June 12, 2010-Stuart Gets Pretty

Kate Murr

The only thing more fun than teaching the kids about Amelia Earhart is watching seven little girls paint Stuart’s toenails.

After visiting Atchison and riding on flat roads with a tailwind, we stopped in a bean field near White Cloud to read a Lewis and Clark Interpretative sign. The farmer, John, stopped his four-wheeler to learn our story and ended up inviting us to stay in his hunting lodge or at his house or in his RV or with his parents if we needed a place for the night. Generally, we Murrs have problems making decisions, and with so many fantastic options on the table, I must admit it took a while before we formulated a plan. Back and forth is exhausting! But when we learned John and Dana (who arrived in the field to touch base with John before heading to a softball game) had five little girls under 12, we decided to at least stay at their house dinner. Jane was ecstatic.

Dana took us across the street to her home, clearly the domain of creative young ladies. She instructed me to take a bath in her gargantuan tub, and for us to hang tight until she brought back her daughters and pizza. We followed instructions, and while Dana was at the game, she was asked repeatedly why she let strange people on bicycles stay in her home. One of her friends postulated that we might have a van following us and we might make off with tons of loot. I’m glad Dana thought those ideas were silly, because I was able to enjoy a really, really nice bath.

The toenail incident happened after dinner: Stuart reports that resistance was futile. In all, roughly 100 toes were painted in blues, oranges, and pinks. We were all so pretty.

John introduced us to his mother and Big John and we spent the night in their basement Ritz Carlton, which was comfortable, spacious, and welcoming.

We made a huge breakfast (40 eggs!) with various cousins and nephews and played together in the yard in the rain the next morning. Everyone worried about the newly planted bean crop because the river was supposed to crest at 29 feet in two days. This would mean the loss of a the second planting of the summer in the lower fields of the extensive family farm.

Later, Big John drove us down the road to check on flooding and deliver us to our next campsite, beyond a missing bridge and swollen riverbank. We thanked big John for his hospitality and he responded with a story about a time he hadn’t been so hospitable to strangers. With regret he matter-of-factly reminisced about three boys he had encountered on the road when his own children were small. He took them to town and bought them icecream to learn that they had been kicked out of their home and told not to return. The youngest boy was just 14 and Big John didn’t believe the story. So he found out the name of the parents, gave them a call, and was forcefully told to neither meddle nor return the boys. He wanted to put them up for the night, make sure they had a good meal, but his dad told him he shouldn’t with his own young children around so he called the police. Big John found out the authorities had dropped the boys across the county line and he didn’t hear what happened to them after that. He has always wondered. He was proud of his son for taking us in, and happy to see us safely on our way.

At Indian Cave campground we explored and biked without our gear around the park like normal families. We felt fast and free, and made a veggie stew for dinner. It stormed that night, and snug in our tent between dreams I caught glimpses of centipedes backlit by lightening.

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