Missouri And Back, Or Bust

One of many trip reports by Alan Silverstein.
Last update: March 26, 2008



This week was strange and unexpected, sufficiently so that therein lies a tale...

First some background: I continued to be unemployed (since the previous August) and I was "networking" for future income opportunities. In September I drove to central Missouri and back to visit my daughter Megan, now age 19 and a sophomore, for Stephens College Family Weekend. On the way home I detoured northeast to the Keokuk area of northeast Missouri, where I collected a lot of nice small crystal-lined geodes at a temporary location: Fresh roadcuts into limestone and shale layers along highway widening. (The Avenue of the Saints project on US highway 61.)

After opening all these geodes last fall, I hankered to go collect more. I considered doing so in the second week of December, but talked myself out of the 800-mile drive each way, and Megan was too busy to have me visit anyway. Be careful what you wish for though...

Later, Megan drove her car home to Colorado for her month-long holiday break.

Sunday, January 12 -- Unexpected Departure

Megan needed to leave this morning to return to school. The dorms opened Monday and classes resumed Tuesday. Unfortunately she was rather ill with a bad cold or something, too out of it to pack up or drive safely.

In the morning I spent 2-3 hours helping her to prepare her car and to clean and organize her room and cargo. Everything was ready by noon except her state of health. After several more hours of deliberation, my wife Cathie included, and a trial run to the gas station, we concluded that her only choices were to leave later and miss some classes -- starting out the semester in a deep hole -- or to have me drive her back (groan). For a while I'd had cabin fever and daydreamed of a road trip -- but I'd wished for Utah or New Mexico!

So I prepared in haste to leave, and 1.5 hours later at about 5 pm, after a side trip to an ATM, we were on our way. Whoosh! I found myself on the road south to Denver at twilight... Megan in the passenger seat surviving on Robitussin and cough drops; I downed echinacea and zinc hoping to not catch it from her!

After a dinner break at Arby's in Limon, at about 10:30 pm (now Central Time) and an uneventful first 301 miles along, we rented a room for $44 at the Well-Kum Inn at Colby, Kansas -- not bad, and a lot cheaper than the Days Inn next door.

Monday, January 13 -- Across Kansas to Missouri

Up and rolling early, about 7:10, eager to be on our way. Megan felt better, but was still too "fuzzy" to drive. Nice sunrise in our faces. We side-tripped five miles north off I70 to a brief tour of Cathie's mom's abandoned and decaying farmstead northeast of Hays. Later we stopped for a couple of hours in Topeka so Megan could "parallel process" a lot of dirty clothing and a sleeping bag at a laundromat. (I guess college kids take their dirty laundry back to school as well as home from it... Grin.)

After this nice restful break, we continued east with a short snack stop on the turnpike. Traffic was pretty light through the whole drive except from Kansas City east. Both of us being well provisioned by previous hunting and foraging occasions, we forewent a side trip to any of the three Russell Stover chocolate outlet stores along the way, and arrived at Stephens College in Columbia, Missouri at twilight, 5:45 pm. The GPS recorded 11:45 total driving time and 801 "true" miles.

I helped Megan carry a couple of loads from her car to the dorm. Being it was an all-women's school, males were allowed in the dorms, but had to sign in and be escorted between the lobby and the dorm rooms, which presented occasional logistical problems that you can imagine.

We arrived in time for campus food service, except it wasn't offered that evening, so eventually we drove Megan's car to a fast-food Chinese restaurant for a good dinner, then some shopping at Walmart. Back at the dorm, Megan's roommate Katie Champlin had arrived from Tulsa. I got to meet her parents briefly in the parking lot -- briefly because it was quite cold -- but fortunately Katie was there to help us haul in the third and final load of cargo.

So, first mission accomplished. Megan was back at college in time to dig in fast to be ready for classes, and for rescheduling classes, the next day. I slept on the floor of her dorm room for two nights! It was actually pretty comfortable except for the tight quarters.

Tuesday, January 14 -- Keokuk Geode Hunting

Now, no way was I gonna drive all the way back to Missouri without revisiting the geode site mentioned at the start of this tale. The deal with Megan was that I got to borrow her car Tuesday (instead of getting on the bus home that day) while she persevered through her very long first day of classes. I snuck out of the dorm early, and was on the road at 6:40 am -- just barely enough time for the drive of about 120 miles on back roads and highways.

By email and phone I'd arranged to meet Ken Vaisvil of Saint Louis, formerly of Fort Collins and the FC Rockhounds Club, at Palmyra, MO at 8:30 am. He took off work for the day to come up and join me for about his 20th visit to the construction zone. He hadn't been there since Dec 7 due to cold weather, and needed a "geode fix". Ken was very good at the geode business now, he even owned a cracking device, and he sold or traded some of the approximately 4000 geodes he'd collected.

