45 miles (72 km) – Total so far: 1,300 miles (2,092 km)

After a hearty breakfast at our B&B we hit the road late (8:30). Immediately we were greeted by two unwelcome old friends: a steep uphill and a couple of dogs. Have no fear: fresh legs turn chasing dogs and steep uphills into distant memories before too long. After this first hill we had an exhilarating downhill. Both Bill and I hit speed records with 44MPH and 48.3MPH respectively. The second hill was a grind, but we held onto the fact that the worst was almost done and powered on.

After the first two big hills, the road straightened out into a series of delightful ups and downs. For large sections of the road we were able to ride side by side. Rather than chatting much, we listened to a new playlist I had mixed up of the most melodramatic songs I could cobble together. My scrappy portable speaker had us both verklemp’ed as we bounded up and down the foothills of the Oh! Zarks! Here’s the playlist:

Somewhere Over The Rainbow / What A Wonderful World by Israel Kamakawiwo`ole
Under The Bridge by Red Hot Chili Peppers (I know it’s weird, but this song gets me right *there*)
Jar Of Hearts by Christina Perri
Hallelujah by Rufus Wainwright
Breathe Me by Sia
Running On Empty by Jackson Browne (The background song for Forrest Gump’s run across the US… more on Forrest Gump later)
Lovesong by The Cure
Blister Soul by Vigilantes of Love
Get Lucky by Daft Punk (Doesn’t really fit, but is great for moderate uphills!)
One Headlight by The Wallflowers
Wake Me Up by Avicii

Top O' the Oh! Zarks! to ya! -- West of Eminence, MO

Top O’ the Oh! Zarks! to ya! — West of Eminence, MO

he rolling hills of Oh! Zarks! -- West of Eminence, MO

The rolling hills of Oh! Zarks! — West of Eminence, MO

The sappy music and sweet hills started pulling us both into a very good place emotionally. Cruising along with big smiles on our faces, we came across a welcoming sign pointing to a Missouri conservation department fire tower. Indeed, it towered. Reaching heights above the surrounding trees on a local high point, the tower provides an excellent view of the beautiful forests of the Oh Zarks! I’m not great with heights, so of course, I went up. Something about touring demands that we get out of our comfort zones at every opportunity.

Missouri conservation department fire tower. West of Alley Spring, MO

Missouri conservation department fire tower. West of Alley Spring, MO

The view out from the fire tower. West of Alley Spring, MO

The view out from the fire tower. West of Alley Spring, MO

The view down from the fire tower. The yellow dot is Bill. West of Alley Spring, MO

The view down from the fire tower. The yellow dot is Bill. West of Alley Spring, MO

Spoiler alert! I’m feeling this post waxing philosophical. Best bail out now if you just want the headlines.

We entered the town of Summersville, MO and ended up spending about an hour in the town. The cause of our delay is a common phenomenon here on the trail: we met people. Interactions that would be quick and casual in “real life” take on a gravitas during this experience that is difficult to understand. I had long conversations with three different people: the postal worker, an Amish woman selling strawberries, and an elderly woman also looking to buy strawberries. Bill had gone a couple blocks further and entered into conversations with two other patrons of the Sinclair gas station. For the sake of confidence, I choose to skip the details of these conversations. Which brings me to the central point: I’m amazed that I have confidences to skip! In the matter of an hour, both Bill and I had several deep conversations about very significant topics.

What is it about the journey that I’m on that invites total strangers to share details of their personal lives with me? Is it because of the necessarily transitory nature of our brief relationship? Do I take an aspect of a confessor of sorts? Is there something about the fact that I’m on a journey? Evidently it is readily apparent that this journey is more than physical; the journey is emotional and spiritual as well. Or is it something simpler: I simply have the time to listen?

These instantly deep relationships aren’t always confined to the brief encounters. A chance meeting of another tourer is like finding a long lost cousin. The immediate camaraderie and understanding is heady stuff. Just imagine meeting a total stranger on the road in your home town and hitting it off right away. Ok, not so weird, what’s the big deal, right? Well, the next reasonable step out here is to spend every day and night of the next week or two together with very few breaks. Or maybe the next four weeks… or twelve. Crazy! But really, quite normal here.

I’ve been thinking about this since coming back from my week off the main ACA trail by myself. It was lonely. Horribly lonely. Dogs chasing me. Cars buzzing by. A different place to sleep every night. Really, pretty much the same as the ACA trail, but with no other tourers.

Bill suggested that there are three things that we ground ourselves in: place, people, and story. None of these touchstones are available to me out here on the trail. Three days ago I was on the other side of the Mississippi, but it is now 200 miles away. I don’t see a single familiar face all day. The narrative of my life is between chapters: having quit my job, and having intentionally not set a path for when I return.

The only consistency during the trip is the other tourers. About 48 hours after meeting another tourer, the idea of falling behind or getting ahead of this new acquaintance takes on the aspects of a moderate life decision. Having met several individuals, both in front of me and behind me, I find myself thinking about whether or not to speed up or slow down to reconnect with new friends that played no role in my life prior to this trip.

Ok, time to come back up for air here.

As you can tell by my philosophic detour, Bill and I were pretty moved by our encounters in Summersville. Coming out of that town we enjoyed 20 miles of wonderful rolling hills and beautiful land. The farms here have finally got some elbow room, not all jammed up against their siblings with big mountains and rivers pushing them together like they are in the back of the family VW rabbit. These farms are strapping midwestern boys. They might try out for the basketball team.

At the top of a particularly beautiful rise Bill and I got off our bikes and enjoyed the view in silence for a time. It might have been 10 minutes, or just a few. But the world stopped for a spell. It was magical. I was lucky enough to snap a shot of Bill as he came out of his reverie and upended his water on his head to cool down. He is happy.

This spot just near Houston, MO was one of the most beautiful and peaceful places I've ever seen. The beauty was in the grandness and simplicity all smashed together with a sprinkling of bird song on top.

This spot just near Houston, MO was one of the most beautiful and peaceful places I’ve ever seen. The beauty was in the grandness and simplicity all smashed together with a sprinkling of bird song on top.

Bill has found his happy place. The 12 hills of Oh! Zarks! are a distant memory.

Bill has found his happy place. The 12 hills of Oh! Zarks! are a distant memory.