Day 6 – Lake of the Ozarks, MO to Fort Massac, IL : 300 miles
Lady at the Toll: “How far ya come?”
Me, a bit too smugly: “About fifteen hundred miles”
Lady at the Toll: “With that accent, I’d a thought you’d a come a lot further.”
I remembered this exchange as I left the Lake of the Ozarks, Missouri after Day 5 of rest and lake-exploration and rode through towns with European names – Vienna, Vichy, Iberia and later Vienna again, this time in Illinois. It rained but not enough for a Frogg Togg stop, the riding was “meh” and even the “scenic byway” through Mark Twain forest was so-so – just another wood, though a big one. Until the mighty Mississippi, just above the confluence with the equally impressive Ohio River and where (going clockwise) Missouri meets Illinois meets Arkansas.
With no functioning BMW Navigator and no cable to charge electronics from the bike, I planned to stop by the BMW dealership “Grass Roots Motorcycles” in Cape Girardeau – a town name that sounds French-Canadian to me – right on the banks of the Mississippi, to discuss my options. I wasn’t sure what I was going to do, BMW sell their branded GPS Navigator for an extortionate thousand dollars (BMW = Bring More Wallet) and Garmin price the same unbranded GPS for seven or eight hundred dollars. From the dealer’s, a high concrete wall blocked all view of the river, the Missouri side apparently has an effective levee.
I rolled up to Grass Roots to a welcome from a small group on the sidewalk clustered around several already parked motorcycles. One guy was holding something in his hand. He introduced himself as Adam and we engaged in the usual “Where you from?” then “No, where are you really from?” etc. Adam introduced me to his riding partner Kim – Kim Rider I think she said – and finally I was introduced to the BMW dealer standing among us. I started to explain my predicament and guess what – Adam had just “upgraded” his GPS by purchasing the last one in the store, the BMW brand.
But what was that he was holding? “Hey, this might fit your bike” said Adam, holding out his perfectly functioning but “old” GPS. “It’s got that orange writing on it because I bought it from a Harley Davidson dealer. Cost me $950 dollars.” It didn’t seem likely that a Harley Davidson GPS would fit my BMW motorcycle, but I took it to my bike and showed it the cradle. It fitted perfectly, male to female, like a baby to a mother’s teat, like earth and wind, the sun and the moon, yin and yang separate but whole together. The Universe was complete, and I hadn’t even stepped a foot inside the dealership.
“So, do you want to sell it” I said. “Might as well” said Adam. “How much do you want?” I asked. “Say, five hundred dollars?” replied Adam. I ummed and ahhed and we both whipped out our phones to look up prices on the ‘net. The exact same model retailed for $800 new we agreed. “Would you take $400?” I said, a bit shamefaced, “I have $400 in cash but I don’t have $500”. “You know what?”, said Adam, “it’s just the right thing to do, isn’t it?”. Adam. The first man.
I explained that they would all now be able to see where I hid four one-hundred dollar bills on my bike, a secret stash for emergencies on A Long Ride. With a coin and a pair of tweezers (Kim was impressed until I explained that everyone in Arizona carries tweezers to pull out cactus spines) I extracted the four notes to “Aaahs” and “Ooohs” from my audience. “Good for riding in Mexico” someone said. We made the exchange, said our goodbyes, and I rode off to find the bridge over the Mississippi river, with a working GPS.
There is no levee on the Illinois side and fields were flooded and roads were closed. In places there was “water on the road” and we had to go single file, in turn. Eventually I was welcomed to Fort Massac, IL by a series of signs pointing the way to “Huge Superman”. The Fort Massac state park campground on the banks of the Ohio had all been under water a few weeks ago, and high water damage was very evident. But I enjoyed a splendid dinner at “Fat Eddy’s” on the recommendation of the camp host, visited with Superman, and spent a comfortable sixth night under canvas. Which today is never canvas and always nylon.
In the morning a guy buzzed around on a commercial lawn mower and finally came over to say Hi and admire my bike while I was packing up.
Me: “You’re not the guy I met last night are you?” thinking of the Camp Host.
Lawnmower guy: “No.”
Me: “Because I ate at Fat Eddy’s last night and it was so good I wanted to thank him.”
Lawnmower guy: “Yeah, it is. My cousin runs that place. Two workaholics run it. Where you’re going?”
Me: “Lebanon, Tennessee for a motorcycle rally”.
Lawnmower guy: “Oh right, I had my first honeymoon in Lebanon”. Pause. “Not necessarily a good memory”.
We said goodbye and the Camp Host came over just before I took off.
Me: “I wanted to thank you for that restaurant recommendation, the food was awesome.”
Camp Host: “Yeah I know, my son in law runs that place. Well, ex-son in law. One of two workaholics who run it. Anyway, come back and see us again.”
Me: “Thank you, goodbye.”
Day 7 – Fort Massac, IL to Lebanon, TN : 200 miles
I didn’t have a paper map of Illinois. My new/old GPS (woohoo!) showed that I could take a small bridge south over the Ohio from Illinois into Arkansas rather than the Interstate over a bigger bridge. The Ohio looked as big as the Mississippi and both looked overwhelmingly enormous. Not rivers you could easily tame. Turned out that bridge was closed, and I had to backtrack and take the Interstate in any case.
I stopped at the visitor center in the middle of the geographically and historically interesting “Land Between The Lakes” known as “LBL” to the locals. Civil War, Tobacco Wars (tobacco farmers band together, fight and win against the Tobacco Trust monopoly!) and Prohibition and illegal stills are important parts of a fascinating border history far too complicated to explain here. In the middle of LBL I crossed from Arkansas into Tennessee.
After 2,135 miles and 6 ½ days I arrived at the BMW Motorcycle Owner’s Association (MOA) 2019 annual national rally in Lebanon, TN, checked in and rode around for a while before picking a spot to pitch my tent among hundreds of others of all shapes, sizes and colors, and thousands of motorcycles, mostly boxer twins like my own but with a smattering of the exotic and unusual and for many enthusiasts, the vintage.