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Welcome to The Midwest
May 13th - May 23rd, 1999

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Moo?

(I didn't take this pic.  Thanks to Chris in St. Louis for providing it!)

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Good to GO!

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Jim working to prevent further damage

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Slap those Conga's Jim!

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Picnic in St. Louis w/Robin and friends

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Grant's Farm

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The obligatory stop in St. Louis!

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Chubb Trail outside of St. Louis

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Hercules Glade

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Hercules Glade

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Driving in Missouri

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Driving on Arkansas State Hwy 123

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Pedestal Rock

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View from Pedestal Rock Hike

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Arch on Pedestal Rock Hike

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Hot Spring Cascade

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The other Hot Springs

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On the road again! See ya in Colorado!

What's New

I've made one interesting addition to the rig which has made living in the rig much more pleasurable.  These are the simple, but extremely effective, wind deflectors over the windows.  These Ventshade brand Ventvisor deflectors allow me to leave the windows down in horrible weather and still get great ventilation through the vehicle.  Not only that, but they block sun, reduce glare, and allow me to drive with the windows down without the need for a hearing test afterwards.

And now for some BIG news...  I've made offers to my friends about joining me on my excursion for a period of time.  Well, check the picture on the left and you might notice an extra bike on top of my vehicle.  That bike belongs to my friend Cathy who will be joining me on the trip about a month from the start of the trip (June 17).  We should be travelling for the rest of the trip together.

Update

May 12th - In a blind fury, I loaded my car and hit the road by 4pm to head for Nashville.  However, by packing so quickly, I royally screwed myself by forgetting a number of items including my bicycle pump, headphones, my slick tires for road cycling, solar shower, and dromedary bag.  Can we say STUPID!?? Oh well.  I'll be picking them up in Boulder at my friend's house.  I had a very short drive... just up to Nashville.  The drive was mainly uneventful.  I arrived at Jim's around 7pm.   Jim and I decided to hit the town that night and check out some of the local music.  

If Nashville has one thing going for it, it's probably the music.  We stopped at one bar and listened to some rockabilly outside the door.  We decided that wasn't really our thing so we moved on to the world famous Station Inn to listen to some bluegrass.  The Station Inn is a really cool little place.  VERY small place, single microphone on stage, and about 4-5 great bluegrass musicians gathered around it for some hoop hollering' music.  The Japanese door man actually got up there and played banjo with them for a bit... and he was amazing.  Yep you read it right... a Japanese banjo player.  I guess bluegrass has appeal to all nationalities.

May 13th - This was definitely a lazy day.  Jim lives right next to Radnor Lake State Natural Area, so we did a beautiful morning hike (no need to drive).   I spent the rest of the day getting my trip itinerary finalized while Jim worked for the day.  We ended the evening with a trip out to a great sushi restaurant.

Jim is a musician/producer.  His forte is in percussion, but it is a melodic style of percussion.  Very unique, but wonderful stuff!  It was fascinating to see him work on some of the music.  He's got some wonderful music and a fantastic album that you can purchase.  Check out his website at www.ancienthand.com for details.  Jim also got hit by the Nashville tornadoes.  You can see "he-man" Jim holding up the tree to prevent further damage.  You might have a long wait there Jim!  The damage was fairly minimal, but his roommate (a world famous bass player) ended up with the short end of the stick.  His room got hit with some water damage.  Thank goodness nothing too valuable got damaged. 

May 14th - I woke up and started thinking about my trip ahead.  I realized that Moab, UT was somewhere on my list.  Moab is quite possibly the mountain biking capital of the world.  I then realized that I had better get my butt into mountain biking (MTB) shape if I was to have any fun at Moab.  It wasn't but a short few weeks ago when me and my buddy Ken went mountain biking in North Georgia.  After a bunch of huffing and puffing and some sloppy riding, Ken and I decided that we would not return to North Georgia until we were both in better MTB shape.  Well Ken, the time has come!  I can't let Moab down!  I hit the Nashville streets with a fury and rode for at least an hour.  Actually, it was a very nice place to bike.

