High Rolla (USA Day 41)

It hurt, but we woke at five. The post office was 42 lumpy miles away, and closed at lunchtime. I don’t like deadlines.

Our trophy

Our trophy

So, we broke camp, loaded up the bikes and pushed off, stopping to drink a bourbon while eating a bourbon in Bourbon (thanks, Katie and Dan) but little else, really. The towns clunked by, each on its own hill of misery, and when we headed away from the main road the landscape got prettier but the slopes got steeper.

Despite all this, we made it into Rolla a good hour before the post office closed and picked up our package: a mattress to replace my leaking one and a little speaker for music on the quiet roads. Thanks, Judy! The little connection with home brought the sun out, smiles to our faces, and a hunger to our bellies, so we slid into a donut shop to reward our morning’s efforts.

Hard as it was to leave, we did so, avoiding main roads in the meltworthy heat and exploring Fort Leonard Wood, a leafy forest reserve thick with creeks, mountains, quiet roads and the buzzing of cicadas. Most fields here are planted with ‘pollinator crop’, a mixture of wildflower seeds that do great for the environment and provide the farmer with a decent payout from the government. I like that, even if some farmers might do it for the wrong reason.

Things that tell you you’re in a trucker stop #1: too much beef jerky

Things that tell you you’re in a trucker stop #1: too much beef jerky

The climbs were long, winding and excellent. Our baker overlords had given us four free donuts as a parting gift (this happens quite a lot. If you’re cycling across a country, or even if you aren’t, make sure to tell people), and all these things in combination made for a particularly pleasant afternoon. By the time we’d arrived in St Robert, the tough preceding day-and-a-half had been totally worth it. And this is so often the way: you work hard, you navigate the tough bits, and the rewards are all the sweeter for it.

We met our host outside a truck stop, jumped in his van and arrived at the most beautiful rural house, with steaks sizzling on the grill, an enormous and cuddly wolfhound and a perfect shower. We caught our first sight of hummingbirds, chirping and buzzing, hovering by the nectar feeders with perfect control and a blur of wings. Beneath them, fireflies rose in flaming bursts, and we felt ourselves relax more deeply than we’ve managed for days.

The last two days have measured 150 miles, with just over 7000 feet of climbing, but we dispatched them like the rest. What a feeling.