Reflections from the River

My wife thinks I'm crazy or cycling across Missouri's Route 66

June 22, 2022 Bill Enyart
Reflections from the River
My wife thinks I'm crazy or cycling across Missouri's Route 66
Show Notes Transcript

My wife thinks I’m crazy. Now that’s not uncommon for couples who’ve been married as long as we have. She shares why she thinks I’m crazy with friends and neighbors, who then mostly agree with her that I’m crazy.

Now my bike riding friends all think I’m perfectly normal. She, of course, thinks they’re crazy too, as do our non-bike riding friends and neighbors...

My wife thinks I’m crazy. Now that’s not uncommon for couples who’ve been married as long as we have. She shares why she thinks I’m crazy with friends and neighbors, who then mostly agree with her that I’m crazy.

Now my bike riding friends all think I’m perfectly normal. She, of course, thinks they’re crazy too, as do our non-bike riding friends and neighbors.

She defines crazy as climbing on a bike, or in my case, a recumbent trike, and riding hundreds of miles up and down the hills of Southwestern Missouri in the midst of the hottest June in years.

Me? I just think it’s fun, although sometimes it is a bit taxing.

I’m just now getting pretty well recovered from last week’s BAM (Bike Across Missouri) ride from Joplin to Rolla. The entire ride ran from Joplin to Eureka, but I cut it two days short to attend a friend’s retirement ceremony at Scott Air Force Base, Illinois.

The ride was a real butt kicker due largely to the heat. Temperatures were in the high 80’s to mid 90’s with humidity to match. The only saving grace was a fairly, constant breeze out of the southwest.

I drove down to Cuba, Missouri, on Sunday, June 12th, where I parked my Jeep. I ‘d prearranged for the shuttle service to pick me up there at the Super Eight motel, where my car would stay for the week. The shuttle then took me with recumbent trike and gear to the starting point campgrounds in Joplin. We camped in a city park next to the municipal pool.

I had a couple of questions that evening for the BAM director, who didn’t seem to have many answers. He wasn’t a take charge kind of person and just let things roll along. There was no briefing on the next day’s ride. The park was off the beaten path and the only provision for dinner were a couple of food trucks in the parking lot.

My riding partner and I eventually met up. He was camped at a bit of a distance from me. We bought Mexican food from one of the food trucks and made plans to head out early in the morning to get a good start on a long day.

The ride was poorly designed in that the first day was 87 miles, the second day 74 miles, the third day 34 miles and the fourth day 38 miles. I didn’t ride the fifth and sixth days, which were 40 and 61 miles. Unlike all other multi-day tours, which I’ve been on, there were no alternate routes with higher and lower mileages to accommodate riders of varying fitness levels.

When one of the riders questioned the ride director about the length of the first day’s ride, his excuse was that Southwest Missouri is the beginning of the American Southwest and that towns large enough to support the ride were far apart. I found that to be lacking as an excuse.

The tour route generally followed Old Highway 66 which today’s Interstate 44 largely parallels. Since the route is on the northern edge of the Ozark Mountains there were lots of hills to climb up and swoop down. When the route was on Old 66 the highway had long steady climbs, but when the route diverged to country roads the hills were shorter and far steeper.

One hill climbing up out of Roubidoux Park in Waynesville, Missouri, on Day Three, was so steep that for the very first time since I’ve acquired my ICE VTX I had to get off and walk the trike up the last part of the hill. Even my friend, who is a very strong rider, had to dismount his Trek and walk it up. 

One of the shortcomings of the tour was the lack of an evening briefing covering the next day’s ride. Had such a briefing been given the riders would have been prepared for the difficult uphill ride, which might well have prevented a serious injury to one woman rider.

We learned at the conclusion of that day’s ride that she had her biking shoes clipped into the pedals and was unable to unclip in time to avoid a fall, breaking her hip in the fall. If we had had a safety briefing the prior evening about that early hazard, she could have begun the ascent unclipped or selected another route to avoid the steep climb.

The water stops were another shortcoming of the tour. Every other tour or even long-distance organized day ride that I’ve been on has snacks and volunteers at water stops. The snacks, particularly in less populated areas such as southwest Missouri, help fuel riders. These rest stops, other than one at a senior center, had zero snacks. Once again, had there been proper evening briefings the riders could have been warned to carry appropriate snacks.

Frequently there weren’t even volunteers or staffers at the water stops. There would simply be a cooler with bottles of water and ice. More than once the cooler was empty. Although the water stops were shown on the provided maps, they weren’t listed in the turn-by-turn direction sheets given to riders. Due to the large-scale and small size of the maps it was difficult to determine where the water stops were located.

On rides as expensive as this one a breakfast and dinner buffet is generally served, while riders are on their own for lunch as they ride cross-country. There were no such arrangements on BAM Old 66. On the first morning they provided Macdonald’s breakfast burritos and on one other they provided muffins. Neither any way to start the day. Coffee was provided each morning, but no hot water for anyone choosing to drink tea, cocoa or other hot drink.