Due to a minor miscommunication we did not connect at Palmyra at 8:30, but we regrouped by cell phones and met up at the south roadcut, about 1.5 miles north of the La Grange exit off US61, at about 9 am. Stepping out of the car, I realized it was cold. I'm not sure in degrees, but the wind chill was probably around 0-10. I already had polypros on, and I quickly added lots more layers. Even so, during the first collecting session our hands were freezing in our gloves!

The ground was hard-frozen despite being relatively dry. Ken arrived, and we spent about 45 minutes exploring the first roadcut. Fortunately he'd brought and loaned me a rock hammer and a bucket. Not expecting much, I'd only carried out a small pry bar, a hand rake, and some plastic bags. Anyway, not many geodes were left there; the construction folks were close to topsoiling and reveg'ing the site. So we warmed up while driving about three miles north to the current busy construction area.

This location was much more productive, and the day turned warmer. We made stops at three different sites, in between which we drove about 30 miles north to Saint Francisville and across the Des Moines River into Iowa and back. There was no recent construction on the project there, so we returned to finish out the day at the active site.

And what a day it was! I brought home over 480 nodules ranging from 1/2" to 3" across, plus a few larger, that might be geodes, and a few open geodes and some tumbling material (hard agate). One favorite memory is late in the day at 5 pm, the sun on the horizon behind us, chipping myriad nodules (some solid, some hollow, no way to tell) right out of the dynamite-softened gray siltstone layer in which they'd formed. One that I accidentally cracked in situ leaked some primordial water from its cavity.

The contrast between the dirty, dusty, gray shaley layer holding the geodes, and their crystal-lined interiors, was astonishing.

It was time to pry myself away from the shale layer. Ken and I drove separately to an excellent Chinese buffet he suggested in Hannibal, MO. After a fine dinner we split up, and I was back in Columbia at 9:05 pm. Megan returned from an evening class, and I took her and Katie out for ice cream.

Wednesday, January 15 -- Clean, Pack, Start for Home

I was up in time to exit the dorm with Megan for her 9 am class. I spent some time in the parking lot cleaning up her car. Next I went to the student center to mail some photos I'd carried from home, but the post office wasn't open for an hour. I found myself at the Dean of Students Office, where I used their phone to do some research. Also I snagged a couple of five gallon buckets from Food Service downstairs. I got my package mailed when the PO opened, then drove away in Megan's car with a long list of tasks I doubted I'd accomplish completely.

It was amazing, in just three hours I managed to... Sort and pack the geodes while waiting an hour in line to get the oil changed on Megan's car; during which event I bought some duct tape and a marker for "shipping" the geode bucket; then I bought and installed a replacement for her long-broken driver inside door handle; filled the gas, dumped the trash, vacuumed and washed her car; reversed the wiper blades so they'd work better; and secured her new battery as the lock-down post was loose. I was back at the Dean's Office by 1:15 with time to spare!

While waiting for Megan to call me back on my cell phone, I washed and gave away dozens of already-open geode halves or fragments to many interested people working in or wandering through the office, and to the Food Service workers downstairs to thank them for the buckets I'd gotten that morning. I parted with almost all of the open pieces, to take home the rest still unopened "on speculation". Then I downed some food and met up with Megan when she wandered through the Commons.

Eventually we found ourselves at the Greyhound bus station at about 3:30 pm, 45 minutes until scheduled departure. I now had two carry-on items plus two checked bags -- a canvas duffel including about 20 pounds of "excess" rocks, and a solidly packed five gallon bucket with the lid taped on that must have weighed 80 pounds. I could just about carry all my cargo in one staggering trip. No problem, I thought -- I put it on the bus in Columbia, switch once in Denver, and I'm home.

It didn't work out exactly like that!

As long as this story already is, there's a whole 'nother saga I'd like to relate, without which I probably wouldn't have written this report. In short, due mostly to an unexpected winter storm, it took 33 hours and five bus boardings (four with cargo) to arrive in Fort Collins! Beyond that, traveling by public bus was quite an experience in itself...

The first thing I noticed was how many people were standing around smoking before the bus arrived, and how many more got off to pollute their lungs as soon as the nearly full bus pulled in from Saint Louis. Oops, I hadn't thought of that. No smoking on the buses, but wouldn't they stink anyway? As it turned out, it wasn't that bad. Also the buses were relatively modern, clean, and functional, except for the toilets...

I bought my ticket ($116) and said goodbye to Megan. The bus left nearly on time. Boarding a bus like this is always tough because you have no choice but to be a jerk and take an empty seat next to someone who'd rather have it open. Well a friendly looking lady, albeit on the large side, made eye contact and gestured me to sit with her, so I did.