I got back to Jim's place and started to pack.  After I was packed up and watched Jim and his engineer do some recording on an upcoming album.  GREAT STUFF.  After watching for a short while, it was off to St. Louis to visit my long lost friend and ex-roommate from college, Robin.   I lived in St. Louis for four years while attending Washington University

The St. Louis arch symbolizes a gateway... a portal to other realms... most notably, the great Western United States.  However, driving past the arch really symbolized the beginning of this excursion.  I should have driven up on the lawn, right under the arch and snapped a photo!  Even if I did have the gusto to do that, the picture would have looked black because it was too dark. 

St. Louis is a strange town.  Where else in the US can you find a town with a handle attached to it?  Or grocery stores called Schnuck's and department stores called Famous Barr...  If it's a BAR shouldn't it have drinks, and if it's famous shouldn't it have really good drinks?!  Actually, St. Louis isn't that bad.  It's a fairly quiet town (compared to, say, Chicago and many of the East Coast towns).  I find the lack of traffic and ongoing development a nice break from Atlanta.

Oh well...  I arrived at Robin's place around 8:30pm and Robin and I went out to eat at one of my favorite eateries in St. Louis, Ramon's Jalapeno.  I still have yet to figure out why Atlanta hasn't figured out this culinary concept yet!  The style is Southwest, but I like to think of it as Mexican with a southwest flare and a very nice presentation.  They use blue corn, red corn, to make things look interesting and the food is fantastic.  The St. Louis Bread Company stormed Atlanta soon after I moved back (Thank God!), but Atlanta has yet to figure out the southwest thing.  Nava in Buckhead is as close as it gets, but the prices are crazy there!  (In case you can't tell, I like eating out!)

May 15th - Another lazy day.  Robin, Chris (Robin's boyfriend), and I went to a Delta Sigma Pi (coed business frat) Alum Picnic and it rained on us.   When we got back, I beat Robin at a couple of games on her Nintendo 64.  We ended the day with a nice dinner at KC Masterpiece and hung out with some of Chris's friends from school (Washington University) who were still in St. Louis.

May 16th - Robin and I headed off to Grant's Farm (owned by Ulysses S. Grant), only to find that it was mobbed with people. With the nice weather who could blame them!  We opted for the less busy and much smaller Grant's Farm National Historic Site across the way.  We spent about 30 minutes there checking out the plantation lifestyle of Ulysses S. Grant.  Our next and final stop in St. Louis was Ted Drewes.  If you ever go to Saint Louis, Ted Drewes is a must.  The best frozen custard in the US.  Dairy Queen tries to copy them with their Blizzards, but they don't even come close!  After returning to Robin's place and hanging out a little bit with Chris, I thanked them and bid them farewell and headed out west to the Lone Elk County Park. 

Outdoor enthusiasts may mock Missouri as being boring, but I beg to differ.   Some forget that Arkansas is a stone's throw away and both states hold some of the oldest mountains in the US, the Ozarks.  Now back east (or better yet, out west), these little guys, at about 1700 feet in elevation (2700 feet in Arkansas), could hardly qualify as mountains.  However, these mountains are beautiful!  (There is also some fantastic caving in Missouri).  Due to various reasons, my first few pictures in the Missouri mountains didn't come out very well.  My first stop in the Missouri outdoors was the Chubb Trail (out of Lone Elk County Park).

