WanderlustBy Sam Lepore
(Click map for full size)
Waterloo to Blue Springs
Subject: Wanderlust 27 - Blue Springs, Missouri
Date: Tue, 29 Jun 1999 06:53:50 -0700

Slightly longer today ... last report for a little while.

        Yawn. Time to get going again. Another 300 miles to get to Kansas City for the tire appointment tomorrow. May as well get started. It's riding time ... oh - look! I can't believe it! The name on the sign of the first street past the motel in Waterloo! No kidding! It is: Riding Time (Street).
        O man, what an omen. :)

        But darn, you know sometimes the luck just doesn't meet your expectations even when you have no expectations. Here I am passing through Waterloo on the one day of the week the John Deere tractor assembly factory tour does not run. What luck. I may never know what I am missing.
        Mark, from Aberdeen, wrote to tell me I misunderstood him about the snow making machines. They were not invented there, but they are manufactured there ... and the child in me wonders how are they function tested in summer?
        My inner child has much to wonder about on this trip. Not the least of which is how the Internet makes this a live event for me as well as for you. I never met Mark before arriving at his place, and yet it is a meeting of old friends for the first time. The Internet has really only begun to change the way we interact, both with people and institutions. Despite the anarchy and inconsistency of the net, the ability for direct communication to anyone AND everyone at the same time is making a community out of those who wish to be in it. You/we are no longer limited by geography, politics, or history ... this freedom to join or leave a group is unparalleled in former social experiments. (My thanks to all who are still with me.)
        Then I start thinking again about how future technology might intrude on our current enjoyments. My laptop can take natural speech dictation, which is amazing enough. What happens when we have a net interface in the helmet? Look at what cell phones do to the average driving "skills" today ... I sometimes wish I could write my thoughts *as* I am traveling, but the thought is frightening.

        At my first gas stop in Iowa, I mused over the sign proudly proclaiming "This station has pumped over 40,000 bushels of corn in the form of Ethanol." Ingenuity and business development aside, you know, when it gets to the point that we have to start squeezing it into gas to get rid of it, maybe it is just time to stop growing so much corn! Ethanol burns, but it produces less energy/mileage, rots some fuel systems, and needs an added stabilizer to even stay mixed in the gas. Tell me again why we are pumping bushels? (ok, rant off)
        (no, rant on again) Warning - sexist observation follows. I think young female drivers have the potential to be more dangerous to motorcyclists than young male drivers. Three times this morning young females came to an intersection with my road. Each of the three looked in my general direction, then looked away. One of the three allowed the car to roll forward while looking away. Four times young males made a similar approach. Each time they looked at me and held their gaze to watch the bike go by. The females (maybe) see "bike", think nothing of it and go on to whatever is next on the mental agenda. The males see "hey, there's a bike", think about bikes and give focus to the rider for a moment. We need more women to ride motorcycles so more young women pay attention!
(now, rant off)

        The welcome sign says "Wind up in Traer" and it is mounted on a spiral staircase. Traer Manufacturing is a name that's, um, on an upward spiral in the stair business. There was even a two story external spiral staircase in front of the office on Main Street. If this were Minnesota ... Traer would no doubt be the "Spiral Capital".
        Iowa is the quintessential picture of Americana in the morning. Young boys out of school for the summer "caught" in the chores of cutting grass stop pushing the mower for a moment to watch a motorcycle drift past. Baskets of flowers hang on the front porch swing gently as the woman of the house stretches to reach them with the spout of the watering can. Old men in overalls and tractor caps, long retired from the fields, sit in the shade of the storefront, waiting to see what the day brings. Early summer in middle America is tranquil.
        But it occurs to me something is missing in farmland. Back in the western ranchland, every pickup truck had one or more dogs installed. Few to none hereabouts are so. Farm dogs don't travel?
        One small town (forgot which) had a lawn 'museum' display of "farm progress since 1920" with various forms of tractors and wagons. That made me think of some of the truly weird equipment I've seen beside the road. If aliens ever want to hide a spaceship, they could park it in any Iowa farm implement lot and it would be weeks before anyone questioned it. One 'device' being driven toward me on the 2-lane road must be used for inspecting full grown corn stalks from the top. Four wheels roughly ten feet apart, and a platform about eight feet high with a cab on top and various trailing deeley-boppers made this mechanical dragonfly look hungry. For the briefest moment that inner child thought it would be fun to zip into the other lane and under through its lane-wide belly. Of course I didn't - for all I know it is the Iowa bike bailing machine ...
        Side observation - the tractor may be the farmer's mechanical workhorse, but the new mule is the 4-wheeled motorcycle, the ATV. Every farmer has one!
        Amazingly enough, my dry luck hasn't dried up. The morning weather report said a line of severe thunderstorms was pounding Kansas City, moving northeast, and more storms were in Minnesota, moving southeast. I am in the middle moving southwest. Yet, the worst I saw was wet roads where the rain had just ended. When one dark cloud started sprinkling, I stopped for coffee, having a less demanding schedule than the prevailing westerlies.

