Riding the Roller Coaster

by John de Figueiredo

Ash Grove, MO to Hartville, MO

76 miles

Within 30 min of our early morning departure from Ash Grove, the rested and refreshed crew encountered both much cooler temperatures (in the 80s) and the Ozarks of Missouri. 

 

 This speed profile from the day's ride illustrates the roller coaster nature of the Ozarks

This speed profile from the day's ride illustrates the roller coaster nature of the Ozarks

What are the Ozarks?  To some cyclists they are mountains. To other cyclists they are big hills.  To all cyclists they are very steep, with grades of 7% to 15%. In fact, the Ozarks are not mountains but a dissected plateau.  A dissected plateau is a plateau area that has been severely eroded so that the relief is sharp, but lack folding, metamorphism, extensive faulting, or magmatic activity that accompanies mountain creation (thanks Mr. Broz for that!). What really matters is that they are slow and hard going up and fast and fun coming down. The grades are steeper, shorter, and much more frequent than the Rockies.


Cyclists debate whether the Rockies or Ozarks are more difficult. The crew unanimously voted the Ozarks are harder.  Our total daily climbs meet or exceed the elevation gains of the climbs in the Rockies. Nevertheless, the four weeks of riding in the Rockies at altitude has paid off for the Crew now.  They have a "Bring it On" attitude. 

 

 Dinner and a shower at the Yakety Yak.  

Dinner and a shower at the Yakety Yak.  

Our day took us from Ash Grove, around Springfield, MO, through Fair Grove and Marshfield to Hartville, MO.  We camped in the Hartville city park with minimal facilities.  At dinner at the Yakety-yak, we met Terry and Wanda.  When they heard there were no sinks or showers at the park, they kindly opened a vacant apartment Wanda owned to let us shower and clean up.  Yet another act of kindness that has become so common, yet so appreciated, on this trip. 


And now for the special, and last, crew profile...

 

 Ed Billings

Ed Billings

Ed is the only adult leader on the trip accompanying the Scouts for the full 66 days. (Dean Broz was planning to lead the trip but had to withdraw 10 days before departure because his wife was diagnosed with brain cancer.). The other leaders who accompany the boys, including myself, drop in for a couple of weeks. 


Traveling with Ed for the past two weeks had been an educational experience for me.  There are so many laudatory descriptors that could be used to describe Ed.  If I had to find one, though, it is selfless mentor--selfless mentor to the boys, selfless mentor to me.  Ed is not just a leader, but he is also more than a friend. He has the dedication and wherewithal to have seven teenage boys follow him across the country while at the same time teaching them so many different skills:  how to ride safely, how to be responsible, how to work in a team, how to interact with people.  Ed is a wizard engaging with the people we have met across America, infecting the them with his optimism, and passing these traits to the boys.  And though Ed is the teacher on the trip he is also just one of the Crew.  As he puts it, "you have to find your inner sixteen year old" in order to understand these boys and succeed. Two weeks with Ed and I understand (a bit too deeply) what his high school years were like!

This said, Ed has gone a bit native.  I think there is no one living the dream more than Ed. He absolutely loves his tent and seems a little disappointed when we find a free, air conditioned building to sleep in when it is 105 degrees outside. He eschews Pete's Coffee but is devoted to his pocket rocket stove which allows him to brew "Nobel prize winning" instant coffee in the morning.  And he sees little need to wash his clothes more than once every couple of weeks; an occasional dip in the river suffices. He wears this torn, dirty, beat-up white jersey and black shorts--bearing a striking resemblance, with his body shape, to the nickname the Crew had given him--"The Penguin." The Penguin is having so much fun, odds are slightly better than even right now that the day after The Penguin arrives in Wilmington, NC, he will turn around and head back to Florence, OR for the return trip!

I can't tell you how many times, while riding, Ed will just turn to me and say, "Isn't this great?"  And the answer is yes--it is great for the boys and great for Ed.  Because without Ed, this trip would not be happening. Thank you, Ed!!!