She was nice enough that I didn't mind squeezing over to give her more space. It took a while for it to become clear that she was a full-blown schizophrenic, prone to emitting various irrational paranoid statements in between perfectly sane interactions with me. I came to realize that she didn't even think I heard her odd expressions, so it was polite, not rude, to ignore her. Otherwise she was harmless.

In Kansas City a couple of hours later, we had to exit the bus while it was serviced, leaving our checked items aboard. We departed again on time after it had been snowing a while. I managed to arrange to sit with another (skinnier) woman I'd chatted with. After a while she fell asleep, I started to nap, and the snow got thicker outside.

We made it as far as Topeka, about 100 miles west, before holding at the bus station for perhaps an hour. I started to worry about making my connection in Denver so I could be in Fort Collins by 10:45 the next morning for lunch with Jenny Pruett. The driver was indoors getting weather and road reports and dispatcher instructions. Eventually, as some of the passengers were getting nasty, he announced that I70 was closed and we were going back to Kansas City! Great jubilation did not erupt.

We pulled back into KC at about midnight. Now the "fun" really started. I gathered my rocks and stuff, and lugged it to the ticket counter fast before the crowd gathered. At the agent's suggestion, I reticketed for Wichita, nominally going south around the storm. There should be a bus leaving KC for Denver in about eight hours, but that was an uncertain proposition. I noted with dismay the number of transfers now required to Fort Collins, and that I would not arrive until evening.

I hauled back out to the Wichita bus, but there was no one on board. In a bit the driver showed up and told me I should not go with him -- I could not make the Pueblo connection. So I dragged back in to the ticket agent, who said to grab the Omaha (northbound) bus instead: "They'll honor your ticket." Big decisions, too little information, no desire to spend the night at the KC terminal...

Some time later after standing around in the falling snow I was aboard, along with most of the Denver-bound folks, heading north in a blizzard.

Thursday, January 16 -- Life On a Bus

We arrived at Omaha just before 5am. I'd managed to sleep a little. The driver assured us we'd find a bus there waiting to take us west. I had my doubts. The agents in Omaha were masters of saying little or nothing at all, even in response to a direct question. Of course there was no bus.

After an hour, one arrived from Chicago heading for Denver, but an hour or two after that it was clear the bus wasn't going anywhere, apparently due to a frozen windshield washer sprayer -- which they beat on with a broomstick to no avail!

All told, five hours elapsed -- until 10 am -- before a bus and driver arrived to take the now surly crowd away. The day manager had come on duty, and provided a bit more information and a free "breakfast", but it was still a long, tedious wait while other buses and passengers came and went. We were very happy to be on our way.

Two blocks from the Omaha terminal, the driver cursed, reversed, and returned to the terminal to ask what to do about the flat tire! (One of three rear tires on each side.) They told him to head 20 miles west to Sapp Brothers and have it repaired. So we did. And it took... a... very... long... time...

We finally departed again at 1 pm, yes, three hours after "finally" leaving the Omaha terminal. By now I guess we were quietly resigned to our fates. However, the driver was good and durable, and the rest of the trip, although interminably long (still more than 300 miles) went smoothly. We dropped one person at Grand Island and two more exited at Kearny to catch a bus more directly to Cheyenne. I debated this option, but heard it would connect me to Fort Collins later than the Denver route. I stayed on the "express bus."

I gambled on reaching Denver in time, and in fact we rolled in at 8:30 pm (with the time change). By now I was finally, despite my intentions to be cheerful and patient, getting seriously tired of the whole game! I lugged my cargo into the terminal once more. At least the rock bucket made a good, solid seat.

All along the way, I interacted with a lot of interesting people. I tried to be upbeat, even supportive of them, if I could... I had enough reading material that I could have tuned out when not sleeping, but I found the "engagements" more interesting. I also gave away a number of unopened geodes from my duffel bag while at the terminals, even some to gang-banger-type young alpha males who were bored enough to be interested.

The morning bus from KC, which I'd elected not to chance, arrived an hour and a half after mine from Omaha... Both in time for the northbound connection.

After a couple of hours in Denver, I finally got on the next and last bus out north, scheduled at 10:30 pm, but 20 minutes late. Now it was snowing and icy in formerly dry Colorado!

Cathie met me at the north end of Fort Collins ten minutes after midnight. We gave a ride a mile away to a friend's house to a couple of fellow travelers without transportation, and finally went... Home. Hallelujah! It was like reaching the end of the rainbow.

To my surprise, despite many naps on the buses I slept 11 hours and woke up Friday feeling lousy all day -- and into Saturday. I didn't find time to wash and count geodes until Sunday (grin).