Day 3: Close Calls

MS needs to be dried with an hotel towel upon take-off at 8.00. Skies are heavy with blue clouds. The promise of more rain much needed for nature, I could do without. All day the weather and I are playing games. The rainstorms are moving from South to North. I am heading East – West. Collision course. The first 3 take the right of way I manage to give them by adjusting speed so MS passes behind. It leaves me wet roads, but dry clothes. Numbers 4 & 5 get me, though. MS sees the danger in nr 4 just as I do. Thunderstorm – about to catch us in the open, many many miles to the next settlement of civilization. MS needs no encouragement – outrun the oncoming onslaught. Her speed would qualify her for GP-races – and it works. Just as the fringe rains hit, there is a small cross-road town. The rain is light – no shelter needed. Nr 5 storm takes revenge. No escape possible. Again out in the open, it approaches fast and with very strong winds. I am used to those in Holland. The trees lean with the wind, I lean against it and ride the gusts of water and air pressure. It is like sailing and I love it. Spy versus spy, the weather wins in the end. Soaked and happy I check in into Claremore Inn 30 miles before Tulsa Oklahoma.

It was animal day. Dead and alive. Alive.Premonition in a remote R66 section to check a beautiful old bridge: deer country. Slowing down is by instinct. Out of the road shoulder comes a young white-spotted deer. Too unexperienced in what to do, so it runs along on the road, more to the right, more to the left. Mother comes to the rescue and jumps out of the woods onto the road – but then fortunately thinks the better of it and jumps right back into invisibility. The young one gets the message: it gets off the road- but in the opposite direction of mama deer. I also wonder what happened to the big turtle on my path – slowly busy crossing a busy section of R66. High on its feet, anxiously looking left and right. Hopefully, its lack of speed allowed traffic to steer around it. And then, what owners would dump their dogs on the highway and make a go for it. Twice, great dogs were desperately doing R66 to catch up; no chance. Dead. Racoons, cats, buzzard and other assorted unidentified dead objects.

The many small towns show the signs of economic decay. Old brick buildings boarded up, falling apart, their neighbors long gone leaving gaps as missing teeth. Junk and debris is everywhere. This is the third world in the most powerful country of the world. Surviving citizens make the best of it. Businesses have the look they had in the fifties. People are as friendly as in these good old times, mighty proud of being part of R66. (Somehow the term Route66 has gone out of use here, in these places people speak about Old66 and name their streets that way.) These people do live Old66. For example old Gary in his restored Sinclair gas station in Ash Grove, not daring to leave because he might miss passers-by; his complaint: 2-3 motorcyle riders will stop to drink coffee with him and sign his guestbook, those groups of 15-20 on rented bikes in their hurried schedule from Chicago to LA do not. Or the four ladies in the virtual ghost mining town of Galena who with their own means are trying to restore another gas station to attract a bit of tourist business – ghosts can help to make a living, perhaps. People have gathered with them for the arrival of the red car of the Cars movie – as a local truck for some reason inspired the its counterpart in the film (God’s ways are remarkable). The attending Joplin newspaper’s journalist wants an interview with the international visitor. My name, age, address, occupation. basic business in the area – he must be the obituary writer on all other days of the year.

Living on MS from 8.00 AM – 17.00 PM daily has become a second life; it may not take away from alertness which is easy to slip away though. Two examples.
- An off-beat section of Old66 has a sudden 90 degree turn, Dead Man’s corner – fine with me, I survive and speed up. Then: in a split-second: no paved road anymore, just big pebbles as far as the eye can see, with broken patches of asphalt at intermittent intervals. Special motorcycle riding training by BMW last year pays of: I don’t follow the impulse to hit the brakes to prevent disaster at that speed – but do the opposite as required: let go, ease out the speed idling,
keeping my balance. This is 4×4 heavy duty work, I don’t see it in my EZ66 guide. Turn back to take Old66 of another era. Never ever take the road for granted.
- Lunch at Dreama’s in Carterville, a small fifties diner which somehow manages to accommodate two dozen very overweight blue collar workers appearing from all directions in their pickups as dirty as they are themselves. The ladies in the small kitchen must hold the world speed-cooking record. Barely has the order been placed, or the food is on the table to produce more overweight. (This country is about food.) I am about to take to the road again. No keys. And I carry no spare… I announce my despair and find two dozen sympathizers: if I don’t find them I am stuck dead. Light panic must have been clear in my voice. Everybody starts to look under his chair (there is no her chair). Finally, the massive plastic seats in the corner I had been in are totally removed from their place by the friendly big fellows having their lunch on them. What is revealed is a paradise for a cultural anthropologist analyzing eating behavior of rural America since WorldWar II. My heart started beating again, the keys were held up as if it was the biggest fish catch of the finder’s life. Never ever put feeling organized on automatic. ( Half an hour later: a huge old sign saying ‘Lock Smith’ offers no relief as the building must not have housed living business for at least 30-40 years.)

Finally, MS is enjoying the ride. She is undescribably dirty by now, gone is the shine with which she started the journey. I feed her 93 if I can find it or 91 as lighter diet version. She appreciates it by giving me 1:40. And with gas prices here at 50% of what Europeans are used to, what can I say? When warm, her RPM’s are too high, 1500-2000; you don’t want to hear her protest when putting her in 1st gear then. So I just stop her in first gear and start from there.

I haven’t seen or heard John Denver yet.

Harold – “Ride to tell”

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