Day 32 – Ellington to Houston MO

The good/bad thing about sleeping in a public pavilion is that you get up pretty early. I was up before my alarm went off at 5:30 – and packed and out by 6:00. I’m trying to get used to these hours because I think that’s what I’ll need to deal with the desert heat.

In rural MO there are a lot of little houses that are built from stones they cleared from the fields to farm. When you build your own house from stone, you generally end up with a pretty small house.


I’m a sucker for wildflowers.

Today was another big hill climbing day (over 5000 feet and 70 miles), and this one puts me out of the super steep Missouri hills. There are still hills but the worst are behind me. The last two days confirm what I’ve heard from other tour riders – there are a lot of places with bigger mountains, but Missouri has the steep hills that give you no rest. So many of the roads here kind of just plow over the hill instead of following the rivers like the older communities in the east.

One of my favorite rivers in MO, the Current. Great canoeing, but skip the weekends.

The morning brought some of my favorite sights in Mo. This southern part of the state is all sitting on old limestone, and there is tons of water here. That combination means more sinkholes, caves,  rivers, and springs than just about any other place on the planet that I know of. Missouri has many places where a fully formed river will come just spouting out of the ground – Big Springs, Round Spring, Merrimac Springs, Bennet Springs and the one that I rode by today – Alley Springs. They all have more than 60 Million gallons per day that just pops up out of the ground, a full-sized river. Alley springs has the added attraction of a classic old turbine-powered mill for milling wheat and corn. Super cool and it’s just as I remember it as a kid.

The old mill at Alley Springs.


The flow by the gate at the mill. Can you believe that much water just flows out of that spring 24/7?
The milling machines. All belt driven (leather belts) from the turbine in the stream. Renewable energy pioneers in more ways than one.
I was taken by the photographs of early settlers in the area. They had to be tough to eek out a living from these hills. Most came from Appalachia, and Scotland, England and Wales before that.
The spring itself, backed by limestone bluffs.
The river as it flows out of the spring. The water is very clear and I filled my bottles from the local tap – it tasted delicious.
From the mill museum.

I had a huge climb out of Alley Springs but since I’ve taken shorter days it came pretty easy. I found myself on a high ridge and even rode by a Fire Tower. These towers haven’t changed since I was a kid, except they probably aren’t needed anymore. We used to always climb them in the fall to get a good view of the leaves in the hills. But they’re kind of terrifying to climb – the stairs appear to be designed by the lowest bidder, and the metalwork is designed so that if you somehow fell past the rails, you would be sure to get whacked by several metal spars before you hit the ground. Not to mention that the higher up you go, the more they sway, and at the very top I could clearly feel the tower vibrate if I moved at the wrong frequency side to side. The pictures don’t do it justice but it’s kind of fun and scary at the same time.

Not the most elegant design but functional.

[pano from the top]

(I need to link to this, it kills my browser when I embed panos)

Oh – one big difference since I was a kid. They used to keep the top of the tower locked but this is the first one I’ve seen open. So you have to push up this big trap door to get inside the little house at the top. Yikes.

They use these maps and sight to precisely locate a fire.
Not a cardinal – what is this orange bird?

I really felt like I’m hitting my stride as a bike traveler. But it’s having a toll on my gear; I have lost my soap box, soap, shampoo, shopping bag, reading glasses. I’ve damaged both pairs of sunglasses, and everything stitch of clothing is filthy or at least wet. The bike is doing well but the brake hoods are held together with electrical tape and the plastic cover over my right shifter is gone. Everything still works fine but I’ll have some patching together to do and Lynda, get the washing machine ready. These togs may need to go through twice.

My body’s doing fine in comparison. Only browner, scruffier, and very bug-bitten after the Ozarks. Speaking of bugs – word to the wise – do not ride with your mouth open here, especially descending. It’s not the first time I’ve eaten bugs on this trip – even back in Vermont I remember a couple of times where the first evidence of a bug was having it hit the back of my throat. Not much you can do at that point beyond swallow and wash it down and be grateful for the extra protein. But here, I got nailed in the mouth with the biggest beetle that I’ve have ever almost eaten – I managed to spit it out but good thing there wasn’t a truck next to me. “How’d Jim pass away?”  “Oh he swallowed a beetle, spazzed, and rode out in front of a truck.” Lord if it’s my time, then it’s my time. Just please don’t let it be something stupid like that

<begin rant> Speaking of traffic – I am not proud of my Ozark brothers in that department. Without question today I met the rudest drivers I’ve encountered anywhere in the country, bar none. Yesterday I was honked at to get off the road, today I was flipped off 3 times, and one truck passenger even opened is door on my side to “fake out” that he was going to hit me with it. Now I grew up here and I know what this is about – I’m quite sure that I’m seen here as a latte-sipping, liberal, Californian, which I am. I am also a Missourian and to put it in terms of local popular causes, I would say that  1) I have a right to life – I think that covers those of us who’ve already been born, no? And 2) the right wing always values “freedom” – doesn’t that include the right to freely ride a bike? I find their behavior, rude, hateful, and again to put it in local terms – extremely un-Christian. </end rant>

Your average rural Missouri farmhouse. Beautiful in its simplicity.

I was feeling pretty grungy and opted for a hotel tonight. Sleeping outside last night was OK but it was incredibly humid and I feel like I’ve basically been wet for 24 hours. The Lazy L is $65 and feels like a Sonoma spa in comparison to last night.

No-moving wildlife photo opp.


5 thoughts on “Day 32 – Ellington to Houston MO”

  1. Your rant made me laugh and now here is mine. When we first moved to MO from CA, I became convinced that all the road rage in CA was probably people mad at somebody from MO. The worst drivers I ever encountered and nothing changed in the 14 years we lived in MO. They always seemed oblivious!

  2. I has no idea southern Mo was so green, lush and full of rivers! It really looks beautiful. But I remember that Laura Engalls Wilder (Little House on the Praire author) settled in southern Mo and lived on an apple orchard and raised ducks and chickens,

  3. I forgot to tell…a friend with a bird identification app says the bird looks like a summer tanager.

  4. Keep truckin, Jim. Enjoyed working with your team over last week. Great to see all the photos etc. It’s good to be reminded of the interior spaces. Awesome country!

  5. Jim – Buon giorno from Rome! Great seeing your pano and pics of/from the fire tower; you were within a few miles of several of them when you passed through the Adirondacks, shortly before I’d met up with you. Only the New York/New England fire towers never (to my recollection, having climbed quite a few) had glass windows at the top, as the one from your pics showed… one of what looks like a wide variety of differences among places and people that you’re seeing as you traverse from the East Coast deeper into the heartland. Best of luck getting early starts as the days get hotter.

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