another idea from the old noggin’.  What about rope I thought?  I reached in my pocket pulling out 20 foot of rope, tying it in half with knots every few feet.  I shimmied across the perimeter of the coal car, my legs scrunched between its inside and outside wall as I progressed towards the ladder.  Tying a loop around the first rung and throwing it down into the car, it just reached the top of my backpack.  

“Fuck yeah…”

I braced myself with the rope and climbed down the wall like a soldier.  Now, I just needed to stay awake whenever it stopped so I did not die from getting crushed by loaded coal at the industry.

Golden City

Golden City, Missouri

I woke up around 8 AM.  My body moist, and sleeping bag and bivy sack covered in a misty dew.  My dream of cycling through the Rockies shattered.  By the time I hit Colorado it just won’t be plausible the way I’m approaching the trip.  I’m sure if I stayed in motels and hotels I would be fine, but that would defeat the point of the adventure.  The main issue is not the cold it’s the condensation.  Even on my sleeping pad so much moisture builds up that by morning my camping gear is drenched.  I will make my final decision once I hit Pueblo, Colorado.  If it’s not wise to continue on through the Rockies due to the cold, floods and snow then I will go through the desert and my next adventure will surely take me through Yellowstone and the Rockies.

It actually took me a while to fall asleep last night since this was my first night stealth camping in a city.  No one saw me run up to, “The Marriott” sign and the knee-high grass made it impossible to see my position, but my nerves couldn’t help it.  It ended up being the perfect spot.

Missouri

The long ass roads of Missouri!

Once I packed my gear and tiptoed my way through the field of tall grass and weeds I headed down Frisco Highline Trail towards a campground that was 16 miles west of Springfield.

The morning ride definitely chilled my bones and my arm and leg hair stuck straight out while I pedaled through the breeze.  By the time I reached the campground the sun beamed it’s rays down at full force making me remove my cold gear.  I plopped down on a picnic bench and read, “Kite Runner” while I laid my clothes and camping gear out to dry in the sun.  A part of me hoped they had showers, but I haven’t bathed in such a long time that I’ve become used to it.  The natural oils in my hair are beginning to make it stay in its spiked position.  My facial hair looks like a child trying to grow out his first beard.  It looks like random pubes are sprouting up across my face, but hey, I’m Irish so that’s why I can’t grow facial hair.

My gear dried and I headed back on the TransAm Trail towards Ash Grove.  The terrain today consisted of steep climbs with the occasional flat section, mixed in with downhill slopes.  At the top of each hill it felt like I was on top of the world.  I looked into the baby blue sky and could see where it faded to a clear light blue just above the horizon.  Not a cloud in the sky, not then or the rest of the day.

I ventured on down the winding, curving roads and on the outskirts of town I passed several tandem cyclists coming from Pittsburg.  When I reached the city limits of Golden City I stopped at the nearby campground to rest and call it a day.

Golden City

Bicycle selfie in Golden City, Missouri where I bumped into Aaron Donahue…

A local woman with two small dogs came up to me and we chatted about my trip.  She told me not to worry about the town.  Everyone looked out for one another and crime happened on a rare occasion with the exception of a revenge rape and killing of a sixth grade girl from Golden City.  This shocked me.  I felt remorse, but I am sure I’ll be fine.  We parted ways and I continued to eat and rest on the pavilion, reading a chapter here and there before I passed out.

Springfield Missouri

Springfield Missouri

I slept under a bridge the other night avoiding the torrential downpour while the sky roared with bellows of thunder.  The dogs next to Highway 5 yelped and howled and somehow with all the noise the sound of raindrops pulled me under into a peaceful rest.

I headed for the pavilion by the lake to catch up on some reading.  After a few chapters the drizzle began to faintly disappear before my eyes and ever so often a drop would fall and splash against the ground.  The overcast sky lurked above me the rest of the day while i journeyed down Highway 5 to Highway 60 on my quest to fix my phone.

image

I made a few stops, at the Dollar General and a church, to pick up food and take a break.  I noticed Amish Country all around me.  Signs for share the road for both bicycles and horse-drawn carriages.  I back pedaled behind one for a few miles waiting to pass and thought about their lifestyle.  In my early years as a child I thought their odd lifestyle came from lack of intelligence.  Who in their right mind would give up all the technology we have discovered as a nation to live hundreds of years in the past? I now understand why.  A minimalistic lifestyle brings less stress and the technology is not a necessity, but a want that society became dependent upon.  I completely related to it.

 

After about 60 miles, I ended up going to the Sprint store and my phone stopped glitching.  Of course it would do that.  I met a woman there named Susan who asked what sports I played due to my athletic build.  I told her skiing, rock climbing, cycling, skydiving.  We talked about school, work and my cross-country trip.  She is a Geotechnical Engineer as well.  I was going to ask for a reference, but got distracted and never got her number.  My phone appears to be working at the moment.  I picked up a mophie which is pretty much the same thing as my external battery pack but it connects directly to the phone.  I ended up well off the trail by twenty miles or so and the clouds dispersed while the sunset beneath my eyes making the most beautiful view yet.  I nabbed a few pictures for everyone to see.

