I spent two years in Joseph, Oregon after closing my last store trying to figure out what to do next. In frustration, I finally gave up, put my belongings in storage, got into my truck and just started driving. All I knew was that I wanted to go east. I had equipped the truck with a raised bed for storage underneath. I carried dishes, pot and pans, a single burner stove, and miscellaneous items. Above, I had a sleeping bag over a futon, along with extra blankets, food, and four gallons of water.
My goal was to cross the country on the blue highways. I wanted to avoid the Interstates, though this proved to be very difficult in the mountainous West. I just drove until I found a place to sleep; sometimes I figured this out ahead of time, sometimes not. The whole point of this trip was to experience freedom. I had no agenda, no obligations, no commitments, and I didn’t always know what day it was.
Once I hit the backroads (blue highways), I would venture off to right or left to see something of interest. I ended up spending three weeks in Western Kansas because I found so many interesting and wacky things to see. I visited the world’s largest ball of twine, the contiguous geographical center of the lower 48 states with its chapel seating 6 people, and the gallery of They Also Ran (lost Presidential bids). I happened upon some guy’s fence covered with hubcaps for as far as the eye could see, and another guy’s recreation of the Garden of Eden. There is also the Boyer museum of animated carvings. I feel that Kansas gets a bad rap. There is just so much that demanded my attention.
Venturing out of Kansas, I stopped at the Martin and Osa Johnson Safari Museum. This adventurous couple has documented their travels in Africa, Borneo, and the South Seas. I used to carry their book in my bookstores, so I was not disappointed to see their museum. I made a quick tour through the lake country of Northeast Oklahoma and then went to Branson, Missouri.
The Branson claim to fame is its music venues lining the main street. Everything from Dolly Parton’s restaurant to big band nightclubs brings tourists from all over the country (world?). The traffic was bumper to bumper, so it was slow going through town. Not enjoying crowds, I decided to just keep going. I got into Arkansas and took a side trip to visit some attraction (I now forget what it was). I had to park on a hillside, facing up the hill. When I decided to leave, my car would not move up the hill. I had lost my clutch. I had to wait to be towed to Mountain Home, a North Arkansas town at some distance from me. Of course, this was on a Saturday, and I couldn’t get my truck looked at until Monday. Fortunately, the garage was next to a Holiday Inn motel, where I ended up having to stay until Wednesday. Travel has its unexpected adventures.
I headed north to the Ozarks of Southern Missouri, an area of the country I was looking forward to visiting. I drove into the little town of Gainesville, picked up a newspaper, and immediately rented a duplex, with the agreement that I would stay there for 9 weeks. Having filled my gas tank daily for over a month, I needed some non-travel time to catch up with my credit card bills. Gainesville turned out to be a totally non-exciting town, so I took little day trips around the Ozarks. This small mountainous area is very beautiful, filled with circuitous narrow roads leading to off-the-beaten-track villages.
It was now time to push on, so I crossed the bottom of Missouri, seeing more of the Ozarks. I’m now about half-way to the East Coast with still more to see along the way. Follow along to see the large statue of a character you know well.
[This Kansas portion can be seen at: www.clippings.me/warren-r-johnson]