I was all bundled up in my teddy bear pants. I was if anything a bit too warm. The overnight low was close to sixty. I slept outside of my bag. And woke up early and packed up quick. I did not climb down to the road. I sat on my pack to stare at the trees. That's when it started to rain.
Not a real downpour, just a drop here and there. I figured I'd walk between them. And so I did, to Leadwood, Missouri, a mile or two up the road. To the Owl Creek Grill, a cafe/saloon. I had a hearty breakfast. I wasn't so hungry but if it were going to rain I thought it might do me some good.
I sat there for hours, recharging and checking my little computer. It was sure it was not going to rain today. That's never a very good sign.
It was raining harder when I left, now on Old Highway 8. Which runs parallel to its new incarnation but includes a lot more hills. But I didn't much mind. It is pretty here despite my whining complaints. And the few dogs I met were smallish and kind. I still had some hope for the day. There was a sliver of blue sky up ahead. Behind me it was closing in grey.
A minimal effort brought me to Park Hills. They got the Hills part right. Up, up, up and into town. I counted cigarette butts. There were maybe twenty of them for every step I took, uphill and with a heavy pack. On sore legs and with blisters forming. I was not taking very long strides. I don't know if it's because they smoke more here, or if they're just more likely to throw their cigarettes out the window. It was in either case an impressive display. It went on like that for miles. Thinning a bit at the center of town but thickening right up again.
Park Hills has a few thousand people. It looks like a pretty old town. It was, I believe, once known as Flat River, which I think is the better name. Tougher somehow. Moreso of the frontier. "Park Hills" is just sort of bland. It sounds like another subdivision on the edge of some flavorless suburb.
I didn't get to know the place. I was there maybe an hour. Sipping soda pop under the shelter that serves as their farmers' market. They had there some electricity. I needed to check my maps. Looking back it was not too complicated, but it caused me some stress at the time. There are here several towns running together. My road was a little confused. And I'm still not wholly sure of my route. Nor will I ever be.
Park Hills faded into Leadington. I put on my red raincoat. Against the cold more than anything. It soon after started to pour. I stopped to put a cover on my backpack. The cover of course is yellow. In the rain I look like Ronald McDonald's less successful brother. The one living on the streets.
I galoshed my way to a KFC on the very edge of town. I was fairly hungry by now and eager to get out of the rain. I signed on for their lunch buffet. I don't like buffets as a rule. They put me in the mind of old folks' homes and maximum security prisons. But I was certain I could massacre the thing, and thereby teach them a lesson. You're a fool to advertise all-you-can-eat when James Harry Pierce is in town.
I failed. I ate quite a bit, but I was by no means the champion. There were women and old men eating more than me. We are a hungry people. I only had one piece of chicken. I don't like bones in my meat. I made a good dent in their marshed potaters, but they're not a big-ticket item.
I had too nine servings of bananner pudding, which is Nature's perfect food. In the future when I'm really rich I'm not going to eat anything but bananner pudding. But I'm not sure I'll be eating it out of stainless steel tubs.
I stayed long after I stopped eating. I had hoped that the rain would cease. But it didn't, of course; it only rained harder. I climbed back on the road. On the way out the door I met a man who had seen me on the other side of Potosi. And was glad for his encouragement. It means a lot on days like today.
I walked on to Farmington on a back road. I was attacked by Dobermans. Who, as has happened before, got into an argument over which one got to bite me first and wound up turning on each other. Boys, boys, when will you learn? There is plenty of me to chew on.
Farmington is a big city, or so I guess. It was dark when I got there. Mid-afternoon but dark, dark. It was just pissing down. And my road expanded to five or six lanes. Traffic got very heavy. It was kicking up a godawful spray. A lesser man would have pitied himself.
I retired to an Arby's to dry a bit. I sipped a soda to be polite. Every fast-food chain was represented. I chose Arby's on purpose. I wanted to sit there undisturbed. I've never seen customers there. And yet they go on and on in business. They are probably laundering money.
A look at my map brought me bad news, not horrible but it made me sad. I had missed my turn south to Knob Lick, Missouri. I'd been hoping to buy T-shirts there. Or pennants or shot glasses or snow globes or hats. Anything with "Knob Lick" on it. It appeals to the dirty limmerick writer in me. I think they'd have made lovely gifts.
It's probably better that I missed it. I'd be sniggering like Buffcoat and Beaver.
The weather south of town was worse. My shoulder disappeared. I was getting just a little discouraged and was ready to put up my tent. But there was no place for it, just a lot of small houses and here and there a ranchette. So I walked and suffered and shivered a bit and muttered under my breath. Dodging cars and turning down rides and wondering what brought me to this.
I was all but ready to start knocking on doors. At length I came to a farm. With people out front, good Christians all. I could tell by their bumper sticker.
They refused me.
One can't help but wonder, What Would Jesus Do? Would Jesus begrudge me a spot for my tent? Jesus would make me cocoa. And offer kind words and sound advice. He might admonish me some. But He'd do it with love and not before He had seen to preserving my health.
Or so I imagine.
You know, I've seen something of the world. I've been around it twice. Which is more than Magellan could brag about. I've noted a few things. You know who the most consistently and unflinchingly hospitable people are? Muslims. If anyone's keeping score.
Magellan was a Christian too. He was killed in the Philippines. He had hoped to convert a local chief with the aid of crossbows and muskets. The local chief wasn't having it. He was not a religious man.
I am camped another mile up the road, beside an electrified fence. Across a gully and up a bank. I don't know if it's a good spot. And won't until daylight. We'll see, we'll see. I do know I've got to be careful. One misplaced tent pole and I am going to fry.
It is still raining, hard, hard. It is wet inside my tent. But wetter outside. That's some consolation. I hope it will be dryer come the dawn. I cannot stay here all day. I'm low on water. I need to beg more. I hope there are Muslims nearby.
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