 

 

I continued on down the road for five more miles scoping out spots to sleep.  I found the perfect spot next to a high-end hotel, “The Marriot.” I am sleeping beneath their sign in a field of knee-high grass right behind an abandoned building.  I am low enough that no one can see me from the road or hotel and I nestled on the concrete pad.  Hopefully the rain is past us so I can get a nice, peaceful sleep.

The temperature dropped a bit tonight in the low 50’s.  I ran into two problems, condensation and freezing.  In the process of determining solutions.

 

Hartville

Hartville, Missouri

I woke up to a woman propping open the park door at Mark Twain Scenic Area. The pastor from last night misunderstood the meaning of pavilion. I slept near two picnic tables and a desk, but by no means did four posts and a roof shelter me from the rain. I slept for maybe three or four hours due to a dog viciously barking down the road and a small, cricket mocking me with his loud chirps. I packed up all my camping gear and headed to the nearest church for a place to delve into “Kite Runner.” I frantically absorbed each page and before I knew it the sun rose and Wal-Mart opened. I got on my bicycle and pedaled to Wal-Mart praying that a new USB cable would fix my charging issues for my HTC One. I spent some of the money bestowed upon me from yesterday’s Bible meeting and hurried outside. I unzipped my bag, grabbed my phone and battery charger and plugged in the new USB…it charged! Now the real test…I turned on my HTC One and, “USB unable to detect device, cannot charge.” So once again, Android failed me and I bought another phone with a port charging problem. I turned off my phone and hit the road.

Hartville, Missouri

Hartville, Missouri – Radio tower climbing! After 13+ flights of stairs I finally made it to the top. Look at the view…it’s amazing!

Hartville, Missouri

Another view looking out over Highway 38!

The roads smoother and terrain much flatter made my legs at ease today. Ten miles into the trip I doubled back after I laid eyes on a huge radio tower. I waited for cars to pass and quickly pedaled behind the building, which read, “No Trespassing Don’t Climb the Tower.” It’s in my blood though and I couldn’t help myself. I propped my bicycle against the wall of the building and my thumb punched the power button to my GoPRO. Action! I walked up the rickety steps holding onto a side of the metal railing. My legs trembled and shook as I climbed up the steps to the locked Radio Tower. The wood beneath my feet creaking and the railings swaying a few centimeters in each direction of the wind. I made it to the top after a few minutes and my eyes stuck to the pointy tops of the thousands of dark green evergreen trees beneath me. Going on and on for miles. I sat on the top step and gasped for air. All I could think at the time: Unbelievable! I sprinted back down the steps to stay out of sight from any civilians or police officers and hopped back on my bicycle continuing on down Highway 38.

Hartville, Missouri

I love the fisheye in this picture.

Twenty miles later I read the sign, “Welcome to the city limits of Ben Davis.” I propped my bicycle up against a tree and walked into the general store where I used the rest of the “charity” money to indulge in a few sweets, snacks and a blueberry red bull. I chatted with the store clerk about the TransAm Trail and the recent cyclists he encountered. We talked about my hometown, and Missouri, which I found out is big for its quarries and saw mills. Those are the leading industries for the states income. We chatted for a while and I inquired if he knew of the nearest Sprint store so I could get a new phone and have them fix the defective one. He pulled out a map and set it down on the table in front of me. He said, “Take Highway OO, which runs parallel to Route 44. There will be a Sprint store in the Battlefield Mall in Springfield, Missouri. It’s about ten miles off the TransAm Trail, but that’s your best bet at getting a new phone.” He even cracked open the phone book and gave me their phone number. I thanked him and as I pushed open the door to leave he informed me of a pavilion to sleep at in Hartville. “Once ya get into Hartville there will be a four way stop after you cross the bridge. Make a left at there stop sign and head down the road. There’ll be a gas station there on the right and a small lake down the road with the pavilion nearby. Ya can’t miss it.” I thanked him again for his helpfulness and set out for Hartville.

Hartville, Missouri

Finally picture looking out over Hartville. I miss this view!

The ride did not take all that long. Maybe an hour or hour and a half to cover twenty miles. Most of it I flew downhill with the breeze blowing through my hair and tearing up my eyes. A few steep climbs kept my legs tense, but I enjoyed the rides through the scenic country. Hartville was six miles away at this point and I continued to race down the steep hill trying to beat the car behind me so I could cross the bridge. Little did I know this car pulled next to me and read, “POLICE” in big bold black letters. The officer said, “Do ya know why I pulled ya over…ya were doing 26 mph back there…just thought I’d clock ya so ya knew how fast ya were goin.” I laughed and said, “Haha…enjoy your day officer.” That made the last few miles more enjoyable. For a second I thought he wrote a citation for riding without a helmet. I continued on and attracted a stray dog who followed me for two miles until pulling off to the side of the road, slobber running down the sides of his mouth, spilling onto the pavement. He laid down in the shade for a break and I continued on ending up in Hartville where I found shelter at the pavilion right before the scattered showers struck the town.

Hartville

Finally made it to Hartville. Looking out over the lake just reading a book!

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