Lone Elk park itself is pretty much a drive through park.  They have buffalo and Elk contained within the park.  Unbeknownst to most of the visitors to Lone Elk, beyond the imprisoned elk, lies one of the most heinous technical mountain biking trails I've ever been on, the Chubb Trail.  This trail is possessed.   Every time I've ridden this trail, something has gone wrong... the problem never occurs with my bike, but with my friends' bikes.  By some miracle, my bike always escapes unscathed, but my friends have had deraileurs snap right off or bend into odd shapes, pedals break, tires slashed, you name it!  It's rocky/hilly for half and muddy and flat for half.  There are technical hills which would challenge any biker.  I hit the trail around 5:30 and rode for about two hours and did not complete the trail.  I think it is about 7 miles one way.  If you are ever in Missouri, hit it.  It's a gnarly ride.  After trying to bathe in a spigot, and after a near run in with an elk, I was off to the Bell Mountain wilderness.

The Bell Mountain Wilderness lies right next to Belleview, Missouri.   Imagine that!  I spent many a weekend here in my college day.  Bell Mountain itself is beautiful... flat but rocky top with 360 degree views and very few people.  I drove in and found a pull off and parked for the night.

May 17th - The next day, I headed out to the Lindsay Mountain trailhead.   I had yet to hike this trail in the Bell Mountain wilderness and I am always up for something different.  Little did I know what lay ahead!  This was kind of a disastrous hike.  First of all, I lost the trail.  Fortunately, by that point, I was at the foot of Lindsay mountain and could simply find the highest point.   Second, although advertised in the brochure, there were no views from the top of Lindsay.  Third, I couldn't find the trail on the hike back.  Finally, it started to rain!  As weather worn as the Missouri mountains are, I'm lucky there was enough relief in the terrain to help me find my way via the topo map.  I eventually found the trail as God started to bawl, and I RAN all the way back to my car.  As I like to say, "incompetence leads to adventure!!"  When I got to my car, I took advantage of the rain storm.  I actually soaped up right there and took a quickie shower!  Ah, nature is great!

May 18th - Off to Hercules Glade.  Backpacker Magazine has a section called Weekend Wilderness which recommends weekend hikes.  I've followed their advice a few times and generally haven't been disappointed.  Hercules Glade Wilderness was no exception.   As I drove into the hills near Hercules Glade, I knew I was in for something special so I decided to do a one night, ten mile backpack there.

I headed down the trail into the valley below with a backpack on my back.   Everything seemed like a typical Midwestern forest until I hit one of the glades.   Absolutely beautiful...  the tall grasses, wildflowers, and wonderful views make you feel like you are in an alpine meadow far from the Midwest!  The glades create a really strange, yet beautiful ecosystem.  Through the glades, you have desert-like flora and fauna, including prickly pear cactus and tons of lizards.  I hit Long Creek at the bottom of the "mountain," found all of the trails I needed to orient myself.  Then I went in search of the 12 foot waterfall backpacker magazine had talked about.  No such luck.  The 12 foot waterfall was no where to be found.  Cascade, perhaps... but no falls. Finally, I found a beautiful campsite for the night right near the creek.  After skinny dip and dinner I was ready for bed.

May 19th - I awoke to another perfect day and hiked out of the valley into some of the wonderful glades and back up to the car to complete the loop.  Then it was off to Branson, Missouri. 

Branson is the home to a couple of country music retirees and has been called the "Nashville of the MidWest".  I decided to drive through to see exactly how cheesy the town was. A few minutes in the town was all I needed to determine the cheeze factor.  Actually it wasn't that bad, but not exactly fun for a nature lovin' freak like me, so it was off to the Arkansas Ozarks. 

I was pleasantly surprised by the mountains in Arkansas.  They were both stunning and fairly impressive in size.  I was not expecting to find mountains this big in Arkansas.  Although they only rise to about 2700 feet above sea level, they must be fairly large base-to-summit.  As I was driving through, my route took me down Arkansas State "Highway" 123.  This "highway" actually turned to DIRT a few miles in!  I actually got stopped by the construction crew.  They were putting in a drainage pipe and were placing layers of dirt down over it to level the road.  After a layer was set down, they let me through.  About 10 miles later, I found a free campsite in the National Forest at the Fairview Recreation Area (which I had all to myself that night).

