WanderlustBy Sam Lepore

Subject: Wanderlust 2000.8 - Chaffee, Missouri
Date: Sat, 08 Apr 2000 10:42:29 -0700

    Southern Indiana is a land forgotten. Perhaps with good reason. There isn't much to remember. Even some of the roads seem to have forgotten where they go. Towns are isolated even if only a few miles apart. At one point I stopped to ask a local if there was a bridge anywhere near here going across the Ohio River into Kentucky. He said, "I don't know. I don't need to go to Kentucky." We're talking about a distance of maybe 20 miles ...
    But I can always find something good to say about an area ... if you enjoy the slow life, this is the place to be. There is historical evidence that life has been slow around here for a long time. The dinosaurs must have really liked this area - it surprised me to see there are active oil fields in the lowlands near the river.
    Though there is no bridge across the Ohio, there is a toll bridge west across the Wabash. While I was digging for change I joked with the toll taker. "The sign says 50¢ for autos - since I only have half as many wheels, how about a discount?" He thought about it for ten seconds or so and said "Sure." with a smile. I handed him two quarters. He handed me two dimes.
    This is one of those in-between days on an undefined trip where I have to be somewhere tomorrow but have nothing to do today. The next destination is only 100 miles away. The only answer to this dilemma is: backroads. And, boy, did they go back! Taking a generally southwest track, twice I followed signed county roads deep into the Shawnee National Forest. Each road forked with neither fork going in the general direction I wanted. So, of course, each time I chose the wrong fork. The nice thing about having a GPS is that it tells you exactly where you are when you are lost. 'You are here'. Dunno where 'here' is, but there you go. First town I saw out of the forest was Humm Wye. That sorta sums it up.
    Enough with the single track trails. Staying instead on roads paved within the past 40 years, I gave up the chance to visit Ragland, Needmore, and Monkeys Eyebrow, Kentucky. Woe is me.
    Passing for the first time through Cairo (pronounced Kay-row, I learned), it was surprising to see at the confluence of the two rivers that the Ohio is noticeably larger than the Mississippi. Makes me wonder how the main branch of a river is determined. What if all these years we've been calling the rivers by the wrong name? Just because one is longer than the other doesn't automatically mean it gets 'the name'. After all, the Missouri is longer than the Mississippi, and it gives up its name at St. Louis. Oh well. Riding a motorcycles exposes many mysteries and gives you the time to contemplate them.
    Along the outflows of the great river there are many places where the bed has changed over time. Some of them are now land locked bodies of water, which are not exactly lakes and no longer part of the river. The local name for them is Blue Holes. I passed a sign for Tom Bird Blue Hole and was curious. Later my map showed several others, like Thirty-Four Corner Blue Hole.
    One last place to visit to stretch the day. Being a resident of San Francisco, I have an understandable interest in earthquakes, so I found my way to the location of the strongest known recorded quake in the US - New Madrid, Missouri. In the early 1800s there were few people living in this area, so there aren't any believable 'on the scene' reports, but the quake is estimated to have been between 8.9 and 9.5. (The great SF quake of 1906 was between 8.1 and 8.7.) The New Madrid quake was strong enough to instantly change to course of the Mississippi River. There is no monument in town to mark the epicenter, but at least the local museum acknowledges it occurred. New Madrid claims to be the oldest town "west of the Mississippi", but then goes on to admit the original town site has been consumed by the river. Oldest town "in the Mississippi" might be a better claim.

    What should you feel when when you pull up in front of a police station and you are aggressively approached by the Chief of police? If the town is Chaffee, Missouri, you should feel welcome because Keith Carr is an enthusiastic BMW rider. His may be the only Chief's office wallpapered with vintage motorcycle posters. Being vigilant, dedicated, and on duty, Keith decided some local backroads needed patrol and we rode to visit a surprisingly good small winery in Commerce. Later Keith's lovely and gracious wife Nancy didn't even flinch when he dragged in another rider for dinner.

288 miles (which I'd call a good stretch from the direct route of 100)
Mt. Vernon IN62 IL141 lost IL13 IL1 lost IL146
cr1 IL145 US62 I57 I55 US61 MO77 Chaffee
Sam Lepore, San Francisco

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