The road markings indicating turns were placed immediately at the turns failing to give adequate notice of a turn. My friend wound up riding 94 miles the first day instead of 87 because he missed one of the turns. Several other riders didn’t get in until quite late the first day for that reason. On more than one occasion I had to lock up my brakes to make a turn. I also missed several turns but luckily my friend or another rider behind me called out to me so I could get back on track.

In fairness to the BAM road marking paint crew, I downloaded the Ride with GPS route guide onto my mobile phone, but didn’t use it, as it uses too much battery power. Had I had the voice turn by turn directions turned on, it likely would have provided adequate warning of turns. Nonetheless they need to place the turn markers so as to give adequate warning to riders.

On that first 87 mile day my friend got in late, the minimal meal service (a bbq sandwich, chips and soda for $10) on site closed down at 7 pm. When he walked up asking to at least buy a drink the young ladies refused to sell him one, saying they had no way to take his money. Nor did they offer to give him one even though the cooler was still half full of sodas and energy drinks. The next morning the cooler was still sitting there half full. Not a rider-friendly experience. Here was a clearly exhausted, dehydrated rider with no courtesy extended at all. The only offered option: call Dominoes, they’ll deliver a pizza.

How about good points? 

-the SAG support run by independent contractor KATY Bike Rental was excellent. It was difficult getting through to the BAM organizers, but once I got the email address and phone numbers for KBR I had no difficulty arranging for shuttle transportation for me, my recumbent trike and my gear from Cuba, Missouri, to Joplin. And from Rolla back to my Jeep at Cuba.

When I shredded a tire at mile marker 63 on day one, due to a Missouri pothole, they picked me up within forty-five minutes even though they were busy shuttling e-bike riders whose batteries had died and riders exhausted by the heat. Kudos to KATY Bike Rental shuttle.

-the mechanic support was terrific. The Missouri pothole shredded tire and tube were beyond repair. The mobile bike repair replaced the tire with a brand-new Continental Gatorskin and tube FREE OF CHARGE! He even gave me a spare tube at no charge. All with a smile. So a big shout out to A & B cycle shop of Springfield, Missouri, who provided mechanic support.

Even here though I must fault the BAM organization. The mechanic wasn’t at the evening campsite. When I checked with the tour director, he told me that he’d be there in the morning. I asked him to call the mechanic to make sure he would in fact be there, because if he wasn’t I couldn’t ride. The tour director did so and only after my prodding did he tell the mechanic what my mechanical issue was and what tire size I needed. Clearly information the mechanic would need as he couldn’t be expected to carry an entire selection of tires and tubes on his van. The tour director seemed disengaged or perhaps overwhelmed that evening and through much of the ride. 

-The shower service, run by Pork Belly Ventures, was excellent. They were always set up early and each shower was disinfected and cleaned after each and every use. Two minor complaints about the shower service: 1. It shut down too early, at 7 or 7:30 pm each day and 2. The towels were pretty skimpy. The staff were polite and attentive and one asked me near the end of my ride how their service was, as they wanted to make sure customers were satisfied.

-the jersey is really cool looking, with its red, white and blue color scheme and a big Missouri Route 66 logo. The price at $75 is pretty standard for a ride of this type.

-the Southwest Missouri drivers were very considerate with few exceptions. I live on the on the Illinois side of the St. Louis metro area, and frequently curse careless, speeding Missouri-plated drivers, so the courtesy of the rural Missouri drivers was unexpected and appreciated.

-the number of riders, at 170 or so, wasn’t overly large.

-great scenery and the roads were largely in pretty good shape, excepting the tire-shredding pothole I managed to find.

-the mystique of riding old Highway 66.

In addition to BAM, I’ve ridden multi-day bike tours run by state-wide bike groups in Illinois, North Carolina, Louisiana and Florida. In comparison to those rides, I found Missouri to be lacking in terms of organization and information to the riders. The course was poorly designed and lacked rides of varying length. It was of poor value compared to the others. However, it did offer good scenery, decent roads (especially compared to Louisiana’s which jar your teeth out) and spectacular downhill rides.

Do I recommend the ride? A qualified yes. If you go prepared for the weaknesses in ride organization, it will add greatly to your tour. 

Would I do it again? Probably not. Once is enough for me for this one.  Most of the weaknesses I’ve set out could be overcome with proper notice and planning, but Southwestern Missouri heat and humidity are more likely than not in mid-June and the big rides right out of the gate don’t help. But if you want braggin’ rights that you’ve ridden Old 66 and need the cool jersey, go right ahead, just take warning about the organizational deficiencies and be prepared.

So call me crazy…but I’ve got a really cool bicycling jersey to wear on my next cycling adventure. Oh yeah and one of those neck-wrap cooling thingies to keep me cooled down, while I pedal through the Midwestern summer.

© William L. Enyart,  2022

Reflections from the River
Audio production by Tom Calhoun,