Missouri

Text: Chris Myers • Photography: Chris Myers

I'm 38 years old and I've only been west of the Mississippi River by air. Today, that all changes. As the miles tick down to Cape Girardeau, Missouri, the anticipation is beginning to grow. If I'm going to tour Missouri, I have to complete a pilgrimage. I have to cross a watercourse of such great physical and metaphorical power that its mere existence has inspired millions - and me - to wander free.

Let the Journey Begin
A slew of passages from Mark Twain had a lot to do with that. And just as one of my childhood heroes, Huck Finn, set off on a raft to find adventure along the Mississippi, I too am set to begin a journey on its banks. My sturdier "raft" is a Kawasaki Concours, and the currents to draw me along are the twists and turns of Missouri back roads. Morning comes and the time arrives.

Awaking to a bright, beautiful day, the weather uncharacteristically cool, I shove my "raft" from the riverbank. The tides of Cape Girardeau's rush hour quickly take me, but providentially I am flying against the flow and heading west out of town. Soon the traffic fades and I find myself unfettered in peaceful countryside.

This region of Missouri seems to go from cityscape to country space in no time. In a matter of minutes, vehicles vanish in droves and the roads are all but vacant. The sure-footed and reliable Concours is a nice choice for this trip. The roads are smooth and clean with the grass growing right up to the pavement's edge. There are curves, but they are mostly of the sweeping variety. It's easy to build up a good head of steam here, so be careful.

Right off the bat, there's something I'm not used to, lettered route names. Route ZZ to Route F to Route U seems odd to someone used to the more traditional numbered system. Nonetheless, these are some of the best-marked roads I have ever seen. Most of the lettered routes are the secondary roads. If you like solitude, shoot for these. The lettered roads off of Route 34 are so barren they begin to take on a sort of eeriness reminiscent of a Stephen King story. Honestly, I went for 20- and 30-minute stretches without coming upon a car in either direction. While the desolation of the surroundings may seem creepy, the people certainly aren't. Practically every time I stopped to take photos, the drivers who came along were concerned that I was alone and checked to make sure I was okay.

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For the complete touring article, including facts & information, map(s), and GPS files, please purchase the November/December 2004 back issue.