        The conversation often stops when I enter the cafe. It is not *me*, of course, it is the helmet swung up and open like that of some riot squad. When a face appears from under the helmet and behind the glasses, general breathing resumes. Some will occasionally ask about the riding gear, but a good softener is to unfold a map at the counter. Almost always, someone asks where ... Today the older gentleman listened to my loose plans and shook his head. San Francisco to Louisiana by way of Minnesota? Hey, last time it was San Francisco to Texas by way of Maine. He gave me a serious look and said, "Boy? WHY do you even bother with a map!?" I didn't have the heart to tell him about the GPS ...
        (By the way ... try the Garbage Salad in the Albia Cafe, in Albia, of course. It is a garden salad piled with chopped steamed tenderloin steak. Looks just like a steaming garbage heap, and that's what they call it.)
        Speaking of the GPS, I found a base map error! Routes 63, 23 and 137 south of Oskaloosa, Iowa are mislabeled. Since I'll be within a parsec of the Garmin home planet in Olathe, Kansas, I may just stop in and let them know.
        Centerville centerpunch: Unplanned as this route is, some of the places I 'choose' are vivid surprises. Centerville, Iowa was recently visited by tornadoes. I suddenly found myself crossing the path of destruction. What is most startling is not the intensity of the violence, it is the randomness. On the right, a business which was no longer identifiable was being rebuilt. The building sat with only a few dozen feet separating other buildings - which were untouched. On the left a block long warehouse was exploded from the inside out, gaping and disgorged into its parking lot like a disemboweled 'birth' in the Alien movies. But only the center of the building exploded - the office at the end did not have a window broken. The unpredictability of a tornado must be as frightening as its ferocity.
        With geographic precision, immediately after crossing the Missouri border, the road found hills and curves. How do these hills know not to cross the border ... like how does smoke know to not stray into the no smoking section? (Quiet, child!)

        Sixth sense in a fifth dimension: the accident that didn't happen. Good motorcycle riders (or at least those who ride without crashing) develop a sixth sense. Even more than 'they do', they must develop it - to survive. (Hmmm. Is it actually a 6th sense? ... can't say I've used 'taste' much while riding, but I digress.) The sixth sense is awareness, the fifth dimension is probability. Seeing 'what is' - is not enough. Seeing 'what is' might become is the leverage that moves the event across reality. I applied the 6th awareness against the 5th probability and created a negative accident - one that had it happened easily could have been fatal.
        Scene: uphill left curve, blind intersection at the top with unseen road angled to right (like an upside down Y). Sunny day, clear dry surface, low traffic. While riding up the hill, leaned over and watching for the end of the curve, the furthest corner of my eye caught a glint, then another. Motion. A car on the now discovered blind road. Quick triangulation predicts similar time arrival - mentally prepare to slow (but no action yet). Now I see the intersection. Now I see the side road has no stop sign. Now I see an oncoming truck just passing the intersection partially in my lane and behind the truck a car (who can't see me) preparing to turn left. The driver of the car from the right is concentrating only on the approaching car. They each cross my path without looking - had I not been ready, both lanes would have been blocked. Unprepared, a panic stop *might* have worked, but seeing something was going to happen, when all the components came into view all it took was a relaxed wrist to control the situation. A slight roll off the throttle (the bike stands up away from the truck) and the drivers never know their carelessness set up a death trap.

        Finally reaching the central river valley, I again meet my old muddy friend from Montana (no, not Duner :), the Missouri River. I am surprised to see the river road here is marked Lewis and Clark Trail (along the same route which is also the Santa Fe Trail). Yes, I know they had to travel to St. Joseph somehow, but it doesn't seem fair to "trail" the land that was already settled.
        Well, enough for a while. I'm going off the air for a couple of days as I visit a frequently frenetic but fully felicitous friend Phyllis, a former fence-news neighbor.

FuelPlus 334 miles, 6:56 hours, 51 mph average
Waterloo US63 IA137 IA5 MO5 MO139 US24 MO7 Blue Springs

Sam Lepore, San Francisco
Wanderlust Rider

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