May 20th - I awoke just as the sun was rising and was soon off to the Pedestal Rocks scenic area in the Ozark.  I hit the 2.5 mile loop trail and was rewarded some incredible views of the Arkansas Ozark Mountain range as well as some interesting rock formations.

Finally it was off to Hot Springs National Park.  I thought this place was going to be something spectacular, but I was sorely disappointed.  It turns out that Hot Springs National Park is really nothing more than a city with a small National Park... actually the smallest National Park in the entire system.  As you can see from the pictures, only one of the springs was uncovered and made to look natural by the park service.  All other springs were capped and pumped into various bath houses in the town of Hot Springs.  After doing a couple of short hikes in the mountains, I was reminded of the Chatahoochee National Recreation Area in Atlanta.  In both areas, the views you had were quite nice, but included views of various buildings in the city.   It must be fantastic for the residents of Hot Springs, but fairly unimpressive for the travelling me.  My emotions were getting to me at this point... seeing little to stir the soul, and having little to do in the town was bringing me down.  But, I'm a man of action and I decided... "When in Rome... do as the Romans."  "When in Hot Springs, take a bath!"

I dropped 20 bucks for a pampering dip in the Hot Springs water.  This was something I had sorely needed at the time.  It was about a 1.5 hour long affair.   I baked for an hour in various forms of torture, starting with a pleasurable 20 minute hot bath in mineral water from the springs, then a VERY hot steam room for 3-5 minutes, and then I baked in towels for about 30 minutes sweating my brains out... (I lost 6 pounds in water).  Finally, it ended with a shower and a cool off.  By the end, I nearly fainted. Shouldn't have eaten chips and salsa before going in.  Big mistake.  But I should have done something like this (sauna/steam room) before I even started the trip.  Good to cleanse the system a bit.  I really needed it.   I ended by camping in the Hickory Nut Recreation Area in the Ouachita National Forest.  Again, had it all to my self.

May 21st - Lots of driving ahead.  I wanted to be in Colorado Springs in two days.  I calculated that I had 18 hours of driving left and I still had one more stop I wanted to make: Oklahoma and  the Beaver Bend Resort State Park.  It was a pretty nice place, but I didn't have too much time to spend there.  I did get a quick hike in with some nice views of the river below.   I hit the road after a shower, and drove all day.  Spent night in Kansas Truck Stop off of I-70.

May 22nd - Truck stops are great places to sleep for the night.   First of all, they are fairly safe (compared to rest areas)... especially if you pick a busy one.  Second of all, many have CHEAP and clean $3 showers!  What a bargain!  After a shower, I was off to Colorado.  I don't feel like I missed much in Kansas and northern Oklahoma.  It seems like both areas consisted of one big endless farm field with the exception of OK City and Wichita.  Although the prairies were nice, I was quite content to see it by car.

Reading and Listening

  • The Way of the Peaceful Warrior on tape read by the author, Dan Millman.  A fantastic book if you are into self-help or spirituality.  I plan on listening to it again at some point on the trip.  Thanks mom for the tapes!  And thanks Dan Millman for the inspiration.  After hearing this story, I was inspired to improve my diet on the trip... and try to enjoy the moment... live in the present as much as possible.
  • Dances With Wolves Soundtrack while driving the prairies of Kansas.
  • Shiek Yerbouti by Frank Zappa.  I laughed out loud listening to this.  With lyrics like "ram it up your poop shoot" and "I can handle an hour on the tower of power, just as long as I gets my golden shower" you know you are in for some entertainment!  Sick, yes, but incredibly funny!  Too bad he's gone now.  This is one concert I really wish I had the opportunity to see in the flesh.  Thanks letting me borrow the CD Jim!

Coming Next...

Colorado (mostly West and South of Denver)

My E-Mail address is: andrew(at)koransky.com

Copyright (C) 1996-2008 Andrew Koransky

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