We awakened early and enjoyed the breakfast du jour of ABC granola with yogurt and French press coffee. TK proclaimed that this granola must be crack-infused because it is addictively delicious. I concur. After breaking down camp, we were ready to hit the road by about 8:00 a.m. This became our target time for departure during the rest of the journey because it allowed ample time to sleep and made sense for being able to leverage the early morning daylight to make things easier to see when packing up the vessel.
Soon after our departure, we realized that we had not yet named the Explorer. We toyed with various famed explorers in history, but ultimately settled on Queen Anne’s Revenge, the vessel commanded by the notorious Edward Teach, a.k.a. Blackbeard the Pirate. The exact reasons for this selection were not recorded in the Captain’s log, however it gave me the perfect opportunity to use my outrageous and well-honed pirate accent at every opportunity. It also afforded me the chance to regale TK with the story of the infamous pirate party that was held in my backyard in Charlottesville in the early 90s that, to this day, continues to be the benchmark for themed parties by all who were in attendance.
Lest there be any doubt remaining about my piratical tendencies, may I present to you the “Pirate in a Previous Life Award” that was once bestowed upon me by my peers. Such a high quality trophy should be all the evidence one needs to prove that my pirate credentials are bona fide!
The first side trip planned for the day was to venture into St. Louis and pay a visit to the Gateway Arch, the iconic symbol of westward expansion after the Louisiana Purchase by Thomas Jefferson. Due to a great deal of construction in the park around the monument, and in the interest of time, we elected to not get out of the car, but to do a “pass by” to provide an opportunity to capture the requisite photo and then get quickly back on the interstate. For miles & miles along the Missouri interstate near St. Louis, we repeatedly spied, and were constantly amused by, a billboard for a personal injury law firm by the name of Brown & Brown that featured one of the lawyers wearing a pirate eye patch. Oh my God, you can’t make this shit up. Alas, shortly after leaving St. Louis, in Williamsburg, MO, we suddenly heard a loud roar and a furious flapping sound coming from the car rooftop carrier. I glanced in the rear mirror to see if there was anyone immediately behind us when, all of a sudden, one of the bright blue ground cover tarps that had been neatly folded up and stowed in the carrier, was ripped out, still folded into a perfect square, and landed in the middle of the highway behind us. We quickly realized that it would be highly dangerous, and most likely impossible, to retrieve the tarp but we knew that we had to stop immediately and secure the carrier before we lost any more of our precious gear. Unfortunately, pulling over was not an easy task because there was very little shoulder and a steep drop off into a ditch. Moreover, the Queen Anne’s Revenge is not a small vessel to be trifled with. With much trepidation, I edged the vessel as close as I felt comfortable to the side of the road and TK clambered up one side to inspect the situation. It was determined that the root of the problem was that, upon packing that morning, I had neglected to use the padlock to secure the two zippers where they met on the carrier seam allowing the highway wind to unzip the carrier and the tarp to escape. Thinking the problem was now solved, we continued on our way but I immediately noticed that something was still wrong because the aerodynamics of the Queen Anne’s Revenge had noticeably changed and I felt as if we were being buffeted more severely by the wind. Within minutes, another more ominous howling sound emanated from the carrier and we immediately took the first exit off the highway to do a more thorough inspection in a safer environs. Lo and behold, the bitter highway gods had more in store for us because the carrier had somehow filled with air like a parachute causing the zipper to pull away from its attachment to the canvas over a length of approximately 20 cm, making it impossible to keep air from entering the void, and thus rendering the carrier susceptible to further damage as well as permeation by the elements in the future. Arrggh…. After weighing a limited number of options, I produced a length of paracord rope that was in my camping gear and we proceeded to encircle the entire carrier with multiple rounds of cord until it was trussed as tightly as a Christmas goose. It proved to be effective, but also a major pain in the neck, because it had to be unsealed each evening upon arrival and resealed each morning before departure.
With the repair made, we continued on to our next destination, Arthur Bryant’s Barbecue in Kansas City, MO. I absolutely adore smoking meats for hours on end over a low fire, and I had been told repeatedly over the years, by people that I trust in such matters, that this was THE place for barbecue. With appropriate skepticism, TK and I both agreed that this claim required verification. We arrived about 4 p.m. and proceeded to the counter to place our orders. TK ordered 1 lb. of pulled pork barbecue and potato salad and I ordered ½ lb. of ribs and baked beans. Because we had Miss Cali with us, rather than eating at Bryant’s, we opted to take the food out and drive 2-3 miles to Boulevard Brewing Company where we found a pleasant dog-friendly outdoor seating area with tables where we could chow down on the barbecue and sample a beer from the tasting room. I selected the Heavy Lifting IPA and TK chose the Midnight black pale ale. We were surprised and disappointed to learn that Boulevard does not fill growlers because one explicit purpose of this stop was to restock our beer larder. Oh well, we still had bottled beer available, as well as the bourbon, and we would simply resolve this problem somewhere down the road. We took our pints out to the patio and began sampling all of the barbecue and the various fixin’s. As heralded, the barbecue was indeed excellent, however not appreciably better than the best we can get back East, including in my own backyard. Nevertheless, we enjoyed it immensely and we ate until we could eat no more and then set off on the next leg of the journey to Waubonsie State Park in Hamburg, Iowa.
The 2 hour drive from Kansas City, MO to Hamburg, IA was pleasant, the only issue being the soporific effect of the barbecue and beer that we had just consumed. The landscape in northeastern Missouri was relatively flat and dotted with large farms.
We arrived at Waubonsie State Park at approximately 7 pm and we were both ready for some relaxation after the stresses of the day, especially the tarp incident. Our campsite was located on a strip of land abutting a forest. As soon as I opened my car door, I was instantly attacked by an enormous swarm of small bugs that nearly blinded me and caused me to choke. I realized that the bugs seemed to be coming from the nearby woods. Adding to the unpleasantness, there was an RV with a generator parked directly across the small road in front of our campsite. I was surprised to see an RV so close to our campsite because I had specifically tried to avoid them when mapping out a site in advance. Glancing around the area, it was obvious that there were plenty of unreserved campsites away from the epicenter of swarming insects and droning generators. I attempted to contact the reservation center by phone to ask about switching campsites but I found that there would be an additional fee involved. Bah Hamburg! Invoking the Spirit of Blackbeard, we surreptitiously relocated to a new site in the center of a large grassy area, away from all of the aforementioned annoyances, and immediately began to set up camp while there was still daylight remaining.TK immediately went off to gather firewood and we soon had a raging bonfire to enjoy. We discussed making dinner but decided that we would simply eat some of the leftover pulled pork, ribs and sides, of which there were plenty, from our earlier stop at Arthur Bryant’s. In time, it seemed odd to not be cooking something over the fire and so TK produced a pound of bacon that he had brought along in the cooler and he began frying up the entire pound in a cast iron skillet. Soon the wonderful aroma of frying bacon was wafting throughout the campsite. Cooked to perfection, with just the right combination of crispness and chewiness, we pretended as if we had not eaten pork in a while and scarfed it down with abandon, saving some for the next day. After dark, the sky was ablaze with stars and we had a clear view of the Milky Way. It always amazes me how incredible the night sky appears when you are away from the light pollution of the city.