Going With The Flow

We were supposed to head west from Springfield, Missouri through Carthage to Joplin, but every hotel anywhere close to Carthage and Joplin was booked. Not a single Airbnb except one near Carthage for $900 a night. 

That was not a typo. 

$900 a night.

And there was no way we were going to camp out. First of all, it’s like 95 degrees out here every day and it barely gets below 80 at night. Second of all, we threw away our tent in St.Louis. Too heavy. 

“It’s Marian Days,” the very sweet lady at the Holiday Inn told me. “We’ve been sold out for months.” 

“Marian Days? Does she have a concert in town?”

Of all the many things we’ve learned in the seven weeks we’ve been on the road, maybe the most humbling thing is how little we know. Sure, we know stuff about Philadelphia. But the rest of these places? 

We thought Ohio would be flat. Ohio is not flat. In Indiana, we thought that if a road showed up on Google maps it would be a paved road. Also not true…some are gravel. In Illinois we kept seeing lots of corn and this other crop that we didn’t know so we took a picture of it and showed it to the waitress at The Barnyard Cafe in Martinsville.

“Those are soybeans.”

Oh…soybeans. Ok. 

So there we were in Lebanon, Missouri trying to get a hotel room in Carthage or Joplin and none were available because of Marian Days who I thought was some country music singer I’d never heard of. 

Marian Days, I soon learned, is a Vietnamese Catholic celebration held since the 1970’s in the first week of August in Carthage to honor the Virgin Mary. 80,000 people come from all over the world. It’s a big, big deal. 

Not a country music singer. 

So instead of going through Carthage and Joplin, we’re taking a detour south and seeing towns like Mount Vernon, Monett and  Neosho where the hotels have space. Though not much…even down here we’re seeing people headed to the celebration. 

Tommy came back from breakfast at the Best Western in Mount Vernon and informed me, “There were a whole lot of women dressed up like nuns out there.”

“They might actually BE nuns.”

“Yeah. Good point.” 

We’re completely out of our element, but that’s what makes this trip so much fun. For example, Tommy got some great shots of these beautiful cattle. According to someone we asked, they’re both Longhorns. Who knew there were curly Longhorns? 

And Route 66? Ever since St.Louis, we’ve been more or less following Adventure Cycling’s Route 66 map. Sure, we were familiar with the song and the references in Pixar’s movie “Cars”, but we had no idea how much Route 66 meant to some people. We just picked the route because it looked like the shortest way to the Pacific…but people from all over the world spend their entire vacations (or “holidays”) riding up and down the route, stopping at famous old motels and diners, trading stories and comparing notes about where the “original” road was in comparison to what’s here now. 

As Tommy’s photos show, so much of this speaks to the past…old cars and trucks, the hopeful movement westward in search of a better life. We stopped at Gary’s Gay Parita Sinclair gas station in Paris Springs, Missouri, and it was like stepping back in time. A couple from Arkansas was there talking to George, one of the current owners, and they called us over to their table to talk. No sitting by yourself at Gary’s…Gary passed away in 2015 but his motto was “Friends for life…”, which meant if you stopped in you stayed to talk a while. Our planned ten minute break lasted over an hour as we listened to Route 66 stories. In fact, the couple from Arkansas had come up to attend the funeral of Ramona Lehman, longtime owner of the Munger Moss Motel in Lebanon, one of their favorite stops along the route. 

In towns like Lebanon and Rolla and Springfield, we also saw smaller but still striking signs and monuments recalling the Trail of Tears. Same Route 66 towns, totally different reasons for moving West…like parallel but completely different universes. 

I imagine as we head into Oklahoma in the next few days, we’ll see the Route 66 and Trail of Tears stories intertwine even more. And we’ll meet even more people who’ll want to tell us about it 

This bicycle trip had a dual purpose: to raise money for Fetal Surgery families at CHOP and to provide Tommy an opportunity to prove he could do something extraordinary. 

It’s also proving to be an incredible history lesson. Mostly we just listen, observe and read. Then on the long stretches of quiet country roads, we’ll talk about what we think it all means.  

Until some dogs start chasing us. You’d be surprised how much energy you get when you see an unleashed dog take off after you from its front yard. Or like five dogs. People down here have a lot of dogs. 

1,500 miles done, about 200 more to Tulsa. 

Can’t wait to see what comes next!


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