Days 77-79/ May 14th-16th – Lake St. Louis, MO to New Florence, MO: Misery in Missouri

We chose our walking route across America to follow the great pioneer trails – the Wilderness Road, the Oregon Trail, the California Trail – across the continent to the Pacific.  But these romantic considerations are trumped on day-to-day basis by the need to find places to eat and sleep within roughly a 25-mile radius of one another.  Back east, this wasn’t such a problem, but as we get further west and into less densely populated parts of the country, it often means one thing: interstates.  Our only viable route across Missouri between St. Charles and Columbia took us due west along the service road of I-70 for a hundred largely cheerless miles across the ‘Missouri Rhineland’, a region of gently rolling plains, settled in the 19th century by German immigrants, on the northern edge of the Ozark plateau.

Sally walking beside I-70 in Missouri

The undeniable romance of walking across America

The view was largely unchanging – roaring interstate traffic to our left, open fields of cattle or corn to our right – and so was the weather – steadily soaking and dispiriting drizzle, which stopped just long enough for us to take off our rain gear before starting up again.  The only variation came when we passed an exit, when the service road would bend away slightly to accommodate on- and off-ramps, climb up to the level of the highway bridge, and then return to its accustomed place forty feet from the interstate tarmac.

Beside these exits were a series of little towns, which furnished us with restaurants, motels and minor quirks to relieve the tedium of the arrow-straight interstate.  On the approach to Wentzville, we passed by the Eternal Peace Cemetery, sandwiched between the interstate and a colossal, clanking rail-yard.  The town styled itself rather optimistically as ‘The Crossroads of the Nation’, which seemed a stretch for what was essentially a service station with a few chain restaurants thrown in.  Chuck Berry once lived here, and used to own a few of them, until it emerged that he had a penchant for filming women in the restaurant loos.  We used the facilities as circumspectly as we could, then walked on along the service road.  As we left town, a middle-aged man in a pick-up slowed down and leaned out towards us.

“Hey!  Hey there!  Take a hike!” he squealed, and beat the door of his truck in delight at his clever wordplay as he drove away.  Ah, Wentzville, we hardly knew you.

Empty billboards by interstate

The recession: bad news for billboard owners, good news for elderly actresses

At least in Foristell they had real initiative.  This town of barely 400 people maintained a police force fifteen-strong, and had become infamous locally for its hyper-zealous enforcement of traffic laws along its little stretch of I-70, generating revenue for the town just as surely as a village of Cornish wreckers raiding passing ships.  Fortunately, we were at no risk of being fined, and nearly made money a few miles down the road in Warrenton, when a kindly old lady pulled up alongside us in her jeep.

“Are you kids just out walking?”

“Yes.  We’re walking from coast to coast.”

“Are you really?”  And she impulsively picked up a five-dollar bill that was lying on her passenger seat and thrust it at us.

We politely declined the money (we don’t take anything smaller than fifties) and walked on to Wright City.  We had hoped to visit its most famous cultural attraction, the Elvis is Alive Museum, devoted to the popular delusion that Elvis is still living.  It had been set up by a local minister (presumably with a suspicious mind), but sadly it had recently closed down.

House and grain elevators in Missouri

Jonesburg: 'Cottage for sale: Would suit person with interest in grain'

At Frumpy Joe’s diner in Jonesburg, the waitress heard our accents and asked where we were from.

“Oh my god!  Our cook is from England!”

When the lunch rush ended, Karen from Cambridgeshire came out to say hello.  She had moved to America four years ago, after her husband had died – on his 40th birthday – and had formed a close friendship with a local woman.  Although they had since fallen out, Karen had subsequently married the woman’s brother, a Warrenton farmer, and had made a happy life in this corner of Missouri.  Despite this American success story, though, we were pleased to see that she had stayed sufficiently in touch with her British roots to enjoy a good moan – today at the expense of the American immigration service.

“I’m missin’ ‘ome.  I ‘ant been ‘ome for five years.  I’m fighting my arse off to get ‘ome for a week.  Mum’s sick, my puppy’s sick.  My original passport, which has got three years left, they’re saying you can’t get another one until it expires.  Well, hello, I’ve changed my name, so we’re going through all the red tape, and all that crap.  It’s doin’ my ‘ead in.”

As we left the diner, she left us with a quintessentially Anglo-American parting shot.

“Did you see the forecast?  Bloody awful, all week.  Rain, rain and more rain.  Wouldn’t want to be out in it meself.  Good luck, take care, be safe.”

Frumpy Joe's diner in Jonesburg, Missouri

Frumpy Joe's Diner in Jonesburg: Old-fashioned British home cooking

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3 Responses to “Days 77-79/ May 14th-16th – Lake St. Louis, MO to New Florence, MO: Misery in Missouri”

  1. Nigel Says:

    You. Are. Both. Totally. Bonkers.

    And if you’re not now, you soon will be walking all day long along arrow-straight interstates in the rain.

    What about getting a tent? That at least frees you from the constraint of having to find accommodation every night? Still need to find food stops every 4 or 5 days, but way, way more flexible.

  2. Nigel Says:

    PS – but keep up the blogging. I particularly appreciate the photos and dry annotations.

  3. Jackie Says:

    It’s been too long between posts and my friends and I are worried about you! It must be very, very difficult slogging along interstates in the rain and if it weren’t for the marvelous stories you have to tell, certainly not worth it. Best wishes for better days ahead!

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